gone-girl-movie-stillTip #8!

1) Start with a better opening scene – Your opening scene is everything, not just because it kick-starts your story, but because it’s when you’re being judged the harshest. The battle between writer and reader is usually won or lost early on. So don’t give us some “decent” opening scene. Whether you’re writing a blockbuster or an introspective indie film, start us out with something that catches our attention immediately.

2) Cut out excess description – Too much description slows down the read, which creates the illusion that the story itself is slowing down. The key is to always stay on point. Any line that isn’t describing an action or an important piece of information can probably go. This is especially important during the climax, when the script must move the quickest. I’ve read two scripts in the last month which were ruined by over-described climaxes.

3) Get your hero out on his/her journey by page 25 – Whatever his ultimate goal is in the movie, have him start pursuing that no later than 25. Readers have less and less patience these days and if your script is wandering during the very first act, it’s an indication it will only get worse later.

4) Cut out your three worst scenes – If those scenes have important information in them, figure out a way to move that information to other scenes.

5) Give us at least one weird memorable character – Have at least one character in your script who’s unique, different and unforgettable, the kind of character you know actors will be climbing over each other to play. The autistic hitman (The Accountant with Ben Affleck – coming soon), the goofball pirate (Pirates of the Caribbean), the polite serial killer (Silence of the Lambs), the sex-crazed obese woman (Bridesmaids), the manic-depressive romantic (Eternal Sunshine). The reality is, movies get remembered, but characters get immortalized. If you can’t give us at least one unique stand-out character, you’re not writing a complete script.

6) Make sure your characters are talking to each other, not the audience – In other words, stop making your exposition so obvious. Exposition is born mostly out of characters talking directly to the audience. If it ever sounds like you’re doing that, rewrite the scene and focus on what the character would REALLY SAY (like IN THE REAL WORLD) to the other character in the scene. See if you can slip your exposition into that conversation.

7) Eliminate all on-the-nose dialogue – Always try to have something going on underneath the scene when two characters are talking. It doesn’t have to be a giant secret. It could be that one person is simply aggravated with the other. But if your characters are constantly saying exactly what they feel, what they want, what they’re thinking, and there’s no hidden agenda or hidden thoughts behind those words, then your dialogue is likely on the nose.

8) Set up several big questions throughout your script which you don’t answer right away – These will act as suspense-threads, which, if the questions are compelling enough, will keep the reader reading until they get the answer. Questions can range from, “What happened to Amy?” (Gone Girl), “Why do I keep waking up over and over again on the same day?” (Edge of Tomorrow), and even smaller stuff, like “Whose baby is this?” (The Hangover).

9) Focus more on character – One of the biggest problems I’ve been seeing with scripts lately is that the writers always focus on plot. Plot is the mechanics of the story. They’re the things that happen to, for, and against your characters. But remember, the audience connects with the characters, not the story. So figure out what your hero is battling (flaws, vices), what the problems are between each set of people in your story (distance, lack of trust), and focus more on those. An exclusively plotty story gets very boring if you don’t put in the character work.

10) Add more conflict/tension to your scenes – Go through all your scenes. There should only be a few where everything is going swimmingly. For the rest, make sure there’s some kind of conflict or tension taking place. The scene in Gone Girl where Nick calls over the cops after Amy goes missing is a great example.  Although they’re having a perfectly cordial conversation, the tension comes in the fact that the cop is suspicious of Nick.  She’s wondering if he had something to do with this.  One of the quickest ways to bore me as a reader is to give me scene after scene where characters are happy and/or agreeable.

  • Paul Clarke

    Great list Carson.

    Can I be so bold as to suggest another? Something that helps with many of these elements:

    11) Every character wants something. None exist simply to advance the plot, or to reveal information.

    Like the detective mentioned in Gone Girl. She wants to solve the crime. Hence the conflict. Plus her dialogue doesn’t feel on the nose because we understand her purpose and can read subtext in the questions she asks him. Everybody wants something. Characters who don’t, don’t feel like real human beings.

    • carsonreeves1

      I agree, this one is very important. It’s unofficially officially number 11. :)

  • OddScience

    And make your Villain bigger, badder, smarter, funnier, stronger, and more cunning, clever, cooler than your Hero. Insurmountable odds, them be.

    • carsonreeves1

      I was going to add one about villains but ran out of numbers. Good call. :)

      • klmn

        You should go back to school. Modern science has discovered numbers that go past ten.

        Some researchers theorize that they go as high as fourteen.

        • Midnight Luck

          My theory is…they have to go as high as 21, otherwise BlackJack wouldn’t work, and I wouldn’t keep loosing so much money…I have to believe it is true, otherwise the House keeps just screwing me….

        • hickeyyy

          Actually, 24 is the highest number…

    • Scott Strybos

      Most recent example: Gone Girl. That villain made that film what it is, elevated the story, both film and novel, to a whole new level.

    • brenkilco

      Make him a rounded character. Make him sympathetic. Make him persuasive. Make him reasonable. Make him almost right.

  • Poe_Serling

    5) Give us at least one weird memorable character – Have at least one character in your script who’s unique, different and unforgettable…

    Good one, Carson!! I couldn’t agree more.

    Just having that one really ‘weird’ character can often make even so-so films hard to forget.

    A few that come to mind…

    >>Secret Window… it features my favorite struggling writer/diary farmer of all-time – John Shooter.

    “I’ll burn your life and every person in it like a hurricane in a high wind.”
    — John Shooter to Mort Rainey

    >>Poltergeist 2… don’t remember one lick about the storyline, but the Kane character is still a one-man spookfest in my memories.

    >>The Benchwarmers… Howie aka The Weird Kid. And yes, he lives up to his name.

    • carsonreeves1

      That’s a great point about Poltergeist 2. I too don’t remember the movie but remember that character.

    • Linkthis83

      Right on about Kane. Even the third one that had elements that are super scary.

      The films that took place at their home made me scared of things as a kid that I never would’ve thought to be afraid of – like my TV.

      Hey Poe, when I was doing work in Boston recently I accidentally realized that I wasn’t that far from Danvers, MA – Which is where the Danvers State Hospital from SESSION 9 is located. I was going to go there and take photos and post them on here.

      Then I did a little research and learned that the site has been torn down and replaced by condominiums. They left some stuff to pay homage to the site, but it’s not quite the same. So I didn’t make a special trip there.

