Holy-Grail-of-Recycling-970x532

So I got to thinking after Monday’s post. Because people wanted me to expand on the topic – How to break in. And I’ve spent the last two hours, sitting in this chair, staring at the wall, thinking about that and only that, looking for that kernel, that ONE MAGICAL MORSEL, that could somehow distill this answer down into a single actionable piece of advice. “JUST DO THIS AND YOU’LL BECOME A PROFESSIONAL SCREENWRITER” was the goal.

Needless to say, that was a failed experiment.

Sort of.

Whenever I thought I’d come up with something, I’d realize, “But they still need to put 7500 to 10,000 hours of work into learning how to write.” There was no way around that. And I think that’s the part no new screenwriter wants to hear. Or, it’s not so much they don’t want to hear it. It’s that they’re looking for a shortcut, a way to shave off a thousand hours here or a thousand hours there. I suppose that’s possible if you’re one of the lucky ones – a writer with innate talent. But, baseline, we’re talking about 5000 hours AT LEAST before you’re ready.

Assuming you’ve put in that time, there’s ONE THING I’ve found is the closest you’re going to get to a single “Holy Grail” piece of actionable advice on how to break in. And I figured it out by going in the opposite direction. I asked myself, “Okay Carson, what is the WORST thing a screenwriter could do? The one thing that would ensure failure?”

And the answer to that was easy: A bad idea.

The most common problem I see in amateur screenwriting is BAD SCRIPT IDEAS. I read so many submission e-mails where I literally close my eyes, slowly shake my head, and think, “What is this person thinking??” I know, just by looking at that logline, that the script has ZERO CHANCE of being good. Not even .00001%. Zero. And it’s sad. Because even if they’re a good screenwriter, they’re working with a faulty premise. There’s no strange attractor, no clear sense of conflict, no irony, no clear goal, no imagination, no clarity. The idea is just HORRIBLE.

Horrible idea generation tends to break down into two types. The beginner screenwriter who doesn’t yet know what constitutes a good idea. And then the more frustrating scenario – a writer who simply doesn’t realize his idea is bad. This usually happens because a) he doesn’t ask anybody whether his idea is good or b) nobody tells him his idea is bad. And “b” is, unfortunately, a common scenario. Nobody wants to be the asshole. Nobody wants to destroy the writer’s enthusiasm. What they don’t realize is that by not being truthful, they’re sending that writer on a one-year journey of misery where they’ll be turned down again and again, because people either won’t like the idea enough to read it, or the ones who do read it, will hate it because the idea was faulty in the first place.

This is why I encourage people to send me their loglines. I rate them 1-10. If it’s below a 7, I tell them not to write it. And if you don’t have $25, find a friend who knows screenwriting and ask them to do the same. Make sure you preface it with, “Please please please be honest. Tell me if it sucks.”

This indirectly leads us to our Holy Grail answer. The one thing that gives us the BEST CHANCE at breaking in is… A GOOD IDEA!!!

That’s all it takes to open all the doors, to line up all the agents, to get the studios bidding. Ehh, not exactly. But what a good idea does do is it INCREASES YOUR CHANCES AT SUCCESS EXPONENTIALLY. Everyone will at least open your script if it’s a good idea. And since Hollywood is a numbers game, the more reads you get, the better the chance you’ll finally get that “yes.”

All of this begs the question: What is a good idea, Carson?

Look, if I had a bunch of great script ideas, I wouldn’t be posting them here for you guys. I’d be writing them or hiring other writers to write them. A great script idea is no different from a great song hook. You don’t know if it’s going to catch unless you put it out there and see what people think. The advantage YOU have is that it only takes minutes to come up with an idea. And it only takes minutes to send that idea off and get someone’s opinion. So there’s power in that. You can send a lot of ideas out there with very little time wasted. That’s preferable to wasting an entire year of your life on a script only to learn afterwards that the idea sucked.

