Subscribe to feed via email:
Subscribe RSS

Archive for the Category "Critique"

Industry Insider Screenwriting Contest – Reader Submission Nov 05

Disgruntled

A few months back, a reader of my blog (Danny), posted a comment on one of my articles about the Industry Insider Screenwriting Contest. He was “disgruntled” and more than a little baffled as to why his 15 page script didn’t make the cut — especially when he felt he was just “an inch away from opportunity.”

Seeing a chance for fans of my blog to learn from his experience, I got in touch with Danny and promised to take a look at his submission, if he allowed me to post my critique publicly on my site. I’ve been busy for the last couple of months, but finally had some free time this week, so I dove in.

While I can’t speak to the exact reasons the contest judges chose not to select Danny’s entry as one of the finalists, I can certainly offer my opinion based on my years of experience as a script consultant.

First Impressions

Question: Typically, how many pages does it take for an experienced script reader to rule out your script as a prospective contest winner?

Answer: One.

Yup, one page.

Why? Because most scripts are really poorly written — right from the get-go. If the writing is bad on page one, it rarely gets better by page 10. After all, if you’re going to make any single page in your script shine more than the others, it should be page one. That’s the critical page. That’s the page that solidifies the readers’ first impressions.

But first impressions begin with the title page itself. In Danny’s script, there were three things I highlighted on the title page alone. That’s a huge red flag.

Danny's Title Page

(Click to Enlarge)

Do you see the issues?

  1. Danny put the genre next to the title. That’s highly non-standard.
  2. The “Based on” sentence has an awkward construction. It’s not even necessary to put this line on the title page.
  3. The title page is not the place for links to social media pages. Just provide the contact information. That means an email address and maybe your phone number.

So we haven’t even gotten to the first page of the script and there are 3 issues. Not a good sign.

But what does the first page look like? I think the best way to illustrate this is to show you a different one first.

This is the first page of the script that ended up winning the contest for that cycle, written by J.R. Phillips. Like I did, you can download it here. Her script is entitled: THE BADLANDS: DEAD GIRLS DON’T CRY. (By the way, her title page was clean and flawless.)

BADLANDS: DEAD GIRLS DON'T CRY (First Page)

(Click to Enlarge)
First page of J.R. Phillips’ Industry Insider Screenwriting Contest winning script BADLANDS: DEAD GIRLS DON’T CRY

Impressive. Only one technical issue! ONE! And even then it’s nitpicking.

The “rule” is that if you’re going to capitalize sounds then you should capitalize the sound AND the thing that makes the sound (i.e. “The WOODEN FURNITURE CREAKS”). Again this is a minor peccadillo on an otherwise brilliantly executed first page. It certainly isn’t anything that distracts from the quality of the writing or the story itself. And this “rule” is violated all the time in professional scripts these days.

Now let’s look at Danny’s first page…

Danny's First Page

(Click to Enlarge)
Danny’s First Page from his script entitled FIONA

Yikes! See the difference?

I annotated this script, like I do with my script notes service, and it’s riddled with problems. I’ve written fifteen different notes for dozens of issues — all on page one.

Let’s take a look from top to bottom:

  1. If you’re going to use “FADE IN:” it should be left justified. Bonus marks: Only use one line space underneath. Not two.
  2. For the SUPERIMPOSE line — the use of single and double quotes is odd. I get that he wants the line to appear in quotes, but it’s better to just  show what you want to appear.
  3. Why doesn’t the Matthew 13.10-16 reference wrap around normally onto the next line?
  4. “OVER BLACK:” — Aren’t we over black at the outset? What does the superimposed text appear over?
  5. “EXT.  UGSTON” — Be consistent with your spacing. One space is preferable after “EXT.”, but if you’re going to use two spaces, then make sure you do that throughout your script.
  6. Scene heading modifiers like DAWN, DUSK, MORNING, etc. are rarely a good idea to include in your script. Try to stick with DAY and NIGHT. The audience doesn’t get to see the word “DAWN.” They interpret the time of day by what they see in the scene. So based on what you describe in the scene, we’ll know it’s dawn — not in the scene heading.
  7. What’s up with all the unusual capitalization? It makes for a jarring, peculiar read.
  8. ” ‘Giant Jets of Water’ ” — why is this phrase (and others) in quotes?
  9. “Sharp Rock and massive Boulders…” — Formatting issue. He’s missing a line space here… Or he’s accidentally hit enter.
  10. Be wary of underlining too many things in your script. Underlines should be used sparingly for very important elements that you need to highlight. Use underlining too much and it loses its impact (and brands you as an amateur). Note: Underlining scene headings is an entirely different issue — and it works.
  11. Whenever I see writers use slash and two descriptors (e.g. “Bank/Mound”), I think that they couldn’t make up their mind as to which one to use. If both are necessary, use a comma.
  12. Third paragraph from the bottom — isn’t Fiona already at the edge? How can she heave herself at something she’s already at? Perhaps he means that she tries to climb onto the bank and slips or something? Also — “heaves herself out” could imply that she’s pushing away from the bank. If this expression is to be used, I think it needs to be qualified as “… heaves herself out of the water.”
  13. Same paragraph… It’s eight lines long! It’s not technically a mistake, but it’s a big red flag. Typically, 3 or 4 lines max — especially for scene description in an action sequence.
  14. “Drape” and “draped.” It’s best not to use the same word in such close proximity. Same with “heaves” and “mangled” for that matter. Variety is the spice of life… and of good writing.

