Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Elements of Successful Screenwriting - Part 2

It is easier to write a screenplay than a book. Well, that's my opinion.

I've written five books, a feature film, a television pilot, a half dozen short film scripts, as well as numerous newspaper articles. Each one required a word count/page length and a set of standards in the writing process. And yes, I have one short film in post production, Dough Nuts And More.

For me writing dialogue for a script is by far the easiest.


Because each page is one minute of screen time and 120 pages of mostly dialogue is less agonizing than taking a reader through a novel with multiple settings, character descriptions and twists. Well, you still need the twists in a screenplay.

Here are two examples from the script and book Marquel.

Script example:
Novel sample:

Films and books don't match necessarily.

Most of us can write several screenplays in the time it takes to write a novel.

However, you have to complete something to know you can.

A bad 120 page script or 40,000 word novella can be reworked. My motto is finish what you start, no matter how bad you think it is.

Outlining is critical.

Whether a book or script, it is easier to put plot points on index cards and rearrange them until you feel certain your story has a beginning, middle and end.

Once you have the outline, you can begin the writing process. For me outlining is a sentence or two about a chapter or scene. In screenwriting it is called beats.

I have written with an outline and without. Even if you know the end of the story, you'll feel like you are in a maze without an outline. Trust me.

I wrote two books in a TOTAL of 82 days with outlines, and three books that took several years without outlines. I had to try it both ways. I actually did outline later in the process of the three non-outlined books to keep my sanity.

The outline for Marquel's Dilemma (the 2nd book in the Marquel series), is now going to be the 3rd book Marquel's Redemption, because my characters were not cooperating during the book 2 writing process. The upside is I now have a 3 book series.

Know you are doing well when the characters take over the writing. They have a way of steering the story in directions you've not thought of.

With a script, it is okay if your characters don't go where you want them to, as long as they hit the beats and get to the plotted ending. Your characters always have better ideas than you do.

I can write a 1/2 hour pilot in 10 days. A short film in one day -- a working draft that is, not the finished product.

Once you have your screenplay complete, you'll want to put it away for a week or so before you begin editing and rewriting. You need fresh eyes.

Warning: you'll be amazed at parts and totally erase parts.

Next - Elements of Successful Screenwriting - Part 3

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Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Truth is Stranger Than Fiction - The Days of Our Lives!

This happened...
My daughter Marquel on the left, Marci Miller on the right

When I wrote my novel Marquel (about an actress who becomes a soap star), I never imaged my real daughter Marquel would become an actress, let alone appear on a soap opera. It was extremely generous of Marci Miller to post this photo on Instagram and mention our Marquel.

I could not pass up an opportunity to share this #proudMOMent.
Thank you Days of Our Lives!

Okay, back to writing!

For a link to the book Marquel see my website:

Friday, March 30, 2018

Elements of Successful Screenwriting - Part 1

Once again, I am a novice.

However, I am studying the subject matter from many different resources: books, screenplays, Master Classes, seminars and watching television interviews with award winning screenwriters on shows like Close Up With The Hollywood Reporter.

It seems logical that successful books and screenplays combine the writer's unique voice with their life experience vs their interest. Meaning, I may be interested in rocket science, but I'm not a rocket scientist, so my writing will suffer from an authentic relationship with the subject matter -- if I try to write outside my knowledge.

As they say, "Write only the story that you can tell."

You may admire another writer, but you shouldn't copy or mirror a work that isn't true to your voice or knowledge. Fan fiction may be the exception? However, finding one's voice takes time.

The first thing film school applicants should learn is how to tell a story with a beginning, middle and end. It is less about the cinematic vision, than it is about story.

When our daughter Blair toured film schools in her junior year of high school, she had an awakening. We traveled to UCLA, USC and UCF. We didn't make it to tour NYU (a movie in itself). But being a a gifted director, Blair made lots of films in high school with little written. She directed her talent and fed them what they needed to know. Every film school we visited expected her to be a writer.

Film Schools should state, "only writers need apply."

Because a lot of filmmakers are techies and don't realize they need to sharpen their storytelling skills, as well as their technical abilities. It can be quite jarring to discover your dream requires you to take English and Creative Writing seriously.
Tim Albaugh back row 2nd from right & workshop students.

Anyway, back to the Successful Screenwriting - when writing a book there are many roads the writer may travel, but in film there are limits. 

