Ashley Scott Meyers is a screenwriter and blogger/podcaster at SellingYourScreenplay.com. He has optioned and sold dozens of spec feature film screenplays, with many making it into production. All of Meyers’ screenwriting success has come through his own marketing efforts which he teaches on his blog and podcast.
What’s the last thing you read/watched that you thought was incredibly well-written?
The screenplay for SOURCE CODE is excellent; one of the best scripts I’ve ever read. I highly recommend it to anyone who is a screenwriter.
I have two young daughters, ages six and three, so I’m watching a lot of children’s movies these days. I just watched THE IRON GIANT for the first time, and thought it was very well-written.
In fact, I’d call MEGAMIND one of my favorite films. In terms of screenwriting, it’s excellent. There are very few films I watch that I think are perfect, but as a screenwriter, I’d consider it one of the few that could be called practically flawless.
My daughters and I recently watched the 80’s classic CLOAK & DAGGER, another very well-written movie. It keeps the action going and all comes together at the end. A very smart script. I saw it when I was a kid and didn’t think much of it at the time, but seeing it again, it’s a pretty solid piece of writing.
Tell us about your writing background, including your “big break”.
I’m not sure I’ve really had a “big break.” Every script I sell or option feels like a monumental effort and it hasn’t gotten any easier. In fact, I’d say it’s gotten harder as the DVD market has shrunk over the last decade or so.
But to answer your question… I really never had a background in writing. I just liked movies, and for some reason writing scripts appealed to me. So I decide to pursue screenwriting. I was a terrible student when it came to English, writing, spelling, and grammar. Pretty much every skill you need to be a writer, except one (maybe two)… persistence and determination. So I’ve just plugged away and sold a few scripts.
How did the Selling Your Screenplay blog and podcast come to be?
Believe it or not, I once saw Gary Vaynerchuck speak at a conference where he was talking about not putting your personality into your brands. At the time, I was running a whole bunch of websites, but nothing around screenwriting. So I decided then and there that I needed to do something that combined two of my skills and interests: screenwriting and web development. So I did.
As far as the podcast goes, I just started to listening to podcasts and I thought they were really powerful. So I launched my own.
You’ve had experience with short films. What do you consider the benefits of working on a short, both as a writer and filmmaker?
The biggest thing is that you get to see your work get completed, which is rare as a screenwriter. But if you write a halfway-decent short, it’s fairly easy (nothing is every easy in this business, but it is possible) to find someone who wants to shoot it. You also might get an IMDb credit, win an award at a film festival, and meet other filmmakers. Shorts are a great way to hone your craft. You’re not going to make any money doing them, but they can be a great learning experience.
Is recognizing good writing something you think can be taught or learned?
Yes. The more screenplays you read, and the more you write, the more you’ll be able to recognize good writing.
One of the things that makes movies so vibrant is the fact that you can watch a movie or read a script and notice different things every time, depending on where you are in your own life and skill level.
But yes, everyone can get better at writing and recognizing good writing.
What are the components of a good script?
That’s a pretty broad question. If I had to boil it down, I’d say good writing evokes genuine emotion in the reader or watcher. If someone reads your screenplay, and it evokes emotion in them, you’re on the right track. Everything else, like structure, characterization, dialogue, the hook, theme, etc., is really secondary to being able to evoke emotions in people with your words.
What are some of the most common mistakes you see?
The biggest mistake is underestimating the amount of work it takes to be a professional writer. I hear from so many people who’ve written one script, entered it into a handful of contests, and then wonder why they haven’t made it as a professional writer. Nobody gets to pitch for the Yankees after spending one summer practicing. Being a professional screenwriter is probably as hard as, or at least harder than, being a professional athlete. It takes an enormous amount of luck, talent, and lots and lots and lots of hard work.
What story tropes are you just tired of seeing?
It’s often inevitable that you’ll write scenes that feel familiar. I often find myself doing it, so I step back and just mix things up a bit. Try anything that’ll give the tired tropes a new interesting spin, which often boils down to adding a quirky or interesting character to the scene who can mix things up.
I recently watched a short film where a little girl dropped an ice cream cone that fell to the ground in slow motion. It was so clichéd that I really wondered why the filmmaker didn’t try to do something more original.
What are the 3 most important rules every writer should know?
There are really only two mandatory things to do to be a successful screenwriter: write a lot, and read a lot of screenplays. That’s it.
If you do those two things and really spend time analyzing your writing and the writing of others, you’ll get better and maximize whatever talent you have.
How do you feel about screenwriting contests? Worth it or not?
Contests are great. Screenwriters should be doing everything within their power to get their work out into the world, and contests can be a part of that plan. But understand that even winning the best contest still means you’re quite a ways away from being a professional screenwriter. And I certainly wouldn’t use contests as my only way to market my material.
How can people find out more about you and Selling Your Screenplay?
I blog and podcast over at SellingYourScreenplay.com. I release a new screenwriting podcast episode every week. In nearly every episode, I interview an experienced screenwriter. I also run a script consulting service.
Readers of this blog are more than familiar with my love/appreciation of pie. What’s your favorite kind?
Apple. Not very original, I know. But every once in a while someone will bring an apple pie to Thanksgiving dinner, and as I eat it I think, “Damn, that’s good pie.”