It happens to every writer. You start the rewrite of your latest draft, and you need to figure out what needs to be cut or changed. Sometimes it ain’t that easy, and sometimes you hack and slash with wild abandon.
Part of my recent focus has been rewriting the fantasy-comedy spec, which has involved a little bit of both.
It already needed some trimming – at least 5-10 pages’ worth, so that’s just one of the many things taken into consideration as I work my way through it.
I’ve been told my writing is pretty sparse to begin with, so finding material to tighten, let alone cut, has been somewhat tough.
Tough, but not impossible.
There’s the small stuff. A widow/orphan word here, a snippet of dialogue there. Finding some way to get those three action lines down to two, or one if you can swing it.
Then there’s the big stuff. One noteworthy item was a particular story detail that had been around almost since the story’s inception that wasn’t syncing as well with the story as it was now, so that had to be changed. This caused a domino effect on all the things it impacted, which meant making sure all those connections had to be adjusted so everything still meshed in a smooth and organized manner. It was a bit of a pain to deal with, but it had to be done.
The big stuff also has its fair share of little stuff. A scene or sequence that needs a major overhaul – already dealt with a few of those, as well as a few half-page scenes that I hated to cut. Then there was a character I initially loved that proved to be ultimately unnecessary, so out they went.
If I maintain this amount of cutting, there’s no reason the finished draft couldn’t fall within the target range of the aforementioned 5-10 pages. If it ends being more than that, great (but at this point seems highly unlikely). If it’s just a few pages shorter, that’s still okay, and I’ve no doubt my beta readers will have plenty of suggestions that I probably never even considered.
No matter what gets cut or changed, it’s all for the benefit of the story. As long as the script is a tight, succinct and solid read, that’s a win.
(Turns out I’ve written about this before, waaaay back in 2013. A lot of it is still applicable, except for the part about my time in the half-marathon. Those days are long past.)
Friendly reminder: my book Go Ahead And Ask! Interviews About Screenwriting (And Pie) Volume 3 officially comes out on October 7th (two weeks from today), and the final setup of the links on Amazon and Smashwords is just about done, in case you’d like to purchase it slightly ahead of schedule. Signed copies will be available. Just let me know.
I’ve been reading for a contest these past few weeks.
It’s a safe bet to say that a lot of the writers who entered may not be as familiar with how to write a screenplay as one would expect.
This, in turn, inspired some helpful suggestions for any writer to keep in mind:
-SHOW, DON’T TELL. Convey the information in as visual a way as possible.
-GET IN LATE, GET OUT ASAP. Get to the point of your scene as quickly as you can, then move on to the next one. Don’t have the characters chitchatting back and forth for another page.
-GET THINGS MOVING. Get us into the story from the outset. Keep the momentum going.
-EVERY SCENE NEEDS CONFLICT. Two opposing forces; anything from a subtle gesture to an epic battle.
-INVEST IN SCREENWRITING SOFTWARE. It makes a huge difference to write something in Final Draft as opposed to Microsoft Word. This can also help with..
-FORMATTING IS IMPORTANT. If you’re not sure how a script should look on the page, there are tons or resources online with good examples. You can also read some other scripts to get an idea.
-DO YOUR RESEARCH. Fleshing out a story or characters with relevant info adds to the authenticity of the material. Don’t go for the information dump; use what’s important/necessary.
-SPELLCHECK IS NOT YOUR FRIEND. There’s no ‘e’ in ‘lightning’, nor should somebody ‘waist’ an opportunity, just to name two.
-THE THESAURUS IS YOUR FRIEND. Mix it up. There are 142 alternate words for “walk”.
-CHARACTER INTROS. Describe their personality, rather than just their height & appearance – unless either plays a part in the story. Also, their name in ALL CAPS only when they’re first introduced; NOT every single time after that.
-“HOW DO WE KNOW THAT?”. Action lines are for describing what we’re seeing transpire onscreen (i.e. action), not explaining why something’s happening, why somebody’s doing something, or what something really means. Find a way to get that across visually, or through dialogue.
