Monday, June 06, 2011

Screenwriting 201: Diary of an unproduced Screenwriter

Just as everyone is expected to have at least one book in them, I think it's assumed that every filmmaker must have a script in them. And even though I don't really have the urge to spend my days writing scripts, I will confess to having started, on different occasions, at least three separate scripts...

...none of which were ever close to being completed.

Then last year I saw the Amazon Studio's project, and while I have many reservations about how you sign away your rights for 18 months and so on, it did seem like an interesting experiment. And they were offering attractive prizes. And surely I could bang out a script - something - in a month or so? It would be kind of fun, wouldn't it?

How hard could it be?

Pick Your Tool - Scrivener
So I had an idea, and I started writing the script using a Mac word processor called Scrivener. I've been playing with this word processor off and on for the past year, and it has has some interesting tricks; you can easily move sections about using a note card metaphor, you can type in a full-screen mode (now present in many other programs) and it has a script writing template.

Scrivener with it's "corkboard" metaphor for arranging scenes

And you can get a one month free trial, which at least on the previous release, seemed to extend to almost eternity as it would increment by one day every time it was restarted, rather than counting from the day it was installed.

Running Into Trouble
I'm not going to dwell on the subject matter of my script; let's just say that the story is sort of When Harry Met Sally meets E.T. The script itself isn't really important; unless you're a producer that wants to make it! What is important is that after a month I'd written about 75 pages, and hit a wall. It just wasn't working. So I put it aside.

A couple of weeks later I came across a free online screenwriting class [4]. I read the first weeks notes and it was like a veil had been lifted. I knew what was wrong with my script! There were too many characters, too much going on, and not enough focus.

With that knowledge, I threw out a bunch of characters, streamlined the storyline, and just two short months later I sort of had it finished. At least the first draft.

Pick Another Tool - Word
About this time I had run into one problem with Scrivener - and it wasn't the expiration of the trial version. It wouldn't let me do two columns (with two people talking at once) and I convinced myself that I really needed to present the dialog that way for a couple of Scenes.

I happened to have a Script template for Microsoft Word, so I took the script over to Word, and spent about a week tidying the thing up. That template didn't do the two column formatting either, but in Word it was easy for me to create a section in the document and custom format it the way I wanted it to be.

 A two-column format in Word

Pick A Third Tool - MovieDraft
All was going well with Word until I discovered a program called MovieDraft, which for $30 would do the formatting "right" - it automatically put in (Cont'd) and (MORE) for continuation across pages. That was something I would have to do manually in Word, and I couldn't begin to imagine how I would manage the page breaks.
CONT'D, and MORE in MovieDraft

I briefly tried the MovieDraft demo - which does everything, but won't save files - and since it was only $30, I bought it and then imported the script into the program. That wasn't a very fast process as the importer only worked in fits and starts; I ended up copying and pasting the script in sections and having to manually fix a lot of problems.

All in all, MovieDraft works pretty well, I really like how it handles the formatting, and I'll post a separate review shortly.

Once completed, I output a PDF file, which looked great.

MovieDraft - the color formatting can be turned off and on

People Copying My ORIGINAL Idea
In the mean time, I was a little concerned about my little story, not because of the story itself, but from what else was going on in the popular media.

I'm not sure if I missed a memo or something, but it seemed like suddenly everyone was doing Alien stories. After I'd written the first 50 pages of the script I saw the trailers for Cowboy's and Aliens, and Super 8. I wasn't even aware of those projects prior to that! Would everyone think I was being derivative?

Worse, the title, (1+1+1) which was a cute play on the number of central characters, communicating with alien intelligence using mathematics, and the song "Come Together" rolling around in my head, was pretty much ruined when Beyonce came out with a song "1+1" just before I was about to upload the script. Are you kidding me?!

Fortunately, no one seemed to like that song; so hopefully people will quickly forget about it.

All Done?
I certainly thought I was, so I went to the Amazon Studio's site to upload my script, where, after hitting the Upload button I discovered that they wanted a description and a synopsis, neither of which I'd given any thought to; and it's not really something you can throw together in a few seconds on an upload page.

I had created a simple cover graphic in vertical format; but it turned out they wanted it in HD (1920x1080) format, so I had to quickly repurpose that into the desired format too!

Changing the cover orientation with a bit of stretching

Worst of all, I'd forgotten that they wanted an RTF file. Not just wanted it; that was the FIRST thing they wanted; the PDF file was optional. So my perfectly formatted PDF file wasn't what they wanted, and guess what? MovieDraft doesn't output to RTF! It only saved to Final Draft and Text formats!

After saving the file in Text format, I imported it into Microsoft Word and then saved it in .RTF format. It wasn't very intelligently saved (lots of spaces!) and there were some unprintable characters that I had to do a find and replace on. But it worked.

All in all, it wasn't a very successful "launch," but I did manage to get it finished and posted, and that's something.

Now I'm trying to decide whether to rewrite it, or start on something else....

  1. Amazon Studios: 1+1+1, Michael's Original Draft
  2. iTunes: Scrivener
  3. iTunes: MovieDraft
  4. University College Falmouth, UK: Screenwriting Unit by Jane Pugh
  5. NotesOnVideo: Screenwriting 102

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