      I watched SESSION 9 and then re-watched it with the commentary. I felt cheated a little bit by the story, but overall, it was a great watch.

      • Poe_Serling

        Hey Link-

        I’m glad you got a chance to check out Session 9. Plus, it’s great little horror flick to watch with the Halloween season lurking just around the corner. ;-)

        I always feel abandoned places like Danvers and such are tailor-made settings for some inventive writer’s latest scarefest.

        http://www.blastr.com/2012/07/10_of_the_creepiest_aband.php

        • Linkthis83

          Oh man, I completely agree. In my travels for work I’ve gotten to experience places like this – not the towns so much, but just abandoned properties/farms.

          Once I had to go to Louisiana after Katrina and I was in a small, abandoned neighborhood. Everybody’s houses were wide open and damaged. Those moments are very surreal, but from a creative perspective, very inspirational for story creation.

          There was talk that I might have to go to Japan at some point and while prepping for my trip I discovered this and was going to put it on my list of places to visit:

          http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e4414.html

          While doing work in Scotland, I got to visit Slains Castle. The cool thing about this particular experience is that there are tourist signs all over Scotland for castles to visit. Not this one. I found out about this one from a security guard at a facility I was visiting.

          I had this baby all to myself for my entire visit. And even concocted a small story idea – long before I decided to try screenwriting. It’s also been rumored this particular castle may have inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Slains_Castle

  • Bifferspice

    i think my favourite tip that I’ve learned from Scriptshadow is that when you think about a solution to a situation your character is in, and you come up with a solution, keep thinking, because that first one you came up with is probably the one the audience will come up with too. To truly surprise the audience, you need to come up with equally viable solutions that come less easily to mind.

    • http://www.linkedin.com/pub/brett-martin/52/702/72 ElectricDreamer

      Beware of LOW-HANGING FRUIT in your screenplay.

    • davejc

      That’s my favorite too that I learned here.

  • Sean Ryan

    You can’t get your hook or inciting incident in too early. Modern audiences/readers have a limited attention span that is shrinking by the day. Get them in early and keep ‘em hooked.

    • Bifferspice

      i disagree. get it in when it’s right to get it in, but make sure the rest of your story is interesting enough to keep your audience’s attention.

      • Sean Ryan

        Not from what I’ve been told these days. On TV hook in half a page. Film no later then the first. I don’t make these rules, or idea. Just passing on what I’ve been told by people working in the industry. It’s the youtube generation. You don’t get a 10-20 minute Die Hard build up any more. People get bored before they even know it these days.

        • Bifferspice

          i still disagree. depends who you’re writing for, i guess. some of the best regarded black list scripts i’ve read seem to take their time the same way any scripts do. it’s the people who aren’t sure their storytelling holds up who seem to rush in to the hook. any decent storyteller should be able to involve the audience with the story they’re telling. if you get your hook in the first page, you’ve still got to carry it for 119 more pages. what are you going to do then? maybe a couple more explosions?

          • ChadStuart

            Yep, I agree. The hook of the story is completely different than hooking an audience in. It doesn’t matter if your story hook is 25 or 30 pages in so long as that first 25 to 30 pages are interesting and entertaining. Isn’t it Grendl who keeps saying to just entertain? It’s true. If you’re entertaining the reader/audience then you can take your time setting up your story and characters. “The Hangover” took some time to set up it’s main story hook, but that first 15 or 20 minutes were funny. So, we stuck around.

          • Sean Ryan

            Actually the hook for the hangover (for me) is when Bradley Cooper Said that’s “not gonna happen” (on page 2). That had me right there. The sequels didn’t hook me their entire running time (combined). But different courses for different horses. Or is it the other way around? :)

          • ChadStuart

            Exactly, that’s “hooking the audience”, which is different than the “story hook” which is when they wake up without Doug. But everything after page 2, where you got hooked, is setting up the story.

          • Sean Ryan

            The inciting Incident is when they wake up without Doug for me.

          • ChadStuart

            Yes, and the inciting incident is the story hook.

          • Sean Ryan

            Which goes back to hooking em in early. I’ve heard of hook/Inciting incident being one of the same and separate (depending on the story) but not the inciting incident as the story hook – I guess we learn something every day.

          • Matthew Garry

            I think the disagreement here stems mainly from the multiple meanings of “hook.”

            One definition of “hook” is a narrative device that sets off your narrative momentum.

            Another definition of hook is the general concept or theme

            To illustrate:

            In previous AF entry PET, the police raid in the dark neglected house and the discovery of a child in a cage is the hook in the first sense. It grabs your attention right away and draws you along, even without knowing anything about the story. It ‘hooks’ the viewer’s attention, and then hands it over to the rest of the narrative. Sometimes hooks in this sense are also referred to as “action openings.”

            It Pet, the hook in the second sense is “how would a child that has been raised in a cage for the first five years cope with adulthood?” If someone didn’t feel caught up in the story, they might say “It didn’t hook me” to indicate their lack of general interest in it.

            In screenwriting I strongly advocate just using the first definition, since the second one already has suitable and more distinct words to use like ‘concept’ or ‘theme’, when talking about story building (and not just about general reception as a moviegoer might do).

  • davejc

    On the nose dialogue: Stanley tells us exactly how he feels.

    • Linkthis83

      That’s not on the nose. The subtext is obvious that he’s not the maid. That’s he’s to be respected. He’s projecting his own insecurities onto the women. ;)

      • davejc

        Hi Mike! The way it appears to me is that Stanley doesn’t necessarily mind helping Stella clear the table. He probably does so every evening. What’s bothering Stanley is being called “Disgusting”, “Pig”, “Polack”. And he states as much without resorting to subtext.

        Anyway this might not be the best example of “on the nose” that works but it’s certainly one of my favorite scenes of all time.

        • brenkilco

          There’s a fair amount of subtext here. The dynamic in the house has changed. Stanley fears and resents that Stella is now starting to see him through the eyes of her seemingly refined sister, adding to the tension with Blanche, which is a large part of the story. So it isn’t just the specific insults or his anger.

          • davejc

            There is an enormous amount of subtext in this scene. I was just referring to his one outburst.

