Is Pox Americana the next Revenant?
Premise: After a town of Americans are slaughtered by Indians, a group of Indian assassins are put together to enact revenge. But not everything goes according to plan once they accomplish their mission.
About: Frank John Hughes, who had parts in such films as Catch Me If You Can and shows like Band of Brothers and The Sopranos, is one of the new guard of actors changing their fortunes by writing screenplays. We saw what it did for Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, Hell or High Water) and if someone’s brave enough to make Pox Ameircana, which was featured on the 2013 Black List, it should do good things for Hughes as well.
Writer: Frank John Hughes
Details: 103 pages
One of the most eye-opening books I’ve read was “Empire of the Summer Moon,” a non-fiction account by S.C. Gwynne that tells us what the American frontier was really like back in the 1800s.
I’d grown up in a P.C. culture that informed me that Americans were the savages. That we ruthlessly wiped out the Native Americans as if spraying for bugs in our basement.
“Empire” taught me that while that was true in some cases, it wasn’t when it came to the more ruthless Indian tribes – the Navajo, the Apache, and the Comanche. The book goes into horrifying detail about what those tribes would do when they captured whites, specifically the women, children, and babies. You read that book and you’ll never be able to get some of those images out of your head for as long as you live.
I’m assuming that book at least partly inspired Hughes. Heck, before we even get to a slugline, we’re given a warning by the author of how graphic things are about to get. And to turn back now if you’re squeamish.
That’s no false teaser. Hughes delivers on that promise immediately, with an intense POV scene of an Indian raid. We’re talking people being hacked to death right before our eyes. We’re talking a giant rock being smashed into our – yes OUR – face, ending our life.
If there’s any truth to the old screenwriting axiom, “Your first 10 pages should yank the reader in,” well, consider this a proper yanking.
This sets up a revenge tale that isn’t exactly a revenge tale. Let me explain. This slaughter so infuriated president of the United States, James Buchanan, that he put together a crack team of Indian hunters to kill famed Navajo chief, Babazorka.
There’s only one problem. It was the Apaches who slaughtered the Americans, not the Navajo. But hey, there was no internet back then and since perception is reality, and because Buchanan wanted Babazorka dead anyway, he realized he could kill two birds with one stone. Get rid of an agitator while simultaneously easing the American people’s fear. Kind of a Sadaam Hussein deal, if you’re looking for an analogy.
So our group, led by “one mean son-of-a-bitch” Major Solomon Trigwell, galloped into Navajo territory, found Babazorka’s village, and killed Babazorka and everyone else. They’re ready to celebrate when they accidentally stumble upon Babazorka’s war chest, which has been built up over 50 years.
We’re talking gold, jewels, diamonds. All sorts of shiny shit.
The men start looking around at each other, realizing that if they head off in any direction other than back home, where they’d have to report this find, they could be rich for the rest of their lives. Ahh, greed. It makes everything so much more interesting.
On the night they’re ready to head out, though, an unending wave of arrows come shooting down at them. Out there in the darkness are more Navajo. Could be dozens. Could be hundreds. The men send their scout out to call for reinforcements, but the question is, will they last that long? Whoever’s out there doesn’t want them to leave alive.
I was going to use this script to discuss pure unbridled violence in writing – the kind that shocks you so relentlessly, it alone becomes the driving force behind your interest.
But I found the unique structural setup of the script to be a far more interesting topic. You see, in most screenplays, you lay out a goal and you see if your characters achieve it, which typically comes down to a third act climax, where, let’s face it, our hero usually wins.
In Finding Dory, Dory is trying to find her parents. In Deadpool, Deadpool is trying to kill the man who tortured him. In Suicide Squad, they’re trying to kill a witch or something. All of the objectives in these films are handled in their final act.
However, every so often, I read a script where the hero achieves his goal in the middle of the script. That’s what happens here. The group sets out to kill Babazorka (what a great name, by the way), and does so right at the midpoint.
This choice can be positive in that we’re asking, “Ooh, what the hell is going to happen now?” But it can be negative in that the writer, basically, has to come up with a whole new storyline. Either you create a new goal, a new problem, or a new mystery. And that’s no easy feat. Remember, the whole reason we showed up in the first place was because of the initial goal. That was your movie’s hook. So how do you entertain us now that that’s gone?
