Keys to the Craft: What You Must Do To Become a Better Screenwriter (or Filmmaker)

Scott Myers ran an excellent series on five habits that you must invest in in order to excel at screenwriting (or filmmaking for that matter).

Think Concepts

If you write a spec script based upon the first story idea that comes into your mind, that script will likely suck. Even if it’s decent, it probably won’t sell.

Why? Because almost assuredly, it is not a strong story concept.

It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of a story idea to the eventual success of a spec script.

A good story concept enables producers and studio execs to ‘see’ the movie.

A good story concept provides ammo for marketing departments to advertise the film.

A good story concept emboldens managers and agents to sell the crap out of your script.

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Watch Movies

I’m often surprised when I interface with aspiring screenwriters how few movies they have seen. This is wrong in so many ways.

* You gain inspiration from seeing, studying, and analyzing movies.

* Every time you see a movie, you learn something about the craft.

* There is a Gestalt understanding of the craft you gain from watching a multitude of movies.

And then there’s this warning: If you expect to work in Hollywood, it’s critical you have a broad exposure to movies in order to be able to traffic in the countless film references people in the industry use every day.

You simply must watch movies.

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Read Scripts

Look, I get it. I know you don’t like to read scripts. I experience a monthly reminder of this every time we do a GITS Script Reading & Analysis where it’s largely empty echoes, whistling winds and tumbling tumbleweeds around these here parts.

I’m pretty damn sure you don’t want to hear me yammer on about this subject.

BUT YAMMER I WILL!!!

Why? Because there may be no single more important practice to learn the craft of screenwriting than reading scripts.

* Classic scripts: A great place to start: The WGA 101 list. For a wider range, there are sites like SimplyScripts.

* Spec scripts: It behooves you to read and analyze spec scripts that have sold within the last year or two in order to stay on top of narrative and stylistic trends.

* Any scripts: Unproduced, even bad ones. You can learn something from all scripts, even amateur ones.

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Write Pages

It beckons you with a daunting whisper. It mocks you with its dull emptiness. It freezes your soul with its ice cold whiteness.

It is – the blank page!

How can a mere 8 1/2 x 11 inch piece of white paper provoke such anxiety, such horror, such despair?

The despair of the blank page – the writer’s bane!

Laying eyes upon the blank page provokes a catch in your breath, a twitch in you muscles, that special tightening in your sphincter.

Fear. But fear of what?

Fear of the not knowing. Not knowing what words will appear… or won’t appear. Not knowing if the words will make sense. Not knowing if the sentences will be good. Not knowing if the story will work.

I could lay a little “power of positive thinking” on you. You know…

Imagine the possibilities!

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Live Life

By living life fully, we collect experiences, memories, voices, moments, feelings, all the things we need to write.

By living life, we intersect with an endless stream of possible stories, each person, each minute rife with narrative possibilities.

By living life, we feed our mind, our heart, our soul, our creativity.

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