            By this moment in the story Stanley is already aware of Blanche’s checkered past, which he always suspected. He’s already told Stella, who didn’t have too much trouble believing it. He even has Blanche’s birthday present in his pocket, a bus ticket back to Laurel. So I don’t think Stanley is so much afraid at this point, he holds all the cards and it’s pretty much game over for Blanche.

        • Linkthis83

          Oh man, I was being sarcastic. And simultaneously trying to make the point that on the nose is completely fine too. Some stories need those moments. Also I was trying to advocate that when people think things are on the nose, that there is plenty of subtext to the on the nose dialogue as well. But people don’t see that because they just want to call something on the nose :) My bad, Dave.

          • davejc

            That’s a great point, Mike. I’ve actually heard 3 separate definitions for “on the nose” dialogue, lacking subtext being the most common. At the end of the day, I believe that if your audience likes the dialogue and delivery then nothing else matters. if they don’t like it then it’s too on the nose.

          • walker

            I think I get the note to make things more explicit more than any other note I receive. Other than the note to give up screenwriting.

  • leitskev

    Helpful tips. We should all try to add one of our own so we can get a great list. Here’s my attempt:

    You need TP’s for your…

    …as in Turning Points. Yeah, we have the act turns, but TP’s are useful everywhere. Like pubs on St Patrick’s Day, they liven things up.

    Every sequence should have a turning point, and if possible every scene.

    For example, in the opening of the Social Network, the scene ends with the girl breaking up with Mark. This is a sequence TP which leads him to create the antecedent to Facebook. But there is also a TP within the scene itself, where Marc’s insulting comment causes the girl to break with him.

    If a story connects together enough of these TP’s it’s a very active story. Especially since a TP is usually a reversal, a hinge where the scene turns.

    Hopefully someone finds this useful! Time to read through the other suggestions.

    • Linkthis83

      TPs for your plotholes?

      • Nate

        ”I am The Great Cornholio!”

      • leitskev

        love it! Will use it!

    • Kosta K

      That’s the one thing I hate about this town: all the damn acronyms! Lol :)

  • Cuesta

    Hey Carson, the RSS feed stopped working the last two days.
    I don’t know if it only happened to me, I use Feedly and all the content from other sites work just fine.

  • sotiris5000

    Completely off topic, but

    Does anyone know where I can see video examples of people pitching film ideas. Like, someone actually doing it. All I’ve come across on youtube is tutorials on how to pitch. I’ve never actually seen someone pitch an idea and have difficulty understanding the intricacies. If we could find a few videos, maybe Carson could compare them.

    • Bifferspice

      only one i’ve seen:

      • sotiris5000

        Cheers mate. I’ll have a look at that when I get home. I find the idea of pitches so weird. It would be so much easier if I could just see someone do one.

        • pmlove

          The video doesn’t go far into pitching, just general presentation skills (body language, first impressions, etc).

          • sotiris5000

            It’s one of those things that you think would be easy to find on YouTube but I’ve never been able to find one. It would be great to have a first hand example of how people do it…

          • Bifferspice

            it is what pmlove says it is, but it’s still interesting. best tips are to start with the title and genre, speak slowly, and pause frequently. it’s tempting to gabble, thinking you’ll lose their interest if you don’t, but it’s just impossible to follow someone’s idea at the speed they talk when they’re nervous. at a meeting i had with a producer, i pitched my ideas, gabbled, and lost him, and he pitched me his ideas, spoke slowly, and started with the interesting set pieces, so told it out of sequence where necessary. he was confident, and paused plenty, and it made his stories far easier to follow. i am spectacularly rubbish at it though :(

    • Midnight Luck

      So if you haven’t seen the reality TV show ON THE LOT which played in 2007, here it is, in low quality, but all you are doing is watching them pitch Brett Ratner, Gary Marshall, and Carrie Fisher from a Logline they have been given. You have to go through all the rah-rah of the TV show but you get to see some of the actual pitches.

      I saw it back then, it is based on people who have made Short Films or Films, but at least part two of the first episode gives you some of their live pitches. In episode 2 they do highlights and fails but at least you get to see some of the pitches.

      Hopefully some of this is what you are looking for.

      http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x22xlw_on-the-lot-s01e01-part-1_shortfilms

      and part 2, but I believe this is more about a short film they make? Only watched the first few minutes of it, at least there is one full pitch in it.

      http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x22xv3_on-the-lot-s01e01-part-2_shortfilms

      • Bifferspice

        excellent, i’m interested in this too. from what you say, it isn’t worth tracking down the full series? too much superficial chat and repetitive tv reality crap?

        • Midnight Luck

          Well, that whole first episode seems to just be the contestants being shown around the lot, being at the Hotel, the talking heads blabbing away about how it works and going on and on about the EXCITEMENT! and AMAZING! stuff they are doing. It is really boring, until you get to what is actually happening with the people in the contest.

          It was interesting on the whole, that is for sure. The main focus, after those initial “Pitch” sessions, was having the people create stories based on the contest Loglines, and then they make a movie, sometimes in only 24 hours. Writing, filming, editing and showing within that timespan.

          If anyone likes American Idol, this is just Idol for Directors. So, if you want to see what happens to all these people, the different projects they are given to do, and how they fare, then it is worth checking out. I saw it when it aired, and I was quite let down. But that was just me, and my impression of what a show like this should be.

          It only went that one Season, so it seems it didn’t do well at all with the public either.

          But from a learning experience, there is some to be gathered from it.

          • Bifferspice

            that sounds really frustrating. why give them just 24 hours? why not go through the whole process giving them a chance to actually create something worth watching?? that sounds like it just trivialises the whole movie making process and then surrounds it with tinsel and annoying people! :)

          • Midnight Luck

            Yeah, that is what I mean. Yes there is something interesting about writing and creating in a short period of time, but this show was ALL that kind of thing. They had new projects to make and create each week, so each and every thing they made was rushed. Even if they had the whole week to begin and finish something, it still felt slapped together once you saw their short.

            I don’t know, I thought the whole way the show functioned was pretty junky and sloppy. I was hoping for something more intense and less contrived. Instead of taking an American Idol platform and trying to make it work for Directors, they should have come up with their own style and system.

            But, if you just want to see some people pitching (like Sotiris is) it is interesting to see what it looks like, how the 3 big wigs respond, and MOST interesting, was how POOR all the contestants were at it.