Pox Americana’s new goal is a solid one: ESCAPE. But I love that Hughes doesn’t stop there. He adds a couple of wrinkles. This war chest, which creates greed, and a sickness, which creates uncertainty.
When in doubt, go simple, and that’s what Hughes has done here. Where writers make mistakes is when they overcomplicate things. They say, “We no longer have a goal,” so what if we give each of my characters a subplot and they’re each trying to figure out some aspect of their life, and one guy’s got to do this and that guy’s got to do that. And soon they’re lost within a matrix of character motivations.
Hughes keeps it simple: ESCAPE. Then he throws in a couple of obstacles. A war chest and a disease.
If you want to practice this setup yourselves, imagine you’re writing Taken. However, instead of Liam Neeson rescuing his daughter at the end, he rescues her at the midpoint. As the writer, what’s your “second movie” for the second half of that script? I’d be interested to hear your ideas in the comments.
My only issue with Pox Americana was that they focused more on the disease in the final act than the greed. I found the greed to be the more compelling element. Yeah yeah, I know. It’s called “Pox Americana.” But it wouldn’t be hard to change that title. You should always follow the most interesting storyline, even if it means a title change.
Pox Americana is violent and dark (many of our “heroes” are bad dudes) and therefore not for everyone. But if some brave young filmmaker wants to make their version of The Revenant, this is the script you want to be looking at.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: “2 for 1 Structure” – 2 for 1 Structure is when you end the original story goal by the midpoint, then add a new story for the second half of your script. In this way, you’re basically writing 2 movies. The advantage of doing so is that your story stays fresh. If you wait until the very end of your script to solve the goal, you risk the audience becoming bored with the drawn-out nature of the hero’s objective. With a 2-for-1, you avoid that. Just know that 2-for-1’s have their own set of challenges. You have to come up with a second storyline that’s equal to, or preferably more interesting, than the first. That’s not easy to accomplish.
Premise: (from Black List) With America’s first viable independent presidential candidate poised for victory, an idealistic young journalist uncovers a conspiracy, which places the fate of the election, and the country, in his hands.
About: The Independent made the semifinals of the Nicholl Competition in 2013 before later finishing high on the 2013 Black List. Parter is new on the scene. This is his breakthrough screenplay.
Writer: Evan Parter
Details: 114 pages
Guess what day it is??
It’s ellllllllection day!!!
It’s time to vote for one of these two wonderful fault-free candidates we’ve decided are the best options to represent our country. And what better way to fire up those voting fingers than to review a political script?? Cause we all know how much I love politics. I talk about it all the time on Scriptshadow. Clintons, Bushes, Obamas. Sometimes this blog is so political, I might as well be blogging atop that big spire-like thing in Washington.
In all seriousness, I know very little bout politics, starting with what that spire-thing in Washington is named. In fact, I just learned a few months ago the purpose of voting for the Independent. I always used to wonder, “Why do people vote for this guy if nobody knows who he is?” But now I’ve learned that voting for the independent candidate isn’t a vote for them. It’s a vote against the system. You’re making, like, a statement with your vote that you don’t like America or something.
Might that be what The Independent is about? No idea. But who cares! I get to review a political script today. YAHOOOOOOO!!!!
Last year Nate Sterling wrote a book that sold 40 million copies and shot in him into the likability stratosphere. Sterling has used that buzz, as well as his innate charm, to climb the polls and become the favorite to win the United States presidency. The catch?
Nate is an independent candidate.
The United States has never had an independent president. So this is pretty unpresidented (heh heh – joke).
Across town, 28 year-old Eli Brooks isn’t exactly moving mountains like Sterling. But he’s an up-and-coming star at the Washington Tribune, the only paper in town that hasn’t succumbed to the evil internet news machine.
The chief editor at the paper implores his writers to hit hard and hit big. It’s the only way they can keep killing trees. And Eli’s got a story that’s going to knock out a rain forest. Eli believes that Republican presidential candidate and Sterling’s main rival, Roger Turnball, is siphoning money out of the state’s lottery coffers to pay for his campaign.
Eli lassos senior editor and mentor, Nate Sterling, into his conspiracy theory, and the two set out to prove Turball is a nasty dude. But just when the story’s coming together, they’re hit with a bombshell that will throw everything everybody thought they knew about Sterling on its head. The question is: Can they report it? And what will happen to them if they do?
