A screenwriter’s pursuit for that elusive validation…

April 12, 2014 § Leave a comment

handshake cartoonAh, validation. All writers have a need for  recognition of their work in a positive manner. We all need a pat on the back or just a “job well done” comment every once in a while. Many times you won’t find the validation you seek on the outside, but inside yourself for walking the talk and completing a screenplay. In fact, many times the only validation will come from when they stamp your parking ticket after the meeting. I’m always suspicious of the production companies that don’t pay for a writer’s parking. You pull into the parking lot and read the rates are $2.50 (£1.49 / 1.8) every fifteen minutes—ten bucks  ( 7.2 / £5.98) an hour! It could be foreshadowing of a terrible ending. Sure enough, after the meeting is over they pass on your project and it’s like rubbing lemon into your paper cut as you race down the stairwell because the quarter-hour is approaching and you don’t want to blow another $2.50 unless you have to do it.

pitchAfter you finish a new screenplay it’s a vulnerable period because you’re exposing your work to criticism and possibly rejection. You’re coming off a major creative high and you don’t wan anyone to spoil your euphoria. And then you discover it’s difficult to find someone else who shares your level of excitement about your script. It’s a feeling of lonely disappointment as if you’re the only person who is championing your cause. Stay strong and trust in your daily disciplines to get you through.

Writing the screenplay is the first big hurdle, but waiting for the validation from feedback is another. It’s easy to take notes personally because your script is your baby and your writing exposes yourself and your talents to the world. If you can’t handle critical opinions, work on detaching from your work, as it will make the process easier for survival. Notes and changes are standard procedure with any screenplay at every level of the film business because the script is an ever-changing blueprint for a movie.

Once the producers, the director and actors become involved there will be changes and you should welcome the creative input from your co-collaborators. These fellow artisans will bring the script to an entirely new level of creativity. The problem comes when so many changes drag down the process and you become frustrated and feel like throwing in the towel. Stay positive and focus on turning in a script that is closer to what everyone needs to produce the film. That’s your ultimate goal—production. Find the passion you had for the first draft and put that energy into shaping the new draft. You’ll please not only yourself, but also the producer and other talent your script needs to attract to get produced.

Along with the successes, I’ve personally dealt with rejection, insecurity, fear, disappointments and frustration throughout my screenwriting career. Even as I’ve slogged through the hardships chasing that elusive validation, I’ve always managed to love the craft of filmmaking. I’ve always looked at it from a bigger perspective and focused on using the constructive notes to craft a better screenplay. Trust your talent and ability and take your feedback seriously, but don’t take it to heart. If you find yourself in a bad mental place because you’re disappointed with feedback, it’s okay to pause and honestly address your feelings, but then get back to addressing the notes.

script oddsIf you’re going to play in the majors, you’re competing with the best and you must accept that sometimes you won’t find the validation you need. Many times you will be disappointed from your feedback and your high expectations may be squashed. Your ego’s bruised, beaten to a pulp and you to doubt your talent and chances for success. Don’t take it personally, because feedback is a rite of passage necessary for the growth of any aspiring screenwriter. If you want to survive over the long haul of a career, you’ll need to toughen up and build your courage to endure disappointment criticism and rejection. As you embrace this process, you’ll begin to look at constructive feedback as a positive experience that helps make your script better and teaches you collaboration as a team player.

You’re certain to experience many disappointments as you pursue a career, but do not perceive any of them as failures or setbacks. These experiences are part of a screenwriter’s journey and you’ll always succeed if you keep a positive outlook and never stop writing.

Scriptcat out!

Did you just complete your latest screenplay and need in-depth consultation? Check out my professional services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website.  You never get a second chance to make a first great impression with your screenplay. Make the time to get it right.

