December 27, 2013

8 Somewhat Unusual New Year's Screenwriting Resolutions for 2014

Screenwriting is a tough gig. We have to wade through creative, narrative, and professional dead ends, accept an existence lived almost entirely apart from the "real" world, and somehow learn to work with our cynical, tired, and troubled minds that often seem to be working against us. As 2013 draws to a close, and I look back on another (good) year, I notice all the more the blinking cursor, the empty pages, and the parts of my imagination I never unfurled and ask myself, "How will I make 2014 my best screenwriting year?" Here are my semi-unusual New Year's screenwriting resolutions that may help inspire your own.

I will stop being so precious

In 2012, I wrote two days a week (maybe) and completed three screenplays. In 2013, I wrote every single day and completed none. How can one write more, but finish less? Here's the answer:

Situation #1: "Oh man, I just can't seem to make my story work. But, I wrote a few awesome scenes that have the best dialog and character development I've ever written, that tie everything up in a nice little bow -- they're perfect. What should I do with them?" Joss Whedon would say, "Cut 'em." Before people start rabble-rousing, here's the idea behind it. Sometimes we get too attached to certain scenes, characters, and ideas that may be square pegs that you're trying to fit inside round holes. Sometimes it's your best scenes that are holding you back. (Those scenes/characters/ideas won't disappear. Use them for something else.)

Situation #2: "I just -- I just can't think of anything to write. Whatever I put down just doesn't work and now I'm stressed out and depressed and out of beer. I can't write. I'm a failure. I'm going to bed." No one writes a good first draft. No one. Start calling your terrible scenes/characters/ideas "placeholders", because that's exactly what they are. They're holding the place of your great scenes/characters/ideas. Allow yourself to write poorly until you don't have to anymore.

I will stop learning

You heard me. I'm going to stop learning about screenwriting -- for a while. Not because I don't need to learn more; it's quite the opposite. I have so much to learn, but I've realized that the more I focus on proper structure, rules, and how "everyone else is doing it", the less my instincts take over. A while back we shared some advice from director Wim Wenders where he said:

The more you know about moviemaking, the tougher it gets to leave that knowledge behind. As soon as you do things “because you know how to do them,” you’re fucked.

2013 was the year of playing it so safe that I never made it out on the field. 2014 will be the year of bare knuckle brawls.

I will not say "sorry"

I'm not talking about stepping on someone's shoe at the mall here. I'm talking about not being apologetic about your tastes and sensibilities as a writer. It's about knowing who you are as a writer and being okay with -- whoever/whatever that is. It's about having confidence, because confidence protects passion, and passion protects projects. If you're not confident enough to write what you really want to write for fear of reprisal, your passion will be doused, and your script won't get written. For me, that means sharing my story with people, and being okay when they say, "What's wrong with you?" (If you need help, just listen to Charlie Kaufman talk about screenwriting.)

I will bore people by talking about my script

I'm sure we all know (or are) people who like to talk about themselves -- I'm just not one of them. However, talking about my screenplays helps in so many ways. First of all, acknowledging its existence with someone makes it a little more real and tangible. Second, my passion for my stories seems to come alive the most when I talk about them with other people. It may bore them to tears with my endless rant about the storyline, but at least I'm reminded of why I'm writing the thing. And third, you never know which conversation is going to lead to what. That person in line at the DMV might know a guy who knows a guy, you know.

I will celebrate even my worst screenplay

As long as it's finished, of course. All of the work we do, no matter how badly written or confusing it is, or how pointlessly it drags on, deserves a celebratory glass of wine (or something) once it's through, because finishing a script is most of the battle. I understand having high standards for your work; it's always important to know your strengths and weaknesses in order to grow as a writer, but no matter how good or bad you think your final product is, make sure to congratulate yourself on a job well done.

I will destroy all distractions

typewriterBuying a TV was one of the worst decisions I made in 2013. I lived for years without one and the only things I could do when I was bored was make movies, drink, or write stuff. Now, on the days when I've set aside a few hours to work on my script, I find myself plopped on the couch watching shows that I'd arrogantly judge my friends for watching -- I mean -- pawn shops become really, really fascinating when you're trying to procrastinate.