-KEEP IT BRIEF (or WRITE AS IF INK COSTS $1000 AN OUNCE). While a book may allow for lengthy descriptions, a screenplay needs to be tight. Lots of unnecessary text will slow things down, and an important detail might get overlooked if it’s in the middle of a dense paragraph.
-IS THIS IMPORTANT TO THE STORY? While you may consider it vital to meticulously describe the decor of your protagonist’s living room, or every item of clothing they’re wearing, unless that information plays a part in the story, it’s unnecessary clutter.
-IS THIS HOW PEOPLE TALK? Do your characters talk like real people or like they’re in a movie? Helpful tip – read your dialogue out loud to see how it actually sounds.
-ACTIVE, NOT PASSIVE VERBS. “Bob runs” is more effective than “Bob is running.”
-WE SEE/WE HEAR. Personally, not a fan. If you have to use them, do so as sparingly as possible.
-CAMERA DIRECTIONS. Again, not a fan. I find them distracting. You don’t need to remind us we’re “watching” a movie
These, of course, are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, but still pretty important to keep in mind.
This week I opted to give myself a bit of a break among the writing and outlining sessions, and read some scripts just for the hell of it. Admittedly, some of them had been in my “to read” queue for quite a while, and right now seemed as good a time as any to finally get to them.
No notes. No feedback. Just sitting back, relaxing, and losing myself in the stories.
They ranged from a horror to a historical action, a western to a drama based on true events.
And each and every one was fantastic in its own unique way.
It also helps that these are the works of some excellent writers to begin with, so that made the overall experience that much better.
If I’d been asked when I was starting out if I could ever just read a script, I’m not sure if the answer would have been yes. I suspect I’d’ve been too concerned with thinking “what works in this script?” and “what can I learn from this?”
But the experience that’s come from reading and writing scripts has enabled me to look at a screenplay as more than an educational document. I can see solid storytelling, strong plots, three-dimensional characters, snappy dialogue, and all the other elements.
All of those elements combine to make for some darned good scripts.
It’s one of the best pieces of advice when a newer writer asks “How can my scripts be better?”
There’s a vast assortment from which to choose, making it super-easy for you to customize your reading list.
And to take it one step further, numerous members of the online screenwriting community would be happy to share or swap scripts. You just have to do the work in finding something that piques your interest. Believe me, they are definitely out there.
If your schedule allows, try to make the effort to read one to two scripts a week. You’ll be glad you did.
Any screenwriter who’s done their homework can tell you there are plenty of platforms and websites out there offering up the opportunity to put scripts on display.
Granted, I know this little operation of mine isn’t the biggest or the most well-known, but I also know how frustrating it can be when you’ve got a script you’re really proud of and want to let the rest of the world know about it.
I’m a big believer in supporting the writing community, and wanted to do what I could to offer up that same opportunity to any and all interested parties.
“Send me the vital details for your script, and I’ll post ’em!” I announced.
And 167 of you did exactly that.
What you will find below is a virtual treasure trove of material.
Film and TV scripts covering a vast spectrum of genres, many with accompanying awards and accolades.
But the most important part is that each and every one is available for you to read – courtesy of the writer’s email being included.
Something grabs your attention, makes you think “I’d like to read that.”? All you have to do is contact the writer and ask. Maybe they’ll want to do a swap.
This is networking and establishing professional relationships at their finest.
So settle in and start perusing. Hope you find something you like.
(And as long as I’ve got your attention, feel free to hit the ‘like’ button, and even take it one step further and start following this blog.)
12 HOURS 2 STEAL
A struggling artist must navigate a series of instructions to steal a valuable treasure for an unknown puppetmaster after she downloads an audio tour podcast for a specific painting in a gallery.
Winner, Best Unproduced Feature Screenplay – UK Motion Picture Festival, Spring 2021
Finalist – PIMFF 2021
Finalist – European Cinematography Awards 2021
Official Selection – Amsterdam World International Film Festival 2021
Finalist – Best Script Award 2021
Official Selection – Rome Independent Prisma Awards 2021
An aspiring country singer willing to hustle, a broke bartender with a big heart, and a two strike criminal find their lives thrust together under the neon shadows of Music City after a robbery gone bad turns to revenge.
