Posts Tagged ‘screenplays’

The Scorsese Rule, screenwriting version!

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

If you’re looking to write a script or make a low budget film – there are several rules you have to follow. It’s a bit of a shame when considering film as an art form overall. Why should one follow certain rules as a result when expressing creative freedom?  Well if you’re looking to make money and sell the script, you’re doing it for someone other than yourself. Its work. Its someone else’s rules.

Let’s look at it from a screen-writing side first.

1) Length. If you have this amazing idea and it’s a 3 hour epic of 180 pages (assuming the rough page to minute 1:1 ratio that people use), it could be the most profound thing ever. However, if you are not a big name that’s established in the industry or related to one, it will never get looked it. Too much of a risk, too intimidating for those readers perhaps.

martin-scorsese-1

2) Direction. Unless you plan on being the director too and funding the thing (in which case, why are you even reading this, were looking at you Mr. Scorsese) don’t be too keen on writing about how it should be shot unless it is 100% vital to that scene overall. Describe the background short and sweet and to the point. Be sparse with close-ups at best.

3) Dialogue. Yep, no long speeches here except maybe near the end. Make every bit of dialogue count. You know those moments where a random scene pops up in your head and the dialogue sounds great and you can’t wait to write that down for your new script? Well good luck finding a place for it to fit. Maybe spare it for another idea? Sure. Most of the time you won’t ever use it.

taxi-drive-directed-by-scorsese-but-not-written-though

4) Character hooks

They need hooks. They need a style of dialogue, a style of movement and a quick but unique way of visualizing them. Sure, your goal is to let the actor/actress run with this, but it’s up to you to establish that. If you can switch out names in your script and no one notices, you’ve done that big mistake where all your characters seem a blur.

And…. How are your characters different? Whether positive or negative. Why did we just spend the last two hours watching them? Yes many movies now have that open ending which screams “sequel”. This is painful for one. Also this is for big budget films often based on things like comic books or previous hits. But you will need to set an level of connection from start to finish with each character. Known often as “character arc“.

three-act

5) The Three Act Structure.Yes that’s the image above, courtesy of rule in screenwriting for rookies. And veterans. Even Scorsese, sometimes – though unlike you, he can do this.

And what’s the climax?  Good vs. Bad, sounds so cliché, but that’s how it goes. What’s the incident that gets things going early on? Raise the conflict within the first few pages. Not the story about it, not the background fluff, what is this truly about?

5b) More importantly. Page 1.Yes, I’m going to end with the start. Page one has to have a hook. Yep, right away. Capture the reader on page one. You hear about how people decide within 10 pages? That was likely written 10 years ago. 1. Page 1. Get straight to key dialogue and scenes that tell the story. Yes, it’s not ideal, yes its why there’s a trend of movies that flow like that; and yes you might not want to do this -well after you make it big, you can do whatever you want.  Or just write it out anyway.  Cause you’re in it truly for yourself, right?  If so, then you truly are an artist.

As for Scorsese, not sure why the pun was intended.  Some of his movies are my all time favorites. Some not so much. But it seemed fitting to call some of these elements the Scorsese rule. Cause he can do 3 hour movies if he wants. I certainly can’t.  Directing version (which perhaps is more fitting) to come soon.

Four Stages To Writing A Screenplay

Saturday, July 20th, 2013

So while it wasn’t done in a day, thats mainly because time is a hot commodity. Add up the hour here and hour there and there you go, though I have no idea what the exact number is.

I finished writing a screenplay today – and felt like it went through a four stage process, so I thought I’d share it.

Of course this is assuming you have some idea for a screenplay, key characters, etc, as I can’t really help much if you dont have the default.

1) Spreadsheet – Outlined the full story by scene and kept it top level, so I could see when to connect chracters, mix scenes around with ease and also see what pace I had things going. Just a top level line or two of who and what was taking place, little detail, no real dialogue unless I felt something absolutely had to be referred to in the scene. This made the story line very flexible and rearrange.

2) Rough Draft it up – Once I was about 95% sure with the structure of the story, I wrote up a rough draft in traditional screenplay format, though with a bit of a shortcut thanks to an App that works ok for rough drafting and convenient for the next stage, even if inadvertently. But by now I already had a good idea on what I wanted to write, characters, etc, and so it was written up quite quickly.

3) Fixings with decorations and hooks – Not only did I need to fix up spacing and format issues, but this read through inspired me to push comedic hooks within the dialogue (such as defining character lines to make them stand out from other characters). And by this point it became a storyline that occupied the rare moment of drifting blended with inspiration. So this is when the story got cleaned up, checked up and some decorations added, particularly in scene detail such as character reaction, movement and dialogue hooks to make sure there wasn’t too much down time or bland scenes that had no reason to be there.

