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May 10, 2011

INT.SCREENPLAY CRAFT - DAY OR NIGHT::

.................. BARRY
.........Welcome to the archive of
.........Questions of the Day
.........containing my answers to
.........
....(a beat)
.........writers from all parts of
.........the world
.

............INDEX
11.
Judging value of screenplay
10. Screenplay going nowhere
9 . Idea for a sitcom

8. Shifting scenes format
7. Edgy idea -- too hot for
....Hollywood?
6. L.A.--to live or not to live
dcin

5. Give me the time of day
4. What is drama?
3. Collaboration with ....another writer

2. Marketing at festivals
1. Where to go with ideas

~~~

 

...

 

 

11. Judging the value of a screenplay

WRITER: I have finished a draft of a period screenplay and am wondering what to do next. The info I've noted concerning screenplays like this is that they're almost impossible to get accepted unless a well known actor and/or director shows interest. Maybe I need to find someone qualified who would be willing to take a look at the script and let me know if the story and protagonist have enough potential to continue on with it. I have come to really like this one but haven't received any external comments as yet. Can you advise what to do?

BARRY: You're not alone in wondering what to do next. I'm thinking of writing a book entitled, "First, Sell the Screenplay, Then Write It."

In the movie industry, it seems to be okay for all the executives (who are getting paid) to expect writers to write for nothing and then beg for a read from buyers. But that's just my cynical cavil.

Period screenplays are more difficult to sell, because they're expensive to produce, and they don't always appeal to a wide audience spectrum.

Back to your issue. You're wondering whether to expend more time on this project.

Bear with me while I background you a bit. There are a number of professionals that you can find on the Internet who provide "coverage" or screenplay "analysis," or some other type of expert opinions on screenplays. The people who provide these services charge a fee.

For eight+ years I myself provided screenplay analyses for a fee. I don't do that any more. Why?

First, screenplay analysts or readers enter into the writing process when a work is completed, albeit sometimes in first draft form. The writer has already made all the mistakes he or she is likely to make. This puts the analyst in the position of saying to the writer, "The script has A, B, C merits. You need to strengthen A, B, C weaknesses, and you need to add A, B, C strengths.

Second, the writer is then left alone facing the daunting task of trying to bring said screenplay up to a higher standard on the basis of a few (usually less than 20) pages of description. It's my opinion this process does not give the writer a fair shot at success.

You said, *"Maybe I need to find someone qualified who would be willing to take a look at the script and let me know if the story and protagonist have enough potential to continue on with it."*

Such an opinion, even if you paid for it, would do you little good. Only you can decide if you have the enthusiasm and determination to continue with a particular writing project. I personally would not presume to tell you whether to continue with it. It would be akin to me telling you whether or not to get married.

One approach that could be useful to you in making your own decision is to request an acquaintance whose judgment you respect to read your screenplay from the point of view, not of a writer or critic, but from the point of view of an audience member. You would request this person not to tell you how how or what to rewrite, but what response he or she experienced from reading the story and what reaction the characters provoked.

This way you would get a virtual audience "screening." You would be likely to learn more from that process (especially if you had two or three diverse people read your work) than from a "critic" or "expert."

Don't get me wrong, the writers providing professional services like those described above are sincere, hard working, knowledgeable and caring. I just don't think the process works. And I include myself in that statement. That's why I quit doing analysis.

For writers who want to improve the quality of their scripts, I provide a Coaching Service

(http://www.createyourscreenplay.com/Writer%27s%20Coach.htm)

which works as follows: the service includes a complimentary copy of my 167 page e-book, IT'S ALL ABOUT THE STORY (retail $16.95).

http://www.createyourscreenplay.com/

I read the writer's screenplay, and he or she reads the book, which contains detailed descriptions and examples of the typical components of the Hollywood screenplay story and its genres. The writer and I then have a common language that allows me to provide step-by-step goals in priority order for the writer to revise.

My coaching style is that I usually give examples of how a the story can be mapped out, how scenes can be structured, and how parts of the story and dialogue can be written. I don't ghost write, but I show the writer by specific example how to practice the craft as we go back and forth with me coaching and the writer writing specific elements, working piece by piece on the screenplay.

The writer pays for my services by the hour. If the writer isn't improving skills or script, or doesn't like the results for any reason, he or she can cancel at any time. To me, that makes more sense for the writer than committing to an up-front fee for a critique that tells the writer what strengths and deficiencies the script possesses.