Screenplay consultation services

“The reward of suffering is experience.”—Aeschylus, Ancient Greek Dramatist known as the founder of Greek Tragedy

“The writer’s only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then.”—William Faulkner

“Our doubts are traitors,
and make us lose the good we oft might win,
by fearing to attempt.”—
Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, Act 1 Scene 4

“Seeking support from friends and family is like having your people gathered around at your deathbed.  It’s nice, but when the ship sails, all they can do is stand on the dock waving goodbye.  Any support we get from persons of flesh and blood is like Monopoly money; it’s not legal tender in that sphere where we have to do our work.  In fact, the more energy we spend stoking up on support from colleagues and loved ones, the weaker we become and the less capable of handling our business.” —Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”

MORE QUOTES FOR TODAY

 

 

 

 

Simple techniques within your control to survive in the screenwriting trenches…

April 6, 2014 § 1 Comment

praise or blameAs you pursue a career as a professional screenwriter in Hollywood you will discover the harsh reality that many aspects of a career are out of your control. You can’t control if an agent or manager likes your material enough to sign you as a client. You can’t control if your screenplay will sell and even if they buy it, there is no guarantee of production as it might die in development hell or never get financed. Even if you have a film produced, you can’t control if it will be a success or failure. Instead of worrying what you can’t control, a better use of your energy is focusing on what is what you can do like writing every day and becoming a master screenwriter.

One important decision within your control is spending money on your career. I find too many aspirants reluctant to pay for software, books, workshops, webinars, seminars, script consultants or anything else that costs money to learn their craft. How important is your career to you? If it’s not important enough to spend money on learning your craft you shouldn’t waste your time pursing a screenwriting career. You’ll end up failing and blame everyone else but yourself. Any career pursuit will cost money and time and you need to spend both for a shot at any chance of success.

Another pet peeve of mine is dealing with aspirants who don’t want to invest the money in professional screenwriting software recognized by the film industry. This is a blatant disrespect of the craft and immediately shows me they’re not serious about their career. Buy the proper screenwriting software and never use something that you formatted yourself. I recently turned down a script consultation job from a screenwriter who told me that she formatted her script in Microsoft Word and I told her use the money she would have paid me to buy the proper screenwriting software. After graduating from film school my first and only screenwriting software purchase was Final Draft and I’ve used it and loved it ever since. There are other good screenwriting software programs on the market of course, but do your research to see what best suits you before you spend the money. Also remember that screenwriting software is a business expense that you can write off on your yearly taxes.

Okay, you’ve finished your script and you are ready to unleash it upon Hollywood. Congratulations. You’ve read it several times, made your own changes, even took notes from other writers you trust, and maybe even done a polish. You’re feeling confident and ready for professionals to read your genius. So, like 50,000 other writers do every year, it’s time to register your script or treatment with the Writers Guild of America for protection. It’s the standard in the creation of legal evidence for the protection of your work.

Too many new screenwriters are paranoid that someone will steal their precious script. Lose the fear and be brave as outright theft is rare and it’s also stupid because no company would want to raise money and go through production only to have a lawsuit against them for theft. Chances are it’s the specter of similar ideas and out of those thousands of projects floating around every year in Hollywood, many of them will have similar stories because tens of thousands of films and television shows have been produced before you ever started writing. The odds are that many stories will be similar because of the sheer volume of material that has already been produced. It’s the specific execution of these similar ideas that matters.

It’s a good idea to register your script with the Writers Guild before submitting it to agents, managers, or producers, so you can document your authorship on a given date should there be unauthorized usage. The cost to register it with the WGA is $20 for non-WGA members and $10 for members and it’s registered for five years. You can register a script in person, by mail or on the WGA’s website. Now that you’re protected, you don’t want to ruin your chances and have your hard work end up in the dustbin of broken dreams do you? Of course not.

Follow this important tip: Do not write your WGA registration number on the title page of your script. I know you’ll be tempted, but please don’t because it screams that you’re an amateur and shows you’re afraid someone is out to steal your precious script. It’s as if you built a new house and posted signs around the yard that read: “No Trespassing—We Shoot Looters”. Even when you don’t list your WGA script registration number, it’s pretty much assumed industry wide that your script is either registered with the WGA or with the copyright office because professionals take care of their business.

