Thursday, July 14, 2011

I've read new writers should keep a LIST of story ideas.

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I think I said in an online discussion group, that ONE completed script is just not enough.

One of the things I strongly encourage my students to do BEFORE they try to sell a completed script is to have more than one completed. I always urge my students to create a portfolio of their scripts - just like an artist wouldn't have only ONE PAINTING to sell. They'd have several.... to show they were serious about their work. The same principal applies to screenwriting.

So, to further this idea - one of the first things you can do before you start writing any script is to start making notes of story ideas that appeal to you! Have a little notebook or a file folder for keeping these ideas - just toss them in and let them accumulate. Soon you will start finding stories everywhere!! This practice trains your brain to SEE the story in nearly anything.... and that's what you want.

Start that process of collecting ideas today and continue it while you’re working on your current script. You’ll find this is a nifty way to defuse your brain’s built in propensity to get you to ‘switch tracks’ right in the middle of a project. It’s a similar process to keeping a script journal while you write. Every time your LEFT brain nags you about a FIX it wants to take time to do - you write it down. Your left brain is acknowledged, so your RIGHT brain can continue to be creative!

Once you’ve completed your current script; make some notes in your journal about what you want to FIX and set it aside. Now’s the time to wade through those story ideas you’ve been setting aside. Choose one and start to flesh it out. By the time you have 2 or 3 scripts written for your portfolio you can slow the writing process down to outlining the story and then creating a 5 or 10 page treatment for several others. NOW, you’re ready to begin to market your first script. The most chilling producer comment in the world isn’t NO; it’s what ELSE have you got! Especially, if you ain’t got nuttin else!

I hope that helps. And I wish you luck with your screenplay. Let me know when you’ve completed your script. I’d love to read your work!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

CHOICES define you as a screenwriter and your MAIN CHARACTER too!

Writing & especially screenwriting is ALL about making choices! The choices your main character will make will define them in the audience's eye.... and you as a writer, as well.

CHAPTER ONE of the Screenwriting Essentials Online Tutorial & workbook discuss STORY CONCEPT and idea.

From the very first IMAGE you see on the screen you are telling your audience what to FEEL in this visual journey they are about to embark upon. That first image is the first step on the journey. I always say that writing is about choices and your choices for telling your story start with that very first image.

Every artist faces a similar decision making process whether it’s a oil painter, a photographer or you the screenwriter. Visually speaking, you compose each scene - you choose the location (what does it say) to the viewer? You choose the apparel of each actor (to some extent - what does that say?) You choose the WORDS they speak. What is going on beneath the words that actually come out of the actors mouth? Are they saying ‘I LOVE YOU, I love you… while they batter each other with trash from a nearby garbage can?

Now that doesn’t mean that you become a ‘control freak’ as a writer. You leave many, many choices to the director and the actor and the set designer and the locations manager. BUT, WHEN IT”S IMPORTANT to our understanding of the story or the emotional landscape of the heroine/hero you create concrete details in your script; you create choices that make that clear.

There is a power and a responsibility in every story choice you make as a screenwriter. With proper planning - you can learn to revel in the choosing - not be frozen in place - unable to act; or stymied with indecision.

I hope this helps. And I do wish you luck with your screenplay. Let me know when you’ve completed your script. I’d love to read your work!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Experienced writers often tell you to write what you KNOW...

Write what you know is probably the oldest piece of advice there is for aspiring writers. But just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s BAD… or necessarily good, either. It all depends on your interpretation! Here’s my take on what it means.

Writing what you know doesn’t mean that if you're a janitor at night to pay the bills while you learn the craft of writing - that you only ever get to write movies about janitors. The way I interpret the phrase ‘write what you know’ regards what you KNOW is emotionally honest or true.

Screenplays are driven by the ups and downs of the main characters quest. The ups and downs refer to both the storyline (or action) but also your heroine/hero’s emotions. And this is where many new writers come up short. They often side-step tackling the really BIG EMOTIONS that naturally ensue in a really dramatic incident. Oh sure, we see death scenes, sex scenes, pillage scenes, car chases & maiming from car chases - but what we don’t see is REAL, GENUINE heart-felt emotions that arise from these events.

Often, the new writer doesn’t show us the ‘fallout’ from these big events in our hero’s life - WHEN it’s exactly that exploration of emotional subtext that makes film REAL to us the audience. It’s that bond of shared emotional experience that connects us to the heroine/hero in the end. So, ‘write what you know’ means write from a place of emotional honesty. Either take the risk to write from your very own place of emotional experience or take the time to understand and EMPATHIZE with someone who has lived the experience you are going to write about.

LIVE it, (the emotion you’re writing about)- FEEL it if you’re hoping to write it and ultimately convince an audience to believe it... and then WRITE it! We all have a 6th sense concerning emotional honesty… discover yours, and write from that place for really compelling screenplays. That’s my take on what the phrase - 'write what you know' is really advocating to new and aspiring writers.

I hope this helps. And I do wish you luck with your screenplay - let me know when you’ve completed your script. I’d love to read your work!


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Do you advise students to keep an 'IDEAS DIARY' ?

I think what you’re referring to was said in an online discussion group.

