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Read Scripts, Watch Movies, Write Pages: the Scott Myers 1,2,7,14 Formula

06.16.12 @ 10:44PM Tags : , ,

Screenwriter Scott Myers was featured not too long ago on NoFilmSchool because of a contest of sorts that he started called “The Quest,” where anyone was allowed to submit as many of their original movie loglines as they wanted. Of the thousands, he’s picking four screenwriters who will write and develop a script with him over a period of six months. Even if you didn’t participate, Scott has a clever idea about staying productive as a screenwriter. This “numerical idea” is all about reading scripts, watching movies, and writing pages.

Here is the explanation for the 1,2,4,14 formula:

  • 1: Read 1 screenplay per week.
  • 2: Watch 2 movies per week.
  • 7: Write 7 pages per week.
  • 14: Work 14 hours per week prepping a story.

The first three are somewhat self-explanatory. Scott recommends reading any screenplays, from all different genres — even genres or films you might not like. You should also watch at least 2 movies per week (though I’d recommend more), and study the way the stories are put together, from the inciting incident all the way through the major plot points and the climax. Figure out where these events happen in the movie and how they work to advance the story. Write 7 pages per week for whatever story you’re working on. Lastly, and probably the most time-consuming, is to work 14 hours a week prepping a story. Here Scott explains that step, which he refers to as stacking projects:

While you are writing one story, you are prepping another. Research. Brainstorming. Character development. Plotting. Wake up early. Take an extended lunch break. Grab a few hours after dinner. Stay up late. Whatever it takes, carve out 2 hours per day for story prep. Create a master file Word doc. Or use a spiral notebook. Put everything you come up with into that file. You’d be amazed how much content you will generate in a month. Most professional screenwriters juggle multiple projects at the same time. Here’s how you can start learning that skill-set: Writing one project, prepping another. Two hours per day so that every week, you devote 14 hours to prep.

The only way to become a better writer is to write. That may seem simple enough, but good writing does not come from watching good movies, it comes from hard work and dedication — putting the fingers to the keyboard (or pen to paper if you are old school about your process). Simply writing will not necessarily make your scripts better — you’ve got to understand the structure intimately and study other scripts to see how professionals work through problems to craft excellent screenplays.

If you follow this formula, the amount of work you can get done is truly inspiring:

If you do this, here’s what you will have done in one year’s time:

You will have read 52 screenplays.

You will have watched 104 movies

You will have written 2 feature-length screenplays.

Spread that out over 5 years: 260 screenplays, 520 movies, 10 original screenplays.

So what are you waiting for? Start reading scripts, watching movies, and writing pages! If you’ve got any other helpful tricks or formulas that you use to stay productive, feel free to share them below. If you are a screenwriter and you aren’t already reading Scott’s blog, Go Into The Story, you are missing out on a treasure trove of knowledge. Follow him on twitter (@GoIntoTheStory) if you like your screenwriting knowledge real-time.

Links: Go Into The Story & Scott Myers on Twitter

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  • Hey, so glad that I found this link on Facebook (surprisingly). Is there a site that I can find screenplays to read consistently? I always seem to have a hard time finding anything to read.

  • This is “The Artist’s Way” formula of “Focus on Quantity and Quality will take care of itself.”

    It’s nice in a Getting Things Done sense. You get used to finishing things. But I’m not sure this is the best prescription, as quality is all that matters in a hits-based industry. So don’t beat yourself up if you stop anything or everything for a while; you may be pregnant with something really good that needs you to veg out for a while rather than shuffling the pages of Titanic.

    • That’s also why I added: “Simply writing will not necessarily make your scripts better — you’ve got to understand the structure intimately and study other scripts to see how professionals work through problems to craft excellent screenplays.”

      If you’re also studying scripts and movies as you’re writing, the quality of your writing will improve. You’ll find better and more creative ways to work through problems and find better ways to develop characters.

      What you’re saying is valid, but often letting an idea ruminate in your head can lead to that idea never getting down on paper. The best writers I know are also the most prolific – I don’t believe that is a coincidence.

      • I agree. You have to get it down on paper. Even if it’s crap, it’s a starting point. Many times I thought I had a good idea, until I started planning out the story structure, and found it wasn’t as good as I thought.

  • I’m writing right now and the story is killing me. I was thinking of planning something else (but perished the thought), becasue the natural temptation is to drop the story that is giving you trouble.

  • It’s a strange prescription, though perhaps effective for the kind of writing Scott Myers seeks to do — high concept, instantly comprehensible log-line screenwriting.

    Graham Greene, who had a long career as a film reviewer even before his stuff started showing up on screen, remarked that to write a satisfying screenplay, he needed *more* material than he could possibly use. So, in his case, he’d first write a short novel, even for projects specifically conceived for the screen, and then condense the material of the novel into screenplay form. This was the case, for example, with The Third Man, which was always intended to be a movie.