Quarterfinalist – 2019 Nicholl Fellowship
Winner – Best Screenplay, 2018 California Film Awards, Orson Welles Awards, Best Screenplay
Finalist – 2019 Los Angeles Crime and Horror Festival
Quarterfinalist – 2019 Roadmap/Road to New Republic
Selection – 2019 Sacramento International Film Festival Screenplay Contest
While stocking shelves in a retail store, a struggling, newly single dad gets caught in a diabolical game where he must follow the instructions in each box he opens, or his estranged children will be murdered.
A young man in recovery is recruited by his N.A. sponsor to join a cult-like group of thieves. Lured in with the prospect of helping his father’s shaky new sales career in the home-security sector, Ethan learns the hard way, there’s no honor among thieves.
A suicidal comic, trapped in an isolated cabin with a traumatized ten year old girl who hasn’t spoken in over a year, discovers that if he assumes the persona of her favorite cartoon character, she’ll respond. They put crazy on hold, have a hell of an adventure helping each other survive, and begin to heal their personal wounds.
In an isolated, small town, a squeamish, vegan, lesbian detective falls in love with a sadistic, serial-killer cannibal and battles her inner and outer demons in an intimate and twisted psychological cat and mouse battle for survival. With the help of a brave Deputy in a wheelchair, she learns she needs to become her fear to overcome it.
Lexi, a heavily tattooed woman in her mid-20’s, who was known to be an on-the rise young skateboarder during her childhood, gave up her talent as she approached her mid 20’s due to her the loss of her father and her mother in rehab. She lives with her disabled grandmother and likes spending time with her abusive boyfriend. However, with her finances hanging on by a thread each day, she decides to run back to the one thing she loves the most, skateboarding.
A young burlesque dancer reeling from a breast cancer diagnosis forms an unlikely bond with the much older members of her support group, and must push past conservative mindsets and patriarchal, ageist ideas of beauty in order to run a burlesque workshop helping her fellow survivors reclaim ownership of their bodies.
When a superstar college quarterback suffers an injury that threatens to derail his pro career, a shrewd sports marketer offers him lifetime financial security if he can carry a team of talented misfits to the Olympic trials… in curling.
A young boy who’s always wanted to go on an adventure is dying of lung cancer. On the brink of losing all hope and youthful imagination, his friend’s teddy bear comes to life, bringing him on an adventure unlike any other.
Stereo podcast week 4 – $10,000 grand prize winner.
While the Vice President of a video game company tries to prevent her kidnapper from hacking into her company’s data, her coworker and best friend of over 40 years tries to escape the hacker’s accomplice.
Two colleagues who don’t like each other – and who are both in other relationships – fall in love and get married over one Passover. It’s a story about family, following your passion, and fish (gefilte, and otherwise).
Chloe Monet, desperate to prevent a predicted death, is introduced to two jet-setting brothers from Greece, exposing an International diamond scheme. Although diamonds are considered a girl’s best friend, in this case they are a source of contention and danger.
As the final battle between Good and Evil approaches, five desperate orcs plan to steal a magical shield from their Queen’s enormous fortress so they can pay for their escape from the inevitable slaughter.
A vengeful train robber and a female Samurai forge an unlikely partnership as they race across the Old West to rescue the Emperor’s daughter and stop a gang of thieves from stealing five mystical swords.
Finalist – 2021 Screencraft Fellowship
Top 100 – 2021 Table Read My Screenplay Genre Competition
After their conspiracy theorist buddy goes missing, two dumbass vets enter a seedy town with a seedy strip club that just happens to be full of seedy 80s clad stripper werewolves, and once again they need to save ‘Merica.