The only situation where a screenwriter owns his or her script is when it’s written as an original spec. However this ownership is short-lived because when a studio or production company buys your spec they become the legal owners of the material and it becomes a “work for hire.” This is why it’s unnecessary in my opinion to copyright your screenplay because once you sell it to a production company, they will make you transfer the rights to them and you no longer own it. If you do copyright your script, not only is it a lengthy process, but also an unnecessary waste of money. A simple way of protecting your script is to mail it to yourself and never open it. The postmark is a way to prove your script was in existence on that date.

script oddsHere’s another screenplay tip that is within your control: If a producer, agent or manager requests to read your script, do not write the title of your script on the spine. Unfortunately I did this many years ago when I first started on my journey when my then agent requested five copies of my script so he could send it out. He grimaced and politely explained that writing the title on the spine indicates the script has been already read. I’m sure you’ve been in a producer’s office and noticed a bookshelf full of scripts with their handwritten titles on the spines? That’s because they were already read and logged into their system. Now, my agent couldn’t send out my scripts as fresh copies because they looked as if they had been read. I was totally embarrassed and it was a rookie mistake.

Another technique within your control is keeping track of your script submissions. When you send out your script, it’s important to keep a submission log of where it’s being read and who is reading. Also keep track of the companies where you pitch and the name of the person you’re meeting. List the production company’s information, the contact person, and when they received the script or listened to your pitch. After you follow-up, indicate if they “passed” on the script or if they wanted to schedule a meeting. A detailed submission log helps protect you if any problems arise in the future with regards to ownership of your screenplay.

If an agent or manager wants to sign you or take out your script, your log will be an invaluable source of information to better target new contacts so they don’t submit to places that already passed on your material. These simple techniques are within your control so make them standard practice to help you stand out as a screenwriter who deserves the respect of having your script considered by top professionals.

Keep the faith and keep filling your blank pages.

Scriptcat out!

Did you just finish your latest screenplay? Is it time for in-depth consultation? Check out my services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website and more information. You never get a second chance to make a first great impression with your screenplay.

Screenplay consultation services

“You can’t get to wonderful without passing through alright.” —Bill Withers

“Act without expectation.” —Lao Tzu

“This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication.  She approves.  We have earned favor in her sight.  When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.” ― Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”

The reward of suffering is experience.”—Aeschylus, Ancient Greek Dramatist known as the founder of Greek Tragedy

“Luck is a prepared screenwriter who meets an opportunity and delivers the goods.”—Scriptcat

“It is no small feat to get a movie made, on any subject, on any screen.” — JJ Abrams

“The professional also “dedicates himself to mastering technique not because he believes technique is a substitute for inspiration but because he wants to be in possession of the full arsenal of skills when inspiration does come.” —Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”

 

 

Communiqué from the front lines: Pushing your projects farther up the mountain……

March 24, 2014 § 1 Comment

BoulderFlatAs I’ve mentioned before in my blog articles, even with credits or not, a screenwriter’s job never ends with regards to either creating new material or constantly meeting, pitching and building an ever-expanding network of your “fans.”  It’s days, nights, weekends as your mind is always working.  Even with credits, you’re always looking for your next gig. A famous screenwriter once said, “You’re always on assignment.”  It’s true.  The first three months of this year have been busy for me with a new assignment job (my 12th of my career) and pushing my other projects closer to production.

On the screenplay assignment side, I landed a new job from a producer to write an indy feature. It’s my twelfth screenwriting assignment of my career and will be my twenty-seventh written feature script overall. I just completed the treatment and await my orders to start the screenplay. Every time up to the plate is a different and unique experience and I never take it for granted. I respect every trip back to the creative well and I’m humbled and grateful.

