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Friday, January 6, 2017

Always Be Writing – by John Montana - posted by John Montana

Many times I hear writers say they are stuck or are in a writer’s slump, because no ideas are coming or they don’t know what to write. They want an original idea for a film or some writing project that nobody has ever seen before. They want the next great original idea that rocks the film world. Some of them will wait for years for that inspiration for the next great project that will bring them fame and glory.

Now… you might get angry with me for saying this, or you will probably vehemently disagree, but I don’t think this should be your goal. Of course it can be a dream that this happens, but most likely the story in some form has already been told before. Don’t sweat it!

Really, I’m not kidding with you. Don’t let it prevent you from writing. Just write… let the words just flow out of you. Edit it all later. Write gobble-dee-gook, write crap, write anything. Just! Write! You can worry about judging it after you are finished.

When you are done you can go back and create a story that will inspire you to make a film of it. Think of it this way… You are a sculptor starting with a huge block of stone. This is your “gobble-dee-gook”. Then begin to slowly carve away the stuff that you don’t need. Carefully reveal the story you want to tell. In the end you will have something that you will be excited about putting on film. So what I am trying say here, as succinctly as I can, is don’t be obsessed with telling an original story or have an idea that nobody has thought of before. Because ninety-nine times out of one hundred… it’s been done before.

I make short films. I enjoy shooting them and making them. But I am not under any illusion that these short films will make my career. I have two full feature scripts waiting to be done. I am using my shorts films to open doors and to gain experience on the set. Period! 99.99% of short films will never make money or be commercial. They are only a means to an end.

A short film is merely a “means to an end”, to get someone to ask you this: “Do you have any feature scripts that I can read?” To generate interest in you and what you have written. So here is a saying that I have come across many times… Always Be Writing.

Here is another way to look at this: Treat your writing, or other creative work, with the same kind of respect you have for your family doctor or dentist. Doctors and dentists have studied hard for years and treated their work with respect and care. So should you.

If you treat your writing with disdain and laziness, or as a lah-dee-dah creative artist that will get to it “when inspiration strikes”, then shame on you. Because all you are doing is confirming to society that artists are all flaky and emotionally high-strung…and that we are ultimately disposable as paper in an outhouse. And to quote a line from Bruce Willis in Robert Rodriguez’s “SIN CITY” – “There’s wrong, and then there’s wrong, and then there’s this”. And I don’t say this to be flippant, it’s just that artists are treated so badly, I want to stop this the best way I can.

Exercise: For the next three weeks, set your alarm clock early in the morning and spend ONLY 15 minutes each day writing!! Something…Anything…Just write! Don’t look at it and judge it as being either good or bad. That is not the exercise. The exercise is to try and create a HABIT of writing. Like you go to your job. It is an attempt on your part to train your body and mind for just 15 minutes each day to take your writing seriously and just write. And for those of you with the excuse “I don’t have time”… then here is another saying that I really love. TIME IS MADE, NOT FOUND! – You make the time by prioritizing it and writing. Simple as that!

About The Author: John Montana is an actor living with his wife in L.A. and has begun to make short films. His most recent film, Hungry has been accepted into 24 film festivals all over the world. Check out his short films at No Title Production Films.

Images courtesy John Montana

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Five Tips on Making a Short Film – by John Montana - posted by John Montana

Making a movie or a short film can be an extremely exciting and fun adventure. It is a ton of fun being on a set and shooting your own film. However, it can also be a complete nightmare, especially if you are not prepared or really have no idea on how to go about it. I have been making short films now for five years, and I have had some success at it. And I keep growing as a filmmaker, because no matter how many issues come up, I keep working at it. But for the most part, each film I have made has been very challenging because problems ALWAYS come up on a film set. It will be your job to navigate through these rocky times as it will most likely be your film. Don’t worry about it. If you learn how to stay calm and be focused on just solving these issues as they arise, you will have a great and rewarding experience. Following are five tips that I feel can smooth your way into filming. These tips address issues that I feel tripped me up several times and I want to share them with you, so you won’t make the same mistakes, because “Time Is Money”. If you remember this one thing, it will go a long way to keeping you on track and making a great film.

1. Be A Storyteller
The Bottom Line is this: The director is first and foremost a storyteller. You must have a cohesive, compelling story to tell. This is not a difficult thing to do, as everyone has at least one story to tell from their life. Whether it is a breakup, or a family trauma, or a secret desire… the list is endless. You have to trust that no matter how painful the story is, or how embarrassed you are of that story, it has been experienced before by someone else. This is not a bad thing… it means that we are all connected in many ways and that these stories are indeed universal. We all have a unique story to tell that many people will relate to and identify with.

2. Write Every Day
Many times I hear writers say they are stuck or are in a writer’s slump, because no ideas are coming or they don’t know what to write. They want an original idea for a film that nobody has ever seen before. They want the next great original idea that rocks the film world. Some of them will wait for years for that inspiration for the next great film. Now…you might get angry with me for saying this, or you will probably vehemently disagree, but I don’t think this should be your goal. Just write… let the words just flow out of you. Edit it all later. Write gobble-dee-gook, write crap, write anything. Just write. You can worry about judging it after you are finished. Think of it this way… A sculptor starts with a huge block of stone. This is your “gobble-dee-gook”. Then begin to slowly carve away the stuff that you don’t need. Carefully reveal the story you want to tell. In the end you will have something that you will be excited about putting on film.

3. Learn How To Communicate
Several directors I know have become very successful in their careers as filmmakers. They learned how to have some knowledge about every aspect of the process of filmmaking. They have learned how to speak the language of every person on their set, from costumes to the actors to the director of photography (D.P.) to the grip to the sound designer to the art director. What I am trying to say is this… I have almost totally screwed up a couple of my films because I didn’t communicate well enough with my crew. I wasn’t clear enough with a couple of my crew members of what I wanted, which then led them to do what they thought I wanted. It almost destroyed me and my film. Think of it this way. Everyone of your crew is an expert in their chosen field. You are being respectful of them, in turn they will do their best to give you what you are seeking. And that is called “Collaboration”. And good collaboration almost always leads to a great film.

4. Set Up Your Shot List Before Shooting
There are some directors who will storyboard every single shot on their shot list. Alfred Hitchcock was notorious for this, as he was also notorious for giving his actors very little freedom in their movements and portrayal of their characters. I don’t do this personally. I write out a complete shot list of every scene that I want to film. This is my process of making my shot lists:

I look at my script and write down the first scene and how I want to shoot it or how I want it to look on film. I normally start at the beginning and work my way through. I study the first scene over and over again. I look at the number of ways that I would like to shoot it. I will then write down the first set-up in regards to the camera angle and type of shot I want. Then I will choose another angle to shoot the same scene. I will then need to get coverage on these shots so that when I am editing, I have something to cut to for a reaction. And so when I have 4-5 different shots or set-ups for that first scene, I will then move on to the next scene and do it all over again. I find the act of setting up scenes is one of the most creative parts of the filmmaking process… for me anyways. There are so many options to choose from andso many different ways that you can tell your story. This part is where I go through all of my options and run the scene in my head and visually see how it plays out. Does it work? Or is there another, better way to do it?

What I am trying to say is this – ALWAYS finish your shot list before you get to your set. It will give you a road map of what you want, and how you will shoot your film. And, because you are so well prepared, you can easily replace or remove a shot that you don’t need. Or you will be inspired to get another shot…one you didn’t think of before. And when this happens, it always feels great.