It came as no surprise to me that things did not improve on pages 2 through 15.

What About the Story Itself?

It doesn’t matter.

Again, I can’t speak for the Industry Insider Screenwriting Contest judges, but here’s the thing… Even if the underlying story is fantastic, there’s no way I could present this as an example of finalist-quality writing. It is, after all, a writing contest. Having a good story is only one piece of the puzzle. Great writers can:

  1. come up with a compelling story
  2. write it well
  3. demonstrate a command of the rules particular to screenwriting.

One out of three isn’t going to cut it, especially when there are thousands of entries to choose from.

The truth is, even beyond all of the technical mistakes, the writing isn’t very strong. I only mentioned a few things that stuck out. If I were editing this first page, there would have been many more notes.

Danny seems like a friendly, eager screenwriter, and I wish him all the best. In time, he may be able to better his writing to the point where he starts to place in contests, etc. But he’s not there yet.

The first thing I would recommend to him, and frankly any screenwriter out there, is to read and absorb a screenplay formatting book like David Trottier’s The Screenwriter’s Bible, or  Christopher Riley’s The Hollywood Standard.

Proper script formatting won’t make your story any better, but it will let your writing stand on its own merits. And that’s all you can hope for.

Any other issues with Danny’s script that bear mentioning? Who can tell me why his main character introduction doesn’t work?

Adam Levenberg – Script Consultant Jul 30

Since I’ve been on hiatus from script consulting, I’m often asked if I could recommend other consultants. I’m happy to add Adam Levenberg — former development executive and author of The Starter Screenplay: An Executive’s Perspective on Screenwriting — to the list.

I enjoyed Adam’s book and recently tried out his consulting service for my latest screenplay. It was an eye-opening experience.

My writing is strong enough that it can sometimes cause readers to overlook inherent deficits that may exist in the script. Not Adam — he homes in on those problem areas like a laser-guided missile.

The funny thing about screenwriting is that it takes years of practice before the lessons you’ve learned from university, books, seminars, etc. get transferred onto the page. You’ll make mistakes where you’ll say to yourself, “Geez, I knew that! What was I thinking?” The longer you write, the less this will happen. But in the meantime, you need someone like Adam to point those mistakes out to you. He’ll dig deep into your script and root them out.

And when I say dig deep, I mean it. He doesn’t just give your script the once-over. He spends a lot of time both reading the script and going over the issues with you. Part of his service is a comprehensive phone conversation, that might last several hours. He also welcomes extensive follow-up with his clients.

Obviously this service isn’t cheap, but it’s worth it . He’s not only a guy who can help make your script better, he’s a guy who can put you in touch with agents and managers if your script impresses him. That alone makes his service a cut above — especially for the more advanced writers out there.

For more information on Adam and his services, check out his website — HireAHollywoodExec.com. He encourages writers, who are considering his services, to contact him in advance so he can make sure to meet or exceed their expectations.

5 Things to Consider When Incorporating Feedback Nov 18

I have a few friends who have a hard time knowing what to do with the feedback they receive on their scripts. So for all you similar screenwriters out there, this post’s for you.

(Note: This post has little to do with the development phase where you’re incorporating notes from executives. It deals with the rewriting phase of your script where the only people who have seen it are friends, family, peers, script consultants, etc.)

5 Things to Consider When Incorporating Feedback

Script Feedback1. Does it resonate with you?

If the note you receive on your script doesn’t make sense to you, you should never incorporate it. There has to be some recognition of its inherent validity for it to be considered. Never follow a note blindly, no matter who’s giving it to you.

