Monday, March 28, 2011

How To Write A Screenplay in 30 Easy Steps, Part Two: The Homework

Where were we? Ah, yes...

8. The Research

For a period piece or bio-pic, this will take months. Otherwise it can be quicker, but unless the hero has a job and a world that you know intimately, you’ll need to read memoirs of people who have had that job or lived in that world, you’ll interview anyone you can get in the same room with who knows that world, read articles and books, watch documentaries… Even if you’re writing something light and silly about a world you know well, you should still watch movies that are similar to yours... Watch good movies to see how they captured the appeal of this kind of story, and watch bad movies to see how a movie like yours can go horribly wrong.

9. Fill Out Some Character Checklists

Fill this out. (I actually have a newer checklist that I now use and I’ll share it with you soon) Get to know each character backwards and forwards. While you’re doing that, you’ll simultaneously…

10. ...Expand the Beatsheet to 30 Beats

When I do these, they usually end up being about 7 pages single-spaced. List everything that happens. Not every little scene but all the major events-- every reversal. I start with a list of everything that could happen, then figure out a rough order for those things to happen that would be the most exciting. This is still an “and then, and then, and then” outline. I move things around a lot. It’s still messy. But when I get it far enough along, I…

11. Turn the Beatsheet into a Treatment

This is a prose version of the story written in paragraph form in present tense. Remember when you were a kid, and you would see a movie, then tell the kids on the bus the next day exactly what happened in it? That should be the tone. As you write this, you’ll rearrange events some more until the “and then, and then, and then…” flow of the beatsheet turns into “and so, and so, and so…” Each scene should cause or at least be answered by the next scene in a continuous dialectic of thesis, antithesis and synthesis, building and building until the climax. Everything should flow. The motivations should begin to make sense. It’s a real story now.

12. Proofread the Treatment

Most writers, despite all of our training, are terrible proofreaders of our own work. This is no accident. We became writers because we were good readers. We’re good readers because we read quickly. We read quickly because we scan the whole sentence and read every word by its shape. Typos are invisible to us. It’s even worse if we wrote those words ourselves, because we recognize the words immediately, so we never even look at the letters. It took me years to figure out the only way to proofread my own work: I have to have the computer read it to me out loud. If you’re using Final Draft, you can use the “Speech Control” tool, but any computer can be configured to read a document to you in this disability-friendly age. Use it! As you proofread your treatment in this way, it’ll get better in all sorts of ways.

13. Get More Outside Input from Trusted Friends

Go back to those three friends and have them read your treatment. Ask them first: “Is this any good?” Then, no matter what they say, ask them, “But how can it be better?” Make it clear that you want them to be as skeptical as possible. (Never send anybody a beatsheet, because they’re ugly to look at, and never send out anything that you haven’t proofread thoroughly, because readers find that very insulting, as well they should) Now, while you’re waiting on pins and needles, we’ll take a little break…

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