A Note About Our Screenplays (and writing)

We’ll get back to the screenplay outlining quickly, but just wanted to let everyone know that we’re going to start posting some of our screenplays on this site for you to peruse (and if you’re a producer, to option!).  You can see just a few of these screenplays using the link at the top of the page, or you can get there from here.

Note that for now, we’re focused on low budget scripts as a way to get produced, and that has worked in several cases (and maybe something you should consider as well, if you’re a beginning screenwriter, or maybe even a seasoned one).  Why is this?  Well, first of all, writing spec scripts, is just that, speculative.  VERY speculative.  To get through the front gates of the big production companies, you need to have been produced before (and consequently represented), or have an insanely great script.

Yet having an insanely great script still doesn’t guarantee anything.  You have to still get someone to read it, and that requires getting noticed.  Query letters almost NEVER work.  If you’re the less than 1% who got yours through the door, congrats.  The other 99% applaud and cry in their beers in between typing out another five pages of Act Two.

That’s why I’m a big proponent of Simply Scripts, which I find to be one of the best ways to get discovered as a writer.  I placed several scripts on that site and have been optioned four times.  There are a lot of other writers from that site as well who have similar success stories.  Do yourself a favor, if you’re a screenwriter, and hit that site up.  And if you’re a writer who frequents Simply Scripts and want to chime in on your success there, feel free to leave a comment below.  This is an encouraging, peer-review site that can provide you with a ton of reviews and resources to help you get better as a writer.

Good luck!

The Outline Continues

In our post, Getting the Characters Into Action, we started building the world of the characters.  We had them at a graduation party, and we discover two things: (1), that Jinx has a thing for Ellie, but it’s a lost cause, because (2) Jinx is leaving when summer’s gone and never coming back.  We also learned that Jinx is expected to take over the family business at some point, but this revelation will blow a hole in that plan, as well as create tension within the family.

As we further create the outline, we can’t just have the characters talking, talking, and talking some more.  There needs to be some action going on between characters.  And when we say “action” we need to make sure you understand that this doesn’t have to be the physically demanding type of action — we’re not making “Mission Impossible: Lake Party” here.  Action can take on a lot of forms.  It can be the way one character treats another, confrontation over something, or a sequence of events that creates tension.

If you saw “A Quiet Place” this summer, you were on the edge of your seats the most because they weren’t saying anything, and as they made their way from one place to another each step they took could lead to a disaster (I’m not going to spoil it and say why it could lead to a disaster).  Needless to say, there was a lot of tension built into those very quiet moments.

So the next thing in our outline we’re going to try to do is build up some additional tension with other students. Once Jinx reveals to Tate that he doesn’t want to take over the family business, they go get drinks and run into Maggie, who is surprised to see Jinx at the party.  She says he shouldn’t be there.  Before Jinx can ask why, another student, Hunter, gets in Jinx’s face and tells him to leave before he beats the crap out of him. Why?  Hunter doesn’t say, because Jinx beats him to the punch.  He says he’s leaving – permanently.  Hunter tells him that’s a good idea, because he’s ruined enough lives around this town.

There’s a moment when we think Hunter is actually going to take out Jinx, but Hunter is suddenly hit in the face with a poorly thrown football, and Hunter takes off after the hapless student who threw it.  Crisis averted, for the moment.

But Ellie overhears the discussion and now she’s in Jinx’s face, wondering what the hell is going on here.  Ever since the accident, he hasn’t been himself, and now he’s disappearing forever?  Jinx is taken aback – he didn’t think Ellie cared.  And now it’s too late to do anything about it.

Now we’ve created tension in two more arenas: that between Hunter and Jinx (physical animosity), and between Jinx and Ellie (a romantic tension).  The trick, of course, will be stretching this tension rubber band just enough to not cause it to snap (or pop back and hit us in the eye).

We’ll continue to stretch the rubber band in upcoming posts.  Continue to follow along!