5. Create a Real Environment
Creating a real world or environment for your actors or for the film is so important, that you will be surprised how easy filming is when you get this right. This is why I love shooting on real locations. The environment is real, as it is the world of the story. This is very helpful for your actors to believe the world they are in. Their imaginations must have something solid to grasp, in order to create believable characters. Wardrobe, lighting, their creativity all help in achieving truth in their performances. Now shooting on a sound stage is great as well, as long as you have the money to do it, or if your production is large enough where this is in your budget. I am at the stage where I go and rent locations as this is much cheaper and more time efficient. Even if you are on a soundstage you must not skimp on making the world as real and believable as you can.

So these are five important tips that every filmmaker should have addressed before shooting your film. If you take the time to prepare for your shoot correctly, when you actually get to the set, things will flow much more smoothly that if you were careless. Because if there is one thing you can always count on, is that there will be “challenges” that arise on the set. It is how well you deal with them that will make or break your film.

About The Author: John Montana is an actor living with his wife in L.A. and has begun to make short films. His most recent film, Hungry has been accepted into 27 film festivals all over the world. Watch his free online movies at No Title Production Films.

Images courtesy John Montana

Friday, September 2, 2016

STS Interviews: Up Close and Personal with Danny Stack - posted by AnthonyCawood

Occasionally we take a break from showcasing scripts, and focus on the masterminds behind the words. Because there’s nothing better than hearing from successful members of “the craft”, and absorbing the sage words they have to tell.

Today, we are happy to publish an interview between Anthony Cawood, and Danny Stack, a UK based screenwriter and director whose TV credits include Eastenders and Doctors, kids’ TV shows The Octonauts and Thunderbrids. He also co-wrote and co-directed the kids’ feature Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg (just recently released). As if that wasn’t enough, Danny also produces the UK Scriptwriters Podcast, blogs about the industry and has released a book to help aspiring screenwriters break in, entitled: The UK Scriptwriter’s Survival Handbook.

Q: Could you give me a little bit of background on how you got into screenwriting?

A: I was working as an assistant in Channel 4’s comedy department in the late 90s, when they were making shows like Spaced, Black Books, Chris Morris etc. It was a great time for the dept and the channel, and I got to read a lot of scripts that were submitted. I always had a fascination with screenwriting, so my time at C4 just added fuel to the fire, and I realised it was what I wanted to do above all else. My bosses thought I was nuts, but I gave up the day job in 1999 and went freelance, trying to become a scriptwriter. I was nuts!

Q: How did you get into Channel 4 as an assistant in the first place?

A: I came over from Ireland in 1994 and got work as a media temp (which I highly recommend as a way of getting ‘in’ to the biz). I got a temp job at C4 that was meant to last 2 weeks but I stayed 2 years! It was in the Viewer Enquiry dept; taking complaints and enquiries from the general public. I then took a year out to go traveling, and when I returned I knew I wanted to work at C4 again, so I got a temp job there, and saw a job was available in the comedy dept, so I jumped at it, and got it!

Q: You’ve been writing scripts for 10 years, how did you break in with your first one – The Amazing Adrenalini Brothers (or was there something before that)?

A: When I went freelance, I initially worked on a couple of TV shows as part of the production crew (Black Books, Ali G) but then decided to fully focus on my writing (paying the bills via script reading/script editing). Between 2000-2004, I read loads of scripts and developed my own writing portfolio. My first break was BBC’s Doctors as they read one of my spec scripts, liked it and invited me to write for the show. That was my first commission, but it ended up on TV just after my episode of The Amazing Adrenalini Brothers. The Adrenalinis was my first commission in kids’ TV, and it came about as I met Nick Ostler (the co-creator of the Adrenalinis) at a short film screening, and he just had The Adrenalinis commissioned by CiTV. ‘Know any good animation writers?’ he asked. ‘Yes, ME!’ I replied, having never written for animation previously (!).

Q: Your early career is primarily in UK TV, how did you get in and get regular work?

A: BBC’s Doctors was my way in. I got my first agent and she sent one of my specs to the person responsible for hiring new writers on the show. She read my script, liked it, and invited me to pitch ideas for the show. I wrote 2 episodes in total, but I got frustrated by the commissioning process, often waiting long periods to hear if an idea was accepted or rejected, or worse ‘spiked’ (to be used at a later but indeterminate point). But writing for Doctors got me the opportunity to write for EastEnders. You have to write a trial episode of the show to get selected and on my first try, I was rejected. A year later, I tried again, and got accepted. I wrote 2 episodes of EastEnders, and was lined up for more, but then a new producer came on board and did an overhaul of the writers, and I was out (and gutted!).

Q: You’ve written for Children’s TV too, what are the differences when writing for a younger audience?

A: The main difference is tone. All the usual screenwriting craft applies. In fact, even more so, as kids are very sophisticated and watch a lot of story so they can tell if something is boring, predictable or not very good within seconds.

Q: Is it any easier to break in to Children’s TV?

A: In a way, yes, as there’s less ego and status involved in Children’s TV, so a new writer can find it quite welcoming, regardless of whether they’ve got previous experience. My top tip would be to attend the Children’s Media Conference (http://www.thechildrensmediaconference.com/ every year in Sheffield) as it’s a who’s who of the UK biz, so a great way to network and schmooze your way into writing for kids’ TV.

Q: You’ve taken the role of Writer/Director on some of your shorts, was this to maintain artistic control, expand your experience, or something else?

A: All of the above! I realised a director gets all the credit and the writer is largely ignored. I didn’t want that to happen with some of my passion projects. I was always interested in directing anyway, so I decided to make shorts to see if I was any good, expand my experience, and have some fun! I made a very ambitious supernatural drama called Origin (http://originshortfilm.co.uk/), and spent a lot of money, but it was essentially my film school and I learned a lot. The film did well on the festival circuit and won Best Horror at the London Independent Film Festival.

Q: Would you advocate writing/making short films, why do you think they are useful?

A: I would recommend EVERYONE try making at least one short film, homemade or otherwise (official funding etc). I know a lot of writers who aren’t interested or don’t think they have the suitable mentality/personality but you get a lot of help when you’re directing a film (the cameraman, the sound, the actors, etc) so it’s not as daunting as you think. But giving it a go is great just to see how the process is done, and gives you added appreciation for those who do it on a regular basis.

Q: Did you start with short scripts and then move to features with Nelson Nutmeg or have there been other feature scripts so far unproduced (‘The Good Guys’ for example)?

A: When I started out, I wrote feature spec scripts & TV spec scripts, then short scripts. All of this helped to build my writing portfolio. Getting a feature film made through the industry is a real achievement (on average, it takes about 5 years for a film to get made). It’s little wonder that most feature spec scripts don’t get made at all. But taking control of your own work means you can produce your own scripts, which is what I started to do with my short scripts and web series. This in turn gave me the confidence to tackle making my own feature film, and I hooked up with my good friend Tim Clague to help make this happen. But sometimes you get the chance to work on commissioned feature films; I did a rewrite of the Lego Friends movie, and a horror script I was hired to rewrite goes into production this November.

Q: When it comes to feature scripts, how do you approach structure in your scripts? Do you follow any particular method?

A: I’ll lay out the five main beats of the three-act structure first (inciting incident, end of act one, midpoint, end of act two and final twist/denouement) just to give me a basic shape or skeleton that I can work from. After that, anything goes and I’ll follow my instincts regarding the characters and story. If/when I get stuck, I’ll cherry pick from some of the structural models to see if they can help unlock the problem (e.g. Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet or the 22-step approach etc). I’m a big fan of structure, I see it as your friend that’s there to help you when you need it.

Q: Where did the idea come from for ‘Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg’ (http://www.nelsonnutmeg.com/), and what prompted you to dive in and make it yourself (with your writing/directing buddy Tim Clague)?

