Genre: Post-Apocalypse Drama
Premise: Based on Homer’s The Odyssey – After a fast-acting plague wipes out hundreds of millions of people around the globe, a young man must travel cross-country to deliver the cure to Washington, all while being pursued by mysterious men.
About: This script sold a few years ago to financing company, QED. The writer, Christopher Cosmos, had a pilot in development at the time about Alexander The Great. He also took a stab at the in-development reimagining of Red Sonja.
Writer: Christopher Cosmos
Details: 101 pages
I like the marketing potential of these loose adaptations of classic works. They’re a win-win-win for writers everywhere. Think about it. You don’t have to pay anything because they’re in the public domain. You still get the prestige of being able to use the popularly known title when pitching your work. AND you don’t even need to follow the work that closely. As long as it’s vaguely in the same universe as the original work, you’re good.
Look guys. When you’re a newbie, you’re your own agent, publicist, and manager. Writing the script is half the battle. After that, you have to sell it. This is why you want to think about these things BEFORE you start to write your script, not after. You have to have that conversation with yourself where you say: How am I going to sell this? Will it be easy? What will my angle be?
It’s no different from what major marketing companies do with a Hollywood film. They ask the exact same questions. How do we sell this? How do we make it stand out from the pack? Some movies make their jobs easy, like Thor: Ragnarok. And others make them hard, like Detroit or Wind River.
So before you put pen to paper, be honest with yourself about how hard it will be to get people to read your script. That’s fine if you know it’s going to be hard. But then you’ll have to become a super-salesman when it’s finished. You’ll have to contact more people, enter more contests, yell a lot louder, hustle more intensely. Cause if the concept doesn’t sell itself, it’ll be up to you to sell it. And most writers don’t understand the level of dedication required to get a tough sell through the system.
That’s why when you can say, “It’s a modern day post-apocalyptic drama based on The Odyssey,” – people are going to respond to that. And once you have that, you leave it up to the script Gods. Hopefully, someone with power likes what you’ve done.
Okay, let’s get to The Fall!
26 year old William Emrys is traveling across the Mojave Desert when we meet him. He looks emaciated, beaten down, a first world body in a third world outfit. Something has happened to this man.
We find out what that is, as we learn a plague has whipped across America, killing tens of millions of people, and more every day. William is carrying a vile. In that vile, we’ll learn, is the cure to this disease. Or at least that’s what he’s been told by the dying man who gave it to him.
William’s trying to reach Washington where a scientist is waiting for him. But he’s also trying to get back to his wife in Michigan, who had a baby while William was in Los Angeles for a business trip, which is when this whole thing started.
Meanwhile, some big bad meany named James Washington is following William. We never learn who this guy is or why he and his big bad meany black jeeped friends want to stop William (why would you try and stop a plague cure?) but Mr. Washington doesn’t care about hackneyed plot mechanics. He wants to capture William and take his vile away!
William gets help and shelter from several people along the way, and after a months-long journey, gets to D.C. But before he can deliver the goods, James Washington arrives, standing in his way one last time. Will he stop him? Or will William pull off a miracle and save the world?
Reading The Fall was like reading a long novel. Sometimes things would get good and I’d be pulled in, and other times things would meander and my focus would drift away… before another good sequence would come along and pull me in again. After it was over, the number of times I was pulled away was roughly equal to the number of times I was pulled in.
But here’s why The Fall didn’t win me over. And it’s a common problem with young writers: I WAS TOO FAR AHEAD OF THE STORY. And when I say too far ahead, I mean I was often 50-60 pages ahead of the writer. I always knew where this was going. Every plot beat is something I’ve seen before multiple times.
And when you have a simple narrative like this one – a man traveling across a post-apocalyptic world – that’s the exact type of plot that a reader can get ahead of you on. I knew, for example, he would find shelter with a few people and have deep talks with them. I knew there’d be a woman along the way who he’d be tempted to be with. I knew there would be 3 or 4 stand-offs between him and the bad guys.
I was desperately rooting for something to happen that I wasn’t expecting. And this is something that writers forget. Readers ARE ROOTING FOR YOU. They WANT you to succeed. They want you to write something great. To surprise them. To move them. To give them something they’ve never seen before. Because it makes reading more fun! But those things don’t come easily. You have to work for them. And I kept wanting that plot point to arrive where I was like, “ohhhh, shit, didn’t see that coming.” But it didn’t.