To Write or Co-Write – Part Two

In his previous post, Rick had thoughts about why you shouldn’t write with someone. Today he talks about why you should take on a writing partner.

Here are Rick’s thoughts:

These are the guidelines I’d recommend using if you’re considering co-writing with someone. Everyone’s situation is different and these are by no means universal but intended to help those that have never co-written a screenplay with someone and are trying to evaluate if it will suit them. In reverse order of consideration:

5. Co-write to get out of a rut. Many times we’re ready to write a screenplay, but nothing in the idea journal or desk drawer really sparks interest. Herein lies opportunity. Seek out a writer you like, respect and/or admire and ask if there’s a project that he or she would be interested in collaborating on. Immediately, you’ve opened yourself up to whole new set of possible screenplays. It only takes one idea to get the creative juices flowing.

4. Co-write to learn. Maybe you’re an outliner and envious of the writers who just dive in and see what happens. Or vice-versa. There’s lessons to be learned from both approaches. Find someone that works differently and observe how they handle difficulties with story or act breaks or pacing. It’s important to be upfront and explain how you typically work but hopefully, you’ll be open enough to trying a different ‘process’ to see if it works for you. There’s no ‘right’ way — it’s a matter of finding and trying new methods. You can always revert to your comfort zone but at least try it. You’ll see a different perspective to the blank page.

3. Co-write to step up your game. Many television shows have writer’s rooms or a group of staff writers AND deadlines. To me, that’s the ultimate in pressure. You’re working with a bunch of talented writers and you know you need to nail a quality script by the end of the week. So, imagine being at a keyboard in that room while everyone else is tapping out their ‘A’ game. As I said, I can’t imagine more pressure. But pressure is good and co-writing a script is the shallow end of the pool rather than the high dive of a writer’s room. Yes, you’re signing on and committing to contributing but, if you work with a good partner, you’ll learn that the expectation of ‘delivering’ forces you to not slack. Moreover, once the characters and pages start to come alive, you’ll both become invested in raising the bar for the story and winner is the script reader or producer. Accepting that you will be read, daily or weekly, by a jury of your peers, is usually enough to keep you from typing over and over again: ’this script needs work’ just to say that ‘yes, I did write something today.’

2. Co-write if you’re ready to act like a paid ‘writer.’ Trust me, getting ’notes’ and ‘feedback’ from producers is incessant. Recently, I received just under 300 notes from a producer on a 94 page screenplay. Be ready for everyone, from producers, to agents or actors to competition readers — for cold sometimes brutal notes. Guess what? It’s the norm and the sooner you accept that no one likes everything, the better. It’s far better to get ‘it’s not working for me’ from a co-writer than a film executive. Maybe they’re wrong — Maybe it is working but that’s where you have to determine if you’ll be true to yourself. Are you willing to change your character, or the pages to suit someone else? Are you willing to bend? If not, maybe, in addition to co-writing, the whole concept of writing for the screen isn’t for you if you’re not willing to cater to notes from someone who might have the ability to get your script made. Making movies is the ultimate collaborative medium. Own it. Unless you’re able to produce and direct your own work, start to learn the collaborative process. If you want your words to remain your words — write a novel or a play. Novelists and playwrights have far greater control over their words.

1. Co-write to increase your body of work and give back. This seems like it should be two rules but I’ve found that they go hand in hand. I personally have a self-imposed mandate to write one feature screenplay a year. In addition, I’ll write a few shorts and try to get work rewriting a screenplay or working on things like commercials or video productions. My goal? Get paid to write. Everyday, you’ve got to shop your goods. I’ve got five unproduced feature screenplays that I shop by myself every chance I get. Marketing emails and trade journals take up time. How to keep generating fresh product? Write everyday. Don’t have a script you’re burning to write? Tough. You need content to shop. That’s where co-writing helps. You get to continually generate new material to shop and — bonus — you get another motivated writer to shop it right along with you. How does this all ‘give back?’ You’ve learned a craft and you apply it to writing a film that no one may make or see but countless other screenwriters are in the same boat. Give back to them by sharing your skills and unique voice. Give them the ‘reading’ diversion they need when they’re stuck on a story point. Most importantly, do not quit or not write anymore because things haven’t worked out thus far. Be someone’s inspiration. Find motivation in being the writer who is willing to do whatever it takes to pursue their screenwriting passion. Not all heroes wear capes. Write or co-write but do one or the other.