          • Bifferspice

            seems like either people are scared of seeing what talented people can do given enough time, or decision makers think that they are. like showing a real talent, in depth, is offputting or something, like it might alienate people. if you want to find the best of something, like a director, or whatever, then give them the best shot of creating something good. :-/ ah well. just gimmicky stuff again, i guess. thanks for the headsup though, i’ll watch the pitches, but won’t bother with the rest of the show :)

          • Midnight Luck

            well it was a combo of a gimmicky concept and trying to force the show into a certain kind of structure. how do you make a 10-12 week show interesting to the viewer, AND make it fit into the results oriented weekly episodic format, where every 1 episode a week has to have a finished product, and end with a new start so everyone will tune in again? Easy when people are singing a song, or losing weight in THE BIGGEST LOSER, but much more difficult when there are a ton of steps, a ton of work involved to make a completed thing such as a finished film, even if it is a short of 30 seconds, a minute or 3 minutes.

            I think they really bungled what this could have been.

            The other (and bigger) problem was, they looked for Directors. I can’t remember if they also looked for Writer / Directors, but very quickly in the Pitch sessions you realize, “these people aren’t Storytellers”. So the focus was on the TECH people. The people good at getting a shot, or lighting, or Animation programs on the computer, or editing, or whatever. All the very TECHNICAL aspects of this. I guess they thought: “hey, WE are giving them the LOGLINE, what more do they need? They just run with it, and we’ll have an awesome bunch of films. We did choose all 50 of them because they made a good film.” These people, for the most part, weren’t Writers, or Storytellers. They were technical people. Yet the whole show was about how to MAKE something from start to finish (including a WHOLE story, short, film), though they NEGLECTED to think being a WRITER or having those Storytelling abilities were of ANY importance!

            That is just so Hollywood. The Writer as being of importance, is just a throw-away concept.

            That didn’t take into account, 1) maybe someone ELSE wrote the script. 2) They probably had a TON of help and other people working to make it a finished film.

            Still there are some good things about the Show, but mostly it is good, BECAUSE you see EXACTLY what NOT to do as a whole.

    • Midnight Luck

      Here is another Youtube of real life pitches happening, though it is at a conference going on in Napa Valley, but it is in front of some Hollywood people, including the Director of NARC and The A-TEAM.

      You have to get to minute 11:30 before someone starts pitching.

      • sotiris5000

        Wow! Thank you. This is exactly what I was looking for. Cheers! I’ll have a watch tonight and report back.

        • Midnight Luck

          you might want to watch ON THE LOT episode 1 part 2 also. It is set in a more “Hollywood” like setting, in front of 3 big wig people and the people pitching are doing it in a more standard way. Just for reference as well.

        • Midnight Luck

          No problem, hope it helps.

          • sotiris5000

            Thank you. I just watched the videos and the one from the film festival is really interesting and useful. It definitely gives me a sense of what I have to do. Cheers!

          • Bifferspice

            i’m struggling to get through it. i’m cringing too hard for the people pitching. is there any way they could make the process of pitching more awkward? it’s the most unnatural way of trying to communicate a cool idea, that when you’re chatting to mates in a bar would come really easily, but staring into the cold dead eyes of uninterested people who are thinking what they’ll have for lunch, or still pondering the idiocy of the guy before, just makes you flounder and make you hate every previously cool idea that comes out of your own stupid hesitant untrustworthy mouth. it’s like whoever designed pitching came up with the best way to totally terrify people who spend the majority of their time on their own typing stuff into blank word documents.

          • sotiris5000

            Ha ha ha. I know exactly what you mean, but did you watch the pitch the guy gave for the Leonardo movie? The bald guy sits there looking bored out of his mind and at the end he says ‘this is a film. This is a script I want to read’ and he reckoned it was an excellent idea. But the whole time he was listening he looked dead.

      • pmlove

        Crikey. They all look so bored.

      • sotiris5000

        The bald guy looks so fucking bored. That must be so off-putting for the guy having to pitch.

      • tobban

        Just looking at those pitches made me nervous !
        Its an art form in itself.
        Thanks for posting the video !

      • Franchise Blueprints

        I jumped to the11:30 mark and watched three I might watch the fourth pitch. The second pitch was the only one I was interested in as a movie. A lost love / love triangle concert movie comedy. I think Carson covered this already “Is this idea a movie” or “Is this idea a movie I want to see?”

        I feel like the bald headed guy who looks bored to tears. Which is exactly why I was able to respond by pausing in the middle of the fourth pitch.

  • https://thebarkbitesback.wordpress.com/ Jim

    Write with a theme in mind. Make your story about something. Know where you’re going with your story before you start writing (know its ending, first!). Why? Because theme comes from the decision/action taken at the climax that determines whether the protagonist is successful in accomplishing the goal of the story AS WELL AS overcoming whatever personal problem that may have been holding them back.

    It’s that moment when plot and character unit to convey what YOU have to say as a writer. It’s that moment when Luke Skywalker learns to trust and put his faith in the force, which, accompanied with his flying skills, allows him to hit the mark and blow up the Death Star.

    It’s that moment Red decides to either get busy living, or get busy dying.

    It’s that moment William Wallace is forced to repent or suffer, not for what he wishes for himself – but for his country.

    Everything else that comes before should lead up to that decision which, perhaps not so ironically, is often a leap of faith where the character is forced to decide whether they’re going to change or not.

    • Scott Strybos

      Yes. Theme. Theme. Theme.

  • Scott Strybos

    “Make sure your characters are talking to each other, not the audience”

    A lot of great advice today but this is the best piece of advice offered in this article; it is something I think most writers forget about. We worry too much about the audience.

  • Randy Williams

    #4 “Cutting out your three worst scenes”,

    I think your first scene should most often get the ax.

    The majority of scripts I’ve read on AOW, I felt would have benefited from cutting out their FIRST scene or first few scenes and starting later.

    Even those ones I really loved should have been cut because if I really loved them, they were most often equally hated on AOW.

    Don’t be too slow, too world building, too controversial…be safe but punchy.

  • pmlove

    My own suggestion for #11 – Get a better title.

    One of the Nicholls screenplays is called “United States of Fuckin’ Awesome”. I’m curious based on that alone (although it’s a fine line).

    • Bifferspice

      titles with the word “fuck” in them make me yawn. they make me assume the writer is going for empty shock value rather than actually having a meaty screenplay, whether that’s true or not.