I’ve said this to you before but I’ll say it again. You need to plce yourself in the eyes of reader/audience. You need to ask yourself: “What do they think I’m going to do here?” And then do something different. It’s really as simple as that. And, no, you don’t do it all the time. But you do it enough to keep the audience on their toes.
And that was the thing. I was never once on my toes. — Which is unfortunate because the plot mechanics here are strong. You’ve got a guy with a clear goal. There’s a heavy emotional component, with him wanting to get back to his wife and newborn. And the stakes are sky-high. Humanity’s at stake. But guys, your job isn’t over once you’ve established your plot mechanics. Now it’s your job to give us a story that’s both familiar yet unexpected.
I’ll give you an example from a movie I saw recently. It was called The Big Sick. And it was a romantic comedy. Romantic Comedies are in more danger than any other genre of the audience getting ahead of you due to being the most formulaic genre of the bunch. Which is why I avoided The Big Sick for so long. I thought it was going to be some silly rom-com about the unique challenges of dating someone outside your culture – something we’ve seen a billion time before.
But then, about 30 minutes in, the female lead goes into a coma. And I’m like, what the fuck is going on right now??? And I kept waiting for her to wake up so that we could get back to zany familiar rom-com territory. But it didn’t happen. And eventually I realized the movie was about this guy and his relationship with the girl’s parents, and not the girl. And it was just like… wow. I’d never seen that before. And I’m not saying you need to go to this extreme, but every screenplay is a game between you and the reader. And you don’t want them to get too far ahead of you or they’re going to get bored.
That’s what happened here. Despite a lot of good in this script, it needed more moments of surprise. Had those moments come, this would’ve been a completely different review.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: With every sci-fi premise, it’s imperative that you establish the rules. We have this uber-dangerous new age black plague at the core of our story, yet characters routinely interact with each other without any worry of being infected. I needed to know why. At one point, for example, William’s wife’s neighbor, a boy whose entire family was wiped out by the plague, helps prepare dinner for her family. I don’t know about you. But I’m probably not letting Black Plague Boy 2017 knead the dough for tonight’s pizza party.
Genre: Period Thriller
Premise: After World War 2, a former SS Captain and a Jewish woman travel through war-torn Germany to find and kill a Nazi officer.
About: The best thing about starring in a big flashy Hollywood hit is that you now get to explore more challenging and serious roles. Such is the case with Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot, who is rumored to have signed on to Ruin recently. The project will be directed by Justin Kuzel, who’s best known for directing Michael Fassbender in both Macbeth and Assassin’s Creed. The script has been written by relative newbie screenwriters Ryan and Matthew Firpo, and just appeared on the 2017 Blood List.
Writers: Matthew K. Firpo & Ryan Firpo
Details: 89 pages – 1/6/17 draft
Today’s writers took a big chance.
I usually tell writers that if they’re going to write about World War 2, make sure it’s a true story. There have been so many true World War 2 movies at this point, that it’s become an audience expectation. If the audience finds out a movie set in this era is all the result of an overactive imagination, a lot of them will react with, “Well what’s the point of watching it then?”
Certain genres can work with WW2 fiction. Like horror. The B-Movie horror crowd loves zombie Nazi movies, for example. And you can get away with action or thrillers as well. The Brad Pitt tank movie, Fury, is a good example of both. That’s the route today’s script takes, building a revenge thriller after the most devastating war in history. Let’s see if it works.
It’s been a few months since the end of World War 2. Germany is in ruins. The entire country has been bombed into oblivion. The scraps have been divided between the Russians, the Brits, the French, and the Americans.
“The Captain,” is a former captain of a German SS unit. And judging by his demeanor when we meet him, things aren’t going well. The Captain (he’ll remain nameless throughout) is on the hunt for someone named Anton Richter. He plans to kill this man, as well as everyone else in his unit. We don’t know why, yet. But we get the sense that the reason is personal.
After injuring a member of his former team, the man tells The Captain of a Jewish woman named Elsa who was Richter’s “personal whore.” She knows where he is. So off The Captain goes in search of Elsa, finding her just as her head’s being shaved in public for being a “traitor.”