Tim Albaugh of UCLA Film School says, "the beginning of the film is the promise of the end." Meaning, the opening scene must give us a hint as to what will ultimately be resolved in the final scenes.

How many times have you seen a movie and been disappointed by the ending?

A powerful opening requires a meaningful conclusion. The stuff in between is equally difficult. However, there is hope.

Stay tuned -- Elements of Successful Screenwriting - Part 2 next.


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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Taking Master Classes

I discovered Master Classes on Facebook. My daughter Blair recommended the James Patterson novel writing class. That was my first Master Class.
Patterson reminded me of my mentor, Harry Whittington. Both work at a fast pace. It was a wonderful experience and I came away with a complete outline and chapter for a book I will be writing as soon as I'm done with my other projects.
I answered the MC survey after the Patterson class and recommended Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin may have already been on their list, but I was ready to sign as soon as they posted Sorkin was developing a class.
I have no affiliation with the Master Class site, other than being a fan and student. As mentioned in a prior blog post, I completed a script for my novel Marquel.
Taking Sorkin's class helped me understand some of my story issues. I was having problems with the resolution in Act 2, though I didn't know it was Act 2, until I learned more.

I was also one of the lucky students who got to call in and ask Sorkin a question. Master Class offers different bonus events from contests for co-authoring, to office hour Q&A, to live events like the one I participated in.
I asked Aaron Sorkin something like this, "If I disagree with the notes I've been given on the setting or period of my script, do I have to follow that advice." I say I said something like this, because I was so in awe of the chance to speak with Sorkin that I just remember part of my question and his reply.
Sorkin said something like, "If you feel strongly about something, you can tell Mr. Spielberg  why it has to be this way." Hurray! I thought. Because I had a note from a producer, who wanted me to change the period and challenges of my screenplay from the 1990s to the 1950s.
I am still a novice, but it is nice to hear a pro say that you can stand up for your work. However, the reality is if you are being paid to write a script, you may not have the luxury. It depends on the agreement.
After taking Sorkin's class, I took Shonda Rhimes Television Writing and David Mamet's Dramatic Writing Master Class.
All four of the classes were honest, instructional and provided recommended reading and resource materials. To think that you can learn from the top experts for less than the price of a college text book is mind blogging.
The Master Class format is entertaining, if one just wants to watch an educational program. However, if you ever wondered what it would be like to be a college student who enjoys a guest lecture from one of the industry experts, you'll find Master Class a treasure.
I am super lucky, because I enjoyed working with a pulp master, Harry Whittington. And now I have resources online that make it possible for me to get closer to my book to film reality.

- Next,  What I've learned about Successful Screenwriting

Typos happen.

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Tuesday, March 6, 2018

How to write a script based on a book

 Writing a film based on a novel sounds hard, unless you wrote the book as a movie. Not that I am an expert...
When I wrote the novel Marquel, I saw it as a movie.
The chapters are plotted in the progression of a suspense film, short and enough info to keep you guessing.
I was taught plotting by my mentor, the late master of the pulps, Harry Whittington. Harry approved the outline and sample chapters of Marquel before he passed away.
My chapters are film scenes with just enough background, emotion and dialogue to keep the reader engaged. Well, I hope so.
I work with my completed novel in Microsoft Word open, along with Final Draft Screenwriting software open.
I’m pretty much toggle between them.
Knowing that a book and film need to grab you from the opening doesn’t mean they’ll have the same initial start. A film might introduce a scene later in the book. Regardless, both book and film should interest the audience immediately.
I cut and paste sections I want to work on from Word into Final Draft. Naturally, it will be a bit jumbled moving from one program to the other.
Films have a specific format and the software is easy to use once you’ve read enough scripts and learned the structure.
However, I still mess up.
I put in camera shots and direction that shouldn’t be there. I get complaints in script coverage about formatting. So, I’m still learning.
Each page is a minute of screen time, so I edit down everything that isn’t dialogue. I pretty much wipe out all the descriptive stuff and get to the bare bones of the discussions my characters are having.
From there I add in the scene headings, action and such.
It takes time to learn how to set up the introduction to a scene, but reading award winning film scripts helps you get the hang of it.
I’m not going to explain what gets capitalized and such, I’m just talking translating book text to a script.
Good storytelling is key in book and film, however in film there is a three-act structure that Hollywood expects. Masterclasses and workshops will help you become more familiar. 

