Sunday, March 29, 2009

Screenwriting - How to Write A Copper Bottom Real Life Work of Shattering Genius in Ten Easy Steps by John Smithery

I once got really angry with my agent. Real, bile seeping, coffee cup flinging, head pounding on wall angry. He had dared to suggest some rewrites for a screenplay that had sold twice, but hadn't got made either time. Feet on desk, hands behind his head, beatific smile across his smarmy agent's face, he had dared to utter one highly loaded phrase. He had dared to say: 'it's not rocket science, is it?'

Bombshell. Things between us crash landed. I shed him, like a hand grenade sheds its shell, there and then. How dare he...?!?

But, now I've several years perspective on the row, I am big enough, I have the heart enough, to be able to admit: He was right. Reworking a script isn't rocket science. If you know what you are doing.

That's a very important If.

"If you know what you are doing..."

If you've spent any time trying to write, and you've got any kind of internet connection at all, you will have realised there are a million other guys out there hacking away at screenplays, all apparently convinced they know what they are up to, and shouting like wild animals at anyone who dares disagree. They sound so authoritative, so compelling, so right - and yet so few of their screenplays ever get past the first hurdle of the initial slushpile reader, let alone to the desk of anyone with any commissioning power.

Meanwhile the people who do sell scripts seem to go on selling, and selling. Common sense would tell you they are obviously doing something different. Common sense would tell you that what they are submitting to the production companies is quantitatively different to what you are submitting.

How hard can it be to work out what the differences are?

As you are probably aware, its very, very hard.

In fact it's so hard it took me about ten years before I cracked it.

Here's the ten headlines. Ten rules of thumb. Ten stepping stones I follow religiously. Follow them conscientiously in order and you WILL see results. I promise.

1. Make your audience care. Get a person at the heart of your story who is deeply loved. Make terrible, awful things happen to them.

2. Make sure you are writing in a genre.

3. Happy Ending. You need one.

4. Love your hero, and force them to choose between two equally powerful alternatives at the end.

5. Design your villain so they can attack your hero in the most personal, damaging, agonising way. Love your villain as much as your hero.

6. Get your story right before you write a word of dialogue. Write a ten page treatment of this story, describing what happens to your beloved lead character.

7. Get a gang of your friends to read the treatment. If three or more of them pick up on a point independently, you might have a problem there. If enough people say something it is probably true.

8. Pick the first paragraph in your treatment. Think about it over and over again, visualise it in the bath, when you wake up, when you are walking along the street. Visualise what happens until you can run it through like a little movie in your mind, seeing what happens, almost hearing the dialogue. This will be your first sequence.

9. Get out your word processor, or your script writing software, whatever, doesn't matter. You can format it later. Get that sequence down now. Write the scenes. Make the characters move, and talk, and feel.

10. Repeat steps 8 and 9 over and over again, until you have got to the end of your treatment.

You have just finished your first draft.

Format it. Print it. Weigh it in your hand. Admire it. You should be proud. Few people get this far. And if you followed these steps, it's going to be far more readable than anything else you have written.

I hope you are intrigued by my stepping stones. Most writers take years and years of trial and error before they discover how to write in a way that people want to read. Many of them never ever get there, and give up, having wasted years of their life. Click here if you want a shortcut. (Oh, and John Smithery is a pen name. I'm still in the business, and there's no way I want the producers I work for so see how easy it is. I like the way they pay for my time...)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Writing a Screenplay Using Structure by Kal Bishop

Effective screenwriting relies on the good understanding and use of structure.

Inexperienced screenwriters may believe that structure inhibits creativity, but experienced writers know that following a template helps them to problem identify, generate ideas, select good ideas and develop them to reach that all important words-on-paper first draft – structure is not a hindrance but an enhancer of creative output.

If doubts about structure still exist, then they are soon eliminated – when screenplays are presented to decision makers for evaluation, writers soon learn that structure becomes an important part of the evaluation process.

