Tag Archives: Screenwriting

Writing Act One of your Screenplay

It’s been 10 days since I started writing my 3rd screenplay.  My previous two screenplays were crap. Great ideas, but crappy execution. I learned a whole lot in the process and I’m hoping the knowledge gained will show in my current endeavor. Here is what my process has been like so far, and a breakdown of writing Act One:

BACK STORY and CHARACTERS: First, I wrote out a brief history of the world I was creating and filled it with people and places. Then I had a little debate over whether or not I was going to turn this into a screenplay or novel (I’m writing a screenplay, but I may revisit the novel idea later). After that, I made a list of my basic story beats and started to write. I finished Act One yesterday. Great right?  It’s amazing what you can do with your time when you’re not working. After getting over the brief period of “this is so awesome“, I realized there is a whole lot that needs to change before I move on to Act Two.

For this breakdown of writing Act One I am borrowing heavily from The Blake Snyder Beat Sheet.

OPENING IMAGE: Your opening image is supposed to set the tone, mood, and style of your screenplay from page 1. I think I’ve hit this pretty well.  My problem is, i’m not exactly sure if it’s a great snapshot of my character’s “before self”. According to Blake, a good opening image will always show a good “before snapshot”, where the final image will show a good “after snapshot”.  I think I’m going to revisit the opening image to better portray my character’s “before self.”

THEME: My theme needs some major work. Mostly because I have no clue what it is yet.  This one will take some story meditation on my part.  It is very possible I won’t discover my thematic premise until after I finish the complete first draft, but at least I know that I’m missing one. Every screenplay needs a theme.  I’m just the type of writer who isn’t drawn to writing by themes, or character arcs.  I’m drawn in by plots and action. The themes in my screenplays must be searched out. It’s a journey I must take in the writing process.

SET-UP: During the set-up, which usually takes place in the first 10-15 pages of a screenplay, I need to be able to do a lot of things.  I need to introduce my main character, and at least hint at every other character in my screenplay.  I also need to be able to portray everything in my character that needs to change by the end of the film.  I need to do this so that I can fix all those things by the end of my screenplay and form a great character arc. That’s a lot to do in 10 pages.

I’ve ALMOST introduced, or at least hinted at all of my characters in the first 10 pages…  Almost.  I really think I could tighten that up a little more though.  Also, I need to work on showing things in my character that need to change.  I’ve basically done none of that.  My character right now is awesome from page one.  He has no faults, or weaknesses.  BORING! After all, my screenplay is basically a “road movie”.  The WHOLE POINT of my story is for my character to have a giant life changing experience.

INCITING INCIDENT: My inciting incident happens on page 7. That’s too early, I believe. Yes, you’re thrown into the action right away, and you want to keep reading, but do you care? I haven’t even given you a reason to care about my character’s life, as it’s being spun into that crazy direction! I KNOW IT’S EXCITING, but you’re gonna run out of steam because you just. dont. care.

DEBATE: My character gets a letter that throws his life into a new kind of crazy. The Call to Adventure! Now, he needs to refuse the call.  There must be some reason why he can’t do it. He’s too scared.  He’s tied down with boring responsibilities.  This is the debate section.  My screenplay literally doesn’t have it.  Wait… yes it does!  In one line, “Go to The Wall?  Are you crazy!?  We can’t go to The Wall!  We just killed a Knight!”  …it makes total sense why he wouldn’t go the The Wall if you knew the story. DON’T YOU WANT TO READ IT! I know you do! But that’s all of his debate… and a couple seconds later he —

ACT TWO BREAK: DECIDES TO GO TO THE WALL! This would be my “Break into Two”, or what Tom Reed calls, my “Choose Act Two”. He refers to it as this because your hero must ALWAYS choose to go.  The decision must be made by the hero, or else… well, it’s just weak.  Why should I care if Frodo doesn’t CHOOSE to carry the ring? Why should I care if John McClaine doesn’t CHOOSE to save his wife?  At least I got that part right, but it’s still weak and needs a very CARNAL reason for the “Jump into Two”.  Like… his Aunt and Uncle were EFFING KILLED BY STORMTROOPERS and NOW he wants to go to Alderaan, or his son was EFFING SHOT BY A SADISTIC BRITISH OFFICER and NOW he wants to fight in the Colonial Militia! You catch my drift? Your character can’t just go. He must DECIDE to go.

Anyways, now I have a nice list of things to work on for the rest of this week.

