5 Things to Remember Before You Write Your First Screenplay

November 22, 2011 by cindy  
Filed under Writing Method

November 22, 2011

Q: What should you keep in mind before writing your first screenplay?

Question from EYESthatHEAR on Facebook

1. Screenwriting is a marathon, not a sprint. Sure, there are some prodigies who can whip out a perfectly formed first draft, but most professional writers will spend months or even years on a script before they plug every plot hole, smooth every character arc and crystallize every line. Be prepared to be in it for the long haul.

2. You are writing a character’s story, not your story. Even if you are writing a story based on your life or the life of someone you know, you will need to give your character their own existence. They shouldn’t do, feel, think or say things simply because you do, feel, think or say those things. Your character needs their own motivations, reactions, faults and desires.

Even stories about famous people are rewritten for dramatic effect. Most people’s lives don’t naturally fit into a three-act structure, so even if you’re basing the story on a personal story, you will have to embellish or even create some details to make a story work.

3. Structure supports your story. Songwriters need to understand music theory to make songs work. Car designers need to understand engine mechanics so they make sure there’s room for one in their latest concept vehicle. Architects need to understand structural principals so that their buildings don’t fall down. Surgeons need to understand how cells interact with each other so they don’t kill their patients.

The same concept goes for screenwriting. In order to make a story work, you have to understand what the parts of a story are, how they work together, where they should fall and why they’re important. Otherwise, you may have a whole bunch of scenes, but not necessarily a working screenplay.

4. Writing a screenplay, selling a screenplay and producing a screenplay are very different things, so know what your end goal is. If you just want to write for the joy of writing, then have at it. If you want to sell your screenplay, finishing the script is only about 50% of the work—because next you’ll have to make and nurture the connections that will lead to a sale. If you want to produce your screenplay, you should make sure that what you’re writing is within your production capabilities—i.e. unless you have access to lots and lots of capital, maybe figure out another way to do that explosion on the moon sequence.

5. You’re in good company. Writing a screenplay is difficult work, but the good news is that lots of people have done it before you. There are plenty of blogs and websites (like this one) that can give you good, solid advice. There are produced writers (like this one) who can mentor you along the way. And there are hundreds of thousands of movies to watch to keep you inspired and writing!

When your characters say “Let’s go do XYZ” or “we’re going to ____”, you’re going to have some boring dialogue ahead.

September 6, 2011 by cindy  
Filed under Writing Method

When your characters say “Let’s go do XYZ” or “we’re going to ____”, you’re going to have some boring dialogue ahead.

One of the challenges with screenwriting is that it is necessary for your characters to do things. There is a plot to service and so characters are obligated to take various actions. And as humans (or other thinking, feeling entities), your characters will need to puzzle through their decisions, come up with a plan and execute it.

But you know how tedious it is when you’re discussing the pros and cons of the various logistics of your evening with friends? It’s just as tedious to hear characters talking about their logistics as well.

BOB: What should we do for our date tonight?

JANE: Well, we could go to the movies.

BOB: Oh, and then we could get fro yo after that.

JANE: That sounds good. What time will you pick me up?  Or should we meet there?

BOB: Why don’t I pick you up at 8 so that we have time to find parking and get good seats.

JANE: Great, see you then.

I was so bored writing the above passage that I just woke my roommates up with my snoring. We don’t know anything about the characters other than their plans for the evening. While the plot has ostensibly been moved forward, we don’t know what it means in terms of character development. We don’t know whose side we’re on, or if the characters are in danger or if they even like each other.

When your characters are deciding to do something, avoid having them list out the details and instead, have them talk about their feelings so we can see how they’re reacting to the situation.

BOB: I cannot wait to see you tonight!

JANE: I’m not sure we should be doing this.

BOB: We’ve waited two years to have one night together, Jane. We can finally act like a normal couple–go to a movie, maybe get some fro yo.

JANE: Argue over where to sit and how much to tip the valet.

BOB: Exactly.

JANE: You’re right. I can’t wait to see you tonight.

This time, the scene was so excited, I almost peed my pants.

That’s not true. There was no almost about it.

In the second version of the scene, we still get the basic information: Bob and Jane are going on a date, they’re going to the movies and out for yogurt. But we also get so much more. We know that Bob is excited and Jane is nervous. That there’s something in their past that makes this night special. That Bob is able to convince Jane of his point of view and that Jane acquiesces to Bob without much of a fight.  When we do seem them on their date, we will be full of anticipation for them because we’ve been given a description of the stakes of that date.

The second version has plot, character development, tension and movement. The first version does not.

In some genres, heavy and specific logistics are necessary to the storytelling. If you’re writing a procedural, then at some point, the doctor is going to have to explain what she’s doing or the team of detectives is going to have to tell their no-nonsense boss what they’ve found. We can get away with those kinds of moments in procedurals because that information is important and is usually something the audience has been waiting for anyway. But if you’re not writing the next Law and Order: Phoenix/Toronto/Master Bedroom, then make sure that any logistical information your characters talk about tells us more than the next scene’s agenda.

