Archive for June, 2013

7 Steps to Writing Your Screenplay

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

1. Choosing a Story

Most professional writers I know have a surplus of ideas. Because of this they tend to think little of them. But choosing a good concept is, in many ways, the most important step of all, assuming you follow through on all the others. You want a concept which, when described, suggests the story to follow. It should excite you and make you think about various scenes you will write. If you are excited by the concept, if you can see the story unfolding in your mind’s eye, then there is a good chance others will also be excited by the concept.

Plainsman-script-679
 

2. Planning

Writers plan in different ways, and some don’t plan at all. You will eventually find what best works for you, and it may not be a detailed outline (I don’t outline myself, though I do keep a notebook handy in which to jot down important information as the writing progresses, so that I won’t have to flip back through my pages to rediscover necessary details), but if you’re first starting out, I suggest some sort of written plan. It might be a bullet-pointed sheet of paper with the major story beats on it; it might be a couple dozen index cards thumbtacked to the wall above your desk. Either way, I think it’s a good idea to have a roadmap handy so that you do not get lost on the way and take unnecessary detours, for those detours will eventually have to be cut from your screenplay, which means the time spent on them was time wasted, no matter how beautiful the scenery.

 

3. Familiarizing Yourself With the Medium

Once you have some sort of plan, you’re ready to begin writing—so long as you’re familiar with screenplay format and structure. If you’ve watched a lot of movies—and I assume you have—you probably have some instinctual grasp of story structure, but formatting is a different matter. If you don’t know how to format a script, I suggest reading a few, and not the ones published in book form you can find at your local Barnes & Noble. Websites such as www.simplyscripts.com have actual drafts of screenplays available, and these are what you will want to reference. Ignore the transcripts; they are useless. You also may want to download dedicated screenwriting software. I banged out my first script on a typewriter (I’ve been writing for a long time) and my second in a Word document, formatting as I went, but I don’t recommend either of these approaches. I now use Final Draft, but this might be an expense you can’t afford. If so, there are free programs available, including Celtx and Page 2 stage. Download one of these and play with its features so that you know what you’re doing. You do not want a program designed to help you to interrupt your flow simply because you don’t know how to utilize it.

 
 

4. Writing

This is, of course, the heart of the job, and if you’ve planned well it should go rather smoothly. Once you begin a project, I think it’s important to write every day until it’s finished. If you write a thousand words a day, about five pages, you will be finished in less than a month. This, to me, is a perfectly reasonable goal. If you, however, are a slower writer, try to at least finish one page a day. This will give you a full-length screenplay in a little over three months. The point here is to get the story down on paper.

Remember to write only what will appear in the film. Screenplays are not the place for internal monologues. If you can’t see it or hear it, it doesn’t belong. This may seem elementary, but I have read many scripts that include unfilmable material. What you want is a movie on the page, nothing more and nothing less.

 

5.      Editing

I suggest at least three passes. The first is for story and character. You now know where the drama lies. Milk that drama as much as you can. Cut scenes that do not push the story forward or reveal character, and if the scene does only one of those things, try to make it do more, combing scenes where necessary. Be brutal. Once the story is where you want it to be, go through the script again for dialogue. Read it aloud and where it sounds unnatural, rewrite it. It doesn’t need to be grammatical; it needs to be human. People do not speak in complete sentences. They use contractions and say “ain’t.” They do not explain things that everyone in the room already knows. The third pass is for spelling and grammar. You do not want a poorly-worded sentence or a spelling error to pull the reader from your story. You want every reader to fall into it completely, and this will only happen if you eliminate the errors that will remind them that they are, in fact, reading something that someone else wrote.

 

6.    Querying

Once your script is where you want it to be, it is time to send out query letters. I suggest first writing a template. It should read something like this:

 

Dear Mr. Warden,

 
I recently completed a screenplay called A Penny for Your Thoughts about a successful businessman who inadvertently sells his thoughts for a penny to a fellow he meets in a bar. As he loses his memory and the man who purchased his thoughts takes over his life, he must race against time to find the penny, which he left at the bar, and buy back his thoughts before he loses himself completely.

 
This is my first feature-length screenplay. However, I minored in Film at California State University, Long Beach, have attended one of Robert McKee’s conferences, and have published short stories in Weird Tales and Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine.

 
Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.

 
Best,

Ryan David Jahn

 

Once you have a template, go to the WGA website and find their list of signatory agencies. These are the folks to whom you want to submit. But before you send off your letter, you should do some legwork. Find out which agents represent writers who are doing similar stuff to you, and use that knowledge to personalize each letter you submit. If the agents you reach understand you are not blindly sending out letters, if they understand you are submitting to them for a reason beyond the fact that they are agents, if they understand that you know something about them, they are much more likely to at least consider your letter.

 

contract

 

7.    Doing it All Again

Once you complete that last step, you begin again immediately, because, above all, writers write.

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Kubrick on Making the First Film

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

 

Kubrick on his first feature.

Kubrick on his first feature.

“The point to stress is that anyone seriously interested in making a film should find as much money as he can as quickly as he can and go out and do it. And this is no longer as difficult as it once was. When I began making movies as an independent in the early 1950s I received a fair amount of publicity because I was something of a freak in an industry dominated by a handful of huge studios. Everyone was amazed that it could be done at all. But anyone can make a movie who has a little knowledge of cameras and tape recorders, a lot of ambition and — hopefully — talent. It’s gotten down to the pencil and paper level. We’re really on the threshold of a revolutionary new era in film”

Stanley Kubrick, 1969

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The BlueCat Tradition: Written Feedback For Every Screenplay

Friday, June 7th, 2013

animal-house-group

In the spirit of our commitment to the development of screenwriters worldwide, the BlueCat Screenplay Competition holds a longstanding tradition of giving written notes to every screenplay submitted.