Great notes, Rick!  Hope you’re enjoying, and please share or follow if you are!

Getting the Characters Into Action

So we’ve said the first part of Act One is about world building and introducing characters.  In that post, we provided you with some of our main and supporting characters and a little bit about each of them.

Now, it’s time to start figuring out how we get them interacting and put them into this world that we’re building.

First, you might remember that we envisioned a couple of things for making this film:  First, that we could film it on a low to modest budget (meaning very few locations and could be shot in a minimal amount of time). Second, we wanted a film that focused on story and creating emotions.  If any of you saw the recent film “Eighth Grade” then you can imagine the type of film we’re looking to make.

We decided to make a film about a high school senior (we’ll call him “Jinx” for now) who has to try to move past a horrible accident, and because of the overwhelming guilt he feels, wants to leave his small Texas town forever.  Less than a year after the accident, he is coaxed to come to a graduation party at a lake house.

And so the outline begins.  The way Rick and I write together, one of us will start with the genesis of the story.  We’re not actually writing the script, mind you, we’re just putting in a Microsoft Word document a draft of ideas for the story.  I drew the short straw, so I’ll write a few ideas for the opening.  Rick will follow behind, edit my first draft and add some ideas of his own, and we’ll go back and forth until we’re somewhat happy with moving on to the next sequence.

I started with putting Jinx and his friend Ellie and Tate in a car on the way to the graduation party.  While they’re talking about graduation earlier that day and about the party to come, what we want to make sure in writing the script is that it’s not expositional dialogue.  In other words, we don’t want them describing everything that’s happened, and we don’t want to use flashbacks (or if we do, to use them sparingly). So we just drop hints at what’s happened in this past, to set up for a big reveal later.

We’ll have them drive through the small town that they live in, to give everyone a hint of this place that Jinx is trying to escape.  Thus, we don’t have to have a full discussion by the characters of what the town is like.  You’ll see it and understand.

Next, we have them arriving at the party.  Given the small town, we couldn’t have hundreds of students attending the party and it’s this huge blow out.  It’ll be maybe 50 to 75 students, and consequently everyone is going to know each other, meaning we don’t have to introduce characters to each other.  But we do have to introduce them to you, which we hope to do by the way they interact with each other.

Jinx, Ellie and Tate arrive at the party, and Jinx is self-conscious about the way people are looking at him (or how he perceives people are looking at him).  This will be a continuing theme — how people react to him versus how they might actually be reacting.  This world Jinx lives in is a world that he’s built to help him cope with what he’s done in the past.

Ellie leaves Jinx and Tate to go visit with some friends, and after she goes, Jinx tells Tate that he’s always had a crush on her.  Tate asks why he’s never acted on it, and that’s when he reveals he’s leaving for college when the summer’s over and never coming back.  Tate is clearly surprised — he didn’t think Jinx was going to college and was instead going to get involved in the family business (perhaps we’ve even seen this business during that opening drive through the town), but Jinx wants nothing of it.

Through this small but impactful exchange, we’ve established some important story points that will have to be developed and addressed throughout the film:  (1) Jinx’s relationship with Ellie, (2) Jinx’s desire to move on from this small town; and (3) the family business that he’s obviously expected to take over someday.

This is creating tension and important for making the film interesting to the viewer.  As we continue to develop the outline, we’ll continue to drop in these kind of plot points and create obstacles that will hinder our protagonist from achieving his goals.

Will delve further into the outline in future posts.  Hope you continue to follow along!

