Sunday, November 15, 2009
Below, I've listed a sampling of my favorite sites. But the list is not comprehensive - not even close. So I encourage my readers to e-mail me other sites that they find worthwhile, and I'll add them to the list.
As a word of warning, some of the forums can contain some mean-spirited posts. However, I know a lot of wonderful, helpful writers who also visit these sites, so try to wade through the bad to find the good. I've made great friends on these forums, and I've received some really insightful advice into my own scripts along the way.
FORUMS (AND, IN SOME CASES, REVIEW SWAPS)
Theartfulwriter.com (click the link to The Artful Forum)
Onthepage.tv - My favorite analyst, Pilar Alessandra, does a weekly podcast that I highly recommend
RESEARCH- There are fees involved to use these resources.
ONLINE ACCESS TO PRODUCERS/MANAGERS/AGENTS - Please realize there are no guarantees with these services, but these are two that have been helpful to me. You do have to pay for these services.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
I have wonderful excuses - Reader Ready scripts that needed to be proofed, PTO obligations that needed to be met, children that needed all sorts of attention (chauffeuring and homework help and breakfast and dinner and game-playing and, of course, love and my undivided attention). I'm sure you have a long list of wonderful excuses too.
And yet, I shouldn't let these everyday activities keep me from writing at least a few pages a day. It's very simple: Writers write. I love sitting down to a blank screen and creating a new scene - a new world - new characters. Finishing a scene gives me a sense of satisfaction that few other activities can provide. But, somehow, I've written only 10 pages in the last five weeks. And I'll bet some of you can say the same.
I'll cut myself some slack - I've read scripts, and I've queried. I've discussed screenwriting on related web sites. I think I even wrote a blog or two in there somewhere. So I haven't forgotten my passion for writing. But I have forgotten to write, and I can't forgive myself for that.
So, here's my challenge to all of us: After you spend the day fulfilling your obligations for others, end it by writing at least one scene in a screenplay for yourself. It may not be your best, but that's why rewrites and edits exist. The first step is to get it down on paper - well, more likely, to get it up on the computer monitor.
At some point today, before we put the puppy in his crate for bed (how could I forget about him - and my husband - in my opening list of excuses?), I will take a few "me" minutes and knock out the next scene in my script. I hope you will too. If you take the time to read this blog, then you're a writer, and - writers write. At the end of the day, it's just that simple. So write something. And, as always, have fun while you're writing!
Saturday, September 19, 2009
THEY'RE, THERE, THEIR
It's so easy to use the wrong form of this word. And while I don't want to list all the dictionary definitions for their usage, here are a few tips to avoid some of the more common errors:
They're is used when you are shortening "they are." If you use "they're," read the sentence back to yourself and substitute "they are." If it doesn't make sense, you've used the wrong spelling.
There is generally used when you are referring to a place - a geographic location. For instance, if "Jeff and Bob went there," this is the spelling. The easiest way to remember this - it has the word "here" in it. So think locations and geography (although there are some other usages for this word).
Their means that the item belongs to or pertains to people (or aliens or dogs or other characters you've created). It's "their house," "their party," "their car." Their is generally used when referring to "they" or "them" in some way.
TO OR TOO
A lot of writers seem to forget about "too." They use "to" for everything.
But "too" does have its place. I could copy the dictionary meaning, but I think the easiest thing to do is to show you examples where "too" applies:
It's too much.
It's too easy.
He eats too often.
I wanna go too.
I'm clever too.
So, basically, "too" means in addition or to an excess. It can also take the place of "also" sometimes, as in "I wanna go too."
USE OF QUOTATION MARKS
I get it. I know a lot of you want to close your quotation marks around the specific word or sentence while ignoring the following punctuation. This is one of those grammar rules that I just don't understand. And yet, when you're using a period or comma in conjunction with a closing quotation mark, you need to put the punctuation first.
She said I was too "wordy."
She said I was too "wordy," and then she edited my entire page.
When you review your scripts, watch out for those passive verbs. Whenever possible, change your sentence structure so you can make the verb active. It really does make for a better read.
"Sally is walking toward Bob" becomes "Sally walks toward Bob." Or better yet, "Sally skips toward Bob."
"Joe is caught off guard by Tom's comments" becomes "Joe whirls around, surprised at Tom's comments."
CATCHING YOUR OWN MISTAKES
It's so easy to miss mistakes when we proofread our own writing. As writers, we get so close to the material, our eyes sometimes see what we meant to write instead of what we actually did type.