4) Final polish – Then over to Justin for a final read through and feedback, and after taking my eyes away from this script for a week or so (as I’ll be kicking off the next storyline spreadsheet), then I’ll return for a final read through or act through if I’m lucky to have the right people around and thats’ that. It will never be perfect, but thats when its time to get it registered and run with it.

Almost there, waiting for #4. But starting #1 on the next story.

Hope that helps put ideas and writing into perspective from a scheduling task list point of view. Once thats in place, will try and keep posting when possible to look at what we do with the idea. It’s a 90 minute comedy in this case, so its easy going and I’m not too attached to it, which is an advantage. I’m aware the story can always be improved, and an idea is never 100%, but also that this is good enough that I dont need to waste time nitpicking.

What To Do With That Screenplay You Wrote – Stage 3

Friday, January 4th, 2013

At this point you should be well into a couple other pieces and the title should be about what to do with those “Screenplays” you have written. Friends have perhaps glanced through it, and one or two might even like it. This is the hard part now. Get it out there some more…. to strangers.

I don’t really foray much into forums, as they can be more chat than actual insight, but there are some with decent communities overall. I used to like http://www.zoetrope.com to some extent, but the well has really dried out there, and hardly anyone uses it anymore in comparison to 5 or so years ago.

Still, it was there that I learned a lot about screenwriting, by reading other people’s screenplays. And I read some pretty bad ones, from users complaining about the types of reviews that they got. This perhaps is not wise to do, but it works out well. For the most part the insight was appreciated, and it was there that I was able to refine my own craft and learn what not to do. At the same time, I hunted out some good ones, or promised to exchange reviews if they were serious. The reviews you get fall into three categories though – very very useful insight that you couldn’t pay for, nit picking about the littlest things, or they didn’t read it and made bad assumptions. Category 1 happens, sometimes.

Perhaps this is because it’s always easier to improve someone else’s screenplay than your own, because you have some sort of ties to your own. There are loads of other forums and networks where one can work on their craft, such as http://labs.triggerstreet.com/ – which I used a few years back, but have decided to give another go. It seems to be much more active than Zoetrope these days, so we’ll likely test the waters here again in the coming week or two with Alphabet Soup.

Subscribe to the newsletters from https://www.withoutabox.com and http://www.moviebytes.com/ – they’ll tell you what’s going on out there, and what festivals are happening, where to enter short films, screenplays, etc, and how other people felt about the contests (in MovieBytes’ case, and they’ve been around for a long time).

That’s right, Screenplay contests. There’s going to be a point in time, where you’ll have to set foot in these. But which ones are legit? Read around. Some are more obvious than others, and some cater to certain niches, so take time to do some research on each – especially when most of them are not free.

Here are some of the more well known ones (which can also mean more competitive), that will get your name out there.

Nicholl Fellowship – http://www.oscars.org/awards/nicholl/index.html (average of 6-7,000 entries per year)
Page Awards – http://pageawards.com/
TrackingB – http://www.trackingb.com/
Final Draft – http://www.finaldraft.com/products/big-break/
Sundance – http://www.sundance.org/programs/screenwriters-lab/
Script Pipeline – http://www.scriptpipeline.com/
BlueCat – http://www.bluecatscreenplay.com/
Writers on the Storm – http://writerstorm.com/
Cinestory – http://www.cinestory.org/
Zoetrope – http://www.zoetrope.com

They can also be local festivals such as:
London Independent (UK) – http://www.londonindependent.org/
Richmond Film Fest (VA/NC area) http://themixshorts.com/
Gotham (NY) – http://www.gsiff.com/

In fact its useful to find some ones near you and thus be able to attend them should you be considered. Sooooooo….. start scoping them out and see how you fare. But only do so until you’ve polished up your work and gotten free feedback from the likes of people you know and free member places like Trigger Street and Zoetrope – along with seeing what’s out there. Yep, part of getting your screenplay out there is putting in some work beyond writing up your magical idea. That’s what they kept telling us at least! And yes, we have entered some of the ones listed above.

Next part to come soon…… thanks for all the feedback so far.

What To Do With That Screenplay You Wrote – Stage 2

Monday, December 10th, 2012

So you’ve got a great screenplay, its well written (or so you tell yourself), you know about formatting and not driving the script on loads of dialogue that go on for pages and yet nothing happens in the background (always visualize!) – and using the right words to explain scenes thus flowing the story on at a good pace.

You’ve even made sure you covered your own back and sent yourself a copy, registered it with the WGA West or East, copyrighted it or some equivalent. You perhaps even read this piece we did last week.

What next then? Well, get it out there… but in most cases you will probably want to tread lightly and have mentioned it to friends, colleagues and/or family. And they’ll be happy for you and perhaps even want a copy of it, which you are happy to send them. Go ahead. And here’s what you should expect from this. NOTHING. Unless all your friends are screenwriters too.

So yes, expect nothing. And I mean that in the nicest way possible, take whatever you get as a bonus. This is not a knock or assumption on your friends, family, etc, this is just the truth. Why?

