How To’s

Spooky Screenplays: 5 Frighteningly Good Horror Scripts

Halloween is just around the corner and that means binge eating candy in between visits from trick o’ treaters and binge watching late night horror flicks. Writing a screenplay is no small feat–but writing a horror screenplay requires a unique and specific process where scares and tension are as equally important as plot and character.

Horror movies need to tap into the audience’s collective fears and leverage them to make the screenplay successful. A great storyline and characters are the way to start your screenplay but you need to figure out how you will leave your audience unsettled. If you plan on writing your own horror flick in the near future, here’s a list of great screenplays you can learn a thing or two from:

Halloween

John Carpenter’s 1978 horror classic is still one of the most successful independent movies of all time, and set the bar for modern horror screenplays. There are several reasons why Halloween is still a staple in today’s movie culture. It is no secret that in most genre screenplays, female characters are underwritten, unsympathetic, and objectified. While Carpenter did write most of screenplay, producer Debra Hill wrote the dialogue between the three female leads played by Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Loomis, and P.J. Soles. Thanks to Hill’s dialogue, the female leads felt more believable and authentic–which helps the audience connect with them before they become Michael’s would-be victims.

 

The Shining

This movie’s script, written by Stanley Kubrick and co-writer Diane Johnson, is a shooting script–a version of the screenplay used during the production of a movie or television show, and is different than a spec screenplay. Kubrick is a master director, and seeing how he planned to build tension outside of the dialogue and simple stage directions is a master class in suspense.

The Exorcist

The Exorcist may be more than 40 years old, but it can certainly rattle your bones and leave you with chills. One thing to note is the lack of a movie score; there are of course the iconic piano key notes throughout the movie, but there isn’t a dedicated score outside of that. It may be obvious to the audience at first but as the movie progresses, the minimalist music helps lull the audience into the screenplay, helping them forget they are watching a movie.

 

 

Psycho

After skillfully building tension with a crime plot centering around protagonist Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), director Alfred Hitchcock does something uncommon in Hollywood, and especially in 1960: he switches the point-of-view of the film’s lead about 50 minutes into the film by killing Marion off. The audience is left with creepy motel owner Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) as he struggles to get away from his domineering, hot-tempered, and murderous mother, or so we think until the script delivers yet another iconic plot twist.

Scream

Kevin Williamson, writer of Scream, opted for a shocking first scene–making the movie’s opening one of the most iconic in horror movie history. The film begins with a young woman, Casey, innocently flirting with a stranger over the phone, before it ends with her frantically running for her life. Because Casey was played by A-list actress Drew Barrymore, who was also put front and center in the film’s marketing, audiences were really thrown for a loop when the phone conversation takes a sudden turn from flirty to menacing. The script never lets up either, giving Wes Craven one of his most meta films of his career, one that deconstructed the entire slasher genre.

Happy Halloween From NYFA!

Watch if you dare for a #NYFAHalloween scare! Wishing you a #HappyHalloween with this compilation of horror films produced by #NYFA students!

Posted by New York Film Academy on Monday, October 31, 2016

 

 

 

8 Books Every Screenwriter Should Check Out

Screenplays, whether for short student films or Hollywood epics, typically follow a fairly rigid format. However, the art of screenwriting, and what you’ll learn in screenwriting school and by workshopping your scripts with your instructors and fellow students, comes down to mastering all the nuances that reside within that format.

A great supplement to the hands-on, intensive training you’ll receive at screenwriting school is of course a good book—after all, who better to write about writing than, well, writers?

screenwriting competitions

There are countless books on screenwriting so it can be hard to choose ones that are worth your time and that will complement your in-class training. Here are a few tried-and-true books that won’t waste your time:

The Tools of Screenwriting: A Writer’s Guide to the Craft and Elements of a Screenplay
by David Howard and Edward Mabley

David Howard and Edward Mabley get to the very core of screenwriting with this book, focusing on the principal elements of a script, like plot, structure, dialogue, setting, character development, and imagery, and how they specifically relate to the medium as opposed to other forms of writing. By using specific examples found in famous scripts like Citizen Kane, E.T., and The Godfather, they show how these elements look when masterfully applied.

The 21st Century Screenplay: A Comprehensive Guide to Writing Tomorrow’s Films
by Linda Aronson

While many, if not most, books illustrate screenwriting through the traditional three-act structure, with some going as far as telling you where story beats should be page by page, The 21st Century Screenplay focuses on breaking the rules once you’ve mastered them. By using popular, contemporary examples of Hollywood films that employ various types of alternate screenwriting techniques, including–Pulp Fiction, Memento, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind–the book shows you how to write unconventionally in a way that makes sense and doesn’t alienate your audience.

Psychology for Screenwriters: Building Conflict in Your Script
by William Indick

One of the first things any writer is taught is that conflict is the core of drama, so it goes without saying that a good screenplay needs good conflict. Psychology for Screenwriters focuses on this specific goal, instructing writers how to better understand human behavior to drive their script, and providing readers with theories of personality and psychoanalysis, along with writing exercises, guidelines, and a ton of examples from classic movies.

The Nutshell Technique
by Jill Chamberlain

Unlike most screenwriting books, which teach you the beats of a story linearly, producer Jill Chamberlain (Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Crimson Peak), offers The Nutshell Technique. The heart of her technique involves eight core elements of a story that all tie into one another. Cracking the code will crack your story, and Chamberlain demonstrates this with infographics that break down the stories of famous scripts like Pulp Fiction, Casablanca, Juno, and Little Miss Sunshine, using her patented technique.

Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting
by William Goldman

Screenwriting legend William Goldman is behind some of the biggest and best Hollywood movies of all time, and readers were eager to read his insights when he first published Adventures in the Screen Trade in 1983. However, instead of getting a step-by-step writing manual from one of the masters, they got a personal, fascinating look at the mechanics of how Hollywood worked, from the Golden Age studio era to its transition into New Hollywood and beyond. The book is considered a must-read not just for aspiring screenwriters but anyone who ever plans to step foot in the Los Angeles movie-making machine.

Bambi vs. Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose, and Practice of the Movie Business
by David Mamet

David Mamet made his name on his unique style of dialogue-heavy writing, including his Oscar-nominated screenplays for Wag the Dog and The Verdict. His book, Bambi vs. Godzilla, offers an insider look at Hollywood written with his trademark subversive wit, but with a focus on screenwriting, including who in the studio system actually reads your script. It is incredibly informative, but not afraid to have fun, asking questions like “How is a screenplay like a personals ad?”

Writing Movies for Fun and Profit: How We Made a Billion Dollars at the Box Office and You Can, Too!
by Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant

Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant met in film school, where they and their friends co-founded the comedy group The State, which spawned a generation of film and TV stars like David Wain, Michael Ian Black, and Ken Marino. While also starring as sketch actors and on shows like Reno 911!, Lennon and Garant became successful Hollywood screenwriters, penning many big budget action-comedies and other films, including Night at the Museum and Baywatch. The book offers insight in how to make blockbuster screenplays for Hollywood while also keeping the reader entertained with the hilarious joke-writing skills they bring to their comedy careers.

10 Great Screenplays from 1999

Many great films are celebrating their 20th anniversary this year–1999 is considered one of the best years in recent history for quality cinema. Great films don’t always begin with great screenplays–many elements come into play before a movie hits theaters that could give it its silver screen magic. But these ten fantastic movies from 1999 were solid from the start, and they started from a great screenplay:

Short Script

The Matrix

Lilly and Lana Wachowski followed up their low-budget erotic thriller Bound with a film that would single-handedly reshape the Hollywood landscape to this day, The Matrix. An action and science fiction original script depicting a dystopian society trapped into simulated reality, the film was also inspired by Japanese animation and martial arts films. The inventive use of CGI and “bullet-time” would blow audiences away, but one can only imagine what producers pictured seeing the screenplay without any visual context.

Being John Malkovich 

This head trip of a comedy was the feature film debut for both director Spike Jonze and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. After completing the script, which involves a puppeteer commandeering the body of real-life actor John Malkovich (played by himself), Kaufman sent the script to director Francis Ford Coppola. Coppola passed it along to his daughter, filmmaker Sofia Coppola, who was married at the time to Jonze, who subsequently fell in love with the story. Kaufman later wrote Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind while Jonze directed Her; the two collaborated again for Adaptation, which featured scenes on the set of–where else–Being John Malkovich

Magnolia

Eight-time Academy Award nominee Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood, The Phantom Thread), both directed and wrote this American epic drama that boasted an A-list cast: Julianne Moore, Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, and Alfred Molina, among others. Anderson and his cast make this incredible film a mosaic in search of happiness, forgiveness, and meaning in California’s San Fernando Valley. The film earned three nominations at the 2000 Academy Awards, including Best Screenplay. It is also the final feature film role of Oscar winner Jason Robards.

Toy Story 2

Nearly every animated sequel from Disney in the 90s was straight-to-video, so the first sequel from Pixar, a theatrical release, had a large burden to carry. Not only that, but it was a sequel to the universally beloved film that launched the studio into the stratosphere–the 1995 classic Toy Story. Disney and Pixar took no chances and assembled a team of skilled writers for the screenplay to Toy Story 2, including John Lasseter (A Bug’s Life), Pete Docter (Up), Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo), Ash Brannon (Surf’s Up), Rita Hsiao (Mulan), and Doug Chamberlin & Chris Webb (Bruno the Kid), using the original film’s characters created by Joe Ranft. Their efforts paid off as the film was very well-received and spawned an even more cherished sequel in 2010’s Toy Story 3, as well as the upcoming Toy Story 4.

Eyes Wide Shut

Iconic filmmaker Stanley Kubrick died in 1999, just months before the release of his final completed film, Eyes Wide Shut. His oeuvre was diverse, including 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining, Barry Lyndon, A Clockwork Orange and Full Metal Jacket, starring Matthew Modine. Eyes Wide Shut was an erotic psychological drama and mystery starring one of Hollywood’s biggest power couples of the time–Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. The script was adapted from Traumnovelle, the 1926 novella by Arthur Schnizler, and was co-written by Kubrick and Academy Award winner Frederic Raphael.

