Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Getting Past Page 20

In honor of the Writer's Seminar we'll be having Thursday Night, I'm going to talk about the major wall I had to tear down before I could write a screenplay. (BTW, if you want to register, click here).

In the nineties, I was working as a corporate video/commercial producer. I wrote scripts for training the sales department on how to sell insurance. I produced orientation videos for human resources. I made commercials. Even shot a few music videos. But, like many of corporate video geeks, I wanted to be a filmmaker one day.

Being goal oriented, "being a filmmaker one day" never flew. So I grabbed a piece of paper and wrote out a five year plan to actually get there. It included some steps I would need to be able to make a movie.

One of those steps was actually finishing a screenplay. You see, up to that point, I had started screenplays and never really got past page twenty. So as the decade was winding down, I bought writing books, even a workbook on how to write a screenplay in a year. You don't even start the actual screenplay until about month six. It's all backstory and character development. That worked for me for about two weeks.

You see, I'm ADD (attention deficit). That program does not fit who I am. Everyone is unique and what works for me, certainly doesn't work for my wife. So if I go out and tell you "This is the way you write," I would be wrong. Which is how my English professors taught (with one exception) in college.

I've read Syd Fields. I immersed myself in Robert McKee (which after my first movie, I realized I had more scripts actually produced than him). Some of the points from all of the teachers were good and right on.

There are some rules for writing and I'm not talking about that. I do believe in structure. And I believe to be anti-structure, you first need to know structure to learn how to break it.

So after eight or nine screenplays started and none past page twenty, I was growing increasingly frustrated. My confidence waned. On the next script, I rough outlined it and collaborated with another writer. She took sections of my outline, I took others. We would send our sections back and forth. And in three weeks, we had a first draft. I was blown away how easy it was.

So what had been holding me back? First, I didn't have time in the collaboration to go back re-read everything I had written. And this was one of the first killers for me-- I'd read it and get despondent over how bad it was. I'd lose heart and passion.

Secondly, I was accountable to get it done. When the time came for my next script, I outlined it extensively and then wrote. And wrote. I firmly believe that the real writing is in the re-writing. But I don't use that in a cavalier way-- it's not an excuse for writing garbage. I have to extensively outline. Then I have to be able to "kill my children" in the re-writing.

I think it was William Goldman who said 90% of what he writes is garbage. That means he has to re-write at least ten drafts. And he's one of the best.

We'll talk about this and more Thursday night. I need to know you're coming so please do click on the link above to register. For the newbie, we'll cover things like this. For the seasoned screenwriter, I'm going to talk about how to get your screenplay produced.

See you Thursday.

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