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Writing a screenplay...

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#1 of 18 OFFLINE   Moe Maishlish

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Posted August 27 2003 - 07:52 AM

Has anyone here ever written a screenplay?

I'm interesting in writing a couple... one is an adaptation of an existing work, and the other would be an original idea of my own creation. My plan is not necessarily to produce these and shop them out for sale, I just kind of want to create them to get my thoughts down on paper. The problem is that although I know what I want to write about, I'm not quite sure about how to approach screenplay writing.

I visited a local bookstore last week and found dozens of books about creating a screenplay... with all the information, I was more than a little shell-shocked and started experiencing information overload. I left without having purchased a single book - I wanted to ask around and find out what options might be available to me.

Is there a good online resource for creating a screenplay? Can someone recommend a good book that I could use to learn the process?

Any help would be appreciated. Posted Image

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#2 of 18 OFFLINE   David Ebbert

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Posted August 27 2003 - 09:07 AM

I have written a couple but it's been many years since. I woul recommend the books by Syd Field. They're very good. I would also invest in some good scriptwriting software. Some of the newer software can even help you develop plot lines and fill in gaps. Just an idea.

#3 of 18 OFFLINE   Bob Movies

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Posted August 27 2003 - 12:45 PM

Hi Moe,

Screenwriting and movies are both topics that I’m very interested in. I graduated from Ryerson University's film school in Toronto this year, where I wrote a lot of short-subject screenplays. The last short that I wrote and directed was picked up by the comedy network, and I even got to take it to Hollywood and screen it there, which was pretty awesome! J I've just finished writing my first feature length project, so hopefully I can pass on some of my experience.

The best beginner’s book is Dave Trottier's "The Screenwriter's Bible". This book is full of technical and creative information and is by no means a basic book, but it’s really laid out nicely and it gets you thinking about all the things you need to do before you type FADE IN: - I recommend it highly, and I was just reading it myself last week as I was double checking my script for formatting errors. It’s a great reference book.

As mentioned before, the Syd Field books are OK for beginning, but there are better books out there. Field is very rigid about when things should happen and really pushes the three act structure to death. He's the type of guy who says "on page 19, xxxx should be happening" which turns a lot of people off. His most well known book is "Screenplay" (the first one you should read, if you're going to read his books) and then he's got some others such as "The screenwriter's problem solver" which is built into Final Draft 6.

A great resource in Toronto is Theatrebooks, http://www.theatrebooks.com they're one block west and one block south of Bay&Bloor downtown. They've got a full selection of books. The world's biggest bookstore also has a pretty good screenwriting section.

There are also a few screenwriting magazines, that I have mixed opinions about. They’re expensive (usually $10 per issue) and while they’re fun to read, there really isn’t a ton of good information in them. Creative Screenwriting, Screentalk, and Scr(i)pt are the ones you’re most likely to see. The Writer’s Guild of Canada publishes Canadian Screenwriter, which is their quarterly journal. It’s Canadian focused, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing.

The two best magazines are Written By and Scenario. Written By is the Writer’s Guild of America’s trade publication (but you don’t need to be a WGA member to subscribe) and Scenario is a fantastic magazine that publishes four full screenplays in each issue. Unfortunately, you can’t buy Written By on the newsstand in Canada, and Scenario has gone through a big publishing shake up – it’s been over a year since they printed their last issue. You should try and find back issues of Scenario (I’ve got the full set) because it’s really interesting to read all sorts of different scripts, along with really in-depth interviews with the writers.

You should read screenplays too, as many as you can. At www.screentalk.biz there are about 150 screenplays of famous films that you can download for free. You can also buy scripts at Theatrebooks and Hollywood Renaissance on Yonge St. Don’t buy any scripts that are printed and bound in paperback book form, because 99% of these scripts have been edited and do not represent the actual shooting draft. They’ve been changed to reflect the movie that people love, and in some cases they are direct transcriptions of the edited film. One of the most interesting things about reading a screenplay is seeing what they decided to cut, how things changed from the script draft to the film itself, and you lose all that when you go for the pre-made ones. Newmarket press has a series of published screenplays called “The Shooting Script” series, and the scripts are transcriptions, not shooting scripts. It really bugs me, so avoid them!

Two books that I recommend, though they aren’t “how-to” books are Zen and The Art of Screenwriting, Vol. I and Vol. 2. – these books are collections of interviews with famous and professional screenwriters, and they’ve all got very interesting things to say.

There are a few good online resources for screenwriters, the best being Done Deal – www.scriptsales.com - There’s a message board on that site, covers everything from writing to the business side of things. Check it out, I think you’ll enjoy it.

As far as your own personal projects go, my only advice would be that you should write the original idea. Unless you own the rights to a book or story that you’re adapting, it’s extremely difficult to get anyone to even look at it due to the legal situation. The rule is don’t adapt it unless you own the rights. Also, your spec screenplays are an example of your writing skill and your creativity, so go for 100% original. If you write a good script, hopefully you can convince someone to buy the rights and pay you to write it – now that would certainly be a trick!