This was so not a Carson script.
It had politics, politics, and… more politics! Had I paid more attention to the logline, I probably would’ve realized that.
Regardless of my personal feelings about politics, here’s my big issue with The Independent: It ignored its strange attractor.
Remember guys, your first order of business is to identify the strange attractor in your story. What is it that you’re bringing to the table that’s never been brought to the table before? I’d never seen the matrix before The Matrix. I’d never read a movie about a soldier who refused to use a gun before Hacksaw Ridge. I’d never seen a movie about magicians who pulled off bank heists before Now Your See Me.
However, that’s only THE FIRST PART of the equation.
The next part is that you must EXPLOIT THAT ATTRACTOR. In other words, you must show the soldier not using his weapon. You must show fighting that defies physics. You must show people using magic to steal money.
In The Independent, the independent candidate is your strange attractor. It’s what makes your movie unique. Yet there is nothing in here that exploits that. In fact, had you turned Nate Sterling into a Democrat, absolutely nothing about this script changes.
That’s when you know you’re not exploiting your concept. When you can change the attractor and nothing else in your script needs to be rewritten.
This script is more about a journalist trying to prove a presidential candidate is corrupt. I don’t know what that has to do with independent presidential candidates. And, quite frankly, that bummed me out. Because I don’t know much about the independent sector, and I was hoping that by the end of this script, I would know a lot.
Even if that wasn’t a problem for you, I was baffled by the fact that this script is titled “The Independent,” and yet 90% of the movie focuses on a journalist. Why aren’t we focusing on the most interesting part of your concept?
It just seemed odd to me.
As for the rest of the script, it was a mixed bag. I found the dialogue to be great when it was quick and punchy (“Listen up, buddy. Only eyes on that story are the ones you’re dotting.”), and insufferable when the characters couldn’t shut up (“There’s many wonderful things about a choir. Intimate friends, tight community, beautiful music. But, if you only sing in one choir your whole life, you’re only listening to one preacher… you’re only meeting one God.”).
There were so many lines like that last one, where characters would talk talk talk then summarize their thoughts with a famous quote or philosophical life lesson, that I felt like I was stuck in a Princeton Lecture Hall during some kind of Pretentiousness Competition.
That’s where this script lost itself, in its middle act. The characters couldn’t shut up, we the reader got bored, and both sides forgot what the movie was about.
The Independent almost saves itself with a wowzer of a late-story twist, but a lot of the impact of that twist came simply because I was bored. It was like, “Oh! Finally! Something’s happened!”
The Independent needs a lot of work. For starters, it needs to include its subject, Nate Sterling, more. It needs an investigation that’s more exciting than a corrupt lottery board. It needs to better explore its one interesting dynamic (spoilers) – that Eli’s fiancé works for the secretly corrupt Sterling. More time with her and more time with all three of them would be nice. And it needs to stop indulging in these endless 8-10 line pretentious dialogue exchanges that are more about sounding smart than pushing the story forward.
If The Independent can do all those things, maybe it makes it through the primaries.
Good luck to your candidate, everybody!
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: One of the more common mistakes I see with new writers is dialogue that’s written to make the writer look good rather than to serve the story. The Independent is full of characters who talk forever but don’t actually say anything. It’s okay for a character to ramble on about something every once in awhile, but remember, even in the talkiest of movies, it’s more important to show than tell. And it’s more important to keep the story moving than listen to yourself talk.
Premise: After an arrogant neurosurgeon’s hands are bludgeoned in a car accident, he seeks help from a mystical woman in the mountains of Nepal, but gets far more than he bargained for.
About: Doctor Strange was part of Marvel’s “Phase 3” program, which was both a strategy and an ideology. “3” stood for the most experimental of the Marvel properties, and therefore the films they had the least amount of confidence in. Well that confidence has been restored, as the mind-bending fresh-as-a-Michigan-Cherry-in-June film secured $85 million bucks this weekend, upwards of $20 million more than most prognosticators predicted. Chalk up another win for the studio that can’t stop cranking out the hits. Marvel wins again. Dr. Strange was co-written by Jon Spaiths, who famously wrote the best unproduced screenplay of the last 10 years, Passengers – which comes out this December. I don’t think a screenwriter can have a bigger month than Spaiths is having.