A: I had been working with Tim for a few years, first with the UK Scriptwriters Podcast (http://ukscriptwriters.podomatic.com/), and then on more official projects like corporate work/ads. On the back of one of these ads, Tim suggested we make a family feature film together. He was frustrated with his individual efforts to get a feature film made. He wanted to make an indie low budget film but didn’t want to do horror. Family/kids sprung to mind, and I’d been working in kids’ TV for quite a while at this stage. So he figured if we combined resources, and wrote/produced/directed together (Coen Brothers style), that would get the film in the can. So we agreed to do it this way, then knocked around a few ideas, and came up with a summer camp mascot getting killed and a gang of kids investigate (knowing that we could shoot this locally to us, too).

Q: What were the challenges you face in making Nelson?

A: Well, we had no money. And no support. It was just us two to begin with, and all we had was the idea. But we put all our experience into practice, breaking down what needed to be done in common sense chunks (you can check out ‘Making Nelson Nutmeg‘ here – http://dannystack.com/making-nelson-nutmeg/). Once we knew where the story was going to be set, we went into pre-production putting the necessary elements in place. We hadn’t even written the script yet but we wanted to get some momentum going while we wrote the script rather than wait. So, once the location was locked, we started to gather a small team, then we finished the script, then we networked with the industry to tell them what we were doing and why, then we crowdfunded some money, put in some of our own cash, and got small private investment elsewhere, and made the film for that amount. The combined savvy and nous from the both of us really paid off, and directing the film together worked very well (our top tip: make sure the both of you are involved in creating & developing the story together from the start, that way you have equal understanding and no-one goes off on an individual director vision-quest).

Q: Anything you’ve learned from the experience? And anything you’ll change in future scripts/films because of it?

A: I come from a script-heavy background, I love scriptwriting and all its intricacies. But working on the feature showed me how flexible the script can actually be, once the practicalities of production come into play, or what the actors can do, and then what the edit can achieve or improve. I was aware about all of this previously but I got to experience the differences physically and emotionally by making my own film, and that’s a key difference than just reading a clever article somewhere online. But I also learned that there’s a tonne of info that doesn’t go into a script; all of the stuff you’ve worked out in terms of world of the story and character motives and certain bits of logic that’s perfectly clear to you but you end up answering questions about on set to cameramen, props, make-up, actors etc as they don’t know the story as well as you do. If you CAN’T answer one of these questions, you haven’t done your work properly to this point.

Q: What’s the release plans/schedule for Nelson Nutmeg?

A: It had its world premiere at the London Film Festival in October 2015, which was a great boost and achievement for us (we made a kids’ film for kids with kids in the lead roles, and on a microbudget, but we get a world prem at the London Film Fest. Crazy!). Since then, it’s been on the festival circuit and a mini-UK cinema tour we organised ourselves. It got a US release in the summer of 2016, and we’re finalising plans for a UK Stream/Dvd release this autumn or later in the year. We’re such a tiny film, but we’ve reached well beyond our expectations.

Q: What are your thoughts on the business side of screenwriting, getting your scripts ‘out there’ and networking to make connections?

A: Well, I go into this in great detail in the UK Scriptwriter’s Survival Handbook (http://bit.ly/UKScriptwritersKindle), which myself and Tim compiled as a hands-on and practical guide to surviving as a screenwriter in this country – sharing our experience and practical know-how. Nowadays, it’s easier than ever before to make contacts, and get your work out-there. And there’s more help, courses, articles and books to make writing ‘easier’. Writing doesn’t get easier of course, but there’s no excuse not to get better. Networking is important; half of the work I’ve ever done is via the contacts I’ve made over the years.

Q: You co-host the excellent UK Scriptwriters podcast, what prompted this venture and what have you learnt from it?

A: I actually started the podcast as I was procrastinating, and having a bit of a slump with my confidence/writing. I was online trying to find UK writing podcasts as a way to get inspired and couldn’t find any so I thought: THERE SHOULD BE ONE. And then: I’LL DO IT. And then: NO, I’LL DO IT WITH TIM, HE’S PROBABLY GOT A GOOD MICROPHONE. And lo, he had. We’ve been doing the podcast since 2010. We enjoy it for ourselves mainly, as a hobby, but it’s been a neat distraction, and one that ultimately led to us working together to make Nelson Nutmeg.

Q: You’ve had some great guests on the podcast, any personal faves? (mine was Tony Jordan!)

A: Mad Max writer Brendan McCarthy was great; very generous with his time and insight on the making of that film. Andrew Ellard’s comedy podcast is a popular one, as is James Cary’s sitcom special, and James Moran’s horror interview, and Debbie Moon’s Wolfblood. I’ve loved all our guests! We’re open to suggestions on who might be next…

Q: Your blog is a must read too: http://www.dannystack.com, that’s been going for 11 years, providing a tool of free help and advice for writers. Do you enjoy giving back to the community in this way?

A: I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently because there’s a whole load of sites and social media that are very needy for your screenwriting time & attention. I’ve been blogging since 2005 and trying to share what I can. But why do I do this? Is it an insecure need for time and attention? That must be part of it, but I realised it comes from a bigger and deeper reason than that: I’m doing it because it’s the kind of advice and support I would have liked when I started out, when I didn’t know what I was doing or what I could do. I’m doing the blog and providing free help (when/where I can) because I know what it’s like to feel cut off or clueless or not talented enough. But with a committed application and focus in the right areas, anything is possible.

Q: You’ve also co-written ‘The UK Scriptwriters Survival Handbook’, what prompted that?

A: Ah, sorry, I’ve mentioned this already in the answers above. But it’s curious. You can give away free advice and insight on a blog (like I’ve been doing) yet still get daily emails asking you the same questions about how to get an agent or how to break in as a writer. There’s a constant source of people coming through, and they may not have come across your site. And even when you point them towards the article on the site or the relevant blog post, they still don’t really follow through. But if you put all the relevant info in a book, then people are willing to pay for the info, to have it ready at hand. So, Tim and I decided to put the best bits of our blogs into one book that would cover everything everyone would need to know about surviving as a screenwriter.

Q: It’s fairly unusual for a UK focused book of that type, as most seem to feature US and working in Hollywood. How is it being received?

A: It’s done really well, for such a niche area and niche audience. We self-published, and it’s made us some handy money between us, so we’re pleased. Some of our properly published friends in the world of screenwriting books have expressed jealousy that they didn’t self-publish themselves, as the publishing deals for these types of niche books aren’t always that generous. Ha!

Q: You help with assessing entries for the Red Planet Prize, which is a great competition for UK screenwriters, what’s the idea behind this?

A: In 2007, I had an idea for a UK screenwriting competition where a new writer would get a prize for their winning script BUT ALSO get mentored afterwards to ensure that their career received the kickstart it deserved. I took the idea to writer/producer Tony Jordan (Life on Mars, Hustle, EastEnders, etc), who immediately jumped on it, and came up with a fantastic prize: £5k cash, a commission on one of Tony’s shows (or he would option the winning script) and an agent (if you didn’t already have one). The Red Planet Prize (named after Tony’s production company, Red Planet Pictures) was launched at The Screenwriters Festival in the summer of 2007. The entire scheme has proved to be a great success (BBC’s Death In Paradise coming from the Prize, as well as many writers advancing their careers). I am very proud to be a part of it, especially as I know all-too-well what it’s like to be a new writer trying to break into the industry (tapping back into what I said earlier about ‘why do I do this?’).

Q: When does the Red Planet Prize run, and when is the announcement of this year’s due?

A: It’s a biannual event nowadays. This year’s winner was announced a couple of weeks ago – details here – http://dannystack.com/red-planet-prize-2016-winner/!

Q: If you’ve used services/sites like Inktip, SimplyScripts, The Blacklist, what’s your view on this type of model for screenwriters to get their scripts seen, and hopefully picked up?