So, I've decided to kill my TV, as well as all other technological distractions -- metaphorically. Taking the batteries out of remotes, turning phones off, and using apps that prohibit internet use is as good as unloading a bunch of rounds into them (less mess and police attention). I use SelfControl, because 1.) I don't have any, and 2.) I don't really care what former child stars are doing now (though female celebrities with full on mustaches and beards is worth taking a look at).

I will be a bad friend

The phrase, "I can't. I'm busy," never comes out of my mouth, especially during the times I've set aside to work on my script. If you're like me, you have a serious fear of missing out, so saying "no" to your friends and family is almost impossible. Or, it could be another distraction you purposefully use to procrastinate. Either way, you've got to be a bad friend sometimes and tell your buddies, "Heck, nope! I'm busy writing my screenplay." You can make it up to them later by buying them mountain bikes to ride through your mansion if you ever strike it rich as a professional screenwriter. (That's a joke.)

I will write something marketable

Money_02This is the most unusual resolution on the list. Usually I'm saying, "Be yourself! Write the truth that's in your heart and fly on wings of individuality and valor." But -- it's a new year. It's time to get real. In order for a screenplay to be considered, it has to be marketable. It has to appeal to an audience. Having a great hook, high concept, and/or covering a popular genre can add to a script's marketability.

Now, that doesn't mean homogenizing your script or selling your soul. You can still write the stories you are passionate about and that mean something to you, but take the time to see if you can squeeze a little appeal into them, or at least as much as your creative ethics will allow.

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Now it's your turn! Tell us what your New Year's screenwriting resolutions are and how you plan to become a better writer in 2014!

[Typewriter image from Tumblr user welcometoalville]

Your Comment

41 Comments

Last month I almost haven't seen my friends. I am focusing completely on my shortfilm. I have to tell you, it's not easy, but it's not a choice either. I acomplished more in one month than in the rest of the year.

December 27, 2013 at 11:49AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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maghoxfr

turning off the t.v. and internet..now…will be back in a couple of months

December 27, 2013 at 12:24PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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DIO

That last one is the worst one... never write something because it's marketable, write something because you want to write it. An artist should never work to please his/her audience, he/she should please only themselves, and that's the only way other people will like your work. If YOU like your work, and you're making it for yourself.

December 27, 2013 at 1:35PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Youssef

It's not the worst one, it's a hard truth. Of course one can write a story they're going to love, but it doesn't mean anybody else is going to love it. That's exactly the reason why most movies these days are made to appeal to a LARGE audience, so that MORE people like it so that one can make MONEY.

December 27, 2013 at 1:57PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Gabriel

You're kind of an idiot for saying that. Blockbuster movies are like fast food, you don't know it's crap until you've had enough of it. It's all cliche and it's all made for the wrong reasons. It's always fueled with lots of money. There's no such thing as "the hard truth". The truth is to be honest with yourself and make something you enjoy making, not something you do for money. That's exactly why blockbuster movies suck ass. You need to watch more movies.

December 27, 2013 at 3:41PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Youssef

I've learned that writing a marketable screenplay and writing a creatively ethical screenplay aren't mutually exclusive. You can do both! I'm inspired by Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonez, who write weird stories, but are skilled enough to make them appeal to a mass audience.

It's unfortunate that "marketability" is only associated with blockbusters and tentpoles, but we can change that :)

December 27, 2013 at 3:45PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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V Renée
Nights & Weekends Editor
Writer/Director

Tell me something - what's the joy in making something solely for financial gain and not to fuel your heart? If you make something with your heart, it's bound to be good. There's no reason to make something you don't like for money. At an indie level, your films are less likely to be a success if they aren't good. If they aren't what you want them to be, then what the hell is the point. There is no point then. We got into this for the love, not the fame, not the money. If it means living off Ramon noodles for a while, so be it. But sooner or later, if your heart is fueling you, you'll be so good people can't ignore you. With the advent of the internet, and crowd funding, you don't even need studios anymore. Studio executives are blinded by numbers in their head. But the prize fruit is right there in front of their eyes: red and ripe. There are no excuses nowadays. Anyone can make anything, with love and passion, and not financial gain.

