1) The revelation: Holy shit. That movie I just saw sucked balls. Hollywood makes shitty movies. I can do a better job than these guys. I’m going to write a movie.
Reality: I guarantee you have no idea how to keep an audience’s attention for 2 minutes, much less 120. There is so much going on in even a bad movie on the script end to keep you interested, I don’t know where to begin. But I do know you have no idea how to do it. You’ll be lucky if your first efforts at screenwriting don’t result in the reader wanting to stab you by page 5.
2) My first script: What should my first screenplay be? My friends and I always talk about how “my life is basically a movie.” I’ll write a screenplay about my life!
Reality: Unless you survived the sinking of the Titanic, your life is boring. Trust me. People are out there getting shot by cops and you think because you woke up in some strange girl’s apartment at 4am, that that deserves to be turned into a movie? Your first script will have endless random scenes of you and your buddies hanging out and it will go nowhere.
3) I know better: Page count?? Why the fuck do I have to abide by a page count? Hollywood has such stupid rules. No wonder their movies suck. I’m going to write my drama about a 22 year old drug dealer taking on the Mexican mob and it’s going to need every one of those 170 pages.
Reality: Having a “break the rules” mentality isn’t a bad thing. But it’s deadly if you don’t know the rules in the first place. A lot of the rules are there for a reason. A tight page count, for example, is there to force you to make every scene matter, so you don’t write extraneous scenes that slow the narrative down. Rules are there to guide you into a more readable exciting script.
4) My first contest: This is strange. Whenever I show my screenplays to my friends, they’re always weird about it. They say stuff like, “Dude, that was hilarious. You’re totally going to make it,” even though I gave them a drama. You know what? They don’t understand movies anyway. I’m going to enter that big contest, the Nicholl, and win it so I can get into Hollywood that way.
Reality: Your script will not make it past the first round and you will use many popular screenwriting message board conspiracy theories as to why, such as “they didn’t read it” or “my script is too commercial for them.” Trust me, they read it. If your script doesn’t make it past the first round of the Nicholl, it means you still don’t understand the basics of the basics of screenwriting. All you have to do to advance to the second round at Nicholl is have a properly formatted screenplay, an un-ridiculous page count, an okay concept, and a reasonable understanding of the 3-act structure.
5) Maybe I should study: Maybe this screenwriting thing is harder than I thought. I’m going to read a few books and see if I’m missing something.
Reality: Admitting to yourself that screenwriting isn’t as easy as it looks and that you need help is a pivotal moment in your development as a screenwriter. It literally places you in the top 60% of people writing screenplays. If you have reached this moment, there is hope for you.
6) The over-reaction: What’s wrong! I included an inciting incident. My first act break was where it needed to be. My dialogue wasn’t on-the-nose. I wrote in a character with that fatal flaw thing. Why the hell isn’t my script selling?? I did it the way Hollywood books said to do it and I’m no better off than when I was doing it my way. I knew the Hollywood way was bullshit. Fuck this shit.
Reality: You’re applying the guidelines too overtly. The mechanics of what you’re doing are so transparent that your script feels generated from a script-bot. You will need to learn to apply the rules invisibly, which will take time and practice.
7) The over-reaction to the over-reaction: Since I’ve proven that the Hollywood way sucks, I’m going back to writing what I want to write about. I’m going to write that passion project that everybody says can’t sell because whenever I read an article about people breaking in, it’s cause they followed their heart and wrote what they wanted to write, not what Hollywood told them to write, like Matt and Ben with Good Will Hunting!
Reality: This script won’t do anything for you mainly because it won’t have a concept. This will discourage and confuse you. But what you don’t know is that your writing is improving. When people read this script, they’ll say something to the effect of, “It wasn’t bad,” which will piss you off because of how much you put into it. But what you don’t know is that this is a huge improvement over your previous works, where people hated your script more than a Trump sandwich. They just didn’t tell you because they didn’t want to hurt your feelings. Being able to write something “not bad” actually takes tons and tons and tons of practice.
8) All-In: I don’t know why I’m doing this screenwriting thing anymore because all it does is fill me with misery. But I want to figure it out. I’m going to read more screenwriting books, read more scripts, and not treat every script like a do-or-die scenario. I’m going to respect the rules but not hold myself to them if I believe my story can benefit from a different direction. I’m in this for the long-haul and now consider myself a student of the craft.
Reality: Congratulations. You’ve just become a screenwriter.
9) Careful consideration: I realize that writing a screenplay flippantly is probably a bad idea. I need to carefully consider whether each concept is marketable and has the relevant amount of plot, character, and conflict, to fill 110 pages. Each of my screenplays going forward will be more calculated, as will my writing preparation.
Reality: Holy shit. You’re actually giving yourself a shot at becoming professional!
10) The golden idea: I’ve found that idea I believe is both marketable and contains an emotional core. I’m going to meticulously outline as much of the story as I can. I’m going to have the ending mapped out before I write the beginning so that I know where I’m going. I’m going to explore every character on a deeper level. I’m going to let their conflicts drive the second act. I think this is going to be the one.
Reality: I don’t know if this will be the script that breaks you through or not. But I know this. If you keep writing screenplays like this, you WILL break in at some point. Good luck!
Mileage may vary.