Coverfly – Overall Top 10%
Quarterfinalist – 2021 Richmond International Film Festival
Quarterfinalist – 2020 Big Break Script Competition
Tricked into babysitting their godchildren, a trio of egocentric dudes find themselves in the middle of a robbery turned kidnapping, leaving them one kid short. With the aid of a frenemy cop, they must defeat the bandits and save the kid before daddy returns.
As his people face constant persecution in 16th century Prague, Chief Rabbi Judah Loew suffers a crisis of faith and creates a Golem as a means of protection, only to lose control of his monster and be forced to stop it before it brings about an even greater threat.
The do-nothing son of a recently deceased business mogul is tasked to deliver his estranged father’s ashes cross country in order to inherit the family fortune. Along the way, he must evade 2 hit men hired by his father’s spurned business partner, with his unbeknownst secret agent girlfriend assisting him along the way.
A grieving man isolates himself on an island after the loss of his daughter and wife, but when his wife returns, his sanity and devotion are pushed to the brink as she shows increasingly violent, animalistic behaviours.
An inclusive dystopian sci-fi screenplay about a hot-headed woman, who after her mother is taken for missed organ payments, joins a small rebellion effort to save her, but when they uncover darker truths about the repossessed victims, she must save the people of the encased city, which seems impossible because the powerful CEO is standing in her way.
Upon accidentally gaining access to a sovereign fund containing billions of dollars, an awkward social-climber has to siphon as much money as he can, using brilliant and complicated financial structures, before the authorities close in. Based on the real-life fugitive Jho Low who was involved in the biggest financial scandal in history.
1st Place – Table Read My Screenplay (Genre: Historical / Biopic) 2021
DEA Special Agent John Fisk and Kayla, his detection dog, are a force to be reckoned, when a mission goes sideways, killing him. Waking up wounded and alone, it takes the unwitting help of a rookie agent for Kayla to exact justice.
Rooted in a gateway valley, a family of homesteaders and Indigenous band become targets of a railway tycoon intent on exploiting a recent gold discovery in the neighboring hills. Driven to defend their way of life the valley’s inhabitants must put aside their differences and join together if there’s any hope of preserving honor and justice in this brave ‘New World’.
Determined to attend senior prom, a teen born with a rare genetic disorder must also overcome social anxieties to secure a prom date, until a teacher he is smitten with provides him with a unique opportunity and arrangement.
Adaptation of my short script GENERATION CY, which placed in the semifinals in the 2020 Barnstorm Film & TV Fest
For transgender teen, Andy Cooper, finding love – much less a date to prom – is a pretty tall order. Things change when Andy rekindles his friendship with Valedictorian, Olivia McDonald. Together, the duo confront transphobic peers, family struggles, challenging friendships and life altering SCARS.
Official Selection – 2021 Script Summit
A biracial teen comes of age in inner city Miami, and resents her mother’s return home after serving a lengthy prison sentence.
The good news: Disgraced, down on his luck, dog-loving, former special-op, Mutt Hickock, finds his fortunes changing when he’s named the executor of a billion and a half dollar trust. The bad news: The massive fortune has been left to a pampered, Persian cat, which Mutt not only can’t tolerate, he’s allergic to as well. The worse news: There is a very badass group of people from Mutt’s past that want the cat dead so they can get their hands on the money. The worst news: Killing Mutt in the process would just be a bonus.
In an attempt to save his dying relationship, a socially inept slacker finds a way to adopt a literal monster baby, sparking a cross-country road trip to return it before someone dies or all their money runs dry.
When Nazi Germany invades her Ukraine homeland, a 24-year-old University student enlists in the Rifle Division of the Soviet Red Army, over the objectionss of her family and the recruiter; she becomes her country’s most prolific sniper.
When a damaged Somali Soldier’s hidden past is uncovered, he faces his demons to shepherd an innocent family on the run to Europe. But blood ties to the vengeful military regime hunting them force him to make an impossible and deadly choice.
When an Army ranger is forced to pass an unconventional sobriety program or face a dishonorable discharge, she stumbles upon a dark plot within the facility capable of undoing her past while sabotaging her future.
