Thursday, January 5, 2012

Article - Your 2012 Screenwriting New Year's Resolutions!

I know you guys are busy. You’re getting back into work, you got families to tend to, you have scripts to finish. Who’s got time to come up with a list of resolutions? I mean, we never end up following them for more than a week anyway. What’s the point? I’ll tell you what the point is. The point is making yourself a better person dammit! Which is why I’m going to write your New Year’s resolutions for you. Well, not your personal resolutions, but your screenwriting resolutions. You see, I want this to be an amazing year for all Scriptshadow readers. I’m predicting a good 50 of you will break through and find agents/managers this year, and ten of you will go on to sell a screenplay (maybe even more!). But it’s not going to be easy. You’re going to have to work your butt off and make the right decisions along the way. Which is what I’m going to help you with. Here, my friends, are your 2012 screenwriting New Year’s resolutions!

1) Believe in yourself. – Guys, you cannot succeed unless you believe you can. A lack of confidence affects every aspect of your screenwriting. You won’t write as much. You won’t write as well. You won’t try as hard to get your material out there. You’ll project an image of negativity. You have to believe that big things are going to happen if you really want to make it. I just read this article over at CNN which said that while most people give up on their small resolutions, they stick with their big ones, because the big ones require more commitment. So commit to a big spec sale and BELIEVE you can do it. That one shift in attitude is going to change your life.

2) Write marketable concepts - Guys, I mean, come on. Enough. Stop with these scripts that have no chance of doing anything. Trying to be that 1 in a trillion screenwriter who breaks through on a “nothing” premise is a suicide mission. The number 1 reason a script doesn’t sell is because the concept is weak/non-existent. You want to write your “change the world” script? Break in first. Look at I Think My Facebook Friend Is Dead. Clint and Donnie will be the first ones to tell you they have a lot left to learn, but they came up with a great premise and now their test movie is arguably the frontrunner for the million dollar Amazon prize. Don’t take yourself out of the game this year before you’ve even started to write. Be smart and choose a concept that has a chance of selling.

3) Take chances in your writing – No, not on a boring premise, but on your actual story. This is one I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. We get so wrapped up in the rules (I’m no exception to this) that we forget we’re still dealing with art here. And every famous painting or movie or song or play has that certain “je ne sais quoi,” – something in it you can’t quite explain. And that unexplainable quality comes from taking chances. If everything’s exactly by the numbers then that’s how your story will feel – exactly by the numbers. Just make sure you’re not taking chances ONLY to take chances. It still has to feel right and appropriate for your story.

4) Don’t focus on anything negative – This is a sister resolution to #1, but you guys gotta stop focusing on all the negative information out there about making it as a screenwriter. Are you TRYING to talk yourself out of success? Do you WANT to convince yourself that it’s impossible? Because the information is out there if you want it: “Only one in a million screenwriters actually makes it.” “It’s impossible to become a screenwriter if you don’t live in Los Angeles.” “New screenwriters never sell spec scripts.” Don’t expect anything good to come out of you obsessing over these facts that have been so exaggerated over the years that they’re not even accurate anymore. Just focus on what you can control: Writing and learning. The more writing you do and the more learning you do, the closer you’ll get to breaking in. This business is not as dependent on luck as you think. The people who work their asses off and are serious about their craft almost always find a way in.

5) Think outside the box – This is a creative industry. That’s what we do. Create. So use some of that creativity to find a back door into the business. People have been doing this forever, and even though showmanship isn’t as beloved as it used to be (screenwriters sending ticking clocks to producers in anticipation of their spec, “The Ticking Man,” which went on to sell for a million bucks), there are still a lot of backdoor creative opportunities to get in. By starting this blog, I increased my rolodex by 200 fold, giving me way more opportunities than I ever dreamed of having. What will you create? What sneaky little thing do you have up your sleeve to break into the industry?

6) Do not deviate from the plan – There are a lot of great screenplays out there that we’ll never see because they never get finished. Why? Because you never finish them. Because you get bored. Because you don’t want to do the hard work. Because it’s SO MUCH EASIER to start on that new exciting idea you came up with yesterday. I got news for you buster. Screenwriting is hard. It takes dedication. It takes work. It takes you barreling through those shitty moments where you don’t have any idea what to do with your story. Instead of moving on to something new that will eventually put you in the same position you’re in now, stick with it. Finish your screenplay. That sense of accomplishment will give you confidence to rewrite it until it’s perfect. I know it isn’t easy guys. But nothing worth having in this world is.

7) Be brave – Being passive in real life isn’t much different from being a passive character in a screenplay. It leads to a story that goes NOWHERE. You’re going to have to buck up and do some things you don’t like doing if you want to advance your career. No, I’m not talking about streetwalking on Hollywood and Vine. But you’re going to have to call agents, call managers, send more e-mail queries, follow-up more e-mails. You’re going to have to call that long lost sorta-friend who knows that production manager even though it’s going to be an awkward conversation. Any way you can get people to read your scripts, do it. Because you never know where that break is going to come from. It’s usually from a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy who gave your script to them. That person calls you in. You end up hitting it off. He hires you for a rewrite. And what do you know? Your career has begun. Breaks materialize in the oddest of places. But they never materialize for people who keep their scripts hidden on their hard drives. Be brave people. Get your shit out there.

8) Work more on your characters – I mentioned this in my interview a couple of weeks back. The biggest difference I see between amateur screenplays and professional screenplays is character development. So if you’re serious about this screenwriting thing? It’s time to put a lot more effort into character. Read everything you can about it. Learn how to arc a character. Learn how to build compelling relationships between characters. Start writing 10 page character bios for your main characters. Go through my Scriptshadow Character Generator again. It doesn’t matter how cool your plot is. If you don’t have characters we care about, your script will be LAME.

9) Get honest feedback – We writers like to live in a dream world, a bubble that allows us to live on in perfect bliss. In this bubble, we improve at a glacial pace, because nobody ever tells us what’s REALLY wrong with our writing. When we do give our script out, it’s to friends or family, the people we know will support us and pat us on the back. I’m sorry but I’m popping your fucking bubble. Bubble time is over loser. This year, I want you to make a commitment to get some honest feedback. Whether it’s joining a writers group, forcing friends to stop bullshitting you, or paying for professional notes. You need someone telling you the truth. Just remember, the main reason writers avoid this is because they’re afraid of being told their writing is bad. Don’t think of it that way! Your writing IS bad. 90% of all writing is bad. But in order to knock that percentage down, you need people telling you what you’re doing wrong so you can IMPROVE.

10) Help others – This may seem like a touchy feely filler resolution, but it’s probably the most important resolution on this list. All the writers I meet are so focused on THEMSELVES, on their scripts and their problems and their endless screenwriting heartbreaks, that they’ve lost sight of the bigger picture. Here’s the truth. The more you help other people, the more people will want to help you. I PROMISE you this. I SWEAR to you this will happen. Just try it for a month. Start asking people what you can do for them. Offer someone help in your specific trade. Read other writers’ scripts and give them notes. It will come back to you in ways you’d never imagine. And best of all, you’ll feel good about yourself.

Let the damn New Year begin!