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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

From the Mailbag

Dear Wave-inatrix:

This idea of screenwriting is relatively new for me, although I have always loved to write. It's a little daunting trying to simultaneously learn a little about everything--the creative part, the technical requirements, trying to decide between television scripts and movie scripts, the realities of those businesses, the nuts and bolts of pulling a script together--and still pay attention to my family and my job (which is, thankfully, flexible). Do you recommend just starting to get script ideas down while reading up on all that other stuff, including produced scripts, or do you have a more useful way to manage things? How interchangeable are writing skills for television and movies?

-Overwhelmed in Ohio


Dear Overwhelmed:

PJ McIlvaine here, tag-teaming with the Wave-inatrix. First of all - WHOA! I had no idea that I was supposed to do all this, what meme did I miss? If I stopped to think about all these things, I'd be paralyzed not to mention DOA. My suggestion? Take a deep breath and put that "Dummies for Screenwriting" book down. Remember, Rome wasn't built in a day. I mean, God took at least seven to create us, didn't he? At this point, if you're really a total and complete newbie, just....write. Every day. Jot down ideas, whatever, that great bit of conversation you heard at the 7-11, that teary cell phone confab that everyone in the movie theatre could hear and commiserate with. Don't worry about the biz or getting an agent or manager or if you should write for TV or the movies. Just write. Read scripts, sure, but in between writing and working on your own stuff. Network with other writers, read their stuff. Do this even if it's only an hour, a half hour or day, fifteen minutes. Make it known to your family and friends that this is YOUR time. I used to write when my kids were playing on the floor beside me, I wrote at work during my lunch hour, breaks and down time...write that first script, put it away, write a second script, put that away, when you finish some more, then go revisit the first one and so forth....but quite simply, write.

Dear Overwhelmed:
I agree with PJ completely and would add that if you really want to learn to screenwrite, focus on that first and then absorb the other information (agents, managers, the nuts and bolts) incrementally and over time. You have plenty of time because those other things are meaningless until you have a good script anyway. So focus on the art and craft of screenwriting. Pick up a book or two, not a whole library of them, save your money. I recommend: Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, Screenwriting: The Sequence Approach by Paul Joseph Gulino and Inside Story: The Power of the Transformative Arc by Dara Marks. And I highly recommend taking a beginning level online screenwriting class through UCLA Extension Writers Program while you're at it. In fact, that's where I would start, if I were you.

In-between writing every day and taking a couple of courses, cruise the internet and slowly absorb tips while networking with other writers. Go to a screenwriting conference and take a few workshops. The Creative Screenwriting Expo is a really good event for that. This year's expo will be held in November 12th through the 16th at the LA Convention Center. That's a good use of your time. Do the 14 Scripts in 14 Days program suggested, brilliantly, by Scott Myers. Take your vitamins, read the Rouge Wave daily and get plenty of rest.

As for your question about whether writing skills are interchangeable for television and movies, I'm not sure whether you mean interchangeable directly between the two (answer: completely) or whether you mean other writing skills like first person, short fiction, etc. Wavers can answer that one for you because they know what I'll say: COMPLETELY. Good writing is good writing. Screenwriting is a very distinct kind of writing, a mixture of poetry and mathematical equation but a facility with language and imagery is imperative in all writing and it won't ever let you down. Now have a cupcake and get to work, young lady!

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3 comments:

Kirkland said...

I have a suggestion Overwhelmed, whatever you do with your fuure desire to be a screenwriter, make sure you DO NOT move to LA. It's not that I don't want you to be a screenwriter, or that I'm afraid of losing a sale to you, or anything even related to screenwriting. No, no, no. Nothing like that at all. No, it's just that I hate Buckeyes (the chocolate covered peanutbutter ball is okay though). I hate the Shoe. I detest Jim Tressel and his arrogant Ohio State (excuse me, The Ohio State) football team. I hate Columbus, Ohio with all its wanna be New York attitude with none of the savvy street smarts. And it you're from some other part of Ohio, like say Cleveland, aka the Mistake on the Lake, or Cincinnati (the only good thing about it was that phony WKRP show), aka the Capital of Northern Kentucky, or some other naive little town of midwest splendor with all its innate rubeness, the message is still the same: stay there. Make friends if you must with Joe Eszterhas--it was good enough for him to raise a family there--you should stay too.

Become a screenwriter if you must, but stay in Ohio and do it. Write everyday, even if it's on a napkin while you're eating lunch at Wendy's or White Castle or Max and Erma's, write you thoughts down. Even if you're standing in line at Graeter's and an idea strikes you or you overhear an interesting line of potential dialog, write it down...Keep a notebook with you at all times (and don't forget a writing instrument). Write whenever and wherever you are, sooner or later something great will come out of it.

But, whatever you do, puleeeeeeze do it in Ohio. Those of us natives who still remember what it was like before the Buckeye invasion, still dream of a return to days before Ohio ruled the Industry. All we want is to keep Hollywood as pure as possible from anymore interlopers from Ohio. Thank you.

PJ McIlvaine said...

LOL! My husband's family used to live in Ohio...know exactly what you mean.

Future Man said...

You're fortunate to be starting out during the internet age. Out there is a lot of great information to help you along. The best: free professional screenplays. In my salad days, I had to go to the local comic shop and shell out $30 apiece for the privilege of reading everything from CITIZEN KANE to LETHAL WEAPON. Nowadays, a quick Google search will yield you those prizes in a matter of minutes.

If you want to write for television, read the actual scripts for the shows you want to spec. A great agent once told me that when FRIENDS was all the rage, he would get tons of would-be writers sending in their samples. The agent could tell just by looking at the title if he was going to crack open the script. How? Because if you look on IMDb, you will see that every single episode title begins with "The One..." as in "The One About..." or "The One Where...". The agent knew that if the writer hadn't even researched this very basic show format, odds were the script itself wouldn't resemble a FRIENDS episode. If you read OFFICE scripts, for example, you'll notice they're formatted differently. Each slugline tells you what day it is starting with "DAY 1" then "D1" thereafter, or "NIGHT 2" then "N2" thereafter. The interview cutaways are prefaced with [CHARACTER NAME] TALKING HEAD. This kind of attention to detail will demonstrate that you've done your research.

Which takes time. And energy. And dedication. You may luck out and hit the big time early, just like some people win the lottery. But be prepared to invest 10 years in developing your craft and potential career. If you're not willing or able, then think about doing something else. Seriously.

You're lucky. Even this advice is free.