Today we have another fantastic Guest Blogger gracing our digital pages! Meet Jen Frankel- writer extraordinary and the author of the Blood and Magic and Undead Redhead series.
She’s is a self published author who ventured into the turbulent waters of authorship when technology was redefining many existing mediums. Books were no exception.
I asked her here to talk about a few of her experiences, for all of you aspiring writers or readers out there.
So You Wanna Write a Screenplay
Online resources to tap your hidden talents
Before you start this blog, a disclaimer. It is NOT easy to write a screenplay. Despite what you might think when you’re sitting in the cinema cursing the fact that you’ve apparently paid for a movie recycled from scraps of three you saw last summer, writers don’t just brew a pot of coffee (or open a bottle of scotch), cue up an Adam Sandler retrospective, and get cribbing.
I get so many suggestions for what I should write that I actually did a blog about exactly what an idea is and isn’t relative to a finished project. An idea is great, but then you have to do the real work.
It’s also not rocket science, though, so don’t be too intimidated. In fact, the web has some great tools and resources to help you get started and turn your concept into your first script.
Setting up your word processor to make your work look like a professional script is time consuming and will ultimately frustrate you enough to make you pull out your eyelashes one by one. Instead, buy a professional program like Final Draft or Movie Magic. I’m partial to the former, but that’s partly by long association, and the fact that I was a semi-finalist in Final Draft’s Big Break screenwriting competition (for a sci-fi comedy about the Fat Ladies’ Mafia in outer space, but that’s a topic for another blog, possibly called, “So You Wanna Turn Your Screenplay Into a Cool Video Game”). What Final Draft does is anticipate, when you hit return, what you want to type next, the “element.” Will you enter a slugline, like this:
INT. HOUSE – DAY
or a character name, or a piece of dialogue or description of action? The program automatically moves the cursor to the correct place on the page. You can override by hitting enter a second time and cursoring to your choice.
Final Draft also has example scripts to get you familiar with the format, including TV scripts in the style of various current and classic shows.
This great little example of formatting comes from Greg Beal and is circulated by the Academy Awards to help entrants to its prestigious Nicolls Fellowship. In addition to being chock-full of information, it’s a very cleanly written script, if a little “on the nose.”* http://www.oscars.org/awards/nicholl/scriptsample.pdf
*writer talk for too obvious
For free, you can download the excellent Celtx to format your script. You can save and share online as well as using your desktop, and convert to PDF, the recommended format for when you’re ready to send out your masterpiece to Hollywood.
There are reams of methods and methodological approaches to screenwriting. The best resource you will always have is to watch movies. Lots of them. Then read the scripts: many classics are available online at The Internet Movie Script Database http://www.imsdb.com/ and even more in wide-ranging formats (including TV and movie scripts) at Simply Scripts http://www.simplyscripts.com/. Read, read, read. Learn to analyse what you’re reading and see how a good writer can make scenes and characters jump off the page with a brevity of language. Good screenwriting is bare bones screenwriting. Save your great quips for the dialogue, and don’t waste it on the action lines! No one’s going to know about those once the movie is made.
Peer-review sites for script feedback have sprung up all over the web including Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope Virtual Studio, where you can upload scripts and “pay” for other artists to review your work by reviewing theirs.
You can also pay to have your work reviewed by any number of “screenplay gurus.” There are a million out there—just be aware that if you haven’t done your own work and research before you send it in, you’re basically throwing your money away. Like with any writing, show it to friends or family, or even pay someone you know who writes to go through it and make suggestions.
Learning to write a screenplay takes years and many, many scripts. This is the part I DEFINITELY can’t help you with! If you have the staying power, though, and fight your idea into a finished, polished script, I can give you some ideas on what to do next.
You get to Hollywood the same way you get to Carnegie Hall—practice, practice, practice. So when you’ve got that brilliant, produceable, properly formatted script (or better yet, a dozen) it’s time to start knocking on virtual doors.
Getting an agent is all but impossible for a new writer. Hell, it may BE impossible, because I have never heard of anyone doing it without some kind of “in.” But you can increase your chances by 1) attending screenwriting and industry conventions and seminars and 2) entering contests. Nothing gets you off to a better start with an agent than a win in a big competition. Look at Final Draft, Scriptapalooza, and the Nicholls. Search for film festivals that have screenplay contests, especially in your geographical area, since they sometimes include a reading of your script by actors and/or industry meet-and-greets. At a recent Female Eye Film Festival, not only did I get to hear my script read, I met agents, directors, producers, distributors, and funders.
The essence of script-selling is called pitching. Briefly, that means summing up your script in a targeted manner to communicate it to someone else and get them excited about it. A pitch can be a ten minute meeting, 60 seconds at a festival, an hour with an agent to run over a bunch of projects you have brewing in your hot little head, or the so-called “elevator pitch,” which depends on you being able to engage someone and explain your script in the time it takes to travel between floors. And without seeming desperate or stalkerish.
Virtual pitching is popular, although I don’t know how often it succeeds. But it WILL hone your ability to be an effective salesperson for your own work. You’ll need to know how to write such promotional materials as a logline and synopsis. Raindance has a great summary of how to do the former: http://www.raindance.org/10-tips-for-writing-loglines/
Remember—your goal is to get your work into the hands of someone who might get excited about getting it made. Your absolutely best research tool is IMDB, the Internet Movie Database. Start with movies you like, movies like yours, or starts you think would be perfect for that awesome leading role you wrote. Look for lower level producers who might be interested in helming a project of their own, who have demonstrated an interest in material like the script you wrote. Then, get a subscription to IMDBpro, the paid arm of the Database. Here, you’ll be able to access contact information for the producers you are interested in pitching your script to, as well as for the agents or managers of actors. You don’t usually approach an actor directly unless you have a personal connection, or can meet them at a convention.
Keep your pitch succinct, polite, professional, and above all modest. You don’t have the biggest blockbuster the world has ever seen languishing on your computer and are willing to do them the favour of letting them see it. You are the writer. It all starts with you—but no one will likely remember how much you contributed to the final project unless to complain.
So what are you waiting for? Away to the keyboard with you, and write!
If you want to read one of Jen Frankels books for yourself, or ask her about her experiences, you can check out her website at http://www.jenfrankel.com