      • walker

        It is still a bold fantasy concept in which the United States is fuckin’ awesome.

      • pmlove

        True – a poor example perhaps. I agree. But I’d still open it, just to see what it’s about (maybe it’s the awesome part).

        I still think the title is very important. I’ve definitely felt reluctant to watch films due to the title, or been curious despite knowing better.

        ‘Safety Not Guaranteed’ is something I always skip past on Netflix, never wanting to find out what it is or whether it’s any good, almost universally based on the title. Maybe it’s the poster.

        • Bifferspice

          i think it screwed with “12 years a slave”. i mean that’s about slavery, and it was tipped for oscars. so that’s “worthy”, right? and then it’s about twelve fucking years?! that sounds like a fucking long movie. sounds like 12 years of drudgery.

          • Midnight Luck

            I
            I
            V

            12 Years a Slave

            Not so much. (Boring? Yes. Long winded? Oh Yes.)

        • Midnight Luck

          Safety is a good movie to check out
          I
          I
          V

      • Linkthis83

        You should read the opening pages to TOMMY TUCKER, MOTHERF*CKER.

        ;)

  • Ryan Sasinowski

    OMG, I LOVE Thursdays!!!

  • fragglewriter

    #1 – Can’t be said enough.
    #2 – Tricky, as sometimes the reader wants to know for clarity.
    #3 – Depends on the genre, but not too late.
    #4 – How do we cut out three worse scenes. I can definitely find one and maybe two scenes that defiitely add nothing and merge with another or just cut it out directly. But three? Unless it’s redundant, but be more difficult. Also, is this point after the 10th proofread or during?
    #5 – Depends on the story. I agree with memorable, but not every successful movie has a weird memorable character (Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars, Titanic) But I do think that comedies, action/adventure, dramadies and some dramas, do have a place for these characters.
    #6 & #7 – Content. Just because it’s off the nose doesn’t mean it’s interesting.
    #8 – Yes!!!
    #9 – Don’t overdue it cause too many questions can have the reader too busy trying to solve the ending/problem and not enough time enjoying the story.
    #10 – Yes!!!!

  • klmn

    OT. Woody Allen, the boxer! I saw a clip of this on CNN yesterday, so I had to find it on YouTube.

  • fragglewriter

    Does anyone have the scripts “Gone Girl” and “Cutter” (2011 Nicholl Fellowship Winner by Dion Cook).

    I would appreciate it. Send to Fragglewriter at yahoo dot com

    Thanks :-)

  • Linkthis83

    This might be an epic. My apologies in advance. Bail at anytime. I don’t present any of the following as facts. They are things I believe/implement. I am no expert.

    Before you go implementing these 10 tips (plus the awesome ones others are bringing up), I think the first place to start is with YOU/US…the writer.

    A) Remember our place: WE are spec writers. We have zero credibility in Hollywood. Our scripts are our representation. This is where we begin building our opportunities. This is where our credibility comes from first.

    If someone criticizes something about our story and our first inkling is to reply “Well…they did it in (insert well known movie here).” This isn’t acceptable because we are spec writers. We haven’t earned a reader’s patience.

    We are still allowed to tell our stories the way we want to tell them. We just have to understand that it is up to us to earn that credibility. It’s not going to be given to us. And it doesn’t matter if it should or shouldn’t, because those who are willing to read spec scripts are so inundated with scripts that there isn’t enough time, nor enough readers, in the world to give everything it’s proper review.

    I believe people should write the stories they want to tell, but that ultimately comes down to your overall goals in this endeavor. We know the odds are extreme, but what is unquantifiable is which choices are the “right” choices to make. When we receive feedback we must remember that it’s usually coming from a place the READER believes increases our chances. It doesn’t mean they are right. It’s just what they believe. Which is why feedback can be all over the board. We are always projecting our own wants, fears, experiences, etc. on the work we read of others. We must always be cognizant of this.

    B) Write with confidence and without fear: This is definitely a projection of my own here. When writing your story, don’t try to put it into future historical context. Only TIME decides which films become classics.

    One of my complaints about amateur scripts a lot is “vagueness” or mysteries for mystery’s sake. Being ambiguous so you can fit in your twist or reveals for later. You don’t need to do this. Create mysteries with actual details. Even if they are lies. Or cheats. Make choices and embrace them. Not “kind of scared” or “sort of reluctant.” Those fuckers are scared and reluctant. And they are scared and reluctant not because you told us, but because one is shaking and the other won’t go near the door. Don’t tell me they’re afraid of what’s behind the door, have one character nod to the other one to go on and open it, and the other shaking is head no and taking a step backwards.

    Don’t write trying to assuage all the critics. When you are first writing, fuck the critics. Write your story the way you want to write it. The way you think best delivers on your intention for the story. If they are in your head while you write, it’s going to show up on the page. That’s why I’m a huge advocate of “fuck the rules.” (I also hate also having to add the caveat – that doesn’t mean they don’t ever apply or have their place and time, but tell your story how you want to tell it first – then you’ll get the feedback and go back to your script and decide if you want to keep things or think you should change them – because they make your story better, not because you believe everybody else knows what is best for your story and you feel you need to appease them).

    Have you been paying attention your entire time here on SS – people criticize EVERYTHING for all kinds of different reasons. It’s hard to keep your backbone when you are outnumbered, but in this business, until you are someone, you are always going to be outnumbered. That’s why a lot of writers give the standard “after the game” locker room replies to feedback. But that’s also part of being a professional. That part will be hard for me when it comes feedback time, because I like the discussion.

    Don’t write with HOPE – like I said before, make your choices and embrace them. Writing with hope means you are writing with doubt. You must understand a script is an intention, not a finished product. That intention will go through many changes over time. The purpose of your intention is to create interest. Interest that needs to be shared and experienced. And hopefully on down the line until it gets someone to invest money and resources – once your intention gets supported and becomes a creative collaboration, then it has the opporunity to become something that will be witnessed on the big screen at the theater, or on the screens at home/work, then time will pass and the masses will place that creation into some sort of context – whether it’s a classic, a waste or whatever. Or it won’t be experienced by many, but a few, and some will think it’s the greatest thing ever or they won’t be able to believe they wasted their time/money on it.

    So we need to get our head’s right before we write.