When you review your work for errors, try to shake up the way you read. You can read your scenes in reverse order, from the end of the script to the beginning. Since you won't be able to hone in on plot this way, you'll see the words differently. You can also catch on-the-nose dialogue and flat scenes by reading in reverse.
Another way to catch mistakes is to read your script word-by-word instead of sentence-by-sentence. Or, you can slowly read the script aloud. Try to find a method that works for you and lets you see the words as you really did type them.
That's it for this week. I hope these small reminders and tips were helpful. Have fun writing!
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Reader = Viewer
Yes, the first person we have to impress is a professional reader – a manager, an agent, a producer, etc. But a script is a written template where the ultimate “end user” is a viewer. When you write your scripts, try to remember that you really need to be writing for both.
Too often, I read scripts where the professional reader and the viewing audience don’t know the same information. While there are definitely instances where this is unavoidable, generally speaking, you should think of a reader as a viewer and make sure they know the same facts.
There are a few specific instances where I see this problem develop. In the first example, the viewing audience actually knows more than the professional reader. In the other examples, it’s the reader who gets to know more than the viewer.
Think about the experience of sitting through a movie. Generally, before a word is spoken, you see an image. You see characters in a room, and you get a feel for that room. Oftentimes, as I read a script, the writer hasn’t created an accurate visual for me right after a header. So I start reading a scene unaware of what I should be picturing as the events unfold.
Here’s an example:
INT. JOHN’S BASEMENT – DAY
John deals two cards face-up to Mark and then two face-down to himself. Mark’s cards are a 10 and a five.
OK. Winner gets to take Megan to prom, right?
John peeks at his cards without showing Mark. John shakes his head.
Mark takes a deep breath – looks down at his cards.
John tosses him a card. It’s a six.
Oh, yeah - 21. Megan’s going to prom with me. Me. Not you!
John turns over his cards - a four and a three.
He takes another card. A nine.
Come on – gimme a five.
He turns the next card. A 10. He grimaces.
Oh, yeah. You busted. Megan is all mine.
Megan punches Mark in the arm.
I didn’t agree to any of this.
Whoa! Where’d Megan come from? The entire tone of the scene changes with Megan in the room as the boys gamble for a date with her.
I’ve read a lot of scenes where events unfold like this. Megan was in the room the whole time – I just “forgot” to mention her presence before I needed her to do something. And the scene lost some of its bite and became confusing because of that omission.
A lot of writers only mention characters if they’re about to speak or physically do something. But it’s the writer’s job to make sure that what a viewer would see on screen is always on the page. The first line after the header should have been:
Megan watches as John and Mark play cards.
It’s vital to know that Megan is in the room. When I review a three-page scene and suddenly realize halfway through that a character has been in the room all along, I often have to go back and read the scene again.
Well, that’s OK if you make me read a scene twice. But if you lose a professional reader – one who’s reading your script and considering gambling money on it – you may not get that second chance. So be sure that what you write on the page is really everything you picture on the screen.
The next example is the exact opposite – writers often tell a reader something that they’ve forgotten to tell a viewer. Sometimes, it’s as simple as writing this character introduction:
SALLY, 28 and Mary’s sister, enters the room.
The reader now knows that Mary and Sally are sisters. But the writer still hasn’t told the viewer.
I’ve read scripts where, after an introduction like this, no one mentions that these two women are siblings for half the script. Then, suddenly, on page 50, Mary is yelling at Sally for stealing Dad’s money. A viewer would be caught completely off-guard by the sudden revelation that these two women are related. And, all along, the writer really thought the viewer knew because it was right there in the description back on page one. But it never made it onto the screen, so the viewer is now totally lost.
When I write a character description, I try to only write physical attributes that would be on the screen once the role was cast or character traits that would be helpful to the actor or actress playing the part. I try not to write other details in the character introduction – such as what someone does for a living or if they’re someone’s child or spouse or sibling. By skipping this information in the description, I’m forced to tell it in some expository manner that a reader and a viewer would understand.
I don’t just see these omissions with character introductions. I also see them with headers. Sometimes, a writer overwrites a header and gives us too many details. But that vital information fails to make it on the screen. That’s a part of the reason why you should keep your headers nice and simple. (For more information on writing headers, take a look at the previous blogs.)