The Captain gets more than he bargained for when Elsa refuses to tell him where Richter is unless she can come with. This man, we will learn, kept her as a prisoner for two years. Got her pregnant. She had a baby that was then taken from her. Which means Richter has her daughter.
The Captain reluctantly allows her to come with, and the two traverse a war-torn Germany where there is no law, no rules, and the country is steeped in sadness and anger, which reveals itself in many forms. When the two finally do find Richter, Elsa is met with shocking shocking news – news, it turns out, The Captain knew all along.
I absolutely loved the first 40 pages of this script.
There were lots of cool things going on.
For starters, I loved how they flipped the script on the hero’s and villain’s introductions. Our hero, The Captain, is introduced heartlessly killing people. Our villain, Richter, is introduced lovingly helping his daughter shake off a bad dream.
Traditionally, newbie writers will go the obvious route and start off with the hero doing something heroic and the villain doing something villainous. The fact that the writers played with that trope let me know immediately this wasn’t going to be an average script.
I really like goal-driven movies with mystery motivations as well. We know that The Captain and Elsa both want to kill Richter. But we don’t know why for over half the script. Adding that mystery component is one more way to keep your reader invested. And adding mystery motivations for BOTH protagonists doubled the interest.
I also love what they did conceptually here. Almost every World War 2 script I read takes place during the war (for obvious reasons). It can become hard, then, to find a new story in that world. So many have already been told. The simple act of moving the timeline several months after the war gave the entire script a fresh feel.
Which leads me to the biggest lesson I learned today – and that is, using a script’s unique subject matter to inform your characters.
One of the hardest things to do in screenwriting is create depth in your characters. So often, we rely on cliches to install depth. And it never resonates because it’s too reminiscent of character tropes we’ve seen before. So here’s a cool thing you can do to solve that problem. Take whatever is at the core of your movie then install that into your characters as well.
So if you wrote Safe House, what you’d do is you’d say, “Well maybe my main character stays inside a metaphorical Safe House.” He never takes any risks in his life. This situation will force him to, for the first time ever, take those risks, and move outside of his safe bubble. Now, you’re using the core of your movie to inform your hero. And by doing that, you not only create organic depth, but you win over literary nerds, who find this kind of shit orgasmic.
With Ruin, you’re talking about the ruin of Germany after the war. So using the same formula, you have your heroes in ruin as well. And that’s exactly what we see here with both The Captain and Elsa. Their inner lives are in complete ruin. And it totally works. We can see them trying to heal from both the physical and mental scars they’ve endured over the last five years. So the next time you’re struggling to figure out what to do with your heroes, do what these guys did.
Unfortunately for Ruin, the second half of the script wasn’t as good as the first. Part of the problem was that it lost sight of its genre. This started off as a thriller, but it becomes a drama. And the drama gets so intense that we don’t feel like we’re watching the same movie anymore.
And look, I can see the other side of this argument. There was nothing rosy and fun about World War 2. However, the ending is so incredibly sad and horrifying, that I didn’t feel like the journey I took was rewarded. I actually wouldn’t be surprised if they changed the ending. I don’t think people are going to be okay with it.
But, with all that said, the script kept me reading and wanting to know what happened all the way up til the end. And that’s always a successful script in my book. So I’d still recommend Ruin, and am curious what you guys think of it, particularly the ending.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: If you’re struggling to find a title for your script, it’s usually lurking in the thing that makes your story unique. What’s unique about this script is that it takes place in a post-war ruined Germany (as opposed to within the war itself). Hence the title: “Ruin.” If you can’t find anything unique about your script to inform your title, it may be an indication that your idea is weak and/or unoriginal.
Premise: (from IMDB) Imprisoned, the mighty Thor finds himself in a lethal gladiatorial contest against the Hulk, his former ally. Thor must fight for survival and race against time to prevent the all-powerful Hela from destroying his home and the Asgardian civilization.
About: Thor: Ragnarok was projected to make a little over 100 million this weekend. It defied expectations, bringing in 121 million. That’s a full 30 million more than the last Thor film. The Thor-quel (Thor threequel) was a gamble from the get-go. They hired Taika Waititi, a New Zealand director who’d only directed two indie New Zealand films (one of them a mockumentary – so not even a real film). He then came in saying he wanted to make an intergalactic road-trip film with Thor and Hulk. You wouldn’t have been wrong to call Marvel crazy for taking a chance on this guy. And yet, like Marvel always seems to do, they pulled it off. But the gambling doesn’t end there. The writers of this script were guys who’d mostly done TV, video games, or animation writing. None of the three credited writers had a feature credit to their name before this film.