    Now onto the list of tips…but before we do that, I think the tips need a preface: All tips/suggestions aren’t concrete facts of HOW to do something or that it HAS to be done this way. Tips are just as subjective as scrips/stories. The very instant someone tells you that you can’t/shouldn’t do something, there is something that exists out there where that very thing has been done. Yes, I’ve already stated not to use the other work as a defense. So don’t use it. Just know that you’ve made this certain choice and are willing to live with it. Remember your place when it comes to SS too – there are a lot of amateurs giving feedback – me included. Take what you think fits whatever it is you are working on. Use the stuff that inspires you. Or even better, challenge yourself to use the things you disagree with – you’ll get some really useful shit out of those, I promise you that.

    One of the things that bothers me at times is when advice is offered, anywhere, but it offered in the manner of DO THIS, but lacks the HOW portion. Which is the rub I guess for all of us. So if I can offer some of my suggestion for HOW to implement these tips, that’s my goal.

    1) Start with a better opening scene: Yeah, this is what I want from the amateur scripts I read here. My suggestion of HOW to create these better openings isn’t a big secret, but one I don’t think gets utilized enough = put your characters into situations. I think this is ultimately better utilized when we are watching primary characters in these situations. Or, put characters we aren’t going to care in the sitation that will be part of the bigger story.

    Some examples:

    BLOOD OF THE BUTCHER: I think this story should open with a victim of the serial killer. Whether it’s that person being abducted or killed (or a series of shots giving us all of that), then we, the audience, have a context for what’s at stake when we meet Agent Heatan and we learn that she’s is not the best choice to pursue this killer. We will get that sense of needed urgency as she fumbles her way through this process. There’s a weight already on us, and that will be maximized when we learn that she’s also to blame for the fact this killer still hasn’t been caught.

    BIG BROTHER: I liked that this script started with it’s protag in a situation and he was proactive as well. The scenes didn’t get me invested, but it got me interested. That’s a good start.

    REBEL CITY: Does a good job of setting some stakes and then immediately tying them to the story. And Jonjo gets proactive and the story is on it’s way and this happens quickly, credibly, and in a manner that makes me invested.

    SPACE INVADERS: This one does NOT put the character into a situation right away. It spends its time setting up the world and using a VO to do it. However, for me, this one was quite entertaining. So it can be done. Slayerqueen113 is put into a scenario at the grocery store, where we also get to learn about her and her real experience in this alien infested world.

    WATCHING OVER REMIE: This was a recent, slow burn script (which didn’t end up burning to the intensity is should’ve – in fact, it was a major let down, but we’re discussing beginnings). This one stuck with me because I challenged myself as a reader. The beginning was slow, not much was happening and right when I wanted to list these as marks against the script, I reminded myself that I need to give more writers credit for what they are doing. By doing that, I thought “What if this is on purpose?” The writing was good enough for me to give the writer the benefit of the doubt. This was a good lesson for me as a reader. Writer’s are more in control of their stories than we give them credit. And for this premise to have the impact it was going for, it needed this type of opening. I still think those situations could be less boring and more intersting, but I understood the choice.

    (This is one of my biggest What I Learned: when you want to be critical of story choices when you read others scripts…challenge YOURSELF and make the case for why the writer would choose to do it. You’ll see the story a lot differently, and you’ll learn quite a bit yourself.

    I get this isn’t an approach for everybody, but if you are serious about being a writer and increasing your ability, I believe it’s a definite must. It is for me.

    2) Cut out excess description: I get why this is necessary and I get why writers have a hard time doing it. Sometimes you see scenes so clearly you want to include every detail you can. Thinking that you are effectively delivering the scene as you see it and feel it. There are times when it is too much. Other times it is a puroseful choice in order to enhance the other things readers aren’t paying attention too. Mood or tone or theme. Hitting them on that subconscious level and they don’t even realize it. You just have to ask yourself if the description you have, the way you have it, is necessary for your overall intention. I miss overall intention all the time. Especially by reading only the first acts of a lot of screenplays. I don’t have time to read/review whole scripts, which is another reason openings are important.

    3) Get your hero out on his/her journey by page 25: Yes to this one too. You can certainly make a case for why your story is set up the way it is…I get it and I’d support it. Even if I don’t like your story or the way it is set up. The one thing I at least want to know in the first act is = What does your character want? Please at least give us that. What the character wants may change during the story, but at least let us know what’s driving him/her/them initially.

    I just want to be left alone.

    They are not taking this house from me.

    I’ve got to get into Stanford.

    Nobody has ever made it out alive.

    “Seamus is a match. He’s two hours away. He can fix our little boy.” (from REBEL CITY – page 4)

    4) Cut out your three worst scenes: This is so subjective that I can’t help you here. Only you can decide which scenes fall under this. Also, I feel like three is an arbitrary number. Don’t get too focused on that. Start with one scene. See what happens when you make changes.

    5) Give us at least one weird memorable character: Yep. The most memorable, weird character for me = Biaggio from KINGS OF SUMMER – loved this character.

    Don’t make them weird for weird’s sake. Take somebody that is essential to your story, but on the periphery, and find ways to make them more eccintric. How does that affect the scenes that character is in. Or, it could be your main good guy or villain. Whoever it is, just make sure it enhances the story you are trying to tell. Hans Gruber, baby.

    6) Make sure your characters are talking to each other, not the audience: This comes down to when you know you need the audience to know certain things at certain times in order to put things into the proper context, or the context you want them to have in order to effectively manipulate them. This is that dirty word = exposition.

    I’ve got a bold stance on exposition and that it’s not as bad as everybody claims it is. Until I got into writing I didn’t know what the hell exposition was or that it even existed in movies. I didn’t know when movies were telling me things that were vital that that had a specific name. Not only that, I didn’t know that this device when then used as a way to judge other creators based on their delivery of it.

    I’m not a harsh critic of the exposition delivery system and here’s why: First, it’s typically other writers that care the most and use it as a way to judge one another. Thus we strive for that way to embed exposition to a level that’s so mythological we earn the respect of our peers. However, it’s not necessary to take it to that level. Why do I feel that way? Because when I watch movies with the general, everyday moving going masses, they don’t say things like “look how obvious that exposition is.” This is not a mark against the general audience either. They are a smart, capable group most of the time. They don’t watch movies with the critical eye of how it was created. Most of them are going to get a night out, to go on a date, to be entertained, because they read the book, and endless amounts of other reasons. Very few of them go to anaylyze the writing, dialogue, structure, tone, theme and so on and so on.