A writer, through an individual and tortuous process of trial and error, may develop templates, or he or she may use one of the classic templates such as the Hero’s Journey. But a writer will rarely admit to the use of templates (it reduces the perception of originality) or he or she may be only mildly aware that they are following a process.

The Classic Hero’s Journey story structure template contains 106 sequences and more than 30 in the final act alone. It is an evolution of Campbells’ original model, containing only 17,18 or 19 sequences, depending on who the interpreter is.

There is a theory that there are only five jokes in the world. Similarly there is a theory that there is only one story in the world. An analyses of nearly all the stories produced by Hollywood bears this out from a certain perspective and the Hero’s Journey would be this universal template.

But from the one universal template are derived many descendants, and one of those is the NO WAY BUT DOWN story structure. In it, the anti-hero heads for self-destruction as a result of his own misdeeds and the betrayal of a shape shifter, allies and goddess et al. It is more exploratory of the darker side of human nature and behaviour and there are no happy endings…but it still makes for a fascinating story.

The Classic Hero’s Journey and the No Way But Down story structure templates can be found at

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Kal Bishop is a management consultant based in London, UK. He has consulted in the visual media and software industries and for clients such as Toshiba and Transport for London. He has led Improv, creativity and innovation workshops, exhibited artwork in San Francisco, Los Angeles and London and written a number of screenplays. He is a passionate traveller. He can be reached on

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Careers In The Entertainment Industry by Tony Jacowski

Actors start as an extra in a movie. There are opportunities for "extras" in every kind of movie and the role of an extra does not require any special talent. Like you, there are thousands of extras who are hoping to make it big, so while the role may not call for any special talent, you have to distinguish yourself from the rest and hope to catch the director's eye. The experience will get you used to the atmosphere of a shooting site, the idiosyncrasies of the actors and other specialists involved - above all, it will open your eyes to all the grunt work that goes into making a film.

In the making of a film there are also more specialized jobs, like those of acting, directing, and even writing roles. These require some amount of professional training. A professional internship in the line will definitely give your career a boost. Then there are the slightly less important but no less crucial jobs, like the grips and assistants to the editors, of both writing and film.

Transition To Television

Move to the smaller screen of television and you have reality shows like Survivor and The Amazing Race. You have talent shows like American Idol, umpteen sports shows, chat shows, nature programs, fitness and development programs - limitless options that all find an audience somewhere. This really opens up the spectrum of opportunities to suit every inclination and talent - cheerleaders, announcers, newscasters, cameramen, and special effects professionals. Then come the oft-forgotten execs, the emcees, the paper-pushers, the makeup artists, the go-cart mechanics and caterers.

At the bottom of the chain of entertainment industry jobs lie jobs for amusement park attendants and entertainers and hotel and museum workers.

As tempting as all these options are, most careers start at the bottom of the ladder. They slowly, very slowly, build themselves up. There are millions of opportunities and tens of millions of people vying for those jobs, but at the top there are just a few names in lights. To make a successful career in the entertainment industry you need to focus clearly on your goal. More importantly, you need the grit and determination to get you there. Many strive for greatness, but only a few are chosen and only a few make it to the top

How does one get started?

* The entertainment industry job boards are a good source. Many have a database of information and resources to help you define, determine, and decide what to go for. Some will require a couple of dollars, while others may offer a free trial period.

* Union websites like screenwriters' guilds, is another place where you might get help to get your step on the first rung of the ladder of success in the entertainment industry. You will certainly end up finding a huge or tiny - but important - position!

As tempting as a career in the entertainment industry may sound, you need to focus clearly on your goal. You need to develop a thick hide to protect yourself against rejection. You need to be prepared to put in innumerable hours of hard work. You should have an innate curiosity and always keep your eyes and ears open for any opportunity that may come. Most importantly, you need to hope that lady luck will shine down on you.

Tony Jacowski
is a quality analyst for The MBA Journal. Aveta Solution's Six Sigma Online offers online six sigma training and certification classes for lean six sigma, black belts, green belts, and yellow belts.