December 27, 2013 at 4:05PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Youssef

Recently, I tried this the other way around. I badgered 7 film maker friends into reading my script. Four of them liked it, and gave me constructive feedback, three of them did not, and questioned my sanity even more than they did before. At first I really wanted everyone to like the script, so I kept making changes until it turned into something else, that I did not like myself. So instead of trying to win over the people that did not like it, I gave the ones that did like it, more of what made them like it in the first place, incorporating some of their feedback, cutting, revising, etc. And now it's making a bit more sense to everyone. So maybe in identifying your audience, and staying true to them, you arrive at that 'market-able-ity' ...as you call it (?) at least to your niche. In Robert Mckee's 'Story', I loved the reference to the film maker who only budgeted for exactly the same (low) amount of money for each movie; knowing who his audience was ensured him of making enough money to make another movie. His following stayed loyal to him and he made many movies. A glass of champagne to anyone who can remind me who the reference to was before I look it up... :) Happy holidays everyone!

December 27, 2013 at 10:52PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Martin

No one's saying write solely for financial gain. Having artistic integrity is supremely important in my book, but I don't think making sure your script appeals to some kind of audience makes you a sell out. Again -- you can have both. Use your head AND your heart when you pen your screenplays -- be creative AND shrewd.

December 27, 2013 at 4:20PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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V Renée
Nights & Weekends Editor
Writer/Director

I get your point. Sorry if I seemed a bit like a crazy person. It just really pisses me off sometimes when people do this just for money. But I understand your point of view. Though I still do think if you do something for the love, the rest will follow, no need to worry about the market.

December 27, 2013 at 4:22PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Youssef

Francis Coppola once made a great point - (paraphrasing) - you make "Godfather", so you have the means to make "One from the Heart". Besides, I hear "Godfather" came out well too.

December 28, 2013 at 3:24AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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DLD

"If you make something with your heart, it’s bound to be good..." -- Really? So any ol' thing written with passion and sincere heart will automatically spawn quality because it runs according to the laws of the universe. Well, I'm glad that you and Ed Wood share the same philosophy. As in the words of Dan Aykroyd, you ignorant slut!

January 3, 2014 at 1:35AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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David

LARGE AUDIENCE = MONEY! That IS a hard truth. The more I think that, the more parts of my good self diminishes!

December 29, 2013 at 7:18PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Rommana

If no one likes your film, how are you supposed to make money? Write for your audience or get used to stale ramen noodles.

December 27, 2013 at 2:27PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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You idiot, you will find like-minded people if you make a film for yourself. Let me give you an example. Quentin Tarantino never writes to his audience. He makes movies for himself. Quentin Tarantino has a style, but that doesn't mean he write to his audience. His style is his taste. That's it. When Quentin makes something he makes it for himself, which is why it's good.

December 27, 2013 at 3:43PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Youssef

Relax, calling anyone who doesn't agree with you an idiot is not helping your case. You're an idiot if you think its that simple. Unfortunately there is a movie "industry," I hate movies made for purely monetary reasons but not all movies that profit are such, and because you're keeping in mind what audience you're targeting while writing doesn't make you a "sell out." Everyone has a taste, if you make something for yourself you're making it for people with similar tastes as yours, get your ego in check.

QT knows his audience and who he is making movies for and he is appealing to them every time he makes a movie. Its pretty evident.

December 27, 2013 at 3:55PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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carlos

Tarantino had said repeatedly in interviews that he tries to be as entertaining as possible when telling a story. If you listen to some of the interviews he gave when promoting IB he talks directly about playing the audience like a conductor. He seems to be very concerned with how the audience will react to what he is doing.

December 27, 2013 at 3:56PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Mak

I have probably watched every Tarantino interview out there...

"Movies are my religion and God is my patron. I'm lucky enough to be in the position where I don't make movies to pay for my pool. When I make a movie, I want it to be everything to me; like I would die for it." - QT

"I've always considered myself a filmmaker who writes stuff for himself to do." - QT

Source: http://m.imdb.com/name/nm0000233/quotes

December 27, 2013 at 4:10PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Youssef

Not trying to challenge you on QT knowledge. Not trying to start an argument either. I can see what you're trying to say. I get where you're coming from. But I think you can write personally and still consider the audience too. You probably know the interview I'm talking about. It's with Elvis Mitchell I think. He clearly says something about constructing the film to control an audience the same way a conductor controls an orchestra. Sounds like a man who is making films with the audience in mind too. Doesn't mean they can't be very personal expressions of himself as well.

