FRIDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:

WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW?


Buy The Farewell

Someone asked what the worst advice I’ve ever heard about being a writer was, and my answer was “Write what you know” - because I don’t know anything. I’m a stupid blue collar kid who used to work in a warehouse, I know about palletizing boxes and wrapping them in plastic... do you think someone would pay me to write a script about that? And how many screenplays or short stories or novels can I get from that?

They say that everybody has a book in them, but once you have that surgically removed what do you have left?

Writing novels or screenplays isn’t a “one and done” occupation, it’s a career - writing a stack of novels or a stack of screenplays.

You don’t just need more than one script or novel, you need more than one story.

And for that you need to use your imagination to write what you don’t know... to create stories that are way outside of your experiences and be able to come up with dozens of *different* stories using your creativity. You don’t want to be telling that one story over and over again. You want to build up your imagination muscle so that you have hundreds of stories to tell.

I really liked THE FAREWELL (written and directed by Lulu Wang), it’s funny and sad and one of the best films I have seen in the indie “dying grandmother” genre (where a talented character is seen as a screw up by everyone in their family except for their grandmother who really understands them... then the grandmother dies and they have no allies). In this story, Billie (Akwafina) is the talented character whose parents are tired of supporting her financially, but her grandmother Nai Nai (an endearing Zhao Shuzhen) in China supports her emotionally... and maybe financially as well. Her parents, father Haiyan (Tzi Ma) and mother (Diana Lin), want her to get a real job and do this art thing as a hobby... but she manages to hold them off by saying that she is about to get a sizable grant that will pay the bills for over a year. Moments after she has that conversation with her parents she gets the letter denying her the grant. She is broke, how can things possibly get worse?

Her parents tell her that Nai Nai is dying, and the entire family is flying to China to be with her one last time. One of Billie’s cousins Hao Hao (Chen Han) is getting married to provide an excuse for the family reunion, because - in the Chinese culture you don’t tell people that they are dying. Why ruin their last days on Earth? Why cloud the memories of this family reunion with thoughts of death? Whatever she does, Billie must not let on that Nai Nai is dying. That is the twist that makes this different than all of the cliche “dying grandmother” movies. Because Billie can’t keep a secret, and she has this special connection to her grandmother and wants to tell her... The story has all kinds of great comedy scenes where they must intercept x-rays before they get to Nai Nai and usher her away from doctors and drunk family members who are just about to blab. Billie ends up going from the most likely to spill the beans to the one who takes charge of making sure that nobody else does. Oh, and her cousin’s wedding, the reason for the entire family to fly to China for this reunion? He doesn’t really want to get married. So that’s another fire that Billie is constantly having to put out - keeping the marriage on track. The movie is a lot of fun, and is so autobiographical that the end credits show photos from the actual event, including writer Lulu Wang’s cute little grandmother... who is still alive years later by some miracle.

This is definitely a “write what you know” screenplay, but what will Lulu do next?

She has all of this momentum from THE FAREWELL, now is the time to set up a bunch of screenplays... But what if this is it? What if she is the cinema version of a One Hit Wonder?


ONE STORY, RETOLD

Buy breaking away DVDs

BREAKING AWAY (1979), written by Steve Tesich, is one of my favorite movies. Hey, working class guys and bicycles, how could it not be? Tesich won Best Original Screenplay Oscar for that script,. Because I loved BREAKING AWAY so much when it came out, I became a huge fan of the screenwriter and tracked down every movie he wrote and stood in line to see it on opening day. Though all of them featured working class guy leads, none were as good as BREAKING AWAY. The one that came closest was his adaptation of THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, a novel I had read before seeing the movie. GARP was a huge best selling novel, and very visual... and he didn’t create it, he just adapted someone else’s creation.

Tesich died with only six movies...

One great one and one good one and four other ones. He was the screenwriting version of a One Hit Wonder.

And that’s the big problem, here. Tesich wrote one great script, did a really good adaptation... but seemed unable to do anything else. He did not seem to have the skills to pull of a thriller like EYEWITNESS (an okay film - I like it), and FOUR FRIENDS may be his life’s story but it has no story - it’s a complete mess. It’s a great example of why Write What You Know is terrible advice - the film is a melodramatic version of everyone’s mundane life. The thing I liked about the movies he wrote was the working class background of his characters - whether it’s working in a steel mill or working as a building’s janitor, he showed real people doing real work and makes it part of the story. We need more of that. But it seems as if he was just parting out the same story again and again. Like he had *only one* story to tell - educated working class guy locks horns with immigrant father and enjoys bike riding (did I mention that aspect of EYEWITNESS? Sorry... and AMERICAN FLYERS is all about bike racing). The relationship between Danny and Tom in FOUR FRIENDS is similar to the relationship between Hurt and Woods in EYEWITNESS... and similar to those Four Friends in BREAKING AWAY. It as if he had a few dozen scenes and a few dozen characters that he rearranged to make a different script. Five films, one story.

