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By anecdotal evidence, I know a lot of us around here are working on screenplays, which is inevitable given our common interests. I thought it would be nice to have a thread to discuss the influences, the good books on the subject, and so forth. And if we're feeling particularly brave and secure, maybe we'll even bounce our ideas off each other. I know writers get paranoid about that sort of thing, but we'll see how that goes.

To begin with me, I'm pretty much addicted to Final Draft. Trying to write in Word or some other non-dedicated word processor is a true headache. If you're still doing this, do yourself a massive favor and plunk down the money for a screenwriting program. It's worth it not to worry about formatting while you're composing dialogue.

The subject of books came up in another thread (prompting me to finally start this), and I know there's some disdain for McKee's Story. I share it. It's a massive, ponderous tome of dubious merit, weighed down in structure and technicality. Syd Field's work isn't much better.

A couple of books I liked:

How NOT To Write A Screenplay, by Denny Martin Flynn. Not a good book to start your education with, but useful nonetheless. It pulls together all of the most common mistakes found in first-time screenplays, allowing you to sidestep them, and thus not look like a total noob.

Save The Cat, by Blake Synder. This one was a godsend. It focuses on structure, just as McKee and Field did, but lays things out in a much more useful and practical manner. The message may rankle some, as it really does stress that all successful movies follow a single dramatic structure. What will really irk you is that when you go through your favorite movies, you'll find out that he's right. We even went through Borat and found the "All is lost" section, right on schedule.

Neither of these books tell you how to write well, but they do help a great deal with the nuts and bolts.
Any self-respecting nerd (is that an oxymoron?) puts down Story after reading the bit where McKee completely misremembers the climax of The Empire Strikes Back in an attempt to make a point.

I like William Goldman's insights-- one more reason to mourn the loss of Premiere magazine.
I haven't read a ton of books, and I hope this doesn't come off as snobbish, but I've paged through Flinn's "How NOT To..." book in between ogling the hot little barista at the Barnes & Noble cafe, and so many of the points seemed so obvious that I kind of wrote it off. I know to do so without reading the whole book is kind of prejudiced, but have you really looked into prejudice lately? It's quite the little time-saver.
That's true. Assuming that everyone in the AICN Talkbacks is a complete re-re has saved me a lot of time and frustration.
Syd Field's books were one of the first screenwriting guides I read, way back when I started to get sort of serious about scripts -- this was in seventh grade or so. I then proceeded to spend the next two years creatively crippled -- I subscribed so much to Field's theories on plot points and 30-60-30 structure, I thought that simply figuring out a way to fit my ideas within those would give me success. Thing was, I could never figure out how to do that with the stories I wanted to tell, and I felt like a bad writer as a result.

I mentioned this in the other thread, but I think Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey is a much better book about screenwriting than either Field or McKee. Vogler walks the reader through the various archetypes of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, giving both classic and contemporary examples, yet illustrating the variety of ways the Hero's Journey can be applied to film -- the last section applies the steps and archetypes of the Hero's Journey to films ranging from "The Lion King" to "Titanic" to "Pulp Fiction." It's more of a handbook than anything, and it emphasises originality above all -- taking the archetypes and finding a new way to spin them rather than just ripping off the basic Campbell mode a la "Star Wars." That, coupled with a paper I wrote in high school on "Mythic Archetypes in the Contemporary Ensemble Drama," did a lot to help me as a writer and a storyteller. It's probably the best straight-up screenwriting guide that I've read.

I also have gotten a lot out of The Screenwriter Within by D.B. Gilles, which is more advice and personal anecdotes than rigid, McKee like "YOU MUST DO THIS OR YOU WILL NEVER BE A SUCCESS," and it actually has some pretty worthwhile exercises in it. The only drawback here is that Gilles occasionally uses examples from his own work, and they're pretty eye-rollingly ridiculous.

When I was in film school, I took a screenwriting class with Gilles's buddy Sheldon Woodbury, and I loved it. Woodbury wrote a book about writing the action screenplay called Cool Million that's interspersed with interviews with various million-dollar-screenwriters. It's actually a decent book, although my affection for Woodbury is more as a teacher than as a writer.

This is an awesome idea for a thread, and I'm looking forward to participating in it. I'll be back later with some more thoughts about my influences and my current projects, but I wanted to throw out that initial salvo of stuff.
But because i think Greg does not have his head up his ass, I am now going to re-examine the issue.