    One advantage of this approach, if you’re interesting in doing truly involving material, is that nobody can get through a short novel without truly thinking it through, and wrestling with the “bones” of the story. Fail to do that spade work, and you’ll never fill up the pages. Whereas just anybody can satisfy screenwriting formatting requirements for 100 pages.

    So instead of watching movies and reading screenplays, the best thing, for truly original work, with real “bones”, might be to shut out movies, shut out screenplays, and do some real, disciplined, imaginative work.

    • Scott puts out a ton of content on Go Into The Story, and he certainly does not advocate that the only way to write is to have a high-concept logline. He does, however, write for an audience that is interested in becoming screenwriters, and more often that not the specs that get bought are the ones with strong concepts.

      I think you mix your advice with your personal feelings about the shortcomings of an industry based on making money. Novel writing and screenwriting are completely different ways of working. Wrestling with the bones of a story is part of the research that should be done if you’re writing a script. Those characters and those plot points should be fully fleshed out and worked through in the prep stage – but to say that we should just write novels to make more interesting work is to ignore that film is a visual medium. Novels are meant to be imagined, and they are limitless. I guarantee you I could write a thousand page novel that had no real focus and was the furthest thing from an interesting story. Novels are not just stories, they are about the words on the page and how you use them. The way in which language is used and stretched and molded is one of the reasons novels are so engaging.

      But you’re forgetting that major part, that novels are never meant to be filmed, regardless of what was done for The Third Man. Great novels should never be able to be filmed accurately because film is a limiting medium, whereas novels are limitless – there is nothing that can’t be done. You are also ignoring the fact that limitations are actually what drive great work, and the limitations of the screenplay format can actually be completely liberating.

      Films are meant to be watched by an audience, and no matter how truly original you think your work is, the reason conventions are in place is because they work. I know you’re an advocate for new and different films that can’t find funding in the U.S. because of our capitalist way of thinking about movies, but the great thing about technology and the internet is that making a movie is cheaper than it’s ever been, and there are more sources for funding smaller, more difficult movies than there ever has been in our history. Just because you can make “truly original work” doesn’t mean there will be much of an audience who actually want to see it. I know you’ve talked about some of the greatest and most challenging works of cinema have been publicly funded, but if you are truly an artistic genius and are making original work, you will find the funding from somewhere. An audience exists for everything, and if you don’t know how to reach out to them to support you, then you shouldn’t be making movies, you should be writing novels which don’t require any collaboration or help from anyone.

      I’ll give you two examples – Bela Tarr (Hungarian) and Harmony Korine (American). Both of them I think have made truly original work that defies traditional cinematic standards. Bela Tarr has certainly benefitted from state funding and public money far more than Harmony Korine because Korine is an American making films in the US. Neither of them have a huge audience for their films, but I happen to like both of them and the work they’ve done. Bela Tarr is not making films any longer (his personal choice), but he’s closing his production company. This is an abbreviated quote with the full link here:

      “We tried to support all initiatives and ambitions which – in a film industry shifting more and more toward show business – had little room and could not breathe….We are confident and convinced that the time will come when freedom of the arts and their independence of politics will be accepted and respected.”

      This might seem off-topic, but it’s certainly related. Bela Tarr, from the old school way of making and funding movies, is entirely missing the possibilities that the internet is giving him. He and his production company could continue making interesting and challenging films by first figuring out how to make them cheaper, and second, by going directly to the audience to get money.

      Korine, on the other hand, is still making movies, and is still doing challenging and original work, and he arguably is less respected and has less of an audience than Tarr does. He’s embraced the internet and crowdfunding and is working to figure out whatever way necessary to make his movies.

      My point is, embracing limitations (whether that be monetary or story limitations) is part of what can make great and original work. Both Tarr and Korine are students of cinema, and they’ve both made truly original work that will stand the test of time. I don’t believe ignoring what has come before will help you produce more original work. It’s by knowing and understanding conventions that you can learn how to break them. Writing a good novel might help you become a better writer and understand characters, but screenplays have to be filmed, and you have to collaborate with other people to help that vision come to life.

      • Joe,

        Bela Tarr has *chosen* not to make movies — he flat out said (in my hearing, no less!) that he wouldn’t make films simply to earn money (though he could), because he has nothing further to articulate in cinematic form. Am not sure, in any case, how this quite applies to the subject at hand.

        Trust me, I know full well that novels and screenplays have different requirements, having written both. That movies should be novels wasn’t my point. I’m arguing that many would-be screenwriters, and any number of working screenwriters for that that matter, don’t master the formal requirements of accomplished storytelling, and don’t have trained imaginations, because the formal requirements of writing a screenplay are, superficially, so easy to satisfy. This isn’t the same as contending that movies should be like novels.