Writers: Eric Pearson and Craig Kyle & Christopher Yost (based on comics by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby)
Details: 2 hours and 10 minutes
I’d been warned going into this movie. People complained that Thor: Ragnarok was too goofy and relied too much on humor.
To these people I say: If this too much humor, then you live a sad miserable existence!
What I love about TR is that Taika Waititi knew exactly what kind of film he wanted to make and he made it. He wanted a fun adventure film. He even said: “I tried to imagine the film that the six year old me would want to see.” And that’s the film he made! I mean, he even has Cate Blanchett cracking jokes on the regular. And it works! Why does it work? Because he stays consistent with it. He sets the tone early on and never deviates.
Tonal problems, which are a major indicator of newbie screenwriters by the way, happen because writers feel that tone should be dictated by whatever they’re feeling in the moment. Feel serious? We’ll do twenty pages of intense conversations. Feel goofy? We’ll do fifteen pages of prat-falls.
Tone gets established in your very first scene. What tone you convey to the audience in your opening is the tone you need to stick with throughout. How does Thor start? With Thor goofily explaining to us how he got trapped in this cage. So for the rest of the script, that is our baseline. That doesn’t mean the script can’t be serious at points. But the level of seriousness can never reach the level of, say, “Detroit.” Your serious floor will be lighter and fluffier.
Moving on, what I REALLY loved about Thor: Ragnarok, is that it’s the best-structured screenplay of all the Marvel movies. To understand why, you have to know the plot.
Ragnarok follows our titular golden-haired god after his father, Odin, dies on Earth. On the way back to his home planet, Thor’s kicked into space during the beam transfer (which is how he got to earth in the first film). He then gets spat out onto some junk planet that exists outside time and space.
That planet is run by the single greatest actor in the history of movies. I’m talking about Jeff Goldbloom, who plays the Grandmaster here. Jeff plucks up Thor and throws him into one of his gladiator tournaments, where it just so happens that he’ll be fighting the Hulk. How the Hulk got here is anyone’s guess. My guess would be: Because it makes a cool movie.
Meanwhile, back on Thor’s planet, his evil older sister, Hela, has taken over in dead dad’s place, raised an army of the undead, and threatens to ruin thousands of years of progress on the planet. That means Thor’s got to convince Hulk to join him, escape this weird non-time planet, and get back to his planet and stop Hela before she can execute her plan.
One of my pet peeves with these Marvel movies is that the narratives are complete disasters. That’s because there are too many characters with too many motivations, which forces us to zig-zag around too much, never allowing a clear story engine to emerge, and often leading us to wonder what the heck is going on until the last 20 minutes.
Thor: Ragnarok keeps things simple. Thor must escape this planet and… wait for it… stop his sister. That’s it! How many times have I told you guys? If you want to write a good screenplay, start with simplicity. To do that, stick with the Scriptshadow basics. GSU. Goal, stakes, urgency.
With that said, Thor altered the format a bit, implementing a nifty “double-goal” approach. FIRST they had to escape the planet. THEN they had to defeat Hela. By instituting two goals instead of one, you keep one goal close enough to the hero that we stay invested. If you only have that one big goal at the end, that means that at minute 45 of the film, your audience is still 60 minutes away from the goal. If you throw in a big goal BEFORE that final goal, now they’re only waiting 30 minutes before something important happens.
Getting back to the “controversy” surrounding the film, some folks have issues with the dialogue, that too much of it is goofy and improvised. The argument goes like this. How important can the story be if actors are allowed to joke around, improvise, and say whatever they want?
For me, overtly humorous dialogue is okay as long as the story’s moving forward. For example, if Thor and Hulk are making fun of each other for three minutes and that’s all the scene is, I have a problem with that. But that’s not what happens. When Thor and Hulk are taking jabs at each other, it’s while Thor is trying to convince Hulk to help him escape the planet.
I will say this, however. Chris Hemsworth isn’t as funny as he or the people surrounding him think he is. There’s been this grass-roots internet campaign promoting Chris Hemsworth as the second coming of Jerry Seinfeld. Let’s be honest. Chris Hemsworth is funny for a hunk. But he’s not going to be stealing gigs from Patton Oswald at The Hollywood Improv anytime soon. So they probably could’ve reined him in a bit.
