- Make sure…and really, MAKE SURE after you have written your first draft – you take a break. As long as you can – at least two-three weeks tops. You can’t rewrite anything without some level of objectivity.
- Now when I get back to my script, the first thing I do – turn off everything – or if you are that tempted, make your calls, speak to your loved ones (for the last time, muahaha) for two whole hours. Off distractions!
- Reread the script. Start-to-finish. Emphasizing: picture it like a movie – much as you can – the story, etc. Do not use a document that is editable – do not type in dialogue (though you can note ideas on the side). One of the silliest mistakes I used to make was start messing with it before reading the whole thing. While you can take that red pen and add notes on a printout OR do what I do which is read the entire thing off my iPad and add stickies, keep the actual document intact. I recommend PDF’s, basically anything uneditable.
- Spend the two hours and read the whole thing. The important thing is picture it as a movie. Can you see this as a movie? Ok, I said that…
- For this second draft, I focus on the story. See if it works.
- Mental Checklists: is the pacing ok? Are the characters making sense? Scenes to throw out? What scenes work, what don’t? Are they likeable to a certain extent? Do they elicit the right emotions? Could certain scenes be improved – instead of the guy randomly fainting because he’s depressed, could he just get it over with by falling off a cliff? Wherever you can throw in visuals, action, do so – don’t worry too much yet about trimming dialogue yet though if you can make something better visually, do that (that’s for the polish). Movies are primarily visual – something to always keep in the recesses of our minds.
- Speaking of cuts – think about these as well – but don’t stress about them. The point in this draft is to just nail the characters as well as story and make sure it’s the story YOU want to tell.
- If you have those scene cards up from before, bad news – put them away(aah! All that work!) – but keep them nearby just in case. Usually what ends up happening on my end is I redo them again from scratch!
- Speaking of outlines, in my opinion, this is the most important, rewriting wise. Rewrite the entire story – outline-first (see previous post on outlining here). As you rework, edit, make changes, note each scene, why it’s there whether it has a purpose or not. Also think about characters – figure out whether they are functional and adding to your story more than the random joke/line.
- Speaking of characters, aside from bios, one thing I forgot to mention in some of those classes I took (which, dummy that I am, I didn’t used to do before that I am finally doing now) is being VERY CLEAR on who each of these characters are before heading into the rewrite (or if you are smarter than me, doing it early on in the prep stage rather than now). One way is to just write it down in one doc (I call mine ‘Character keys’)- their core essence — who they are – where they are from and what their archetype/role is in your story (aka. hero, villain, mentor, pretty princess, bad-ass..ok joking about the last two). Keep it brief… this is a HUGE HELP when you are trying to nail down their dialogue as well.
- Usually my rewrites can take anywhere from four weeks to ten for me. It really depends on how much time you have and how much you can do. I do it the same way as I did the first draft – arming myself with a (hopefully much better) outline but again – important not to overthink it! Just keep moving, write it as well as you can – and get it done as soon as you can.
- After this rewrite as usual, put it aside like before. If you are getting stuck among the way, my favourite tool is have another screenplay to read alongside. Or if you have another project, split time between both – and also sometimes taking a break is all it takes to get your brain cells back in gear before you prepare for the next round – the polish (yes, a couple more rounds, this is the real work!).
- After all that work, you deserve to celebrate! Put it aside again for a few weeks, more if you can. If you have a friend or two who is willing to read it and you feel confident, pass it on, in fact do. Being the worrisome type, I tend to be very fussy about people reading my stuff these days and wasting their precious time with it until it’s fairly decent. I have felt like I had to rush this before and usually it doesn’t work… TRUST ME! So my suggestion is take as long as you need with it! When I say ‘decent’ at least that the story is down, the plot is clear and the characters are close to what you want them to be.
Here’s where we are at with this series so far:
Now onto the third thing that, in my humble opinion, is a great screenwriting learning tool: writing classes.
There are some fantastic universities out there that offer screenwriting as a program and even as an elective and then there are the guys who just learned mostly like I did – writing, reading and writing. Like I have said before without being too redundant, I really don’t think there’s one specific way to learn writing – sounds vague, but it’s true. You gotta do what works with you – and it can be many things.
My experience with screenwriting classes is a diverse one. I initially took screenwriting as an extension of my sojourn in film school… though technique and mastery of filmmaking in general was given precedence over the writing itself. Case-in-point, it’s been nearly a decade now since I left film school and I can simply say that while I was certainly given an introduction to screenwriting, there is a lot of stuff I had to unlearn. Partly because at this particular school, film technique was given importance over story concept – and also partly because the teachers were not as experienced as they should have been. Thus, when I graduated, I graduated with the notion that shooting scripts are the way to write scripts and that my narrative voice is too ‘novelistic’ – disheartening to say the least. It’s been several years now and unfortunately much of this information I learned in film school may have been ultimately well-meaning, but was nevertheless incorrect… because while technique is important, an entertaining story with great characters trump all!
