Friday, January 27, 2012

You Stink!

So you've made your screenplay just the way you like it.  Your friends and loved ones have all read it and said it's good.  Now you show it to someone you don't know, someone in the business who "really" knows what they're talking about, and you worry they'll say, "You stink!!!"  Worst fear, right?  Don't worry about it.  Seriously, probably no one you don't know is going to say that to you anyway.  If they do, I wouldn't take them seriously.  It's widely known in the entertainment industry, most people will let you down easy... "Pass" or "Not what we're looking for right now."  Or... "we have something like that..."  Why do they do that?  Because they are smart... you might be the next big thing one day!  Why burn a bridge?  Seriously, that's as bad as you'll hear in most cases.  The better you know someone, the harsher they are.  What's frustrating about that, is you rarely get a true "why."  Strangers?  No sweat... you basically get a yes or no.  The truth is, there's one thing we all need to know and should be looking for: constructive criticism.

It's great to go into things thinking you're fully capable and your work is the most brilliant thing ever.  At the same time, know that no matter how great you may think you are, your script can always be improved.  Don't be that defensive, sensitive person who wants to crawl into a ball or lash out when you hear something you don't like.  You're going to make a movie, right?  I have news for you... opinions are everywhere when shooting a movie... the cast, the crew, the producers.  Instead of stressing about it, pay attention.  Most of the time, the people around you are good... and I hoped you picked good talent.  This goes for a script too.  Trust your audience, even people who just go to see movies.  Almost 100% of the people who go see movies are not filmmakers.  Like it or not, they're the experts because they pay for the tickets.  If they don't like something, pay attention to it.  They may just save your screenplay's life.  I got a new one for you: we filmmakers/writers/directors/
producers/etc. aren't quitters... we've established that... but we're also tough as hell.  Take the criticism and learn from it.  It'll make you better, stronger, and wiser.   The more you like your own script, the more you should be open to criticism.  Now, on the contrary, if you deal with a simply mean, nasty, non-constructive critic or reader, I fully encourage you to defend your project and yourself and tell them off!  I also encourage you not to trust or respect that kind of opinion.  Determine who is helping you and listen; determine who is poison and ignore them.  That's what taking rejection and criticism is all about.  If they tell you "It stinks!" and have nothing more to add or to help withtell them, "You stink!"  You'll feel good.  Just make sure they aren't bigger than you.  I'm kidding.

And listen, don't take it so hard either.  I, for example, have a science fiction film.  I may give my script to someone who likes romantic comedies and wants nothing to do with what I have.  Research who you give it to, but if there's no indication one way or another, it may simply be the reason why you're rejected.  I remember once pitching my idea to someone and they responded with, "Why would you make a time travel movie?  It's not even real!"  How do you compete with that?  Yeah, time travel isn't possible right now, but it makes a heck of a story.  It's not his fault.  I get it, science fiction isn't your thing.  Doesn't mean my screenplay is terrible.  Think about when you go shopping for clothes... there's all sorts of things... some uglier than others.  You pick your favorite, then you watch some dude buy something you'd never be caught dead in... yeah, he BOUGHT that?!  Yup, and he might buy a screenplay you would never want to see on the big screen.  Doesn't make it bad.  You know what?  He'd probably hate whatever you bought.  Point is, your reader is shopping for clothes, and he may be looking for something in green, not blue.  You're out of luck, but it doesn't mean you stink!

Another common mistake with rejection:  I've known many people who get rejected the first three times they send out a screenplay.  So many people will say to themselves, "Wow, I guess it does stink."  Nooooooooo... your logic is off, buddy, WAY off.  The odds of finding someone who wants to finance your movie is a one in a million shot... maybe longer.  That means you need to be rejected a LOT more times than three to even legitimately get discouraged.  That's right... you're not ALLOWED to be discouraged after three rejections... I'm putting my foot down!  Be tough, believe in your project, don't give up.  Don't take no for an answer... and if you do, don't assume that's everyone's answer.  All it takes is one person, the right person, to like your script.  Things always get easier after that.

So keep your heads up, believe in your project, don't lose your fire, put on some armor, and go to into battle.  You know why?  Because you don't stink!!!

I'm also pleased to announce that we are continuing to get the word out on my first feature film, Trust Us, in a big way!  We have just launched a new Kickstarter page, a crowd funding site where you can learn everything there is to know about the project and pledge to our cause in return for some special perks only available to our supporters on the site.  Check it out at:

We also now have a Facebook page here at:  Please become a fan and like our page!

You can also follow us on Twitter at:!/FilmTrustUs

Things are getting really exciting and we hope you follow us during our Road to Wrap!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Better Than Good

Ahhhh, rewrites.  You think it took you a long time to write a good first draft?  You'll quickly realize that the first draft is the simplest, most straightforward and least time consuming part of writing a screenplay.  Now you're up to the dreaded rewrites... draft after draft after... hold on, let me stop here... honestly, it's not so bad.  Rewrites in theory sound like a pain in the you-know-what, but if it's approached the right way, sometimes it can be... wait for it... fun!