Or you know what’s worse than that? Is writers who don’t even realize that that’s the reason their script failed. They might assume they’re just bad writers and quit. But had they been working with a GOOD premise instead of a BAD one, everything about their writing would’ve been better. I’ll give you a real-world example of this. Dan Gilroy, who wrote one of my favorite scripts, Nightcrawler – great character, unique premise – also wrote a new Denzel movie, Roman J Israel, Esq. Awful premise. Confused concept. Bad script. From everyone I’ve heard who saw the movie – they say it’s bad. That bad idea turned Gilroy into a bad writer for one script. That’s how important concept is.

Cause I don’t want to leave you guys out in the dark. Here are the last three articles I wrote about how to come up with a good script idea. Read them. Embrace them. Make the most of them.

The Secret To Better Movie Ideas

The Power of Reinventing Ideas

Ten Tips to Come Up With Better Movie Ideas

But the main thing is GET FEEDBACK on your idea. Hell, you have one of the best screenwriting networks on the web right here at Scriptshadow. Take advantage of it! Tell people to be “brutally honest” when assessing your idea. Because if you’re SUPER DUPER EXCITED and tell them, “This is my best idea ever,” before asking their opinion, they’re going to lie to you. They don’t want to rain on your parade.

Good luck!

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. 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!

  • Scott Crawford

    First!

    • BMCHB

      Bitch! I took my first ever duvet day today. I have to read loads of articles.

      • BMCHB

        Shush – I’m sick if my boss asks…

        • Scott Crawford

          • BMCHB

            There will be a meeting on Monday.

            They will ask me why I missed work on Thursday (possibly Friday, too).

            I’ll say: Scott made me miss it.

            They’ll say: Who’s Scott?

            I’ll say: Scott’s first, BITCHES!

        • Erica

          God I don’t feel like working today myself. Well one hour down, 11 to go. ugggg.

    • moog

      Great idea Scott. I think Mr. & Mrs. Smith is the only one I’ve read and watched with analysis in mind. One of the recent break-in stories that really sticks in my mind is Meg Lefauve’s ‘Girl in a Box.’ It was Carson’s review that put me on to it and her – http://scriptshadow.net/tv-pilot-tuesday-girl-in-a-box/

      What was notable about this example, was the difference in tone and subject matter of that script and the one she wrote next – Inside Out. Her Jeff Goldsmith Q&A is recommended listening too.

      There were so many things about her particular journey that seemed to break a lot of the rules, A TV Pilot that led to a feature, a dark, psychological drama/thriller -> children’s animated film.

      • Scott Crawford

        I would say that well over HALF of today’s A-list writers (as opposed to workmanlike hack writers) started with a GREAT spec script… and that means having a GREAT idea.

        The rest got in through TV, mostly, but that still means writing specs, just specs of EXISTING TV shows (not pilots). And they have to be great too.

        • moog

          Yep, anecdotally, that would seem to be my impression – and would include breaking through with a writing spec/directing debut.

          • Scott Crawford

            Skip Woods startedas one of THOSE writer dir3ctirs wit( THURSDAY. But hardly anyone saw it. So he wrote Swordfish.

  • klmn

    Carson, can you really judge a script by the logline? Especially while insisting the idea be expressed in one sentence.

    Have you ever been wrong?

  • BMCHB

    BMCHB’S DAY OFF

    This is what I want to do today: order one of these babies.

    https://www.usbtypewriter.com/#gs.P3Pujv4

    Anyone use one of these things? Where do you buy them? Do they work?

    • klmn

      I think you’re better off sticking with a computer and whatever dedicated writing program you prefer. If you use one of those things, what do you get? A text file?

      I learned to type on an electric typewriter, and computers are a huge step up.

      • BMCHB

        I want a typewriter. All the benefits of a computer too.

        I want to be a cross between Dashiell Hammet and Joe Ezsterhaus – smoking whiskey and drinking cigars.

    • Ashley Sanders

      Wow. Ridiculous and gorgeous. Those are the best thing I’m gonna see all day.

      • BMCHB

        I’ve worked hard for six weeks and my girlfiend is away until Monday.

        This may be my only chance to spend money without her counting. She will want to buy a new sofa or other useless stuff.

        • Ashley Sanders

          Shit, you can’t type on a sofa. What is she thinking?