10. Screenplay going nowhere

WRITER: I'm writing a period screenplay [that] seems to always be going to but never getting there as far as dynamics, tension, conflict. [It seems] that my protagonist is on a journey that could just as well be a travelogue or a tourist film. [Is this] because it's a period piece and lacks the drive of a present day drama?

BARRY: It's difficult to diagnose a malady without seeing the patient, but I doubt that your screenplay being a period piece is at fault. Your comment that "my protagonist is on a journey that could just as well be a travelogue or a tourist film" could be a clue.

A travelogue usually tends to be a series of events linked in a chronological order without any cause and effect dynamic.Good dramatic stories are built around cause-and-effect dynamics that keep the tension and suspense at a high level.

Mainstream movies require a specific character interaction among the Hero, the Bonding Character, and the Villain. If you're not using this pattern of interaction, your "story" won't be a Story.

If you want to find out how to fix your problem you could e-mail me at createyourscreenplay@rogers. com and I'll send you, by e-mail attachment, my free minibook, Creating Successful Screenplay Stories.

Also, go to my website, WWW.CREATEYOURSCREENPLAY.COM and read two free chapters of my book IT'S ALL ABOUT THE STORY. You may get some help there.

9. Idea for a sitcom

WRITER: I have read your web page from time to time. I am an interpreter by trade, but a writer by desire. I have a good idea for a sitcom that is simple, funny, plausible and expandable. I envision it as a must see TV type program that will allow us to pick on the things that frustrate us the most.

BARRY:I like your phrase "writer by desire." Your writing style is articulate, and it may very well be that you have writing talent as well as desire.

I don't recommend that beginning writers start out in the sitcom genre. It's likely to waste your time and delay the success of your writing career. I'd recommend that you write whatever idea you have as a short story to see how the idea pans out. That would take you a few days, and at the end of the process you have a finished work that you can peddle around to publishers, and hand to other people to read.

There is a specific approach you need to follow to break into the TV writing business, and you do that by writing spec scripts for existing series. It's an arduous process, and much more difficult if you don't live in Hollywood.

It's highly unlikely that a private person could sell a sitcom or any other TV material directly to a network. Networks deal with independent producing companies that have resources and money to develop ideas, shoot pilots, and follow through if the network wants to greenlight the series.

Almost all series ideas come from writers who have long experience in the TV trenches. The odds of an inexperienced writer selling a series idea are less than one in a thousand.

Write short stories, articles, a novelette, or a spec screenplay first. If you don't give up after that, you might have a chance of becoming a successful writer.

8. Shifting scenes

WRITER: How do you write scenes that require shifting from either scene (ex: int. and ext. of car) or characters (ex: telephone conversation)?

BARRY: It depends upon how you, the writer, see the scene with your inner eye. How do YOU want this action to be portrayed? And as you see in the examples below, it really does matter which way you portray the scene.

There are, however, a number of standard possibilities:

1. You see interior and exterior at the same time--
Depending on which is dominant, you write, for example,

INT./EXT. JAKE'S CAR - DAY
Jake watches Ellie walk across the street as he pulls the keys out of the ignition, and opens the door.

EXT./INT. JAKE'S CAR - DAY
Ellie walks across the street toward Jake's car, but stops as he opens the door, and gets out.

2. You're on an interior, but you need to see something that's happening outside from the same point of view (or the reverse, outside looking in),

INT./EXT. ELLIE'S HOUSE - DAY
Ellie hears a noise. Goes to the window. A police cruiser pulls into the drive. She panics and looks for a place to hide.

EXT./INT. ELLIE'S HOUSE - DAY
Cruiser pulls into the driveway. Two COPS approach the front door. They ring the buzzer. No answer. They try the door. It's open, but when they enter, no one appears to be home.

3. You need to intercut two locations (formatting margins approximate here),

INT. JAKE'S DEN - NIGHT
The phone rings. He checks the call display, then answers.

JAKE
Hi. You were supposed to call half
an hour ago...so what am I? Chopped
liver?

EXT. MARINA - NIGHT

ELLIE
(on her cell phone)
I couldn't get free. He watches me,
follows me whenever I leave the house.

INTERCUT:

JAKE
Where are you now?

ELLIE
The marina. Seawinds. I'm not
sure if I lost him. He could--

JAKE
Stay put. I'll be there in
eleven minutes.

He hangs up, opens a drawer and takes out the black 92fs Beretta, slams a clip into it.

