With the page-producing phase of the horror-comedy spec now underway, I’m also finding the occasional need to do a little side work on it. In this case, it’s the 1-page synopsis for said script.
Summarizing your entire story on one solitary page (or one and a half, according to some of my associates) is, as many writers already know, not as easy as it sounds. Yours truly being no exception.
Past 1-pagers for past scripts were the usual challenge, but I managed. Somehow. Part of that challenge has always been inadvertently including too much of the story. As much as I’d like to put all of it in there, that just won’t work.
The key is to focus on the main character and what they go through to achieve their goal, with a strong emphasis on conflict. I’ve also found it very helpful to break each act down into its core components – especially key events and plot points.
Trying to include subplots and supporting characters was just clogging the whole thing up, so those quickly fell by the wayside, which really helped streamline the whole thing.
This time is a little different, probably due to having multiple protagonists. Well, at least it starts that way. This is a horror story, so as you’d expect, people are gonna die.
Not being as familiar with the horror genre, I wasn’t sure of the most effective way to put together a 1-pager for this kind of story. Is there more emphasis on the horror part? Or the story with some horror elements thrown in? “The learning never stops” indeed.
Feeling a bit stumped, I did like all smart writers do, and asked my network of savvy creatives for whatever assistance and guidance they could provide.
Glad I did.
(Hearty shoutout to everybody who reposnded and got in touch – I really appreciate it)
More than one said to focus on the one character the reader/audience would consider the heart of the story, and follow what happens to them. That I can do.
Others, who’ve also written stories starting with several protagonists and see their numbers reduced along the way, suggested listing them all at the outset, so as they’re gradually eliminated, there’s no sense of “Who’s that again?” I might give that a try.
There was the smart reminder to “keep things simple”. Don’t fall into the trap of making it too cluttered or complicated. Just tell the story in a clear and straightforward manner.That might take a little editing and revising, but I think I can also do that.
Based on all of these comments, plus my own experience, having a solid 1-pager in my possession seems definitely achievable.
First, the good/positive news – the rewrite of the comedy spec is complete. However, at 88 pages, it’s a little shorter than I expected. Fortunately, adding in another 4-5 pages shouldn’t be too strenuous.
As part of the effort to recharge my creative batteries before jumping back in, I’ve stepped away from it for a couple of days.
From actually working on that script, anyway.
Since there are a lot of other avenues involved in getting your work out there, I’ve been focusing on some of those, including:
-got some great feedback on query letters, so revised one (along with updating a few lists of potential recipients – always works in progress) and sent a few out.
-submitting some pitches, and just about every one asks for a synopsis. Working on these tends to usually involve me putting in too much story info, then turning around and drastically editing it and shrinking it down to fit on one page. Despite how important this is, I’ve always disliked it.
-jotting down ideas for other scripts. While a nice reminder that I have these waiting in the wings, it’s also quite pleasant to take a look at stuff I haven’t seen in a while. Some are still in the development stage, and others are older scripts due for a massive overhaul.
-the maintenance and upkeep of connections with other writers and creatives. Like with the scripts, some are from the past, and some are brand new. Can’t go wrong with keeping your network healthy.
-reading scripts and watching movies. True, not necessarily writing, but definitely affiliated with it. It’s especially gratifying when the script comes from a writer who knows what they’re doing. As for the movies, that’s been a mix of the popular (Wakanda forever) and the Oscar nominees.
The point of all of this is that there’s much more to building a career in screenwriting than just writing scripts; it involves writing of all sorts for many other things. While I already dedicate a good portion of my available time to working on scripts, I also realize and accept that these other things are in just as much need of my attention.
And an added bonus – many of these things are not one time only. They’ll be done again and again, so the more I do them now, the easier they’ll be to do when the need arises.
Except for the one-pagers. I’ll always struggle with those.
It’s been a busy couple of days with no sign of letting up, so another shorty today.
-Sorry to say a lot of my time recently has been taken up dealing with technical issues for my email and this blog. Many’s the time I wanted to fling my laptop against the wall due to something not doing what it was supposed to be doing.
-Latest batch of query letters sent. A handful of “send it!” (fingers crossed for that one to the big prodco), a handful of “thanks, but no thanks” and a lot of silence from the rest. Undeterred, I’ve got a few new lists ready to go.
-Got some great suggestions and feedback on my 1-pagers, so rewrites are underway.
-A hearty thanks to those who’ve contacted me about “scripts wanted” listings which are potentially solid matches for some of mine. Follow-ups are in progress.