Considerations for having a writing partner

Taking a quick break for the outlining sequence for a moment, as Rick Hansberry, my writing partner for “According to Plan”, “The Journeyers” and now “Lake Regret” provides some thoughts around whether you should consider a writing partner for one of your projects.  Listen up, guys, Rick is a sage when it comes to this stuff!

His thoughts on maybe why you DON’T co-write with someone:

“Generally, use thesetwo writers as guidelines, if you’re considering co-writing with someone. Everyone’s situation is different and these are by no means universal but intended to help those that have never co-written a screenplay with someone and are trying to evaluate if it will suit them. In reverse order of consideration:

5. Do not co-write to ‘learn.’ Before attempting to write a screenplay, be sure to read hundreds of them. Literally. They’re on-line and in books. There’s no excuse to not have read countless screenplays to understand, format, structure and the nuances of the craft. Your experience level may vary but never co-write your first screenplay. Learn the craft, then apply it.

4. Do not co-write to ‘coast.’ Sure, having a writing partner makes it easier to advance pages and attack revisions but there should always be a balance. A co-writer is a co-creator and there should always be a back-and-forth, give-and-take. If you tend to be lazy about writing, do not co-write to have someone to procrastinate with, rather treat him or her like an exercise or dieting partner — Push them through tough stretches – Hold them accountable and expect the same back. You’ll both win in the end.

3. Do not co-write for the ‘credit.’ If you’re looking to hitch your wagon to someone so you can finally say you’ve had something ‘produced’ or ‘optioned’ you’re doing it for the wrong reasons and it’ll show. Just about any produced writer (yes, I can say that my work has been ‘optioned,’ ‘bought,’ and ‘produced’ but I won’t say I speak for all) will tell you that there’s a certain amount of luck and having the right script at the right time in this business. They’ll also most likely share that there’s countless dozens of scripts by writers that haven’t sold anything or had anything produced that have more than one script that totally blows them away. Know in your heart of hearts that a good script doesn’t always get bought or produced and own it for what it is.

2. Do not co-write if you’re the type of person that doesn’t argue well or holds grudges. Just like every screenplay needs conflict, so do writers. Having a strength like structure or dialogue is fine but ultimately you have to bring your complete game to every script and so does your co-writer and inevitably there will be times when you disagree about a character, a joke in dialogue, a scene, or an ending. If you can’t argue for it and lose and be okay with it, then don’t waste the other person’s time. Creativity inherently wounds egos because no one loves everything. Accept going in that you’ll lose some battles and win some and the script will be better for it but if you hold a grudge — it’ll show in future exchanges and the script will suffer for it.

1. Do not co-write if you can’t accept a subordinate role sometimes. This is a rule to follow for relationships and marriages and careers in general. Let others take credit. Have enough self-esteem to know that your contribution to a project is valuable and it’s not all about you. One of my many hats is to work as a paralegal in a law firm. In many instances, I do the lawyers work for them (at a cheaper billable rate) and they simply review it and often present it to the client as their own — and that has to be okay with you. You have to accept that we all have different roles and times to shine. If you know you’re not the type of person that needs to be recognized or given credit or put on a pedestal, do not co-write but also — unless you’re producing and directing your own films, do not pursue screenwriting. In the film industry, even after the script is optioned or purchased and everyone loves it — it’ll be changed by countless others involved in the production. Have the internal fortitude to know that you’re not the chain, just a link.”

Next time, Rick will chime in with the 5 rules in favor of co-writing.  Stay tuned — and if you’re enjoying this blog, follow and share with your friends!

The Outline – Act 1

In the previous post we talked about our method of outlining, which is to fall somewhere between the full-blown, no stone left unturned outline, and “we know the beginning and the end, let’s just write and see what happens” outline.  We have a generally good idea of where we wanted to go with it, and so we needed to do a broad brush painting of each act.

Pretty much 95% of the screenplays out there are in three acts.  You’ll see all these guidelines and screenwriting books that you must have three acts — it’s the way everyone does it.  The first act needs to be about 30 pages, they say, the second act about 40, and the final act around 25, give or take.  But if that doesn’t work for you, fine.  Write what works for you.  My only thing is that your story works, and you write it well.