10 Things I Hate About You

Teen comedies come out consistently and often in Hollywood–they cost relatively very little money to make and they’re geared towards a prime demographic. But very few end up classics, remembered decades after their release. 10 Things I Hate About You is one of those classics, beloved by both teens and adults. It helped launch the careers of Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles and featured a supporting cast of very familiar faces. The screenplay came from writing team Karen McCullah and Kirsten Smith (Legally Blonde, The Ugly Truth) and was adapted from William Shakespeare of all people, in this case his play The Taming of the Shrew. Compare the two titles together and you’ll even see they rhyme!

The Sixth Sense

Night Shyamalan showed the world he was a master of suspense when his directorial debut The Sixth Sense was released (though it wasn’t his first screenplay.) While his chops behind the camera immediately drew comparisons to great directors like Steven Spielberg, the most famous elements of the film come from the script itself, including lines like “I see dead people” and the shocking twist ending.

Boys Don’t Cry

Kimberley Peirce’s debut feature was adapted from her 1995 short film of the same name and tells the real story of Brandon Teena (Hilary Swank), a transgender teenage boy from Nebraska who moves to Falls City and befriends a local gang. Struggling with his sexual identity, Brandon falls in love with Lana (Chloë Sevigny) before being sexually assaulted and murdered by his former friends after they find out he was born female. The harrowing story earned Swank an Oscar and Sevigny an Academy Award nomination, with the powerful performances rooted in Peirce’s stark and emotive screenplay.

Fight Club

This first feature written by Jim Uhls (Jumper) was adapted from the novel of the same by Chuck Palahniuk, and may be one of the rare cases where a movie is better than the book. The screenplay makes many smart choices in its adaptation, which features one of the most unreliable narrators in cinematic history. Palahniuk supported the adaptation but didn’t want to be involved as a screenwriter, so Cameron Crowe, Andrew Kevin Walker, director David Fincher, and even film leads Brad Pitt and Edward Norton–uncredited–worked on the five revised drafts.  

American Beauty

Of all the great films from 1999, American Beauty would be the one crowned Best Picture by the Academy. It also picked up four other Oscars, including Best Screenplay for writer Alan Ball (Six Feet Under, True Blood.) The satire of suburban upper middle class life was first conceived to be seen on a theatre stage, though the concept grew to finally be sold to its distributor DreamWorks Pictures. Executive producer Steven Spielberg wanted to do it without changing a single word and personally recommended Sam Mendes as a director after David Lynch, Mike Nichols, and Terry Gilliam turned down the chance.

Ludovic Coutaud is a NYFA alum and writer. For more information, click here

Great Techniques to Write a Script with an Unexpected Ending

Don’t you just love epic film endings that you never saw coming? These endings are the ones that stay with viewers for a long time and inspire talk about the movie and the reasons why the screenwriter decided to give the story such a mind-blowing plot twist.

Building an unexpected ending in movie scripts is difficult, but can give a movie a lot of buzz and leave the audience breathless. It can be a fine line between a well-earned shocker of an ending and a contrived, seemingly desperate, last minute attempt to save a bad movie.

What’s the secret to making a successful twist ending? There may not be one magic bullet, but a pretty good understanding of some script writing techniques can help you make a memorable ending stick with your audience:

  1. Misdirect the Viewers

Misdirection is a widely popular technique among screenwriters. The main purpose is to make viewers think that they have everything figured out before subverting their expectations entirely at some point, usually in the film’s climax. What could be better than gradually guiding viewers’ attention away from the real plot resolution and reveal it only at the end, right?

Achieving an effective misdirection requires you to use some tools, including the following.

  • Sleight-of-hand. Gradually bury clues to the real ending in preceding scenes where the viewers will be focused on something else. For example, many screenwriters do it during fast-paced moments such as fight scenes because the attention of viewers is focused on the action.
  • Red herrings. This technique steers viewers in the wrong direction by planning false pieces of information and cues pointing in the wrong direction.
  • Dead ends. Similarly, these wrong directions could lead nowhere and stop short, throwing the audience off balance — in a good way.

Always keep in mind that you need to be as subtle as possible, so the viewers won’t notice you’re trying to steer them in the wrong direction, or so your writing doesn’t come off as heavy-handed. This isn’t easy — you’ll need a lot of time, energy, and focus, so schedule screenwriting appropriately so it fits into your daily routine.

 

Screenplay

  1. Make Your Twist Emotional

An effective way to generate a good twist at the end of the movie script is to look at it from an entirely new point of view – whether the ending would be uplifting or a downer.

If your story has been more or less optimistic throughout the first 2+ acts, a downbeat ending can really gutpunch the audience. Conversely, if your script was mostly gloomy and bleak tale that finally offers its characters some hope or a happy ending, the audience can be overwhelmed with sudden relief and make their experience that much sweeter. Either way, you’re putting your audience through an emotional roller coaster.

  1. Put Yourself in the Reader’s Shoes

This is a simple but effective technique that could make a huge difference for your ending. Imagine that you’re a stranger reading your script cold. How would you react to the narrative? Is there a direction that you found yourself expecting the story to go? What other endings could you foresee for the plot and characters?

Write down and make note of every potential ending you come up with, and then discard them all when writing your ending. The result would be an ending that one would never see coming before it’s revealed!

  1. Use the “No One is Safe” Technique

Clearly, not all movies have happy endings. Not every character will achieve their goals or, depending on the story, may not even survive. Why not take the opposite route and subvert the viewers’ expectations by adopting the ‘no one is safe’ mentality?

By killing off characters or having the plot take unexpected turns earlier in the screenplay, your audience will know not to take anything they’ve come to expect from typical Hollywood movies for granted. With everything unpredictable, they’ll just have to follow along for the ride, and wherever they end up could be a total surprise.

These are just some of the ways to build your story to an unexpected twist ending. But, depending on the genre, your plot should usually come naturally from what your characters would do. Betray that, or any of the other core elements of a screenplay, and everything you’ve built could collapse. But if you navigate successfully between the lines and use the tips above, you could come up with a twist that movie audiences will be buzzing about for a long time after the lights in the theater come up!

Interested in learning how to craft a screenplay? Check out more information on New York Film Academy’s screenwriting school here.

Lucy Benton is a writing coach, an editor who finds her passion in expressing her own thoughts as a blogger. Currently, she works at A-Writer. She is constantly looking for the ways to improve her skills and expertise. Also, Lucy has her own writing blog Prowritingpartner where you can check her last publications. 

6 Tips On How to Sell Your Screenplay

You’ve sacrificed countless hours of your social life and mental stability, poured your blood and sweat out onto the pages, and — let’s be real here — questioned your creativity and, henceforth, your life choices almost every day up to this point. You know a script needs multiple drafts to be considered ready to go out into the world; no one who is successful is sending first drafts of their scripts to festivals or competitions. Ultimately, one great script is worth more than a million mediocre scripts. So, you have put in the work.

You’ve rewritten, revised, reviewed, gathered feedback, and revised again — and again. And again. But finally, you’ve done it; your screenplay is ready. The sense of accomplishment and pride is akin to the love parents experience after witnessing the birth of their first child; a laborious creation like the proverbial phoenix out of the ashes.

But then comes the daunting task of getting your screenplay out to the masses.

With over a hundred thousand scripts going into the system each year and about 300 films getting made — only about 10 of those coming from first-time writers — the odds can feel intimidating. That said, it’s all about the numbers, meaning that the more you get your screenplay out there, the higher the chances are of it being seen.

After you’ve written several drafts of the script and you’re sure it’s ready to submit as a showcase piece, consider these 6 tips on how to get started with selling your screenplay:

Don’t Sell Your Screenplay

This may sound completely contradictory, but when it comes to selling a spec script — work that isn’t commissioned or solicited — rather than industry players purchasing it right away, the chances of them considering the script as a resume for you is far more likely.

Put simply, your spec script should be used to showcase you as a screenwriter in order to build a career writing other scripts that are paid for by studios. Rather than working to sell your screenplay, sell yourself.

Bear in mind that even if an executive likes your script the inevitable question becomes, “what else you got?” You have to be able to answer with another script or at least a detailed pitch. So never stop writing.

Focus on nurturing your craft. Selling your screenplay is one transaction: building a career can take a lifetime of dedication. You have to continue to work, improve, revise, and adapt to navigate the industry. Writers need to write consistently to get better over time, and the better your writing becomes, the more likely your chance to sell something or, even more importantly, build a lasting and fruitful career.

Contests can also be a place where you can make connections leading to representation and opportunities to get your showcase script read by executives. For example, check out the Austin Film Festival, where a few of our students have been invited after submitting their scripts.

Make a Short for Your Movie

Now, whether you intend on using your script as a resume or a masterpiece in its own right, you still have to advertise it in its most polished and perfected form to get noticed. Making a short film from your screenplay is becoming the most powerful calling card to be seen. It may seem tough to condense an entire screenplay into a short, but it’s an important skill to master. If you can do a short, you can put it up on a website like scripts.com – this is where sales agents look for really great short movies that often come from feature-length scripts. YouTube and Vimeo are also great platforms for you to use to garner exposure.

Contests

Finishing well in a competition immediately increases the chances of your work being read. Not only does it help your credibility as a screenwriter and raise your profile, but the majority of competitions also offer cash prizes — so why not enter as many competitions as possible? There are numerous competitions happening every year from major players like the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards to lesser-known, yet just as important, ones like the Final Draft Big Break Contest. So enter away!

