Using Words To Discuss Other Words

Archive for the tag “screenwriting”

Writing for Gold (and other Olympic clichés)

As a screenwriter, you are an athlete.

Sure, the only things in motion are your fingers and your mind, and perspiration only gathers at your temples, but similarities can found between the disciplines.

Strength / Stamina
Pushing on and getting it done. Not just to crack that daily word count, but to see an idea through execution, to break it down and rebuild it over multiple drafts, and then to market your script/self with enough grit and determination to accept and learn from constructive criticism and rejection.

Though the writing process cannot be rushed, deadlines must be met. Seasonal features need to be marketed at the right time. Competition/festival dates will not be delayed for you, and for those in production or working on short films, an entire crew may be waiting for the next rewrite. Targets should be in page numbers, not words.


David Annand’s Writers in the Park
(Cr: Thomas Nugent)


Quickfire scripts sent to a hundred readers might look good for the stats, but getting it right on the one occasion that matters is a truly Olympic trait. Even after a story has been put through its paces in the edit room, it is always worth stepping away for a period of time in order to be able to revisit your latest version with a clear head.

Just like all muscles, the brain gets tired and requires regular rest, as well as a variation on the usual stimuli. Crunching page numbers when not all the synapses are firing will not only lengthen your recovery time, but also put your script into a position that requires further attention at a later date.

Give yourself a break once in a while.

After all, you’re a screenwriter, not an athlete…

Happy writing!


It’s a Marathon, Not a ‘Word-Sprint’

Make every word count.”

It’s a phrase that all screenwriters will be familiar with, spending hours toiling over how to now cut away at the chunky first draft. But while our extraneous words may just flatten a story and bore prospective readers, those in the field of live commentary stand on thinner ice.

The Olympic Games in Rio are well underway, with millions of eyes and ears on the sports in Brazil. And even though our event narrators do not have the benefit of reading from a script (with the exception of some handy statistical reports), the ability to vocally explain unpredictable live action for hours on end comes with the perilous risk of “words for words’ sake”. For example:

The springboard, which is exactly that – a board with springs.” – Gymnastics
There are two types in use at the Olympics, but that’s for another day. And another site.

Let’s look at the scoreboard, which could provide the all-important score tonight.” – Basketball
With so many people watching, maybe there’s no need. Somebody’s counting.

Uzbekistan – a country that could not be any more landlocked.” – Judo
This refers to the fact that it is the only country to be landlocked by other landlocked countries. But does this effect their duelling abilities?

Here’s USA and Chris Brooks, who is about an inch short of the national average.” – Gymnastics
The judges will be making deductions on that basis.

And here comes the Belarusian team. All of them. Apart from two.” – Rowing, Fours
You could also say there was nobody there, apart from two.


Leonid Pasternak’s Throes of Creation

It’s easy to mock from 5,000 miles away. Writers, you know better.

Say something or nothing. Not anything.

Happy writing.


Back in February, I hosted an offline Q&A session. Although the participants stuck around (into the early hours) to discuss, I never actually posted them outside of the email feed.

“But James, that was six months ago – nobody cares!”
Maybe. But I thoroughly enjoyed it, so here we are.

Some of the questions were tired old topics, covered in countless forums across the web, and so I have cut it down to the three queries that generated the most conversation.

I need to break the rules to differentiate myself from other writers, but I don’t want to appear unprofessional. What can I change, and how far can I go?
Understanding the difference between rules and guidelines may help you to push boundaries a little. There are areas you do not touch (font, layout, margins) and then there are parts you can experiment with (narrative, genre, structure).

When I am reading a new script, the original components of the story are what force me to engage, and reading further should expand upon this. If attention is being drawn to the way it is written on the page, i.e. how it looks as opposed to how it reads, then I cannot fully commit to the story without distraction. Don’t keep me on the doorstep, explaining how you are different. Invite me in and show me your unique world.

What is the single biggest mistake that novice writers tend to make?
Not writing. It sounds funny, but as creatives we are well versed in elaborate excuses for not producing material. Too many people pitch with “I have a great idea for movie” instead of “I’ve written a script for this great idea”.

Beyond that, a writer being too hasty is clearly an issue, in two respects. Firstly, the scripts themselves have not been put through their paces. I am not going to purport that there is a magic number of rewrites before a draft is in good shape, but chances are the first few are not going to represent your story’s true potential. Feedback of any kind can help to refresh a script, but you also need time to distance yourself from it to appreciate possible changes.

The same applies to the number of screenplays in your portfolio. No magic formula, no set age, just a plethora of varied, reworked, tightly-written stories to help you woo prospective parties. If a producer turns down one idea and asks what else you have, the answer had better be another finely-tuned pitch, or else a handful of miniature Ben Franklin portraits.

If you think it is difficult to get the right names to read your scripts, then consider the likelihood of them giving you a second chance. Get it right, before you get it wrong.

Should I write with budget restraints in mind? Whose opinion should I consider when writing?

First of all, write to satisfy yourself. If you do not fully believe in the story then do not force it, as it will be evident in your writing as well as your pitch. Then ask yourself what you are writing for. Is this a short film that you could produce/direct yourself? Is this a contest entry, or are you looking to find the laps of execs? The next set of eyes belongs to your temporary master.

Considering budgets, locations and such are unfortunately several steps ahead of the typical writer’s journey. Your low-cost, stateside drama may broaden the number of entities that could afford to get it made, but it could also bore the reader they hire to scan it. Impress that person, and then the pressure is on them to convince their boss. Which is good – that is their job after all.

We are often taught to write in a manner that would please the discerning audience. Instead, try pleasing the person you are giving the script to. You can always add the ‘Godzilla-ruins-the-world-cup’ scene after signing a contract.

Click Pic For FAQ Home

Be safe. Try hard.

Happy writing!

Overnight Success

A quick glance through the hallowed inter-web reveals a haven of free information and guidance for the modern screenwriter. Forums, blogs and teleconferences ooze with advice on how to succeed as a screenwriter, so allow me to amalgamate the highlights in bullet-point format.

  • Listen To Everyone – The world does not yet know who you are, so how do you know who they are? Whatever you are told by anyone in the film industry, just do it.
  • Pay For Stuff – The only thing you get for free is the common cold. Subscribe to every magazine and network you can think of, regardless of fees. Buy multiple copies of every edition of the same book, even if it has nothing to do with screenwriting.
  • Pay People – If you give someone lots of money, surely they will help you, right? Correct. Hire consultants, agents, publicists and anyone who charges more than $50 an hour. Just make sure they promise to get your script made.
  • Think Outside A Box – Challenge the discerning reader. Abandon all notions of screenplay structure and just go for broke. The industry is currently thriving on action/drama, so write something excessively boring. In a funky new font. In Brown! With strikethrough!!
  • Compete With The Best – Screenplay contests are a dime a dozen, and that’s because they are a guaranteed fast-pass to Hollywood. Imagine sitting at home after submitting a script and receiving a phone call from Mr Robert Spielberg! Fees are irrelevant, as screenwriting will make you filthy rich, so enter any competition you can find.
  • Quantity Or Quality – Ever heard someone say they bombarded a studio with scripts and came away empty-handed? Write as much as you can as fast as you can. Aim to have at least 200 feature scripts in your arsenal, unless your first script is really, really good.
  • Cut Corners – It’s no secret that the way to break into Hollywood is always changing, so develop shortcuts where you can. Edit your first draft with full camera directions, character notes and bold illustrations. This way you will remove the need for rewrites, storyboarding etc, and may even get production credits for several roles.

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