improvement

How and Why I Became a Scriptshadow Convert

carson

The man, the myth, the legend.

Scriptshadow is, bar-none, one of the best sites on the craft of screenwriting I have ever seen. Period. I know in damn near every entry I mention something Carson said over there, and I would imagine that to some, it sounds like a whole lot of ass-kissing. And you’d be right. However, as I’ve stated previously, it’s not something I do blindly.

I reserve the act of admiration and ass-kissery for those who deserve it. I believe in praising the people who not only display good work, but who can also show their work. My criteria is simple: the work in question must be of some interest to me, they can state their issues that plague that work, but must also show or suggest ways to counteract those issues, and most importantly, any time they can show their work by providing one or more examples of their solutions being put to use in various situations that can be easily found and scrutinized.

These are people who prove themselves knowledgeable of a craft and can teach you something about it whilst at the same time, be able to come up with new ideas stemming from open dialogues and discussions. Besides a multitude of film directors are people such as my friend Brett who knows more than I ever will about all things audio-related, Marketing guru Martin Atkins and Carson Reeves of Scriptshadow. Every time I listen to what they have to say or they answer a question I may have, it’s like a classroom that I actually enjoy being in. I learn so much in so little time, it’s insane. Side note — many times I’ll come away thinking, “HOW could I not think of that before? It’s so obvious?!” What these people offer is a fresh and experienced pair of eyes that should never be taken for granted.

I came across Scriptshadow not long after completing the first draft of “While This Offer Lasts” when I was looking for some websites that offered script reading services. This was one such site and the Amateur Offerings looked quite interesting, so I sent an email with the requested information. The notice said to do it a couple times in order to get a better chance, so that’s what I did. I resubmitted a few times. Only by doing a site search did I find out that it actually HAD been one of the featured candidates. (He picks the five best loglines from a few thousand each week, uploads those, then his readers download them and vote for which one was the best, which he will then review publicly.) I felt a little bad for bombarding him after the fact, so if you read this, sorry, Carson. 🙂

The reception it got was less than what I was hoping for (what writer doesn’t expect people to fawn over their work?) but it was nice to get some form of actual feedback. A bit was quite helpful, (namely axing the first two pages, which was for the most part an infomercial) and one person was curious as to whether or not I had experience in the law. (I don’t) I wish I had known how to sign up for the comments service so I could respond to them, but alas. It didn’t get the majority vote, but if I had to guess the tally, I would guess I came in second. Or maybe that’s just pride talking.

Months later I went to re-read the questions for how to improve the script, and it was then that I started to explore the site. I found some solid articles and they gave me some ideas for how to improve. I would check back periodically, as I would devote most of my time to working on a couple scripts, and the quality of the knowledge gained was consistent.

After the completion of my second big script (the re-write for “While This Offer Lasts,” written in eight days, btw), I found myself back on the site, submitting the previously completed first draft of “Soldiers of Fortune.” I started scanning some articles, and one of which contained the first “Aha” moment. It was this article in which Carson was discussing how some amateur writers will cheat the page count by using a tighter leading (space between horizontal lines) and thusly make the read feel way longer.

At this point in time, I was writing scripts in the free word processor Open Office using a template of my own creation based off of measurements gotten from various books and websites. I had a trial version of Final Draft and so I copied, pasted and corrected the text from the Open Office version into Final Draft to check for myself, and sure enough, the length was off. It was consistent with Final Draft’s tightest leading (60 lines per page). I re-formatted to the Carson-recommended Regular setting, leaving the previously 113 pages at a now staggering 133 pages. Spec scripts are at most 120 pages, so yikes.