Query Letter or Email

This is as basic and as critical as it gets. A query letter/email outlines who you are and what your script is about, and is sent to studios, agents, and managers. It may sound simple, but a good query letter and email plan requires lots of patience and persistence, as established industry contacts leave little room to hear from unknown writers (although managers are a little more open to nurturing new talent). Regardless, exhausting all your options in establishing connections with the gatekeepers will increase your chances of being represented and create exposure for your screenplay. This is also where having your short film will help immensely. Busy and important people rarely have time to sit and read through an entire script from an unknown, so on top of your brief plot summary within the query, including a link to a finished short film is extra helpful.

Pitchfests

Just what it sounds like, a pitchfest is a conference of sorts where industry insiders gather to share their knowledge and scout potential new talent. The key for budding screenwriters is to attend these events not only focused on the sole objective of selling a screenplay, but also building a network of contacts and receiving valuable feedback. Pitchfests also offer you the perfect platform to hone your pitching skills, as it’s something you’re going to need to get good at in the industry. Go in there with your perfected pitch, always ask for feedback, and don’t forget to follow up with a “thank you” after the day!

Listing Services

There are a significant number of websites offering a directory for industry people looking for screenplays. Sites like The Black List, Spec Scout, and The Tracking Board (among many others) give you a paid platform to advertise your work directly to industry buyers, as well as the opportunity to get feedback on your work.

As intimidating as it may seem as a first-time screenwriter selling a script, don’t forget that groundbreaking films like “Pulp Fiction” and “Back To The Future” were among many genius screenplays that got repeatedly rejected to begin with. The common denominator in all those cases was the unwavering passion the screenwriters had about their work, and the persistence to get their work noticed. So never give up!

Scheduling Screenwriting: How to Find Time to Write

Great writers often insist the best way to improve your writing is to keep practicing your craft. We all know that devoting time to writing is at least half of the effort, but how do you make the time to write? It’s easy to say that you’ll get to it when you can, but for too many writers that ends up never happening.

In need of a push to find time to schedule your screenwriting? Here are some classic tips that will help you crank out those some-day award-winning first drafts.

Create Goals

Whether you are hoping to finish your movie-length drama script or just want to write a one-act play, setting reasonable goals can help you finally finish any writing project. While free-writing is fun and great for generating ideas, having short and long-term goals can ensure that you finish your creations and beat writer’s block.

Your goals can be based on an amount of words per day or how long you should devote to writing daily. Make sure you set yourself a goal that is specific, and doable!

Set a Consistent Time to Write Daily

Routine is a writer’s best friend, believe it or not!

Even writing for a little as five or 10 minutes a day can help keep the ideas flowing. This technique works best when you set your writing time the same exact time per day. If you are most alert at 8 a.m. then write at 8 a.m. If you like to write at night, then write at night.

No matter what, keep it consistent for the best results — and write every day!

Keep a Notebook Around … Always

Think about all of the time you spend waiting at the doctor’s office or before a class starts. You have a lot more spare time than you might think!

If you take public transportation or carpool often, spend the time of the ride writing down your latest ideas and drafts. Jot down some dialogue ideas when you overhear interesting snatches of conversations around you or see something inspiring. For the nights when you come up with your next brilliant idea just before you go to sleep, keep a notebook on your nightstand to capture the ideas before you drift away to dream.

Devote a Space Specifically for Writing

It’s tempting to tell yourself that you can just write your next script while passively watching television, but let’s be honest: you probably will end up not writing at all. Instead of trying to cram writing in alongside other activities, carve out an oasis of space and time strictly for your writing.

Once you’ve found the perfect spot, play your favorite music or write in total silence. Just like keeping a consistent goal and time for your writing helps you dedicate time and mental clarity to writing, creating a writing space strictly for writing will help you eliminate distractions. Do not allow your cell phone or pet to interrupt your flow!

Soon you’ll be looking forward to shutting yourself away to create new scripts every chance you can.

Do It Online

Another great way to boost your skills, keep yourself motivated, plug into community, and motivate yourself to finish projects on time is to enroll in an online screenwriting course, like those at New York Film Academy. You’ll be receiving the expert instruction of working, professional screenwriters, but with the added bonus of just enough flexibility to be able to carve out your own writing schedule. Best of all, there’s an online course for whatever you’re working on:

While making time for writing is important, having a support system to help you grow unleashes your fullest potential.

The New York Film Academy immerses screenwriting students in an interactive curriculum. From small writing workshops to teaming up with filmmakers, the program is perfect for taking talent to the next level.

Paid Script Coverage Services – The 2 Biggest Benefits and Drawbacks

Script coverage, it’s been said, is one of those things about the film industry that nobody really learns about until they’re actually in the industry. Usually you’re introduced to script coverage at your first gig, or even internship, by way of your boss or higher-up handing you a script (or a PDF these days) and a Word document containing the script coverage template from the lucky person who wrote script coverage before you got there.

So, it’s fair to surmise that most people who write script coverage, or read scripts for a living, probably learned from reading the script coverage of their predecessor at a production company or studio or agency — each of which, by the way, has its own unique way of doing it.

Does the script coverage include a synopsis? How long of a synopsis? A critique section? If so, is it free-form, prose critique, or is it a series of boxes to check off and score, like “Plot,” “Character,” “Conflict,” etc.? Is there an analysis grid? Does it include a logline? Up top, does it indicate the writer’s name? The submission date? Does it indicate who submitted it?

While the templates and methodologies can be as different as the different entities doing the script coverage, one basic purpose is common to all script coverages:

Script coverage saves a producer, agent, or otherwise busy film industry “somebody” from having to read the actual script.

In other words, script coverage is a glorified “book report” of a screenplay or teleplay, designed to provide “the skinny” about a script, in order to save someone higher up from having to read the actual script.

In the past, generally pre-1996 or so, script coverage was an in-house thing only. That is, the only entities doing script coverage were agencies, production companies, studios, and producers. Script coverage was an internal document designed to stay internal, and not necessarily get back to the screenwriter whose script was covered.

But with the rise of the internet, script coverage became available as a tool for screenwriters and filmmakers, who could use to improve their screenplay. For a price.

Script readers were no longer only to be found in agencies and studios and production companies, or working with name talent. They were now taking their trade online, and exchanging their time and critical chops for money.

So now there’s a virtual cottage industry of script coverage companies spanning the internet, ranging from the good to the bad, from the expensive to the cheap, from professional work to hatchet jobs.  

Traditionally, receiving script feedback on one’s own screenplay — feedback of any kind — has never been a super easy endeavor. Prior to paid script coverage services, a screenwriter would generally rely on her writer colleagues, writers group, mentors, or friends and family, to provide her with insight into her work.

But with the rise of the world wide web also came the rise of online meetups and writers groups and screenwriting forums. Now it’s more accessible than ever to find communities and like-minded folks to help you with your screenwriting. And standing shoulder-to-shoulder with all those methods and options, free and otherwise, is the service of paid script coverage.

Full disclosure: I’ve run the script coverage service Screenplay Readers since 1999. But while I’m a huge advocate of paid script feedback for my own writing, and am a huge fan of it because it’s my business, I have to make one thing super clear: I’m an even bigger advocate of getting as much free feedback on your work as possible before paying for any script coverage.

Paid script coverage isn’t for everybody, but here’s my take on the two biggest reasons it can help, and the two biggest reasons why it might not be right for you:

Biggest Benefit #1: It gives your script a “dry run” for the real submission process.

90 times out of 100, or even more frequently, if you’re sending in your script to an agency, producer, or production company, your script isn’t getting read. An immutable fact of the film business since time immemorial has been that everybody wants in. And I mean everybody. And everybody thinks they can write a script.

The result is studio and agency inboxes are crammed with spec scripts from unknown writers. Heck, many are crammed with spec scripts from known writers, both regularly employed and underemployed ones.

There’s just. Too. Many. Screenplays.

But for those lucky few who do get their scripts read, you, the screenwriter, will likely never read the script coverage that script readers writes about your script. So you’ll never know what criticisms that script reader had, and you’ll never have a chance to address them, or an opportunity to make those changes or fixes that could make the difference for a future script reader.

By paying for script coverage from a reputable screenplay coverage company, you get to read the coverage. You get to soak in all the criticism, good and bad, all the details, all the big-picture notes the script reader had, any and all concerns with the script finding an audience, you name it.  

This sort of “dry run” is invaluable, as most screenplays are given only one chance to make a good impression on whoever may be reading it. An assistant or script reader, or even an agent or producer, isn’t going to read your script twice, unless you’re a name writer. And even then, a second read is a longshot. (In most of those cases, you’ll be lucky as a name writer to get even a second “skim.”)

Biggest Benefit #2: A person you don’t know synopsizes your script.

Nearly all script coverage includes a synopsis section, where the person reading the script boils down your story into a page or two, listing just the major beats and developments so that the person reading the script coverage later can get a good idea of what the actual story is.

As writers working alone, or even with a co-writer, we often get too close to our material. We start to see the trees, yes, but the forest can be elusive after staring at the page for two or three years. That is to say, while you’re on the third draft, hard at work on polishing the dialogue, you may have long ago stopped looking at the overarching story — and that story may need drastic attention. A complete stranger reading your screenplay and providing notes in the form a script coverage synopsis can a huge benefit for a writer because having that synopsis, in essence, brings back the “forest” — the “bird’s eye view.”

And the best part of that is that it doesn’t even matter if the script reader gets your synopsis “right.” That is, if they get all the beats of your story down pat, and the synopsis is spot on, you win because you know your material is clear and your story is coming across.

But even if they get it “wrong,” weirdly enough, you still win because you learn which parts of your script aren’t making themselves clear. A “wrong” synopsis beat gives you a chance to zoom in on that beat and make it clear. Better yet: make it idiotproof so that it’s unmissable to all but the most sloppy of readers.

Biggest Drawback #1:  Expense.

There’s a key reason that aspiring screenwriters are the second most common film industry folks stepping off the bus and trying their hand at the grand ole Hollywood film industry. That key reason? Screenwriting is cheap — that is, the bars to entry, the expenses associated with giving it a try: they’re low. All you need is a laptop, some free screenwriting software, and some imagination. Don’t get me wrong: Talent is still vital, and skills take time and money and resources to hone, but the bare bones bar to entry for simply giving it a try is low.