-Next, Taking Masterclasses

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Sunday, February 18, 2018

Part 3 - My Author to Screenwriter Journey

Why I am doing it
Before I explain why I’m writing a screenplay.
Let’s go back to the beginning.
At 20, I bought a Smith Corona typewriter at a garage sale and made a career choice.

I was going to be a working writer. In fact, the next Erma Bombeck.
With my poetry phase behind me, I was ready to write a body of work.
To give you an idea of my skill set. I quit high school at 16 and went to night school while also working full time at a local carwash to help support my mother and younger siblings.
High school for me was after work with a lot of moms and dads, immigrants and people who decided to go back to school after dropping out.
To my credit, I finished on time when my peers (who went to high school in the day) did.
I didn’t feel I missed out. Rather I enjoyed not being in the company of teenagers, though I was one.
I was a go-getter. -- Eventually hired away from the local carwash to become a detailer for a local Saab and Subaru dealership.
Funny, I was so green that I didn’t even know I was negotiating my salary when the car dealer asked what I made at the car wash. I said, “I can’t afford to leave here.”
The day I bought that typewriter I knew I needed serious help. Grammar and structure were/are my weakness. Not story.
I have ideas.
Anyway, I signed up for every English and writing class the local junior college offered. Not because I wanted a degree, I wanted to write!
My college creative writing teacher, God love her, said I had a “certain naivete.” Which I took as a great compliment. I didn’t look up the definition. In fact, I was sure it meant gifted.

She had me. Clueless -- and fearless! So much so, I sold articles to the local weekly newspapers.

Ten dollars and a byline. Sign me up.
With my growing portfolio, I eventually moved up to stringing for the dailies. The big time.
Sure, I heard remarks about my writing, but they still accepted my stories and corrected my work. Made me look good.
I was getting noticed!
How do I know? The editor came out of his glassed-in office to the newsroom floor, paper in hand and screamed, “why is the stringer writing everything? What am I paying you to do!?”
Apparently, I was invisible. I was out in the open. He’d made his point, turned and stormed back into his display case.
So why am I screenwriting now?
Because I have a certain naivete.

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Sunday, February 11, 2018

Part 2 - My Author to Screenwriter Journey

How I decided to do it

The first draft of the Marquel script was written by Amy K. Green, my daughter Blair’s producing partner. Amy spun my novel into an edgy movie she would want to see.
I really liked her snappy dialogue and scene progression. However, I felt my characters weren’t themselves. – After all, I am their mother! I know them better than anyone.
Amy agreed I could use her version as a template to rewrite and organize the book into a screenplay I was comfortable with.
I also wanted to keep some scenes that were uniquely hers.
I started by buying the iPad version of Final Draft (screenwriting software). I didn’t know how to use it, but I got the hang of it over time.
When I originally wrote the book, I saw it as a movie in my mind. Each chapter had cinematic progression. Even now, if I hear a certain song, the Play button goes off in my brain. I can see my book as a movie.
After several drafts, we all agreed the screenplay should be sent for script coverage. We liked it, but it needed an outside perspective.
I knew what script coverage was, because Blair did coverage for Penny Marshall’s company, Parkway Productions. Basically, coverage summarizes a script for a production company’s consideration. The script will get a grade of Pass, Consider or Recommend.
I later learned in a workshop that roughly 96% to 99% get a Pass, maybe 1% to 4% a Consider and anyone that Recommends, is usually fired.
“A good script warrants a Consider, but you better have a damn good reason why you’d stick your neck out for a Recommend!” --The words of a working screenwriter, not mine.
To save money, I entered a film festival screenwriting competition. Fee around $50. It included coverage. Coverage can be in the hundreds, depending on the experience of the reader.
I made top 12 of 125 scripts in the contest. No prizes, but good encouragement.
The biggest complaint. Sloppy formatting. And I used industry software!
Talk about embarrassing.
Okay, I can work harder. The story was solid. Not perfect. Now I have notes.
Notes – the film industry term for feedback.
Around the same time, I was writing the book sequel to Marquel, titled Marquel’s Dilemma, when I realized a big difference in book and film opportunities.
A novel can be self-published.
An author can write, hire a proofreader, editor, designer and marketer to launch a book, but a film requires a team. And, the writer isn’t important after the screenplay is approved.
The producer is the head of the film and can fire the screenwriter (of the approved script) and start over if they deem necessary.

Thankfully, I have daughters who are producers.
I don’t think they’d fire me?
Next week - Why I am doing it

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