And of course my entertainment lawyer handled the contract specifics. It’s always a good idea to enlist the professional help of a lawyer to make sure you are protected in your contract. It’s just what professional screenwriters do to “handle their business.” Producers will also respect you more when their business affairs department has to deal with your lawyer.  Screenwriters get screwed if they allow it. You can always say “no” and walk away from a deal that is not in your favor. Meeting half way is always the best way because the longer you’re working in this business, you’ll realize there is a long line of eager and willing screenwriters to take your job. The most important thing is that you scored the job. Nothing else matters except doing the best job you can and building your reputation as a team player.

In addition, I just completed a three-day polish on a feature script with my partner who will direct our film. We’re in the process of looking for financing and today through our Academy Award® winning executive producer, the project was just given to a legendary veteran producer with over 400 credits. Fingers crossed, but who knows? My example is that you’ll do everything you can to push every project farther down the field and hopefully closer to financing and production. You’ll also need four or five projects to be moving along the field at any given time for one to stick.  Many times it will take years, but if you have more than one project in play, you’ll always be busy and not look to just one project to change your life. You must always be working on your next piece of material.

And, last weekend, my partners and I had a table read for the first season of our new web series that I wrote. It was an enlightening experience having actors read the parts while my partners and I took notes on the nine episodes and heard how the season played out. It’s my first experience writing a web series and I really enjoyed the process. It feels like we’re on the right track and it’s out to investors.

So, dig in deep and get your latest project finished. That is the first and most important step of the journey. After it’s completed, every project travels on its own journey and no two projects will ever be the same with regards to getting made. The process will always take more time to move forward than you’d ever expect.  So, continually work on your pitches, treatments, loglines and completed scripts as each projects finds its way. You’ll need more than one project to standout and make some noise. Take meetings and build your relationships. When you do secure a job, do your best regardless of your payday and build your reputation as a team player.

It’s all part of the process of being a working screenwriter. No romantic images of fame and fortune just the reality that it’s all about the work. Rinse, lather, and repeat. When it does finally happen, if it hasn’t already, you’ll take the meeting that launches your career and they tell you they’re buying your script or hiring you to write a project. Your screenwriting career is not a Dali-esque delusion, but the result of work, talent, focus, sacrifice, patience and luck.

And luck is a prepared screenwriter who meets an opportunity and delivers the goods.

Keep writing and keep the faith.

Scriptcat out!

Did you just finish your latest screenplay? Click the blue icon below for the link to my website and more information about my screenplay consultation services.

Screenplay consultation services

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”—Pablo Picasso

“Believe me that in every big thing or achievement there are obstacles — big or small — and the reaction one shows to such an obstacle is what counts not the obstacle itself.”—Bruce Lee

“It is one thing to study war and another to live the warrior’s life.”—Telamon of Arcadia, mercenary, 5th Century B.C.

“When the last dime is gone, I’ll sit on the curb outside with a pencil and a ten cent notebook and start the whole thing over again.” — Preston Sturges

But the Artist cannot look to others to validate his efforts or his calling.  If you don’t believe me, ask Van Gogh, who produced masterpiece after masterpiece and never found a buyer his whole life.  In the hierarchy, the Artist faces outward. Meeting someone new he asks himself, “What can this person do for me?”  “How can this person advance my standing?”  In hierarchy, the Artist looks up and looks down.  The one place he can’t look is that place he must: within.”—Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”

“If you always put a limit on everything you do, physical or anything else. It will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.“—Bruce Lee

 

 

 

Two vital aspects of building a solid screenwriting career: Your talent and reputation…

March 17, 2014 § Leave a comment

It starts with your talent.  You’ll have to work hard, over many years and respect your craft to become an excellent screenwriter. Your talent will grow as you learn and grow as a screenwriter and eventually secure your first paid job moving from aspirant to a “professional.”  I believe talent grows as you master your craft and continue to discover your unique voice and ability.  Your talent (and many other factors) will sell your script, but it’s your reputation that will give you longevity in this crazy business.

Your reputation as a professional screenwriter will always precede you.  It’s something that can only be built over time as you work on various projects with producers or executives.  A TV show runner is going to size you up and check out your references to see if they can work with you for six months in a room writing the series.  A feature producer is going to size you up to see if you will deliver your drafts on schedule,  if you can execute notes properly, and not hold up the development or production process.