Austin Film Festival: On Story

Thanks to Amanda the Aspiring Writer, I now have a couple very interesting videos for you to watch.

On Story, a new series presented by Austin Film Festival, highlights the creative process of film making by featuring interviews with leading screenwriters, directors, and producers.  Each episode also showcases a short film by one of Austin’s up and coming film makers.

Some of the interviewees included are Randall Wallace, Lawrence Kasdan, Shane Black, David Hayter, Roberto Orci, Damon Lindelof, Robert Rodriguez, and more.

The first 3 episodes after the break.

Continue reading Austin Film Festival: On Story

Interview: Screenwriter Derek Haas

Derek Haas is an author and screenwriter who’s work includes the bestselling novel The Silver Bear and the screenplays 3:10 to Yuma and Wanted.  He is also the editor of popcornfiction.com, where he publishes new short fiction.  You can learn more about him on his personal website at derekhaas.com.

I was fortunate enough to score a short interview with him briefly in 2010.  Here is some advice he had to offer for an aspiring screenwriter.

How did you get into screenwriting?  When was your “lucky break”?

I always wanted to be a writer… in sixth grade, I asked my parents for a typewriter for Christmas.  I wrote stories all through junior high and high school, mostly to amuse myself.  My parents also purchased a Betamax video camera and my buddies and I made movies just about every day in the lovely suburbs of Richardson, Texas, just outside of Dallas.

I went to Baylor University and graduated with a BA in English in ’91 and then an MA in English Lit in ’95.  After school, I worked in advertising for a while. I wasn’t on the copywriting side… I was an account manager.  I kept writing at night, first on a novel (which wasn’t very good but taught me a lot about writing) and then on an idea for a screenplay.

In 1998, I partnered with Michael Brandt, a friend of mine from college, and we wrote a script together.  We had written a couple of terrible scripts in a screenwriting class at Baylor, but decided we’d try again. We passed the script back and forth via email, never seeing each other while we wrote it.  He got it into the hands of some woman who worked on the production side of the business, she got it into the hands of an assistant to a producer, she gave it to the producer, the producer gave it to Brad Pitt’s manager, and the manager gave it to Brad Pitt.  He said he wanted to do it and in March of 1999, we sold our first script.  It didn’t get made, but it got us represented and made a name for us in Hollywood.

Then we worked a while learning the ropes, doing rewrites and polishes, and finally we were offered the sequel to the Fast and the Furious in 2001. We said “no.”  Our agents said “yes.”  They realized we needed to have a produced movie under our belts. It worked out quite well for us… we hit it off with the director, John Singleton, and spent most of the movie on the set in Miami, watching a $90M production get made. It came out and was successful, and we proved we could deliver a script through production. From there, we’ve been fortunate to work with some great directors, actors, producers and crew.

How long does it usually take you to write? What is your process?

I’d recommend writing a first draft in about 8-10 weeks and then spend a month rewriting it before you let someone else read it. Don’t sweat outlines and rules and treatments and character sketches and all the things that keep you from actually writing. Write as much as you can, every day, creatively. Like anything you practice, you’ll get better and better the more you do it. And instead of seeing movies and saying, “I can do better than that,” read screenplays in the genre you wish to write and measure your own writing against those.

So you don’t outline at all?

We outline our screenplays because we have to for the studios who hire us. They want to see what they’re going to get before we write. I don’t outline my novels.

What screenwriting books would you recommend reading?

I really have never read any and am not sure which ones to recommend. Some friends have told me SAVE THE CAT is good, but I don’t know the book and so can’t speak on it.   I’d recommend enrolling in a screenwriting class and learning the form… then reading as many scripts as you can get your hands on.

What advice would you give an aspiring screenwriter moving to L.A. for the first time?

Try to find a job, any job, working in film or TV… you’ll learn so much about the process.

When exactly do you think finding representation is important? After someone is interested?

When you have written something truly great… something so novel and fantastic it will blow people’s minds… then go after representation. If you have someone interested, all the better.

With all the adaptations being made today, is spec writing still the way to “break-in” and get noticed?

Yes.

In your DDP interview you said, “most new writers think “I’m making art and everyone should worship me.” Do you think a new writer trying to get their “break” should write something commercial and marketable? Or should they take a chance on something dark and unique just to get noticed?

Commercial and marketable is the best way to get noticed. As funny as it sounds, dark and unique are what most film students do.

You’re ready to shop your screenplay around. How does that process go?

You query representatives. You try to make contacts with people in the film industry and ask them to read your script.   You get it into as many hands as possible and if it’s great, someone who can help you, will.

