Some of the top movies of all time include GONE WITH THE WIND, THE SOUND OF MUSIC, THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, BEN HUR, E.T.: THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL, and FORREST GUMP, none of which had a sequel. Where are the big stand-alone movies today? Of 2015’s top ten movies, seven were part of a series, and one of the remaining three could one day become the start a series. Hollywood refers to these as “franchise” movies because they become a brand, like a franchise.
Where do you begin scriptwriting?
Fifty years ago 20th Century Fox released Rogers and Hammerstein’s THE SOUND OF MUSIC. It remains a favorite of millions of moviegoers. Rodgers and Hammerstein ate, slept and dreamt their craft. It drove them. Both saw their work as something they had to devote their life to. It was their passion. Both demanded of themselves exemplary work.
In a world filled with would-best they succeeded because they were creative, innovative and persistent. Before their big success with OKLAHOMA there were years of study, struggle, rejections, failures, disappointments and growth. Their passion drove them through many dark days to become the ones famous for transforming both Broadway and movie musicals.
If you wish to begin scriptwriting start by being realistic. Out of hundreds of thousands of scripts one might get made into a movie. Of the few thousand movies made each year only around 100 are made by the major studios. These generate 95 percent of the box office. Of the 100 major studio movies only a handful are a big success.
To get your movie made (and into theaters) you’re competing with people who wrote FORREST GUMP, THE AVENGERS, DESPICABLE ME, and E.T. Even these writers don’t get all their scripts made into movies. When they do, not all are a success.
There are about 750 players in Major League Baseball. Dabbling in scriptwriting is like dabbling in baseball. No one playing in the major leagues has a full-time job in other fields and plays baseball at night and on the weekends.
Now that I’ve done my best to discourage you, let me encourage you. There is always room for a truly great script. If you’re a movie fan you know this. Of the hundreds of movies in theaters there are few you’re willing to pay to see. Of those, some are disappointments. You want more good movies. Hollywood wants more good movies. Hollywood wants great scripts just the way Major League Baseball wants more great players. Great baseball players can come from anywhere.
Great scriptwriters can come from anywhere.
Scriptwriting is all about great stories, well told. You may have a great story. The “well told” means that you need to master the craft of story telling. A great story poorly told is like a young man with incredible talent hitting baseballs who’s unwilling to practice or be taught the full range of skills necessary to be a professional baseball player. Imagine how much talent there is that goes to waste because people lack the commitment to develop it.
Much more common is the poor story that the author doesn’t realize is poor. Before you even begin writing, read the scripts of some of the most popular movies of all time. Study what makes them entertaining. The story of how your grandmother makes lemon pies is unlikely to become a blockbuster movie. Learn what makes a story great.
Ask yourself, “How many people would pay $50 to see this story?” “How many people would want to buy this story on a DVD?” Don’t fool yourself thinking millions of people want to see the story of your dog dying of cancer. They want action, adventure, comedy and emotion. They want to laugh and cry. They want to be thrilled and inspired. They want to see loveable characters rise to meet astounding challenges.
You must provide entertainment value. You will not play major league baseball unless you can play well enough that baseball fans want to see you play. The better you play the more they’ll want to see you. Great players have fans who come to games, buy jerseys and help get others to do likewise.
You will not make successful movies unless audiences believe your story will be worth their time and money. You become truly successful when audiences become your fans — telling friends and family that your story is worth paying to see. You’re a home run hitter if fans will want to watch your movie again and again. You’re a hall-of-famer if your movie is selling in some format 50 years after it was first released.
Don’t even start writing if you’re not ready to commit to creating great stories, well told. It is not easy. There’s a lot to learn. It’s a craft like learning to play in a symphony. Your odds of success are small, but if you have a burning desire to do what it takes, go for it. Dive in, study, study, study and work hard. Pursue excellence with a passion.
Every great screenwriter started somewhere. Every great screenwriter lived through many struggles. Brace yourself. Expect long study, hard work, and many rejections. Pursue creating high entertainment value with a passion.
Stories, Parables & Movie Scripts
Basic screenplay writing excerpted from HOW TO SUCCEED IN HOLLYWOOD (WITHOUT LOSING YOUR SOUL)
For Better or for Worse
Communicating effectively requires learning and applying the basic principles of language, grammar, rhetoric, technique, and general rules that govern each genre and medium. There are three levels of such principles: general principles (which apply to most communications), genre specific principles, and media specific principles.
There are also several steps involved in producing powerful communications, including movies and television programs. Here is a brief outline of the most important foundational steps in preparing your communication. Each genre and medium will modify this outline by adding or subtracting steps or substeps. However, this outline is your basic guide to the steps required to communicate effectively.
12 Basic Foundational Steps to Communicating Effectively:
- In light of who you are, why you want to communicate and well thought out research and ascertainment, make a brief note of what you want to say, your idea, conviction, or your key thought. This idea, thought, or statement must be something that you believe and want to communicate through a movie or television program.
- Ask and answer the appropriate ascertainment questions to target your audience, determine your genre and medium, and plan the execution of your communication.
- Rephrase your idea or key thought into an active premise that you can prove in your communication, taking into consideration your answers to the pertinent ascertainment questions.
- Identify the elements needed to prove your premise, most of which are inherent within your premise. In drama, these elements are your characters, conflict, climax, and resolution.
- Structure these elements taking into consideration your audience, genre, medium of choice and your answers to the ascertainment questions which are appropriate for your communication.
- Write out, plan, or script your communication, punctuating it with technical, dramatic, or literary effects to capture and retain audience interest.
- Prepare, storyboard, and/or rehearse your communication.
- Produce, polish, or otherwise finish your communication.
- Edit, review and revise your communication.
- Deliver, distribute or broadcast your communication.
- Survey your audience to find out how effective your communication was and how it can be improved.
- Review and revise your communication to improve it if possible.
Half of this process is preparation. Many people fail to prepare or dash off a script and believe that they will perfect it when the right person buys it. However, you never have a second chance to make a first impression, so you need to perfect your script right from the beginning, even if you need to change it later.
Remember that the average movie takes nine years from start to finish. The Passion of the Christ took ten years. Evita took twenty–three years. Batman took seventeen years.
There are several reasons why it takes so long. First, there are 300,000 scripts submitted every year to the Writers Guild of America and many more are written that are never submitted, aside from the flood of novels every year, but less than three hundred movies open in theaters every year. Thus, most scripts never make it into production. Second, Hollywood movies cost over $104 million to produce and distribute in 2010, and it takes a long, long time to get all the elements together so that some distributor or investor will want to put up this kind of money. Third, most people take years to get the script right. The Los Angeles Times interviewed a woman who was trying for twenty years to sell her script. She said that in all those years she had not had the time to take a scriptwriting course or read a book on scriptwriting. The Los Angeles Times and all of us should be perplexed: What was she doing all that time that she could not take a moment to learn her chosen craft?
To be continued…