-Still working on script notes for a few of you. Your patience is greatly appreciated.
-Huge thanks to those offering their support and words of encouragement during some recent times of feeling lousy, confidence-wise. Knowing you’re in my corner means a lot.
-Even though I’ve been super-busy, I’m still doing what I can to do some actual writing, both for my own projects and some outside ones I’m involved with. It’s not always easy, but really making the effort to get something done each day.
Have a great weekend, and hope you get some kickass writing done.
“The concept has potential, but a 16 year old lead without a property is really hard to cast, it would definitely need an A-list movie star. With this kind of lead, you might want to scale it back more and not make it so ambitious. Pass”
This was a management firm’s response to the one-page synopsis for my fantasy-adventure. It stung a little at first, but I’ve gotten over it. That’s when things shifted to analysis mode.
I appreciate the part about it having potential. Always nice to hear. Composing a one-pager has always been tough for me, so maybe the rollercoaster ride-ness of the story wasn’t conveyed enough. Nothing a little editing and rewriting couldn’t fix.
Regarding the actors. They’re looking at it from a business point of view, and who’d take a chance on a high-budget script written by an unknown?
Scaling it back. Um…not sure about that. I’ve created a new world within the confines of the story, so it’s kind of set in place. Nor do I feel overwhelmingly compelled to drastically change things around to suit the needs of somebody who might be potentially interested.
But “not make it so ambitious”? Afraid I’ll have to totally disagree with that one.
In the context of this kind of story, things cannot be kept simple. They need to be ambitious. In some ways, the story is an extension of my own ambition. My objective here is to tell a fun, entertaining story that takes you on an exciting ride. I strive to come up with new ideas, or at least new takes and approaches on old ones. I want my work to wow you and thrill you.
So the script wasn’t right for this particular person. Big deal. I took a chance, and it didn’t work out. The end of the world is not nigh. They’re definitely not the only ones out there, nor were they my only option. The person to say “yes” is still out there, and I’ll keep at it until we connect.
Never, ever underestimate the ambition and determination of a writer with their goals firmly set in place. It makes us quite formidable.
-Race alert! I’m running the Oakland half-marathon on Sunday. This race totally kicked my ass two years ago due to a combo of warmer-than-expected weather and a too-fast pace, so going into it with a goal of keeping it under two hours and the strategy of really trying to maintain a steady pace (especially for the first couple of miles) and doing what I can to stay cool. If that involves dumping water over my head at every water stop, so be it.
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 Danny Manus of No Bullscript Consulting.
Danny Manus is the former Director of Development for Sandstorm Films (The Covenant, 8MM2) and Clifford Werber Productions (Cinderella Story, Just Add Water), where he sold “To Oz” to United Artists. He’s the author of “No B.S. for Screenwriters: Advice from the Executive Perspective” and was ranked one of the Top 15 “Cream of the Crop” script consultants in CS Magazine. He was also named one of Screencraft’s “25 People Screenwriters Should Follow on Twitter.”
1. What’s the last thing you read/watched that you thought was incredibly well-written?
The best written things I’ve watched lately have been on TV. There are movies I’ve really enjoyed – Chef, Planet of the Apes, Guardians of the Galaxy, Fault in our Stars, Bad Words, etc. – but none this year yet that I thought were OMG fantastic writing. To be fair, I haven’t seen Boyhood yet. But for me, TV is where the best material is these days. My favorite new comedy is You’re the Worst on FXX. I also really enjoyed The Last Ship on TNT and Masters of Sex on Showtime this summer. I’m sure there are wonderfully written books out there, but I don’t get to read them.
2. How’d you get your start reading scripts?
My first start was as an intern about 13 years ago at Columbia Tri-Star in TV Development and 20TH Century Fox Feature Casting. I was charged with reading everything that came in and doing coverage on them. But I used to go through their archive library and just read as many as I could, especially at Tri-Star. My coverage was liked by the VPs I worked under so much that they loaned me out to the SVP (Sarah Timberman at the time, who would not remember me if you paid her) and then the President at the time. Those gigs gave me enough coverage samples to land my first assistant job after I graduated.
3. Is recognizing good writing something you think can be taught or learned?
Recognizing bad writing is something anyone can do. Recognizing great writing is something that can be taught and learned with time and experience. As a first year assistant and intern, I could tell you what was written poorly. But it took a few years of reading hundreds and hundreds of scripts to TRULY understand good writing. And many thousands of scripts later, I’m still learning.