You can find a more in-depth interview with Derek Haas and his writing partner Michael Brandt over at Done Deal Pro.

Screenplay or Novel?

Note: No, this is not my map. It’s actually a map from The Lord of the Rings. My map looks like I laid a sheet of paper on the floor, taped pens to the legs of a chicken, and then chopped its head off.

It’s late. My head hurts from creating worlds and filling them with history, people, and places for the past 6 hours. The only food I’ve consumed all day is a large iced coffee and a Double-Double Animal-Style with Animal Fries from In-N-Out. I may have left Waffle House behind in Tennessee, but holy hell did I gain one kick-ass joint in California!

…at least I have the diet of a writer.

I wrote a short screenplay a while ago. It didn’t follow any sort of act structure.  It was just 10 pages of awesome action and cool characters. It was kind of a teaser, in that it ended with the hero receiving a letter.  I’ve sat on that short for over a year now, despite some positive reviews from my peers.

So the other day, after getting bored with the 2 other screenplays I’ve been trying to beat out, I finally came back to it.  I opened up Word and just started to write.  It turned out, that after a few hours, I had written a fairly detailed back story to the world my hero lived in. After that, I got inspired to draw a map of what I thought the land might look like.  In doing so, I had to create and name roads, villages, cities, a castle, a giant wall, a mountain range, and forests. Soon, I had a detailed map of my hero’s world, a ton of places for him to explore, and a pretty general history of the past few hundred years. It was all only about 5 pages of stuff… but I loved it!

From all of this came a flood of crazy ideas that I would love to see and write about in this newly created world.  So, I began making a huge list of things and ideas that don’t really make sense.  Stuff like: “rows of hanging corpses” and “a girl running through the woods” – just random shit like that.  After a little while, I figured out I was having a lot of fun doing all of this!

From there I started beating out my story.  When I got lost, I just looked at my map and my cool character list, and thought to myself, “How can I get my character to that place, and who can I have him meet along the way? He needs a love interest, right?” BANG!!  Another plot point down.

So today while I’m going through everything I’ve written down, a thought hits me, “I could start a fucking novel with all this material.”  But here’s the problem:  I don’t know shit about writing a novel.  I know how to write a screenplay. I’ve been studying how to write a screenplay  for the past 2 years.  But for some reason, the idea of writing a novel scares the crap out of me! I love reading fiction, so you would think I’d at least have an idea of how to write a novel, but I don’t.  Believe it or not, I don’t even trust in my ability to properly form sentences or spell words correctly (which you can probably tell from reading my blog).  So what do I do?

I could definitely form a screenplay around this story.  But there is so much detail I would like to explore in my hero’s world.  Should I just start a novel? I’ve always wanted to write a novel, and I love reading them, but the prospect just scares me.  Do I write it in 3rd person?  1st person?  Ugh.

I don’t know the answer to this question yet. I just needed to write it all down to help organize my thoughts.

I did find this article by John August.

Any writers out there been through/going through this internal struggle?

Writing Partners and Google Docs

I just recently started using Google Docs for various things such as, a list of productions I’ve harassed for work, and an easy place for people to look at my resume.  Today, I thought of something amazing – that’s really not that amazing (something I should have thought of months ago).

My writing partner is still back in Tennessee.  This is a bit of a problem.  We end up having to work on an outline individually, email it to the other person for notes and additions, then email it back. After a while it becomes a pain in the ass. So why not just put all of your script ideas, or outlines, into separate Google Docs, and then share them in the “cloud”. BRILLIANT!

Now, whenever I feel like doing some work on one of the 3 features I am currently switching between, I can simply log on to Google Docs and edit any of the outlines from whatever computer I am on. Plus, my writing partner can do the same! Everything is kept together in one simple place. We can even edit at the same time, if we so please. It saves automatically every few seconds. I love it!

I’m sure I will continue to find newer more amazing ways to use Google Docs in the next few weeks. Yeah, I know… I’m late to the Google Docs game.

Anyone else have any amazing things they do with Google Docs?

Share with me please, I’m hooked!

Erik Bork on Point of View

I believe we need to get the reader inside the main character’s perspective on things “inside their skin, almost” so that it feels like what’s happening to that character is happening to them, throughout the story. – Erik Bork

Erik Bork is a writer / producer who has won 2 Primetime Emmys, and is most known for his work on Band of Brothers and From the Earth to the Moon. It’s safe to say this guy knows what he’s doing. You can find more about him at his website www.FlyingWrestler.com.