          • BMCHB

            “you can’t type on a sofa”

            Brilliant. :-) Love it.

          • BMCHB

            Wait… A Sofawriter.

            See you later. I’m off to patent this!

          • Scott Crawford

            If you can’t type on a sofa I’m screwed. I’m not made of furniture.

    • Scott Crawford

      I’m writing some stuff on a cheap plain text program (I love plain text) called Clean Writer Pro that makes a little CLICK noise when you type… and I REALLY like that, it just feels better. I like a click sound, I write faster.

    • Citizen M

      I couldn’t figure out how to plug it in.

      https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/323e9037680a45696a79228c3295ae9cf21823093834e4fcc9aa8498d61dd4be.jpg

      Try pouring syrup into your laptop keyboard. Then you have to hit each key hard — just like typing on a real typewriter.

      • BMCHB

        That looks real. Fuck!Is that real? I’d settle for that.

        I’d be more C64 or Amstrad 464… but, yeah. Sweet.

    • r.w. hahn

      I would find an old cheap typewriter still usable and get one of their kits, seems its easy to convert and a lot less expensive than getting one of theirs. Love this!

      • BMCHB

        Sorry, R, you just made me spill my coffee! I just read that as:

        I would find an old cheap typewriter still usable and get one of their kiDs, seems its easy to convert and a lot less expensive than getting one of theirs.

        My girlfiend is not an old, cheap typewriter. I wish she was! :-)

        • r.w. hahn

          LOL! Glad I put my coffee down before I read your response. You can still try to plug her though, bring her up to the 21st century. By the way, I do my best writing on a sofa.

          • BMCHB

            Was it you I chatted to about the Sushi Chef? How are you?

            Where is the script?

          • r.w. hahn

            No not me. But I just had some great sushi last night. But Im doing wonderful, thanks for asking. How are you doing?

          • BMCHB

            It must have been you.

            “Worst sushi chef ever has to kill a giant octopus”?

            If not, there’s a great script right there. SyFy Channel would buy that… with some ginger and wasabi on the side.

          • r.w. hahn

            OH….OCTOCALYPSE!!! We threw ideas around for it and came up with the idea of worst sushi chef has to kill a giant octopus created by a Japanese nuclear plant leaking into the Pacific Ocean after an earthquake. Yes. I have that on the shelf and pull it down to work on it when I can. LOL! It is a fun idea to work on. Good memory BMCHB

          • BMCHB

            I knew it!! :-) Where’s the script? If you haven’t written it yet, I’ll write it this weekend. You can have the writing credit… I want the “Drunk By” credit. :-)

          • r.w. hahn

            Ha Ha Ha….If you can write your version this weekend we’ll combine them and share the SOFAWRITERS credit!!!

          • BMCHB

            sofa, so good!

          • klmn

            That is a great idea.

          • r.w. hahn

            Thanks klmn. Its the answer to Sharknado. Ha ha

          • klmn

            You might want to get the script to Sharknado and use that as a guide to write the scenes of your script. Read through the script, make an outline in general terms. Then write an outline for your new script using the same structure.

          • r.w. hahn

            Good idea!

  • BMCHB

    This is a great article, Carson.

    I’ll propose this in response and will wait patiently to be ignored:

    A great script is a great feeling. Some feeling. Any feeling. Make me feel.

  • Scott Crawford

    What do you mean by write better? Write bette4 stories? Come up with better concepts? Because I think just saying writ3 better, a lot of people will think “Ah, smart-ass dialogue and writer asides.”

    • Oscar

      Everything. All advice ultimately boils down to “do it better.” ;)

      If there was a specific answer to what and how, it would be easy.

      • Scott Crawford

        Too true! But I think when people hear writing they d9nt think of storytelling or ideas, the bits that come first.

        Last Friday, zcarson was say8ng how the amateurs entries were becoming more substantial. I’d say that’s as opposed to scripts with a good idea but substandard Execution. Cool. Still think people need to pick mor3 interest8ng stories!

  • Poe_Serling

    A GOOD IDEA

    Whether you’re half asleep in bed or shockingly awake after twisting the
    shower handle too far to the cold side by mistake, you never know when
    one will hit you.