Writer: Jon Spaiths (earlier drafts by Scott Derrickson & C. Robert Cargill).
Details: 115 minutes
Let’s get straight to the biz-nass. Doctor Strange is a good movie. Even if Jayden Smith endorses it.
But it got me thinking about that decade old question: Why are Marvel movies so much better than DC movies? There was a heavily publicized conversation that took place last week where famed writer, Bret Easton Ellis, no stranger to controversial statements, shared that the Ben Affleck-helmed Batman project over at Warner Brothers has upwards of 30 major script problems.
This statement inspired many thoughts, so many that I didn’t know what to do with them. The first is that of all the people in the industry, Ben Affleck is near the top of the list of people who care about the script. He owes his entire career to script development, as Good Will Hunting is one of the most famously drawn-out development processes ever, with rumors that the script hit over a hundred drafts.
Except that it went on to win Affleck a screenwriting Oscar, and teach him a valuable lesson. The script is king. Get it right and everything else falls into place.
But more troubling was the reaction of the WB execs Ellis was talking to. Their reaction was “We don’t care.” Their argument was that 70% of the theaters this movie will play in won’t contain English-speaking audiences. So the script, in their minds, is the last thing that matters. To them: Ben Affleck, an Oscar winning director, is directing. Ben Affleck, A-list actor, is acting. And the franchise is, arguably, the most valuable franchise in history.
This is where things get speculative. But my guess is that these “execs” don’t understand how screenwriting works. Their observation that the film won’t be playing in front of people who speak English implies they believe the long-standing ignorant assumption that screenwriting is dialogue.
But everyone who understands screenwriting knows that the heavy lifting is done in the structure, the plotting, and the character work. Once that’s taken care of, you can hire any solid writer to fill in the dialogue. To that end, it doesn’t matter what language you speak. If the plotting is terrible. If the second act isn’t building. If the characters aren’t compelling. — YOU’RE BORED!
With that said, it’s a statement that’s troubling in what it implies. That this new globally-dominated marketplace is going to dictate that same type of approach from everyone. It doesn’t matter if the observation is wrong. If enough people believe it, it might as well be true.
But then I watched Dr. Strange and I realized… DC? And your execs? You’re wrong.
The difference between the entertainment level of Dr. Strange, a no-name super hero up until the promotional blitz for this movie began a month ago, versus Batman, the most famous superhero ever, is decidedly in Dr. Strange’s favor. And the reason for that is the screenplay. This is a compelling character who was perfect for the movie treatment who gave us an experience that was different from the same old nonsense we get week in and week out with these ancient DC superheroes.
Let’s start with the title character. Dr. Strange contains one of the ideal character arcs to explore in a screenplay. He’s a pompous arrogant asshole who thinks he knows it all. What do you do to a pompous arrogant asshole who thinks he knows it all? You take away the only thing he’s good at. In this case: his ability to perform surgery. Once you strip away a person’s identity, they must struggle. And since struggle creates conflict and conflict creates drama, the movie writes itself.
As cool as Batman is, his character “complexity” comes from two places, one a melodramatic cliche and the other a gimmick. The first is that he watched his parents die when he was a child. The second is that he has a secret identity. That combination is fun. He’s got to battle his demons. He’s got to hide who he really is.
But is it really a complex character in the way that Doctor Strange is a complex character? In Strange’s case, we’re actually exploring HIM. Like as a PERSON. His identity has been taken from him, and he’s now asked to adopt a new identity that he doesn’t believe in in order to get his life back. That’s a much more interesting character journey if you ask me.
And if you doubt this, go back and watch Batman vs. Superman. It’s steeped in these over-the-top melodramatic flashbacks of Batman watching his parents die. Who the fuck cares? It’s so simplistic, it’s almost embarrassing.
This is why Batman, the character, got overshadowed even in the best treatment of his movies – under Nolan. The Joker had so much more shit going on inside his head, that a basic parent-death backstory combined with an eye-roll-inducing 10,000th super hero with a secret identity plotline just couldn’t hold up.