Erik guest blogged on the Save the Cat! blog a couple days ago on the importance of “point of view” in your screenplay. This is highly relevant for anyone attempting to fully engage readers with the storyline, as well as, creating characters that readers actually like. If your goal is to have readers not give a shit about your characters, and the sole purpose of your screenplay is to have homeless people fish it out of a dumpster and use it as fuel for their under-the-bridge garbage can fires, this post is not for you!

You can read the entire post over at Save The Cat!

Funny Story: Overnight Success by Irwin Handleman

Every once and a while, I’ll happen across an article, or series of articles, that are so fucking good, I have to relink them on 12pt. This one comes from Notes From a Hack via Rachel Marks via The Bitter Script Reader.

These are a hilarious series of posts, that detail how Irwin Handleman (notesfromahack), sold his first screenplay. A must-read for anyone interested in the (sometimes) horrific, as well as hilarious, process of becoming a selling screenwriter.

Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7 Follow Notes From A Hack for the rest of the story!

Cheers!

Interview: Screenwriter Josh Dobkin

In January of 2009, Josh Dobkin and his writing partner Sean Wathen, sold their spec script The Field to Stone Village Pictures.  I interviewed him briefly in 2010 for a research paper I was working on.  Here is some of his advice for an aspiring screenwriter.

What advice would you give an aspiring screenwriter that’s looking to get a job in the industry?

If you want to be next to writers, you need to be close to producers.  And that means either being a PA on a production, or finding work at a production company… which I HIGHLY RECOMMEND! You want to be close to the gate keepers, because as a writer, that is KEY!  Being where scripts are granted life, or executed to a slow miserable death, is where you want to be.

So, my first word of advice would be: go get a job or internship, at either a production company or management company… agency maybe, but unless you want to be a suit, pass on getting abused by the future “Ari Golds” of America.

And that of course, means moving to LA.  So that is actually my first word of advice. But do it with a game plan. Save up some cash, visit, network online, all that jazz… and thennnnnn… make the move out here.

It will be several months before you land a paying gig in the industry, and this place is expensive to live.  So come out strapped with a couple thousand in the bankroll, and hit this town like a freaking maniac!

It will be hard, and will test your will to continue a path in the entertainment industry. If you can keep chugging ahead without having your hopes and dreams crushed, you’ll land a paying gig.

What is your writing process like?  Do you outline?

My writing parter and I outline a pretty detailed path before we start on the script. Some people do 60-90 page treatment… fuck that.  Just write a script if you’re that thought out already.  Put your beats down, what needs to happen, and who it needs to happen to, and go from there.

If you’re too detailed going in, I think the words seem stale. Probably because the writer has been writing the same shit in outline form, for 6 months.  It feels good to feel the flow and unpredictable nature of a writer’s voice.

So I’ve written my spec. Now what?

I wish I had a magic answer to selling a script, but I sure as shit don’t. And no one does. Anyone that tells you otherwise is a fucking liar, or a thief, because more than likely, it’s one of those jerk-offs teaching a seminar for $200 that hasn’t sold shit!

WRITE YOUR ASS OFF! Thats the key to selling a script. You might hit a home run on your first bat… unlikely, but it happens. When you finally close the page on a script that you 100% think is rockstar solid, set it aside for at least 6 months, and write something else.  And while your waiting for 6 months, start reading scripts of sold material…

NOW, come back to that script 6 months later, and tell me how good it is. If its still a rockstar, go solicit a manager/agent, and sell that fucker – ’cause you got a gem!

What is the most common mistake you see aspiring screenwriters make?

The most common mistake writers make is they don’t write, and when they do, it’s shit… and they think its GREAT.  I’ll even admit to that fault.  I just went back and read my first draft of The Field… and it BLOWS!

Any last advice?

It’s outlast and outshine out here.  If you really want it bad enough, put the time in and don’t cave under the harsh environment like everyone else, you’ll rise above the muck.  If you’re writing is solid enough, you’ll succeed.

So there you have it! Advice from a selling screenwriter. Take it to heart, and keep writing! You can find a more in-depth interview with Josh over at Done Deal Pro.

New Link: Writing for Hollywood Blog

I just recently began reading this new blog called Writing for Hollywood. The writer calls herself writer-4-hire. She is a full-time writer and active member of the WGA since 1999 and has had five movies produced. To celebrate the writing of her 20th screenplay, she created this blog to share what she’s learned, as well as, ways to stay motivated and how she continues to learn.