December 27, 2013 at 4:46PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Mak

youssef, i get that you're passionate and, frankly, naive, but that doesn't give your license to be blind and condescending.
tarantino has spoken numerous times about writing for an audience. just because you haven't noticed something, doesn't mean it doesn't exist. he's talked in several interviews during the django junkets, how he worked and reworked the ending to get the right reaction from his audience (eg. http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/kino/quentin-tarantino-im-intervie... that one's in german, i'm sure you've "watched" it already). but there's many more examples, none of which i will waste my time finding for you. by the way, none of the tarantino quotes you've mentioned support your case.

December 27, 2013 at 5:03PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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dre

Yes I completely understand your point. But you have to keep in mind, that his audience is himself. That's what you don't get. He has said before in the Reservoir Dogs commentary that he makes those movies for himself, and not for anyone else - After the movie is done, everyone is invited to the party. So during the conception of the film, it's all his opinion - his audience is himself. Then after that when it's the night of the premiere, he listens to the audience.

I don't consider myself naive, just passionate. I understand both sides. Like I said before, It just irritates me to see people blindly do it with financial matters in mind. I understand you need to pay the bills, but for me I'd just rather pay them doing something else - and keep my passion a priority.

December 27, 2013 at 5:14PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Youssef

read the german interview, and as i said there are many more, and realize that he talks about a very real audience, not himself.

to me - and by all accounts to tarantino - writing with an audience in mind is key. because the thing is, you can choose that audience (what you false label as "himself"). it doesn't have to be a vague mainstream audience - (which by the way no one suggested except for you - it can be your friends, people you admire, etc.

and sorry, phrases "But sooner or later, if your heart is fueling you, you’ll be so good people can’t ignore you." come off quite naive. but dont get me wrong, i respect and even envy that mindset, hopefully in 20 years you will be successful and prove me wrong.

December 27, 2013 at 5:26PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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dre

I think a lot of the comments r misunderstanding what QT means by the audience. He simply means not spelling out the story but shaping the plot structure in such a way that the audience's emotion rises and falls when he wants them to. He doesn't mean writing to popular opinions. He has elaborated that in lots of interviews. It's about his plot device and story structure. I find it amazing that lots of filmmakers find it hard to understand what he meant. He has said numerous times that he is like the music conductor (auteur in film equivalent) and he waves his wand (plot device & story structure) causing the audience to have emotional highs and lows.
As a noob and virgin writer, I think it's important to bring something new to the table, as most tv show runners have suggested, unless u are writing spec scripts to get on a show, u should wait to become an accredited writer in the business to become stale.
Personally, I would suggest that if u live this business u should be thinking in ways that would advance this craft. If u guys think most writing is cookie cutter, then you need to turn on your tv sets to see the number of high intelligently written tv shows that are kicking mainstream film's ass and are being watched(demanded) in high volumes.
Keep in mind that the dwindling film industry is partly due to the fact that the audience is gradually becoming smarter and are constantly writing off movies subconsciously as cookie cutter(except they are comic book nerds)-
Bottom line is that there are established Hollywood boundaries doesn't mean u can't build a sky scrapper within parking space reserved for 2 cars. Invent people! Distribution formats are going the music industry route. Invent the wheel! Don't reinvent it

December 27, 2013 at 10:06PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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thadon calico

@ Youssef. Convictions are more dangerous enemies to truth than lies. A little humility and open-mindedness to other' opinions (even if they don't coincide with your gospel truth) might do you a little good in the long run.

January 3, 2014 at 1:41AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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David

"Stop learning." - Probably some of the best unsaid advice I've ever read. One can get so caught up in the formal learning that it becomes a distraction. Of course it's important but at some point Syd Field and Robert McKee and even Nofilmschool cease to be more helpful than hindranful (it's a word now, bitches).

The real learning begins when you write 'FADE IN:". Everything else is meant to prepare you for that.

And to all the naysayers who will counter the idea of attempting to write something marketable with the false dichotomy that one should only ever write for themselves - all art should be intended as a communion of sorts. Anything else is artistic masturbation.