Each Feature screenplay entered receives two analyses, while each Short screenplay receives one, with students receiving a special rate of $29 throughout the competition.  All submissions will be eligible for Resubmission.

BlueCat prides itself in its leading reputation as a community for developing screenwriters, to support and develop the undiscovered, in all of us, today and days ahead.

SUBMIT NOW 

Recent achievements by BlueCat Alumni include:

 

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2014 Call For Feature Screenplays

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

This year, BlueCat is excited to announce we’ve raised our cash prize for the Winner of the Feature competition to $15,000, with four Finalists receiving $2500 each. 

All entrants who submit a feature screenplay will receive TWO written analyses.

Entry fee is $55.  After June 15th, the fee will increase to $60.

All Feature screenplays entered by June 15th will receive their feedback by July 1st. 

All screenplays entered by July 1st will receive their feedback by July 15th.

 

Best Feature Screenplay

$15,000 Grand Prize

Four Finalists

$2500 Prize

 

Best Short Screenplay

$10,000 Grand Prize

Three Finalists

$1500 Prize

 

The Cordelia Award

Best Feature Screenplay from the UK

$1500 Prize

 

The Joplin Award

Best Feature Screenplay from outside the USA, Canada or the UK

$1500 Prize

 

Movie Title Contest: Three Winners $250 each

All screenplays entered by August 1 are eligible

 

 

SUBMIT YOUR SCREENPLAY

 

 

Recent achievements by BlueCat Alumni include:

 

 

For full competition details, please visit the Rules & Guidelines and FAQ.

 

 

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Top 5 Structurally Innovative Films

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

There is nothing wrong with straight-forward, strictly linear storytelling, of course; it is the most-often used technique because it works. But there is some benefit in having other techniques at your disposal. As long as you’re using these techniques to increase impact rather than simply as gimmicks they might help bring your story to its full potential. Here are five movies that played with storytelling structure and did so in a way that made the resultant movies better than they might otherwise have been

 5

1. Rashomon (1950)

Famous for using subjective storytelling as a plot device, Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon shows how unreliable narration, long a feature of novels, can be used brilliantly in film. After a samurai is found is dead, several characters are brought to court where they each tell their own version of events leading to the samurai’s death. Each story is different, but as they play across the screen we eventually come to discover some semblance of actual events, for there are similarities in each tale. The audience, however, like a jury, must actively participate in the telling, sussing out the truth from a sea of contradictions. It is great filmmaking, and shows the camera’s ability to be more than simply an objective lens.

 

2. Psycho (1960)

What I find most interesting about Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is that the ostensible main character, Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), whom we have followed from the very first scene, dies halfway through the film—and yet we as an audience remain riveted. I’ll admit that I’ve never read Robert Bloch’s novel, so I don’t know if it’s structured similarly, but I do know it was a pretty daring filmmaking choice, yet one that paid off. It works, I think, because before Marion Crane’s death we are introduced to her sister, Lia, and her boyfriend, Sam Loomis, who begin a search for her. This allows the focus to transfer to them, and, after Marion’s death, the movie focuses on their investigation. We know what they will discover but we do not know whether they will live through said discovery. The dramatic irony—our knowledge of what they will discover, and their walking into it blind—is the source of the tension throughout the rest of the film, which in its way, is two connected short films tied together through a single event: the death of Marion Crane.

 memento_image_1

3. Memento (2000)

The best thing about the structure of Memento, in my opinion, is that it puts the audience in the same position as Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) as he tries to discover the man who killed his wife. It turns the hack-work gimmick of an amnesiac character into something new. The film’s sequences, as you probably know, run in reverse order, which means we, like Shelby, lack all knowledge of what has come before. Unlike Shelby, however, as earlier scenes are revealed, we are able to put together the pieces of the puzzle and can, therefor, both discover what has really happened, and retain that knowledge. This is a great example of a film’s structure being used not merely as a gimmick but to put the audience in the same position as the protagonist.

 adapt17h

4. Adaptation (2002)

If Philip Roth, Woody Allen and Philip K. Dick produced some unholy progeny the result would probably be Charlie Kaufman, and while I think his screenplay for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind resulted in the most enjoyable film, Adaptation is my favorite piece of writing he’s done. If you can find an early draft of the screenplay, you should; by insisting on a different ending in order that the filmmakers might use his likeness, Robert McKee helped to significantly weaken the resulting movie. The original ending was so absurd it was genius. Anyway, Adaptation is a film about the writing of the film we are watching, and Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage) is its main character. He and the film begin in angst, but as his brother Donald—a happy hack—exerts more influence on him, the film becomes a parody of Hollywood filmmaking, but one that is still, somehow, effective. Smart, self-referential filmmaking. It is unreplicable, of course, but this is still a film screenwriters can learn something from.

 

pulp_fiction_uma_thurman 
5. Pulp Fiction (1994)

Quentin Tarantino has used nonlinear storytelling both well (Reservoir Dogs) and poorly (Kill Bill), but he employs it nowhere better than in Pulp Fiction, which he co-wrote with Roger Avery. If events were told in order, many of the sequences would not have nearly the strength they currently do, but as it turns on itself, providing context and backstory and revealing the interconnectedness of various characters and events at just the right moment, humor and irony are heightened and human moments take on more significance. Pulp Fiction is a great example of how to structure a film for maximum impact.


http://www.ryandavidjahn.com

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