And the worst thing about Batman is that it can’t even have fun with its secret identity plotline because it takes itself so damn seriously. I mean at least with Spider-Man, they have fun with that stuff. With Batman, it’s a chore. You can almost feel everyone involved groaning as Batman uses his fake voice to disguise that he’s really Bruce Wayne.
One thing I’ve found interesting about movies like Dr. Strange is that because they don’t have a lot of money, they have no choice but to explore character. Character exploration is much cheaper than huge set-pieces. The “learning” phase of Dr. Strange goes on for a really long time. Upwards of 50 pages. And because of this, we get to know this person and therefore CARE about him when he gets to those set-pieces.
Batman vs. Superman took the opposite approach. They tried to get in as many trailer-friendly set-pieces as possible so their film could be a smorgasbord of action. Yet it was this exact approach that contributed to the movie’s emptiness.
It was sad, really. It’s like they sensed this and figured if they could throw in a couple of flashbacks of Batman losing his parents, that would be enough to make us “feel” for the character. Instead, it launched him, and us, right down Cliche Creek without an originality paddle.
Dr. Strange is a testament to if you want to survive in this new world of oversaturated comic book movies, you’re going to need to differentiate yourself. It’s why this and Ant-Man and Deadpool became hits. They’re different. These old guard superheroes like Superman and Batman are going to get eyeballs on notoriety alone. But since they’re not the only game in town anymore, they can’t rest their laurels on their budgets and their special effects. They’ll need to find a way to make the characters interesting again. If they don’t, they risk becoming – duh, duh, duhhhhh – a bottom-feeder franchise.
And you know what? Maybe that decade-old question can be boiled down to the simplest of answers. The reason Marvel movies are so much better than DC movies is that they leave you feeling good. Just like a good comic book did when you were a kid. A DC movie, on the other hand, always leaves you feeling a little bit down. Even Suicide Squad. If DC can fix that part of the equation, maybe they can close the gap. But right now, they’re the Cleveland Indians. And Marvel is the Cubs.
[ ] What the hell did I just watch?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the price of admission
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Uninspired cliche flashbacks of a traumatic moment in a character’s history (watching your parents die) is not character development. It may provide context. But it is not character development. Character development is creating a character identity and challenging that identity throughout the course of the movie. In this sense, it might be best to call it “Character Challenging.” So in The Matrix, Neo doesn’t believe he’s the one. So he gets numerous “character challenges” throughout the film that challenge this notion – building jumping, fighting Morpheus, the fight with one of the agents in the Subway. Ultimately, he believes, which is is when he finally defeats the bad guys.
EDIT – WINNERS ANNOUNCED!
So 4 of the top 5 entries consisted of 4 of the top 5 contributors within the group. That gave me some pause. Is everybody here getting a fair shot? With that said, I realize that there’s a couple of things at play here. For one, people are more likely to check out the scripts of the people they know. This isn’t just true here at Scriptshadow. It’s true in Hollywood.
So we’re basically preparing screenwriters for the real world. And just like the real world, if you want to break through that nepotistic malaise that producers either directly or indirectly participate in, give us a concept that makes it impossible to not open your script, then write a first ten pages that makes it impossible for us to put your script down, then write another 100 pages that make it impossible for us to stop reading. It’s just the way it is. And that seems like it’s what’s happened this weekend with Breaking Them Up.
Another thing that factors into this is that the people who participate here tend to be the people who care more about learning the craft of screenwriting. So it makes sense that their scripts, on the whole, would be better than those who aren’t participating. These writers are always learning new tools, building networks with other writers here, using those people to get feedback on their scripts. So it makes sense that their scripts would be better. Hence, I’m excited to announce that the four winners of the Wild Card Round are…
Katherine Botts – Cratchit
David Waddell – Breaking Them Up
Steffan DelPiano – Odysseus and His Boy
Kenneth Kleemann – Hellfire Alley
I’ve already chosen who will participate in the first round of the Quarterfinals next week. Those writers will be personally contacted by me via e-mail and given until Wednesday night to make any last changes to their scripts. Congratulations to everybody here for a tight race and let the Quarterfinals begin!!!
ORIGINAL POST BELOW
YEEEE-HAWWWW! GRAB YOUR GUNS, BOYS! IT’S ABOUT TO GET WILD!