Everyone’s opinion about working with you matters.  If you garner a reputation as being “difficult,” they will not work with you again.  A veteran director who I worked with on a movie that I wrote recently told me that he was in Canada editing and ran into another director who I’ve worked with before. They both mentioned to each other how much of a pleasure it was to work with me on the movies they directed that I wrote. My reputation was working for me on its own, but only because I have built it up to a level where it’s solid.

Never believe that you are Hollywood’s new gift to screenwriting—you aren’t and there are hundreds of other writers, equally as talented, more driven to success, who are not divas and can get the job done. This is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned on my fifteen plus years as a professional screenwriter. Reputation is everything!

Here are a few positive steps that will enhance your professional reputation:

  • Always deliver your best work, every time, regardless of your salary.
  • Be the writer/collaborator whom they trust.
  • Never be late for meetings.
  • Never get testy about script notes or show your anger. A “team player” works again.
  • Go the extra mile on the project and clearly show them how invaluable you are to the project.
  • Show them you’re the writer they can trust to deliver the drafts on schedule.
  • If you don’t already have the natural ability—pay close attention to all details.
  • Become a repository of knowledge about the script for the director, producer and actors.
  • Help the producers craft a script they can produce and lend any support they need to get the movie competed. At the end of the day, it’s all about getting the movie produced.
  • Be fun to work with on projects. Your unique personality will go far and if you’re fun to be around, people will remember that positive characteristic.
  • Your lofty ideals of “your vision” and how you’re going to fight for every word is just going to keep you working at Starbucks.

You’ll always find opportunities to build your reputation and integrity as a professional screenwriter.  It will take some time to build up a solid reputation, but it’s vital if you want longevity in this business. Every new project is a chance to build new relationships and show the producers and executives they can trust you by being a person of your word.  If you promise to do something—do it.  It’s really that easy.  Over time, these professionals will know they can count on you and that your word means something.  It’s part of being a professional in all aspects of your career.

Now, back to the blank page and good luck!

Scriptcat out!

If you need in-depth screenwriting consultation, consider my services by clicking on the link below for the link to my website and more information.

Screenplay consultation services

“The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear.”—Socrates

“You don’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do” — Henry Ford

“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”—Abraham Lincoln

Scriptcat’s three marvelous March screenwriting tips for your journey…

March 8, 2014 § 2 Comments

treatmentIf you’re a regular reader of this blog, first of all—THANK YOU!  I truly hope you’re busy creating and forging ahead on your screenwriting journey and you’ve been able to take away a few nuggets of advice that helped. As you may know, I’ve been adding short posts (nothing is EVER short on this blog!) and sharing various survival tips. I do speak about these in the various articles on this blog, but this feature will be a quick reference to glance over and consider as you navigate your screenwriting journey.  So, in addition to my tips on Twitter (@scriptcat), I’ll be posting new ones here from time to time.  Thanks for reading and as always: Carry on, keep the faith and keep screenwriting!

I can’t believe it’s March already. Have you been reaching your screenwriting goals for 2014? So far this year it’s been a fantastic ride for me. I just signed my contract for my new screenwriting assignment job (my 12th overall!), I completed writing the first season of a new webseries, and I’m preparing for the publication of my new book. Okay, on with a few survival tips…

TIP #1

As a screenwriter, you must consider writing a job and this helps you to think of yourself as a professional.  It’s good practice and prepares you for the time when you do get paid to write and the producer requires you to complete the script on a deadline.  It’s no longer the romanticized dream of endless time to work on your spec in a dream world—it’s go time as you are getting paid, you have a schedule and a contract.  The producer or executive expects greatness from you and you generally have six to eight weeks to deliver the first draft.  And that draft must be excellent or you will be fired. This is not the time for a “vomit draft.”