Best Feature Screenplay – 2021 FunMill Film Fest, Cleveland, OH
When an orphan discovers that she has been adopted for the sole purpose of being an organ donor for her sickly new brother, she must fight her new family and escape their old mansion before her life is taken and her lungs are harvested.
In the days before Hurricane Katrina, a former investigative journalist is drawn back to New Orleans following the death of her sister, where one of the Crescent City’s oldest families is on the verge of summoning an ancient god of prehistory.
In 1970s Indianapolis, a 2nd-generation hot rodder finagles a way to stay out of the Army (and the County Jail) so he can keep doing what he loves – RACING – but a cop with a grudge is obsessed with wrecking his life, and making him pay for ALL his family’s crimes.
Finalist, Official Selection – 2021 Die Laughing Film Festival
When a revenge plot goes horribly wrong, a sickly priest finds himself caught up in the chaos. As violence unfolds around him, and doubt enters the fray, he must do what he can if he wants to get out alive.
Ruthless mercenaries, fanatical cultists, and celestial horrors won’t stand in the way of an all-girl urban explorer team hell bent on rescuing their young sister from the grip of a shadowy monster in a secretive lab.
Wanted for murder, a Navy SEAL must save his fiancé by plunging into the most desperate hunt of his life–a shattering search for a brilliant killer who has come back to finish a job he failed at several years before.
Loosely based on the twisted tale of America’s first serial killer family. Set in the absurd and abnormal town of Labette, a determined yet naive young woman strikes up an unlikely companionship with a gunslinger, teaching her that she must forge her own way in the world. But when you come from a family of murderers, heads are guaranteed to roll.
Berlin 1938. The Catholic Church makes a deal with the devil and a reluctant young priest must either comply with the church’s appeasement of Hitler’s government or rise up against two powerful forces to become the hero the world needs.
In the endless rain and crop failures of an apocalyptic volcanic winter, a mythic being – both man and monster – comes to the aid of a diverse blended family to bring back the sun. (MAGGIE meets THE SHAPE OF WATER)
Returning from Iraq, Jacob Diaz works as a social media monitor where he’s forced to constantly watch videos of cruelty, conspiracy, and hate. Fed up with the inaction of his supervisors and the authorities—plus the toll on his psyche—he hunts down the offending posters in search of peace. Finding that he has become a viral sensation himself, he must now escape a rabid fanbase that uses him as its inspiration.
A refined young woman must avenge her father’s death by becoming what she despises most, a pirate. Chasing her father’s nemesis across the high seas and through the Queen’s court to extract vengeance and save the kingdom.
A Katniss Everdine heroine in a Princess Bride world. A story for girls that want to be the hero and a princess.
In 1810 England, a bankrupt and disgraced London socialite has three days to uncover the truth about her ex-lover’s disappearance and make amends for her role in her sister’s death before she’s taken by a mythical entity that punishes wrongdoers.
When an overworked, underpaid college grad finds the promises of her higher education degrees aren’t paying off, she teams with two misfit friends to steal a prized sculpture from their alma mater in order to save her father’s house and finally make a difference.
When a vindictive bounty hunter transports a bank robber from New Mexico to Colorado to pay for his crimes, the outlaw tests his captor’s weakness and forces the bounty hunter to find out if he truly has the courage to dispense his own personal justice.
After a 17yo student at a pretentious New Orleans Catholic school digs into her Colombian heritage in search of a pretty, petty picture to paint to get back at her infuriating Religion teacher, her project on Santa Muerte leads to her lighting candles and murdering her lecherous uncle, but did she find Santa Muerte or did Santa Muerte find her? Maybe death is her destiny?
Chapter One: Evil Roots Run Deep. In the Montana Wilderness of 1845, a French-Canadian fur trapper with a dark past is captured by a Native American family. But after duplicitously talking his way out of their captivity, he faces a reckoning for his sins, stumbling into an even more harrowing nightmare that proves as haunting as it is deadly.