Speaking of issues, Loki (Thor’s brother, played by Tom Hiddleston) should not have been in this movie. He has little to no effect on the story at all. But the bigger problem is that he’s just not a good character. There should be lots of fresh conflict to explore via Thor and Loki’s sibling rivalry, yet every scene of theirs feels like a slight variations on one of the other 50 scenes we’ve already seen between them. This is one of the issues with these Marvel movies. Once you’ve established a character as a major player in the universe, you can’t get rid of him. It’d be nice if it were like Star Wars. Jar-Jar a bad idea? No problem. We’ll limit him to 3 minutes in the next film.
What I love about Thor: Ragnarok, and most Marvel movies I see, is that I always walk out of them with a smile on my face. I genuinely feel like a happier person when I leave the theater. And this movie left me with the biggest smile of all the Marvel movies yet.
[ ] What the hell did I just watch?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the price of admission
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: If you have to continually fight to find scenes for a character in your story, it probably means that character needs to go. That was clearly the case with Loki. He was so non-essential to the events that almost every scene he was in started with him in the background and someone calling him over. We all fall in love with certain characters we write. But if someone’s not working, you gotta get rid of them.
I got two words for you, baby. Thor. Ragnarok. This weekend. Review on Monday. But while you’re waiting, why don’t you dive into some amateur offerings and find the next great screenplay.
How to play Amateur Offerings: Read as much of each script as you can and submit your winning vote in the comments section. Votes will be counted through Sunday, 11:59pm Pacific Time. Winner gets a script review next Friday!
For those who want to play in the next Amateur Offerings, send me a PDF of your script, along with the title, genre, logline, and why you think people should read it (your chance to really pitch your story). All submissions should be sent to Carsonreeves3@gmail.com.
Title: KILLING THE REAPERS
Logline: After a young paramedic’s soul is prematurely taken by a grim reaper, he must navigate a confusing and dangerous afterlife to find the way back to his destined life.
Why You Should Read: Originally, I was interested in the idea of a young man who has his whole life ahead of him and gets cheated out of it on what should be his happiest day. I wanted to create an afterlife that exists in the real world, where life and death are under the purview of a decaying bureaucracy filled with undead civil servants who act as grim reapers. I was intrigued by the concept of a hero whose job was to save lives and must now save those whose job is to end lives. — I sincerely appreciate anyone who checks out even a few pages of my script. I look forward to anxiously reading insightful comments from Carson and the learned SS community.
Title: Native Blood
Logline: A Native American woman is forced to seek vengeance against the Bollard Gang, an infamous group of scalp hunters responsible for the extinction of her people.
Why You Should Read: Hey Carson, longtime fan and lurker here. I just relocated from Philadelphia to Los Angeles to pursue the dream. Native Blood is a brutal revenge thriller that transcends the genre by bringing to light the horrors of America’s westward expansion. The story takes an unflinching look our nation’s history in the hopes of creating an authentic Native American folk hero. After the first ten pages I guarantee you’ll be hooked.
Title: SNAPPING TURTLE
Logline: Legendary drinker, brawler, and keelboat captain Mike Fink travels down the Ohio River, unaware that one of his passengers is plotting kidnapping and murder – and has accomplices waiting downstream to attack the boat.
Why You Should Read: Some background. After the American Revolution, the frontier was the Northwest Territory (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota. Americans called it, “Indian Country.” The British called it “The Indian Reserve” and tried to preserve it as a buffer between the US and the British colony of Canada. The Ohio and the Mississippi Rivers were the residents only means of moving freight. Big, slow moving rivers – average current velocity about 2 mph. You could walk faster. But if you walked you couldn’t carry freight or passengers. For that, you needed a boat. Practically anything would go downstream – rafts, barges, flatboats. But if you wanted to travel upstream as well, you needed a keel-boat – a long narrow boat, with cleated running-boards on each side of the cabin, for the crew to walk on and pole the boat. They were up to 120 feet long, and able to carry up to fifty tons of freight as well as passengers. Mike Fink was the Chuck Norris of his time, but where Chuck’s record was in point karate, Mike’s was in the no rules combat called rough-and-tumble, eye-gouging, or simply gouging. I was surprised to learn that Fink was only portrayed once on film, in two episodes of Disney’s Davey Crockett series (during the fifties). I think this script contains everything Carson has blogged about in the context of thrillers: Dramatic irony throughout the script, ticking time-bombs (figuratively, not literally), and a MacGuffin. Did I miss anything?
