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The One Page Challenge Nov 25

First Impressions

Most people who read scripts for a living (producers, agents, managers, etc.) will agree — they can usually tell whether or not a script is any good by the end of the first page.

“What?! But my script really gets going around page 12!” you might say. Unfortunately, the reality is that scripts with poorly written first pages rarely improve.

In fact, if the first page doesn’t impress a reader, it’s more likely that the subsequent pages will be even more disappointing. Why? Because most writers will tweak and revisit their opening page again and again, fine tuning and improving it.

That’s why it’s so important to impress and grab a reader from the get go. For this reason, your first page is the most important page of your script.

Taking the Challenge

Last month, Mark M. — from my Linkedin network — asked me if I’d read the first page of his script and give him some feedback. I said I would as long as I could post my feedback here on Scriptwrecked.

Being the good sport that he is, Mark agreed. So without further ado, let’s dive into his script’s first page and see what we can discover.

MarkM-1

“FADE IN:”

Well, it’s left justified — a good start. But it also has two line spaces between it and the first scene heading. Ideally, it would be one line space. Many pros deviate from this standard, so it’s a minor detail these days… but a detail that still may bump some readers.

“EXT. PLANETS ORBIT.”

Hmm, unusual formatting with the period at the end of the scene heading.

“Five stellar remnants…”

The writing in this paragraph is actually quite good. Although, I’m having a hard time picturing a “stellar remnant” jutting out through a cloud. A plantary remnant perhaps, but a remnant of a star? Hard to picture that? Have I ever seen a stellar remnant? Aren’t stars contained fusion reactions? Don’t stars end up as black holes?

MarkM-2

“A jagged moon…”

I like how Mark has broken up the paragraphs into shots. He had provided a wider, general shot first, and is now focusing on one of the moons in the second shot.

Hmm. Is the blue dwarf sun one of the stellar remnants mentioned earlier?

“EXT. PLANET ATMOSPHERE.”

Now I’m confused again. We went from a general graveyard of stars and moons, then we focused on one of the moons, and now we’re suddenly in a planet’s atmosphere. Perhaps instead of “a blue dwarf sun” the moon should eclipse the planet we’re now looking at. Then it would flow better.

“appear’s”

Like an Engineer ship rumbling menacingly through my brain — these typos take me right out of the read! Should be: “appears”

“deep space”

If a ship has just left the atmosphere of a planet, how is it suddenly in deep space? Perhaps just “rumbles menacingly toward space.” Because if it actually made it into space, we wouldn’t hear any rumbling. (No sound in space.)

MarkM-3

“EXT. SKY- DAY.”

Oh no. So much for the hip new heading formatting I was starting to dig… Where’s the space after “SKY”? It should be: EXT. SKY – DAY.

If you’re going to use unconventional formatting (like a period at the end of a scene heading) everything else better be on point, otherwise it just looks sloppy.

“planets”

Another typo! Should be: “planet’s”

“early Earth purgatory”

It’s an interesting image… One that I have no idea what it looks like. Is “early Earth purgatory” an actual thing I missed in science class? Does he simply mean a primordial Earth? Or perhaps there’s some sort of new spiritual component he’s introducing here. Either way, it requires a more vivid, explicit description of what we’re seeing.

MarkM-4

“EXT. PLANET – DAY.”

I am so over the funky formatting with the period at the end. Perhaps if he went for something like: “EXT. PLANET. DAY.” I could probably get behind that for something innovative and consistent with the space/futuristic vibe. But even then, I would’t recommend it unless the writing is “stellar.”

“Black mountains jut out…”

Ohhh, using “jut out” twice on the same page in such close proximity. Tsk Tsk. To impress a reader, you need to demonstrate variation in your writing.

“… that covers the planet.”

Why are we getting this information. We already know from the scene heading we’re looking at a planet. What else would the ocean be covering? If the ocean completely covers the planet then the line should probably read: “… that covers the entire planet.”