How do I figure?  First drafts to me are about getting it down on the page, and I still believe that's the hardest part.  Rewrites are more about making the screenplay better than good.  Please, don't settle for good!  Abandoning your first draft can be like quitting on your script, and we aren't quitters.  Do yourself the favor of taking the time to make it better.  First off, you get to read what you wrote.  I like doing that because I tend to forget a lot of the good little things I put in the script.  Am I the only one who likes reading my first drafts?!  It's fun!  I get to tweak and fix and correct all these parts (proofread), and also get to read what I just spent all this time doing.  It's my very own screenplay.  Now don't get me wrong, for every part you nod with approval, laugh to yourself, or pat yourself on the back, there's at least two parts where you shake your head, laugh at yourself, or slap the back of your own head.  My point is, whether you're enjoying something you forgot you wrote, or how you wrote it, or just tweaking... it's actually fun because you're making your screenplay better, and that's why I like rewriting so much.  It's about taking something that doesn't quite fit and improving it until it does.   You want to be able to show your work to people in the industry with confidence.  If this process isn't fun for you, and everyone's different,  do your best to make it fun.  It's work, there's no question about that, but it's still a very creative process.  Most of my best stuff comes out in the rewrites because now I can see the past, present, and future of the screenplay clearly and use that to my advantage while I'm writing.  With all that said, on to the drafts...

After Draft 1:

Besides the obvious fact that the first draft at this point is done, don't start that second draft yet.     First thing you must do is proofread draft 1.   You'll find you'll make some changes now that you know everything that happens for sure.  After draft 1, I like to wait at least a few months to start draft 2.  Let the script sit as long as it takes to be able to go back to it with fresh eyes because things are going to have to change if we're going to make the screenplay better than good.  Maybe start another script in the meantime if you can.  If not, just take a break.  You're probably creatively spent anyway.  Writing for me is a release of emotions and ideas, and I find that when I'm done, I'm pretty exhausted and useless in that way for a while.  That's okay.  Take the time to recharge your creative energy.  I like to just spend any downtime, if I'm in the mood, to just think of my screenplay.  For the second draft, I find it's good if something pretty big changes.  Maybe I'll add a major character, merge major characters if two are too alike, kill someone off, introduce someone earlier... anything can happen really... or nothing.  Think about what you're trying to accomplish and see if something drastic can improve things.

Draft 2: I have the same problem with most of my screenplays.  They end up too long.  I think it's because I love dialogue and I'm pretty detailed with my action.  I can't tell you how many times I feel like I'm always trying to cut things out.  If my scripts are too short, I get very excited, because then I get to create new character interactions or subplots.  This is very rare for me.  Really do try to stay within 90-120 pages, though.  It's a great barometer to a well paced script, and most professionals who read it will probably feel the same way.

The second draft is about character for me.  I like to make sure every character, main or supporting, have some kind of change in their story arc.  You can't lose by spending extra time thinking about this; not only will your characters be stronger, but each role will be much more attractive to a big name actor you're trying to recruit.  No one wants to play a boring character with no weaknesses and learns nothing about him or herself.  The bartender with two lines?  Don't read too much into it.  If his purpose is to serve a drink and he learns nothing, that's okay, he's not a main focus for you or the audience.  Also, on the subject of character, make sure nobody forces any exposition.  This is where the audience could be forced to space out during a movie.  "Hey, Clark, don't mess with me.  You should know I'm crazy because my dad used to beat me, so one day I killed him with a knife "  Uh, what?!  Exposition should come naturally, not be forced.  How about something more like this: "Hit me again and I'll carve you like I did my daddy!"  Woah... way creepier, right?  We got all the intel we needed: Dude went crazy and killed his dad with a knife for hitting him.  So much explained in one line.  By the way, I have no idea why I used the name "Clark" as an example.... extra random.  Also a reminder of things I've said before but I'll say it again, make sure all dialogue reveals plot or character.  No small talk unless it's necessary!  What do I mean by necessary?  Have two distant characters engage in smalltalk to show they're distant or don't like each other.  Otherwise, pointless dialogue between two best friends who are getting along is boring.  Oh, and don't forget that drama is conflict.  Don't have any characters agreeing with each other for too long unless it's act III and the story is almost over or resolving.

Draft 3: Focus on theme and simple action.  I feel like I've been saying this a lot, but again, make sure everything that's done in the screenplay drives the theme of the story a little more.  This is easy with your main character, but you can even do this with subplots and more minor characters.  For example, in Trust Us I have Guy, someone who is always looking at photo albums of the past or daydreaming about the future.  His roommate Ted is totally different.  He lives in the "now."  Still, with regret as the main theme, both characters have an opinion on that.  If Ted lives in the moment, of course he's not focused on any time but now.  I use this to reveal more about Guy as a person... even down to Ted "pausing" movies while Guy complains he wants to forward to the end.  How can you do something like this with your characters?  I'll also add that this is something I added in a later draft than 3, probably in 7 or so.  It's never too late to come with little ideas like this that may add little neat tidbits to your script.