    INCEPTION is the great go to example for exposition. I saw that movie before learning about the craft. I didn’t give two shits that they were spoonfeeding me exposition. That expo was some of the most fascinating shit I’d heard in a movie. It got me more invested. It helped me put things into context. It was fan-fucking-tastic.

    Write your expo as you feel necessary. Too many of us writers are romantics regarding what we like and hold things to those standards. And others get very elitist about the quality of writing. After looking at enough scripts written by professionals, there’s not this huge gap of what they do versus what a lot of us do. Like everything else, do it the way you feel is best. If that turns out not to be working, try some other implementations.

    7) Eliminate all on-the-nose dialogue: No way, man. This is one of those things I think gets a bad reputation sometimes. All your dialogue shouldn’t be on the nose, but you shouldn’t get rid of all of it either. Sometimes people call out on the nose dialogue and on the surface it appears that way, but in fact, there’s actually subtext going on there. We are reactive readers for the most part so this makes sense, but like I mentioned before, make a case for it. And if you haven’t read the entire story, then you only assume it’s on the nose. It very well could be, but it could also serve a necessary story need.

    Sometimes dialogue that is on the nose is perfect for a scene/moment. It calls out another character or some necessary conflict/drama. Or it heightens an emotion.

    I’ve also been advocating for process to creating more believable by the approach of knowing a character’s PERSONALITY and their PARADIGM (how they perceive the world). These two factors alone will give your character the foundation for which any of their dialogue will come. And when you put two of your characters in a situation or conversation, this will inform their actions as well as HOW the talk about stuff. TRUE DETECTIVE is great for this approach.

    As an example of on the nose dialogue from a spec script…

    In DONNIE DARKO, on page 5, this exchange happens between Donnie and his mother, Rose.

    ROSE: You know…it would be nice to look at you some time…and see my son. I don’t recognize this person today.

    DONNIE: Then why don’t you start taking the goddamn pills?

    This feels so very on the nose to me and it happens on page 5. This was a spec script written by Richard Kelly. He refused to sell it unless he got to direct it. It ended up going through Drew Barrymore’s production company and getting made with Richard as the director. I show this to show that on the noise dialogue isn’t the death of anything and sometimes it is necessary. If I had read this as an amateur script I would’ve told Richard there’s got to be a better way to deliver this information. Now, in the script, the pills are set up the scene previous because his sister told his mom that she saw Donnie flushing his pills down the toilet. In the movie, that scene doesn’t exist. It was the mom’s line that felt more on the nose to me, but I like when character’s are bold about their position. And a lot of times I wish characters would be more direct about what they are feeling or their disposition. They directness usually comes out around the end of act II/beginning of act III.

    “I want the truth!” — “You can’t handle the truth.”

    An example from one of our own recent amateur scripts where I felt one portion of the dialogue was unnecessary:

    50 HIGH STREET

    LOUISE: She only comes home to sleep. I don’t think she wants to be in our family anymore.

    I don’t know if I’m “right” that the second line doesn’t need to be in there, but I felt the first line was an indicator of the second and perhaps, too redundant. I’m not an expert. This is just a note for the writer to think about, if they feel it is a worthy critcism.

    TIP – if you find yourself struggling with a scene, write it out as on the nose as possible. You’ll get to see in full display what you are trying to convey in this scene, and then you can go through it and try and find ways to layer it and cloak it.

    GIRL – This is the last place I want to be right now. Why are we here?

    GUY – I HATE MY FATHER!

    8) Set up several big questions throughout your script which you don’t answer right away: Yep. This is a great device and I would say self explanatory (or I might be getting tired of writing :)

    9) Focus more on character: I completely agree with Carson’s assessment of this and his explanation. I think understanding each character better is important, but I probably would’ve labeled this one:

    Focus more on the relationships in your story.

    Don’t take that term “relationship” too literally. If the main character goes into a gas station and interacts with the clerk, that’s a relationship as well.

    By focusing on the character, you will be affecting their relationships, but I also think relationships are extremely important in a story and wanted it to be highlighted.

    10) Add more conflict/tension to your scenes: Oh man, definitely this one. Just think of your real life. How many times in a day do you find other people’s words/actions in conflict with your wants/thoughts/feelings. This will be true in your scenes.

    Carson’s example of GONE GIRL is great. The subtle touch I thought was fantastic was them walking around the house, talking about everything that wouldn’t implicate Nick, but the detective is placing little Post-It Notes next to evidence. And Nick has to see that as this conversation is taking place. This device adds an uneasyness to this moment. Your wife is missing. You know you didn’t do anyting to her. The cops are there. They are your help. They start marking your home as a crime scene. It’s a strong transition that we, the audience, can identify with. Start thinking of your own home, your own personal space, being marked off as a crime scene. It’s a jolt.

    11) Paul Clarke’s – Character wants = I placed this in with #3, but it is very important. All the characters want something. This will influence their actions, choices, lack of actions, etc.

    12) Odd Science’s – Villains = Yes. Spend some time on making your villain more villainous, but appropriately so – not ridiculously.

    13) Jim’s – Theme = I truly feel that theme is something that you spend time enhance AFTER you’ve completed your drafts. This is when you go back and get to take out some things and add in those special nuances that just give the thing more depth. I know Adam W. Parker is a monstrous supporter of this one.

    14) leitskev’s – Turnin Points (TP for your plotholes) = an excellent thing to keep in mind in your scenes. I feel this fits in some with Carson’s #10 as well. TP’s will help with conflict/tension/drama/etc.

    15 Link’s – Do research = You want to take some of your stuff to another level of credibility. Do some research on some of the things you’ve included in your script. Especially things that you think might be trivial. Gaining knowledge on things will give you credibility by default. Because you’ve done that work/research, you’ll be much more familiar with things and will deliver them in a manner that shows a foundation of knowledge and not something you’ve learned by the research others have done and included in films. Plus, you will learn a ton of stuff that you were unaware of. and you’ll get to interepret it and react to in your own unique way because it is you. You will find some conflict, or drama, or emotion to highlight with this knowledge that you’ve gained. You’ll be able to look a subject you think you are familiar with in a new light and shed some fresh interpretations on it.

