Written by guest columnist Johnathon Taggs
This summer, J.J. Abrams and friends successfully rebooted a 42-year-old franchise that, from a feature-film standpoint, had been on life support for a decade. The movie brought in more than $75 million in its first weekend from the domestic box office, according to Box Office Guru.
Wouldn’t you love to be involved in the movie industry?
Well, grab your favorite beverage, glue your butt to the chair, and learn how to write a screenplay from the amazing, wonderful world of information-presented-for-free-on-the-net (or IPFFOTN, as I like to call it).
There are hundreds of screenwriting websites out there; however, some of them offer much more comprehensive advice and insight into professional screenwriting than others.
Wordplay and John August’s web site are the creations of pro screenwriters, are updated frequently (for Wordplay the day-to-day action is in the forums), and offer a ton of invaluable info on screenwriting and the business.
Read all the main columns from Wordplay and know them, and you will have a great base of knowledge to start really learning about screenwriting (By the way, I’m recommending this because it’s what I’ve been doing for a while. Obviously, if you don’t like something I say, ignore it; I’m no expert, yet.)
ScriptSecrets.net has a daily script tip. If you want to get serious about screenwriting, here’s a way to get started practicing every day. Read the script tip and design some kind of exercise you can do to put it into practice. From writing a movie premise (logline), statement of theme, scene or quick plot outline that demonstrates a story concept, to writing a character study that uses the information he’s given you to outlining or writing a scene that uses some concept he’s talking about, each exercise can help you break down the process into understandable and learnable parts. Don’t skip this step.
If you examine any kind of current research on achieving mastery of a subject, you’ll quickly learn that effortful study is key to improving. Try to make this a thirty minute exercise, plus however long it takes to read the tip. If you do this, read and know the Wordplay columns, and then take another thirty minutes or hour each day to write one page on a screenplay you’re drafting, you will be much further ahead next year, than you are this year (I guarantee you.) One page a day for 50 weeks is (7X50) 350 pages of screenplay. You could complete three first drafts in one year, or you could write one and have two revisions done. (Not bad.) You may only want to write five days per week, in which case you’re still looking at 250 pages, which would be two screenplays or one and one revision. All of that for an hour or two per day.
The thing is you have to do it at least five days a week (with two weeks’ vacation). Believe me, I know how tough that is. You can also go with a stopwatch method. I got this one from Kenneth Atchity’s A Writer’s Time (see Amazon link). With the stopwatch method, you commit to seven hours per week, say, and you write down how much time you spend writing. When you’ve done your seven, you’ve met your writing goal.
The Artfulwriter (AKA Craig Maizin).
His blog entries are often more about the legal aspects of working in Hollywood, WGA, industry strikes, etc. Although, he will run a craft column or a “big idea” column every once in a while. Also, there’s a forum on this one that’s pretty active.
Don’t ask me his name, I don’t know. He’s got a series of craft entries on the blog that are worth checking out. One of his big points of emphasis is “know your character” so that you write from inside the character.
Of course all of these guys will tell you that a solid film premise is crucial to having a chance in Hades of selling a story to a studio or big-time producer.
Those are the blogs on screenwriting; you can start branching out from there. Some of the sites have links to other screenwriting blogs and sites, collectively called The Scribosphere.
The great thing about these sites is they’re writers, and when they get onto something good, they’re articulate and funny. However, Bill Martel at scriptsecrets.net doesn’t proof his copy very well, so there’s usually typos that end up spelled as other words. Oh yeah, near the bottom of the script tip you’ll see the link for his blog. (click on it.) Sometimes he has some pretty interesting discussions about his career, etc.
Read more screenplays. That’s actually what I tell myself every week. “Dang it, I’ve got to read more screenplays.”
OK. The best place to find screenplays (but the most tedious and search heavy) is to find writers who have sites or uber-fans with sites that have posted screenplays online. There’s a Charlie Kaufman site (not run by him) with some of his stuff up. Both John August, on his site, and Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio, on Wordplay, have some of their screenplays up.
However, you have to be careful. Sometimes you get into stuff that is a transcript where people wrote what they thought the action lines should be, and it’s usually not very good writing.
Print up a few of these on three-hole punch paper, get yourself some ACCO No. 5 brass brads, and some plain white card stock for covers and start building your library.
So. We read screenplays, we study the experts, who kindly offer their insight online for free, we design practice exercises to help us explore one little piece of the screenwriting puzzle, and we write one page a day of a screenplay.
One last thing before I leave, you might be wondering, “How do I learn the format?” Well you could spend a bunch of money on books, or to get started, you can go here and download their information on proper format.
By the way, that site is for the Nicholl Fellowship in screenwriting. When you’ve written something you know is really, really good, you might want to compete against the other 5,000 or 6,000 people who enter this contest. The winners (sometimes five a year) receive a $30,000 fellowship. Not bad money if your stuck slinging drinks at some crappy bar and dreaming of the day.
I realize we didn’t talk about getting laid.
You can ask my advice on that one when you’ve had your first film in theaters. By then, you won’t need my advice.
Keep on trucking!
Johnathon Taggs is a freelance writer living in Northwest Arkansas. He has one screenplay under contract waiting for funding for production. He worked as a journalist for several years and a long line of crappy jobs before that.
© 2009 Eric Huber and Johnathon Taggs. This article may be linked to or referenced but not copied.