Buy eyewitness DVDs

We all have our “mega themes” that pop up in our scripts - those elements of our lives that show up in many of our character’s lives. That’s fine, in fact - that’s great. We want our screenplays to be personal rather than generic. But we need to have *many* stories to tell, and *different* stories, and be able to work within some popular *genre* so that once we’ve won our Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and the phone starts ringing with people who want to buy our next original screenplay or have us come in and pitch stories, we can keep our writing career going.

There’s another script tip in rotation about having enough screenplays finished, so that when someone reads a script and likes it but doesn’t want to buy it and asks “What else you got?” you can give them some other script... and *keep* giving them scripts until they find one they want to make or hire you to write a script for them. You *need* more than one good screenplay...

But you also need the screenplays to be different stories with different characters. If all of your scripts are the same basic story with the names changed - or just similar stories - you burn out fast. Chances are, that producer is going to be reading script #2 and wonder why it all seems so familiar. Did he pick up script #1 by mistake? Even though it is smart to specialize in one genre, you want different stories within that genre. That means you need to be able to come up with dozens, maybe hundreds, of different stories... and different characters... and different scenes.


MORE THAN ONE?

Buy flyer DVDs

One script may open the door for you, but one script is not a career. If you spend 25 or more years writing screenplays and get paid for one script or assignment every year - that’s at least 25 *different* stories you’re going to need... but actually maybe 4 or 5 times that many, because you will also need fresh new stories for the scripts and pitches that *do not sell*. When I get called in to pitch ideas for some cable producer, I have to pitch 5 *different* story ideas the day after tomorrow... and if I get a call like that every month? That's 60 ideas a year - 60 *different* ideas a year. That’s a lot of different stories - do you have many different stories with different characters? Can you imagine yourself *writing* 100 different stories in your career? Do you have that many stories in you?

That is why instead of Write What You Know, you need to develop your imagination muscle so that you can come up with those 100 different screenplays and be able to pitch 60 different ideas in a year. You need to be able to generate all of those ideas, and they need to be different! If you pitch the same story with pieces rearranged 5 times to a producer, you probably have *less than* a single chance. They will hear all of those similar stories and think that you are lacking imagination and not want to hire you.


WORKING OUT

Buy The 4 DVDs

I always refer to the imagination as a muscle, because you need to do work outs frequently to keep it in shape, and when you begin it is liable to be flabby and way out of shape. Many new writers have problems coming up with ideas, because their imagination is out of shape. The strain their brains and decide to give up - it’s so much easier to adapt a book that they don’t own the rights to or write some form of fan fiction that breaks all sorts of copyright laws. Here’s the problem with that - your imagination muscles aren’t getting any stronger. They are just as flabby and out of shape. So that isn’t going to help you. Though it is hard and painful to work out those muscles at first, that is what you have to do. The reason why some producer hires you to adapt a book or hires you to write a sequel or remake is because of the imagination and inventiveness in your original screenplays. That is what they are looking for - the strong imagination, the story that displays your ripped creative muscles.

Yes, you are going to begin as a weakling, but if you avoid working out, you will still be a weakling. If you ask people for help “lifting” - coming up with an idea - you will still be a weakling. “Hey, these dumbells are too heavy for me - can you help me lift them?”

When you are stuck, push through. That isn’t easy. Your brain may end up in pain. But push through.

I have some methods in the Ideas Blue Book, but the main thing to do is look for the road less traveled. Look at things from a different angle. Think weird.

One of the problems that we have as writers and even as human beings is following the exact same path every single time. You probably drive to work on the exact same roads every single day - and that means that you no longer see those roads. You are on auto-pilot. Doing the same thing over and over again is a great way to shut off your brain... and we want to not just use our brains but push them to their limits again and again. Steve Tesich won an Oscar for BREAKING AWAY, but I don’t think anyone will really remember his other films. (There *are* people who saw FOUR FRIENDS as kids and loved it, a small buy seemingly loyal fan base - the film is filled with topless scenes, has an anti-authority lead character, and deals with father-son issues... many teen boys liked these aspects - but the film was a flop when it was released.) I liked the blue collar point of view of his stories, but they were all the same story. He was driving to work down the same road every day...


THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED

Buy Airplane! DVDs

You want to take as many alternate routes as possible. Explore. Don’t take an idea at face value, look at it from every possible angle and add “What if?” into your thought process. AIRPLANE! Is one of my favorite movies, and that scene where Stryker hands Johnny a report and aks “What do you make of this?” is a great example. Johnny doesn’t see the report as a report, but as a piece of paper - thinking weird - and then rattles off a bunch of origami figures and other things that you can do with a piece of paper. That’s funny, because he isn’t taking the “road” that you are supposed to take in that scene... but it is a great example of how we need to start thinking so that we can give that creative muscle a work out. Look at things weird.