Now compare that bar to entry for aspiring cinematographers and directors, where you kinda need to have a not-small pile of expensive gear, or a film or two under your belt. Because screenwriting is such a relatively inexpensive craft to try your hand at, it stands to reason that there are vastly more low-income aspiring screenwriters than there are middle/upper-income aspiring screenwriters.

So that means, for the majority of aspiring screenwriters, paying a script coverage company for feedback may be out of the question. Plus, many aspiring screenwriters decide that it really makes no sense to pay for coverage if they’re just a few clicks away from an online writers group or a writers meetup that can provide feedback and help them grow as artists in many other ways — not the least of which is in social connections which may pay off later.

Biggest Drawback #2: Anonymous readers.

Script coverage companies, by and large, work with mysterious readers who you know nothing about, and the company’s not telling you. My company and a few others break this rule, posting names and bios and pics of our team on our site. But by and large, if you’re paying for script coverage, you’re likely going to have your script read by a reader you know nothing about, and whose qualifications are a mystery.

On the one hand, not knowing who your reader is can cast some doubt on the integrity of your notes, sure. But on the other, it might not actually be all that bad; Consider that if you ever send your script into a studio or agency, you’ll probably never know the identity or qualifications of anybody reading your script at those places, either. Still, when receiving feedback on your screenplay, knowing who’s doing it, what their background is, and what their qualifications are can count for a lot.

So what does it all mean? Well, I can only tell you what it means for me. For me, it’s awesome to get super-focused, super-detailed feedback on my work, as screenwriters can only grow — in my opinion — with copious feedback. But paying for script coverage isn’t for every screenwriter, especially those who just don’t have the resources.

I believe in what we do at my script coverage company, and I believe in the quality of the script feedback we’re providing our customers, absolutely. But I also believe in the importance of networking, and writers groups, and collaborating with other writers on other projects. Without those things, without those people, I wouldn’t be half as a good a screenwriter as I am now.

Guest Post Written by Brian O’Malley of Screenplay Readers

4 Screenwriting Tips to Help You Eliminate Sexism in Movies

We see gender inequality in film all the time, but where does it start and how can we work to eliminate it?

Screenplays often implicitly or explicitly suggest flat female characters valued for their looks alone before shooting ever begins. Here are a few tips to help you avoid stereotypes when writing your own scripts and foster gender balance on-screen.

1. Introduce your female characters as you do your male characters.

It may come as no surprise that female characters are often introduced in a screenplay with their appearance front and center, while their personality traits coming a distant second (if they appear at all).

Ross Putman, a producer and filmmaker who started the Twitter feed @FemScriptIntros, dedicated to exposing the often cringeworthy introductions of female protagonists in scripts, told Jezebel, “Women are first and foremost described as ‘beautiful,’ ‘attractive,’ or—my personal blow-my-brains-out-favorite, ‘stunning.’ They’re always ‘stunning’ in a certain dress or ‘stunning’ despite being covered in dirt because they’re a paleontologist—or whatever.”

This is not generally the case for male characters, whose intros tend to be longer and more interested in an inner life, which will, in turn, justify their motivations and prepare for the forward momentum of the plot.

2. Give female characters names.

Female characters are much more likely to be referred to as something generic like “hot chick on bike,” or “pretty young mother.” Not only does this tend to encourage stereotyping, but, according to The Conversation, “Performers are usually paid more to play a named character, so naming characters in screenplays can also help address the gender pay gap for performers.”

3. Write with an eye to gender balance.

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Giving generic characters female names by default can also help to close the gender gap in films. According to See Jane, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, only 10 percent of films have a gender-balanced cast, so assigning lines of supporting dialogue to “Carla” instead of “Neighbor” or “Mike” can help ameliorate the dominance of men on a set. Even making a note in the script that a crowd should be half male, half female can help remind casting directors that the crowd should accurately represent the human population.

4. Allow women to age along with the menfolk.

We might tend to blame casting directors for the virtual nonexistence of women over 50 onscreen, but the truth is that many screenplays stop the conversation from the start by specifying the age of women to be 20-something, 30-something, or 19, when oftentimes the male opposite doesn’t have his age specified.

A big part of the problem is that most screenwriters are still men — only 11 percent of 2016 top-grossing films were written by women — so their biases and fantasies are most often represented. As this WIRED article puts it, “No one’s saying May-December romances don’t happen, they just seem to happen a lot more in movies.”

Though we are talking here about sexism in screenplays, many clichés regarding race, sexual orientation, and disability can also be addressed in a similar fashion. You may be surprised how much more interesting your script will be when you think about rounding out flat characters, and how it may help your project stand out in the eyes of producers who must wade through countless clichés to find fresh and compelling stories.

Learn more about screenwriting at the New York Film Academy.

 

4 Ways Screenwriting Workshops Hone Your Craft

While discussing her experience at New York Film Academy, NYFA LA screenwriting student Janet Odogwu Butters stated, “When I first came out here, I thought I was going to learn how to write, but NYFA taught me how to be a storyteller.” Every film, be it fiction or nonfiction, documentary or action, begins with a script. Creating a feature film is certainly a collaborative effort but the script provides the bedrock on which every feature film is built. The contributions of actors, cinematographers, and even special effect technicians all depend on the story line that the script creates. Which is why aspiring screenwriters can benefit from taking screenwriting workshops to help them hone the craft needed to write a cinematic script.

Here are 4 ways screenwriting workshops can help you hone your craft.

1. Full immersion.

With a screenwriting workshop, you will be fully immersed into the screenwriting experience. The workshop will focus on your own screenplay, as well as the works of other students in your class. Your workshop will be spent writing, thinking about, critiquing, fine-tuning, and learning about screenplays. With so much focused attention, you’re sure to come away with new insights and skills.

New York Film Academy offers screenwriting workshops of different lengths to accommodate all schedules, such as two-days, eight-week, 12-week, and more. Whatever the duration of your workshop, you’ll receive focused, hands-on, immersive instruction from working industry professionals. NYFA even offers online workshops for those with the most packed of schedules.

2. Hands-on feedback.

Screenwriting workshops will not only teach you how to create a great script, they will apply that knowledge to the script you are working on. These workshops will convert theory into practice. Each students will receive specific feedback  on their work that will aid them in crafting the best script possible. The workshops are taught by exceptional staff, such as Paul Brown (“X Files” and “Twilight Zone), whose 2-Day Weekend Workshop is attended by writer, directors, and producers, and actors.

3. They force you to write.

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Writer’s block can be the bane of any screenwriter. While there are techniques to break that block, most writers know the best way is to just start writing – whether the content is good or not. Workshops can force you to take that first step, with their rigorous curriculums and strict deadlines. What you write may not be your best (you may even want to delete it and start all over), but the workshops begin the process for revision and show you how you can pull something out of anything you write.

4. They cover multiple topics.

The workshops will not just focus an aspect of your script that you think needs improvement. They will cover multiple topics so that you can learn new techniques while improving your own script. Topics they will cover include character arcs, dialogue, conflict, flashbacks, genre, voice over, subtext, and dramaturgy. The online workshops go even further, offering workshops with specific themes, like Screenplay Rewrite Workshop, Television Pilot Workshop, and Writing for Comic Books Workshop.

Whether you are a new screenwriter just starting out, or a professional looking for feedback on a project, the workshops in the Screenwriting School are an invaluable resource. The Screenwriting School at New York Film Academy offers a plethora of classes, such as Genre Studies, Business of Screenwriting, and Revision Class. While taking classes is vital to your education as a screenwriter, there are other ways to improve your skills. The school’s screenwriting workshops offer a unique experience for screenwriters and will further your skills beyond the classroom. Visit the New York Film Academy Screenwriting School page and find one that works best for you. That’s the easy part. Next comes the part where you sit and finally write down that brilliant idea.

Ready to see how a workshop can take your writing to the next level? Check out our screenwriting workshops at New York Film Academy!

How to Write a Scene for Film

Screenwriting is a visual medium that requires a writer to create words on a page that can be transformed into images on the big screen. Writing for a script that will be visualized into a film is very different from writing for a novel. It’s a common beginner’s curve to break. We have seen many scripts that tend to focus too much on prose and unnecessary fluff. Generally, what a scriptwriter needs to understand is that their script is going to be analyzed by dozens if not hundreds of people in production, people who do not have time to interpret any vague ideas. That is why it’s important to be as descriptive as possible, as succinctly as possible. As NYFA Screenwriting Program Chair Melanie Williams Oram notes, “I always tell my students you cannot write what you do not see.”

So in order to successfully write a scene for a screenplay, it’s important to remember that less is more. By that, we don’t mean less description is more. We mean that less wording in your description is more.

For example, let’s try describing a scene in which a character enters a hotel room. You may be tempted to describe it as vividly as possible. When writing a script, it’s helpful to also imagine which crew members will be reading the script and what information they will need to bring the script to life.

Example 1:

Susie, a 42 year old neurosurgeon from Connecticut, enters her hotel room, which entraps a blue hue that spreads from a ethereal neon glow just two yards from outside the window. She is contemplating the death of her brother, someone she will never see again. Susie says to herself, “I’m driving to Kansas tomorrow.”

This sounds like a pretty descriptive text. You can picture it in your mind, right? The actor, director, and camera and lighting crew have a lot to work with here. But if you were the costume designer, what clothes would you use for this scene? If you were the set designer, what sort of objects would be in the room? How much do they have to work with?

Let’s break it down and format all these details like a script.

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Example 2:

INT. HOTEL ROOM – NIGHT.

SUSIE (42), a Connecticut neurosurgeon, enters a mostly bare HOTEL ROOM. Bible on the dresser. Notepad on the desk. Empty boxes in the corner.

Broken, she is dressed in black. When Susie enters the room she places a funeral program down on the table.

Outside the window is a NEON BLUE sign.

SUSIE

I’m driving to Kansas tomorrow.