If you are working in the three act structure, then the first act is for world-building.  We learn about the characters, what relationships they have, and the world in which they exist.  You also will typically will have what is known as the “inciting incident”, which pushes the protagonist into his or her story for the rest of the film.

With “Lake Regret” we will probably be following the three act structure, and so we need to do a little world building in the first draft of our outline.

We know we have our script set at a lake house, and we know a high school graduation party is going on throughout the film, so we have to start with getting our protagonist to the party, and introducing the main players (both the heroes and the villains) that will be driving the story.

We came up with five main characters and a couple of supporting characters to revolve the story around:

— Jimmy “Jinx” McCarthy,  our main protagonist.  Jinx is the kid that everyone used to like at his school, but ever since an accident caused the death of another student, he feels like he’s been shunned at the school, which may or may or not be imagined by Jinx.  He’s created a world in which he feels like everyone’s against him, and is determined to leave this small town he’s grown up in forever now that he’s graduated.

— Ellie Burton, Jinx’s friend and someone that Jinx has had a crush on for years.  She’s tried to build him up during his difficult time, but he’s still in a dark place.  Despite the crush Jinx has on her, she may have eyes for someone else.

— Tate Oliver, the person who knows Jinx better than anyone.  When he learns Jinx is trying to leave forever, he tries to be the voice of reason, and caution. But does Tate have an ulterior motive in keeping Jinx around?

— Hunter Callahan, who was a friend and football teammate of the student who died, and who is seeking revenge on Jinx.  The question is how far he will take that revenge.

— Cassie Wilbanks, an attractive student that flirts with Jinx throughout the party and may sabotage any chance of a relationship between Jinx and Ellie.

Now that we’ve outlined our main characters, we need them to start interacting.  Stay tuned to see where we take them…


Outlining for the script, how I hate it (but oh how I need it)

So before we delve into today’s post, just a bit of horn tootin for both Rick and me. Rick recently had another short film completed, “Missed Stop”, which will be hitting the festival circuits in the near future. I have a short script, “Last Rites”, that is set to be filmed in California over the Labor Day weekend, and so I hope to see a finished cut before the end of the year. Always great to see how the words you’ve written are interpreted by the director, the cinematographer, and the cast.

But getting those words to the script are always paramount to the writer, and how they get there varies from writer to writer.

There are those writers who need to have every beat in the story crafted out, the story blocked out to the greatest extent possible, characters fully described and the protagonists main arc perfectly delineated. Once they have all that then they can finally sit down and type out FADE IN and craft their script in accordance with their outline. I can’t do that. I just can’t. If that works for you and that’s the only way you can tell your story, then by all means, go for it. To me, it’s a little bit of paint by number writing, because you’re going through each scene and you’re writing based exactly on what’s in that outline without any room for maneuvering lest you sabotage the rest of the outline.

Then there are the writers who sit down at the computer with only a general idea in their heads about the story and the characters and just start typing. In their mind they want to see where the characters take the story — which is a bit of a fake out. The writer is the one driving the characters, so the writer still is the one making up the story on the fly. To those writers who can pull that off, I tip my cap to you and secretly loathe you, because that’s not how I can do it.

I think both Rick and I are somewhere in the middle group. We’ll look at each act, prepare a general, but not overly detailed, synopsis of each act, and then work from that. This allows us room to deviate from the big picture as the spirit moves us without having to go back and revamp the entire outline. It gives more flexibility to operate, and I feel, to be more creative overall.

I encourage anyone preparing to write a script to work with whatever gets you motivated to sit down and start writing. Do what works for you, and not because you read it in a book or because someone told you that it HAD to be done a certain way to be successful. Most of the people telling you that haven’t had any success to speak of.

That said, it’s time to start outlining. Let’s see where our outline takes us on our trip to Lake Regret.