Five Screenwriting Tips For A Hot Summer
Part 2 of our "Survival" series for screenwriters:
Examine your process - how you write the script. Let's say you've outlined your script. You've blocked out time and are coming at it with good energy. You barricade yourself in with a copy of Baudelaire's Flowers of Evil, 18 bottles of Pabst Blue Ribbon or whatever it takes to get you rolling. The pages come out, but look like crap. What the $#@*! Why?! Remember this scene in Amadeus?
God speaking to you lately? It doesn't happen. There are going to be so many rewrites, polishes, trims, tucks, cuts...the script in constant revision mode. Don't be a perfectionist. Don't keep rewriting the same 30 pages.
I've seen good writers lose confidence this way. They can't get the scene down, but they won't let it go. You have to push forward. That's the purpose of the rough "discovery" draft. Push forward, say everything you want to say in rough form. If, at the end, you're looking at 140 pages, so what? You'll know what needs to be done by the time you reach the end. Don't censor yourself. Push out. Get the rough draft done, then refine.
I made a vow: "If I hear that voice over again, I'm walking." There's Kate Winslet approaching a playground: "Many times Mary would take her child to the playground." Kate swings her kid in the swing. "She loved to swing her kid on the swing." Kate looks to a gaggle of women chatting at the merry-go-round. "There would often be other mothers there gossiping." Voice over, if used at all, should not describe what we're seeing directly. Good voice over is indirect. It delves into the mind of a character for insights that are essential to the scene, insights we can't see.
If you're using voice over, please, examine the necessity of it. What's your voice over adding that we can't discover visually? This is not to say it can't be done well. Road To Perdition, Goodfellas, American Pyscho, Forrest Gump all had voice over essential to the narrative.
Still found-for whatever reason- in Final Draft software under the "Transition" tab, CUT TO is a useless and redundant device. Why would I need CUT TO to indicate a new scene? A slugline, by definition, indicates a new scene.
I've heard the argument that they help visualize the movie, a hard cut looks different from a dissolve. That is a director/editor's call, not the Spec Screenwriter. You want you script visual? Don't slow the reader's eye with 100+ pointless CUT TO's. Dump 'em.
Bouncing from FLASHBACK to PRESENT is not ideal. Like voice over, use FLASHBACKS if there's no other way to tell the story. Use FLASH TO's for shorter time frames, to go into a character's mind for a recollection or moment. FLASH TO's appear in movies as five or ten second bursts of memory, as visions of the past, but are not flashbacks. You never leave the present moment; only go back in time inside the character's mind, then return just as quickly to the present. Do not force the reader into reading the visual equivalent of ping-pong. If you can tell the story without any flashbacks, do it.
PAUL PEDITTO wrote and directed Jane Doe, an A-PIX Films release starring Calista Flockhart. The film was awarded Best Feature at the New York Independent Film & Video Festival and grossed over 2 million dollars.
Six of his screenplays have been optioned, among them Crossroaders to Haft Entertainment (Emma, Dead Poet's Society).
He has won semi-finalist honors at Nicholl Fellowship Screenwriting Awards and Slamdance.
Other imdb credits include Home In The Heartland, and The Group, which was accepted at multiple film festivals around the country.
Four of his stage plays have been published by Dramatic Publishing Company, two of which were presented on National Public Radio's "Chicago Theaters On The Air" series. Over 25 productions of his theatrical work have been performed in Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and New York. His adaptation of Nelson Algren's Never Come Morning won 9 Joseph Jefferson Citations including Best Play and Best Adaptation. His adaptation of Ben Hecht's 1,001 Afternoons In Chicago is a two-time Jefferson Award nominee. Pura Vida, a stage play based on his novel, was produced at Chicago's Live Bait Theater, earning a feature article in the New York Times.
He teaches screenwriting at Columbia College and Chicago Filmmakers, professionally consulting on thousands of screenplays since 2002. His book Writing Screenplays is now available for purchase.