Writing your scripts like this gives ample descriptions that everybody in production can work with and properly sets the tone for the remainder of the scene. We won’t know unless we’ve seen Susie previously that the funeral program belongs to her brother. But that’s okay. We can learn that later.  From here, the director, director of photography, actor, costume designer, art director, and set designer have enough to work with in order to bring the scene to life.

Saying more with less is a skill that can take time and practice to master. If you’re interested in learning more about how to write and break down a script for production, visit the Screenwriting Program at York Film Academy.

Anatomy of an Adapted Screenplay

Novels are terrific, but there’s something about the silver screen that transforms great ideas into pure theatrical magic. And many incredible films exist because a screenwriter was inspired to adapt a story from another medium. Today, we’ll look at how you can tackle this process yourself. But finding your inspiration is only the first step. Here are some crucial tips to keep in mind as you adapt your screenplay.

Great Adaptations

First, understand that the adapted screenplay is an artform, with many great examples to look to for inspiration and insights on craftsmanship.

Beloved films like “The Shining,” “Fight Club,” “Harry Potter” and “The Hunger Games” all started out as books before a talented screenwriter turned them into adapted screenplays. Also, think “Twilight.”

And books aren’t the only inspiration for adapted screenplays — don’t forget plays, short stories, poems, and more! There is a long and successful history of adapting all kinds of literature into screenplays…

Plays inspired many film classics: “12 Angry Men,” based on the play of the same name; “Pretty Woman,” based on George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion”; and “West Side Story,” based on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

But literature doesn’t have to be long to inspire a film. “Story of Your Life,” a science fiction short by Ted Chiang, was recently adapted into the Golden Globe and Oscar-nominated film “Arrival.” And the Oscar-nominated 1939 classic “Gunga Din” was based on a poem of the same name by Rudyard Kipling.

Sources for adapted screenplay material don’t have to end with books, plays, and poems. Need we mention all the films successfully adapted from comic books?  

Follow The Story

Your first step is to learn the source material inside-out, identify the main characters, and trace out their story lines. Passion for the story is the most important driver behind adapting a novel into a screenplay. You can make a list of key characters, crucial scenes, and major themes, but don’t get bogged down in the minutiae. Remember: your goal is to tell this story as a film, and you’re looking for ways to drive the action forward.

This is your brainstorming phase. Draw charts or diagrams. Storyboard. Write lists. Do whatever it is that helps you connect the dots in your own brain as you begin to shift your mind from interacting with this story as consumer, to becoming the storyteller. Your job at this phase is to organize your source material and begin to identify the shape your story will take on screen.

Adaptation Means Change

Sometimes you have to shed subplots or minor characters in order to keep the story rolling along. Or, use your imagination to fill in gaps. After all, you’re adapting one story form into another, and it has to fit into the structure of a 120-page screenplay. Think of The Harry Potter series, and how screenwriters had to carefully curate which characters and subplots could participate in the the story of a two-hour time film.

This can be a hard judgment call, so how will you know when to change something? A good rule of thumb is that if it doesn’t drive the story forward, you’ll have to change it.

Jane Anderson, scriptwriter for HBO’s Olive Kitteridge, explained how screenwriters know when to twist a plot or kill off a character: “Once you know your theme and who you’re meant to follow, then it becomes very clear [what to cut or eliminate]. You have to decide, as a dramatist—how do I want to tell this story?”

Show Don’t Tell

It’s ever-so-tempting to translate those beautifully written sentences into voice-overs, but you must resist the urge! Remember that your audience wants to see the story and not hear it; they can hear the story on tape in Grandpa’s 1986 Chevy truck or download it on iTunes to listen at the gym. As a screenwriter, you know that you’re speaking a visual vocabulary. If you must use voice-overs to tell your story, limit it to the best lines in the book.

Once you have these tips in mind, choose your favorite novel or short and story and feel free to begin

adapting it for the big screen! What are your favorite adapted screenplays? Let us know in the comments below!

Learn more about the craft of filmmaking at NYFA’s Screenwriting School.

 

Great Films for Learning to Write Dialogue

Writing dialogue that is believable and natural can be a challenge. Each character in your script should sound distinct and different from the other characters. What they say needs to be important to character development or to advance the plot, but it can’t sound contrived. Above all, it has to be entertaining. Take a look (and a listen) to some of the silver screen’s masters of dialogue writing for inspiration. Below, we’ve rounded up some great scenes for you to watch for inspiration along with some great writing exercises. If you’re feeling stuck or simply want to flex your writing muscles, give these scene/exercise combinations a try!

1. Write: Characters Who Want Something From Each Other

Without a doubt, Quentin Tarantino has a flair for writing memorable, quotable dialogue that is simultaneously intense, insightful, and often laugh-out- loud funny. It’s a challenge to find clips that are appropriate for a PG-13 audience, but check out this scene from 1994’s “Pulp Fiction.” The dynamic between Vincent (John Travolta) and Mia (Uma Thurman) is immediately clear when she cuts off his protest with the reminder that he has been directed to do whatever she wants: “Now, I wanna dance; I wanna win. I want that trophy, so dance good.” Her dominance continues as she does the talking for both of them when they take the stage.

Why this works: Mia’s aggressive dialogue is matched by Vincent’s monosyllabic responses. The pauses and body language throughout the scene take on as much meaning as the spoken words.

A challenge for you: Write a scene where one character wants something from another character.

2. Write: Solving a Problem

William Goldman’s screenplay for “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969) is full of great back-and- forth between Butch (Paul Newman) and Sundance (Robert Redford). He also includes some great ensemble scenes, such as this one where Butch and Sundance reunite with the Hole in the Wall Gang and find there has been a challenge to Butch’s leadership.

Why this works: There is humor and dramatic tension layered throughout the scene. From News Carver (Timothy Scott) wanting to read his own name in the paper to Harvey Logan’s (Ted Cassidy) insistence on settling the issue with a fight, the scene has crisp dialogue that reveals character and advances the plot, while cementing the bond between Butch and Sundance.

A challenge for you: Write a scene with three or more characters trying to solve a problem — make sure each character is unique.

3. Write: Unwilling Attraction

“It Happened One Night” (1934) is a classic template for romantic comedy that works because of the smart screenplay by Robert Riskin and Samuel Hopkins Adams as much as because of the chemistry of the leads. The Screwball Comedies of this era usually matched a middle class character with a higher class character and “It Happened One Night” pairs a rough newsman with an heiress. In this scene where Peter (Clark Gable) and Ellie (Claudette Colbert) are hitchhiking, her cool wit undermines his gruff confidence.

Why this works: Ellie doesn’t speak many lines, but each one is sharp and cuts right through Peter’s bluster. He may have confidence, but she has brains. Their exchanges help establish the growing attraction between them.

A challenge for you: Write a scene where two characters are attracted to each other, but refuse to acknowledge it.

4. Write: Sustained Dialogue

Guy Ritchie’s films have dialogue that is as fast and twisted as any of the action scenes in them. His 1998 film “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” opens with a street hustling scene featuring Bacon (Jason Statham) who delivers his lines in a rapid-fire manner that would leave most actors breathless. Bacon has a crowd gathered around him and he’s trying to sell hot wares with the help of another hustler planted in the audience. Bacon’s eyes move as quickly as his mouth as he tries to find the suckers in the crowd.

Why this works: The scene quickly establishes Bacon as a small-time con who is always looking for an advantage and an escape route.

A challenge for you: Write a scene where a character has a minute and a half of sustained, uninterrupted dialogue.

5. Write: Revealing a Secret 

The screenplay for “Jaws” (1975) was written by Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb. The scene where Quint (Robert Shaw) describes surviving the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in the sea between Guam and the Philippines is intense and frightening because of Shaw’s masterful delivery and the sharp details of Quint’s story.

Why this works: The scene is a very primal one, calling to mind the stories told around a fire on a dark, moonless night. The details about shark’s eyes and Quint’s shipmates bobbing lifelessly in the water are told in an unflinching, matter-of-fact way that helps the viewer picture the scene.

A challenge for you: Write a scene where a character reveals a trauma from their past.

6. Write: An Exaggerated Reaction

“Mean Girls” (2004) is full of scenes that are simultaneously funny and revealing. In this scene, Gretchen (Lacey Chabert) tries to explain her friendship with Regina (Rachel McAdams). Gretchen’s anger and insecurity bubble up through the surface as she suffers from yet another humiliation at the hands of Regina.

Why this works: Tina Fey’s script mixes exaggerated teenspeak, manic energy, and characters who are realistic enough to be recognizable even when their situations and reactions are distorted for the sake of comedy.

A challenge for you: Write a comic scene where a character has an exaggerated reaction to a situation.

Don’t stop now!

There are hundreds of other examples of great dialogue in film from every genre and era — when you watch a film, listen to how the dialogue functions and keep an ear out for models you can use for inspiration in your own writing. As you watch your favorite show or film, stop and ask yourself what is happening in the scene — and then try writing that action yourself.

Want to know more about writing dialogue? Check out NYFA’s How to Write Dialogue in Film or How To Write a Phone Conversation in a Screenplay. And apply today to attend NYFA’s Screenwriting School.

 

Screenwriting 101: What Plagiarism Is, What It Isn’t, and How to Protect Yourself From It

Plagiarism is rare — at least when we’re talking about the screenwriting industry.

The only reason it seems so prevalent is that the few occasions in which it does occur at the top level — cases like Shia LaBeouf’s fall from grace, for instance — and usually result in huge amounts of press and gigantic court settlements.

The harsh reality, however, is you’ll be fighting hard to get your script noticed by anyone in the industry, meaning that plagiarism is likely to be the least of your worries. That’s the bad news. On the bright side, the incentive for a production company to steal work that lands on their desk and erase the writer’s name is virtually zero. The nature of the screenwriting business somewhat automatically protects your work: there’s no shortage of people with a screenplay to sell; the risk of being caught out with plagiarism is high; and the financial penalties for plagiarism can be crippling.