See? The internet CAN make a difference.
I've found good writing advice from Ted Elliot's and Terry Rossio's Wordplay-site. What makes it good is that it's free, the advice is very practical and the writers have pretty good filmography to back their statements with.
While I use Final Draft, I've found that I can't actually write in front of the computer. I mean, I get distracted far too easily on the computer and end up surfing the net/watching trailers/playing crappy shockwave games.

So, what my method for the last few months has been is to just buy a fresh 188-side notebook for each new screenplay I start. I write it in correct format on the page. And, for me, it's worked amazingly and I've managed to finish 3 first drafts.

So if you're easily distracted in front of the computer and know you can write a whole lot more than you've been doing, I totally recommend actually using pen and paper. It can be a much easier way of getting your work out and when you type your first draft into Final Draft you'll be able to see stuff you need to alter/change much easier. Makes for a better working draft to show people.
I suggest if you're looking for a good screen writing book etc. check out Save The Cat, by Blake Synder. Fantastic read.
Has anyone tried the open source screenwriting software Celtx? How does it compare to Final Draft?
the deal with a lot of those screenwriting books... they aren't written for most of you guys. they are written for people who aren't tremendously familiar with film. of course the techniques seem like common knowledge. it's because to you, they ARE. maybe you didn't think of them in those certain terms or with charts and graphs and notecards, but if you've seen several hundred movies you pick up the trends that work and the trends that don't.

the only way to get better at writing, the ONLY way, is to write every single day. sure watching movies and reading good scripts and screenwriting books helps slightly, but writing and getting feedback is the only way to do it.

thinking about how field and mckee and goldman think about screenwriting has helped me, but no revelations lie within their pages as far as i'm concerned... i learn more sitting down over a week for a total of 20 hours and hammering out a first act.

writing is rewriting as far as i'm concerned. the minor hurdle is the get the thing on the page and with some form. then real work begins for me. how many drafts did shyamalan go through on sixth sense?
Quote:

Originally Posted by Timo

Has anyone tried the open source screenwriting software Celtx? How does it compare to Final Draft?

I'm using Celtx currently and it's pretty damn impressive. It has some really handy features (such as files on characters, storyboards, etc) and is FREE. A must-download if you lack Final Draft.
I also have similar problems as mole with distractions (ADHD will do that to ya) so I just disconnect the modem.
Kudos to Greg for starting this thread. Happy to lurk for the time being, although if I can think of anything entertaining or enlightening from my own experience I'll chime in.

Right now, though, I'm off to Amazon to buy SAVE THE CAT.
Well, I just downloaded Celtx, toyed around with it and realised I should've got this kind of software years ago. I've done all my writing with Word and the formatting is a real pain in the arse with it. If I'd try to punch out 100+ pages of properly formatted screenplay with Word, I'd probably go mental at page 40. So thank you all for bringing this to my attention.

I haven't done a feature-length screenplay yet. I've only written scripts for short films, the longest ones being around half an hour long. It's very educational to see your text being interpreted (or fucked up) by other people.
Quote:

Originally Posted by mole

While I use Final Draft, I've found that I can't actually write in front of the computer. I mean, I get distracted far too easily on the computer and end up surfing the net/watching trailers/playing crappy shockwave games.

I actually find I'm the opposite, when it comes to writing a treatment I tend to go for pen and paper, but onece I'm writing an actual script I have to do it on the computer because I'm constantly changing my mind about whether dialogue is working, or which order scenes should be in. Being on the computer lets me just write with the freedom to know I can change things whenever I feel like it. Paper would clog me up to no end.

I had a book that really helped me with writing. It wasn't a screen writing one just creative writing, but unfortunatly I lent it out to a friend and cannot remember the yitle or authors. What I find the best aid are those extra terrific DVD's that actually feature writers commentaries. Hearing from writers you respect what their process is which things they changed for what reasons, what got changed that was out of their control, what they wish they had have done better etc.

One thing I've learned about writing from directing is keep in mind what is going to be engaging to direct, not just what's engaging to read. Quite a few times I've come across scenes I've written that on paper were great but because I'd pict a fairly mundane setting it became a real chore to get through it all when it came to direct it.
Quote:

Originally Posted by horrid

One thing I've learned about writing from directing is keep in mind what is going to be engaging to direct, not just what's engaging to read. Quite a few times I've come across scenes I've written that on paper were great but because I'd pict a fairly mundane setting it became a real chore to get through it all when it came to direct it.