A second really common bit of advice for any creative person is to have an ‘Ideas Diary’. This can be as simple as a tiny spiral notebook that fits in your pocket or backpack or can sit by your bedside or your computer. Most likely you’ll find that you ‘hatch’ great story ideas at the oddest moments; just before sleep hits you is fairly common.

And one of the other most common occurrences is, just as you are sitting down to really tackle a tough piece of writing, you decide housework is absolutely critical at this moment in time! Human beings are escape artists at heart It takes discipline to put yourself in front of the computer every day that you’re scheduled to write and ‘make’ it happen on the page. Far easier to simply play the story (any story) in your head, scrolling through the action but never really writing it down. It is acquiring this discipline that makes writing hard. Everyone has great movie ideas but very few people take the time to develope the discipline to transform those ideas onto the page.

And that’s where the LIST comes into play. Often, fantastic story ideas come out of that desire NOT to be nailed down to a schedule. USE THAT; in fact learn to use all the tricks your mind will play on you to your advantage. Do take five minutes (not five hours) recording this NEW , great idea in your story diary. But DON’T GET SIDE-TRACKED from your current goal; FINISHING YOUR FIRST DRAFT.

Remember, that is the only one rule in beginning that first draft screenplay; FINISH IT. Everything else is probably fixable in a rewrite. But you really can’t fix, what isn’t on the page. So record all the new story ideas that will come your way, while you’re acquiring the discipline to finish that first great story idea that got you started! For more SCREENWRITING TIPS.... FOLLOW US ON TWITTER!

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I hope that helps. And I wish you luck with your screenplay. Let me know when you’ve completed your script. I’d love to read your work!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

I've started so MANY screenplays - but can never get to the END!

Writing screenplays is one of the easiest jobs you’ll ever do; and one of the HARDEST. It’s easy, because you get fired up by this fantastic idea that you know will be killer on the screen, and that enthusiasm makes you just jump right in and start typing.

And it’s hard because you run out of that ‘start up’ energy often long before you get to those famous words - The End. That ‘sticking point’ is the exact spot where real writers show their mettle. But they don’t survive on pure grit alone; real writers have a whole arsenal of tricks up their sleeve. The most important tool they use - is PLANNING.

Sounds kind of mundane, doesn’t it? Planning - like birth control; can’t we just ‘be’ in the moment and jump into this thing, honey? We can… and many do. I don’t any more after many, many late nights staring at a script I HAD LOVED six months before and now loathed because I couldn’t seem to tinker away all its flaws. Screenwriting has taught me patience and control.

I urge all of my students to create a number of tools while the novelty of their movie idea still has them panting to write. It’s then, when you’re desperate to get at your computer and type, that you really should rein in your enthusiasm and answer some really important questions.

Like: Who’s you main character? What is it they want? What gets in their way of acquiring/ or achieving this goal? How badly do they want what they seek? Who are the important people in their life and how do those relationships complicate their quest. Take these questions and create a logline, a 5 page treatment and a working title and you’re on your way. Throw in the opening and closing scenes for your three acts and you should be ready for any thing!

Once you’ve got this material firmly in hand, you’re ready to unleash the hounds and hit the keyboard running. With planning, and careful conservation of that ‘start up’ energy you may find yourself at ‘The End’ before you know it!

I hope this helps. And I wish you luck with your screenplay. Let me know when you’ve completed your script; I’d love to read your work!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

I've got a GREAT movie idea - but don't know HOW TO START!


Every writers journey starts with the FIRST STEP and then concludes through persistence. No movie hero or heroine wins their goal by STOPPING. You won't either.... so START writing - but START SMART.

We see all around us, every day, the end result of screenwriters work - on TV, at the movie theater and when we rent a DVD. But very few people have actually READ a screenplay. And frankly that is where every aspiring screenwriter should begin; by reading.

The best way to go about this is to visit a website like my page or and download the scripts for a couple of mainstream movies. Then read them from cover to cover.

Now go to your local video store and rent the DVD of the scripts you just finished reading. With script in hand, put the disc in to play and STUDY the first 10-15 minutes of the film. Actively compare it to the script. Pay particular attention to the OPENING IMAGE that sets the story in motion or signals ground zero for the storyline.

Next, pay close attention to the way the script moves the action from scene to scene. NOTICE the slug lines on the page(INT: APARTMENT - DAY) and the ‘brief’ descriptive text that follows it. In the movie,that's called an Establishing Shot - and simply shows you the house, business or place the hero will enter; so that we the viewer/reader have a strong sense of place.

Give your full attention to the DIALOGUE as it’s delivered by the actors - AND as it’s written on the page. What surprised you about the nuance the actor brought to the lines? What was delivered exactly as you heard it 'in your head' when your read the lines?

How much direction is in the text of the screenplay and how much seems to be the result of collaboration between actors and the director? And finally, pay attention to PACING - how quickly the film and script move the action along as they ‘set up’ the story and the main character’s QUEST.

The more screenplays you read - the more comfortable you will find yourself with the strict formatting structure involved, once you're ready to sit down and put you own great idea on paper.

Good luck with it; be persistent - and let me know when you’ve completed your script. I’d love to read your work!