All of the plotting notes I’d used were now useless. (Syd Fields‘ Inciting Incident on page 10 was now shifted to like page 12, etc.) With this new information, all was no longer right with the world. Plots would have to be remapped and stories re-thought. It was a nightmare. Then, I started checking out OTHER articles, so I wouldn’t have to re-think everything after completing the latest draft. This was REALLY when my world started to crumble…

I started checking out his Ten Tips From… series of articles, where he will show you ten screenwriting tips you can learn from dozens of movies. This was when I really took notice of how much I truly didn’t know about screenwriting. (Like how brilliant the use of the bowling alley was in “The Big Lebowski”) The big one for me was the tip about Mini Sluglines in his article on “GoodFellas.” This was something my dad had brought up when reading the “Soldiers of Fortune” script; the Scene Headings really confused him. He wasn’t sure if the action was jumping around, or it was all taking place in the same area. This tip was the biggest factor in my trafficking of this site.

I instantly sent Carson an email telling him to take “Soldiers” OUT of the running for Amateur Offerings, since I knew I could improve it. Then, I started to dig deeper into the site’s resources. There is so much information there if you know how to look. What’s especially great is that when he reviews scripts, there’s still an example in the review or a tip at the end that will be of some use to you. Like there was one article where he reviewed “Fahrenheit 541” by Frank Darabont, and he mentions how Frank used the sounds a machine made to be more descriptive while using less space on the page. That kind of information is invaluable, and I love this site for it.

I had even started going through the site archives to make sure I knew ALL the tips I could to improve my writing. I went through every article of 2009. Needless to say, my Firefox bookmarks were stacking up. I then went through all those bookmarked articles and copied all the tips I dubbed useful into a document. Unfortunately, not long after was when my main hard drive started dying. A lot of really useful scripts, bookmarks and documents are temporarily lost. I won’t attempt a transfer, since I don’t have a large enough drive to transfer all the data to. (Purposely unemployed to delve deeper into the craft of screenwriting) So, now I have to go back and re-read them. And that’s okay, because I get to re-experience all those articles. I’m stoked!

In the past, I’ve recommended Carson’s book. I still tell anyone with any interest in screenwriting to buy it. If they’re skeptical, I point them to the site. Anything that will help out a screenwriter to improve themselves. The best part is, the site is unlike most books that say, “Do this, or else…” With the site, it’s all “Try doing it this way for this reason. And look, it worked here and here’s why.”

When I talked about people being able to site their sources for their information, this was what I was talking about. The people that are able to do this are far more likely to be taken seriously as experts of their craft.

It’s now impossible for another tips to slide by me, since I’ve now subscribed to the site and I now receive an email to the latest article. This may sound like overkill, but when a site has proven time and time again to be such a valuable resource, believe me, you don’t want to be left out.

Also, thanks to Carson’s tips from various movies, I’m now seeing them in a totally different light. Hell, it’s thanks to him I’m able to see the tips in the movies I watch, allowing me to, in turn, share them with you guys. This site is literally the class that keeps on teaching.

So thanks, Carson, for all your hard work and dedication to the craft. I learn something useful each and every time I visit. Keep it up!

Until next time, Movie Buffs!

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Updated Logline: “Soldiers of Fortune”

Embed from Getty Images

As I said before, all of my notes on my various projects were in storage for the move. I just so happened to start this blog during this move. One of the first things I put on here were loglines for my projects, all annotated that they were subject to change. (Read: write them from memory and replace them with the real versions once I got them unpacked.)

New Logline:

The government’s go-to bounty hunter has just three days to retrieve the Senator who’s been taken captive by treasure hunters.

Old Logline:

The State of the Union Address is in three days and that’s all the time a bounty hunter has to retrieve a missing Senator, who has been taken captive by treasure hunters.

So how exactly is this new logline better than the old one? For starters, the use of State of the Union Address isn’t necessary because we still have the same time limit (three days). We also are being more specific about the main character: not just a bounty hunter, but the government’s go-to bounty hunter. Why would the government go to this guy? What makes him so special? Questions like that are what helps a script sell… sort of. Lastly, notice that just by tweaking a couple phrases, the new logline is a bit leaner than the old one. Leaner = always better.

Here are a couple older loglines I came up with, descending from most recent:

  • The government’s go to bounty hunter gets roped into a treasure hunt while trying to bring home a kidnapped senator.
  • After a ship falls from the sky, a Senator goes missing while investigating it; giving a government-utilized bounty hunter three days to retrieve him before the State of the Union Address.
  • A bounty hunter has three days to retrieve a missing Senator, who was taken captive by treasure hunters.
  • The State of the Union Address is in three days, and that’s all the time a bounty hunter has to retrieve a missing Senator, who has been taken captive by treasure hunters.