One of the tools that I use for coming up with ideas is breaking things down into their elements and then playing around with those. Sort of taking one different road on my way to work... and looking at the sights and maybe finding another road from that strange road that also gets me to work. When you begin to “unravel” your usual thought process you can find your *unusual* thought process. When I am coming up with 3 or 4 ideas for a story that takes place at a specific location that the production company has access to, I break the location down into possible things that it can be, just like Johnny with that report. What else could this be? Sometimes if you look at just aspect of a location or a story - one unusual road - you can see things that no one else has ever thought of before (or, at least, very few people).

Buy The fantastic DVDs

After we built the submarine set for CRASH DIVE, the producer wanted to reuse it a few more times to get his (well, HBO’s) money’s worth from building it. I came up with STEEL SHARKS, and then I figured that we had killed the submarine movie - and needed to do something else. With the same set. So I began looking at it differently - this could be a space station, this could be an underwater laboratory, this could be an underground bunker, this could be... And I made a list of all of the possible things that set could be that *was not* a submarine. Hey, I could have looked at it differently: what are some other uses for a submarine that are not a war movie? Or not an action movie? FANTASTIC VOYAGE is a submarine movie, right? Make a list of genres and leave off war and action films - now how can you use that submarine set in each of the genres? You may be feeling some muscle strain when you get to Western - but wasn’t Captain Nemo from that time period? There’s a swell science fiction film called FINAL COUNTDOWN about a modern day aircraft carrier that gets zapped back to World War 2 and has to decide whether to interfere or not - and you can zap a submarine into the future or the past. Heck, one of those cheesy Edgar Rice Burroughs movies from the 70s has Doug McClure on a submarine that finds a lost world populated by dinosaurs! Once you break something down into components, you can find the road less traveled for *each* component and generate a bunch of different ideas.

The problem with Write What You Know is that once you have done that - once you have written the best story from your life, be it Lulu Wang’s THE FAREWELL or Steve Tesich’s BREAKING AWAY people are going to want something new from you. New and different. That means you are going to tell your second and third and twentieth story from your life (that time in high school when I directed my first play - performed one night only - and my brother had a concert on that same night... and my parents picked my brother’s concert over my play), you are going to have to work that idea muscle and find stories that are not from your actual personal experiences, but from your *emotional experiences* - instead of a play and a concert, I used the emotions for that in the relationship between the two pilots in BLACK THUNDER - one who was always chosen as the favorite by their mentor... that was my doorway into that story, so that it was a personal story... about a stolen top secret fighter plane. Every single one of those hundred or so screenplays that you are going to write has got to be personal, or all of the imagination in the world will ne for naught.

So start working out that imagination. Don’t ask people for help doing the lifting, that doesn’t build your muscles. “But it’s hard!” Of course it is, that’s the point. You aren’t trying to do something easy. You are working to build up those muscles!

You don’t only need more than one script, you need more than one story... so don’t write what you know, use your imagination and write what you *feel*.



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My New Script Secrets Newsletter!


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BRAND NEW

OUTLINES & THE THEMATIC!

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OUTLINES & THE THEMATIC Blue Book.

ARE YOUR SCENES IN THE RIGHT ORDER?
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DESCRIPTION & VOICE Blue Book.

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READY TO BREAK IN?

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Should really be called the BUSINESS BLUE BOOK because it covers almost everything you will need to know for your screenwriting career: from thinking like a producer and learning to speak their language, to query letters and finding a manager or agent, to making connections (at home and in Hollywood) and networking, to the different kinds of meetings you are will have at Studios, to the difference between a producer and a studio, to landing an assignment at that meeting and what is required of you when you are working under contract, to contracts and options and lawyers and... when to run from a deal! Information you can use *now* to move your career forward! It's all here in the Biggest Blue Book yet!

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SUBPLOTS?

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***

Screenwriting books have been around as long as films have. This series reprints vintage screenwriting books with a new introduction and history, plus new articles which look at how these lessons from almost 100 years ago apply to today’s screenplays. Anita Loos book is filled with information which still applies. In addition to the full text of the original book, you get the full screenplay to Miss Loos' hit THE LOVE EXPERT, plus several new articles on the time period and women in Hollywood.

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bluebook

I WRITE PICTURES!

*** VISUAL STORYTELLING *** - For Kindle! (exclusive)


Show Don't Tell - but *how* do you do that? Here are techniques to tell stories visually! Using Oscar Winning Films and Oscar Nominated Films as our primary examples: from the first Best Picture Winner "Sunrise" (1927) to the Oscar Nominated "The Artist" (which takes place in 1927) with stops along the way Pixar's "Up" and Best Original Screenplay Winner "Breaking Away" (a small indie style drama - told visually) as well as "Witness" and other Oscar Winners as examples... plus RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 200 pages!

