Screenwriting is the most competitive profession in the film industry

Reading the trades, I discovered that only about 1100 writers worked on films in Hollywood last year.  Sure, more than that worked on TV, but most elite members of the WGA only work about one year in three (if at all).  And, when they do find work, their pay is still less than many less glamorous roles.

(I know Squanto.  You were unemployed long before I made that discovery.) Continue reading Screenwriting is the most competitive profession in the film industry

Irony

Catalan and Portuguese flag superimposed on our 1812 timeline page
I made this image with the help of technology. It cost me a man hour, based on a blog that cost me longer, but I don’t know how much of the tech was devoted to me.

The following post is filled with #irony making it #ironic . It’s not meant to be useful, any utility is purely accidental. Punctuation is intentionally misplaced to suit the hashtag.

You know one of the most ironic sayings ever? “A picture is worth a thousand words. ” That’s seven words long. Try drawing a picture that says over 142 times that. (Use a calculator to do the math.) Some pictures are worth a thousand words, but those are either powerful pictures, or lame words.

Another ironic thing: I recently received an essay about the importance and power of stories. The essay was structured in such a way that it didn’t tell a single story. Okay, so it tried to conjecture on the key themes of a few stories, maybe even hinted at a few plots, but it didn’t tell one. If stories are so powerful, why was it written as an essay? Continue reading Irony

3 ways to work with a writing partner

Ptara logo above wordcloud artwork

Or, “Three Ways to Collaborate on a Screenplay.”

A lot of people offer advice to screenwriters. We don’t. We write scripts in house, produce our own stories, and provide services to film production companies. So, screenwriters are not our target market.

So far, apart from a few student projects where working as part of a team was part of the grade, I tend to write alone.   I’m not looking for a writing partner, and unless I were hired to work as part of a team I don’t know if I’d work with one.

However, if you do write screenplays, and you have found your writing partner, I can tell you what seems to work for others.

1. Taking turns.
I found this one reading Joe Eszterhas’s autobiography. He did this with a friend and said it was a lot of fun. The resulting film wasn’t one of his biggest hits, but oh well. Taking turns is as simple as it sounds: One writer writes one draft, then sends it to the other writer for the next draft, bouncing it back and forth until they’re both happy with the final result.
2. Alternating scenes.
I also read a book by two comedy writers who’s movies I enjoy, called “writing movies for fun and profit.” I laughed at Ben Garrant and Thomas Lennon’s films (the Pacifier, Night at The Museum, even Balls of Fury), but their scripts were much better than that book. Some jokes just have to be performed to make sense, I suppose.

Anyway, since the book is mostly written tongue in cheek (their films grossed a billion worldwide perhaps, but they’ve only seen a tiny fraction of that), I can’t be sure that this is really their working method, but it might work. First, you sit together in a room, and rack your brains until you come up with an outline. Then, each writer writes a scene for part of that outline. They claim the outline is the hard part. After you’ve written the odd scenes and your partner the even scenes, you switch and polish off the other writer’s work.

3. Lyrics and rhythm.
I often hear teacher of music composition express doubt that creative collaboration is possible. When confronted with great collaborators, they assume one artist wrote the lyrics and the other composed the melody, or something like that.
This can work in musicals, as illustrated in Topsy Turvy, and sort of reflects the way the famous 1930s Wizard of Oz was written.With a non-musical script, it’s a little more tricky. But, it can be done. French films have two kinds of writing credits, one for the story line or treatment, and one for the writer who does the dialogue.

Now, before you approach me or anyone else with one of these, consider that all work best if you know your writing partner well, or if you have an existing working relationship with the writers. Do you share the same taste in films and stories? Do you have a story that you both want to tell in the same way? If you’re not on the same page, it probably won’t work.

Also, unless you’re both loaded, you’ll probably need some money to sustain yourselves while writing, or extra patience while your partner tries to find time to write. The reality is multitasking celebrities usually get ghost writers to write for them, and even a full time screenwriters would normally take 3 months, 6 months, even a year to complete a script. The mythical stories about someone writing a draft in three days leave out all the months that went into preparing that first draft and the additional months that went into writing the more careful second draft.

Screenplays

Are you looking to develop an original script?

Ptara’s a script writing services include writing outlines, treatments, and fixing dialogue to a good first draft.  By first draft we don’t mean that we just send you a rough set of words, but we work on the script until we feel it’s ready.

 

Why screenwriters should grow spines

Harry Longabaugh aka Sundance Kid by De Young Photography Studio three quarter body shot
The Sundance Kid doesn’t think much of spineless screenwriters

William Goldman shares two important lessons in Adventures of the Screen Trade.  First, he claims that Nobody Knows Anything.  Then, he contradicts himself with his strongest piece of advice : Protect Your Story’s Spine To The Death.

Yes, Goldman whines and whinges melodramatically about how screenwriters are on the bottom of the power ladder, how you have to collaborate to the bosses, how stars have too much power, and about how if all you do is write screenplays your life will be unfulfilling.

But, just when he appears to give up all hope of influencing anyone else, Goldman shows how he actually fights to defend the integrity of his films.  We see how a certain number of projects were sunk by the writer, and most importantly, how having the courage to protect the integrity of his screenplay produced the classic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid  (yes, the film with Robert Redford which inspired the famous film festival). Continue reading Why screenwriters should grow spines

Should screenwriters use camera directions?

Herbert G Ponting's cameraConventional wisdom* among amateur directors and beginning film lecturers is that camera directions should “never” appear in a film script.  Yet, the camera is probably the one thing that separates a screenplay from a stage-play.  (Okay, so there’s CGI, logos and subtitles, as well as editing overlays, but the stage can have its own version of these effects.  Even animation can be achieved with a giant flip book.)

I’d wax lyrical about Universal studios turning 100, but that’s irrelevant. In the silent era film scenarios looked different than they do today.  Let’s take a look at our experience, and at other scripts for well known films, and at why the myth persists. Continue reading Should screenwriters use camera directions?