I’ve addressed this before, but this time of year as the major screenwriting competitions are sending out notifications, I get bombarded with question of ‘Why didn’t my script get chosen?’ more than I get ‘Will you read my script and help me?’ Trust me that’s saying a lot — I have not been without coverage/consultation/reading/ghost-writing work for one single day in over a year. (Which is why, posts on 1st 10 pages have been few and far between — btw, I was on the verge of remedying that a few weeks ago, when my stack was down from over a hundred scripts to just a few, and then I got a massive assignment out of the blue — it’s under control now, so the post frequency is on the mend).
Back to your regularly scheduled programming:
In this edition of WHY I’m going to get right to the point and point you to someone who sums it up with data.
The trends I’ve been seeing lately that drive me crazy:
1) an opening scene or sequence, (good or bad) that goes on for a few pages and then a new story starts with different characters that will eventually meet up with those in the opening scene. (Unfortunately so much time is spent on the opening pages that by the time the two meet, we are past page 30). More often than not, I love the opening only to be disappointed by the rest.
2) CUT TO: This makes me nuts on specs (it’s expected on production or shooting scripts) — Why it makes me nuts is multi-fold; it distracts from the flow of story, it eats up valuable page real estate, and frankly it screams ignorance, EVERY NEW SCENE BREAK / SLUGLINE is a cut!
3) Bad character development. It is never important to describe someone’s clothes to color and make UNLESS it is a plot point. And even then say your character is a fashion designer that goes through profound change and lives out her days not caring about clothes. Then that person is set up as someone dressed to perfection in couture pieces that would make Heidi Klum jealous and in the end, they’re in cut-offs and a stained wife beater. Character development allows actors to own the role while painting an image for them to do so.
Before you get too offended by constructive criticism of your words or wonder why so many notes come back with the terms ‘overwritten’ or ‘too much direction’ consider this video of 25 of the best ‘unscripted scenes in movies’.
I’m the first to defend a writer when some pop star brat says writers are not needed for a good movie, but the fact of the matter is a writer (and later director) gave these actors and their respective characters room to breathe. (Except in the case of Dustin Hoffman in MIDNIGHT COWBOY – but come on, it’s Dustin Hoffman.)
The difficulty in screenwriting is the finer-than-a-hair line balance between setting the stage for a story to be properly executed and imagined, to beating your reader/audience over the head with words. It starts in evaluating a movie premise – is there a singular problem the story focuses on which is big, important, time-sensitive, complicated, and hard enough to make anyone other than you the writer care?
And that my dear writers, is why it’s so hard to win that competition or FADE IN.
Now for the data:
I link you to BOSI’s newsletter this week, the bulk is good advice but I want you to scroll down to the Danny Manus article where he tells it like it is.
The Business of Show Institute – The Screenwriter’s Success Newsletter, September 16 2011 | The Business of Show Institute.