The top 8 scripts have already been chosen for the Quarterfinals of the Scriptshadow Screenplay Tournament. Today we take 8 scripts that gave those winners a run for their money and pit them against each other. You, the readers, will decide which 4 of these wild-cards advance to the quarterfinals. Just like previous weeks, your job is to read as much as you can from each entry and vote on your favorite in the comments section. The top 4 vote-getters will move through and next week we’ll begin the Quarterfinal Round.
Since everyone has a limited amount of reading time and 7 out of 8 of these scripts have been rewritten, I’ll allow the writers to chronicle the changes they made in the Comments Section if they want. It’s no substitute for reading the script, but at least you’ll be able to make a more informed decision.
One last thing: PLEASE VOTE FOR THE BEST SCRIPT, NOT YOUR BEST FRIEND. If you haven’t read any of these scripts and you’re not going to read them this weekend either, I’d rather you not vote at all than cast a vote for a friend. The idea is to have the best scripts competing, not the most popular commenters competing. If the top 4 vote-getters on Sunday are the 4 most popular commenters within today’s grouping, I’m probably going to pick my own top 4 (hey sorry – wild card rules, baby). Let’s find the best scripts here, guys. On to today’s entries!
Title: Felix (new draft!)
Writer: Casey Giltner
Genre: Horror, Coming-of-age
Logline: After his great-grandmother’s death, ten-year-old Felix is troubled by a potentially haunted family heirloom and his father’s increasingly strange behavior.
Title: Breaking Them Up (formerly “Untitled Breaking Up Parents Marriage Comedy”) (new draft!)
Writer: David Waddell
Logline: Convinced that his constantly feuding parents are headed for a divorce, a 14 year old sets out to find new lovers for his mom and dad in hopes of ending their marriage.
Title: Odysseus and His Boy (new draft!)
Writer: Steffan DelPiano
Logline: With only one night to act, two rival soldiers must sneak behind enemy lines to complete a last-ditch suicide mission that will finally put an end to a decade-long conflict.
Title: Hellfire Alley (new draft!)
Writer: Kenneth Kleemann
Genre: Western/True Story
Logline: The gritty, UNTOLD story behind the real outlaws who inspired the classic film, THE WILD BUNCH.
Title: Widow’s Walk (new draft!)
Writer: Brett Martin
Genre: Contained Thriller
Logline: A psychic breaks into a haunted house to confront a malevolent force from her past that she believes has abducted her daughter.
Title: A Darker Place – (same draft)
Writers: Andrew Rhodes and Robert Irvin
Genre: Contained Thriller/Sci-fi
Logline: In the home of her latest case, an obsessed social worker fights to save a girl being tortured in the basement of that very house … 24 years in the future.
Title: Cratchit (new draft!)
Writer: Katherine Botts
Genre: Mystery & Suspense, Fantasy
Logline: “A Christmas Carol” reimagined, told from the point of view of Bob Cratchit as he and Ebenezer Scrooge race to track down Jacob Marley’s killer — the same killer who now targets Scrooge and Cratchit’s son, Tiny Tim.
Title: 21 Days in the Amazon (new draft!)
Writer: Ben Koch
Genre: Found Footage Horror
Logline: When the cast and crew of the reality show Bared and Scared film an episode in the Amazon, surviving the deadly jungle proves less frightening than surviving an unhinged contestant.
For those who don’t know, I’m from Chicago. And in Chicago is a certain long-suffering baseball team known as the Cubs who had not won a championship in 108 years. Until last night. When the most dramatic World Series win in history took place.
So as I pondered what to write about in today’s article, I went back to a strategy that’s always served me well. My articles are best when I’m passionate about something. And today, I’m passionate about my Cubbies.
So here are five screenwriting lessons inspired by your 2016 World Series Champion Chicago Cubs!
Love What You’re Writing About – One of the reasons the Cubs were so bad for so long was because they were owned by the Chicago Tribune, a giant (at the time) news company that couldn’t give two shits about the team. Because they didn’t care, all the decisions that were made from the top down lacked the passion required to create greatness. Then, in 2007, the company sold the team to a lifelong Cubs fan, Tom Ricketts. From that moment on, everything changed. Ricketts brought in the smartest president in baseball, Theo Epstein, who subsequently hired the best manager in baseball, Joe Maddon. Joe Maddon brought in a top-notch coaching staff, who would later help one of the youngest teams in baseball win a World Series.