A: I haven’t used any of these services. I would imagine that they’re useful to some people and frustrating to others. Check them out, weigh them up, give them a punt, your mileage may vary. Be wary of just handing over money for an empty subscription or empty leads.

Q: What screenwriting projects are you working on now, and when can we next expect to see your name on the credits?

A: I’m working on a lot of kids’ TV shows at the moment. There’s the CBeebies’ favourite Hey Duggee, which is a real treat, and a few more I’m not allowed speak about. There’s that horror film I rewrote going into production in November. And I’m working on the next family film with Tim, a Christmas movie, which we plan to shoot in winter 2017.

Q: What’s the best and worse screenwriting advice you’ve been given?

A: The best advice is to finish what you’ve started. Don’t waste too much time online looking for the perfect answers or convincing yourself that there’s no point as the industry’s a closed shop (it isn’t), just write and finish a damn script (feature script preferably, but TV or short script will do, too) then who knows what might happen? The worst advice I got was when I decided to pursue writing and two close friends advised me against it, saying the competition was too great and you had to be really good. They were right, in a way, but I fully committed myself to the cause, knowing that I had at least got what it takes (or knew that I had to at least try), and am getting better all the time. There are more talented writers out there than me, but that doesn’t mean I won’t get ahead of them.

Now for a few ‘getting to know Danny’ questions!

Q: What’s your favourite film? And favourite script, if they’re different.

A: My favourite film changes daily, depending on what I’ve just seen or re-watched. At the moment, it’s Manhattan by Woody Allen. One of my favourite scripts is Stranger Than Fiction by Zach Helm; the way it was written was far more enjoyable than how the film actually came out (but that’s another lesson in itself).

Q: Favourite author and book?

A: Again, this can vary on any given day, but Song for Achilles by Madeline Miller is incredible. Classic-wise, I’m a cliched fan of The Catcher in the Rye by J D Salinger.

Q: Beer or Wine (or something else)? And which variety?

A: Yes please. Oh sorry, you mean what type? Any kind of decent lager. A full bodied red. And I’m quite partial to a milk vodka (http://www.blackcow.co.uk/) or two.

Q: Favourite food?

A: Give me a decent burger or fry up and I’m happy.

Q: Football team?

A: Nottingham Forest.

Q: Any other interests and passions?

A: Sport. Keeping fit (very important as a writer; I’ve had years of back trouble that is now regulated by effective exercise).

Q: You’re from Ireland but (I assume) live ‘down South’ now. Anything from home you miss?

A: I live in Bournemouth now. But I miss Clonakilty black and white pudding (http://www.clonakiltyblackpudding.ie/) from back home. The UK doesn’t do white pudding at all as far as I can tell, and the black pudding’s a bit hit & miss. A decent pint of Guinness can also be hard to come by.

Q: Any final thoughts for the screenwriters of SimplyScripts?

A: Read all the free stuff (http://dannystack.com/downloads/) on my blog and if that doesn’t cover everything, buy my book!🙂

About Interviewer Anthony Cawood: I’m an award winning screenwriter from the UK with over 15 scripts produced, optioned and/or purchased. Outside of my screenwriting career, I’m also a published short story writer and movie reviewer. Links to my films and details of my scripts can be found at http://www.anthonycawood.co.uk.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

You’ve Finished the Damned Script – Now What? (Anthony Cawood Primers for a Networked World) – Part 8 - posted by AnthonyCawood

You’ve Finished the Damned Script – Now What?

(Anthony Cawood Primers for a Networked World)

Part 8: Scriptwriting Software

If you ask a bunch of screenwriters what software they use, you’ll get a cacophony of different views. Each one strident and strong. No matter the software, they’ll claim it’s the best. It’s industry standard, they say. You’d be mad not to use it. It’s the tool that makes writing… easy!

Needless to say, an article that examines the main contenders would be great. So here is my offering and personal experience – with opinions thrown in for good measure.

** Note – as I always do – it’s best to travel to the official websites of each: look at key features, current prices, file formats, supported Operating Systems and other details. Research is a very good thing. Especially where software is concerned.

First up, we have:

Final Draft

Price – $250

Demo – 30 Day Free trial available

Mac/PC – Both

Mobile/Device – Available for iPad and iPhone

Pro Advocates – Darren Aronofsky, J.J. Abrams, Robert Zemeckis

Final Draft considers itself the industry standard. In fact, it’s used by scores of professional screenwriters – but not all of them.

It’s feature rich to say the least. Anything FD doesn’t include probably isn’t needed.

It has over 100 script templates, integrates index cards well and even has a feature that reads the script out aloud – with different character voices!

FD’s also very customizable, with reports coming out of its ears. Plus, it imports and exports in a plethora of file types and formats.

One of the other good features – IMO – is the ability to save to Dropbox. That’s great if you use multiple devices, as it ensures you’re always working on the most up to date version of your masterpiece.

Yes, Final Draft does pretty much everything. It even has iPhone/iPad versions, currently on sale for $14.99.  (Note: mobile versions sync scripts with Dropbox. Scripts can also be stored locally, emailed, printed etc.)

The only real downsides to Final Draft? Well, the price – though it’s often discounted – and the relatively slow development timetable for enhancements.

You could always just buy the iPad version and play with that if the price tag puts you off!

Website: http://www.finaldraft.com/

Movie Magic

Price – $170 (current sale price)

Demo – 5 Day full demo available

Mac/PC – Both

Mobile/Device – Not currently

Pro Advocates – Paul Haggis, Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio, Evan Katz

Another high cost option that purports to be the industry standard. MM has a bunch of pro-screenwriter endorsements and it’s apparently the preferred format of WGA West.

From a features perspective, Movie Magic has much of the same as FD: including Text to Speech, a ton of templates and online collaboration features. And – this software has extensive (and free) support and a couple of features not found in FD.

It does, however, feel a little old these days – an overhaul seems overdue. And the inclusion of other popular hardware devices would be nice.

Downsides: price and lack of a mobile app (though their website says that’s in consideration).

Website: http://www.screenplay.com/p-29-movie-magic-screenwriter-6.aspx

Celtx

Price – Basic – Free

             Standard – $9.99 per month

            Plus – $19.99 per month

Mac/PC – Online application – yes to both.

Demo – Standard & Plus have 15 day free trials

Mobile/Device – Yes

Pro Advocates – Kirk Suttles – Head of Production at Lifechurch.tv

Celtx used to have a desktop version, but they’ve gone completely online of late (if you have the desktop version, it isn’t supported anymore). But if you just want a basic online screenwriting product, then the free edition is perfectly fine. Many people happily use Celtx for spec scripts.

The Standard version comes with more production type features, such as Shot Blocking, Scheduling, Budgeting, etc. The Plus version has even more features, including Live Chat support. They have a big focus on collaboration and team working as well – that’s not just a FD/MM thing!

Website: http://www.celtx.com/

Fade In

Price – $50

Demo – Yes

Mobile/Device – Yes (including Android)

Pro Advocates – Craig Mazin

Though a newer entrant to the market, Fade In is feature rich for the price and has some unique advantages (like Android support, a Linux version, EPUB exports etc) that make it a definite contender. It also has Dropbox support, so you can switch between desktop versions and mobile devices easily.

Fade In also also seems to have a really responsive developer, Kent Tessman – who happens to be a screenwriter too*. Additional features are added quickly and frequently, something that Final Draft and Movie Magic have been criticized for (frequently) in the past.

*Check out Kent’s great script, Chrome Noir on the Black List Table Reads podcast. It’s well worth a listen!

Downsides: I think it has fewer features in total than FD or MM, but I’m not sure they’d be missed!

If you are new to screenwriting and want a solid desktop based program, then I think Fade In is worth the look.

