Posts tagged ‘rules of screenwriting’

November 11, 2013

The Un-Rules of Screenwriting: Billy Mernit’s List

E.B. White wrote that there are “no inflexible rules by which the young writer may steer his course. He will often find himself steering by stars that are disturbingly in motion.” With this in mind, we’ve asked working screenwriters to share a list of the “un-rules” that they find most helpful in their writing careers.

Our latest list of “un-rules” comes from the always insightful Billy Mernit. Billy writes Living the Romantic Comedy, a great site that anyone writing romantic comedies or comedies in general should treat like gospel. Known as “the guru of rom-com” for his best-selling screenwriting textbook, Writing the Romantic Comedy, Billy teaches at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and contributed two chapters to the recently published Cut to the Chase: Writing Feature Films with the Pros at UCLA Extension Writers’ Program.

Billy published his first novel Imagine Me and You in 2008. During his many years in the entertainment industry, he has written for television and worked as both a screenwriter and private script consultant. After being a story analyst for Sony and Paramount, he has held that job at Universal Pictures for the past fifteen years. At Universal, he’s had a hand in the development of such recent successes as Bridesmaids and Pitch Perfect.

Billy chose to approach his rules from the perspective of a story analyst. Here are his top three truisms:

  1. A primary goal of any spec script that’s going to market is to get the reader to identify with its protagonist. Your story requires a compelling, relatable lead character – meaning, we know what she wants and we believe she may be capable of getting it, the ways in which she overcomes her obstacles make her empathetic, and she’s complex enough to keep us interested. Your job is to get us to be her, even if this means putting what she thinks and how she feels into the narrative on the screenplay page. If we’re not totally emotionally invested in her story and seeing it though her eyes by the end of the first act, your script is dead in the water.

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October 9, 2013

The Un-Rules of Screenwriting: Deborah Moggach’s List

E.B. White wrote that there are “no inflexible rules by which the young writer may steer his course. He will often find himself steering by stars that are disturbingly in motion.” With this in mind, we’ve asked working screenwriters to share a list of the “un-rules” that they find most helpful in their writing careers.

Our latest list of un-rules comes from the talented Deborah Moggach. Deborah is an English writer whose career has spanned television, film, and novels. She wrote the screenplay for the exceptional adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and wrote the novel, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

With her rules, Deborah noted, “Rules, of course, are there to be broken. Screenwriting in particular seems enslaved by ‘three-act-structure’ rules and so on, which I think can put a straight jacket on a writer. Another trope is ‘whose story is this?’ When Billy Wilder wrote Some Like it Hot, nobody asked him if this was the Tony Curtis character’s story or the Jack Lemmon character’s story – and THAT film did ok.”

“However,” she added, “here are some tips:”

  1. Be adaptable. A good screenwriter is not precious – listen to criticism and take it on board. After all, it’s a communal activity and, besides, it’s somebody else’s money at stake. Be adaptable, but fight for your corner if you believe in it.

  2. Screenwriting is re-writing. Again and again and again. If you haven’t the fortitude and resilience for this, don’t get into it. With each draft, however, you’ll learn something. I’m learning all the time.

  3. If you’re adapting a book – and many films originate as books, of course – first read the book a couple of times with your screenwriter’s hat on – noticing the dramatic, filmic moments; the great speeches; the narrative thrust. Then write your first draft. This will closely resemble the book.

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July 31, 2013

The Un-Rules of Screenwriting: Joe Gazzam’s List

E.B. White wrote that there are “no inflexible rules by which the young writer may steer his course. He will often find himself steering by stars that are disturbingly in motion.” With this in mind, we’ve asked working screenwriters to share a list of the “un-rules” that they find most helpful in their writing careers.

Our list of un-rules this week comes from Joe Gazzam (@JOE_GAZZAM), the talented screenwriter/novelist who graced our pages with an interview about what it’s really like to be a screenwriter.

Joe gave us a list of five random rules (more like soft guidelines, he said.) “Let me preface this,” he told us, “by saying that I’m a working writer pounding out mainstream studio films.  If you’re an indie type, if your dream is to write “My Left Foot,” you should probably ignore everything I’m about to say.”

With that in mind, here are Joe’s thoughts:

  1. If you can’t pitch your idea in a sentence, toss it in the garbage. There’s a very good chance the person who has the power to buy your script will never read it.  They will simply ask the exec underneath them (that did read it), “What’s it about?”

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July 24, 2013

The Un-Rules of Screenwriting: Rick Suvalle’s List

E.B. White wrote that there are “no inflexible rules by which the young writer may steer his course. He will often find himself steering by stars that are disturbingly in motion.” With this in mind, we’ve asked working screenwriters to share a list of the “un-rules” that they find most helpful in their writing careers.

This week’s list comes from Rick Suvalle (@RickSuvalle). Rick has been a professional film and television writer for over 15 years. He is currently writing and Executive Producing a sci-fi/action web series for NBC Universal. Other recent credits include two television movie premieres: The Hallmark Channel Original Movie Honeymoon For One and the Syfy Original Movie Roadkill (see his interview about writing movies for television here). Rick has also created and produced an original pilot presentation for 20th Century Fox, and he served as the Executive Story Editor on Pamela Anderson’s hit syndicated series “V.I.P.” where he also wrote 15 episodes.

Needless to say, Rick knows this business (like, really knows it) from both the film and television sides. Here are his un-rules:

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July 17, 2013

The Un-Rules of Screenwriting: Kirsten Smith’s List

(Editor’s Note: This is the first in a new series of articles here at LA Screenwriter. Let us know what you think!)

E.B. White wrote that there are “no inflexible rules by which the young writer may steer his course. He will often find himself steering by stars that are disturbingly in motion.”

We at LA Screenwriter have found that novice screenwriters often struggle with the problem of “the rules,” erring either on the side of formula or of complete disregard for structure. With that in mind, we’ve asked working writers what rules–either flexible or inflexible–guide their writing.

Our first list of “un-rules” comes from Kirsten Smith, screenwriter (along with her writing partner, Karen McCullah) of The Ugly Truth, Legally Blonde, and 10 Things I Hate About You, to name a few.

In no particular order, Kirsten’s rules are:

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June 13, 2012

Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling

Emma Coats, a Pixar storyboard artist has shared twenty-two rules of storytelling that she has compiled during her time at the animation powerhouse. (Thanks to io9 for posting the list.) The rules are:

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

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