You can’t read a book on screenwriting and think you’re suddenly able to be a professional consultant or reader or writer. There is no checklist given to new readers, it’s learned on the job – that’s why it’s SO important for writers to READ. Though I actually did develop a checklist I used to give to my interns. It was 110 items long. But if you’re a great reader, they are all just in your head and you notice them naturally.
4. What are the components of a good script?
There are basic elements everyone agrees on – a concept and hook that sparks a reaction and has potential to lead somewhere intriguing; compelling, three-dimensional characters who make you want to follow them; dialogue that feels sharp and precise yet natural and flows; enough growing conflict and high enough stakes to keep ones interest; and a plot that progresses throughout the script in interesting ways. Every script should have strong setups, executions and payoffs. But to make it go from good to great, it’s about the X-factor. Some of that is voice, but some of it is just the right writer writing the right story in the right way at the right time. That’s when true brilliance strikes. And it doesn’t happen often.
5. What are some of the most common mistakes you see?
I see them all. I mean, the biggest mistakes are that writers are writing stories that aren’t MOVIES. They’re just not strong enough ideas or hooks to be movies in the current studio or indie marketplace. Or that the writer doesn’t know the hook of their idea. Or that the writer uses too many COINCIDENCES or serendipitous moments to create plot.
Actually, you know what the #1 mistake I see is? The use of YOU’RE and YOUR! I mean, WTF people – it’s not that hard to know the difference. Thinking that typos and grammar and format don’t matter – they do!
The biggest non-craft mistakes writers make is not doing their research and not knowing ANYTHING about the actual business. And secondly, submitting projects LONG before they’re ready to be submitted. Querying and pitching on a first draft or before a script is even written, entering contests with a first draft, posting their second drafts on websites. The biggest mistake I see is desperation and impatience outweighing common sense and good judgment.
6. What story tropes are you just tired of seeing?
I could go the rest of my life without seeing another Geek to Chic Teen story. Or the Christmas tale of someone losing their Xmas spirit until X happens. Or the story of the struggling writer trying to break into Hollywood and X happens. The Screenwriter protagonist CAN work – but 98% of the time it doesn’t and I like to play the odds. In terms of character, if I never have to read about another female rape victim or domestic abuse victim, I’d be okay with that too. Those are so common in scripts it’s lost its meaning. But in the end, what I always say is – Don’t run from the cliché, just make it seem NOT cliché. That’s a writer’s job.
7. What are the 3 most important rules every writer should know?
-It’s not called the artist colony, it’s called the Film Business. So treat it like one. And if you want this to be a career, treat it like one.
-Writing is rewriting and if you can’t take notes and really truly rewrite, you’ll never have a lasting career.
-Your first draft and first script is SUPPOSED to suck. If you think your first script is going to sell and make you rich, you’re living in a dream world. Just. Keep. Writing.
8. Have you ever read a script that was an absolute, without-a-doubt “recommend”? If so, could you give the logline?
Absolutely. But most were already projects in development written by top notch writers. I have had a number of clients whose projects were Recommends – but none were like that on the first draft. I can’t really divulge the loglines though.
9. How do you feel about screenwriting contests? Worth it or not?
There are about 15 contests out there that are completely worth it that I highly recommend, and about 250 contests out there that aren’t. If you win a major, prestigious contest it can definitely start your career and get you noticed. But if you’re continuously a quarterfinalist or not even making the quarters, then you’re not ready yet. Or your script isn’t. Contests are absolutely worthwhile IF your script and writing is at a level where you can be in the top 100 writers out of 8,000. If you can’t say that, then you’re probably wasting $40. Keep in mind – the Top 10 contests get about 45,000 submissions total. And they give out about 150 prizes to finalists and winners. So, those are your chances. Your script has to be REALLY fucking good. But as someone who has had multiple major contest winners and finalists as clients, that’s what I’m here for.
10. How can people can get in touch with you to find out more about the services you provide?
You can always check out my website and services at www.nobullscript.net and follow me on Twitter @Dannymanus (I was named one of Screencraft’s 25 People Screenwriters Should Follow on Twitter).
And if interested, I’m running a 4-week online course “Creating More Compelling, Castable Characters” which starts Sept 26th and it’s going to be a great class. So, I encourage everyone to check out details at www.compellingcharacters.eventbrite.com
11. Readers of this blog are more than familiar with my love/appreciation of pie. What’s your favorite kind?
I’m an apple pie guy, though a good chocolate cream pie with the chocolate mousse and whipped cream…nom nom nom.