Websitehttp://www.fadeinpro.com

Storyist

Price – $59

Mac/PC – Mac only

Demo – Yes

Mobile/Device – Yes

Pro Advocates – Michael Brandman, New York Times Bestselling Author

This one is Mac only (including iPad/iPhone). I haven’t had chance to look at it, but to be thorough, I thought it fair to list it anyway.

Geared for novelists as well as screenwriters, this one is a word processor with built in screenwriting functionality. It has outlining functionality, as well. You can add images and things like that to a story, just to give it more color in your mind. You can also create ePub and Kindle books via this software.

In certain ways, Storyist seems to be more of a writer’s tool. But if you are a Mac fiction writer who dabbles in screenwriting as well, it might be what you’re looking for!

Website: http://storyist.com

WriterDuet

Price – Free version (restricted features)

            $7.99 per month (or $99 Lifetime fee)

Mac/PC – Online application (so yes to both).

Demo – Has free version

Mobile/Device – Yes

Pro Advocates – Ed Solomon, Andy Nyman

I believe this is the newest in the collection. Like Celtx, the developers have chosen an online route. But they recently added a desktop version, providing good cross platform support. WriterDuet also incorporates cloud saving to ensure you are always using the most up to date version of your script.

One of the key features of the software is real time collaboration. You can work on scripts with a writing partner in real time – no back and forwards, or issues with version control.

One of the other good things is that the developer – Guy Goldstein – is very accessible and currently has an AMA going on Reddit (screenwriting). So he’s pretty active in general.

No, WriterDuet doesn’t have the production level features of some of its more established competitors. But to perfectly honest: if you’re an aspiring writer engaged primarily with spec scripts… do you need colored revision pages and page locking to get by?

Website: http://writerduet.com/

So here you go. Check out the websites yourself. Try the free versions and find out what you like!

Admittedly, this article isn’t an exclusive list, but it discusses the main tools in use. Apologies if I’ve missed your favourite, but feel free to post in the Comments box!

My personal view? That if you’re just starting out and have a limited budget, then WriterDuet is a good choice. If you are looking for something with a little more and you have the bucks to spend, then Fade In’s the option I recommend. Then: if you want whistles and bells, the kitchen sink and don’t mind paying a hefty price, then Final Draft’s in your sights.

In the interest of full disclosure… I currently use Final Draft on PC and my iPad. But I’ve also written scripts with Celtx, WriterDuet and Fade In. So I’m agnostic with my software! UPDATE: I’ve changed what I use to Fade In on PC and iPad, loving it.

About Anthony: I’m an award-winning screenwriter from the UK with over 15 scripts produced, optioned and/or purchased. Outside of my screenwriting career, I’m also a published short story writer and movie reviewer. Links to my films and details of my scripts can be found at www.anthonycawood.co.uk.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Congratulations toAnthony Cawood – Horror Short ‘Ouija’ Optioned! - posted by wonkavite

Yep – there’s something about Cawood and STS that just… works. Proving he’s a man on a serious roll, Anthony Cawood has just optioned his horror-comedy Ouija to Bondarenko Films.  So check these other shorts out and grab one – so we can keep shouting out good news to the press!

All My Love (aka Stuffed) (Horror/Drama) – A wronged woman takes a scorched earth approach to her revenge.

I-Robot (SF, Comedy) – It’s Man Vs. Roomba when Octogenarian Roy receives a surprise present from his daughter

Love Locked (Horror) – Two teenagers discover romantically painted padlocks on a bridge. Are they Valentines from a love-struck Romeo… or something more sinister?

About Anthony: I’m an award winning screenwriter from the UK with over 15 scripts produced, optioned and/or purchased. Outside of my screenwriting career, I’m also a published short story writer and movie reviewer. Links to my films and details of my scripts can be found at www.anthonycawood.co.uk.

Monday, July 20, 2015

You’ve Finished the Damned Script – Now What? (Anthony Cawood Primers for a Networked World) – Part 7a - posted by AnthonyCawood

You’ve Finished the Damned Script – Now What?

(Anthony Cawood Primers for a Networked World)

Part 7a: Podcasts

Podcasts are a great way to pick up a ton of useful information on screenwriting, scripts and the market for them. Not to mention a terrific tool for filling dead time: driving, commuting and the like. At their best, Podcasts are informative, funny, provocative and quickly become part of your ‘must do’ schedule.

So – without further ado – here are my favorites. In no particular order…except for the first one!

Scriptnotes:

John August (Big Fish, Frankenweenie etc) and Craig Mazin (Hangover 2 & 3 etc) are the real deal. Working Hollywood screenwriters who write for a living… and who pay it forward by putting out a weekly podcast to share their knowledge, opinions and wisdom. Their insights are quite useful, based on their working knowledge and experience of the industry . And they don’t shy away from difficult subjects. There’s now over 200 episodes, so get downloading!

Note: John and Craig are chalk and cheese from a personality point of view, but this dynamic is one of the many things that makes the weekly episodes an absolute highlight of my week.

iTunes linkhttps://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/scriptnotes-podcast/id462495496?mt=2

On the Page:

Pilar Alessandra is a professional script consultant in Hollywood. Her weekly show is based around a succession of guests: almost all of whom are screenwriters, but occasionally show runners and producers are added to the mix. The interviews are wide ranging, funny and informative. Pillar definitely knows her stuff and is a real livewire on the show.

iTunes linkhttps://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/on-the-page-screenwriting/id262077408?mt=2

BAFTA Screenwriters Lecture Series: 

These podcasts consist of records of lectures given by a variety of screenwriters at BAFTA/BFI events. They’re not regular, and tend to come out in a bunch once a year. Currently available are podcasts with Emma Thompson, Richard Curtis, Tony Gilroy, and Charlie Kaufman to name but a few (there’s approx 25 in total).

iTunes linkhttps://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/screenwriters-lecture-series/id524739237?mt=2

Curious About Screenwriting Network:

A great service provided by Network ISA. They have regular Tele Seminars with screenwriters, script consultants etc, which are recorded and released as podcasts. Currently there are over 50 that have been made available, and include guests such as John Truby, Robert McKee and David Trottier, and covering subjects like Rewriting (with Pilar Alessandra), Winning the Big Contests and Pitching.

iTunes linkhttps://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/curious-about-screenwriting/id975005439?mt=2

Selling Your Screenplay:

“Starring” Ashley Scott Meyers, who is an aspiring screenwriter with a couple of sales and produced films to date. His podcast interviews other writers and focuses on how they broke in, how they got their films made and what tips and tricks they can share with fellow writers. Ashley is a genre writer with no airs and graces about his own work. It’s a refreshing attitude and the insights from his guests are great, as they focus on selling your screenplay. (Which is information that all of us writers can use!)

iTunes linkhttps://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/selling-your-screenplay-podcast/id691691124?mt=2

Third & Fairfax, The WGA Podcast:

This is a new podcast from the WGA West. Only a couple of episodes so far. It deals with WGA news, has writer and staff interviews and is pretty informative for both WGA members and non-members.

iTunes linkhttps://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/3rd-fairfax-the-wgaw-podcast/id1001323963?mt=2

The Black List Table Reads:

This one is a little different… As Franklin Leonard puts it… ‘it’s movies for your ears’. In essence, this podcast takes well written scripts from the Blacklist and have professional actors voice them in a table read type setting. They work extremely well. The scripts they’ve done so far have been excellent and varied.

iTunes linkhttps://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/black-list-table-reads/id982082891?mt=2

The UK Script Writers Podcast:

Tim Claque and Danny Stack are working UK writers who provide insights on the UK scene and interview UK based writers, producers and more. Informative and funny for us Brits, there’s almost 50 episodes so far.

iTunes linkhttps://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/uk-scriptwriters/id384710944?mt=2

As to how to access these resources? Use whatever Podcast app you have on your IOS or Android device, and remember to subscribe so that you get the new episodes as soon as released.