I had some great source material for this one: antebellum folklore, history, and pulp – everything long out of copyright. Thanks to everyone who checks out the script.
Title: My Sojourn In Hell
Genre: Thriller, Drama
Logline: A Vietnam POW struggles to survive captivity to seek revenge on the group of soldiers who betrayed him and left him for dead.
Why You Should Read: Been at this incredibly rewarding and gut-punching craft for seven years now. I’ve had my share of contest placements and even turned one of my ten scripts into a multi award-winning book, however, I’m still on the hunt for that big breakthrough. For this script I stepped way out of my comfort zone and broke some of the so-called “rules.” This is a past/present script that is part The Revenant, part Apocalypse Now, and part Saw. Would love the invaluable feedback from the Scriptshadow community to make it the best it can be.
Title: DARK HORDE
Logline: In the Middle Ages, two warring military commanders, one Christian and one Muslim, must team up to stop an alien force from weaponizing the Bubonic plague to annihilate humanity.
Why You Should Read: Dark Horde combines the structure of films like PREDATOR and PITCH BLACK with the historical heft of films like GLADIATOR. I think you should review DARK HORDE because it is not only exciting, suspenseful, and a hell of a good read, but it also brings something brand new to the Sci-Fi genre.
A quote doesn’t always become part of the screenwriting lexicon because it deserves to. A lot of times, a quote becomes famous simply because it sounds good. And there’s nobody better at creating sexy-sounding quotes than writers. I mean, that’s their job, right? So today I wanted to sift through some of the sexiest writing quotes throughout the years and determine which advice is actually good, and which you should ball up and toss in the wastebasket.
“If you want to send a message, go to Western Union.” – This was uttered by a famous studio head in the Golden Age of Hollywood in response to screenwriters who argued that their stories should be about more than surface-level entertainment, that their movies should actually contain a theme, or “message.” Here’s the thing about this piece of advice. I think what the studio head was referring to wasn’t themes in screenplays. He was responding to bad writers clumsily executing over-the-top themes in screenplays. Of course your script should be about something. But if you’re on-the-nose and clumsy with the way that theme is executed, people aren’t going to respond well. As is the case with most aspects of screenwriting, you must integrate the component invisibly.
“Every story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. But not necessarily in that order.” – This was one of the most famous screenwriting quotes to come out of the 90s, and it was born out of the success of Quentin Tarantino, specifically Pulp Fiction. The advice itself is fine. But it set a bad precedent to aspiring screenwriters, encouraging them to write these wild out-of-sequence narratives before they knew how to tell a simple story. Who cared about a narrative spine, stakes or compelling characters when you could rapidly cut back and forth between disparate storylines? As such, I would be wary of this advice. Learn to tell simple stories first and then move on to more complex narratives like Pulp Fiction.
“Kill your babies” – This popular piece of advice has been around for half a century, and the idea behind it is simple. Writers – especially beginner screenwriters – believe that every thing they write down on the page is gold. As in, once it’s there, it cannot be erased. Ever. To be a great screenwriter, you must be willing to eliminate that character, that scene, that subplot, that dialogue exchange, if it doesn’t keep the story moving forward. This is the essence of “Kill your babies.” You have to be a harsh editor. This advice was relevant when screenwriting was invented, and it will be relevant for as long as screenwriting is around.
“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” – I remember when I first heard this quote and it kind of blew my mind. You can’t fail if you never give up. Death is literally the only thing that can stop you. But I do think the quote is dangerous. There are people who are 15 years into their pursuit of screenwriting (or whatever artistic endeavor they’re pursuing) who aren’t living productive lives. You have to be smart about it. As you get older and “adult” responsibilities creep in, you shouldn’t be hedging every aspect of your life on selling that big screenplay. It’s cute at 25. Not at 35. However, the awesome thing about writing is that it’s the cheapest of all the artistic pursuits. So make sure you’re giving the rest of your life ample attention and squeeze in time to write after those duties are over. As long as you love to write, there’s no reason to stop.