So, in my opinion, here’s the bottom-line –if you are going to classes or a school to learn screenwriting, I would advise: research and make sure the teachers have credentials, have written scripts and know their stuff. Period.
It has never made sense to me how anyone can really teach screenwriting without having written and experienced the pains and joys or taken the time and effort it takes to really learn what that’s like. In my opinion, writing something is easy – but writing something good that you want other people to see is not. It not only takes a lot of time, it also takes a lot of passion, effort and commitment. This is my own lazy way of saying that while I personally have the confidence to know I can write decently well, I know that good – better yet, GREAT WRITING takes a LOT OF PRACTICE as well as knowledge. Most of all, you need to commit to doing whatever it takes to breathe life into the story you want to tell.
So – getting back to the question of the week: do you need a class to learn how to write a script? No. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think they can help – IF they are the right ones, being taught by teachers who know their stuff. Classes can be great in terms of bringing us writers up to speed structurally as well as lending a hand through some issues you may come across story-wise along the way. Also beneficial to have someone more experienced help keep you on your toes!
Anyway, here are the ones I have tried so far with teachers who, in my humble opinion, really give a 100% and they are online too:
• Screenwriting Master class: taught by the great Scott Myers (go-into-the-story) and Tom Benedek. The emphasis of these classes being on story=character, the best classes I have personally ever taken. They are fun, you meet other writers in a workshop setting and they will also never leave a question unanswered. You get what you pay for.
• ‘Writer’s University’ – also has a variety of great teachers in the industry that I have learned a lot from, though it all depends on what you want to learn and what class.
If you can find a great mentor in the industry who can give you feedback on your work on and off, that’s great as well. This is just another learning tool that’s helped me with my projects, but please… bottom-line, do what works for you. And keep writing!
Next week: I am going real-time – REWRITES, that is! If any of you guys have any schools or classes you recommend that you want to add to this discussion, feel free to post it in comments! Thanks for reading and have a great week!
First off, I will admit that while I used to transport myself to the movie theater at least once a week in the past – life, kids, work responsibilities have dismally reduced this extravagance to once a couple of months… which is why, when I post these, you will get a sense that I covet this experience like the Cookie Monster covets his cookies (which in fact is true. Not that I don’t love my cookies…).
A few MINOR SPOILERS ahead – I hate it when other people spoil it for me, so I will do my best to keep this as spoiler-free as possible. First, the basic premise, courtesy of IMDB:
A medical engineer and an astronaut work together to survive after an accident leaves them adrift in space.
Were you one of those kids who thought you wanted to be an astronaut when you grew up? While there are a few space films that have been done before (Apollo 13, anyone?), I have to say this is the first one that will not only let you experience that deep subject of space, but transport you there…. or atleast put yourself in the shoes of protagonist Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock). While at first glance, she wouldn’t immediately come across as the protagonist – she is hurled, whipped, projected, into the role — an underdog whose cold, broken-hearted negativity and despair is well contrasted with Matt Kowalski (co-star George Clooney), the other more charismatic, charming lead in the story. Fear is something we can all relate to, as is the case here – she may not have much to live for, but as we discover, there are fates worse than death that can propel one to reconsider life as a better alternative, even in the worst cases.
While the story, the situation itself is a straightforward one, a space mission malfunctioning leaving astronauts stranded and forced to find a way home, the visual execution of this film is in a word: mind-blowing (especially in 3D). Stone herself, as we discover is a fairly complex character – and that’s the beauty of this film: space being a subject that’s vast, complex, ever-evolving, director and writer Alfonso Cuaron still manages to keep it simple as a contained thriller – a vista explored and unexplored, beyond our wildest imagination. Diverging from the hollywood casts of thousands, endless blockbuster sets, here we have two major characters representing various character archetypes in a single location with the only nemesis being nature itself.
Who said movies only imitate reality? Cuaron, through ‘Gravity’ is a proven radicalist who changes this by making us abandon our theater seats to go into space, somehow juxtaposing us there and yet managing to keep us in the present without giving us a chance to relax. Stone is alone but so are we… and while there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of a script it seems (since much of it is an experience and improvised), Cuaron offers us some great lines as well (case-in-point, when Stone the seasoned astronaut says: “I hate space.”) Everything is real time, saturating our senses- we are not only watching her, we are hearing her, feeling her – experiencing every jolt, every turn that by the time we get to the end, the whole movie has just speeded by.