Which is not to say the list ends here. On the contrary – it’s just beginning. There are a bunch of other podcasts that I subscribe to, and find useful to my writing. The best podcasts spark ideas around subjects I like, and act as inspiration generators. My personal ones are Lore, Ted Talks, Mysterious Universe, Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s Film Reviews and Paranormal Report. In their own ways, each of these have provided info and snippets that have acted as the genesis for short or feature ideas. Mind you, these are my favorites – catering to my particular interests – so have a look round yourself. See what podcasts exist for your interests and fave genres. Because you never know where inspiration will strike next!

About Anthony: I’m an award winning screenwriter from the UK with over 15 scripts produced, optioned and/or purchased. Outside of my screenwriting career, I’m also a published short story writer and movie reviewer. Links to my films and details of my scripts can be found at www.anthonycawood.co.uk.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Mark’s submitting to Film Festivals guide – repost from SimplyScripts.net - posted by Don

Mark Renshaw has put together a guide based on his personal experiences in script and movie festivals.

Please also follow the discussion on this as well as other articles written by Anthony Cawood and P.J. McNeill.

Mark writes…

The below ‘guide’ is based on my own personal experience submitting scripts and short movies to festivals over the past 12 months. Take from it what you will.

You’ve created a masterpiece. Maybe it is a script Tarantino would go medieval on your ass to own, or maybe you’ve managed to get a script produced into an ass-kicking-awesome movie. You’ve written your Oscar speech and hired your mom to be your Manager. What now?

Well, you could enter a film festival to show the world (especially JJ Abrams) what you are capable of. What are your options?

There are over 3000 film festivals worldwide. That number is growing exponentially; a bit like my stomach as I eat those bags of chocolate that are ‘big enough to share’ but I ain’t sharing pal! The point is, there are so many it’s impossible to track. Luckily there are websites which specialise in this area.

Festival Submission Websites

The two main contenders are Withoutabox and FilmFreeway. Both list thousands of festivals, provide various tools to help you create your projects, upload materials and browse/submit to the festivals.

Withoutabox has been going since the dawn of time (2000), you can tell by their archaic design. In 2008 they were bought out by IMDB. So the good news here is you get an IMDB title page/credit for every eligible submission. The bad news; the website is user unfriendly, they’ve been slow to keep up with changes in technology and there have been complaints about overcharging. Personally I don’t like them. I’ve had submissions go missing and others where the status has not updated, so I’ve had to contact the organisers direct to sort things out.

Filmfreeway is the new kid on the block. It doesn’t have as many festivals available as Withoutabox but the list is growing all the time. It’s more modern looking and is constantly adding new functionality in response to feedback. Personally I prefer it. I’ve had a good user experience so far. I wouldn’t be surprised though if Withoutabox buys them out once they’ve reached a certain size.

How much will submissions cost?

Withoutabox and Filmfreeway are free to join, free to use but the entry fee for each festival varies and is based on a tiered system. The key here is to get in early. Some festivals start accepting over a year in advance and most offer an early bird discount. If it’s a Seasame Street festival I’m sure they’ll offer a Big Bird discount, but I digress…again. From this point on the prices rise steadily through a tiered range as time goes by.

To save some cash it is also worth following some festivals on social media, as they do randomly throw out discount promo codes.

Some festivals are free! If you use the advanced search options, you can set the price filter to $0 . Be careful though, some of these are only free under special circumstances, like if you are a student or a wizard with a lisp or something.

Which Festivals should I enter?

This is where you are going to have to do your research. Festivals will gladly accept any script or movie you submit. They’ll gleefully accept your money, while dribbling saliva down their chins like rabies infected baboons. However, as soon as they start trawling through the thousands of submissions, they will reject yours faster than a fast thing that’s been fast for a very long time, if it doesn’t meet their criteria.

Let me put it this way, it’s no use submitting a script about a blind albino transgender Jew in war- torn Nazi Germany, who has a secret love affair with Hitler’s briefcase, to a sci-fi festival is it? And yet you will be surprised how many people pick festivals at random.

It’s not just the genre. Some festivals focus on a certain theme, others specialise in supporting a cause or championing a specific gender. I saw one which specifically said in the small print they only accepted submissions where you could prove it was a collaborative project involving people from different countries. Yet, the rest of the promotional material did not state this rule.

The other aspect to consider, what are the prizes? If you just want to promote your work, get some awards, any festival will do. There’s nothing like bragging rights, right? However if you want a way into the industry, if you are looking to get an agent, win a professional table read or if you want cash, then only certain key festivals offer such rewards. Be warned though, the competition for these is fierce!

So before parting with your hard earned cash:

  • Read ALL the rules and criteria for the festival. It’s easy to get caught out by a stipulation.
  • Research the festival! The promotional page makes it look super professional and slick but go to their actual website and it may look like something a demented child has hacked together with a hammer and a jar of marmite. Do you really trust your work and money to a festival that can’t even put together a decent website?
  • Review some of the previous qualifying/winning entries. If last year’s winning entry was a black and white silent film showing a slug’s life over 24 hours, should you submit that romantic comedy?

What are my chances?

Here is the mule kicker. Entering and paying a fee doesn’t get you into the festival. It’s gets you a consideration; that’s it. You can pay a small fortune and simply end up with a load of rejections with no explanation as to why.

What festivals will never, ever do, is inform you of your chances of being accepted. The promotional material makes it all sound glamorous, exciting and within your grasp. Just remember it is all marketing aimed at trying to generate as much money as possible.

Let me throw some figures at you – this is based on independent movie submissions only, I don’t have any actual figures for script submissions.

• Manchester (UK) International Film Festival – This is their first year. They’ve had over 1000 submissions with only 20 slots available.

• Palm Springs (LA) Film Festival – Over 3400 submissions.

• Sundance – 200 slots available – woo hoo! Over 9000 submissions – WTF?

With so many entries, it’s hard to fathom how they could possible review each one and give each their full attention. From the stories I’ve heard some festivals don’t. Mere mortals like us have no idea which festivals review each entry fairly and which just take your money and run.

So unless your work has the backing of a big player, a recognised actor or a major Indy studio is involved who could promote your work, it’s worth considering:

Online festivals – They have more slots compared to traditional venues and the festival can run over longer periods of time.

Smaller, specialised festivals – Sure they may not be as glamourous as Cannes but there are less submissions to contend with.

Feedback Festivals – Some festivals provide feedback! So even if they reject it, you’ll know they gave your submission the attention it deserves and you will know why you got rejected. Please note, some festivals charge a hefty extra fee for feedback but some provide this service as standard.

New Festivals – These are trying to establish themselves, they’ll be wanting to make a good impression in their first year, get as many submissions as possible and therefore the rules for acceptance may be less strict.

Super Secret Tip!

If you’ve read this far, well done! You win a straw donkey! Plus, I’ll let you in on something I’ve only recently discovered. The GOOD festivals actually want you to engage with them direct!

Shocking I know. It’s easy to leave the communication between the third-parties like FilmFreeway, I did for a long time and ended up with a lot of rejections. I’ve come to realise that once you’ve submitted your project, the best thing you can do is get hold of the festival’s email address, tell them a bit about yourself, tell them about the project you’ve entered and even tell them how it’s doing/done in other festivals.
I’ve only used this method for the past few weeks and already I’m receiving great engagement from the festivals via email and on social media. Will this increase my chances? Who knows? Time will tell but it can’t hurt to try.

If you have any personal experiences to share please do so.

Best of luck, unless you are entering the same festivals as me! If you do, may your submission supernaturally explode and I win by default.