        To return to Greene’s point, when was the last time you saw a movie, not based on an adaptation, that felt like it was organically conceived, that it referenced a world other than the world of TV and other movies?

        • Obviously you missed this, to quote myself: “Bela Tarr is not making films any longer (his personal choice), but he’s closing his production company.” The point was more related to other things you’ve said in the past, about making films. Regardless – it’s related because I think they have both made original work that doesn’t feel like it’s referencing anything else but they are also students of cinema.

          To answer your point, some of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s recent work, Aurora (Cristi Puiu), Putty Hill (Matthew Porterfield), Tree of Life (Terrence Malick), Another Earth (Brit Marling and Mike Cahill). Obviously I think a lot of Harmony Korine’s work feels completely organically conceived and doesn’t feel like it’s referencing the world of TV and movies. The work of Lodge Kerrigan, (Clean, Shaven), Claire Dolan, Keane. Pedro Almodovar is always doing interesting work that feels original to me, specifically Talk to Her really moved me.

          I’m sure I could go on but those were the ones that came to mind first, basically all of the screenplays from those people are not adaptations. If you are then going to tell me that they aren’t original enough – then I don’t believe this mythical original film actually exists and is a construct of your personal views and tastes.

          • Well, I *would* have to deny the originality of a number of your choices, but naming them would serve no purpose here. In other examples, the films you mention have no basis in traditional storytelling, and literary standards are not applicable.

            Certainly there *are* films on the international scene, conceived and written for the screen, which do have a satisfying narrative solidity or integrity to them. However, the subject was Scot Myers’ advice, and the kind of work we could expect to see from those who took that advice.

            My point, for what it’s worth, is that the art and craft of storytelling can’t be mastered by watching movies or reading screenplay — unless one’s only interest is producing movies and TV shows which resemble other movies and TV shows. I have to insist that the screenwriter needs a “skill set” which exceeds the apparent requirements of screenwriting form. And for this, one has to venture beyond screenplays.

            • It would serve a purpose for me to understand where the negativity comes from, and what you consider original. I’m actually very curious and this is a perfect outlet for this type of discussion. I think there are plenty American and international films that do exactly what you’re talking about. Just because you haven’t seen them doesn’t mean they don’t exist. You have to also remember that filmmaking, like music, is extremely varied. Just because a film doesn’t live up to your standards doesn’t mean other people don’t like it – and to suggest that producing movies and TV shows that resemble other movies and TV shows in one way or another is bad is to ignore that not everyone wants to make art films or films with a deep message – just as there are plenty of novelists who make garbage work because they like it or because it sells.

              The audience on this site is extremely varied, and the advice that Scott is giving may not produce “original” works (whatever that means), but what it will do is get people writing and learning about screenwriting. It’s called NoFilmSchool for a reason, part of our readership doesn’t understand the first thing about making a movie or writing a screenplay – and asking them to learn to write novels is probably not going to get them to start writing – so right off the bat many would feel discouraged rather than encouraged by your advice. What you are saying can be valid, especially for a certain type of writer, but screenwriting isn’t art, and it doesn’t have to be. It’s great that there are some people that want to venture further out and produce more meaningful and original work, but there are plenty citizens of this world that like films that wouldn’t be considered art in any circles. To say that you cannot write screenplays without an additional skill set is to ignore all of the spec screenplays that get sold every year written by people who probably couldn’t write novels. They may not have higher aspirations about the quality of their work – but we should realize that different people have different reasons for writing screenplays or wanting to be involved with movies.

              We are trying to give people practical advice and get them to actually make work, as opposed to talking about doing something but never actually doing it. Again, what you’re saying could be useful for certain people, but you have very particular taste that’s probably not shared by the majority of the movie-going audience. If we advised people to start writing novels or plays, but they want to make movies, they’re probably not going do make anything at all, and where is the benefit in that?

              But I’m honestly curious about what you consider original or what issues you would take with certain works I mentioned. I don’t believe work can be truly original if it adheres to traditional storytelling. I don’t think you can have it both ways – if you’re making something that is within traditional storytelling, it’s going to look like something else or be referential in nature because humans as a species do not exist in a vacuum.

          • Joe,

            In all honesty I don’t think the discussion you propose would be productive, and it would offer no hope. My feeling, if you want the truth, is that anyone lacking a writing passion or writing compulsion, along with extensive exposure to literature and theater, shouldn’t be writing screenplays — or, in any event, shouldn’t be encouraged to anticipate a good issue from any such writing. Screenplays may not be art, but they can’t be written without art — unless we’re talking about commercial success, and on that matter there are a thousand non-literary factors involved.

            So, assuming the subject here is the indie or art house world, consider the enormous resources which go into even the most basic feature film production — time, if nothing else. It’s astonishing that people will make these huge investments of time (and, not infrequently, of other people’s money, including family) in material which, to put the matter kindly, is unaccomplished, simply because they happened to write it themselves, and with no compelling reason to suppose they can do this work better than anyone else.