To conclude, ‘Gravity’ is a testament to the ongoing saga of movies and oscar-contenders each year – that despite the marketing norm, the ‘tried, tested and true’ theory, doing something that no one has ever done before can still work when combined with brilliant execution and in Cuaron’s case, an understanding of his audience, physically as well as emotionally.
So – what did you think of ‘Gravity?’ Feel free to post in comments.
Here is an intro I did a while back on this subject.
I assume many of you guys are here because either you have a faint interest in writing/screenwriting in general or are writers already on your way. In my case, I have been through the ups and downs that many of us go through when we don’t exactly know what we want to be and even though I have been writing things for years, it took me ages to realize writing is my calling. But then what happens once the writing bug has hit you?
This is an interesting subject for me personally in so many ways – and I have a lot to say, because if you are really serious about writing, I think taking the time to learn the ins and outs is not only non-negotiable if you want to be successful, but can also deliver us writers much faster to their destinations. So without further dilly-dally, here is this week’s trick.
TIP#1 – READ BOOKS on WRITING.
Now I know there are tons of writing books out there – an industry full of them and it’s hard to figure out which books are the best ones that can get us from A to Z, authors’ fame. That said, in my humble opinion I personally don’t think any one book can truly cover the entire subject of screenwriting, because writing in itself is that multi-faceted – so my recommendation is: why eat one slice when you can have them all? There are lots of ways to learn (hence these kind of posts) so don’t depend on just one!
The majority of my early life teaching myself how to write began by reading these. Even my first ever college screenwriting teacher took the easy way out and told us to learn by ‘reading the textbooks.’ He wasn’t exactly wrong – because that’s exactly what I did. One annoying thing I find, though with many of the books I have read in the past out there is that several jump the gun at times and talk to you about selling your script – and not as much about actually writing it, which is why if you are learning to write, certainly ‘read’ them, just don’t ‘worship’ them!
Anyway, if you are going to drop your bucks (and yes books cost a lot in general), here are four favorites worth shelling for [P.S.: I am aware there are no ‘Voglers’ or ‘McKee’s’ – which I haven’t read, probably should, or ‘Syd Fields'(who I have read, every single one) but the help in these below are quite plenty, so if you are game, try them out first. You won’t regret it, I promise!
My first book on writing ever – great beginners fodder and covers the basics, particularly formatting – the be all of screenwriting but not the end all. Lots of useful information. Also covers a bit about treatments and other ‘usefuls’. He is Dr. Format for a reason!
It may not teach you the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of writing your script, but it’s still THE BEST, PRACTICAL and MOST INSPIRING BOOK about screenwriters and screenwriting I have ever read. A mega-opus of tips, tricks and practical writing habits from the greatest screenwriters. A must for your shelf (my copy has lots of shelf-wear). Wonderful stuff that still keeps my writing wheels rolling.
OK so I started reading this (four years back) and in the intro, mega-screenwriter and mentor Snyder is that awesome and serious about the craft that he asks us to send him some loglines! C’mon, a guy who would do that for unknowns like us is a God. Unfortunately, I found out he had passed away and that plan went out the window. But yeah an amazing read and worth the price.
Who doesn’t know Stephen King? I didn’t – until I read this. So, read, enjoy and be inspired.
Next week: More tips and another great and useful resource on this subject, the ‘where’ and ‘how’.
Hello everyone, glad to be back after the one-week hiatus where all my spare time was spent mostly at the dentist (can you believe it? So annoying, to say the least – nothing against the dentist who has a picture of him wearing a cow costume last halloween on his wall while he works…)
So – first draft aka. the first official take of scripts.
What I am sharing below are things I have learned as well as things I have tried and still trying. As I have probably mentioned countless times, I am neither a teacher or an expert, not quite a student either – somewhere in the middle. That being said, if you are looking for someone who constantly learns from others and experiments and writes scripts, you will be happy to know – you are in the right place.
OK, so first off: let me be completely honest and say that my first drafts are not that great. I have a ton to say about this – and yet not a lot to say. In total in life I have written about six first drafts – all at varying stages. As a teenager, the first draft basically started with an idea before I even knew I was writing a screenplay – and that’s it. I went on the fly and wrote two terrible scripts. As a student, it went from a treatment or a three paragraph synopsis, resulting in another two terrible, but slightly better scripts. Now it’s all the stages we have already talked about the last set of weeks. I use some of these stages or all to get here depending on the projects I am working on – and being a bit impatient, by the time I get to this point, I am ecstatic – I am dying to do it, because:
A) Once I finish I will actually have a SCRIPT (sort of)
B) I would have accomplished what marathon runners accomplish by writing a ton of pages and while those ton of pages will probably lose most of its shine by the time I get to rewrite, the good news is I have a model, a skeleton to work with, and improve upon. Case-in-point, after I have dug into it enough, even if it’s not at its best, the one thing this draft will have – POTENTIAL.
