I’m currently deep into reading the entries for our screenplay contest, and certain patterns are emerging.
I thought I’d try and pass them on…
1. All Black Screen Openings Are Tired
Opening your script with a black screen and a voice over really has to stop. It’s not a big deal for me, and I’ll ignore the fact you’ve done it, but trust me, it’s not quite as fresh an idea as you might believe.
In fact it’s a MASSIVELY over-used device right now…!
2. Speaking of Fresh…
Original story setups, that you genuinely haven’t seen before, really do stand out.
I’m much more eager to read a script about a world I’ve never been to before than yet another dour police procedural.
Good writing is good writing and will come out on top in the end, but it’s worth remembering next time, that fresh, original story worlds and story angles DO initially get a slightly favourable read.
3. The Standard is Really, Really GOOD!
All these years of all those screenwriting books out there, all these workshops, all these forums dedicated to spreading basic technique, they’re all paying off. The average script I’m reading is far, far better than it was fifteen years ago.
The downside of that for you, trying to get yourself noticed, is that the bar has been raised considerably. When most scripts have a basic story structure fairly well in place you as a new writer simply cannot afford to be unaware of all that sort of thing.
Even if you reject the traditional three act paradigm in favour of your own personal invention, comprising, I don’t know, 7 and a ½ phases plus a coda, you have to do it from a position of strength.
If you’re into traditional three act structure you have to be really on it. You have to know what you are doing, you have to hit the beats lightly, cleverly, and preferably subversively in some way.
If you’re NOT going to do this then you have the even harder job of making the story form you are using shine with conviction, precision, and the genuine knowledge of why more traditional story telling doesn’t work for you.
4. It’s Not Enough to Have a Good Structure
I’ve got a number of scripts on the slate now where I love the set up, I love the structure, but the dialogue is heavy handed.
Remember, I’m not looking for scripts in which I can see promise – far too many of them show promise. With just five finalist spots I’m looking for scripts that are as near dazzling as possible. So your dialogue has to simply spark along. Subtext, economy, precision, occasional humour, credibility, are all crucial.
5. You Need a Voice
It’s not even enough to have a good structure, good setup, good characters and good dialogue. I’m looking for scripts that have all that – but also have that rarest thing: a wild, never before heard voice.
This is the advanced stage. This is the point at which you have mastered all the elements so well that your unique way of seeing the world combines with your unique writing style and your mastery of the story telling elements to elevate your script into something that burns into the imagination, is satisfying, surprising, entertaining – even haunting.
You get to this point by reading, and reading, and watching, and breaking down, and being brave enough to cut lose and reach deep into yourself and bring whatever you’ve got out to be shaped by your well-developed craft.
This is something that I think can never be taught, that comes with experience, with passion, with a genuinely original way of seeing the world.
I’m lucky enough that I’m not looking for scripts that will play well on a particular TV channel, that will hit a specific audience demographic in the theatres – I’m simply looking for scripts that have both great craft and a strong voice, whatever the genre, whatever the ambition.
It’s a tribute to you all that there are more than a few scripts like this among the entries I’ve read so far.
To learn the elements of screenplay structure, go here.
To learn about great dialogue, and how best to read and break down some scripts that do shine with inner life, go here.
ANOTHER WRITERS GUILD TRIUMPH
The Writers Guild of Great Britain has negotiated the best new digital and on-line agreement for writers anywhere in the world.
All new commissions are now under these new terms, and all scripts commissioned under the previous agreement since November 2002 automatically switch over to the new terms.
WILL MY IDEA GET STOLEN?
Normally I say don’t worry about it, that such questions are the mark of the amateur, that ideas are your currency, and if you’ve only got one that you guard so jealously then you’re not going to get anywhere, that ideas themselves are cheap it’s the implementation of them that counts….
All those points I do still believe.
But there is also this.
FINAL DRAFT APP
It’s finally out, in iTunes, for a rather eye-watering $29.99.
My own opinion is that I need a huge heavy keyboard to write anything, so I won’t be buying, but a rather less ludditical (sp?) opinion from writers I know is that if you like Final Draft, and you have an iPad, then you’ll like this app.
SCREENWRITING GOLDMINE WORKSHOPS
We’re running another of our amazingly wonderful weekend workshops in three weeks at the end of September.
You still (just) have chance to get it at the early bird discount rate, so if you have been wondering whether or not to book, well, now’s as good a time as any.
Get more details and book your seat here.
LONDON SCREENWRITERS FESTIVAL
Full ticket price is £299. I’ve got you a £65 discount and so you can get tickets for the whole three day event at the group rate of just £234. This can be paid in full or by easy installments from now until October.
To take advantage of the £234 group rate I’ve negotiated for you click here and use the promotional code: SCREENGM:
Please direct all queries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
BATH UNIVERSITY NEEDS A SCRIPT EDITOR
Job vacancy here – closing date 7th September.
TRAVERSE THEATRE NEEDS 50 NEW WRITERS. SERIOUSLY.
You know how I’m always saying how very, very rewarding writing for theatre is? Let alone how getting yourself noticed for writing theatre can be a great route into writing for TV and Movies?
If that suggestion has fallen on fertile ground, here’s a terrific opportunity for you. The well-known Traverse Theatre is offering a year-long attachment for 50 writers. Incredible.
ADVICE FROM ONE WHO KNOWS
Vastly experienced TV producer Yvonne Grace is giving a talk this coming Monday morning in London.
It’s called “How to Get Into Television and Stay There.”
It’s at the Phoenix Arts Club, on the 3rd September (ie IN THREE DAYS) and it starts at 8.15 am, so the effect on your Monday morning is minimised. (And besides, any chance to be late for work on Monday morning is a good thing, isn’t it?)
FROM THE FORUMS
Here are some discussions from the Goldmine forum:
The forum now has over 2,600 members and over 58,000 posts. All that knowledge, all fully searchable… don’t miss out, go over there now.