2. Is everyone saying the same thing?

While it’s important to stay true to your artistic vision, ultimately you want a script that appeals to your audience. If you consistently get the same note back from your respected readers, you need to seriously consider incorporating it.

3. Does it hint at an underlying or alternate problem?

Suppose you’re absolutely sure that some story beat needs to stay in your script, yet your readers keep flagging it. It’s entirely possible that the setup to the beat, or some other aspect of the scene or script needs tweaking. Part of your job is to read between the lines of what people are saying.

4. Are you resistant to a suggestion because of the work involved in correcting it?

Sometimes we’ll bristle at a suggestion, and immediately think, “No frikken way!” Usually that happens when the suggestion involves a major change.

When you receive such a note, take a deep breath, let the feedback wash over you for a couple of days, then try to evaluate it as dispassionately and honestly as you can. If you decide the feedback is valid, it might take you a few extra weeks, even months, to rewrite your script, but that’s a much better alternative than hoping no one else will see the problem… because I promise you they will. You’ve come this far, you might as well give your script the best chance of selling.

5. Who’s giving you the note?

If you’ve just written a raunchy teenage comedy and your grandma thinks some of the lines are too offensive… you should probably take that with a grain of salt.

But that’s an easy call. Often you’ll have peers who are accomplished in one particular genre, but may not have expertise in your genre. Or maybe you’ve given them harsh criticism on their last script and they’ve been itching for some payback.

On the other side of things, if someone who’s been around the block for a number of years tells you something that no one else has told you, it’s possible they’re bang on with their feedback and they’ve seen something that more casual readers have missed.

Either way, make sure you run the feedback through all five of these litmus tests before you start incorporating it. And remember, no one knows your story better than you do.

How do you process feedback?


Visionaries or Rip-off Artists? (Or Both?) Oct 08

When we think of people like James Cameron, Darren Aronofsky, the Wachowski brothers, Tarantino… many words come to mind: visionaries, geniuses, mavericks, thieves — wait, what?

Thieves?

The experts at CRACKED.com have come up with another excellent film-related article that showcases “7 Classic Movies You Didn’t Know Were Rip-Offs.”

I’m all for paying homage to classic movies, or using concepts from old shows or books as jumping off points to begin an original story, but did these movies take it too far?

CRACKED.com’s insightful and thought-provoking article provides a historical perspective, videos, and side-by-side screen captures, where applicable, of seven such instances.

Here are few images comparing Black Swan to a Japanese animated film called Perfect Blue, about:

… a pop singer instead of a ballet dancer, but other than that, Black Swan could pass for its American remake. In both movies, the young, innocent protagonist has just moved on to a more demanding job (dramatic actress/lead dancer), and the pressure turns her apeshit. She gets chased by a “double” who may or may not be the product of her imagination, and at one point becomes convinced that she killed someone.

Cracked - Black Swan Comparison

Cracked - Black Swan Comparison

Cracked - Black Swan Comparison

Yes, the pictures also come to life and taunt her in Perfect Blue.

Here’s the full list of movies that they scrutinize:

#7. Pirates of the Caribbean Is Suspiciously Similar to the Game The Secret of Monkey Island

#6. The Matrix Was a Comic Book

#5. Black Swan Was a Japanese Cartoon

#4. J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek Is Really Star Wars

#3. Wild Wild West Was an Episode of Batman: The Animated Series

#2. Terminator Was a Bunch of Harlan Ellison Sci-Fi Stories

#1. Reservoir Dogs Was a Film From Hong Kong

It’s worth pointing out that a few key scenes and ideas does not a movie make. All of these movies (with perhaps the exception of Wild Wild West) feature brilliant story elements, dialogue and cinematic innovation that did not appear in the sources that are being cited. The execution of an idea is a thing unto itself. That’s why you can’t copyright a concept.

But — if the execution is virtually identical, that’s another matter… Seriously, check out the Reservoir Dogs section and tell me that wasn’t a flagrant rip-off something more than an homage.

What’s your take? Does the knowledge that these filmmaking icons borrowed (stole) key elements from these previous sources cause you to look at them in a different light?

Read the full article at CRACKED.com.

$59 Script Notes Jul 29

$59 Dollar Script NotesI’m always telling my clients to streamline things, so I followed my own advice and whittled down my script services to one…

$59 Script Notes!

Basically, I took my most popular offerings and bundled them at my lowest price. That may not make me a smart businessman, but I’m sure you guys will love it.

For what you get, I honestly believe it’s the cheapest and best deal on the web. If you’ve never used my script reading service before, please give it a try while this price lasts.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...