So you want to write movies? Join the club. Even though Hollywood has a tendency to not show the respect writers deserve, one thing is for certain: You can’t make a good movie with a bad screenplay. Before we start this list of tips, let’s get a little orientation on the profession. For one thing, writing (any writing) sucks. It’s hard. People go mentally insane trying to write. I don’t want to scare you, but its not as easy as it may seem. It requires discipline, determination and desire. Yeah, I pulled out the three D’s that your 7th grade P.E. coach made you recite, but you know what? That large, middle aged lesbian knew what she was preachin’! Another thing to remember is that, just because you finally finished you big feature length, doesn’t mean you’re about to make a million bucks… or even one hundred bucks. What it DOES mean, is that you finished it. And that is a great accomplishment, now go work your ass off at selling it. It might be gold, it might be wooden.
Now this list is simply a list of tips for writing the script. I’m not going into how to sell it. Don’t begin to worry about selling or pitching or bragging about anything you haven’t written first. That’s a mistake many people make. If the product is good, selling will be easy.
So here you have it folks:
1. Don’t put too much stock in other people’s advice.
Yes that goes for this list as well. What I mean is, learn, don’t follow. Learn from the greats. A fantastic book to check out would be STORY: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee. Learn, take tips like this list, and make something all your own. That’s what art is.
2. Be a Screenwriter, not a Producer.
Producers at Studios get together and come up with ideas for movies. They create a story in their heads and spin it to the Studio in hopes of getting the orders to make one of the Writers on Staff to write it out. You are not a producer and you are not on a Studio contract (if you are, stop reading this, and hook me up!). You are a screenwriter. Write, then talk. I don’t even like to talk to friends and family about what I’m writing until it’s finished. Why bother? I know it makes you feel cool to talk about your writing, but it would be much cooler if it were done.
3. Start off with Shorts.
A feature length script is anywhere from 90-120 pages long. That can be daunting. Too daunting indeed for someone who has never written a page of a script. So start off writing shorts. There are NUMEROUS reasons to do this. For one, the feeling of accomplishment of getting a script done is a great morale booster. And with a short being between 8-20 pages long, getting done is very doable. Also, writing a short allows you to get in touch with some local aspiring filmmakers and getting a finished product done. There are many film students looking for a script to make themselves look good. Work together with these people and you may be on your way to a great career. One more reason a short is a good way to start: It gets you comfortable with the structure of stories. Beginning, Middle and End. Seems simple, but it’s very complicated.
4. Write Everyday.
EVERYDAY!!!! I don’t care if you have the flu and can hardly move. WRITE! This is the hardest concept for most people. So many days you feel like you have nothing to write about, or your heart just isn’t in it. Find something to write. These days of distress are usually good days for putting down your big project and working on a short. Be sure to have a minimum of 8 pages per day. Writing is an exercise. You can’t get stronger if you skip out.
5. Be Organized.
This is VERY IMPORTANT. For some reason, people think being free spirited and free thinking means being compleatly unorganized and impulsive. It does not. Your mind should be free and open, but you need to be organized. You need structure in your Work Days. Yes work days or work hours. If you are taking Screenwriting seriously, it needs to be a second Job for you. And at this job there is a dress code, there is a cleanliness of workspace rule, there is a cell phone policy and there are deadlines to be met. The more organized and sturctured you keep yourself, the more efficent you will be. If you try to be a rock star, you won’t get much done.
6. A word on Muses.
So you read number 5 and thought: I can’t write without my _______ (fill in blank with Weed, Beer, Whiskey, etc.) This is where I say, do what works, BUT, know what works. What I mean is, do not assume that Heroin is going to make you a great writer because of all the great stuff Montly Crue and Gun’s n’ Roses put out. It’s not. It’s going to lead to you being UNORGANIZED and unhealthy. Now, do some people get inspiration for a puff of weed or a sip of Jack Daniel’s? Yes. But go back to it being a job. I’m sure they offer coffee at your day job. But I’m sure you would be in a heap of trouble if you drank so much coffee that you constantly get jittered up and crash all the while not getting anything done. Use your own discretion on this one. But remember that you have a job to get done.
7. Keep a Journal.
Keeping a journal is a good way to record ideas. I say keep a JOURNAL not a DIARY. You aren’t recording everything that happened that day before you go to bed. This is simply a small journal I keep with me all the time and write down ideas, snyopsis, personal issues, etc. Anything that you could look back on later and come up with something. I call it, “My brain on paper.”
8. Read Screenplays.
This is a good way to find a voice to write in, get techniques and observe the “right” way to do it. Often times I will watch a movie and read along with its script. Kind of nerdy, but it does help in creating a flow in your own.
9. Call Yourself A Writer.
This is a little bit harder to do for some people. How do I call myself a writer when I’ve never had anything published, bought or made? If you are putting in the hours of work and desire, then you deserve to call yourself a writer. It will help with your confidence to call yourself a writer. YOU ARE A WRITER. NOW WRITE!
10. Live Life. No, Really. LIVE LIFE!!!!
You want to write interesting stories? Live one. Live many interesting stories. When my friends and I go out for the night, the first shot we take is with this saying: “Lets do something worth writing about tonight!” Get yourself into trouble. No, nothing harmful or serious. But trouble. Do things that would normally make you uncomfortable. Go hit on that girl/guy in the frozen foods isle. Get to know the janitor in your office. Take a trip by yourself to another city and use a different name. Don’t write on the weekends. Just don’t do it. If you’ve been sticking to your schedule during the week, you don’t need to. You’ll be doing more harm than good if you write on the weekends. Bodybuilders wouldn’t get as big as they do if they didn’t rest their muscles for days. They need time to build back up what they’ve torn down in their workout (working out actually tears muscles, it’s resting after that actually makes the muscles bigger). Give yourself time to build. Live a life worth writing about.