That all said, just because being struck by lightning is a very rare event doesn’t mean it never happens — and it is marginally more likely to occur when entering into less-than-reputable screenwriting competitions. So be careful, and do your due diligence in research ahead of time.

We thought we’d compile some tips on how to deal with the situation should you ever be unlucky enough to find your screenwriting work has been plagiarized.

And first up, we’ll start with something that gets to the root of the issue:

Busting the “Poor Man’s Copyright” Myth

It’s an old and enduring token of wisdom: If you want to copyright your screenplay, mail a physical copy to yourself.

The idea here is that the US postal mark will prove ownership of the mail inside and provide a certifiable date which will defend against any accusations of plagiarism from works after this date.

Problem is, it’s flawed on every level.

We’ll put aside the fact that the system is less than failsafe — it’s not hard to manipulate an envelope — or that this defense has never been successfully employed in court to win a copyright case. The reason mailing yourself your script doesn’t copyright your work is that there’s absolutely no need to: anything you create is already copyrighted to you.

You don’t even need to put the © symbol anywhere on your script — and it’s often seen as a sign of an amateur to do so — because your copyright is already inherent. All adding the symbol does is remind anyone viewing your script that it’s the intellectual property of someone else. Anyone in the industry will take this as a given anyway, while an intentional plagiarist isn’t going to be deterred by a symbol.

But let’s assume you’ve become aware of someone who hasn’t just taken your idea (more on that later), but has copied whole chunks of your text. Now what?

Protecting Yourself Against Screenplay Plagiarism

Really, the best cure here is prevention.

Many networks or corporations won’t even look at screenplays or concepts by unknown writers without an agent. This is not because it’s some kind of closed cabal, but simply because they’re covering their own backs. In copyright cases, it nearly always comes down not to how similar the screenplays are, but whether or not it can be established that the defendant was aware of the other person’s work — or had contact with them along the way.

So, many networks and corporations won’t look at unsolicited ideas or manuscripts in the first place because this reduces the chances of their being successfully sued further down the line to virtually zero.

What this means for you in the writer’s seat is that not only will finding a good agent improve your marketability, but it’ll also offer you the same protection that the corporations enjoy. When dealing through an agent, everything gets recorded. Which is just the way it should be — and the way you want it.

But if you have identified a real case of suspected plagiarism and are writing solo, here’s a very helpful flowchart detailing the best approach at responding to the person whose work you find under their name (it’s intended for authors, but the advice is fairly universal).

Afraid of Accidental Plagiarism?

As a writer, you’ll no doubt recognize this very common scenario: you describe the brilliant screenplay you’re working on to a friend, only for her to reply with, “Hmmm, that sounds just like Movie X.”

Horrified, you look it up on IMDB or Wikipedia. You’ve never even seen the movie in question, but sure enough, you find it does indeed follow a pretty similar plot to your idea.

So, should you be worried about being sued for plagiarism?

Nope. Because you can’t actually be sued for plagiarism; that’s an ethical issue, not a legal one.

What you can be sued for is copyright violation, and it’s very difficult to commit this crime accidentally; this covers ripping off character names and entire passages of text, not expressing the same idea in a different way. Ideas, after all, are not copyrightable.

Simply having a similar plot (or even the same plot in most circumstances) does not constitute copyright violation. As we’ve covered previously, just as there are only seven notes with which to make songs, there are only so many plot archetypes and tropes with which to create a satisfying story. Every writer is inspired by works that have gone before their pen hit the page, and being inspired is far from violating copyrighted works. Think of the overt similarities between the TV show “House” and the “Sherlock Holmes” canon, for instance.

In fact, if you’re genuinely worried about mistakenly violating copyright, you’re precisely the type of person who’s least likely to do it.

So go forth and write! Strive for originality, but be aware that we all stand on the shoulders of giants.

And that’s not a bad thing.

 

Unpacking Billy Wilder’s 10 Screenwriting Tips

Few screenwriters have the pedigree of Billy Wilder, renowned as one of the most creatively gifted filmmakers of American cinema’s Golden Age.

As well as being the first person in history to win an Oscar as a producer, director, and writer for the same movie (“The Apartment”), he’s also the mind behind film noir classics such as “Double Indemnity” and “Sunset Boulevard,” as well as the iconic comedies “The Seven Year Itch” and “Some Like it Hot.

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Clearly it’s worth listening when he imparts advice on screenwriting.

Luckily for us, in Cameron Crowe’s book “Conversations With Wilder,” the legendary filmmaker gave a list of ten tips on screenwriting that we think everyone should not only learn, but memorize.

His tips are short, sweet, and profound, so let’s take a deeper look!

Billy Wilder’s Ten Screenwriting Tips Examined


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1. “The audience is fickle.”

Here Wilder was referring to the practice of chasing trends, or what you think the audience wants. But you’ll never be able to successfully predict this, and will probably drive yourself mad trying.

It’s much easier to simply write the story you are interested in. If you do so with heart and soul, audiences will be attracted to your work — and you get the satisfaction of knowing you did it your way (to coin Sinatra).

2. “Grab ‘em by the throat and never let ‘em go.”

Pick five of your favorite movies, and we can guarantee they’ve all got killer opening scenes that make you want to stick around to see how the rest of the story plays out.

You should approach your own script in the same way. Don’t spend 19 minutes building up to an explosive scene on page 20 – put it right there on page one. You’ve got the rest of the script to drip feed exposition!

3. “Develop a clean line of action for your leading character.”

We’re talking about arguably the most important part of a script: motivation (which also inspires conflict).

If your leading character doesn’t have a very apparent objective and a plan for attaining it, it’s difficult to expect the audience to care about their actions. And we’ll take the liberty of extending Wilder’s tip to say that, ideally, every character you introduce should have a clean line of action.

4. “Know where you’re going.”

An extension of the previous point: the concept of “mapping” your plot is crucial to avoid your characters wandering off their clear lines of action. If the characters appear to forget their purpose, chances are the audience will too.

No matter how you map your intended journey – whether on note cards or just doodling all your ideas in one place — make sure that you do it.

5. “The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer.”

As any screenwriter knows, there are a very finite number of story types (some say seven). And all fiction is based on these.

Whatever the precise number of story types, it is true that you’ll frequently rely on formula while crafting your screenplay — whether it’s the hero’s journey, a Faustian debt that must be paid, or some other trope.

Counterintuitively, the audience actually wants to see these stories played out in a uniform way (that is why we’ve been telling beat-for-beat identical tales for generations), but they don’t want to be made aware of it. This is why it’s essential that, although the rhythm of the plot may be predictable, the notes themselves often come as a surprise.

6. “If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.”

This is one of the most valuable of Wilder’s tips because it’s one that even experienced writers struggle to identify and fix.

The third act almost always features the resolution of key story points, and brings character arcs to their natural conclusion. If strong foundations aren’t set in the first two acts (and particularly, as noted, the first), then this resolution will feel either contrived or unsatisfying.

Once again, solid mapping during the writing process is a great defense against this all-too-common problem.

7. “A tip from Lubitsch: let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you for it.”

A simple concept, but a tricky one to master on the page. Think Christopher Nolan, and you’re on the right track!

8. “In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees. Add to what they’re seeing.”

Love them or hate them, but sometimes a voice-over is the perfect choice for moving the plot forward … as long as it does just that.

If you get stuck, try using the voice-over describe the emotional states of characters or hint at upcoming events. These are both things that are tricky to communicate via other methods, but which add greatly to the audience’s immersion.

9. “The event that occurs at the second act curtain triggers the end of the movie.”

Ideally: the more explosive the event (figuratively or literally), the better. The audience is often in a lull at this point of the movie, so a large, crucial event that acts as a catalyst for the satisfying conclusion can help “grab ‘em by the throat” once more.

10. “The third act must build, build, build in tempo and action until the last event, and then — that’s it. Don’t hang around.”

Very, very few good movies have multiple or non-distinct endings. The Coen brothers have turned it into something of a hallmark for their work, but it’s not wholly advisable to try and follow in their footsteps.

I 3

When you arrive at the end, stop.

Now get out there and put Wilder’s gold into practice.

So What Exactly Is A Logline (And Why Do I Need One?)

The definition of a logline: one line (or two at the most) which describes what your screenplay is about.

Job done. Simple, right?

Well, not really. As you’ve no doubt already noticed, this post extends onwards and that’s because a logline is a surprisingly tricky thing to master…

… as well as being something you should ignore at your peril!

Today we’ll be looking at how to get the best out of your logline, and why it should be a high priority.

Loglines: The What

So we’ve already covered the basic definition in that a logline should describe the story, but a great logline should go a little further for that. Consider the following examples, and decide for yourself which one is best in each case:

Terminator

Example 1: A cyborg from the future hunts down a woman destined to later become the mother of humankind’s savior.

Example 2: A woman must fight for her life against an unstoppable cyborg assassin, sent back from the future with one mission: to kill her and prevent a future human uprising.

Jurassic Park

Example 1: A group of survivors struggle to escape from a revolutionary wildlife park filled with dinosaurs after a bribed employee sabotages the predators’ security gates.

Example 2: A rich philanthropist leads a team of scientists to populate a wildlife park with living dinosaur clones.

The Wizard of Oz

Example 1: A young girl finds herself transported to a surreal land far way from home. Desperately seeking the one man that can help her return, an evil witch shadows her every move…

Example 2: Dorothy is whisked away by a tornado to the Land of Oz, where she meets a group of friends each searching for something unique.

While all of the above examples could use some tightening up, some are definitely more effective than others and we’ll unpack each one as we discuss the conventions of writing a logline.

Loglines: The How

A logline should convey what happens in the story. That much is a given, and all six of the above loglines definitely do that. But a good logline should include all the same elements and structure that make up a fine screenplay:

– A set of circumstances
– A protagonist with a clear goal
– An opposing antagonist
– A point of conflict between the two parties

The screenplay itself, of course, will have resolution but that isn’t necessary in the logline (as its absence results in enticement!)

