Posts tagged ‘screenwriting rules’

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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September 18, 2013

The Un-Rules of Screenwriting: What We’ve Learned So Far

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.

Every week we’ve been posting wonderful lists of “un-rules” from successful screenwriters working in the industry today. These un-rules, or “principles” as Robert McKee would call them, are the guiding ideas that each of these writers find most important to their creative process.

Today, I want to take a step back and look at what we’ve learned. Below are the rules that I have found most insightful, practical, and helpful thus far:

  1. Respect the craft of screenwriting. This includes mastering format and becoming an excellent storyteller. There is no easy way to success. If you believe that your first script will make your career, you will be humbled when you learn that your craft is bigger than you’ll ever be. (Mark Sanderson)

  2. 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?” (Joe Gazzam)

  3. Don’t be afraid to extensively outline.  Get examples of outlines where you can.  Outline your favorite movies and favorite screenplays to teach yourself about structure. (Kirsten Smith)

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September 11, 2013

The Un-Rules of Screenwriting: Karen McCullah’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.

We’re excited to have a new list of screenwriting principles this week from Karen McCullah (@KarenMcCullah1). Karen and her writing partner Kirsten Smith (who shared her own list of rules here) are the team responsible for such hits as Legally Blonde, 10 Things I Hate About You, and The Ugly Truth. (See their full list of credits here.)

With her list, Karen decided to keep things short and sweet. These are the three screenwriting rules that she found most important to share with budding writers:

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August 14, 2013

The Un-Rules of Screenwriting: Erik Bork’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 we’re honored to have a list of “un-rules” from Erik Bork (@flyingwrestler). Erik is best known for his work on the HBO miniseries BAND OF BROTHERS and FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON, for which he wrote multiple episodes and won two Emmy and two Golden Globe Awards for helping to produce. Erik has also sold a variety of drama series pitches to the big four networks and recently developed a comedy pilot with one of the studios. He’s worked on the writing staff for two primetime dramas, and written feature screenplays on assignment for companies like Universal, HBO, TNT, and Playtone. In addition to all of that, Erik teaches in National University’s MFA Screenwriting Program and for The Writers Store, speaks regularly at writing conferences, and offers one-on-one consulting to writers.

Erik got his start as an assistant to Tom Hanks, who gave Erik the opportunity to help him write and produce FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON after reading some sitcom spec scripts he had written.

Erik has an excellent article on his screenwriting website, Flying Wrestler, which provides deeper information about each of his following ten rules:

  1. Concept, then story, come first.  Getting those right is the most important part.  The “words on the page,” while important, are less critical.

  2.  “Compelling, unique, real and entertaining” is what every scene and every story should be.  The audience needs to believe in and care about the main character’s situation, and enjoy the process of watching them confront it – without feeling that they’ve seen it all before.  This is not easy to do!

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August 7, 2013

The Un-Rules of Screenwriting: Mark Sanderson’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 this week comes from the talented Mark Sanderson (@scriptcat). Mark is a screenwriter and consultant blessed to be living his childhood dream of making movies. He has done sketch comedy writing and performing with The Amazing Onionheads, completed eleven screenplay assignments and television premieres, and enjoyed worldwide distribution of his emotionally compelling films, the WWII indie feature I’ll Remember April, Lifetime Network’s holiday films Deck the Halls and An Accidental Christmas, the stylish indie-noir feature Stingers, and action-packed thrillers USS Poseidon: Phantom Below (aka HereTV’s Tides of War) and SyFy Network’s Sea Snakes (aka 20th Century Fox’s Silent Venom).

His films have been recognized at major film festivals and distributed globally. Mark’s long association with Hollywood veterans dates back to his first produced screenplay, and he has since worked with Academy Award winning producers, veteran genre directors, and Oscar, Emmy, and Golden Globe acting nominees.

Mark is currently busy shopping two TV pilots, moving into pre-production on his indie sci-fi comedy Area 54, and he just completed his first book, A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success. He offers workshops, webinars and screenplay consultation services at his website FIVE O’CLOCK BLUE ENTERTAINMENT and screenwriting advice on his popular blog MY BLANK PAGE (Script Magazine’s pick for Website of the Week).

Here are the rules that Mark would like to share with us today:

  1. Respect the craft of screenwriting. This includes mastering format and becoming an excellent storyteller. There is no easy way to success. If you believe that your first script will make your career, you will be humbled when you learn that your craft is bigger than you’ll ever be.

  2. Carve out a schedule and protect your precious screenwriting time.Work every day. No matter what has happened the day or night before, get up and bite on the nail.”—Ernest Hemingway.

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October 6, 2011

Quote of the Day: Peter Rader

Your ego and your conscious mind already have way too many rules. To receive another set of rules about having 3 acts and 1st act twists and all sorts of things like that, I think, is a way of homogenizing movies. It’s very destructive to the industry. On the other hand, your sub-conscious, the crazy person, that’s the one who needs the rules.