            Imagine that the indie world suddenly had a stable of skilled writers, who do nothing but write, in the same way it has (today) any number of skilled editors, DPs and composers. But now, to be feted as an “auteur” at Sundance, you need to direct an *score* a movie, not write and direct it.

            So, all of sudden, we’ve got people who’ve never studied music desperately running around and seeking out vocational advice on how to write music. Do you think many great scores would get written this way? And how is this any different from what we say today, with writing?

            But that said, I think you’re right about something else: this site is not the place for me, and this post will be the last one.

          • Sam you sound like a real blast to be around.

        • Daniel Mimura on 06.25.12 @ 7:40PM

          I don’t get your overall point or argument, samDEE… 1st you’re saying that writers need to read more literature & not read screenplays and write movies…and then a couple comments later, you’re saying that it’s asinine for someone to write a soundtrack that isn’t a musician, basically. You have to know the form.

          Nabokov (who liked Kubrick’s film, btw) is credited with the screenplay to Kubrick’s movie. I’ve read his screenplay (it’s an out of print book from around the time of the release of the film…)… It’s way over two hundred pages! He didn’t “really” write the screenplay, Kubrick did. This is an accepted fact now…IMDb lists Kubrick as “writer (uncredited)”. Although Nabokov is a brilliant writer, he wasn’t an expert in screenplay form. Its nit even really in screenplay form and there is hardly anything tranlated into visuals…novels aren’t movies or plays… Reading that “screenplay” was very educational from the standpoint of understanding adaptation and writing for the screen. A screenplay is not a play or a novel. It is a screenplay. You have to know your form as a writer. Although I think knowing literature is important culturally, societally, and for personal growth…etc…it isn’t making movies.

          Woody Allen is a good example of a screenwriter and filmmaker who understands movies, but who also knows and apreciates literature. He references and parallels lots of other forms of writing…but he isn’t doing work in those other media, he’s working in film…knowing literature doesn’t make him make good movies (that’s just something he comes back to often in his movies)…knowing movies makes him make good movies (most of the time..he seemed to fall off for a few years he’s made some good ones lately). But because films arent books…there are many great movies by filmmakers who probably don’t know much about the classics at all or are influenced by them that much.

  • Just one other note, on the above discussion. While Stanley Kubrick always used literary properties for his movies, he did look long and hard to find writers to adapt the material, and was a quoted in an interview — I can’t find the source now, I believe it’s in the Michel Ciment book — noting that he never uses professional screenwriters for the adaptations, because the writers who work only in film are just too unskilled.

    This is Stanley talking, not me.

  • This is an unrelated question. Why is it they tell you in books and school not to get into detailed camera directions, yet in many of the scripts I read, the writer’s do it?

    This goes for other things besides camera directions. Don’t use the word “attractive” to describe characters, yet I just saw the word in “Psycho”. Sometimes I wonder about the stuff they teach you in film school.

    • Many of those things are taught in that way so that you don’t develop bad habits or use them as crutches. Again, I am of the school of thought that you learn the “conventional” way to do something and then you can break it however you want. Go Into The Story has a lot of posts about these very such things, and in the industry, there are definitely not any hard and fast rules about what is allowable. It’s funny that you ask this and he had a recent post that described this exact thing:

      Again, this is why Scott’s blog is so great, because he covers practically everything you could think of.

    • Daniel Mimura on 06.25.12 @ 7:55PM

      A lot of scripts with camera directions are production scripts, not spec scripts…and if the director is writing/co-writing the screenplay, why not put camera moves into it? Spec scripts are usually done without that, so directors can do it however they choose.

      Also, screenplay form isn’t so stuck in getting an exact form…if you’re doing it yourself, or with your people behind it…etc…it doesnt matter, as long as the people making it can follow it enough to do their jobs. Spec is different.

      I worked on a huge movie with a-list actors over a decade ago…and I read the script and it seemed to be a fast read…I double checked it later, and the margins were way indented beyond convention…but despite being a big Hollywood movie, they didn’t need to stick to convention…adjusting those margins would’ve made it 20-30 minutes shorter—it probably wouldn’t have survived the script readers, but that wasn’t part of this movie’s process. It was co-written by the director and producer (who were sisters)…they turned a short script into 2 hours or whatever…

  • Good post, Joe. Will share this, for sure. Much impressed with your willingness to go the extra mile and reply in such depth to the comments here. Big kudos, to you.

    • Thanks – that’s really what we’re here for though – this is a great community that we’re a part of.

  • I’m a full-time writer, and that’s my formula per day! (apart from the story prepping quota, that is)

  • Great thoughts here. I want to get in the game. For real.