You Never Forget Your First Screenwriting Experience
Screenwriters never forget their first screenwriting experience. It is a point in a creative life where someone has decided to commit to taking a movie idea and seeing it become a reality with characters, scenes and dialogue.
People have movie ideas, but many will never take action to move past talking about a movie idea. It all starts with a screenplay to get things really going.
I was one of those people that always talked about movie ideas, but never took serious action until I finally had to give it a shot to feed a creative need I could not ignore anymore.
After attending screenwriting seminars and reading books about screenwriting, I was on fire determined to write a script that was high-concept, smart and followed all the screenwriting information my brain absorbed.
I had taken detailed notes from all the books, workshops, and seminars. With the money I spent on screenwriting seminars, workshops, classes, how to books etc. I could produce one or two movies now depending on the story.
I scanned the trade papers trying to predict the next big trend in Hollywood. I read newspapers looking for great story ideas.
I watched tons of movies in the hope of coming up with the next ["insert popular movie"] meets ["insert popular movie"] or something like “it’s just like Titanic, but it happens in space aboard a shuttle hit by an asteroid.”
Then it happened, I found my story idea. There was an article in Variety or The Hollywood Reporter that action buddy flicks were hot again.
Yes, buddy flicks. How in the hell could I have not seen that? The formula is a movie cash cow. Look at the classic buddy flicks like Lethal Weapon and 48 Hrs. Both films had several sequels to cash in on.
My screenwriting plan was to write a high-concept buddy flick with action, smart quotable one-liners and punchy dialogue. I sat down and pored over all the notes I had ever taken on writing a script.
Armed with what I thought was can’t miss movie idea I dug in to write my first screenplay. The title of the script was Land Pirates, the story of two college dropouts who go on a cross country robbery spree in a beat up pickup truck with a pirate flag painted on the hood.
The main characters watched a show that modern day piracy still existed on the South China Sea. Without a boat they did the best next thing in their minds, becoming land pirates in a tricked out 4 x 4 pickup truck with a Jolly Roger painted on the hood.
It took me a year to finally finish the script. Splitting my time between reading my notes to make sure I was doing everything right and actually writing my script slowed me down a lot. I mean to a creative crawl where I was scared to let words hit the page.
I was part of a screenwriting workshop that let students submit their completed scripts for feedback from their peers and instructor. I proudly submitted Land Pirates, soon to be the hottest new buddy flick in America. Look out!
The next week Land Pirates was torn apart by almost everyone in the workshop except some young guy that always smelled like top shelf alcohol and weed, who loved it. Like any new screenwriter I got defensive, how dare these jealous people trash my script!
After the workshop I went to the instructor to get the notes on my script. I told him I was surprised it got the negative reaction it did. I had followed all the rules to writing a script. How could the script be that bad?
He told me that format, formula, and riding a hot movie trend does not replace writing a good story. I foolishly dismissed the solid advice he gave me like a rebellious teenager.
To seek other opinions I let some of my friends read Land Pirates. I asked for it, I got it. They said my story and script for a movie was a written train wreck. They couldn’t believe it took two years of studying screenwriting and another solid year to write it.
The only positive mentioned was that it was formatted correctly and looked like a real script. I wasted all that time writing a script that looked like a script, but stunk none the less as an entertaining story.
After investing three years of my life into screenwriting, I had written a script that turned out to be horrible. I was frustrated and felt like a cold turd on a paper plate.
I took out my screenwriting books and all my notes to study them again. I read Land Pirates over and over to see where everything went wrong. I knew I nailed the three-act structure, I had clear plot points, and I followed my story arch.
I couldn’t see where I deviated from the formula for writing screenplays. Then it hit me. I was afraid to move away from what I had learned in books, workshops, and seminars.
I was so worried about following the formula, that I missed the main ingredient of a movie, a good story. I wrote Land Pirates being strangled by all the rules and formulas.
My creativity was stifled. I decided I needed to write a script using the rules and formulas for screenwriting as “guidelines” and not total “absolutes.”
I was mulling over my next move idea at a local pub waiting for inspiration for my next movie script. Everyone has their own way of clearing their mind for their next big idea. People are into yoga, meditation, exercise, or a host of other activities.
I was in a bad writing funk not feeling too good about my movie dreams. Having a few cold beers in this pub clicked with me at that point in time.
It had a great jukebox, cheap happy hour and free freshly made popcorn. The pub was a hangout for people from all walks of life. There were a cast of characters there who had ideas to do this and that but things hadn’t quite panned out for them yet.
There was one guy who was a fan of the author Hunter Thompson who said he would only write his forthcoming novel on an old typewriter. He hadn’t found the right typewriter yet so that was causing a delay in writing the novel. The place was a true “Slice of Americana”, that is how the name Slice of Americana Films came to be.
I spent more time at the pub then doing any writing. I had become a regular. Over a cold beer, I got into an interesting discussion with the bartender about a screenwriter that used to come into the place to jot down notes over a few tequila shots, no lime.
He wrote a movie I had heard of and liked. I vented to the bartender about my script. All he said was, “you’ve written only one script?”
I gave him the excuse that good ideas were hard to come by blah blah blah. Basically, I was being defensive about my lack of progress.
The bartender was right; one script does not cut it. I walked away from this pub with an idea for a movie I believed in inspired by the antics of some of the characters I had met there.
Banging away at my computer writing like a man possessed was a catharsis for me as a screenwriter. I felt a release of my tensions as each scene and line hit the page.
Three months later the movie script The Roach saw the light of day. Having stopped going to workshops, the only people who could offer feedback immediately were the same friends that ripped my first script. I gave them all copies. They thought it was pretty good.
My friends are a brutally honest bunch, but you can only put so much stock into what friends or family say.
Living in the Inland Empire outside of Los Angeles, I wasn’t in the loop to network at hip places where the movie crowd hung out. I had no hook ups or connections in the industry on any level. Then by luck, through a friend, I was able to get my script in the hands of a real producer.
Who cares if it was a music producer that knew me through a friend of a friend, he was in the entertainment business. He read it, liked it, and referred me to a contact he had at The William Morris Agency now WME, an elite talent agency.
His contact sent my script to get coverage from the literary department. The comments came a few weeks later. They passed on me as a client. My ego was slightly bruised at having a script I wrote from the heart rejected.
Then I read the script coverage notes. “Sharp dialogue”, “engaging characters”, “well-paced”, and other positive lingo they use when covering a script in the literary department. The reader’s final comments were they recommended passing because the story was too small for their market.
It wasn’t “high-concept” enough for a studio film. They were absolutely right. It was a character driven script that was more art house film fare or better suited as a stage play than a mainstream movie. That’s when I decided I was going to write scripts that I could make into movies myself.
If you have a movie idea that you want to see become a screenplay take the steps to write it. You will be surprised how good the creative rush feels taking your movie idea and making it a screenplay. This is indie filmmaker Sid Kali typing FADE OUT
Categories: Screenwriting Tags: books about screenwriting, formula for writing screenplays, movie cash cow, movie ideas, screenwriters, Screenwriting, screenwriting experience, screenwriting information, screenwriting seminars, script coverage notes, Sid Kali, Slice of Americana Films, write a script