Screenwriting, as most of us know, isn't just about sitting down at your computer and slapping your fingers across the keyboard until you have a story with a beginning, middle, and end. It takes preparation, study, hard work, and lots and lots of rewriting to put one together, and offering insight into this tempestuous process through BAFTA's web series, How I Write, a collection of screenwriters talk about their experience with preparing, writing, and rewriting screenplays.
Offering up their expertise are screenwriters David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight trilogy), Hossein Amini (Drive), Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich), Tony Gilroy (The Bourne series), Richard Curtis (Love Actually), and Peter Morgan (The Queen). Each writer touches on the different stages of screenwriting and shares the tools they used to get through each one.
All three episodes of the series are available now, so we've linked to them below, as well as compiled some takeaways to consider as you're watching.
If to you preparing to write a screenplay means changing into a sweatshirt/sweatpants combo while a free screenwriting program downloads onto your computer -- I think it would be wise to go ahead and get serious about some things. Writing the actually screenplay is the last thing you do after accomplishing a battery of tasks.
The screenwriters from How I Write mention how they prepare by researching. If you don't research your screenplays much, this might be a hard pill to swallow, because it's fun and romantic to sit down to write a screenplay, but reading up on common communicable diseases from 1930s New York is not so much. Read books, interview people, watch films, travel to places in your story -- all of that comes before you type "INT" or "EXT". From there, drafting an outline or compiling scenes on index cards are also helpful steps to take before starting your first draft.
Writing your first draft
It's natural that when you first start writing your first draft to be overly critical of your work, because it means so much to you and you want it to be perfect, and great, and whatever. But, one of the nicest things you can do for yourself is to turn off the critic and let the artist work unimpeded. There will always be a time for you to tear it apart later, like a cut-off, acid wash jean vest-wearing hammerhead shark with shades and a pink mohawk (meet my editor, everyone.)
Also, and I've never asked myself this question before, but is it better to write screenplays from page 1 on, or to jump around from scene to scene? The screenwriters on BAFTA's web series seem to think linear is the way to go. Besides, there's something about writing the screenplay linearly that seems to work well for crafting stories; it's easier to get a sense of tone, tempo, and flow when you write this way. But, that doesn't mean you shouldn't write that great, important scene when it comes to mind.
Re-writing is difficult. If you haven't already run out of steam and passion and exuberance for your story, you might be digging yourself a massive re-writing hole. Some just want to be done after the 1st or 2nd draft, but some obsess and write 10, 11, 12 drafts hoping to make the screenplay a little bit better each time. Screenwriter Peter Morgan says that if there is something good in your story, you'll usually see it by the 2nd draft. If you're on your 10th draft, he says, it may be time to start a different story.
This was actually mentioned in the Preparation video, but it felt more relevant to re-writing. Hossein Amini mentions something that you might be able to catch in your own writing. He says that getting to know your characters occurs throughout the entire screenwriting process. You'll be learning about who they are even in the 3rd and 4th drafts. So, if you're noticing that your screenplay is dialog heavy -- like, embarrassingly expositional and wordy, don't worry. You may just be discovering through a, I guess, pseudo-meta-conversation with your character who they are and what they're about. They'll talk less the more you know them.
What do you think about the insight offered in the series? What have you struggled with in each stage of screenwriting and how did you get through it? Let us know below.
[Typewriter image by Flickr user Andy King]
- How I Write: Preparation -- BAFTA Guru
- How I Write: Writing -- BAFTA Guru
- How I Write: Re-writing -- BAFTA Guru