Episode Eighty-One: Writing with Todd Berger

July 27, 2011 by cindy  
Filed under episodes

We wrap up our month of writing with writer Todd Berger. Todd has been a working writer in Los Angeles for ten years. He talks about everything from writing original scripts to pitching ideas to executives and working through multi-hour note sessions with producers. Writer Aydrea Walden joins the discussion as well.

Todd Berger- Writer/Director

Todd is an experienced writer/director who has been making films since he was a teenager. He received a film degree from The University of Texas at Austin where he wrote and directed the nationally syndicated television show The Campus Loop. He recently wrote and directed the the feature film The Scenesters, which played over 30 film festivals and took home Most Interesting Film from The Slamdance Film Festival, Best Screenplay from The Phoenix Film Festival, and Best Director from The Edmonton International Film Festival.  His feature-length documentary Don’t Eat The Baby: Adventures at post-Katrina Mardi Gras was chosen as the closing night film of the 2007 New Orleans Film Festival. He works as a screenwriter and actor in Los Angeles, with scripts currently in development at DreamWorks Animation, Sony Pictures, Jim Henson Productions, and The Disney Channel. In 2006, his script Chasing Christmas was turned into an ABC Family original movie starring Tom Arnold.  On screen, Todd has appeared in many recent commercials as well as an episode of the NBC comedy Parks and Recreation.

The Scenesters Movie
Todd’s Website

Aydrea Walden- Writer

Aydrea has written for The Seattle Times, the Now Write! Screenwriting book series, The Second City Los Angeles, iO West, Hawaii Film Partners, NBC/Universal, Highlander Films, Nickelodeon, and Disney. She also runs the satirical blog, The Oreo Experience–My Life and Times as a Super White Black Person. For more information about Aydrea or to contact her please visit her website at www.theoreoexperience.com

Jenna Edwards- Producer, Film Method Co-Host

For more information about Jenna Edwards please visit the About page. To contact Jenna you can email her at info@film-method.com

Lynda Lopez- Producer

Lynda Lopez started her career in film as a Production Designer working on student films with friends from art school where she was a Graphic Design major. She then went on to assist some very talented Production Designers on studio films while still working in various capacities on short films and indie films. Due to her fascination for all aspects of filmmaking, she has become more involved with the Production side of things working as a Director’s Assistant and Producer.

Lynda is currently working on a charity project for All Hands Volunteers, a non-profit organization that provides hands-on assistance to survivors of natural disasters around the world. For more information about Lynda’s project to help this organization please visit www.hands.org

Episode Seventy-Nine: Writing with Barri Evins

July 13, 2011 by cindy  
Filed under episodes

Our month on writing continues with producer and screenwriting teacher Barri Evins. Barri approaches writing from the producers standpoint: what stories work and what will ultimately sell. Barri discusses having that “big idea” and gives 7 helpful pointers on pitching your idea. Writer Aydrea Walden joins us for the month as well!

Barri Evins- Producer/Screenwriting Teacher

Barri Evins is a successful film producer and a sought after screenwriting teacher.  As a producer, she has sold pitches and specs to Warner Bros., Universal, Fox, Nickelodeon, New Line and HBO.  Barri created BIG IDEAS to give new screenwriters what it takes to achieve their dreams by teaching them techniques she uses with highly paid professionals on big league projects.  The Big Ideas Screenwriting Seminar teaches writers to create ideas that ignite industry interest and gives writers revolutionary tools for completing a successful screenplay faster than ever before.  The seminar also includes Barri’s mentorship for a year.  Learn about upcoming seminars, bringing the Big Ideas Seminar to your hometown or get a free thumbs up or down on your next idea at www.bigbigideas.com.  Find tips and updates at BIG IDEAS for Screenwriters on Facebook.  A BIG IDEAS books is in the works.

Barri’s Website-www.bigbigideas.com

Big Ideas for Screenwriters Facebook Page

Aydrea Walden- Writer

Aydrea has written for The Seattle Times, the Now Write! Screenwriting book series, The Second City Los Angeles, iO West, Hawaii Film Partners, NBC/Universal, Highlander Films, Nickelodeon, and Disney. She also runs the satirical blog, The Oreo Experience–My Life and Times as a Super White Black Person. For more information about Aydrea or to contact her please visit her website at www.theoreoexperience.com

Jenna Edwards- Producer, Film Method Co-Host

For more information about Jenna Edwards please visit the About page. To contact Jenna you can email her at info@film-method.com

Lynda Lopez- Producer

Lynda Lopez started her career in film as a Production Designer working on student films with friends from art school where she was a Graphic Design major. She then went on to assist some very talented Production Designers on studio films while still working in various capacities on short films and indie films. Due to her fascination for all aspects of filmmaking, she has become more involved with the Production side of things working as a Director’s Assistant and Producer.