Her first post started on July 1, 2010 with a blank page, and she tracks her progress of writing a spec from start to finish. Each post is an interesting read for someone looking to get into the head of a selling writer.  Along the way, she also shares, what I believe to be, very useful information for the up-and-coming screenwriter. The writer touches on everything from character development and plot structure, to procrastination and ergonomic chairs. She has since finished the first draft of that spec, and is now going through rewrites with notes from her agent… as well as a writing assignment, a treatment, and a novel. Shit!

I definitely recommended giving this blog a read.  Right the fuck now. 🙂

Just Read: The Dark Fields (Limitless)


The Dark Fields (Limitless)

by Leslie Dixon

Draft Dated: July 12, 2006

Based on the novel by Alan Glynn

Remember that everything I write is my personal opinion, and is (usually) based on an early draft; the plot, characters, and practically anything and everything in this draft could be changed, or will change, before the movie comes out.

The Dark Fields is about a complete loser named Eddie Spinola.  He’s a writer that has hit rock bottom, and is headed nowhere fast. He lives in a shitty apartment in NYC, and is barely holding his life together. One day, Eddie bumps into Vernon, his ex brother-in-law (a.k.a. his ex-drug dealer) who gives him a miracle drug. OH SNAP!  Now Eddie is going a million miles per second. This drug turns him into the smartest, funniest, and coolest guy in the room. Unfortunately, this drug also has some pretty nasty side effects. This story is a fun, exciting, yet dangerous thrill ride, that asks the question – What if there was a miracle drug that could make you the best at everything?

I read The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn a while ago, and I absolutely loved it. Fast paced, page-turning, brain fucking goodness. After finding out that it was being adapted for the big screen (and renamed Limitless) I naturally had to find the screenplay — and I was scared. Far too often has an amazing book been ruined, by the complex necessities of screenplay adaptation.So, did it make the cut, or did it fall into the black, swirling vortex, of “good-book-to-bad-movie” death?

I normally don’t add spoilers to my reviews, but there are some specific issues I felt like talking about —

Leslie Dixon did well! You might recognize her name from movies such as; Look Who’s Talking Now, Mrs. Doubtfire, The Thomas Crown Affair, among others.

Now, the screenplay doesn’t exactly follow the book.  There are extra characters and situations in the screenplay, that are not in the book – but thankfully, none of it hurts the story.  The major points of the story remain intact.

Not only was this screenplay well written, but it also addressed (and improved, in my opinion) the only issue I had with the book.  I never liked the way the book ended.  Originally in the end, after one HELL of a pharmaceutically-induced roller coaster ride, our hero – THE Eddie Spinola, just runs out of pills and dies in a seedy hotel room. It was kind of anticlimactic. I was hoping the end would have left us with Eddie getting a new sack of pills, and doing something crazy or end with him high as crap, gaining even more power in life!

Personally, I believe that Leslie Dixon’s screenplay addresses this ending quite well. Instead of having Eddie run out of pills, and complacently accept death in a cheap hotel, it ends with him as a fucking Senator, well on his way to becoming even more rich and powerful! — Plus, there seems to be a certain “pharmaceutical company” contributing heavily to Senator Spinola’s campaign. Add Bradley Cooper and Robert-freaking-De Niro into the mix, and I’m starting to get excited.  The only dumb part in the screenplay had to do with a cut-off hand and a middle finger. You’ll know what I’m talking about if you read the screenplay. It will be interesting to see if that makes it into the movie.  It really was stupid.

THE GOOD

  • The screenplay keeps the overall theme intact, staying true to the dark, fast-paced atmosphere.
  • The writer fixed the ending, which would have definitely pissed off the average moviegoers.
  • Amazingly, the writer was able to take a really great book, and adapted it into a pretty good screenplay – only changing/adding a few situations and characters – and didn’t fuck it up!

THE BAD

  • Honestly, without rereading the book or screenplay, all over again, the only bad scene I remember is the dumb, cut-off hand in the vault.

THE VERDICT

I recommend reading the book, reading the screenplay, and going to see the movie when it comes out.  In whatever order you chose to do them in. I can only vouch for the book and the screenplay, though. If you don’t read books then shame on you.  I cannot share scripts on this site out of fear of being sued, but if you place your email in the comments section, there is really nothing I can do if another reader decides to send it to you.

What do you think? Good script? Good movie? Good book?

You can discuss and review the movie in detail here.