    Like, if you are wanting to write a credible interrogation scene. Do as much research as necessary to what goes into that process. Once you have, don’t try to immediately write a credible scene. Think about that scene. Process it. Think about it’s goals and purpose and intention and so on. Then think of the ways that you could do this scene that are un-traditional. That aren’t the same ho-hum interrogation scenes you’ve seen in the past. Put your spin/twist onto the same old that fits with your genre/tone. Does your suspect have some sort of injury that doesn’t allow them to sit in the interrogation chair? Perhaps this suspect now has to be interviewed while he/she is lying down. Just rearrange the puzzle pieces to see what other ways you can deliver the scene, but maintaining the necessary credibility for the process.

    –Okay, way past time to end this. The note I would go out on is this: Remember that all the tips above, and any others people present today aren’t independent of one another. When you go in and start trying to implement these things, each thing you attempt will either directly, or indirectly, affect other elements of your story. It’s all connected. It is imperative that you are aware of the influences the changes can make you go in to start making them. Scripts/stories are complex organisms. You can’t just start making changes on the human body without other things having to be accounted for first.

    Thanks for your time and any feedback of my epic ramblings today.

    Wishing everyone well on their projects!

    • pmlove

      When’s yours coming Link? Looking forward to it.

      • Linkthis83

        Real life had gotten in the way, but I think things are back on track. I’m hoping to have something on here by early December. I’m trying for sooner, but trying to stay realistic as well.

        I need a sponsor. I’m going to start pitching to investment firms to bankroll me so I can just write and develop until I get paid to do so.

    • Guest

      This is why you haven’t finished a script.

      • Linkthis83

        This is why I feel I have the ability to. I don’t think finishing them matters if you don’t understand what it is your are trying to finish. This place has been great for me. If any of the stuff I put on here helps someone, then it’s time well spent.

        Trying to break down this stuff and post on SS is just as valuable.

        I appreciate your insight and completely disagree.

        What will be your insight if my script sucks? :)

      • Nate

        People like you make me sick. If you’re gonna be an arsehole to someone, at least have the balls to let them know who is being an arsehole to them. If you’ve got a negative opinion, instead of hiding away as a guest, why don’t you just come out and say it as you. You seem like the kind of person who would mouth off to someone and then apologise when you’re picking your teeth up off the floor. And that’s me telling it like I see it.

    • davejc

      “Write with confidence and without fear”

      Confidence is a writer’s greatest asset.

      And getting notes/coverage can sometimes seem like Henry Murray’s MK ULTRA experiments in the Sixties.

    • Franchise Blueprints

      Your post is an article in itself. Good Job. Two of the points you brought are gold.

      I believe people should write the stories they want to tell, but that ultimately comes down to your overall goals in this endeavor. We know the odds are extreme, but what is unquantifiable is which choices are the “right” choices to make. When we receive feedback we must remember that it’s usually coming from a place the READER believes increases our chances. It doesn’t mean they are right. It’s just what they believe. Which is why feedback can be all over the board. We are always projecting our own wants, fears, experiences, etc. on the work we read of others. We must always be cognizant of this.

      It’s self-explanatory.

      Don’t write trying to assuage all the critics. When you are first writing, fuck the critics. Write your story the way you want to write it. The way you think best delivers on your intention for the story. If they are in your head while you write, it’s going to show up on the page. That’s why I’m a huge advocate of “fuck the rules.”

      As writers we need to be free of external pressures. The end game is option or sale, but the journey to that point shouldn’t be burdened.

  • Casper Chris

    So true.

  • Kosta K

    The last steps after applying all these great tips to your screenplay should be to save it, drag it to the trash and start over instead, with these ideas in mind :

    Trying to add these things after the fact is like plugging leaks in a sinking cartoon boat. Eventually, you run out of fingers and toes :

  • tobban

    Get your hero out on his/her journey by page 25 !

    Totally agree !
    Get him up a tree fast…

  • pmlove

    A good title alone can be enough to base a screenplay on.

  • brenkilco

    Eliminate all on-the-nose dialogue

    Agreed. Because to be on the nose is to be flat, obvious, phony and lifeless. And bald exposition is also a drag. So on that basis an on the nose dialogue scene full of exposition would always be bad. But good writers can even work around that. An example setting up the whole film. You know the one.

    Airman: It’ can’t be done. Not from the air anyway.

    Admiral: You’re certain about that squadron leader? This is important.

    Airman: So’s my life. To me anyway. And the lives of these jokers and the eighteen men we lost tonight. Look, sir, first you’ve got that bloody fortress on top of that bloody cliff. You can’t even see the bloody cave, let alone the bloody guns. And anyway, we haven’t got a bloody bomb big enough to smash that bloody rock. And that’s the bloody truth,sir.

    I guess it’s never really on the nose if it pops. Never really bad exposition if the audience really wants to know.

  • NajlaAnn

    Valid points.

  • Erica

    I think someone should let the writers of “Z-Nation” know about Shadow Script. Maybe run a few scripts through here so they are saved from the embarrassment.

    You don’t get any more on the nose dialogue then Z-Nation (well maybe some old slasher movies).

  • Craig Mack

    Someone should forward this request to the BLOOD AND SINEW guy:

    2) Broad Street Media Ventures – Seeking Spiritual MMA ScriptsWe are looking for completed, feature-length MMA scripts with spiritual themes. As such, we are looking for MMA scripts about the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. We are not interested in faith-based material.

    Budget will not exceed $5 million. Both WGA and non-WGA writers may submit.

    Our credits include “The Objective” and the upcoming “Two Telegrams,” among others.

    To submit to this lead, please go to:
    http://www.inktippro.com/leads/

    Enter your email address.

    Copy/Paste this code: 8zsrsuc07w

    NOTE: Please only submit your work if it fits what the lead is looking for exactly. If you aren’t sure if your script fits, please ask InkTip first.

  • Midnight Luck

    Goodbye Jan Hooks.
    You were on SNL during one of the greatest times with Mike Myers and Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman.

    Hooks, born in Atlanta, was in the main cast of “SNL” from 1986 to 91 along with with alums Dennis Miller, Mike Myers and Dana Carvey.

    So sad – 57.
    R.I.P.

  • Chris Ryden

    I love this comment. Couldn’t agree more.

  • Guest

    LOL – right. Try telling me there’s no underlying themes with Magnolia or Boogie Nights. Don’t be such a twaddlephuck.