Ain't that the truth. Directing also teaches you small but important things you won't probably pick up from a screenwriting book. Like introducing your characters. That's something I didn't pay attention to when I was "just" writing. If it's somehow important to know the name of your character, have someone say it out loud. You don't think about that because when you're writing, the names are always visible:

MURDOCH
If I'd try to punch out 100+ pages of
properly formatted screenplay with Word,
I'd probably go mental at page 40.

But on screen it's just some guy saying the words beneath the name.
I ran into that problem making props, a character recieved a letter, and as I was making it I realised I've never given this character a last name.


Another problem I ran into that messed me up was I'd write a scene that suited being shot in the day time then one would suit being at night, and so on throughout the script, and the story is cutting between three sets of characters.Latter in the script one of the character is being interogated by the police about where he was on which day, and all of a sudden I had to figure out what day each scene happened on. It hadn't mattered at all up until that point so I hadn't kept track at all. It ended up being quite a mind bender figuring it all out.
Excellent idea for a thread. Just last year I finished my first screenplay and, after months and months of revisions, simply being able to type The End felt like an amazing accomplishment. Looking back on the piece, I now recognize numerous flaws, but all in all I'm satisfied with having completed one of the bastards. I'm now in the process of structuring my second work and hope to have it completed by the end of June.

My first screenplay was written on plain old Word and, yes, setting those margins was an painstaking business. Once the margins were finally set, the actual writing progressed smoothly enough. With dialogue I had to be careful not to exceed the right alignment, but once I found the rhythm, it wasn't so bad. Even so, I fully intend to splurge for Final Draft on the next go round.

One of the books I read in preparation was Good Scripts, Bad Scripts by Tom Pope. The author selects 25 examples from throughout the history of cinema and shows how and why each screenplay succeeds or fails. Prior to each chapter I would read a copy of the topic screenplay and watch the movie. Doing so proved an excellent immersion into the form, not to mention a great catalyst to see some films I had put off watching for far too long (Sunset Blvd anyone?).
I'm going to make the completely ridiculous statement that the first movie that made me realise the importance of character was the first X-Men.

I use Final Draft as well, it's pretty damn spiffy. I get shit done pretty quickly.
Having never tried Final draft myself, can I ask if there'd be an advantage to someone like me who essentiall only writes stuff to direct myself, so formatting isn't much of an issue (I'm not going to throw my own script in the bin and not make it because of non industry formatting). Are there any over advantages to it?
Not really, if there's method enough to your own system.
Quote:

Originally Posted by Richason

One of the books I read in preparation was Good Scripts, Bad Scripts by Tom Pope. The author selects 25 examples from throughout the history of cinema and shows how and why each screenplay succeeds or fails. Prior to each chapter I would read a copy of the topic screenplay and watch the movie. Doing so proved an excellent immersion into the form, not to mention a great catalyst to see some films I had put off watching for far too long (Sunset Blvd anyone?).

I have that book, it's great, especially reading about what doesn't work in the bad scripts.
Great thread, Greg.

I just finished putting the final touches on the pitch package for my animated series. From initial concept to finish it took 13 months and changed drastically every step of the way.

Books I used included:

How to Write for Animation - Jeffrey Scott (decent read from one of the greats in the business)

The Moose That Roared - Keith Scott (a history of Ward Animation)

Television Writing From the Inisde Out - Larry Brody (good read if you want to get into TV writing)

The Hero With a Thousand Faces - Joseph Campbell (a must read for any writer)

On Writing - Stephen King (Even if you hate King you should read this if you want to be a writer)

Famous Monsters of Filmland - Magazine (research into obscure monsters)

Ultimate Spiderman Trade #1 - Various Artists (check the back of this collection for one of the best pitch packages ever)
Final Draft is heaven. I could not imagine doing any other way.

I've been having trouble getting my second act started. I know how my story ends, I have some great third act scenes, but the damnable second act has me stumped.

How do some you deal with difficult plot points?

Thanks for the this thread, Greg.
Quote:

Originally Posted by horrid

Having never tried Final draft myself, can I ask if there'd be an advantage to someone like me who essentiall only writes stuff to direct myself, so formatting isn't much of an issue (I'm not going to throw my own script in the bin and not make it because of non industry formatting). Are there any over advantages to it?

It's terribly easy. All you do is type the words, the rest is done for you, but if your own methods work well enough, stick with it.
Quote:

Originally Posted by General Zod

I've been having trouble getting my second act started. I know how my story ends, I have some great third act scenes, but the damnable second act has me stumped.