When a tenacious AAPI teen witnesses four corrupt policemen beat her dad to death, she must learn to convert her auditory PTSD into a newfound power to uncover the identities of the killers and seek revenge- even as it transforms her from a naive streetkid to gold-suited superhero, Aurem!
After accidentally waking King Arthur in the present day, a disillusioned businesswoman must sort fact from fantasy if they’re going to survive his enemies, both ancient and new – problem is, she may be one of them.
When a doctor from a family of cops is unfairly suspended from a prestigious hospital, he is thrown a lifeline by the Croatian Mafia in his old hood. Committing to help their ailing boss as an underground war erupts, he may discover his professional calling, if he can survive..
A staffing service clerical error reclassifies a hopeful henchman as a supervillain, forcing him to reluctantly fulfill his new managerial obligations instead of what he really wants: to win back his estranged girlfriend and find a decent benefits package.
Found footage, Rock-Mockumentary, Dark Comedy, Thriller, Music
Decades after the underground rock scene of the 1970s ended, a son discovers his father’s lost interview tapes with some of rock’s lesser known “legends,” and discovers that rock ‘n’ roll may never die, but it sure can kill.
A preteen girl’s life becomes increasingly complicated when she unleashes an adolescent, hard-to-manage genie, who can’t leave until he grants her three wishes and realizes he may not want to leave at all.
A cheap private eye has to step up his game after he unwittingly uncovers a cold case involving murder, smuggling, and police corruption to become the unlikely hero and survive his deadliest adversary yet.
When a New York City medical intern of Navajo descent suddenly manifests supernatural healing powers, she must learn to control her abilities with the help of her long-lost medicine-man grandfather, and discover how a shadowy genetics corporation was responsible for her father’s mysterious death.
After her husband’s mysterious death and the disappearance of her 9-year-old son, a teacher discovers a dark secret in her home that catapults her out of suburban London into the heart of Mumbai’s underworld.
A freak accident offers the director of a failing funeral home the solution to her family’s money problems: murdering the men responsible for her husband’s death and reaping the financial windfall of their funerals.
Based on a true story. Two newly recruited female Resistance members risk their lives to rescue downed soldiers and translate Nazi secrets as part of a civilian spy ring, only to face betrayal and capture.
At a hybrid state-run boarding school, the boys’ soccer coach must merge his team with the girls’ and win a tournament to stay funded, but can’t get his own daughter to play ball let alone the rest of the team.
Placed on Coverfly’s 2020 Red List – Top-rated Family Televsion (one hour)
#2 – Coverfly’s Red List – Dec 2020 – Top-rated Family Television (one hour)
When Hurricane Katrina blows the film industry up from New Orleans to Shreveport, a displaced eccentric talent agent, a rebellious preacher’s wife, and a diverse group of local actors form unlikely bonds at a weekly acting class, all hoping to get their big break in the other LA.
After being framed for a massive senior prank he didn’t commit, ex-serial prankster Freddie Slifko is forced to repeat his entire senior year at his Catholic boarding school where he vows to pull off the biggest senior prank of all time.
Surrounded by cornfields and casual racism, the town of Standard, Nebraska is anything but— When a blatantly racist statue of the town’s founder is defaced, a high school journalist and his best friend discover that their hometown is at the center of a story that threatens to tear apart not only their community but a society that has yet to come to terms with race in America.
A “What If” comedy where the U.S. builds The Wall and it successfully eliminates all drugs and violence in America, leading to unintended consequences and a looming threat from the one place they forgot to take into account… Canada.
When a teen witch accepts a cemetery restoration apprenticeship, her ability to interact with spirits is reawakened. Unfortunately, so is her evil father’s desire to steal her power and use it to unleash the damned souls that he controls on the living world.
Second rounder – Austin Film Festival
Finalist – Fresh Voices
Quarterfinalist – Los Angeles International Screenplay Awards
Facing eviction, three pot-smoking, golf cart-crashing, fun-loving retirement village ladies embark upon a black market scheme in order to save their homes and continue to live life on their own terms.
