FRIDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:

SIX PRE-PRO MISTAKES


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Every once in a while I get talked into reading scripts for a contest. The good news is that I'm a finalist judge, so I only read the very best from the contest. The bad news is that the best scripts still have problems (often major problems). The worst news is that all of them often have the exact same major problems - and after a while those problems start to drive you up the wall. So here are five of the problems I keep bumping into in scripts, plus a mistake that all of us have probably made at one time or another which may be at the root of the other five problems...

1) Bland idea. Nobody would ever want to pay money to see this movie. When I do one of these pitch clinics the main problem with the stories being pitched is either that they are boring, or on rare occasions soul-less commercial crap. You need a story that you are passionate about that a whole bunch of people will want to see (as an escape from their boring lives). Take a look at the idea behind your story - is it something that millions of strangers would stand in line for an hour to pay $11 to see? Is the idea also something that you emotionally connected to? You want your script to have a big commercial idea with a soul.

2) Unfocused. No central conflict - just a bunch of incidents. One of the scripts I read was about a character who had a series of adventures... DIFFERENT adventures! The only connection was that they happened to the same protagonist. These scripts don't even *have* a story, they just have a character going from incident to incident. Who is your protagonist? What do they want? What ONE THING prevents them from getting what they want? FOCUS - one script, one conflict, one story!

3) Bad writing. Bland writing. I read scripts for one of the events I was at recently, and many of the scripts were just poorly written. You still have to be able to construct a sentence that makes sense and actually *use those sentences* to create emotions in the reader. Words are the tools we use - so be an expert at using them.

There are industry pros who will tell you that the writing isn't important if the story is there - but they're forgetting that you have to read that writing to get the story. If the writing is awful, they aren't going to fully understand the story. It's *communicating* - the greatest story in the world told to you in some foreign language is pointless. You won't understand it. So good writing is *critical* to the reader understanding your great story.

4) Description instead of actions. It's not a novel - don't tell me what color the frigging curtains are. The only time the color of the curtains may come into play is if they are bright red and the protagonist is going to use the material to make a gown for the Grand Ball. If it's not critical to the story - leave it out. Meanwhile - make sure the characters are DOING SOMETHING not just sitting there yapping. We're writing MOTION pictures so make sure you get your characters up on their feet and in motion!

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5) Characters we don't care about. *People* pay to see movies - so make sure your script is about people. Make sure you really dig into the characters and make us understand them. Don't just give us the surface, give us the *person*. Characters aren't chess pieces you move around the plot, they need to act like real people. They need to be motivated. They need to have issues they are struggling with. They need to be *human*. Take the time to really get to know who your characters are. Not just what they look like, WHO they are. Stories ARE character, and stories need to EXPLORE character. If you don't know and care about your characters, it's impossible for us to ever know or care about them.

6) Unwilling to learn new tricks. I don't understand why so many writers think they are right and the rest of the world is wrong. That's just crazy. Everyone can learn something - and there's something we all *need* to learn. You never reach the point where you know everything. When I was at Santa Fe teaching I took two classes during my free time. And I learned something. I know the learning thing has nothing to do with craft, per se, but it really has *everything* to do with it. If you aren't on a quest for knowledge you aren't doing the things that will improve your writing. You aren't reading scripts, you aren't studying films, you aren't reading novels, etc. The quickest way to becoming creatively dead is to think you know everything. I've been guilty of this in the past, and my writing suffered. The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know.

There you go - six problem areas in many of the scripts I read. If you get these things under control in your scripts you'll be ahead of the pack... and probably win one of those contests.



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