Also, why is it “the” black ocean? It hasn’t been introduced before, so it should be “a” black ocean. And why use “black” twice in the same sentence? Black mountains and a black ocean. Surely there’s another word or words that can take the place of “black.”

“Seven ships rise slowly into orbit…”

When you’re establishing an environment, whether it’s a star system or a bedroom, you typically want to start with the high level stuff and then move in on the important details.

We started out pretty well going from space through the planet’s atmosphere and then down to the surface. But now we’re back up at the edge of the planet’s atmosphere with these ships rising into orbit.

Perhaps the writer believes that ships can orbit within a planet’s atmosphere. At any rate, it’s jarring to bounce around so much. Can’t the ships simply hover or rise into the air reeking of dread?

MarkM-5

“… retract into the ship…”

The writing is quickly deteriorating here…

We are told that the arms retract into “the” ship. Which ship is that? We were previously told there were seven ships. Better to use “one of the ships” or “ships” — plural — instead.

“a bellowing burble SLURPING noises”

Should that be “a bellowing burble of SLURPING noises”?

“A black syrup substance falls back to dead planet.”

There’s that word “black” again. And is it actually syrup or is it “syrupy” or “syrup-like”?

Shouldn’t it be falling back to “the” dead planet?

“ocean organism”

We were previously told that it was a “dead planet.” But now we’re being told that there’s an ocean “organism.” That’s confusing.

MarkM-6

“INT.ENGINEER SHIP LAB.”

More carelessness. Where’s space between “INT.” and “ENGINEER”?

“Vast corridors of darkness”

I like the image. But if we’re inside a lab, are we looking out at these vast corridors? How do we see more than one? Perhaps the scene heading should just be: “INT. ENGINEER SHIP” That would allow us to move from the corridors into the lab.

“A strange illumination glow emanates…”

“illumination glow” is redundant. It’s either an illumination or a glow, not both.

“a open doorway”

This should be “an” open doorway.

“A biology lab…”

We already know we’re in a lab and it’s really the hydrothermal vents that belch the blue mist (great verb usage). So the sentence might be better as: “Artificial hydrothermal vents belch blue mist over thousands of suspended LIFE FORMS.” It also eliminates that awkward “vents belches” construction.

MarkM-7

“Pristine machine BOTS tirelessly study their DNA.”

It sounds nice, but what are we seeing? Are the bots looking at DNA on a big screen? Are they examining blood samples? Reviewing hovering holograms? Hopefully the next sentence will help with the visual…

“The bots dissect each species entire building blocks.”

Nope. Again, I have no idea what I’m seeing. I’m picturing dissection, but how do you show the building blocks of each species? What are we seeing?

Also, there’s another typo — “species” should be written as: species’ (with an apostrophe at the end to indicate the possessive form).

“The door seals seamless to complete darkness.”

I like the visual of the seamless room, but does that mean we’ve exited the room? Or is it completely black on the inside of the room?

“Hyper-drive engine reverberates throughout the ship.”

Should it be: “A” hyper-drive engine? Also, why is this attached to the same paragraph? It’s a completely unrelated beat.

I like the verb “reverberates,” but is it being used correctly? The sound from the hyper-drive engine, or the hyper-drive engine noise, may reverberate throughout the ship, but I’m not sure if the engine itself does.

MarkM-8

“EXT. ENGINEER PLANET.”

Again, another sloppy mistake (missing space between “EXT.” and “ENGINEER.”

“The ENGINEER’s eyes glitter entirely black he surveys cold and detached.”

Oh boy, there’s that word again — black.

The sentence itself is also confusing. Perhaps if there was an “as,” or some punctuation between “black” and “he,” it would be more coherent.

That’s a lot of issues for one page!

As a script reader who is paid to give feedback, I’d be required to read the entire script. But a producer, agent or manager (that you’re not signed with) doesn’t have that kind of covenant with you, so it’s entirely possible they’d never make it to page two — nevermind that reeeeeally good part on page 12.