So here are the things I do:
1) Judging that the outline is fairly solid and what I have excites me enough to spend a month or two on it, it’s just a matter of going for it at this point. Start-to-finish.
2) While in the last few drafts, I haven’t bothered to look back until after I have finished, now I am thinking it’s a toss-up. If you notice there are real problems along the way while writing and if you can stifle your excitement to move on and promise yourself you are going to move on very quickly (like literally put a timer on to make sure you are going to move on and not overdo the fixing!), you can stop the rush and solve the issue before moving forward. I say this on the verge of extreme caution, because it’s easy to stall while trying to work out a solution to the problem, sometimes days, even months. This has happened to me a few times.
Take my last script – here’s exactly what I did:
After I wrote the outline and sorted out index cards, I steamed right through it. I knew there were problems (especially in Act II) – but having waited a long time to just get writing this story, I decided I am going to zoom straight through it anyways. Now or never! Fast forward a few weeks and reading this draft – it’s not just terrible – it’s REALLY TERRIBLE. The good: I can fix this! The bad: it left me disillusioned because of all the problems I had left to fix.
Conclusion? Deep down, I should have listened to that tiny voice in my head, my inner psychologist that nagged me and resolved those issues early on in the outline and prep. Oh and another thing: don’t just depend on your outline. I tend to go very detailed with these and get over-confident but the real test of getting the various parts of the story to work is actually writing the script – entering that world and experiencing your characters’ journey.
No matter how seasoned a writer you are, I think every writer goes through this at some point… and even though I have written quite a few drafts now, I still ran into this situation – so it can happen to anyone. Now I have put aside the previous one to focus on a new project these last few weeks. I went over my outline again and I have gained a little more… enough confidence to say – “I can get through this story!”, but if I stumble with problems along the way, I will spend a set amount of time fixing them before heading on. Now you may ask, ‘how much prep is too much?’ It’s a question I am still trying to sort out. One thing I can tell you though: the more you write, the better your experience will be as a writer. Writing, ultimately is writing – so I have kept writing and I learn less from fretting with my mistakes and more from just resolving and learning from them.
In terms of first draft goals:
• Get the entire thing down as a screenplay, from start-to-finish. Beginning, middle, end.
• I try to work without distractions during this period, not only to get through it as fast as possible but also to fully let myself enter the story universe and experience it. There is something about the first time you bring your main character to life that is incredibly special and unique. It’s important not to over-think those moments initially.
• Start with a bang, revv up the engine with a great opening! But don’t just stop there – try and make every scene COUNT. Additionally: Try and set up all your main characters by the end of Act one.
• I try to keep every scene exciting and meaningful in some way. Since it’s early stages, if I do get an idea I want to try, I throw it in and include it. I know I can always edit it out later if it doesn’t work – but at least I have it there to refer back to. Speaking of editing: The one rule I try to follow is not to edit myself too much along the way in the first draft, but keep going. Bad formatting? Too much description or dialogue? Not a problem…yet. Because you can tackle it in the rewrite.
• I always keep another screenplay by a seasoned writer alongside – so that when I begin to slow down, I am reminded of where I am trying to go and what I am trying to achieve.
The way I go about the rest of this very briefly (I know my plotpoints and goals well through the outline by this point) is by dividing my story into four halves:
• Act 1: I establish who my protagonist and characters are, his current story universe, plotpoint at the end of act 1 will end with the dilemma/crisis that the protagonist is about to face.
• Act 2: I divide this act into two halves since it’s so long and it’s easy to get lost! The first half the protagonist is getting to know the new world, determining what the dilemma actually is and testing its water. The second half focuses more on finding his footing and preparing for his final role. Let’s recollect ‘Gladiator’ for example. Maximus loses his family and everything else in act 1, life thrown into complete disarray. Act 2, Maximus gets trained to be a gladiator, starts to find his purpose to live – revenge on Commodus and to do whatever it takes. Act 3 he faces off with Commodus, kills him and even though he passes on in the end, he has achieved what he has set out to achieve.
• Act 3: aka. the resolution. Does our hero get what he came for or doesn’t he? How does the story end?
On a final note: I am currently halfway through another first draft as we speak, so if you guys are following, feel free to try these things along with me. And please – after you have written this draft, give it a break – don’t look at it for at least two weeks! See you all soon – should be posting again later this week! Next stop (going forward in real time): The First Rewrite!