After she unexpectedly kicks the bucket and finds her recently-deceased boyfriend did not make it into Heaven, a saintly medical student escapes back to Earth and uses her second chance at life to stumble her way into Hell.
After an alien device catapults the Moon through hyperspace to the farthest edge of the galaxy, the citizens of Tranquility Base must survive an interstellar odyssey in their attempt to return the Moon back to Earth.
Anat Golan-Wenick started her career in the entertainment business working as a production assistant and researcher in a team that produced series for a large educational channel, while also pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Film/Television and English Literature. After graduation, Anat moved to Los Angeles to dip her hands into the screenwriting pool. Her screenplays have won or placed in contests like Sundance Table Read My Screenplay, StoryPros, Scriptapalooza and others, with one getting optioned by the producer of THE LAST WORD with Shirley MacLaine and Amanda Seyfried.
After taking a script analysis class, Anat discovered her true passion in the entertainment business: reading and improving other writers’ scripts. She became a reader for companies like Amazon Studios, Crispy Twig Productions, The Radmin Company, the Atlanta Film Festival and others, while developing connections with creative voices she aspires to bring to the big and small screens. In her spare time, Anat volunteers as the Secretary on the Board of the San Fernando Valley Writers’ Club (a chapter of the California Writers’ Club).
What’s the last thing you read/watched you considered to be exceptionally well-written?
Not really “the last thing”, but KIDDING on Showtime is a great example of how dialogue, visuals and story come together perfectly. Also on Showtime is I’M DYING UP HERE, which very skillfully weaves many plotlines together. Netflix’s SHTISEL is an example of how a story about a seemingly insignificant part of the world’s population can be made relatable. And for those catering to the younger audience, I recommend studying BOY MEETS WORLD. In terms of reading, THE CARTOONIST’S MASK by Ranan Lurie is a book I’d love to see adapted to screen.
How’d you get your start in the industry?
I always thought I would be a screenwriter. But an internship (followed by a full time position) at a TV station, working on a youth drama, set me on another course. I was a rookie intern when I was allowed to join my first script meeting. I sat quietly, just hoping to learn as much as possible, when the director, an amazing woman by the name of Yael Graf, turned to me and asked for my opinion. Without thinking, I said the solution won’t work. A second later, I was mourning the loss of the best (and only) internship I ever had, when much to my surprise, the director actually wanted to know why I reached such a conclusion. Based on my explanation, the script was revised.
A few years later, I took a script reading class. Based on my analysis, the instructor encouraged me to pursue this career. My hope is to move from script reading to creative executive so I can work with undiscovered writers to help bring their stories to the screen.
Is recognizing good writing something you think can be taught or learned?
Akiva Goldsman once said: “Writing is both a pleasure and a struggle. There are times when it’s really aversive and unpleasant, and there are times when it’s wonderful and fun and magical, but that’s not the point. Writing is my job. I’m not a believer of waiting for the muse. You don’t put yourself in the mood to go to your nine-to-five job, you just go. I start in the morning and write all day. Successful writers don’t wait for the muse to fill themselves unless they’re geniuses. I’m not a genius. I’m smart, I have some talent, and I have a lot of stubbornness. I persevere. I was by no means the best writer in my class in college. I’m just the one still writing.”
You can absolutely become a better writer. But just like any other job – if you want to be good at it, you have to study it, stay on top of new trends, and practice, practice, practice.
What do you consider the components of a good script?
Visual over telling. Don’t say “he walks into a room,” say “he skips, dashes, stumble, falls, dances, shuffles into a room,” etc.
Know the genre you’re writing. Nothing wrong with a horror rom-com, but make sure characteristics of all genres are present in the script.
A well-executed “wait for it” moment. Scripts that constantly challenge me to wonder what will come next, even in based-on-true-event movies. Sure, we all know the Titanic is going to sink, but we wonder what will happen to the protagonists.
If you spent time developing your characters’ external and internal conflicts, make sure to address them during the climactic moment. In CASABLANCA, Rick must get Ilsa and Victor safely to the airplane (external), while saying goodbye and convincing the love of his life to exit his (internal).