How do some you deal with difficult plot points?

I've done shorter stories so my second acts are mostly shorter than usual but what I do when I write a three-act story is I break the second act into two parts. So you end up with an act that's about rising to something and an act that's about descenting to something. Usually it's about a character realizing the shit he's in by the end of the second act and trying to do something about it in the third act. Pretty nuts'n bolts-stuff but it works for me.

Sometimes I deal with difficult plot points by repeating the word "fuck" loudly and throwing stuff around. Then I try to find another angle to view the problem.
If nothing else, I've gotten some good book recommendations out of this.

The second act always used to be a big problem for me too. Like Rath, I think it was conforming to Syd Field's work that was killing me. Reading Save The Cat was what broke me out of it. The problem with Field's structure is that he establishes the second act as taking up half the film, but doesn't do much to break it down any more than that. That middle hour looms like a vast lifeless desert, and seems impossible to fill. Blake Snyder's book breaks dramatic structure down into more bite-sized pieces that seem much easier to deal with. And his idea of "The Beat Sheet" really helped me work out the important aspects of my story before hitting the actual writing.

As for distractions, I also tend to grab the yellow legal pad and pen and leave the house. The library works pretty well, but believe it or not, I've gotten a lot of good work done at the mall food court.

I'm buying an old used laptop soon, specifically for writing and nothing else. It will have no games on it, and I will not connect it to the Internet. We're planning on designating a room where my wife does homework and I write, and that's it. There shall be nothing fun in this room.
I tend to have problems giving up control. I'll know the perfect song for this scene and the perfect way to shoot it and I want to just say so, but I know that's the kiss of death.
A lot of love for Final Draft here - personally I use Movie Magic Screenwriter. Not for any particular reason except that I started a script using their demo and turns out that after 40 pages the demo locks up, prompts you to buy the full version and you can't do ANYTHING with what you have, save print it with large watermarks. But even though it sounds like I painted myself into a corner with it, I do really really like it and it sounds like it has pretty much the same features as FD.

As far as this patricular script, I'm finding it really really hard to decide on an ending. Usually when you create a story in your head, you can kinda see the progression (or that's how I usually work it out anyway), but I just can't see it here. It's driving me crazy.
I almost always have the ending before I start anything, whether it's the end to a feature or the end to a television series that I'm writing the pilot for. As I write, I'll usually make notes about what's to come -- scenes I want to write, beats I want to hit -- but as I said in the other thread, writing for me is largely one of self-discovery (Dr. Pretension on line 1), improvisation, and constant rewriting.

Richard, I hear you on ceding control regarding music, which is why, more often than not, I'll write a draft or a version of a scene with the music cues written in, and then take them out before sending it out for public consumption. It just really helps me, as a writer, to visualize a scene with the music accompanying it -- mostly because my choices are so esoteric or intrinsically tied to the characters, action, or setting of the story.

There's also the cheat which I've used in my last couple of scripts -- find a way to work in a song that you feel sets the tone of the script in a non-obvious fashion. For this horror script I've been working on, I had some of the characters singing it when they were coming back from a bar. (Not like in "Almost Famous," though.) And this summer camp script that's taken most of my time over the last two years, I have a character who's playing guitar in the background of some scenes, and the songs that he's playing usually comment on the action. And there's kareoke, too. Both these things -- the kareoke as a social activity and a guy playing guitar -- are sort of communal and identifiable experiences to anyone who's worked at a summer camp, which is what I'm trying to achieve, so it sounds kind of quirky and lame now that I'm writing about it, but I think it's working. And I'm actually planning to shoot this script myself, so I don't have to worry about that per se.
See, my problem with endings is I'll normally get the closing shot in my head--most of the time free of context--and then I have to take what I've started and write it so that I get to that image at the conclusion. It can be maddening, because although most of the time I can see WHY I'm imagining this shot in my head (normally ties in with a theme or arc), I don't know HOW it's supposed to get there.
Yeah, but those last few scenes, when you know that last scene is just around the corner and it's all come together...I wouldn't trade that for anything in the world.
I'll drink to that. That's when you all of a sudden don't mind that it's 4am and you haven't had any real sleep in three days--you finished the fucker.
Quote:

the only way to get better at writing, the ONLY way, is to write every single day. sure watching movies and reading good scripts and screenwriting books helps slightly, but writing and getting feedback is the only way to do it.

I agree. Novels etc on screenwriting are more or less entertaining guidelines. Regardless, Save the Cat is one of the better ones.
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