Screenwriting 102

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Disclaimer  – Blog post contains adult language that may be offensive to some readers.  Reader discretion is advised.

I wrote some astonishing crazy pages this weekend. Apparently, one way to change the writing game is to not write, for a year – shoot and edit a movie instead.Truth be told, I don’t know if what came out of my computer this weekend are technically good or horrific pages, but writing is a different process now, entirely.

Saturday was the first day of Screenwriting 102.

Screenwriting 101 … that is where you dive into class or books, learn all about sequences, plot points, protagonists, antagonists, character arcs, conflict and all the rest. It’s a lot of theory, a lot of great fundamental rules, and a lot of stupid shit you’re supposed to do. Attention group – if you grab a book off the shelf and follow each and every screenwriting rule perfectly, you’ve written a crappy recipe, not a story. Write, don’t look for the magic formula just to get through a script – there is none.

Back to Saturday, Screenwriting 102.  Voila – what seemed like great and witty dialogue a year ago, suddenly was horribly over-written nonsense.

I am sure Scott told us this every class at UCLA, but for me, I think I had to spend months editing a movie to truly understand what he was talking about … what a scene, and what dialogue, is all about in the context of a film. And what dialogue is not about. I intuitively know now that every scene has one great line or concluding moment, then get the fuck out of the scene. Sorry to state that so crudely, but if I ever teach or write a book on screenwriting, that’s how I’m going to say it. Because that’s exactly how you have to think in terms of screenwriting.

The other thing that changed in writing world after shooting a movie is my perception of character and setting. It’s easier for me to “see” a character on the page after I shot a movie – until then, for me at least, certain scenes existed on paper, I knew why they were there … but I never “saw” the scene, it was just filling a technical writing function.  Screenwriting 101.

Now, I am “seeing” scenes I’ve written and my reaction is themes and variations of — (A) that is fucking genius;  and (B) that is fucking awful. The good news is that it’s easier and faster to spot the awful now, and I am writing faster. A lot faster.

So, cats, I think the life epiphany, the lesson to share with you is this.

You can learn all you want about screenwriting, take classes, read every screenwriting book on the market – I owned about twenty, then threw most of them in the garbage after I wrote Red Skies at Night (true story). You can also go to expensive screenwriting seminars and talk about writing until you’re blue in the face (been there, done that).

But in my experience –

To become a screenwriter, you must (i) learn the rules from someone who knows what they are doing (book, class, seminar etc); (ii) buy screenwriting software; and (iii)  and sit down and write and write and write.

But to get into screenwriting 102, I believe a writer must shoot something.

It can be anything – a short film, a feature, a web series on an iPhone, whatever. Unless and until a writer has have personally participated in the production experience of a movie, in some way, they are probably going to stay in screenwriting 101.

I could be wrong, there may be a million genius exceptions to this so-called rule. But this is my experience, and my advice – shooting a film changes the game, and the perspective, of a screenwriter.







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