Good balance between dialogue and action sequences. Allowing the two to play off of one another, rather than feeding viewer/reader with a spoon.
What are some of the most common screenwriting mistakes you see?
Excessive usage of voiceover for no reason. Personally, I’m not one of those “never voiceover” believers, but use it with caution.
Unimaginative character description (i.e. JANE DOE, 26, pretty).
Unnecessary camera and other directorial instructions as well as endless parentheticals in dialogue sequences.
Usage of “Starts to,” “Begins to,” “Commences to,” etc. as well as “beat.” These phrases can kill the flow of a screenplay, especially when writing an action-adventure movie. Instead of using “beat”, state what causes it (i.e. biting lip, looking away, cracking knuckles, etc.). Instead of “starts to walk but rethinks it,” consider “marches off. Halts.
What story tropes are you just tired of seeing?
I would read anything, but if you’re going to write about vampires or zombies, make sure you put a fresh spin or angle on the genre. WARM BODIES and INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE are two good examples. If writing a romcom, love doesn’t have to be the ultimate goal. In WORKING GIRL, the protagonist wanted a career, and along the way she found love.
What are some key rules/guidelines every writer should know?
Read, watch, internalize, and execute in your own writing, repeat.
Connect with other professionals. You never know when an early connection will lead to a later opportunity.
When receiving comments, always thank the person even if you don’t agree with them.
Your work may get rejected not because it’s not great, but because it’s not what the company is looking for. Do your research before sending.
Entertainment attorneys are a lot more approachable than agents and managers, and often can get your screenplay to the right hands.
People will have a more favorable view of you if when boasting about your achievements, you take a moment to acknowledge others. So when posting “my screenplay just advanced to quarterfinals/semi-finals/finals in “this and this” contest, add “congrats to all others who advanced” or “thank you for this opportunity, etc.
Even if making the slightest change to your script, make sure to save it as a new version. You never know when you may want to refer to an older version.
Always email yourself the latest version of your script, not just in PDF format, but in the writing-program-of-your-choice format, so you can restore the file if the software fails to open.
Ever in a slump and can’t come up with an idea? Public domain is your friend. Either adapt a project, or use it as the base for your own interpretation (e.g. how EASY A was inspired by THE SCARLET LETTER).
Have you ever read a script where you thought “This writer really gets it”? If so, what were the reasons why?
The number of scripts I recommended can be counted on one hand. However, I have yet to encounter a project that was not salvageable, even those I scored extremely low. I encourage all writers to watch Toy Story 3: Mistakes Made, Lessons Learned to realize we all struggle to “really get it.”
How do you feel about screenwriting contests? Worth it or not?
How can people find out more about you and the services you provide?
I mostly read for agencies, studios and contests. Screenwriters often don’t want to hear the truth about their screenplays, they just want someone to say they’re great, as Josh Olson wrote in his article “I Will Not Read Your F*%!ing Script”. However, I have done quite a few free readings for aspiring screenwriters. They can find me through my website The Write Script, social media like LinkedIn and Twitter, or through the San Fernando Valley Writers’ Club, where I volunteer as a Board Member. Writers don’t have to pay big bucks for a quality reading. Join a writing group or a writing community like Talentville that tells it like it is, and swap screenplays.
Do your research if you plan to pay for someone to read your script, especially if they boast about recommending your material to their contacts within the industry. I once encountered a person advertising his reading services on known screenwriting platforms, stating he was a final-round reader/judge for the Austin Film Festival and an Emmy Award Winner. Since the prices he charged were low for someone with such experience, I researched his claims and found out they were far from true. This is not to say the person didn’t give good feedback, but writers can receive the same type of professionalism for much less, or even for free.
Readers of this blog are more than familiar with my love/appreciation of pie. What’s your favorite kind?
I have yet to find a pie I haven’t liked, and not for lack of trying. I volunteer as a tribute to boldly go where no pie lover has gone before to try new flavors. Has hazelnut chocolate cheesecake pie been invented? (Editor’s note: it has.)