Lynda is currently working on a charity project for All Hands Volunteers, a non-profit organization that provides hands-on assistance to survivors of natural disasters around the world. For more information about Lynda’s project to help this organization please visit www.hands.org

Episode Seventy-Eight: Writing with Julie Gray

July 6, 2011 by cindy  
Filed under episodes

Behind every great film is a great script and behind every great script is a great writer or team of writers. The month of July is dedicated to the topic of writing as it is a crucial part of the filmmaking process. Writer and script consultant Julie Gray and writer Aydrea Walden join us to discuss the importance of writing good characters.

Julie Gray- Writer

A regular contributor to the Huffington Post, Julie directs the Just Effing Entertain Me Screenwriting Competition and The Golden Age of Television Competition. Julie consults privately with a variety of writers all over the world and has taught at the Oxford Student Union at Oxford University, The West England University in Bristol, Wilmington University in Delaware and San Francisco University in Quito, Ecuador.

Julie teaches screenwriting classes at Warner Bros., The Great American Pitchfest, The Creative Screenwriting Expo and the Williamette Writer’s Conference in Portland, Oregon.

A volunteer at the Afghan Women’s Writing Project, Julie is co-founder of Stories Without Borders, a non-profit organization committed to fostering the creative voices of students and women through the medium of film. A resident of Los Angeles, California, Julie’s book, Just Effing Entertain Me will be available as an audio and E-book in August, 2011.

Julie’s Website- www.justeffing.com

Aydrea Walden- Writer

Aydrea has written for The Seattle Times, the Now Write! Screenwriting book series, The Second City Los Angeles, iO West, Hawaii Film Partners, NBC/Universal, Highlander Films, Nickelodeon, and Disney. She also runs the satirical blog, The Oreo Experience–My Life and Times as a Super White Black Person. For more information about Aydrea or to contact her please visit her website at www.theoreoexperience.com

The Slash Phenomenon

April 21, 2010 by cindy  
Filed under news

April 21, 2010

For my first official Film Method blog post I thought I’d write about something very near and dear to me. It’s what I refer to as the “slash” phenomenon. Maybe you’ve seen it. Maybe you’ve read about it. Maybe this is you. I recently worked on a film that was produced by two actors. The two actors also happened to be the producers of the film and one of the actors was also the writer and director. He was the actor/director/writer/producer. That would be 3 slashes and 4 titles in case you’re counting.

I’m not sure exactly what makes people say, “I’ve never directed anything before, so I’m going to start by directing something that I’m also starring in”. Why does this make sense to people? Many times I wonder if these people who have suddenly decided to take the huge leap into the world of directing have been on set in any capacity other than as an actor. Have they ever been a producer, an A.D., a grip, or, god forbid, a P.A.?? I have to say that I’ve learned more about filmmaking as a P.A. then I believe I ever would in any other position with the exception of producer and maybe 1st A.D. This is because you see how every department works and you interact with every department.

Being a film director requires so much more than many of these new directors seem to take into account and this is reflected in the extremely inefficient way the set is run. Planning the shot list with the DP is just the tip of the iceberg. You will also need to work with all the department heads to ensure that everything that’s in frame will fit with the look of the film (art dept, make-up, hair, costumes, props, etc). Have you or your DP done any storyboards? Do you know anything about lighting (you might want to learn in case your DP doesn’t)? All of these things must be considered in addition to knowing how to get the performances you need out of your actors. If one of those actors happens to be you then how do you know you are getting the performance you need from yourself? Are you going to depend on your DP to give you performance notes or will you just rely on camera playback? Have you figured that into the planning? I hope so, or you most definitely will not make your day or any day in your schedule.

Something else I notice when watching these very new directors direct is a behavior pattern that is quite disconcerting. It seems that the less experience they have, the more needy and entitled they act. They are more demanding and less concerned about respecting the crew’s time. This is quite an insult considering that these are normally very low-budget films where most crew-members are working way below scale.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that it can’t be done it’s just rare that it can be done well, especially at this level of filmmaking where everyone is generally very green. I’ve listened to new directors talk about their reasoning behind why they feel that they are the best person for the job and honestly it’s pretty frightening. They’ve written a script and they haven’t been able to find anyone to direct it that will understand their vision. Translation: I can’t find anyone that I will be able to manipulate into doing exactly what I say. If that’s the case, then you’re right, you don’t need a director, you need a P.A. Film is a collaborative art, but you wouldn’t know it from working with some of the people that I’ve worked with lately. If the vision and scope of your story can’t be correctly communicated or translated to another director, then maybe it’s not a story worth telling. If you can’t convince one other person to believe in your vision, how are you going to convince a room full of people at your first screening?

The title of director is a prestigious one, but one, nonetheless, that comes with a heap of responsibilities. Are you ready for the challenge to direct/produce/star/write? If so then I hope you’re ready for the ride of your life. Oh and remember, a little respect goes a long way when it comes to how you treat your crew, so does a good pancake breakfast.

Soonami Productions