Can you spot what might’ve caused me to change it from a previous version?

There are three components to a good logline: 1) Main character, 2) the goal, 3) the central source of conflict. You can read more about how to craft loglines in the links below. So are all three points shown in my latest logline? Let’s take a look.

1)Main character? Yep, the government’s go-to bounty hunter. 2) The goal? Yep, three days to retrieve the missing Senator. 3) The main source of conflict? Sure thing! The Senator’s been taken captive by treasure hunters AND there are only THREE DAYS to find him. (Double Whammy there)

It may not scream “BUY THIS NOW!!” yet, but that’s the point of this blog: to show improvement in a craft where there is always something new to learn.

Until next time, Movie Buffs!

Links: (All open in new tabs)

Bit-O-Progress, Part 1

Today, as the title suggests, some progress has been made. On what project? A couple, actually. “Soldiers of Fortune” has gotten a couple of thoughts put towards it. Thanks in part to these two articles over at Scribe Meets World.

Lately, the “Hard Hitters” pilot has gotten the most attention from my brain cells. This comes mainly from the fact that Netflix Instant is AMAZING. Seriously. If you’re a writer, it’s LITERALLY your best friend.

I LITERALLY couldn't love Netflix any more than I already do!

I LITERALLY couldn’t love Netflix any more than I already do!

The other day I finished watching a three-part series of Falls Count Anywhere matches from WWE. Then it hit me: why haven’t I been paying closer attention to this? These series have a ton of information in them. What makes the crowd react and to what degree? How might the color commentators discuss a heel? Would they each take a separate stance? Do they both like or hate them? So many things to learn from, so few hours in the day.

Just this afternoon, I was watching the hour special about NWO and how they took over WCW. It was interesting. When several of the reveals of which faces turned heel, the crowd’s reaction was shockingly similar to the reaction to the NXT rookies wrecking havoc on Monday Night Raw several years ago. Again, more inspiration. Thanks to Netflix, I can enjoy getting a history lesson that I might not have otherwise come across or sought out.

While I’m still on the subject of Netflix, you should check out “Milius” IMMEDIATELY! It’s a terrific documentary about one of the most prolific screenwriters ever known to Hollywood. If you haven’t heard of John Milius… first off, shame on you. Second, if you don’t know the name, you most assuredly know his words: “Do you feel lucky, punk?” “Go ahead, make my day.” “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” “Charlie don’t surf.” And countless others. It’s a great story about a great man. See it immediately.

It's gonna make your day.

It’s gonna make your day.

Lastly, how do I define progress? I wish I could say completed script pages, but I can’t. I haven’t written a single page in about four months. Do I feel lazy? On one hand, yes. What is a screenwriter without a script? A writer. I heard this idea not too long ago that writing the actual script takes up maybe 20% of the overall writing process. And to that extent, I kinda have to agree. On the first draft of “Soldiers of Fortune,” I spent maybe five or six weeks doing research on certain elements. Mostly having to do with the dimensions of a 17th century ship. This article, again over at Scribe Meets World, only goes to back up what became of most of the research involved in the project. I would argue, however, that it is a necessity, in the event of the script getting made, so I could relay any and all logic found in my research to the production crew.

Today, I wrote up seven note cards. These are my favorite possessions. A pack of 100 cards for only 88 cents at Walmart. What a bargain! I use these all the time. Now seven isn’t the most cards I’ve done in a day. On “Soldiers of Fortune” and “While This Offer Lasts” I was writing up anywhere from one to two dozen a day.

A writer's best friend.

A writer’s best friend.

I just want to point out just how useful these are to my writing process. If I have a quick idea for any project, I just write it down on a note card and then continue on with whatever else I was doing. Plus, I don’t feel like I’m wasting as much as I did when I used to use just yellow legal pads for notes.

Until next time, Movie Buffs!