So, for example: “A recently widowed wife finds herself in a bitter legal dispute with her late husband’s psychotic and overbearing mother.”

That hits all of the above criteria for an effective logline. So which of the earlier examples fail?

Terminator: In this case example 1 is the weaker of the two. It opens with the antagonist, and while his goal is laid out and the scenario set, we don’t know much about the protagonist except for the circumstance she’s in. Example 2 is far stronger, follows convention, and has a greater sence of urgency.

Jurassic Park: You probably guessed this one. Example 2 is the weaker logline; no conflict, just a setting.

Wizard of Oz: The lines are a little more blurry here–both hit all the criteria (save for the lack of an antagonist in example 2), but the first doesn’t waste words on superfluous detail. It’s extremely uncommon to give characters names in the logline and nor is it necessary to explain that she’s in Oz or how she got there; example 1 focuses squarely on the key players and their motivations, and is better for it.

Hopefully that has helped differentiate between what constitutes a strong and a weak logline, but here are a few more tips that’ll help you nail it:

– The golden rule: When we say don’t go more than two sentences with your logline, we really mean it.

– Remember that you’re trying to sell the screenplay itself, not the story therein. You’ll fail if you try to do justice to the latter in two sentences, but it’s entirely possible to make the script itself enticing in the same space.

– Read it out loud to someone. Their reaction will be very telling, and very valuable.

– The logline can actually be helpful to you, too. If you ever get stuck with the production or find yourself losing your original vision, read it back to yourself. That’s the very essence of your film, right there, and should shine through in every scene of the movie and on every page of the script.

Loglines: The Why

If you can’t sell your screenplay in one line, you’re not going to sell your movie to either investors or a paying audience. It really is that simple.

The importance of a killer logline cannot be understated—if you think of it in terms of a job interview and leaving a good first impression, a strong logline is like walking into the room with a Ted Baker suit and greeting the interviewer with a well-manicured hand. A weak logline is slouching into the room with your sweatpants on.

Come at it with laser-like focus, and your logline will be more that worth the time and effort you put into it in the long run. Best of luck!

Learn more about the School of Screenwriting at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

Screenwriting Tips: How To Nail Supernatural Realism

A penchant for the supernatural seems to have snuck in through the back door of the screenwriting industry recently, with a resurgence in movies and shows that have some kind of otherworldly element playing into the plot.

Not all of these are out-and-out horror, but it’s in part the success of franchises like Paranormal Activity and shows like American Horror Story that have fueled this recent trend.

Of course, some supernatural titles end up being better than others and their effectiveness is largely down to how “believable” the paranormal element is. The idea of needing to make the otherworldly seem real is something of a strange one, so for the benefit of those looking to do so at screenwriting school, today we’ll be exploring:

Creating Believable Supernatural Characters and Elements

In essence, what we’re dealing with here is the willing suspension of disbelief; the tricky thing with this is that not all viewers have the same willingness to go with whatever you present to them.

Not a great deal you can do about that—as the old adage goes, you can’t please all of the people all of the time. But one surefire trick that’ll help you please most of the people all of the time is:

Internal Logic

Make sure it’s absolutely watertight.

You can come up with the most ludicrous paranormal premise imaginable—and remember, supernatural doesn’t just mean “ghosts” but also superpowers or any other paranormal element—and you can still get people onboard as long as two conditions are met:

  • The rules and limits of the supernatural element or character are clearly defined.
  • These rules are not broken.

The Sixth Sense worked because you get to the end and realize that everything held up to the revealed premise (if there was a single scene in which any of the ghosts interacted directly with any character other than the boy, the entire screenplay would have souffléd.)

Cabin in the Woods had a ridiculously over-the-top supernatural plot device, but it all adheres to the rules explained to us over the course of the movie.

On the other hand, nothing is more infuriating to us as viewers than a ghost ex machina. Suddenly having a character walk through walls, apropos of nothing, will have the audience groaning en masse.

Similarly, trying to tie up plotlines and provide resolution through the sudden introduction of a supernatural element has the opposite effect.

In short, anything goes when it comes to writing supernatural fiction… but not everything should go.

Playing In the Shadows

As a species, we’ve always held a macabre fascination with death.

But whereas supernatural stories from antiquity and right up to the Victorian era concerned themselves primarily with exploring what happens in the afterlife, modern ghost stories are more speculative.

Instead of trying to come to a conclusion about the afterlife, it’s now more about asking the big question: what if?

A strong “what if” scenario is often the strongest weapon in the screenwriter’s arsenal, and doubly so when it comes to supernatural fiction. As long as the speculative element is engaging and the aforementioned internal logic is consistent, you’ll start off with a strong foundation for a great script.

Don’t Neglect Your Protagonist

In the quest for crafting a wholly believable and compelling supernatural antagonist or scenario, the human characters rooted to the confines of reality often fall by the wayside.

A common pitfall is to have the main characters simply reacting to the otherworldly being throughout the entire script, which contravenes one of the golden rules of scriptwriting: characters should have their own goals and motivations.

If your human characters are nothing more than things for the ghost/werewolf/demon to toy with, you’ll never hook the audience emotionally.

On the other hand, if you have a cast of characters with goals of their own who react in a logical and realistic way to the supernatural force they’re up against, not only will you get the viewers more invested in the story but you’ll also make the paranormal seem more believable too.

Double win.

Avoid Lengthy Exposition

Although conveying the rules of how your ghostly being, haunted house or possessed doll operates is important, stick to the old ‘show not tell’ convention.

When dealing with concepts that are unbelievable by proxy, establishing plausibility is important. But again, do this by showing the supernatural character’s goals and limitations (as well as plugging up inconsistencies that the audience may find fault with.)

Two characters sharing exposition at length regarding the nature of the monster under the bed not required.

Learn more about the Screenwriting School at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

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8 Essential Book-To-Screen Adaptations Every Screenwriter Should Watch

When in screenwriting school, you’ll likely at some point discuss the process of adapting fiction for the screen, which we’ve talked about at length in this space. This time, we’re going to look at some of cinema’s best examples of big screen fiction adaptations.

There are, of course, more incredible book-to-screen adaptations than we could possible hope to list here, so for the sake of brevity we’ve excluded the blockbuster franchises we all know and love—namely, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. We’ve also excluded adaptations from the works of Philip K. Dick and Steven King, which could fill lists all on their own!

So, without further ado…

8 Essential Book-To-Screen Adaptations Every Screenwriter Should Watch

No Country For Old Men (2007)

Book: Cormac McCarthy’s novel of the same name (2005)
RT Film Score: 86%

One of two entries on this list based on a Cormac McCarthy novel (See The Road) and the first of two hat-tips to The Coen Brothers (True Grit), No Country For Old Men is a powerhouse in terms of both the performances therein and the moody, grim vibe spun carefully throughout. A modern day Western par excellence.

Life of Pi (2012)

Book: Yann Martel’s Life of Pi (2001)
RT Film Score: 87%

After languishing for a decade in development hell, Ang Lee finally did justice to the superb Booker Prize-winning book of the same name (and we can’t imagine anyone else who could have done quite the same job.) If you get the opportunity to watch it in 3D, do so. As well as being a great example of a book—not least one that was widely considered ‘unfilmable’—but it’s also a better example of the third dimension used to great effect.

The 39 Steps (1935)

Book: The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan (1915)
RT Film Score: 98%

While only loosely based on the source material, The 39 Steps is not only one of the finest thrillers ever made but also helped cement a lot of ‘Hitchcockian’ elements which would come to define the director’s career and put him on the world stage. Numerous further adaptations have followed over the decades, including a hit Broadway play.

Matilda (1996)

Book: Matilda by Roald Dahl (1988)
RT Film Score: 90%

There are a number of Roald Dahl adaptations we could have included here (the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, for one) but Matilda was the surprising hit that is worthy of a special mention. For everyone wondering what happened to the adorable child star Mara Wilson (who also did an amazing job in Mrs. Doubtfire and Miracle on 34th Street), she quit acting shortly after Matilda and is now focusing on writing fiction herself…and thus, the circle is closed.

Forrest Gump (1994)

Book: Winston Groom’s Forrest Gump (1986)
RT Film Score: 72%

So great was the success of the Forrest Gump movie that it has almost eclipsed the fact that its origins lay in literature. Forrest Gump is a uniquely charming cinematic gem and one of the best movies of the 1990s. To say this endures as one of Tom Hanks’ finest performance in a filmography as impressive as his is a high accolade indeed.

The Road (2009)

Book: The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006)
RT Film Score: 75%

In amongst a slew of post-apocolyptic movies released around the same time, The Road snuck in on limited release but ended up becoming an essential watch. Stripping back the usual high-budget flair of the genre, this Cormac McCarthy adaptation concerns itself solely with how the unspecified ‘event’ has ravaged the emotions of the two protagonists. The result is a very grim and highly charged movie, which doesn’t pull its punches.

True Grit (1969 & 2010)

Book: True Grit by Charles Portis (1968)
RT Film Score: Original 90%, Remake 96%

A superb book that went on to produce not just one, but two excellent slices of Western cinema. Both the original (which earned John Wayne his only Academy Award) and the 2010 Coen Brothers’ remake featuring a great performance by Jeff Bridges are well worth watching, regardless of whether or not you think you like Westerns.

Babe (1995)

Book: Dick King-Smith’s The Sheep-Pig (1985)
RT Film Score: 97%

A cutesy family movie with talking animals and an oversaturated color palette? On paper, it should have been absolutely atrocious, but thanks to its pitch-perfect handling and the amount of heart poured into it from every department working on that movie, it ended up being an unadulterated delight…

… the sequel, not so much.

Got any personal favorite book-to-screen adaptations that we haven’t mentioned here? There’s certainly many more that we could have covered here—drop your suggestion down in the comments below!