BARRY:The key rule for a writer to follow is to portray the action in the most dramatic possible way. What do you want to hide? What do you want to show? Who's the most important character?

Movies are a special art form. The writer can only invoke a response to the work by manipulating what the audience SEES and HEARS in 2 dimensions. Therefore, be sure to put some thought into how you choose to depict what is said and heard.

7. Edgy idea -- too hot for Hollywood?

WRITER: I`m writing a script which takes the word satire to the extreme. I can tell you right now it would be stamped with a deviant label after the first page. I`m a little concerned as to whether or not I should bother to write the
entire script if its variation from culture pretty much seals its fate before it ever gets started. .

I can`t help but wonder if society could handle such a script. Is it really necessary to wait until you have a finished script to approach the public, or do you just have to be sleeping with all the connections in Hollywood to have a one-on-one with a producer before you have to go the whole whole nine yards?

BARRY:Can I take the liberty of restating your question?

It seems that what you are asking is "Do I need to invest all the sweat-equity of writing and polishing a full-blown screenplay, when (because of the edgy concept) it might be too far-out for most buyers?"

The answer is, yes, you do have to write the whole script and polish it for submission if you want to give yourself the best odds of getting the
screenplay produced.

But here's the good news. The movie market thrives on outrageous ideas. One of the biggest challenges I face as a screenwriting coach is to convince my writers to push the envelope, to take every idea to its utmost extreme. Therefore, the problem you seem to think you have (the outrageousness of your core concept) is not really a problem but an asset.

Screenplays rarely get rejected because they're too outrageous. They get rejected because they're unprofessionally written, bland, dreary, derivative, unidimensional, filled with bloodless characters, or just plain stupid.

You have to write the whole script (and rewrite it three times). Remember that, in today's market, the spec script is king. And sleeping with the Producer, (director, story editor etc. etc.) won't help. Take the story of Joan Crawford. She reportedly slept with David O. Selznick, and she STILL didn't get to play Scarlett O'Hara.

6. L.A.-- to live or not to live in

WRITER: How much of an advantage is it, for a putative screenplay writer, to live in LA?

BARRY: It's a huge advantage, because you can never be sure of making any kind of living at features, so you will need to have a backup. The best backup is TV writing and that can only be done in Hollywood.

WRITER: Is it, in truth, more a necessity than an advantage?

BARRY: Yes, it is a necessity.

WRITER: William Goldman's "Adventures in the Screen Trade" leaves the reader in no doubt that, like it or not, LA is THE place to be.

BARRY: Goldman's pronouncements were made in the 50's I believe, but they're just as valid today.

WRITER: By the time he wrote "Which Lie Did I Tell?" that stricture is no longer in evidence.

BARRY: He has more money than Croesus, so why should he care? Like Robert Redford, he can live anywhere he likes.

WRITER: So, have things really changed - does the internet, fast communications and the out-sourcing of Hollywood mean a screen-writer can make the breaks to kick start his/her career without living in LA?

BARRY: It's possible to break in without living in Hollywood, but not nearly as easy. The reason for that is that careers in the entertainment industry depend to a great extent upon networking face-to-face. That's not something you can do from Spokane or Sligo, unless you own an airline..

WRITER: I am considering relocating to the Pacific Coast and, to be entirely honest, were career/work not so important a factor, I doubt LA would be in the running.

BARRY: L.A. is still the place to be, even if you have to get a work permit or some kind of working visa.

WRITER: I'm specifically interested in Vancouver and San Diego.

BARRY: My Canadian friends will probably want to lynch me, but I wouldn't want to be located in Vancouver. It's slim pickings for screenwriters. If you must stay in Canada, pick Toronto, the television and film-making capital. Winter weather is lousy.

WRITER: In the case of Vancouver, I'm not sure whether the situation is pretty poor or excellent. The reason I am so uncertain is down to the city's /BC's evident stellar status as a film LOCATION combined with my total lack of insider knowledge as to how much use that activity would actually be TO A SCREEN-WRITER living there. How truly “in the loop” is Vancouver, BC from the start of the movie making process?

BARRY: Vancouver thrives on being a runaway haven for U.S. productions that can't assemble all their financing, so they take the benefit of a 25% rise in the value of their U.S. dollars the minute they cross the 49th. Since Vancouver is on the same time-zone as L.A., has good crews and supporting talent, it's logistically attractive as well. A high percentage of the movies shot in Vancouver are written by screenwriters who live in L.A.