TIP #2

Get to know yourself and your abilities as a screenwriter. This will only come from experience, so the more you write the more you’ll learn about yourself and be able to trust your abilities.  You’ll discover your strengths and weaknesses, if you write fast or slow, if you can meet a deadline, and if you’re easily distracted or if you can work in a crowded coffee shop. When the writing gets difficult, time becomes your enemy as you never know each day if your creative juices will flow or dry up.  Do yourself a favor and always protect your precious writing time from the forces of interruption.  This will give you a protected space where you can work uninterrupted and get to know your abilities. You’ll be able to look at a project and estimate how long it will take you to complete. This is a vital  ability for a working screenwriter. You’ll keep on schedule, writing will become a habit, and you will be more productive than ever before.

TIP #3

Take everything as face value for talk is the cheapest commodity in Hollywood. Many times interest in you or your script and the endless talk is just that—interest and talk.  Many times meetings are just meetings.  Everyone wants credit for their good intentions and many times a producer’s upbeat attitude about your project can become infectious.  You want to believe that others see your dream and can realize it.  Why not?  It’s what keeps us going as screenwriters—belief in our projects and the faith that success is just around the corner.  I’m sure when producers and executives tell you that your project is going into production, they just might believe it themselves to be true — but too many times a writer is told this to buy more free time.  Everyone wants to keep a writer’s interest in hanging on until they work out the pesky financing details or want more free notes.   If they can’t raise the money for the budget and have a tiny development budget, there really is no money to pay the writer.  Get excited when a contract is presented, you sign it and get paid. Otherwise, you can’t live on the currency of good intentions.

Now get back to your blank pages.

Scriptcat out!

Did you just complete your latest magnum opus? Time for in-depth screenplay consultation? Check out my services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website and more information.

Screenplay consultation services

Do “you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and the water is clear?”
― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

“Deliberate practice, by its nature, must be hard. When you want to get good at something, how you spend your time practicing is far more important than the amount of time you spend. Regular practice simply isn’t enough. To improve, we must watch ourselves fail, and learn from our mistakes.”—Florida State University’s Anders Ericsson

If you’re worried about failing, you ought to get into a different business, because statistics will tell you that sixty or seventy percent of the time you’re going to fail.  By fail I mean that the movie won’t make money.  Just do the best you can every time.  And if you’re going to stay in the movies, and you like movies—and I love them—you’d better love them a lot, because it’s going to take all of your time.  If you want to be in the movies, it’s going to break your heart.“—Richard Brooks, director of Blackboard Jungle, Sweet Bird of Youth, In Cold Blood, Looking for Mr. Goodbar

Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure. But the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. [F]ailure means a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself to be anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena where I believe I truly belonged. [R]ock bottom became the solid foundation on which I built my life.” ~ J.K. Rowling

Scriptcat’s fab February screenwriting tips for your journey…

February 25, 2014 § Leave a comment

BoulderFlatIf you’re a regular reader of this blog, first of all—THANK YOU!  I truly hope you’re busy creating and forging ahead on your screenwriting journey and you’ve been able to take away a few nuggets of advice that helped. As you may know, I’ve been adding short posts (nothing is EVER short on this blog!) and sharing various survival tips. I do speak about these in the various articles on this blog, but this feature will be a quick reference to glance over and consider as you navigate your screenwriting journey.  So, in addition to my tips on Twitter (@scriptcat), I’ll be posting new ones here from time to time.  Thanks for reading and as always: Carry on, keep the faith and keep screenwriting!

Okay, three more survival tips that will help you on your screenwriting adventure…

TIP #1

If your contact goes out of their way to give you a lead or a phone number of one of their contacts, do follow up within a few days.  If you don’t take advantage of the introduction, your contact will eventually speak to their contact and ask if you called.  If you did not, your contact will probably not go out of their way again to help you. Always follow-up on new leads to expand your network.  Hollywood is all about relationships. Professionals love to work with people they know and can trust. You never know when a contact will eventually turn into someone who gives you a writing job. It happens. Trust me.