– They are likely not all screenwriters (which is probably a good thing).

– As much as they’d love to read your idea, the screenplay will require them to devote a fair bit of time that they likely do not have. So even if they have some screenwriting knowledge, you’d also better make sure that they have time too.

– They are biased (because they care) and likely not to give you the critique you want to get. And if they have critique they may be reluctant to give it you. The exceptions are if that “someone you know” is (A) in the industry, (B) aspiring to do similar things and is on your level, or probably a bit of (C) an asshole.

– (B) is a bit of work because often, what you write is very close and personal to you. I used to review work for other people back in the days. They were strangers, but often you had to really explain things in detail to combat their initial feeling of being offended (I’ll get to the reviewing thing in Chapter 3). Long story short, you have to let it get out there and people are going to have their opinions.

– If not A or B: the critique may be of no use and have nothing to do with the story, because they are not screenwriters, and likely have no idea how things like formatting and plot lines are supposed to work.

Does this mean that you shouldn’t send it to people you know? No. Send it, definitely. Just don’t expect this to be the magical trick to get your idea sold. You have a long way to go.

I sent it to some friends, a couple of them have connections or are in the industry. Perhaps they’ll pass it on. If they do, awesome, if not, you can’t really push them on it (other than a casual couple reminders perhaps). A couple of them are those who’s opinions I value greatly and I know that they have some knowledge about how things work with scripts and movies, etc. Are they professionals, no… but they are amateurs like us at this point, who have done a bit of work before, even if at a hobbyist level.

And so this is stage two. Just get it out there to people you know and trust first. If something comes out of it, consider yourself lucky. At the least maybe you can start a chain or two and get a contact or two. And this leads onto the next part, meeting strangers and putting out for strangers (the script that is…). Which is a lot easier now, than say 15 years ago.

Small Town Stars

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

I guess the secret is out, The Havenots is not the first screenplay any of us here have written. However, getting back into the swing of things helped me dig in the crates and skim through many screenplay’s past sitting in the hard drive (yes, as much as the image one would like to conjure as a writer is that of one surrounded by reams of paper, its also not the 1900’s anymore either). Many of these attempts to write what one random night was a great idea (while intoxicated probably), perhaps never quite made it, got abandoned 50 pages in, or never got that rewrite.

Some of them might be worth a revision now.  I dug up a screenplay I wrote not too long ago called Small Town Stars and found a past logline/synopsis and even notes from a couple of contests that were entered with it. The screenplay managed to make the quarterfinals where it was entered which was not bad for something I felt needed a bit more polishing, but wanted to get feedback on. It certainly isn’t as polished as the Havenots, but definately worth opening the file and making some edits.  And seeing it in the files sort of reminded me of The Havenots, as its a very middle of anywhere city plot where futures look far from bright.

The plot focuses on a couple of students who dream of making movies one day, but all they see are the grim stories within their own town. But they start to lose track of what’s fictional and whats real?  Surrounded by dead end life in a dead beat middle American town, two teenagers (Ferdinand and Charlie) use their love for film as a ticket for their escape.  But with scars from the past and the town they are in, sometimes it is hard to escape.  Golden opportunities in life become downward spirals, as Ferdinand’s life becomes connected to incidents that happened a generation prior.

With knowledge starting to build of what is going on in the movie scenes, Ferdinand becomes a grown man behind the lens, but also realizes he has no way out.  As a result, there’s only one way to go from here. If he can’t beat them, join them. Sort of a dark thriller/drama perhaps.

Back To Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

Top tens and random ideas aside, one of the things we want to do with this website is take you through what we do, our journey so to speak as this evolves. So not just about short films and screenplays, but what we did with them, and how we went about them. Hopefully it at the least can give you a bit of advice too.

We’ve been working on promoting and/or finalizing our new pieces and here is where you have to make the most of your contacts, your network, various events, contests and more.  So we’re going to try to devote some of that time to start putting some commentary here in the coming weeks.

You’ll find more about who’s involved on this project now that this site is starting to evolve itself…. (no one cares for a site with nothing on it, so currently we’re working on keeping this at a good pace for starters), but the next gear, next step, etc is taking you through not only what we’re doing, but what we do with it.  So stay tuned.

The Spotlight – Script In Progress October 2012

Saturday, October 27th, 2012

Story about a man who is diagnosed with a rare illness yet recovers. He feels its a miracle and has beaten all odds just from belief. But it turns out that he was actually just misdiagnosed by the hospital. And that his pain previously was psychological due to the bad news in his life – thus reversed by the good news.

He finds this out but doesn’t believe it, saying that it was his belief that cured him.  And with this, he starts to feel worse, genuinely getting worse, but in tandem with his denial. With his belief he gets sicker and sicker, more disillusioned, irrational, and enters a new type of illness of the mind and body. And what he believes gets more and more warped beyond any rationale.  Very main character based and a borderline horror / drama screenplay.