That’s it for this week. As always, if you have any questions, you can post comments here, e-mail me at email@example.com or join my Reader Ready page on facebook.
Have fun writing!
Sunday, August 30, 2009
So - LATER. I'm going to make this very simple. Only use LATER if you are staying in the exact location where your previous scene took place, and you need to indicate a passage of time.
So, let's say we were in:
INT. LISA'S KITCHEN - DAY
Lisa takes a dozen eggs out of the refrigerator.
Now, we don't want to watch Lisa make scrambled eggs. And we don't want to show her saying boring "good mornings" to her children. So we just need to jump time ahead to what we do want to show. The next thing you type is:
INT. LISA'S KITCHEN - LATER
Lisa and her two children shove scrambled eggs into their mouths.
That's it. This is the basic reason LATER exists - to indicate the passage of time within the same location/header.
If you wanted to go from this scene to Lisa getting into her car an hour later and heading to work, you could write:
INT. LISA'S GARAGE - DAY
Lisa tosses her briefcase into her car.
A lot of writers try to use LATER or LATER THAT MORNING in situations like this one. But as we discussed last week, your header does not exist for you to explain story details. When you move a location, you almost always just use DAY or NIGHT in the new header.
Of course, sometimes you can use CONTINUOUS. However, I think CONTINUOUS gets overused in a lot of the scripts I read. Again, the writer is trying to make sure that I realize that things are happening one after the other or at almost-simultaneous times. But by relying on CONTINUOUS, writers sometimes forget to make sure that what they’ve written will be clear on screen and not just on paper.
CONTINUOUS, in my opinion, just doesn't need to be used all that often. If you have:
INT. MIKE'S KITCHEN - DAY
Mike picks up the mail and walks into -
INT. MIKE'S LIVING ROOM - CONTINUOUS
Mike carries the mail to the couch and sits down.
I think this works. CONTINUOUS indicates that there hasn't been a passage of time, just an immediate change in location. You can think of CONTINUOUS as being dependent on a clock. If a clock has jumped ahead in time, CONTINUOUS won’t work.
However, if you are jumping between locations and want to make it clear that the action is simultaneous, don't rely on CONTINUOUS. In general, I would say to just use DAY or NIGHT in the new headers, and then make it clear to the viewer that things are happening at the same time. You can show a clock in both locations or use some other device, such as the same TV show playing in the different rooms.
The final topic for today is INTERCUT. I love using INTERCUT. It allows the writer the most freedom with the fewest headers, and I recommend that you try to use it where appropriate.
In several scripts that I’ve read recently, the writers kept going back and forth between two people on a phone call. During one phone call, they may have changed the header six or seven times.
This just takes longer to read, plus the writer has to remember which character is V.O. under which header. It's much easier to just call for an INTERCUT and write the scene as if you were under both headers. You can also use an INTERCUT for more than two locations.
First, introduce each character and his/her location. Something like:
INT. A STORE - DAY
A miserable Joan looks at candy on a shelf. Frustrated, she dials her cell phone.
INT. A BAR - DAY
John drowns his sorrows in a beer.
His phone RINGS. He answers.
We have to solve this. I'm conferencing in Mike.
INT. A BOWLING ALLEY - DAY
Mike bowls out his anger. His phone rings. He answers.
INTERCUT THE THREE ON THE PHONE
Once you've called for the INTERCUT, you just tell us what's happening in all three locations without any regard for changing headers or using V.O. You write the action for all of them as if you were in their location with a proper header. So you can tell us what they say and do without worrying about camera placement. Basically, you just stay here under the INTERCUT until someone hangs up or you want to change scenes. It's really very easy to write and to read.
OK, that’s it. Next week’s blog will cover something other than headers. I think we’ve said all we can say about them. As always, if you have any questions, post them in the comments section or write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have fun writing!
Saturday, August 15, 2009
When you write a spec script, you constantly hear - keep the camera out of it. Don't give camera angles. Don't write camera movement directions. Leave all of that to the director. Just tell us the story.
OK, so when you sit down to write a scene header/slug, your natural instinct tells you to use it to advance the story. You want to describe the color of the sky, the weather, the exact moment of the day and tell us if it's tomorrow or next week.
Only you can't in a properly-formatted header. A header is the one item on the page in a spec that really is more about camera direction than story.