 

Adapting Short Stories for Film: Screenplay Do's And Don'ts

Short stories, by their very nature, can be excellent sources of concise and punchy narratives and as a result lend themselves very well for the big screen treatment. There’s a strong precedent for short story adaption so far, with the following feature movies having had their origins in short literature:

Total Recall (Started out as the Philip K. Dick short We Can Remember it For You Wholesale)

A Scanner Darkly (Also Philip K. Dick)

Minority Report (Ditto)

The Shawshank Redemption (Based on a Stephen King novella)

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (From the Truman Capote novella of the same name)

Memento (Adapted by Christopher Nolan from his brother Johnathan’s short story Memento Mori)

Eyes Wide Shut (Loosely adapted by Kubrick from the 1926 novella Traumnovelle)

2001: A Space Odyssey (Another Kubrick feature adapted from Arthur C. Clarke’s The Sentinal)

Apocalypse Now (Based on the 1899 Joseph Conrad novella Heart of Darkness)

And the list goes on, with more genre defining titles that we could realistically list here which got their start as a short story or novella. The question is, how do you get yourself on the list of greats and adapt a shorty story into a great film?

Adapting Short Stories for Film: The Do’s and Don’ts

adapting short stories into screenplays

Playing it Loose

One of the major banes of a filmmaker adapting a novel—or series of novels—into a screenplay is striking the right balance between squeezing it all into the run time but not falling foul of charges from the book’s fans of being ‘unfaithful to the source material.’

You’re a little luckier when it comes to adapting short stories as for whatever reason, the need to be a literalist doesn’t seem to apply so feel free to rework things at your leisure to find the best fit for the screen. If all else fails, substitute the phrase “adapted from…” to “inspired by…” and you’ll be golden!

Honing in on What Matters

This is more common with longer works, but even short stories it’s important to trim the fat and focus on what really matters. And as with any screenplay, it all boils down to three main ingredients: character motive, conflict and resolution.

How you distill these ingredients from the short story and repackage it for film is up to you as a screenwriter, but you should strive to put these key features at the forefront of your screenplay. And speaking of packaging:

Translating Pace

Pacing, of course, plays a big role in the enjoyability of both books and film. Preserving and translating the pacing of a short story in particular requires a little extra attention to get it right as you expand it into a 180 minute feature film.

Occasionally, you’ll have to revamp things entirely as you may sometimes find a short story that is exceptional in every way except the pacing, but you’ll have the opportunity to do your job as a screenwriter and rectify this during the adaption process.

Usage Rights

Clearing the rights for a production and optioning the source material for adaption is usually down to the producer rather than the screenwriter, but if you’re one in the same person, it really pays to make sure you’ve not shirked your responsibilities in this regard (and can cause serious issues later on if you neglect this duty.)

How to go about optioning book rights is deserving of its own dedicated post altogether but if this is something you’d really rather skip, consider adapting works that are already in the public domain.

Of course, it doesn’t particularly matter if the screenplay isn’t intended to leave your hard drive or go any further than a workshop at screenwriting school, and this brings us onto:

Even If The Film Never Surfaces…

…use it as practice.

Without any hesitation whatsoever, you can grab a short story and instantly start playing around. It’s a great way of not only putting your skills to the test but also pushing them to new heights—especially if you intentionally set yourself a challenge by picking a short story that’s really not suitable for silver screen adaptation!

Got any tips of your own for adapting short stories to screenplays? Any particular favorite examples of the process being done well? You know where to head—we’ll see you in the comments below!

6 Proven Ways to Smash Writer's Block

Ah, writer’s block—the dreaded, famous nemesis of screenwriters who have an excellent script idea brewing in the back of their mind, but just can’t seem to get the words down.

If you’re suffering from a bout of writer’s block, first recognize that you’re not alone. It can afflict year-one screenwriting school students with just as much frequency and severity as a seasoned professional, but for the most part it can thankfully be cured and overcome with a little perspective. Let’s begin with…

A Hard Truth

If we’re being honest with ourselves, ‘writer’s block’ is just a dressed-up name for ‘procrastination.’ An electrician never gets ‘electrician’s block,’ a surgeon never gets ‘surgeon’s block,’ and a plumber never gets ‘plumber’s block’… well, that may be a term in plumbing but it’s not what we’re talking about.

As much as anyone, screenwriters have a job to do and writer’s block isn’t a great excuse for not getting it done. That said, whatever we choose to call it, it’s still a real phenomenon and one in which there are some methods with which to circumvent it. Presenting:

6 Surefire Methods for Beating Writer’s Block

1. Find the Trigger

In the vast majority of cases, there’ll be a specific mindset (or set of circumstances leading to it) that tend to trigger periods of inactivity. It could be crippling self-doubt, an innate drive for complete perfection, something as serious as overuse of substances…or just plain tedium.

The ‘block trigger’ will be (hugely) different for every screenwriter and it can be tricky to identify exactly what it is, but in doing so, you’ll almost always discover the key to overcoming it.

2. Working Publicly

One common trigger when it comes to screenwriting freeze is the knowledge that you’ve got a long process ahead of you to create a finished body of work, then all of a sudden it’ll get judged publicly in one fell swoop. That can be so daunting that it’s difficult to get going in the first place.

Consider releasing scenes or even individual pages for critique as you’re goinggetting outside of your own vacuum can be liberating, and the feedback gained will help shape your direction and momentum as you progress. If worried about the potential for copyright theft, show it to your inner circle of personal friends instead of into the public sphere.

3. Define Your Processes

Feeding back into point one, just as you should identify circumstances that hamstring your mood, discover a setting and way of proceeding that tends to get you moving forward…then repeat, and tailor as you go.

4. One Simple Question…

As you find your mind wanderingin this day and age, usually manifested by opening a new tab and loading up YouTubeask yourself one simple question:   “Is this worth it?” (followed closely by “Will I regret this at the end of what’s supposed to be a writing session?”) In almost every occasion, you’ll find yourself answering in the negative and getting back to what’s really important.

5. Some Pages Are Not Equal

Don’t beat yourself up if you manage to nail six pages one day, then struggle to come up with one the next. Some scenes or dialogue will require a lot more finesse and time than others, so it may not be a case that you had ‘writer’s block’ on the one-page day and failed to produce; it’s all progress either way, and progress should be congratulated.

6. Begin

Writer’s block is most prevalent when the page is blank. After all, there’s over a million words in the English language, so which to begin with? This is the very first line of your magnum opus. It best be epic!

True enoughit should be a great opening line… but you can always work on that later.

Invariably, the best trick for getting over initial screenwriting block is to simply start. Go all stream-of-consciousness style if you have to; you’ll find yourself revving up to full speed in no time, and can always go back and refine the bit that got you there.

After all, there’s no great writing. There’s only great rewriting.

Now go get to it, and show that writer’s block who’s boss.

Should You Upload Your Screenplay Online?

Screenwriters often feel like they’re stuck between the rock of getting noticed and the hard place of not being taken advantage of.

When you’ve put in the hours at screenwriting school and have crafted an industry killer script that you’re keen to get optioned, it seems silly to stop short of going the final mile; to not do everything within one’s power and pursue all options for getting it noticed by The Powers That Be.

The first port of call in this situation is, more often than not, to upload the script to as many submission websites as possible…

… but the debate currently raging is a fierce one:

Should You Ever Upload Your Screenplay Online?

With the Internet in its adolescence, these kinds of websites—not to mention the many scriptwriting advice blogs out there—are legion and have been around for quite some time already. The idea is a simple one: you upload your screenplay to a centralized repository, producers (or their associates) crawl the repository for some untapped gold, and hopefully you’re the person with whom they get in touch.

All well and good, except that as mentioned, there’s a thousand and one such sites and they all promise the same kind of exposure and increased odds of being discovered; you never know which ones truly attract any kind of appreciable attention, and which ones attract only tumbleweed.

But even still… what if you somehow know for a fact that a script website’s claims are true? Or is there even any harm in shotgunning a load of websites with your script in an attempt to maximize your chances?

In a nutshell, yes. And here are the main risks you should consider:

1) You Could Be Throwing Cash Down the Drain

Without naming names, some script websites charge a fee (or require paid membership) before you can upload your work for the world to see.

That can be a costly business if you’re hitting up a number of different sites at once with little or zero to show for it. Only you can decide if it’s worth it in individual cases, but be suspicious of inflated claims that all the big producers are personally combing their archive—look beyond this for evidence of the site’s success rate and efficacy.

2) You Could Even Hurt Your Chances

Which, of course, is the opposite outcome that you’re after.

Some producers and agents get turned off by work that has been floating around in the public for all to see, with some even using it as a litmus test to save them some time—if that screenplay has been sitting on this site for X years without being optioned, it’s probably not worth bothering with.

In addition, you stand a better chance of gaining attention with a well-targeted, personalized pitch than by simply throwing it out there and hoping for the best. And that leads to our next point….

3) It Breeds Inertia

Many people get lulled into a false sense of security by uploading their scripts onto websites, thinking that the golden phone call might be just around the corner. In turn, that leads to inactivity at a time when you should be at your most active—after all, your job is not over until you’ve finally gotten that deal, and simply uploading the script to a few places usually won’t cut it.

4) Copyright

Disclaimer: this is actually a very minor concern. Everyone is terrified that other screenwriters are going to steal their work, but the frequency at which this occurs is practically negligible. Still, throwing your screenplay out there does put you at a greater risk—while your work is automatically copyrighted to you at the point of its creation without any need to register it (contrary to an enduringly popular myth), you may wish to file your script with either the U.S. Copyright Office or the Writers Guild of America for extra protection. The former costs a mere $30, the latter only $20 (and includes membership).

In conclusion, uploading your screenplay to one or more script websites may lead to great success… but you shouldn’t count on it. Quite often, there’s no substitute to just getting out there and leveraging your contacts.

Don’t have any contacts yet? Make them. Attending screenwriting school is a useful way of expanding your network, and a few very careful email queries can get you the rest of the way there.

Best of luck!