Software - The best (in my opinion) is Final Draft. www.finaldraft.com - it does some of the formatting for you, and it's a pretty good program (though it's got a 1986 style copy-protection system that I won't start complaining about now). I've never used any of those other programs that help you with the story, and I'd actually be interested to hear about anyone who had used them. THey kind of sound like a scam to me!

As you can tell, I’m avoiding writing of my own that I should be doing, so I’ll end this message here. Let me know if there’s anything that you have specific questions about, because I’d be happy to help you in any way that I can.


#4 of 18 OFFLINE   Moe Maishlish

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Posted August 27 2003 - 04:01 PM

Bob, Wow!!! Thanks for that amazing reply! You've certainly provided me with a wealth of different resources for my interests. I'd like to take a stab at writing the adapted screenplay, if not to sell or produce but just to get a little bit of practice & experience under my belt. If anything, it'll be something that I can use as practice before writing my own story. I'm going to hit a couple of bookstores in the Toronto Area (most probably the ones that you've recommended) and see if I can find a copy of The Screenwriters Bible. I don't necessarily need help with my writing as much as I need instruction on how to form and assemble a functional and feasible screenplay. Having said that, I'll probably download and read a few of the screenplays from the website you recommended, just so I can see how others have done it! Can one create a screenplay easily without the software? How exactly does the software aid in the process of creating a screenplay? Your advice has been great! Thanks a lot!!! Moe.
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#5 of 18 OFFLINE   Scott D S

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Posted August 28 2003 - 01:08 AM

[quote] The best beginner’s book is Dave Trottier's "The Screenwriter's Bible". [quote]

I own this book and we used it my screenwriting class at PBCC. It is great, especially with the details (writing phone conversations, song lyrics, etc.)

As for your adapted screenplay, you should try to inquire about the rights to the original story, but that's just my opinion. Agents and producers would probably prefer it if, on your query letter, you were able to specify "All rights have been obtained."

I'm writing a screenplay right now (and outlining two others with other ideas in the old noggin) and I use Final Draft. It is great. You can use Word if you set up a template otherwise things can get very tedious when it comes to margins, spacing, etc. Final Draft and similar programs do this automatically. You can find the measurements online or in the aforementioned Screenwriter's Bible.

I'm not a Final Draft spokesman but I can do the following:
-margins and spacing are set automatically
-I can look up any character and find out how many scenes (both speaking and non-speaking) he/she is in, and how many lines of dialogue he/she has
-I can look up every scene heading with a list of every location and whether the scene is interior or exterior or takes place at day or night
-There is a profanity counter (I'm writing a teen comedy and I like this feature) Posted Image
-You can assign voices to the roles and have the entire screenplay read out loud (but it sounds like H.A.L. from 2001)
-Notations like MORE and CONT'D are added automatically

Good luck on your screenplay. The key is just to write, write, write, and edit later. I'm having some trouble with this. I'm only on my first draft but Act 1 is 400 pages long!

#6 of 18 OFFLINE   Randy Tennison

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Posted August 28 2003 - 08:03 AM

You might start reading the Project Greenlight messageboard http://projectgreenl....liveplanet.com

It is full of budding screenwriters, and it's pretty informative. It's is not moderated, so there are some pretty nasty things said (thus my love for the HTF), but they have some good people who are in the same position.
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#7 of 18 OFFLINE   Lew Crippen

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Posted August 28 2003 - 08:13 AM

Since you are writing for yourself, FinalDraft will help you with industry standard formatting and especially since you are unfamiliar with these standards, will enable you to write more quickly (several people I know say that they really can write more quickly with this software). If you were writing for others (agents, etc.), FinalDraft is almost a requirement, as everyone expects that you will use this software—which means that they expect to have soft copies compatible with FinalDraft.
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#8 of 18 OFFLINE   Sam Posten

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Posted August 29 2003 - 01:55 AM

Bob, thats one of the best replies I've seen in the 6+ years I've been on this forum and its predecessors. Kudos Sam

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#9 of 18 OFFLINE   Ross Williams

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Posted August 29 2003 - 03:33 AM

I recently finished the first draft of my first feature script. I used the site: http://scriptbuddy.com/ - It does all the formatting for you, and the best part is that it's free. So if you don't want to shell out the big bucks for a screenwriting program, try the site.
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#10 of 18 OFFLINE   David*RT


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Posted September 03 2003 - 05:36 PM

Robert McKee Course

Movie Magic Screenwriter Software

These are the only two things you need.

Robert McKee is the Godfather of screenwriting. Take his intensive 3 day weekend seminar ($500). All writing pros have taken it. Many aspiring writers have sold screenplays and novels through his course and won all the BIG awards to boot. Rent [i]"Adaptation"[/u] with Nick Cage. They pay homage to McKee.

Regarding software, the Movie Magic program is the easiest and one of the most widely used among the pros nowadays.