TIP #2

Never act like anyone “owes” you anything. Hollywood doesn’t owe you a read, a sale or a career. I find that many screenwriting aspirants expect that just because they’ve committed words to 110 pages of paper, Hollywood and the world will come to a halt and pay attention. It doesn’t happen. It’s a crowded and competitive marketplace.  It wasn’t until about six years out of film school and my fifth spec that finally landed an option and eventual sale, production and distribution.  Many times it’s even difficult when you’ve written an amazing script—but that’s where it all starts.   It will be more difficult if you have a script that needs a lot of work and it’s not ready to be read by professionals, but you send it out anyway because you’re anxious.  That’s when you’ll harm your project and your reputation as a professional screenwriter. You’ll have to learn, experience, fail, succeed, claw, scrape, plot, plan and write just like the rest of us to get ahead.

TIP #3

Keep as many new projects in the game as possible. Excellent projects—not half-assed attempts at trying to second guess what Hollywood is buying. I mean screenwriting that shows your talent and passion for a genre.  Prepare your scripts to represent you at your best—showcase your talent and show them you’re at the top of your game as a pro. Others who have skin in the game will shepherd some of your projects and some projects you’ll have to shepherd.  If you bet the farm on just one project to make your career, you’ll probably come up desperate and empty.  I’ve found it comes in waves.  Many times it’s famine and you suffer through a dry spell, while other times every project is firing along with some good news and forward movement. You just need one to make it all the way to the finish line—you get paid and it gets produced and distributed. This will open the door for another and another and suddenly you find yourself with a screenwriting career. Craft a solid body of work to standout.

Keep pressing on and stay in the game by creating excellent material while you master your professional disciplines.

Scriptcat out!

Did you just finish your latest screenplay and need in-depth consultation/proofing/analysis? Check out my consultation services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website. I look forward to helping you push your script closer to the best possible release draft.

Screenplay consultation services

“Luck is a prepared screenwriter who meets an opportunity and delivers the goods.”—Scriptcat

“One of the things that young writers falsely hope exists is inspiration. A lot of young writers fail because they aren’t putting in the hours. Whether you can write all day every day, or whether you can write four hours on Sundays, whatever it is, you have to protect that time.”—William Goldman

“… a basic “must” for every writer: A simple solitude—physical & mental.”—Rod Serling

“Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.”—Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, Act 1 Scene 4

“If something burns your soul with purpose and desire, it’s your duty to be reduced to ashes by it. Any other form of existence will be yet another dull book in the library of life.” —Charles Bukowski

care

“The Town: A Case Study of Actors and Dialogue.”

February 21, 2014 § 1 Comment

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We’re fortunate here at MY BLANK PAGE to have actor/screenwriter & author Mark Dark blog-crash again for the third time with a fantastic study of the movie THE TOWN.

the_town

the-town-pic1

The Town, nominated for Best Screenplay for the Broadcast Film Critics Association Award (previously the Critics Choice Award), with its layers of astonishingly complex subplots, subtext and backstories, and stunningly brilliant visual / verbal set-ups and pay-offs, is clearly, according to the movie world experts, screenwriting of the highest caliber.

However, I noticed something recently which was surprising – not to do with the writing per se, but to do with the acting.

Let’s set the context.

Jem (Jeremy Renner) has called Doug (Ben Affleck) to a meeting. Doug doesn’t know why, but he soon finds out. The reasons are threefold. (Read my breakdown here) On a surface level, Jem wants Doug to work a heist set up by the town’s godfather-like Irish gang boss, The Florist. But Doug wants out. He’s had enough of the gangster’s life. He’s putting the whole town in his ‘rear view.’

What’s interesting is that the actors don’t stick entirely to the script. Consequently, a very slight error is made with the dialogue, which goes unnoticed on first viewing. The scene still works. However, I think it’s worth pointing this out for analysis purposes.