Let's start with why a header isn't about story: An audience never sees or hears your header. Every time you write something in a spec screenplay, ask yourself if it translates to the screen. If you use your header to tell your reader that it's now tomorrow - and that information is vital to someone's understanding of your scene - ask yourself how the movie-theater audience knows that information. The answer is - they don't. A header is just information that a reader gets - not an audience.
A header, even though we use them in spec screenplays, is really important to the shoot. The INT./EXT. tells the director and cinematographer something about the location of the camera (indoors or outdoors) and whether the lighting should appear natural or artificial. The location that you type after INT. or EXT. tells the exact camera location. And the DAY or NIGHT (and those are the only two designations you generally will ever need) just tells the producer/director/cinematographer more about the lighting.
With that said, always remember that INT. means interior. Don't complicate this. Is your location inside? If not, use EXT. for exterior. That's all. Make sure you are describing the room you are in and not an item that you want to use in a close up. For example, if you write:
INT. SHIRT - DAY
You have just asked the director to set up the camera inside a shirt. I would bet there are very few scripts in which that header would really be what the writer meant to say. Here's another one that's physically impossible:
INT. JOHN RUNNING - DAY
You can't put a camera inside John running. Remember that the words you type after INT. or EXT. have to be a physical location where a camera could be placed.
Now, let's discuss location and why consistency is so important to a producer. If SAM'S ROOM is a location, you should always type it that exact same way. When someone goes to shoot your movie and they pull up all your scene headers to try to arrange a shooting schedule, they should not see:
INT. SAM'S ROOM
INT. SAM'S HOUSE - SAM'S ROOM
INT. SAM'S ROOM IN SAM'S HOUSE
These are all the same location. Don't confuse a potential producer by changing the way you write your headers. Every new location means more money, so make sure you don't make one location look like three simply by being inconsistent in your headers.
By the same token, don't say INT. CAR to describe three different people's cars. Again, that will look like one location and one car that needs to be on set instead of three. So be sure to say:
INT. MARK'S CAR
INT. DAVE'S CAR
INT. BETTY'S CAR
After your location, you should generally just describe the way the lighting looks with either DAY or NIGHT. If your scene is inside a room with no windows, don't write anything in this space. So, if your characters are locked inside a bank vault, you could just say:
INT. BANK VAULT
I'm trying to keep these blogs short and readable, so I'm going to save the dreaded LATER and CONTINUOUS for the next blog. If you have any specific scene header questions in the meantime, you can use the comments section or e-mail me at email@example.com.
Have fun writing!
Monday, August 10, 2009
This week, query letters seem to be on people's minds. If you've been to http://www.readerready.com lately, you know I've added a query letter service for $25 each letter. At first, I was resistant to reviewing query letters, but then I realized it's silly to proof and edit scripts without offering to look at the query letters. Why? Because even if you've written the best script around, no one's going to read it if your query letter doesn't sell. After all the time you've put into your script, don't shortchange the amount of effort your query letter requires.
So, what should you put in your query letter? Well, I can't really think of an instance that wouldn't call for at least one rock-solid logline. But beyond that, how you draft your query depends on two basic issues:
1. Who are you targeting - a production company, manager or agent?
2. Do you have writing accomplishment that can help you sell yourself, or are your logline and synopsis your best selling points?
A production company generally wants to know about a project that you want them to fall in love with and buy. A manager generally wants to know about your scope of work so they can help you build a career. And an agent - well, that sort of depends. They can represent one project or they can represent you as a writer. Of course, these are generalities. Sometimes, a manager may choose to represent just one script instead of the actual writer.
When I query a prodco, I include one logline, a short (and oh-so-compelling) synopsis and my writing history. When I query an agent or manager, I list multiple loglines and my writing history. I don't include a synopsis for any of the scripts.
Depending on who I am querying, I may also change my tone. For example, if I'm sending a query about one comedy script to a prodco, I may get a little tongue-in-cheek in my letter to match the script's tone.
Of course, if you can make some personal reference as to why you are querying this specific person or company, so much the better. Don't go into too much detail - just let them know that you know who they are and that you chose them for a reason other than that they happened to be included in your copy of the HCD.
One final note - here's why I always include a writing history: If you can show that someone else out there thinks that you can write - either by mentioning a contest placement, prior representation or an option or sale - you seem like less of a gamble. This doesn't mean you can't query if you don't have any of these things to include yet. Everyone has to start somewhere. But if you have something to support your claim that you can write, get it in there. A query letter is a sales pitch, so be sure you've sold yourself to the best of your ability.