In screenwriting, your script is your team. And if you don’t care about your team, you’ll never put them into a position to win. I truly believe that. But if you’re passionate about your screenplay. If you can’t think of anything other than your story and your characters and your plot and what that script is going to look like on the big screen. Then the chances of your script electrifying a reader go up infinitely. Love the script you’re with!
Have a Plan – When Theo Epstein inherited the Cubs, he redesigned the organization from the top down. The Cubs used to be a group of aging overpaid overvalued losers who were more interested in a paycheck than winning. Their minor league teams, where franchises develop young players to feed into their big league team, were bone dry. So Epstein came up with a plan. Trade away all their big league players for unproven but talented young players they could develop through their minor league system. The problem? It would mean waiting through three full seasons of futility while the young players developed with no guarantee that they’d be good.
It was risky. It was a gamble. But it worked. The Cubs didn’t just win the World Series, but because of their plan, they now have the youngest team in the big leagues, which means they’re set to win championships for years to come.
Tying this into screenwriting, most writers don’t have a plan. They stumble through one screenplay after another, seeing what happens along the way, making things up as they go along. Screenwriting is too difficult for that. You look up, five years have passed, and you wonder how you’re in the same spot as you were five years ago. The solution is to come up with a plan. Give yourself deadlines. Have months set aside for working on things (reading scripts, reading screenwriting books, practicing screenwriting concepts). Figure out what scripts (and types of scripts) you’re going to write. Come up with a game plan for when you’re going to finish these scripts and who you’re going to send them to. A plan increases your chances of success infinitely. So get on it.
Fight – Screenwriting is fucking hard man. Most of the time it’s just you and the page. And when your story’s going south, your characters are lame, and you don’t have any good ideas left, you want to give up. It’s happened to me. I once got so discouraged by a script that I set it down, figured I’d try again tomorrow, and didn’t write for 8 months. It’s so easy to give in. But like these Cubs taught us last night, you gotta fight. There was a moment in the 8th inning, after the Cubs had been up 5-1, where the Indians homered to tie the game. Without question, the Cubs of the past would’ve let this destroy them. Chicagoans had seen it decade after decade. But this year’s team was different. They treated adversity like a challenge to be overcome, not a sign to go play Call of Duty nonstop for the next four months. So the team got together, reminded themselves that it wasn’t over, and they went back out and won the game. If a team that’s been denied for 108 years can fight through adversity, I know you guys can get through that plot problem, that bout of writer’s block, that lack of motivation to open up your script. Writing a great screenplay will require you to fight through a lot of shit that you don’t want to deal with. It’s part of the journey.
Find A Support System – One of the common things I’ve heard from friends who were at the games was: “I hugged 20 different people I didn’t know before tonight.” There’s something about sports that brings people together. Unfortunately, writing isn’t like that. It’s a mostly solitary endeavor. And it’s not discussed how big of an impact that can have on a writer. When your main character, Kango, is unlikable, and you’re trying to decide whether to give him a sidekick who’s dying of cancer to offset that, there is literally nobody you can ask if that’s a good idea other than yourself. With that said, when you have a writing community you’re a part of, people to trade scripts with, people to talk about writing with, it’s so much damn easier to get through those moments. Just having someone you know will read your script when it’s finished is a huge motivator to figure things out and get to FADE OUT. Get a writing group together, guys. Here, in the Scriptshadow Comments, is one of the best places to start.
Good things come to those who wait – Despite the core of the Cubs being in their early 20s, the MVP of the World Series was 35 year-old Ben Zobrist. While our crazy talented young shortstop, Javy Baez, was swinging at every pitch, trying to be a home run hero each time up, it was the calculated and cool Zobrist, who used his dozen extra years of experience to approach each at-bat like a sniper, waiting patiently for the pitcher to make a mistake. It was this approach that resulted in the most hits in the series, and a crucial late-game double that gave the team the go-ahead run. Every writer feels like they’re getting too old to pursue the dream. But remember, it’s the 40 and 50-somethings and their wealth of experience, who are writing all the big movies and TV shows we watch each week. So don’t think of your age as a weakness. Think of it as an advantage, one extra year of experience that gives you a leg up on your competition.