Screenwriting Sanctuary

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Think of my place as a Screenwriting Sanctuary, a library where you can find resources on everything from getting a winning idea to taking your bow on Oscar night. Sound like fantasy-indulging? Not hard-headed enough? Other people have taken that route, so why not you or me? Our fantasies are real -- they just live at the top of some very big mountains.

Before we go running for our climbing gear, though, letís see how fit we are for the challenge. Iíve found no better test than this article by Terry Rossio, a working screenwriter/producer. Take a deep breath, click here, read and come back.

Doesnít pull any punches, does he? Letís get to work.

Your success depends on your ideas

"The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a 'C', the idea must be feasible. "
- A Yale University management professor in response to student Fred Smith's paper proposing reliable overnight delivery service (Smith went on to found Federal Express Corp.)

In Hollywood, as at Yale, the idea is king. "When a script comes in, it is the concept that gets it purchased." - Leonard Kornberg

High concept films have these features (from Dave Trottier's The Screenwriter's Bible):

bulletEasily understood by an eighth grader
bulletCan be encapsulated in a sentence or two
bulletProvocative and big -- you know immediately it's a hit
bulletCharacter plus conflict plus a hook
bulletIt has legs -- it can stand on its own without stars
bulletA fresh and highly marketable idea
bulletUnique with familiar elements

Develop an idea you'd die for, then write the script for it.

Done Deal lists the loglines of scripts that have recently sold.


Screenwriting from your Soul

"Do, or do not. There is no 'try'. " - Yoda (The Empire Strikes Back)

Remember Convertible Man from the Richard Krevolin book, Screenwriting from the Soul? A naive newbie's first screenplay, it got tossed in the Pacific without being read. When we're done writing our Convertible Man scripts, we've taken a big step in becoming a screenwriter.

"Your work is a chance for people to connect to you. Is the art you have created a true reflection of who you are, the experiences and beliefs you have?

"Your audience would like it to be."

 Terry Rossio, WordPlay



Good writing for a screenwriter is lean - telling an engaging story with the fewest possible words. There are at least two reasons for this.

One, making a movie requires the collaborative effort of many professionals. The screenwriter's job is to tell the story only, not elaborate on costumes, settings, character descriptions, or how actors should say their lines. Instead, the screenwriter suggests the full presentation through deft word selection.

Two, producers and their readers are up to their necks in scripts - they want fast-reading material that sweeps them away. Screenplays should read "down," not "across," to paraphrase Shane Black. Think lean, get them reading faster because they're caught up in your tale. Help them along by infusing your scripts with plenty of white space.

One of my favorite examples of parsimonious writing occurs in an early scene in "Terminator," in which the Cyborg walks buck-naked up to three heckling punks. One of them says, "Nice night for a walk, eh?" Writer/director James Cameron then writes:

They surround him, all swagger and malign good humor.

". . . all swagger and malign good humor." Lean, descriptive - poetic.