WRITER: Can you get a similar head-start, over the rest of the world, on what is hot right now? Which directors, stars, producers are looking for what material? Which big production has just shut down / started up? Are there anything like the networking opportunities in Vancouver or San Diego that L.A. has to offer?

BARRY: Not even close. Forget it.

WRITER: I know it can only ever be a subjective judgement but as you are very well informed, a self-confessed expert in fact ;-) , I'd be really grateful if you could assign some kind numerical ranking to the locations I'm considering:

If living in Hollywood itself were the 100% best option, what approximate %s would you award to -

Santa Monica, CA

BARRY: Santa Monica is so close to Hollywood as to be one and the same. Ergo 100%

WRITER: Vancouver, BC

BARRY: Great scenery -- and you'll see a lot of it while you're looking for a job. 50%

WRITER: San Diego, CA

BARRY: Navy Town. Has a great zoo. You can visit the animals while you're looking for a job. And just because it has better weather than Vancouver, I'd give it, say -- 55%

WRITER: Dublin, Ireland

BARRY: Poetic soul -- i.e. James Joyce, W.B. Yeats -- 100% if you're a poet.. If you're a screenwriter -- 2%

The writing is on the wall for you. Good luck on Melrose Avenue (Paramount), Burbank, Universal city, and Westwood. The lattes are great, the weather is outstanding, the people are fun loving, and it never snows -- go for it.

5. Give me the time of day
WRITER: How do I decide when to use the various times of day, such as morning, evening, twilight in sluglines?
BARRY: You only need to use four designations, as far as a production crew is concerned - DAY, NIGHT, DAWN, DUSK. To use phrases such as "twilight," "early morning," "late afternoon," or "evening" will only betray an ignorance of the film business. These inexact times can not be portrayed specifically on screen.

In point of fact Dawn and Dusk can only be distinguished from each other by some clue in the action of the scene, or by the sun moving up or down, if you want to stick around to see that.

On the production set, Dawn/Dusk can be shot either in early morning or in "magic hour," the time between broad daylight and full darkness. This "magic hour" is beautiful and moody on camera, but depending upon the latitude of your location, it lasts only between one to two (or two and a half) hours, so don't call for Dusk scenes that are very long, because the production team will either have to shoot them in pieces on different days, or will have to reslug them as Day or Night, thus defeating your creative purpose in writing them.
If your location is in southern latitudes as in Arizona, for example, magic hour will be shorter than in, say, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, which is well above the 49th parallel.
I once shot in the summer in Edmonton, and Magic Hour seemed to last forever. In fact we shot some night scenes and we had to hustle to get them done because night was so short.
4. What is drama?
WRITER
While watching the trailer of the new movie "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" my friend became upset that this movie is an unbelievable drama. His definition of drama is a movie that is trying to convince you that this can really happen. Therefore since this movie is portrayed as actually happening while having an element of Science Fiction (the man ages in reverse) it cannot be a drama. Would my friend's opinion be correct on this matter? Or can a film actually be a Drama while having an unbelievable, Science Fiction element to it?
BARRY
What your friend has espoused as his definition of "drama" is really a definition of a subspecies of drama called "naturalistic drama," in which everything portrayed strives to achieve credibility through its versimilitude to real life.

In the broadest sense, "drama" has been defined as "performed literature."

Consider these excerpts about the meaning of drama from WikipediaGood dramatic stories are built around cause-and-effect dynamics that keep the tension and suspense at a high level.

*1.Drama is the specific mode of fiction represented in performance. The term comes from a Greek word meaning "action."*

*2. The use of "drama" in the narrow sense to designate a specific type of play dates from the 19th century. Drama in this sense refers to a play that is neither a comedy nor a tragedy.*

For a further expansion on the topic of movie genres, visit my genres page at my website Create Your Screenplay.

http://www.createyourscreenplay.com/genres.htm

Your friend might be mollified to learn that the typical structure of mainstream movies mixes genres, so that most movies we see have 2 or 3 genre streams in them. Therefore, it shouldn't be surprising that *Benjamin Button* combined Drama with Science Fiction. The other thing your friend might ponder is the that Hollywood has never obeyed any "creative rules." The rationale for that practice has merit -- to obey creative rules is to court creative death.

Thanks for a provocative question.

3. Collaboration with another writer

WRITER
I have a story that many people believe should be a screenplay for a movie. It is a true story about a crime that occurred in a major city. The story involves a murder of a prominent black physician by a prominent white physician who hired a mafia hit man to do the killing.