Firstly, the scene is different from the studio script. In fact, many aspects of the studio script are different to what ends up on screen in many parts. I’m not sure if there are later versions of the screenplay than this one made available online. However, this is not the point I’m making. The actors are clearly given room to improvise the dialogue, to make it, as one character comically neologizes while being interrogated by the FBI ‘more authenticious.’

When given this amount of freedom actors often experiment with their lines. I know. I trained as an actor. Lines become secondary. Raw emotion takes over. I believe in improvising to make the dialogue flow and make the scene feel more natural.

Yet what happens in this scene between Affleck and Renner is worth noting because it causes a slight problem, which, thankfully, through excellent acting skills, the actors manage to overcome.

So, what happens?

Ben Affleck answers a question before he’s asked it.

Let’s compare the studio script (scene 122 p. 86E ) with the final cut that we see on screen.

The studio script says this:

DOUG

Do what you want. I’m done.

JEM

You’re done?

DOUG

Yeah.

JEM

Fuck does that mean?

DOUG

What does it sound like?

Okay. No problem there. Now let’s look at what’s on screen:

DOUG
Do what you want. I’m done.

JEM
What?

DOUG
I’m done.

JEM
You’re done?

DOUG
What does it sound like?

JEM
What’s that mean?

Renner doesn’t deliver the line in the script. He asks a new question: ‘What?’ Consequently, the lines are slightly in disorder and Doug says ‘What does it sound like?’ before Jem asks him ‘What’s that mean?’

He answers the question before he’s asked it.

Actors know that the primary goal is to work to help the other actor. The actor’s job is not to make yourself look good but to help your scene partner be good. That’s the art of great acting – generosity. If an actor slips up with their lines, you help  them out. If they try something new, experiment with a new way of delivering the line, you go with the flow, respond to what you’re given.  Acting is all about listening and reacting truthfully. David Mamet goes into this detail in his book True or False – Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor.

However, the reason I’m picking up on this – an outstanding film I’ve grown to admire and love -– is because at first I was surprised, considering Affleck is the writer and director, that it got left in the movie as is. Why not use a take where the lines are in the right order, or sort it out in the edit room?

The truth is, both actors have extremely strong improvisational skills. This scene is a great example of two actors really working hard to support each other and create an engaging scene of intense power and emotion.

This is a good lesson for life. We all make mistakes. It’s the way we deal with them that matters. I think it was the right choice to use this scene rather than edit and re-cut it because, thanks to the skill of both actors, it flows, and, without a careful study of the script and final film no one would notice – and Doug could say ‘What’s it sound like?’ in reply to Jem’s ‘You’re done?’ even if that isn’t the way the script is written.

Kudos to Ben Affleck and Jeremy Renner for working hard to support each other and create an intense, electrifying relationship in this superb gangland crime thriller.

So, what can we learn from this as screenwriters?

We can spend hours and hours crafting the perfect line. But when push comes to shove, and actors get down and dirty with the script, getting emotionally intertwined in all of the raw emotion that it takes to pull off a scene of substance and truth, our perfectly written lines will get tossed and thrown around like a ship caught in a storm at sea—chopped and changed, bashed and broken—until what feels natural and truthful to the actors breaks through and makes the scene. So , be ready, screenwriters, for actors. We can’t be precious with our words. Sure, let’s put our everything into creating dialogue of the highest caliber to stun the actors, producers and directors with our genius. But be prepared to let them go. Set them down, and set them free.

Mark Dark

markdarkFortunate to work with words everyday teaching English for a living, Mark is a nomadic writer, currently nestling down in the heat, dirt and beauty of tropical Cambodia.

Mark trained as an actor at the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts and studied screenwriting at the New Producers Alliance, London.

He’s had two screenplays optioned, Man or Mouse and The Judge of Petticoat Lane, currently in development.

Man or Mouse, a coming of age tale set in the dark underworld of gangland London, also won the British Writers’ Forum Short Fiction Prize. You can buy it here.

Other writing awards include the Ether Books Award for Best Use of Social Media.

Click on this link to visit his fantastic website Mark Dark Story.

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