“Always ask yourself, what’s the worst thing I can do to my hero right now? Then do that.” – There are a lot of variations of this quote. Another comes from Kurt Vonnegut: “Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.” One of the biggest mistakes young writers make is that they’re too kind to their protagonists. Every aspect of their journey is too easy. You gotta put your protagonist through the wringer, man! For the exact reason that Vonnegut points out. We only find out who a person truly is when they’re faced with adversity.
“If there’s a problem in the third act, it’s because of an issue in your first act.” Of all the famous pieces of screenwriting advice out there, this is one of the ones I like the least, mainly because it’s vague. And there’s no quicker way to confuse a newbie screenwriter than to give them vague advice. I think what the advice is trying to say is that if something isn’t working in your third act, it means you didn’t set it up properly. For example, if your hero kills the dragon with some potion he randomly found two seconds prior, that would’ve worked better had you set the potion up earlier. But it doesn’t mean you needed to set it up in the first act. You could’ve just as easily set it up in the second act. So the advice here is more, “If something isn’t working in your climax, you need to set it up better somewhere.” Of course, that doesn’t sound as flashy, which is one of the problems with famous quotes.
“If you show a gun at any point in your story, it must be used later.” – I agree with this one. And note that “gun” is a stand-in for any weapon. Crossbow, hunting knife, bomb. And this is mostly due to the way we’ve been conditioned by cinema. It’s happened so many times in movies before, that if you DO show a weapon and don’t use it, it’s confusing to the audience. I remember reading a script once where the writer went to great lengths to highlight this sword on a wall. He described every crevice of the thing. I was convinced it would be used later to decapitate someone. Nope. It was never mentioned again. Drove me crazy.
“If I have anything to say to young writers, it’s stop thinking of writing as art. Think of it as work.” This one comes from Paddy Chayefsky and it’s something I’ve come to appreciate more as I’ve grown older. Screenplays only reach their potential during rewrites. And, unfortunately, when you’re on your 7th draft and nothing about your story is fresh or fun to you anymore, busting the computer open isn’t as easy as it was during that stream-of-conscious rollercoaster ride of a first draft. The good writers buckle down and they get the work done, even when it’s not fun. So I totally agree with Paddy here.
“Write drunk, edit sober.” – I don’t know who said this (was it Hemingway?) but this is the very definition of what’s wrong with famous quotes. This is such a sexy quote and so fun to say but it’s terrible advice. While writing drunk is fine to do every so often, you do not want it to become a crutch. You’ll be convinced that the only way you write good stuff is to get wasted, and that’s not sustainable. However, I do like the cousin of this quote, as it captures the spirit of it in a much healthier way: “Write from your heart; rewrite from your head.” Be non-judgmental when you write. Let yourself feel things without right-braining them to death. Then, when it’s time to rewrite, bring a more logical assessment to the writing.
“Grab’em by the throat and never let them go.” – This comes from Billy Wilder and I think it’s one of the most important pieces of screenwriting advice you’ll ever hear. Too many writers put the burden of investment on the reader. “You owe me,” is how they look at writing. No no no no no. Readers don’t owe you anything. It’s up to you to keep them invested. And the second you drop that ball, whether it’s on page 1 or page 50? They’re gone. They’re done with your script and they have that right. You want to grab your reader with the very first page and then every subsequent page, ask yourself, “Do I still have them?” If you don’t think you do, rewrite the scene until the answer is yes. That doesn’t your script should be one long action set-piece. You can use mystery, suspense, foreshadowing, conflict, dramatic irony, confrontation, anticipation, an intriguing new character, and, sure, a kick-ass action scene we’ve never seen before. You have hundreds of tools available to yourself. You are in control of whether your scenes are good or boring. Never take that for granted.
Carson does feature screenplay consultations, TV Pilot Consultations, and logline consultations. Logline consultations go for $25 a piece or 5 for $75. You get a 1-10 rating, a 200-word evaluation, and a rewrite of the logline. I highly recommend not writing a script unless it gets a 7 or above. All logline consultations come with an 8 hour turnaround. If you’re interested in any sort of consultation package, e-mail Carsonreeves1@gmail.com with the subject line: CONSULTATION. Don’t start writing a script or sending a script out blind. Let Scriptshadow help you get it in shape first!