Aaron Likes Improv, But Not With His Scripts (Classic Post)

Our favorite uberwriter Aaron Sorkin is still hitting the airwaves hard in support of The Social Network. Here, BBC interviews him about improvisation. He says its great…as long as it’s in someone else’s movie. If you haven’t already O.D.’d on Sorkin, pretty good interview.

Category: People

PUT THE DOGS OUT (Classic Post)

dog gifSpec scripts ordinarily undergo a tremendous amount of development prior to being put into the market or presented to any buyers. As the writer, you are personally responsible for most of that development, much of it before anyone other than your private circle ever sees your material. Developing a screenplay usually takes the form of outlining, writing and rewriting. As you near the end of the process, once the story itself is in good shape, you will want to make a number of focused passes, looking at different aspects of the story (e.g. clarity of action, humor, a particular character’s dialogue). Different writing gurus offer different “must do” passes. For me, it largely depends on what the story requires.

Nevertheless, there is one pass I always save for last. No matter how hard I’ve worked on the script, there is always room for this one. It is the “put the dogs out” pass. I go through the script and look at every line that is direct, literal and unimaginative. Instead of rewriting the line, I try throwing it out. Yes, just yank it right out of the screenplay and see what’s left. You may think you need those lines, but chances are, you don’t. Nine times out of ten, the scene tightens up, more of the story is moved into subtext (where it belongs), the remaining dialogue feels more interesting and more compressed, and the story gets shorter – always a good thing.

To summarize, on the last pass, put the dogs out – all the dogs. Your script will thank you for it.

Category: The Craft

SPLITSVILLE (Classic Post)

Penny from Huntington Beach asks:

A co-worker and I agreed to work on a script together, when I found out how much work was involved I quit my job and started writting full-time, but, with no help from my partner, I would have to call her and basically pull teeth to get us to meet so that we can pull ideas together. She put in about 40 hours at most. And I did all the writing, formatting, it took me nine months, but am now done. I paid for all the ink, and paper, and submitted the script to a manager to read, she wants us to polish up to bring to the next level. I contacted my partner, and she no longer wants to be a part of it, says she has no time. I typed up an agreement that she would get 25% of the earning if it would ever make it. Thats more then fair… But, she is not returning my calls. I don’t know how to get her name off of the script, I sent it in to the writers guild a while back, and her name is on it… I would like to change her title to creative consultant, but, how can I do this when she is a deadbeat. I want to start working on it again to bring it to the next level, but want her name off of it since she is no longer a part of it.. HELP. what do I do??

Your problem is very common, but you will not like the answer. Writing partnerships often fail and the only real solution is to come to agreement with your partner over handling of the material. Given that she will not speak to you, this is not likely to occur. Absent some agreement with her, you are not entitled to unilaterally “get her name off the script” for the simple reason that she helped create it.

You may want to retain an attorney. The attorney may be able to get her attention and negotiate something. However, try to get an attorney who will help you for a nominal fee. Do not make the mistake of investing much more money and time into this script unless and until you have an agreement with your former partner that satisfies you before you make the additional investment.

Should you get your partner to seriously negotiate, you should seek to negotiate away any credit for screenwriting by her. At most, she should share a joint “story by” credit with you and you should have the screenwriting credit. Also, her credit (and yours) must be subject to the terms of the WGA if the script sells to a signatory.

Your circumstance is cautionary to anyone considering a writing partner. Follow these guidelines:

  1. Choose your partner carefully – writing a script takes a long time and represents an enormous personal commitment. Casually initiating a writing partnership is a big mistake.
  2. Address partnership problems as they arise. Do not ignore them and continue to invest time and money into your script. Partnership problems tend to get worse and worse if they are not addressed up front.

This should not dissuade anyone from working with a well-chosen partner. Some of the best writers around are writing teams. Writing with a partner can be very rewarding. Just choose the right partner.

I hope this helps. Good luck….

Category: The Business

“HELP ME HELP YOU” (Classic Post)

WHO?   “Jerry Maguire”, “The Sixth Sense”, “Pleasantville” and many other well-written, successful screenplays share an important technique. This technique not only helps the reader and, eventually, the audience to engage in the story from the first few pages, but it helps you as a writer to write the story. It forces you to focus your story from the very beginning, something that is key to a successful spec script.

What is this magic technique? Proper character introductions.

A proper character introduction does all of the following: (1) introduces the character in crisis; (2) reveals the character’s internal conflict; (3) provides a basis for relating to or empathizing with the character – even the antagonist; and (4) demonstrates the character’s unique personality.

Character introductions are one of the few places in a screenplay where you can be very, very overt. You still need to “show, not tell”, but you can hit the points incredibly directly.

The best way to understand this is by example, so here they are:

“Jerry Maguire” (written by Cameron Crowe) – Jerry is introduced in crisis, narrating directly to us his strange dream, discussing what is wrong with his life and how he believes it can be saved. You cannot get more direct than that. After these pages, you understand his character, you know his internal conflict, what drives, and to what he aspires.

“The Sixth Sense” (written by M. Night Shayamalan) – In Malcolm’s opening scene, he expresses his worst fear, that he is really a fraud and a failure as a child psychologist, and his desire – not to be a fraud. We also hear Anna’s internal conflict, that she is second to Malcolm’s work. I prefer to introduce one character at a time, but even with these two characters introduced simultaneously, the introductions are effective. We also see both of them in crisis: an old patient has come back to kill Malcolm. We see Malcolm’s genuine desire to help.

“Pleasantville” (written by Gary Ross) – David is introduced listening to his mother argue with her boyfriend as he is engrossed in the perfect world of the T.V. show “Pleasantville”. The contrast between the real world and the TV world, and David’s reaction, reveals what David wants and what he has. His internal conflict and his desire are revealed without David even saying a word. We already know him and what he wants.

Once these clear, focused introductions are made, the writer has a compass for the balance of the story. Every scene will explore these character conflicts and, eventually, the story will resolve the character’s desire. This type of character introduction also builds immediate audience/reader engagement. From the beginning, the audience/reader wants to see these issues explored and resolved.

Not all screenplays are built this way. However, using strong, clear, overt character introductions is a strong technique with benefits throughout the writing process and one you should consider.

Enough. Now go write….

Category: The Craft