Now, while you're doing this, also pay attention to what everyone is doing in every scene.  I literally found something for everyone in every scene of Trust Us.  Why?  You tell me, what's more interesting: Two people have a conversation or two people have a conversation while having a football catch?  Okay, both could be boring with bad dialogue, but still, everyone should have something to do while they talk, including the audience.  The reason I like to do this at the same time as driving the theme in a draft is because I can make the toss mean something: maybe they are both competitive, so they start gradually tossing the ball harder and harder, hoping someone will get a hurt, back off, or drop it.  That's a statement... it would tell us quite a lot about these two friends' relationship.

Draft 4: Give it another round, this time focusing on dialogue.  Make the dialogue as concise and real as humanly possible.  When I say concise, I don't mean everything has to have one-word answers, I just mean cutting out all the pointless stuff you don't need.  See how I wrote "pointless stuff you don't need?"  Writing "pointless stuff and redundant" is well... pointless and redundant.  Make sure the dialogue is something that person would use.  Read some dialogue out loud.  See if you can distinguish one character's dialogue from the other.  Who would say this.  In my case I was dealing with scientists.  One of my problems in early drafts was they were speaking like regular people!  It's most likely an introverted future time machine builder wouldn't say, "Check out my time machine thingy... it works on some energy source, I forget the name."  Okay, I didn't do anything that bad, but I made my scientists a little too regular when talking about science.  Instead I changed some dialogue to something like, "The theory of traversable wormholes actually make sense in a multi-universe world."  Then I'd follow with an Einstein quote or something.  Don't do this too much either, or your audience will go cross-eyed or laugh or something.

Also, good dialogue isn't revealing everything the character is feeling.  Let the tough guy say, "I don't love anyone" when it's obvious he's in love with the character he's speaking to.  Let people lie... not everyone is as honest as you or me.  If your character says she's the best, it doesn't, and shouldn't, mean she really believes it.  That's also another way to reveal character: how do they act vs. how they feel.  If your character is a gang leader who dropped out of high school, chances are he doesn't know much about fine wine.  Maybe there's something really interesting in his background or choice of friends to make that possible, , but assuming that isn't the case, don't make your high-school gang leader dropout a wine connoisseur.  Every bit of information matters; your audience is very smart and the first to pick up these things.  Be consistent.

Also know it's helpful to always have focuses for each draft, but always look for anything that can be improved as well.  I have ranged from several drafts to just a few, and even when you think you're done, you probably won't be once you putting your script out there.  For Trust Us, I think the first professional who read it read something like draft 6.  I have another screenplay I feel is ready to be shown at its second draft... maybe I'll go over it once more.  Point is, some first drafts need more work than others, and as you write more, you'll fix these problems sooner or even during your first draft.  I find it can depend on how prepared I was for the first draft in the first place.  But listen, if you're writing the first draft, just be happy you're getting it on the page at all.  Don't worry about it.  As I said, rewriting really can be fun if you allow it to be.

A warning though: there are times where you will get stuck.  This usually happens to me once or twice a screenplay.  Imagine a time travel movie like Trust Us!  You wouldn't believe some of the logic issues I've had with that.  That's an extreme case, though.  What if a character in your story needs to change their mind, and you just can't figure out how to do it without losing the essence of the character.  What if this person would never stand up to anyone, but you just need him to for the sake  of being three-dimensional.  Of course you can just write about how he does it, but it has to make sense.  The change (which is what makes your character interesting in the first place) has to fit.  It has to be realistic in the context of the story.  This is a case by case basis, so some of the problem solving for getting from point A to B can be frustrating.  I find talking to someone about it, anyone, can really help you think out loud.  They kind of serve as a writing shrink.  I'm big on writing it out, or free-writing about the problem in a notebook.  If I'm stuck I start writing down possibilities I know I'm stuck on, write why it doesn't work, then write what may be solutions.  Eventually I find the answer.  I find both of these methods work really, really well.  Believe it or not, math and logic do have a place in screenwriting when it comes to problem solving a script and making everything fit correctly.  Before you know it, it all falls into place, and then you're done!

Now it's time to show it to other people... people you trust who are probably friends and family, and see what they say.  They are, in a way, the best audience.  They can find what's wrong.  If you have two or more people agree and you don't get it, take another look; they're probably right.  Then you'll find yourself focusing on whatever comes up: plot, character, story, dialogue, action, plot holes, etc.  The rest of the rewrites are just to perfect everything.  When you're done, it's time to take a deep breath and send your baby out into the world.  But then comes a new thing that will come up... dealing with rejection.  More on that next time...