The story centers around two ethical police detectives who took a 2 year journey (the time it took to investigate the murder) into police corruption, mafia connections, unethical doctors and lawyers, and racism, all while one of the two detectives was falling in love with the deceased's wife (who was also a suspect).

This is a very intriguing story with a lot of fascinating twists and turns that actually happened.

My question: I can't write my way out of a wet paper bag. I am wondering if there are screenplay writers who will collaborate with people like me to work on a project. If so, what do I need to do?

BARRY
First of all you've written your question well enough to create interest on the part of any reader. Why don't you try to write an outline of what the story might look like as a movie?

If you send me an email at createyourscreenplay@home.com, repeating your query, I'll send you a number of minibooks and tip sheets that will help you to write the outline. I also have some Q&A's from former correspondents which will help.

Since it's a real story, the first thing you need to do is "stake a claim" on the story. You could do this by buying the rights to the stories of the two detectives. Very often you can get rights like this for very little money down, and an agreement to pay more if the story gets made into a movie.

OR--

You could fictionalize the story. Use whatever newspaper accounts you can get, and try to do journalistic interviews with any key players who would be willing to talk to you. Thus, you could create your proprietorship of the interview material.

I strongly recommend you write a thorough outline of the movie story and register it with WGA East (about 22 dollars US).

When you have established your "claim" on the idea, and have a better negotiating position, you can start looking for a writer to collaborate with you.

Your best strategy is to take the writing as far as you can yourself and then hand off the ball, so to speak. The writing you've exhibited above, is evidence enough that you have the ability at least to do the outline, and maybe even a more expanded treatment after that.

2. Marketing at festivals

WRITER
I have written several screenplays. They are dark comedies with subversive, rather intellectual elements. They are definitely not mainstream or formulaic.

I have been told that I should market/network my quirky, offbeat screenplays at film festivals, such as Toronto and Sundance. (They are all registered with the WGA.)

I've been told attending seminars in general may help me to make contact with potential directors and producers, even actors. Once I start making contacts, finding people who will be interested won't be as daunting and difficult as it seems.

Do you think this is a sound strategy to get an indie screenplay produced?

BARRY
It's a strategy that has worked for others. How it works for you depends on how good your screenplays are, how effective you are in pitching them, and what the trends and buying appetite is at the time you pitch.

From your question, I presume you intend to attend said festivals. Attending festivals can be expensive, but if you're prepared to spend the money, make sure that you research and prepare for the trip with diligence. You don't want to end up doing nothing but flying off to a couple of thousand dollar parties.

I occasionally attend markets, like the American Film Market. Prior to going I send emails, talk to people on the phone, and organize as many real business meetings as possible. I also have a priority plan of those companies and distributors I’m going to connect with.

I suggest you do the same.

Festivals are more difficult. Both Sundance and Toronto are "zoos" and there are many more events, galas, and screenings than you have time for. You need to be extremely selective. Make sure you have visual materials as well as your written script.

Also design and print a 1-page mock-up of a one-sheet with a synopsis on the back, a bookmark sized mock-up with a capsule on the back, even if you print them on your bubble jet. You can give these out to people to test whether they have enough interest to request the script.

Even if you do go the festival route, you would be well-advised to market your scripts aggressively in all the other conventional ways, especially by mail queries to potential buyers.

1. Where to go with ideas

WRITER
Can you please tell me where I should go with ideas for screen plays, TV etc. I have not written any scripts but am brimming with ideas. I have sent some to Bob Kosberg’s Hollywood Movie Pitch but surely there must be more people out there that want new ideas

BARRY
I hate to hoist the firehose on your parade, but the Movie Pitch site is unique as far as I know. Some other sites will post your log lines, outlines, etc., but they don't offer to sell as aggressively as Bob Kosburg.

You need to know that there are as many ideas out there as there are lottery tickets, and your chances of winning anything are about the same--even with the help of Mr. Kosberg (Movie Pitch site).

But hey, it does happen. People DO win the lottery. And people DO sell their ideas to Hollywood.

What most people IN the movie business want is ideas that are already developed and written into screenplays so incredibly fabulous that when they are produced the company will make a gazillion dollars.

Spitballing ideas is fun and easy.
Writing screenplays is fun and excruciating hard work.

Most people would prefer to do the former.
Those who want to build a career in the industry do the latter.

Email me if Bob Kosberg calls you {:>)

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