Writing a screenplay

So. You’ve been struck with a great idea as if by lightning. You can see the way it will play out, skeletally, but playing out it is. It’s haunting you.

But you don’t know how to write it.

And here I am to tell you some things that you can’t find in books about screenwriting.

See, there are plenty of books out there that show you how to format a screenplay–I’d recommend getting Movie Magic Screenwriter which is the program I utilize when I’m stroking my genius (guffaw). But the problem is that they show you how to write a screenplay like a technical manual–as if a screenplay is something that comes in the box when you buy a new DVD player.

And I’m here to tell you that you can write a screenplay with all the flare and drama of how you speak and write. See, the problem that you’ll come across if you try to strictly follow the guidelines of the textbook definition of a screenplay is that you will write something that is great for a class but horrible for the screen…

And so this is my advice to begin: follow the margins, follows the format, but don’t follow the words. Follow the scene setup (action to explicate what’s going on in the scene, then dialog interspersed with action points and parenthetical beats) but don’t be afraid to experiment with words and sentences and descriptions within the setup.

And always let the idea write itself. The biggest problem with being a writer is that you want to take credit for everything that you write when, in reality, you are nothing more than a vessel for the idea–the idea chose you to move through and into the world. So let it be itself, use its words, all that funky shit.

Because if you try to force out an idea, try and vomit it onto the page as quickly as you can, it will rebel and turn out like shit. This is something I’ve learned. (for an in-depth David Lynch version of this idea, check out this video) You can’t force this shit, you just have to let it flow through you.

Shut down the ego and just let the words run through you until you’ve run out the first few scenes. For me, at least, this is a point where the middle of the film becomes very confused and unsure of what it wants to be while the end is well known and structured.

This is where another textbook suggestion comes in handy: action points. Take each scene and give it a number–maybe even use decimals to denote different actions within the scene if you want to be anal. Run through the film this way. You should come up with a solid 25-40 points of action that will occur throughout the film.

And from there, the skeleton has a nervous system–or whatever system comes after the skeleton when building an anatomy.

From there, you will go on to flow the idea onto the page for a first draft. Don’t be afraid if your first draft is only thirty-forty pages, which is 30-40 minutes, because it will eventually be fleshed out unto full length…

But the first draft is merely that: first. It will be reworked into what feels right for the idea. Don’t be afraid to show it some close friends whose opinions you trust because they will be able to fuel the idea and give it a little bit more inspiration to help get it to where it wants to be.

And after a few draft revisions and a few helpful opinions from friends, you should have your very own screenplay written. At this point, you should probably register it with the WGA. It’s $20 and they give a nice paper certificate in the mail. And when you’ve got their protection, you can go hog wild talking about it, selling it, getting it made.

But never, ever, force the idea or try to make the idea longer and something it doesn’t want to be. Constantly remember that you are naught but the vessel. You are not the idea, the idea is the idea. And some ideas will fade away but others… others will become something greater than you ever expected if you push away your ego and get it going forth into the world.

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