-Mark

Follow the discussion on the discussion board.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Understanding Screenplay Feedback – Repost from CHIPSTREET - posted by wonkavite

Understanding Screenplay Feedback

You wanna write screenplays?  Seriously?  Hopefully for a living?  Well, one thing you’ve got to do is perfect your art. Write. Rewrite.  And keep plugging away… nonstop. Keep polishing your craft until it shines!

…and be open to lessons learned from those who’ve been in the trenches, and blazed the same trail that you seek to tread.  STS is happy to be reposting a series of articles from ChipStreet.  Folks, this is a terrific website – we recommend that you check it out in more depth!  (Original article available here)

About Chip: Chip Street is an IMDB credited indie screenwriter, director, and art director. His short films have screened at festivals, and his feature screenplays have been optioned and sold. He is a screenplay analyst, competition finalist, screenplay judge for a major industry competition, screener for an International film festival, founder of Write Club Screenplay Challenge, and a respected blogger on the art and business of screenwriting. He’s been published or cited by The BlueCat Competition Newsletter, Script Magazine, JohnAugust.com, Bleeding Cool, NoFilmSchool, ScriptTips and IndieWire.com.

*******

When to listen to the reader: Understanding screenplay feedback

Originally posted on January 27, 2012 by Chip Street

* This post was recognized and redistributed by the BlueCat Screenplay Competition.

We hear it all the time. If you want to write a better screenplay, get feedback and listen to it.

But I promise you this: the feedback you get from contest readers, other writers, and even friends and family will not be consistent. Readers will contradict one another, you’ll get mixed messages even from single readers, and figuring out how to use any of it to build a better screenplay will be overwhelming.

A few years ago I attended a talk with Sony’s Sam Dickerman. My favorite observation of his was that when producers say “That’s great, but can we add aliens somewhere?” they don’t literally mean “add aliens”. They mean they’re looking for something spectacular and unexpected, and it’s your job to understand what result they’re looking for, and find ways to deliver on that while remaining true to your story (and yourself).

So what do you do?

Be open minded. Some feedback is going to resonate with you as an “aha moment” that you know is exactly right for your story. Some is going to simply feel “different not better”. And some is just going to sound flat out wrong. Don’t dismiss any of it out of hand… think about it, and see if there isn’t something of value there.

Watch for patterns. Three readers all giving the same note very possibly means there’s an issue there that you should seriously consider, even if it’s not resonating with you. When you find yourself saying “These people are idiots! Why do they all think Juanita is a Martian?” it may just be that you have not, in fact, made it clear what you mean by “alien”.

Add value, not information. For those changes you decide to make, ensure that you’re adding value, not just more words. Can you use the change as an opportunity to develop a deeper character? Enhance a relationship? Build tension?

Easy to say, harder to do. We’ve recently gotten lots of feedback from a variety of respected readers at a number of high-profile contests… specifically BlueCat, SlamDance, and WildSound. So by way of example, we thought we’d share some of the feedback we got on our horror screenplay Faeries.

Pacing: You can’t get there from here [fast enough]

By design, we modeled our screenplay structure on The Descent, a relatively recent creature feature that enjoyed real success and spawned a sequel. As in The Descent, we spent lots of time building the characters and relationships, saving the first creature reveal for the midway point (at page 47, we still beat The Descent’s minute-50 reveal).

Because of that slow build, the action really takes off midway through the second act, following the characters as they’re pursued through the woods, picked off by the creatures one by one.

This slow build and sudden shift in pacing could be considered a gamble, The Descent notwithstanding, given the traditional genre (and SyFy Channel) preference to “get to the creature quick”, and the inherent impatience of readers in general.

The response was mixed.

BC: “This second half of this script is incredibly strong. Once the faeries arrive, the action is non-stop. Every time our characters look like they have escaped, they are placed in another dangerous situation. The danger keeps increasing, keeping the audience at the edge of their seats.”

BC: “The title of this script is Faeries, yet we never see a faerie until page 47… For a thriller, the action unfolds quite slowly…”

SD: “The build is very strong. The author doesn’t try to rush things and make everything happen immediately or too fast, but lets the horror build… the slow build is a good idea.”

   BC: “The story does not take off until the midpoint, making the first half feel more like a really long setup instead of a thriller.”

 WS: “…the authors maintain a brisk pace throughout the piece.”

So the build worked for some, and not for others. This is subjective feedback. Our intention was a slow build — those for whom that didn’t work simply aren’t our audience, right?

Yes and no. In fact, it prompted us to look at the first half, and ensure that the time we were spending on building characters and relationships was engaging, well-paced, and escalated in a way that made it as interesting as possible. Because what we don’t want is for it to *feel* like a “long setup”. We found a few places to make some adjustments, and we think it’s better for it.

Character Development: Who are you again?

Choosing to write a character-driven horror movie (and sacrificing an early creature reveal) means we’d better do a damn good job of building interesting characters. This is something we felt we’d done well at. Here’s what the readers had to say.

SD: “The characters are above average and the author strives to give them some depth and individuality.”

   WS: “There are also some wonderfully subtle moments of character development.” “…characters are so strongly developed”

   BC: “Each character is well-developed and fits nicely into the story.“ “…the female characters are strongly portrayed.”

Great, right? Then there’s this…

   BC: “In general, the characters are not fully developed.”

Once again, opinions vary from reader to reader. More confusing still, the same reader who said “Each character is well-developed” also said “the characters are not fully developed”.

So what do we do with that? We chose to combine the refinement of the first half (our response to the long setup issue) with character building (our response to character issues), by looking for opportunities to enhance character in ways that also contribute to tension, plot, and escalation early in the story.

Issues of clarity: Did you even read the script?

Speaking of characters, our main character, a woman, is suffering from head trauma and has lost an unborn baby, the result of a terrible car accident in which her husband was the driver (and she the passenger). That accident is illustrated via a trio of flashbacks, which demonstrate the long-standing tension in their relationship. In the flashbacks, she’s described as “clearly pregnant”. In the present story, of course, she is never referred to as pregnant, and is even shown drinking. Driving it home, during one conversation about the accident, another character says to her “It’s not about blame. It’s about getting you healthy. Kids can come later.” We thought we’d been pretty clear, and for the most part readers seemed to get it.

WS: ”She also endures some terrible personal tragedies, from the loss of her baby to her head trauma…”

Yet somehow, others completely misunderstand this.

BC: “Reese’s pregnancy makes a more vulnerable and likeable character.”

BC: “…even though Reese is pregnant, no one seems to discuss it or treat her with extra care… her friends do not seem concerned about a baby. The pregnancy is only mentioned once; consider removing that detail.”

This is frustrating. How “on the nose” do we have to be to satisfy readers who clearly just aren’t reading carefully? We’re certainly not going to remove the pregnancy. It’s a huge factor in the couple’s troubled relationship. But that said, if its impact on the relationship was working, would a reader say “the pregnancy is a minor detail you can lose”?

This is an opportunity to “add value, not information”. As tempting as it might be to simply insert some clunky descriptive line that says she’s “clearly no longer pregnant”, we’ll be better served by addressing why the pregnancy is a valuable story point, and look for opportunities to enhance interactions between her and her husband in ways that organically demonstrate the impact of the lost child on their relationship… and the story.

Format: Dot those I’s, cross those T’s

Format feedback is pretty objective stuff. Yes, there’s room for some flexibility, and it does evolve over time. What was allowable decades ago wouldn’t be acceptable today, and what works today may not fly in a few years. But by and large, if you’re still peddling spec scripts, it’s not on you to reinvent the font or margins.

   SD: “It is first suggested that the author bring the screenplay to industry standard or a more modern style of doing narrative. Here this means that no words should be fully capitalized except for a character’s name when they first appear. Also, do not list transition shots like dissolve to, or POV shots. Other than that, the narrative here is well written.”