December 27, 2013 at 2:59PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Eric

I think the point you are trying to make is that you don't think screenwriters should sell out to Hollywood. Well the simple fact is that there are some that do and some that don't. There is no right or wrong here, as both are in high demand and both require a lot of skill and talent to succeed. If you want a career in screenwriting, then you have to write with passion and know your audience no matter what kind of writer you are. The whole purpose of writing is to share something with the world, but if the world's not interested in what you write, then what's the point in writing?

December 27, 2013 at 5:53PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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I find the "missing out" part particularly true,
I can't get to use SelfControl or not go out with friends because of this, and probably also me being lazy.

December 27, 2013 at 1:42PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Great read V!

December 27, 2013 at 2:28PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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carlos

Great post!

My new year's resolution for 2014 is to finally finish something.
It's about time!
Thanks and a very happy 2014 to all of you!

December 27, 2013 at 2:47PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Thomas

Does anyone know of a "Self Control" equivalent for PC?

December 27, 2013 at 3:01PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Eric

Check out Cold Turkey (http://getcoldturkey.com/), I think it does pretty much the same things. In addition to being able to block webpages you can block certain applications from running (f.ex. games).

December 27, 2013 at 9:21PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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GE

Thanks for the suggestion!

December 28, 2013 at 3:07PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Eric

Joss Whedon is probably not the best person to quote regarding screen writing as he struggles to do a decent third act in anything he writes. He's exceptional at TV but his film endings (The Avengers, Alien Resurrection, Cabin In The Woods), despite box office, leave a lot to be desired, a notable exception is Serenity but that's a third act in its own right.

December 27, 2013 at 9:30PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Filthy Punt

His seemingly weak third act could be due to tons of writers making changes as suggested by the studios

December 27, 2013 at 10:20PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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thadon calico

The more you know about moviemaking, the tougher it gets to leave that knowledge behind. As soon as you do things “because you know how to do them,” you’re fucked.
I've always thought like this

December 27, 2013 at 10:18PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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thadon calico

Great article, I feel like I can relate to everything on here. I think maybe the being so precious hinders everything above all else, I have some friends who are artists as well and this is the biggest difference I see between my friends who are crushing it and those who aren't. Gl with getting more accomplished this coming year.

December 30, 2013 at 12:12AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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James

My fear is that I'm already corrupted. For a filmmaker, I see shockingly few movies these days, I've read very few well-known scripts (none all the way through), and I've only read a handful of screenwriting books and articles. Yet, I still feel like I'm overly-influenced by what I've seen and drawn to follow what's been done before. It's a hard thing to break, I have to tell you. Too bad there isn't an "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" muse waiting for me. Mark Twain said (paraphrased, I believe) "Write drunk, edit sober." Maybe I should take his advice...

January 2, 2014 at 3:33PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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I like to set blocks of time with scheduled breaks to do writing or editing the same as if I were at a job. I find that I can focus well if I know that I am only working for a set amount of time with regular breaks. When I get distracted or tired of working, it means I need to put it aside for a while and stretch my legs and mind. I have also heard the phrase "creativity loves constraint" so I like to outline the story from beginning to end and then work the details within the outline. I find that I can have more fun with characters if I am limited in where they are going to end up instead of trying to let them go wherever the writing takes me. It leaves too many options open when I don't have a concrete ending. The ending may get changed by the final script but that is because I discovered a more creative direction by following my outline. The motives become clearer when the story is already in place.

January 3, 2014 at 1:14AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Dandytrooper

i will stop writing scripts from the directors view and understanding(me) so that the rest of my production company can understand it

January 6, 2014 at 10:07AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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emilio murillo

A very honest post that rings true. All of the above are part of this year's plan of attack for me. Thanks for sharing.

January 10, 2014 at 7:01AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Don't overestimate your script. The best sequences, the best scenes, the best dialoge is the one that's being produced.

Work with your critics - nobody wants to make your script worse. But they might not be able to pinpoint what's wrong with it. Interpret their criticism, find out what's not working for them, surprise them with a solution. Your script is not done until its being filmed.

December 26, 2016 at 11:59AM, Edited December 26, 11:59AM

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