My suggestion is to DEFINITELY take the McKee course. It will give you a FULL flavor of whether your ambitions are high enough to follow "the lonely, poor path." His class is the NO BS practical class. He's the best professor I've ever had (and I've had plenty good profs. at the IVY schools I attended).

If you're doing this profession for money, look elsewhere. If you ALWAYS had writing in your blood and have talent for story telling and structure, then it may be well worth pursuing.

You have to be HARD CORE to make this work for you. Holding a job while writing is tough. You will have to give up hobbies, free time, and family interaction to succeed.

The only people I've seen succeed are HARD CORE. They are the marathoners. They never give up after years of failure--until they hit. The first-timer super success stories (like the American Pie writer) are few and far between. The ones that ultimately succeed in this industrynever give up until they get it right.


#11 of 18 OFFLINE   JonZ


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Posted September 04 2003 - 12:35 AM

Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio have a website for those who want to write screenplays


Check out the archives section.

#12 of 18 OFFLINE   Jordan_E



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Posted September 04 2003 - 01:23 AM

I've been writing screenplays for years now and never intend to give up, even if that first sale never comes, because it's fun to create a unique character that comes to "life." I've never read the books, never took a class, I simply continued to write, write, and then write some more. I cringe at some of my earlier attempts, but there are nuggets there within the mess. Do it if it's fun, but don't go in expecting to make a million right off the bat, but if you I tip my hat to you right now. Good luck! Posted Image
And you believe, at heart, everyone's a killer...

#13 of 18 OFFLINE   Chad R

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Posted September 04 2003 - 03:53 AM

Quick word on selling your screenplay. Steven Spielberg's e-mail address is not:


Nor is it:


Hee hee.

But, when you do want to sell it the Writer's Guild Website has a good list of addresses and phone numbers for query letters.


#14 of 18 OFFLINE   Garrett Lundy

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Posted September 04 2003 - 04:13 AM

Hmm, intresting thread since I'm writing a screenplay for an independant film right now.... Question for the Forum: Despite being culturally and historically incorrect, would it be racist to have an african-american actor portray an evil evil chinese kung-fu master that commands an army of ninjas?
"Did you know that more people are murdered at 92 degrees Fahrenheit than any other temperature? I read an article once. Lower temperatures, people are easy-going, over 92 and it's too hot to move, but just 92, people get irritable."

#15 of 18 OFFLINE   Paul McElligott

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Posted September 04 2003 - 04:36 AM

[quote] Despite being culturally and historically incorrect, would it be racist to have an african-american actor portray an evil evil chinese kung-fu master that commands an army of ninjas? [quote]No...just very confusing.
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#16 of 18 OFFLINE   Garrett Lundy

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Posted September 05 2003 - 03:57 AM

Thats what will make it funny. All the more so when you consider the obese, chain-smoking caucasian good Kung Fu master, the cowboy, and the pair of French corporate assassins that also have major screen time Posted Image

This is going to be the best stoner movie since Spaceballs

PS: Curses! I've said too much. Now Miramax will steal my Idea. Posted Image
"Did you know that more people are murdered at 92 degrees Fahrenheit than any other temperature? I read an article once. Lower temperatures, people are easy-going, over 92 and it's too hot to move, but just 92, people get irritable."

#17 of 18 OFFLINE   NicholasL


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Posted September 05 2003 - 07:29 AM

Spaceballs was great. But I don't think anything beats half baked for the best stoner movie of all time. Then again, "dude where's my car" was pretty darn good when I was stoned. But seriously, I too am a screenwriter that just graduated from USC film school. If there's anything that matters from what I learned there and from the studios I interned at, it's that you must have representation. Whether that be a talent agent, manager, or WGA registered attorney, all your work will be sent back unread, because it is unsolicited - which is a strict policy of all studios, networks, and agencies (CAA, ICM, WMA, Gersh, Endeavor, UTA etc). Write write write, which is what I'm doing and half way there...but you need representation.

#18 of 18 OFFLINE   Scott D S

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Posted September 05 2003 - 08:11 AM

A kung-fu movie, eh? I'm writing an R-rated teen comedy wherein the hero doesn't get laid at the end, the love interest is a cute anime fan who uses her brains and our hero loves her for it, the high school is a combination of Orwellian nightmare and Gilliam's Brazil, and it's all set to classical music. Try selling that to a studio in the wake of the American Pie flicks. Posted Image

The characters range the gamut from the hero's friends in DECA (a real marketing club), his leather-wearing goth confidant, urine fetishists, a stripper who specializes in lap dances and Fellini films, a liquor store clerk who's reminiscent of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's Garak, porn stars, sci-fi fans at the MegaCon convention dressed up like stormtroopers and Klingons, the hero's Scarface-quoting ne'er-do-well brother, an English teacher with a hook for a hand (think von Stroheim in Grand Illusion), and two competing marketing teachers with an Obi-wan/Vader relationship.

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