Hopefully Mark can correct these issues and allow the story to shine through. There are definitely some intriguing elements here that are, unfortunately, undone by the writing.

Would you have made it to page 2?

Commas in Scene Headings? Aug 20

Comma Chameleon

Commas are great. I’m a fan.

Without them, misunderstandings abound…

Commas - They Save Lives!

But why are so many commas turning up in scene headings these days? Did I miss the memo?

Let’s clarify what I’m talking about. It’s the use of commas in place of hyphens for separating location elements in scene headings. For example:

INT. JUBILANCE MENTAL HOSPITAL, PADDED ROOM – DAY

or

INT. PADDED ROOM, JUBILANCE MENTAL HOSPITAL – DAY

One of my friends sent me his script recently. He’s a pro and one of my favorite screenwriters. When I saw he had used commas in his scene headings, my brain partially exploded.

I’m going to tell you guys what I told him. It’s a bad idea.

It’s highly non-standard

Despite its growing popularity, it’s still a non-standard way to format scene headings. Non-standard formatting = red flag. Too many red flags and your reader may form a less than positive opinion of you or your script.

I’ve never seen a recognized script formatting guide that says it’s acceptable to use commas in place of hyphens. Have you? In my opinion, this isn’t a new, trendy technique — it’s an old mistake that’s making a resurgence.

It’s confusing

Whenever I see a comma in a scene heading, my read slows down.

Why? I now have to stop to think about the intention behind the formatting.

In a master scene heading, that uses conventional formatting, the locations go from general to specific. So, in the example above, the correct way to format the scene heading would be as follows:

INT. JUBILANCE MENTAL HOSPITAL – PADDED ROOM – DAY

The problem with commas is that I find approximately 50% of people who use them tend to reverse the natural order. They go from specific, to general. For example:

INT. PADDED ROOM, JUBILANCE MENTAL HOSPITAL – DAY

The even BIGGER problem is that the people who use this technique tend to alternate the order throughout the script. Sometimes they use specific to general. Sometimes they use general to specific.

In the example above it’s easy to comprehend that the JUBILANCE MENTAL HOSPITAL is the general location and the PADDED ROOM is the specific location. But what if you have something like this?

INT. DARK ROOM, GUN STAND – NIGHT

Uhhhh… Is the gun stand like a small rack of guns that’s inside the dark room? Or is the stand like a large booth, with a dark room in the back?

Using a hyphen instead of a comma, and the general to specific rule throughout, would clarify things.

It’s unwieldy

What if, God forbid, you add a third location? Sometimes I see things like this:

INT. PADDED ROOM, JUBILANCE MENTAL HOSPITAL – SECOND FLOOR – NIGHT

or

INT. SECOND FLOOR – PADDED ROOM, JUBILANCE MENTAL HOSPITAL – NIGHT

Yikes. Just… Yikes.

If you have to use a third location (and odds are you don’t), then just go from general to specific to avoid confusion:

INT. JUBILANCE MENTAL HOSPITAL – THIRD FLOOR – PADDED ROOM – NIGHT

But even that’s unwieldy. You’re almost certainly better off simplifying things:

INT. PADDED ROOM – NIGHT

If there were things happening in different padded rooms on different floors, you’d probably still be better off with a shorter, single location:

INT. TREVOR’S PADDED ROOM – NIGHT

INT. SALLY’S PADDED ROOM – NIGHT

etc.

Try to keep scene headings as short as possible… but not shorter.

But if some pros do it…

Let’s be honest, when you reach that magical stage in your career where important people are asking to read your scripts, formatting doesn’t really matter.

But until then, why take the chance? Is your love for the way scene heading commas look really worth making the experience of reading your script more challenging?

What are your thoughts on commas in scene headings?

Script Notes – July Sale! Jul 07

Script Notes - July SaleA July 4th sale is good, but a month-long July sale is even better. So that’s what I’m cooking up this month — a discount on script notes!