    I’ve read about quite a few successful screenwriters and book authors
    that would carry a pad and pencil around with them just to jot down
    those potential ‘million dollar’ ideas.

    Kinda recall one writer having more than a few notebooks filled with
    possible stories.

    I guess it’s always better to have several to weed through to find the
    one that gets you sitting down and tapping away at the keyboard.

  • Scott Crawford

    Surprised no one so far has asked others to evaluate their ideas. I’ll give it a go for a change. I was rereading a 2000 word outline I wrote a couple of years ago… I really enjoyed reading it, my own story! What do you reckon?

    Title: Protection Command
    Genre: Action thriller
    Premise: A Royal Protection Officer must save the Prince of Wales and other VIP passengers when a cyber criminal attaches a bomb to the Royal Train.

    • Thaddeus Arnold

      Based on that logline, it sounds like every action movie we’ve seen before. There’s nothing unique about it.

      • Scott Crawford

        Ok… I’d say the unique elements are Royal Protection Officer (don’t usually see that, Secret Service, but not the British ones), the Prince of Wales rather than the President, and the Royal Train, which again I’ve not seen in an action film.

        It’s more Speed than Die Hard… but, of course, I AM concerned about it not being enough. Hence putting it out here.

    • Erica

      This does sound like another mindless action movie. I just watched XXX: The Return of Xander Cage. It wasn’t until it was over that I realized there was no story to this. It was just action after action and all that we’ve seen a thousand times before.

      Also, I’m not sure who a Royal Protection Officer is, but I’m sure in England, all would know.

      • Scott Crawford

        Mmmm… I’m a list surprised at the negativity! I’m try8ng to emulate the 1990s spec scripts that I LOVE. I could post another half dozen loglines but most are variants of the this one involving threats to the worlds largest oil refinery, Fort Knox, Camp David, and so on.

        I have OTHER ideas. Modern day reworking of Jules Verne, Poe’s Purloined Letter, a rifle with laser-guided bullets, and loads more… picking one (and sticking with it) is tricky. Help me!

  • Erica

    Can Good Idea’s come from Bad Loglines?

    Interesting article today and defiantly helpful. But I see this as a bit of a possible paradox type thing. Lets you say come up with a ‘Good Idea’, do you create a logline, post it for feedback only to have someone else possible use the ‘idea’ for themselves. At what point do you seek feedback? Before you’ve written to save yourself or after you’ve spent a year.

    Now of course most of our “Good Idea’s” are not really that good in the first place, we only think they are.

    • Scott Crawford

      An idea is a START. You can’t win a race without a good start… I guess. But it still needs a middle and an end.

      If I told you I had an idea about terrorists taking ive4 Fort Knox, you migh5 day “Hasn’t every9ne?” It’s just a starting point, there’s still a lot of work (and I’ll probably never be f8nished).

      On the other hand… there’s… potential.

      LOADS of ideas have potential. But s9me ideas are:

      Over complicated
      Make no sense
      Hopelessly derivative
      Dull as water

      And others aren’t. I’d say if you came up with, say, twenty ideas, picke£ the best five then showed thos3 to others and said “pick one” they’d probably choos3 a good one.

      • Jarrean

        Are you typing with numbers intentionally?

        • Scott Crawford

          No, cursed iOS update means when you type, you have to hit the bottom of the keyboard or it comes up as a number or a symbol insteD. Or accidentLly capitalises. Nuisance if you’re typing fast.

          Also, screens broken!

  • carsonreeves1

    Yeah but don’t you think the “lucky hacks” example is, overall, a small percentage of the people who find success? Doesn’t that happen in every industry? “How did that loser get a job here?” is a common question at any big company.

    Also, there’s a difference between professional shit writing and amateur shit writing. Some credited writers are, indeed, bad. But their stuff is still a million times better than the majority of the amateur scripts I read. I use professional films vs. student films as an analogy. You thought Wonder Woman was a hacky film? Try watching RoNNi:)777’s Youtube short based on the mob in his hometown where all the gangsters are played by 17 year-olds.