   AL: “Don’t put so much contact information on the title page.”

When I first started writing screenplays, all SOUNDS were capitalized. Apparently that’s not what (at least some) readers are looking for today. There’s little in the way of formatting that’s worth standing firm on if you’re hearing that it’s a problem. More than two readers complain about your capitalized sounds? Get rid of ‘em. Focus on story.

What’s the upshot?

While we found some of the feedback insightful and enlightening, some of it was clearly conflicting, and some of it, frankly, so astonishingly off the mark we wondered if they’d read the script at all. But in the end, we did our best to set aside our egos, give all the feedback due consideration, and be open to ways to improve our script.

After all, if you’re asking for feedback just to hear how great you are, you’re wasting everyone’s time.

We learned a lot, and ended up making some minor but impactful modifications that changed our screenplay for the better.

Thanks, all you readers, for taking the time to tell us what you thought.

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Why We Rewrote a Perfectly Good Screenplay – Repost from CHIPSTREET - posted by wonkavite

Why We Rewrote a Perfectly Good Screenplay

You wanna write screenplays?  Seriously?  Hopefully for a living?  Well, one thing you’ve got to do is perfect your art. Write. Rewrite.  And keep plugging away… nonstop. Keep polishing your craft until it shines!

…and be open to lessons learned from those who’ve been in the trenches, and blazed the same trail that you seek to tread.  STS is happy to be reposting a series of articles from ChipStreet.  Folks, this is a terrific website – we recommend that you check it out in more depth!  (Original article available here: http://chipstreet.com/2013/07/08/rewriting-a-perfectly-good-screenplay/#more-3986

About Chip: Chip Street is an IMDB credited indie screenwriter, director, and art director. His short films have screened at festivals, and his feature screenplays have been optioned and sold. He is a screenplay analyst, competition finalist, screenplay judge for a major industry competition, screener for an International film festival, founder of Write Club Screenplay Challenge, and a respected blogger on the art and business of screenwriting. He’s been published or cited by The BlueCat Competition Newsletter, Script Magazine, JohnAugust.com, Bleeding Cool, NoFilmSchool, ScriptTips and IndieWire.com.

*******

Why we rewrote a perfectly good screenplay – and why you should too

Why rewrite a screenplay that’s working? Because it’s not.

Here’s one story about going back and fixing what we didn’t think was broken.

You know Grampa, right?

Those of you who know the tale of Grampa Was A Superhero know it was the second feature screenplay I wrote, this one in partnership with my pal Sean Meehan.

You also know it turned out pretty good, and was optioned for two years by a producer who’d previously worked extensively with Stephen King. However, the indie market was still reeling from the recession, and we weren’t able to pull together the funding.

In the meantime, we wrote Faeries, a creature feature horror script which immediately finaled in the Shriekfest Screenplay Contest, was considered by a number of prodcos, and is now under option and in development. Fingers crossed.

Then we moved on to a new screenplay, a western-genre mashup of epic proportions.

We didn’t look back at the Grampa script. Even though we knew we’d learned a lot on Faeries about crafting a tighter plot, we were confident that Grampa was a solid piece, and that once we were ready to start shopping it again, it was ready to hit the ground running.

That confidence was boosted by the simple fact that it had already been optioned once. I mean, sure, the previous producer had mentioned doing some rewrites, but they all do. Surely the screenplay was sound if it had been optioned at all, right?

So imagine my dismay when I read it through last year to prepare to start marketing it again, and discovered that it sucked.

Okay, it didn’t suck

Okay, maybe it didn’t suck. It’s a great story, with real four-quadrant appeal, and characters that we think actors will want to play. Plus it’s got franchise written all over it, and cross-media potential in graphic novels, TV or web series, and mebbe even action figures. (A guy can dream, right?)

It was good. But it wasn’t good enough.

Here’s the thing. Essentially it’s a family road trip adventure story, in the vein of Home Alone, Wild Hogs, Are We There Yet, or Unaccompanied Minors. But given that genre, it’s a complicated story: Jesse and his Grampa are on an unplanned road trip (that’s plot one), a pair of bumbling robbers are pacing their route cross country (that’s plot two), an aspiring TV reporter is using his network’s resources to grease the duo’s wheels and keep them on the road and in the press (that’s subplot one), and Jesse’s parents are trying to figure out where the two traveler’s have disappeared to (that’s subplot two).

Add to that the fact that Grampa’s living in a dream world where he thinks he’s a super hero, because he used to play one on TV in the ’60’s, and there’s a lot of there there.

What we discovered was that while all those plots intertwine in ways that organically build on one another (there are good story reasons why one plot is facilitated by another), we’d given them all nearly equal weight. And what the story really wanted, what it needed, to be about was Jesse and his Grampa.

So I went to my writing partner and told him the bad news.

The bad news

He balked. He hadn’t thought about this screenplay for years, and was confident it surely must be good enough.

I convinced him to read through my notes, and keep his mind open.

He’s good like that. And he saw what I was saying.

At 110 pages it was just too fat. Some of that was too much plot, some of it was overwritten description (not terribly overwritten screenplay description, but too wordy fer sure).

And it suffered from a lack of focus. We needed to pare down the subplots, and put the focus back on Jesse and Grampa.

So began the gutting.

What we did

I won’t bore you with the details of the rewrite. But trust me, we gutted a lot of stuff.

We shredded it.

We’ve spent some time studying the art of the rewrite, and have blogged about interpreting screenplay feedback and integrating value back into your story.

We lost lots of great dialogue we loved when we wrote it, and still think is great stuff. For another movie.

We lost whole themes about timely and interesting things: how we live in a consumerist society that values acquisition over honor, money over integrity, fame over achievement. None of which really belonged in a movie modeled after Home Alone.

We lost five pages just by simplifying the motivations of a single minor character.

Another five by editing the description to be more concise.

Another three or four by killing really cute scenes that weren’t actually moving the story forward.

In the end we stripped twenty pages — twenty pages! — from what we thought surely was a solid screenplay, that had been good enough to be optioned (and extended) for two years.

What we got

We are super excited about what we ended up with.

We only get together once every couple of weeks, and work on our notes in the meantime when we have time.

So it took us a few months on the calendar, but only around a week or so of full time work, to finish up.

Now Grampa Was A Superhero is a much more concise, tight, fast-moving story that more closely matches its brethren in the genre. It’s funnier, faster, leaner and meaner. We put together a dream cast (just for fun) and will be submitting the screenplay to a few competitions, and a few prodcos.

And we’ve got high hopes for this new, improved screenplay.

Why you should rewrite your old work (or at least give it a critical read)

While I don’t recommend rewriting and rewriting screenplays forever, it’s important to recognize that you do learn and grow as you write.

You’re a better writer now than the person who wrote that screenplay. So don’t let that less experienced writer of the past ignore the advice of the better and more talented writer you’ve become.

You need to be willing to be brutally honest with yourself, be your own worst critic, and listen to what your new and more insightful gut is telling you.

You’ll gain confidence, because you’ll see that you can now recognize your mistakes, that it’s possible to find ways to improve even solid work, and that good enough can be better.

It’s valuable to learn how to kill your babies, and get rid of paragraphs of what you’ve thought for months or years might be great dialogue, if losing it is in service of a better story.

It’s valuable to be willing to acknowledge that the great themes you wove into your work aren’t appropriate or necessary to the movie you’re writing and are muddying the message.

And yes, if the story is a good one, and you can fix it in relatively short order, it is worth spending some time to do it. Hopefully, you’ll end up with a much stronger screenplay (we did).

So go. Reread. Rewrite. Grow.

 

 

 

 

 

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