Friday, July 20, 2007

Things to avoid when writing your screenplay

The Sitcomroom seminar is this weekend and we're putting together the final preparations. Making sure the hotel bar is open after sessions, etc. So for today I have a guest blogger, my daughter Annie. She's spending the summer doing coverage and volunteered to write a piece on things spec writers should avoid.

As a development intern, I have spent the past month reading scripts. Some good. Most bad. And now that the man at the Paramount commissary knows my name, I consider myself qualified enough to dispense advice. So this is my sagacious advice based on my first month of script reading. I present these as a public service because I want YOUR spec screenplay to be great.

Format. The format doesn’t need to be perfect, but seriously don’t switch back and forth between stage play and screenplay format.

Concepts. If it has been done before, don’t it again. I have no desire to read My Big Fat Mexican Wedding. What’s been done is done. And if you’re going to steal an idea, for G-d’s sakes don’t use anything that grossed over $360,000,000.

Characters. I don’t care if you’re trying to be cute, do NOT name all of your characters something similar. It is incredibly frustrating to read…and after the first few pages, I wouldn’t even try to differentiate.

Dialog. While characters’ dialog should be distinct, that does not just mean that all teenagers say “like,” all preteens say “shut up,” and all children say “you’re stupid.

Setting/Time. If you’re going to create your own little sci-fi world at least set it up in the wall-to-wall. I am not just going to “guess” that it’s the year 2028 and robots rule the earth. Left to my own devices I’ll think it’s 2029.

Length. You have a much better chance of selling your script if it is 115 pages or less. You're not submitting it to Random House.

Voiceovers. Voiceovers can really make a movie (e.g. The Opposite of Sex). But do not use voiceovers instead of or alongside action. I don’t want to read “And then I walked down the street. It was dark outside and…” I CAN SEE THAT! And if I can’t, then please fix that, because I should.

That’s all I have for now, but if I can think of anything else that will keep you from that million dollar spec script payday I will let you know. Best of luck everybody!!!

20 comments:

Paul said...

Can I draw pictures to show how I want the nudity to look?

Justin said...

With the amount of advice now freely available on the web, I just don't believe the number of spec scripts I see in my (TV) job that don't even have the first idea of how to make the reader's job easier, let alone WHO they should have sent it to in the first place.

shecanfilmit said...

I know that stack of scripts! They're written by David Anaxagoras. Man, I know my fellow bloggers a little too well.

Max Clarke said...

Annie, good post.

The standard statistic is that 30,000 scripts are written each year, based on writers guild registrations. I get the impression from you that the huge majority of those must be pretty bad.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post! Very informative. I have one nuts-n'-bolts question, though. What's a "wall-to-wall"?

The Crutnacker said...

The internet has turned us all into writers, whether we have the ability or not.

Just read my posts for proof.

Seymour said...

Great advice.

A few years back I read a large box stuffed full of comic strip submissions for the Los Angeles Times Comics Syndicate, and while some things I learned reading them would be only for that format (Don't submit strips drawn in pencil on the back of napkins. If you can not draw, don't.), many apply to scripts as well, such as:

Do not write about the voices in your head. (One strip literally had three characters, the artist and his two "thoughts". He was insane, although it was profesionally drawn and inked.)

If you have an elaborate paranoid theory about how a secret, centuries-old cabal of bankers control civilization, don't think raving about it it will make an amusing series.

The time you cashed a check for Stephen King at your day job as a bank teller is not a good premise for your spec pilot.

If it's supposed to be comic, include some laughs.

Don't include blurbs from your mom.

Spelling counts.

Don't use a comic form (Comics, sit-com, funny movie) to work through your personal problems, or to get revenge on all the bastards who told you you have no talent. If you're doing that, they were right.

Recycling successful professional strips or scripts with only the character names changed is not being creative.

David Anaxagoras said...

So *that's* where I left my screenplays...

HouseFrau said...

This is hilarious, as was the Whole Foods rant. Annie, you're probably (hopefully) having too much fun in college to write your own blog. But if you do start one, I'll read it!

RAC said...

Dear Alternate Annie,

How do you feel about brass brads and cardboard covers? What about didactic denouements and epistolary expositions? Fancy flashbacks and gothic ghosts? Hyperbolic heroes and ironic idioms? Jungian jargon and kitschy knights-errant? Loathly ladies and Machiavellian mamas?

I won't even ask about the rest of the alphabet…

Can you get me a job as a reader, too? I'll buy you an OREO® Cookie Ice Cream Shake at Jack in the Box! Sounds like the best summer job ever.

--Richard

Willy B. Good said...

Hey when I wrote 'My Big Fat Mexican Wedding' I had no idea some Greek had already stolen my idea and made a movie out of it.Do you know any good entertainment shysters? Cheers.

Mary Stella said...

The same mistakes are made in novel submissions all of the time.

Someone probably doesn't want to do a spec script based on their life story and begin the first episode in utero. Yes, a writer once shared that she started her autobiography before she was born. The dialogue must have been interesting -- or limited to thu-thump, thu-thump

Wally said...

Great post! Good tips and amusing, too. Now I have to go re-write. I've got an idea for a movie based on the play "Everybody Comes To Rick's." I feel like it'll work. . .

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Paul Duca said...

You're just lucky you are anonymous...otherwise that self-same daddy would kick your butt.

RAC said...

Hello Anonymous,
Hitting the gin pretty hard this weekend, are ya?

Ken Levine said...

A rude comment was deleted not because it was rude but because it was from Anonymous. That's the rule.

dave o'hara said...

No more Anonymous? Who the hell am I going to debate with? Ken, you're killing me.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Gridlock said...

I miss the blog I used to read about scripts, that I can;t even remember the name of now (it's on the tip of my tongue though). The guy who ran it died, unfortunately, but it was a daily-ish showcase of spec scripts he had received at work.

The quality on display was horrific - seriously, I hold no pretensions about my own writing ability but for these people to actually believe they were writing quality material, being a waiter in LA must be more soul-crushing than I thought.