ONLY $4.99 - and no postage!


bluebook

BEST SELLER!

*** YOUR IDEA MACHINE *** - For Kindle!

*** YOUR IDEA MACHINE *** - For Nook!

Expanded version with more ways to find great ideas! Your screenplay is going to begin with an idea. There are good ideas and bad ideas and commercial ideas and personal ideas. But where do you find ideas in the first place? This handbook explores different methods for finding or generating ideas, and combining those ideas into concepts that sell. The Idea Bank, Fifteen Places To Find Ideas, Good Ideas And Bad Ideas, Ideas From Locations And Elements, Keeping Track Of Your Ideas, Idea Theft - What Can You Do? Weird Ways To Connect Ideas, Combing Ideas To Create Concepts, High Concepts - What Are They? Creating The Killer Concept, Substitution - Lion Tamers & Hitmen, Creating Blockbuster Concepts, Magnification And The Matrix, Conflict Within Concept, Concepts With Visual Conflict, Avoiding Episodic Concepts, much more! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 175 pages!

Only $4.99 - and no postage!


bluebook

PRO DIALOGUE TECHNIQUES!

*** DIALOGUE SECRETS *** - For Kindle!

*** DIALOGUE SECRETS *** - For Nook!

Expanded version with more ways to create interesting dialogue! How to remove bad dialogue (and what *is* bad dialogue), First Hand Dialogue, Awful Exposition, Realism, 50 Professional Dialogue Techniques you can use *today*, Subtext, Subtitles, Humor, Sizzling Banter, *Anti-Dialogue*, Speeches, and more. Tools you can use to make your dialogue sizzle! Special sections that use dialogue examples from movies as diverse as "Bringing Up Baby", "Psycho", "Double Indemnity", "Notorious", the Oscar nominated "You Can Count On Me", "His Girl Friday", and many more! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 175 pages!

Only $4.99 - and no postage!



hcd

FINAL DRAFT SOFTWARE

Use your creative energy to focus on the content; let Final Draft take care of the style. Final Draft is the number-one selling application specifically designed for writing movie scripts, television episodics and stage plays. Its ease-of-use and time-saving features have attracted writers for almost two decades positioning Final Draft as the Professional Screenwriters Choice. Final Draft power users include Academy, Emmy and BAFTA award winning writers like Oliver Stone, Tom Hanks, Alan Ball, J.J. Abrams, James Cameron and more. * * * Buy It!

copyright 2020 by William C. Martell


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E BOOKS PAGE

bluebook E BOOKS: New Blue Books and Novelettes!
I am expanding all of the Blue Books from around 44 pages of text to around 200 pages! Some are over 250 pages! See what is availabale and what is coming soon!Also, I've been writing Novelletes and there will soon be novels.
E BOOKS: BLUE BOOKS & NOVELLETES

ONLINE CLASSES
Furious Action Class
MY OTHER SITES

B MOVIE WORLD
Cult Films, Exploitation, Bikers & Women In Prison, Monster Movies.

FIRST STRIKE PRODUCTIONS
Producing my own scripts, investment possibilities, pipe dreams.

NAKED SCREENWRITING MP3s

Naked Class The NAKED SCREENWRITING CLASS ON MP3! The 2001 London Class on 8 MP3s! Recorded *live* the morning after the Raindance Film Festival wrapped. The two day class on 8MP3s, plus a workbook, plus a bonus MP3 with PDFs.
The 2 Day Class on MP3!

BOOKSTORE

Every screenwriting book in the world!
SCREENWRITER'S BOOKSTORE
In Association With Amazon.com
From the latest screenwriting book to guides for finding agents and producers... all with at the Amazon.com discount!

BOOKLETS & PRODUCTS

bluebook FIRST STRIKE BLUE BOOKS
Each Blue Book is 48 pages and focuses on a different aspect of screenwriting. Dialogue. Visual Storytelling. Your First Ten Pages. Act 2 Booster. Protagonists. Great Endings.
Seventeen Blue Books now available!

THE SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING The Best Nuts & Bolts Screenwriting Book On The Market!

BILL'S CORNER

My nineteen produced films, interviews with me in magazines, several sample scripts, my available scripts list... And MORE!
...............................BILL'S CORNER


Available Scripts

CLASSES ON MP3

Class MP3s CLASSES ON MP3! Take a class on MP3! GUERRILLA MARKETING - NO AGENT? NO PROBLEM! and WRITING THRILLERS (2 Full length classes on MP3). Now Available: IDEAS & CREATIVITY, WRITING HORROR, WRITING INDIE FILMS, more!
Take classes on MP3!