Whether you’d like an insightful written critique of your script, or a more interactive verbal critique (or both), you’ll get $25.00 off through the month of July.

Script not quite done? No problem. Purchase the script notes for the reduced rate in July, and you can send me your script later, when it’s ready.

Please visit my script notes page for more information and to order.

Category: Script Notes  | Leave a Comment
Embrace The Grind Jun 23

Anyone else out there a fan of MMA (mixed martial arts)? No? Doesn’t matter, this lesson applies to any professional endeavor — including screenwriting.

So there’s this fighter named Benson Henderson. He’s got about as much genuine swagger as any human has a right to. And for a good reason — he steamrolls over most of his opponents.

Benson Henderson

This, ladies and gentlemen, is genuine swagger!

After handily winning his last bout, he was almost in tears talking about how people have no idea how hard he trains for his fights.

Here’s a guy who you can tell by looking at him, and seeing him fight, has tremendous natural gifts. He’s one of the best fighters in the world, yet he still pushes himself to the breaking point during his training camps.

Gone are the days when some fighter, who merely dabbled in mixed martial arts, could rise to prominence off of luck or talent or connections alone. If you want to be successful in MMA, you have to embrace the grind.

It got me thinking. The same rule applies to screenwriters.

We may not risk traumatic brain injury every time we write a script (hmmm, that’s debatable), but we do have to compete with other screenwriters. Professional screenwriters. Professional screenwriters with agents and managers and industry credibility and one more thing…

A strong work ethic.

The successful screenwriters are the ones embracing the grind and putting in their hours of writing, networking, and keeping tabs on the industry. Every. Single. Day.

How on earth can you expect to compete with them (or other amateurs who are similarly inclined) if you’re only writing once in a blue moon?

This isn’t meant to depress you. It’s meant to explain the reality of the modern screenwriting business. It’s not an industry where dilettantes do well. You have to really want it. And you have to be really good at it. And you have to put the time in. Lots of time. That means lots of scripts.

If not, the screenwriting equivalent of Benson Henderson, or Ronda Rousey, or some up and coming amateur, is going to kick your ass. Because right now there are only a few coveted jobs or spec sales for screenwriters.

Bottom line is, if you you want to succeed — hell, if you just want make the fight competitive — you have to embrace the grind.

10 Page Torture Test – Open To Submissions Jun 11

10 Page Torture TestThere are many writing achievements that I’m proud to have accomplished: placing in/winning script competitions… having my first script optioned… getting my first paid writing gig…

And now I’ve been asked to be the first guest script reviewer for the 10 Page Torture Test!

While my previous achievements were grand, I can say without hyperbole that this one is at least a billion times better than the others. ;)

What is the 10 Page Torture Test?

It’s a site where a mysterious and talented guy, who goes by “Pitchpatch,” takes the first 10 pages of mostly amateur scripts, and digs deep into their nooks and crannies. In doing so, he offers fantastic (and hilarious) insight into what works, and what doesn’t, complete with suggestions for improvement.

And what’s more, he does it for free! All for the love of screenwriting, and the recognition of the importance of the first 10 pages of a script. As you should know, if your first 10 pages don’t impress, the reader will likely have permanently checked out by page 11.

How good is this guy, Pitchpatch? Here’s a hint: Guess who I beg for notes when I need one of my scripts critiqued?

Send me your scripts!

For the next edition of the 10 Page Torture test, I’m going to take the reins and provide the feedback.

But I only get to choose one script. So if you’d like the first 10 pages of your script critiqued publicly, FOR FREE, send it to me, with its associated logline, by Friday, June 20th at Midnight.

I’ll be choosing the script based on two things:

  1. The intrigue of the logline. (Is the concept compelling? Is the movie marketable?)
  2. The potential for readers to learn from my notes. (Are there things the writer has done really well? Are there common mistakes to point out?)

It should hopefully go without saying by now, but any constructive criticism will be provided with an aim to enlighten — not embarrass.

So send me your script (and logline) for consideration!!!

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