The latest in a series of interviews with script readers and consultants who would be worth your while to work with if you want to get your script in shape. Today’s spotlight is on writer-educator-consultant Bill Boyle of www.billboyle.net.
*editor’s note – Bill passed away in July 2018
Veteran screenwriter Bill Boyle has been involved in the film industry in both Canada and the U.S. for over 25 years as a writer, director, agent, producer, story editor, and mentor. Mr. Boyle has the rare honor that every screenplay and television series he has written has been produced or optioned. He currently has four screenplays produced and a fifth scheduled for production. Two others are presently under option. Additional information on the films can be found at www.billboyle.net or at www.imdb.com
In addition to screenwriting, Mr. Boyle devotes a significant amount of his time sharing his experience mentoring younger screenwriters. He teaches screenwriting at UCLA and has lectured throughout Canada and the United States.
Mr. Boyle is one of the most popular script consultants in the industry. He has consulted on over 1,000 screenplays worldwide. Creative Screenwriting Magazine rated him among the top 10% of screenwriting consultants. He is the lead proponent of a visual style of screenwriting called “The Visual Mindscape of Screenplay” that focuses on the visual and visceral aspects of screenwriting. His book of the same name was released in 2012.
1. What’s the last thing you read/watched that you thought was incredibly well written?
I am a huge fan of Jo Nesbo’s novels. His visual exploration of the environments he creates are so visceral that once read it is impossible to ever forget them. As for screenplays, I recently read Nightcrawler and found it exceptionally well-written.
2. How’d you get your start reading scripts?
If you mean reading scripts as a job, I was never actually a script reader. I was a manager in Canada and read many scripts that my actors were up for, as well as reading the work of my own screenwriters and playwright clients.
3. Is recognizing good writing something you think can be taught or learned?
It needs to be taught, but not taught as in learned; taught as in establishing the ability to connect fully with the writing and to remain focused. That ability and willingness to be fully immersed in the screenplay allows the reader the conduit into the rhythm, pacing and flow of the narrative. Sounds obvious, but it is my experience that the vast majority of writers ‘skim write’, which is to say they focus all of their attention on what they want the scene to say and little on the atmosphere and pacing of their scenes.
4. What are the components of a good script?
A good script is one that captures the visual and visceral imaginations of the reader. Actually, it’s a misnomer to say we’re writing for the reader, when actually we’re writing for the viewer within the writer. Besides being a visual expression of the story, a good script also expresses the proper pacing and atmosphere within each scene. These are the two elements most often missing in a screenplay.
5. What are some of the most common mistakes you see?
-Blueprint Narrative lacking pace, atmosphere and visual expression
-Overwritten dialogue that lacks a pulse.
6. What story tropes are you just tired of seeing?
The two things that disturb me the most are how fundamentalist screenplay instructors and gurus have poisoned the creative minds of so many young writers. This attitude of “my way or the highway”, or the ever-growing list of things a screenwriter must not do (Voiceovers, Camera Angles and Directions, Character Descriptives, Flashbacks, etc) is absurd.
For me the big one is the white on the page dictum. Of course, part of the art of screenwriting is the ability to tell the story in a succinct, near-haiku style. This form of brevity allows the story to flow and remain in the Absolute Present Tense. But this should never go beyond the point where it strips the narrative of its creative purpose.
I actually believe that white on the page is a way of devaluing the writer’s role in the filmmaking process. I seriously question when and why white on the page become more important that what is on the page.
7. What are the 3 most important rules every writer should know?
-Screenwriting is first and foremost a visual expression. Whether you choose to ignore it or not there is always and image on the screen.
-Establish pacing and atmosphere in your scenes so as to create a visceral experience within the reader/viewer
-Every action, element and scene of a screenplay exists in the Absolute Present Tense
8. Have you ever read a script that was an absolute, without-a-doubt “recommend”? If so, could you give the logline?
A script by Canadian screenwriter Laura Beard called ‘A Quiet and Distinguished Gentleman’. It was about a French Catholic detective who must overcome the bigotry of an English Protestant city and police force to solve a brutal axe murder in 1930. There are things she does with that script that to this day I still use in my lectures. A brilliant and very clever piece of work.
9. How do you feel about screenwriting contests? Worth it or not?
I am not a fan of screenwriting contests. Before I explain why, let me make the distinction between contests and fellowships. I think the fellowships (Nicholl, Praxis, Disney, etc.) are excellent programs.
I swear to god I have never heard a ‘true’ story of someone having a script produced based on a contest, which, considering how many there are out there, is rather shocking.
This idea of letting the writers know that they have moved to the next tier and then the quarterfinals, semifinals, etc., is their rendition of Three Card Monte. They let you think you win for a while so that you come back for more. What other reason is there?
10. How can people get in touch with you to find out more about the services you provide?
Check out my web site www.billboyle.net. You can also sign up for my newsletter, blog notices, online course dates and when spaces open up for my Unlimited Script Mentoring Program.
11. Readers of this blog are more than familiar with my love/appreciation of pie. What’s your favorite kind?
I will go for pretty much anything except the pie in The Help.