A Screenplay in 70 Days – Week Ten

 

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As you enter our final week it’s time to look forward and determine our next steps. You have finished the first draft of your screenplay and now you need to do something with it, but what?

Week Ten – Now What Do I Do?

Congratulations! You’ve finished the first draft of your screenplay and that his a huge accomplishment. You are already better than 95% of screenwriters in the world. So what should you do to make your way into the top 99%? The first step is simple – put it away for a week. Yes. After spending the last ten weeks focusing on it day in and day out it’s time for you to direct your focus elsewhere. So go out and see a movie. Read a book. Call your family. Spend the next week doing a bunch of fun things. Don’t think of your screenplay at all. Don’t worry about it. It’s perfectly safe on your computer and will wait patiently for you to return. So log off now and go out and play.

Welcome back and I hope you’ve had a great week away from your screenplay. Load up your screenplay and lets get started. The first step is to read it completely from cover to cover in one sitting. One of the best features of Scrivener is that I can compile my screenplay into a PDF file that I then transfer to my iPad. This allows me to read it easily and prevents me from making changes. That’s right, no changes. Read it first. No changes; no notes; no stopping. I’ll wait. Start reading.

Note Taking

I hope you still have all of your notes from the beginning of the workshop. If so, pull them all out, you’re going to need them again. All of them. While you’re getting your original notes, swing by your writing station and grab a notebook and a pencil. And don’t forget your screenplay. For this task we’re going old school and we’re going to handwrite our notes. You’re going to start by asking yourself these three questions and honestly write down the answers.

1. What did you like about your screenplay? Be specific. If it’s a scene or a character then write 250 words as to what you liked about it. Refer to page numbers, descriptions and dialogue within the first draft of your screenplay.

2. What would you call the biggest weakness with your screenplay? Again, be honest and specific. Is there a gapping hole in the middle of the second act that makes your climax unbelievable? Is there a point where your Hero doesn’t have a goal? Write another 250 words about the weakness. Don’t try to fix it at this point, just identify it and describe why it’s a weakness.

3. What do you need to do in order to fix your weakness? A third 250 words will help you toss around ideas that could fix your weakness. Maybe there is a scene missing or two individual characters need to be combined into a single character. Is the Villain too weak? Do you have even have an identifiable villain?

You may find yourself writing more than 250 words when trying to fix a weakness. In one of my screenplays I had a weak villain and a hero who did not drive the story forward. It took THREE rewrites before I got both fixed to the point where I could move forward. Between each rewrite I went trough this process. Your hero should always have a goal. It is not always the same as the Story Question but it’s always there. Does your Hero have a goal? I hope so, if not that’s a weakness.

Maybe your weakness is with your structure? Review your notes about your Nine Story Beats and then check your screenplay. Does the Midpoint happen about halfway and does it twist the story in a different direction? Do your Obstacles negatively affect the hero as expected? Does the Climax answer the Story Question asked at the Inciting Incident? Do you have a solid Story Question? There were always structure problems in my earliest screenplays and were always my biggest weakness. Later we’ll discuss ‘smoothing out the formula’s steps’ so don’t worry right now that your structure is showing – that’s a good thing. It’s easier to fix structure problems when they are easy to see.

The New and the Strong

During those seven days when your screenplay sat alone in your computer did you have ideas for improving, adding or deleting scenes, characters or dialogue? If so, take the time to write those ideas down now. Once you have a number of ideas written down lets start reviewing each beat of your screenplay. This process starts with the very first beat – the Opening Scene. Did you introduce your hero first or your villain/story first? Did you consider introducing the opposite instead? How about we consider it now? Write a 250 word article describing how the Opening Scene would look if you opened with the opposite image. How would have Star Wars opened if we met Luke Skywalker first? Without the introduction of the Villain/Story first the audience would not have cared about Luke at all. I enjoy writing the Opening Scene in screenplay format from the opposite perspective from time to time to compare options. I suggest, if you don’t like your opening, rewrite it from the opposite. If you introduced your Hero the first time, the open with the Villain/Story this time and see how it works. Maybe a combination of the two is the way to go? Feel free to give it a try as well.

My biggest weakness has always been the Obstacles in Act II. Often they are two weak or two small or worse, they don’t cause the hero to nearly fail the story question. Those are the sequences I rewrite the most often. A great Obstacle is triggered by the Villain and nearly cause the Hero to fail/give up the Story Question. Darth Vader triggered both Obstacles in Star Wars. First he destroyed Alderaan, which was the only way Luke knew to contact the rebellion and then Vader killed Obi-Wan causing Luke to freeze in the hanger instead of escaping. Those are near perfect Obstacles, in my humble opinion.

Bridging the Gaps

Some of the hardest scenes to write are the ones between the Story Beats. Getting your characters from Beat to Beat can be nearly impossible at times. At the time of this writing I’m sketching the scenes I’ll need in the first act of my new screenplay “The Third Hostage” and I’m having a difficult time. I have the scenes that introduce the Hero and his wife (Friend). I have the Story Beats but I’m missing at least two solid scenes that show the difference between the Hero and his wife. The two are very different people. The Hero is smart but greedy and feels that money brings true happiness. His wife is a grade school teacher who is kind and caring and doesn’t care how much money they have or don’t have, but that they are together. My mission right now is to find a great single scene that shows that rather than tells it.

Throughout Act II you can employ an up and down method of writing scenes and sequences. One beat sets up the problem and the next beat has the Hero overcoming the problem. Create a problem that the Hero has to overcome in one beat and then have him get past the problem. Luke and Leia are separated from Han and Chewbacca and are chased by Imperial Troopers. They reach the end of the hall but it’s open to a bottomless pit with troopers behind them (Problem). Luke shoots the wall controls to lock the door (Solution) but destroy the controls of the bridge at the same time while additional troopers shoot at them from the opposite side of the pit (Multiple Problems). Luke pulls out a rope and the two swing across the pit (Solution).

“What happens next?” should become your most often asked question through the rewriting phase. If you have a man running from the mob because he owes the mob money then you ask what happens next to determine that the mob minions break into the Hero’s house looking for him or the money. Next? They don’t find the money but they do find a public locker key. Next? The minions head to the locker to find the Hero set up a bobby trap that causes one of the minions to die when he opens the locker. Next? The Hero is sitting at the end of the street when the mob boss gets the call about the locker trap. Next? … And so on as you write towards the next Story Beat.

Rewriting the Writing

After you sit and rebuild the various parts of your story your ready to start rewriting your screenplay. You should have pages of handwritten notes, thoughts, essays and prose about your screenplay. The second draft must be a full page one rewrite. Open a new file in Scrivener and start with FADE IN and then make each scene, sequence and beat stronger than the first draft. This is the draft that will be seen by others. Before you start writing for the day, review the previous days writing and correct obvious spelling and grammar errors. Set a writing goal of 14 beats per week and get the second draft written within a month.

Once you’re finish the second draft of your screenplay, print it and read it from start to finish. This time with a red pen in hand. Edit, correct, rewrite. Clean up the second draft as best you can. Read the dialogue out loud to make it read cleanly. Once you’ve reviewed the second draft, open your computer and copy the second draft’s file, giving it a new name. This will be the third draft. Transfer your corrections into the third draft file from the written copy and save it. This should take a weekend.

Notes About Saving & Keeping Files

1. Never overwrite a draft of your screenplay.
2. Start a new screenplay by creating a new directory for the screenplay and it’s notes
3. Identify each draft using a date. I use _YMMDD Ex. HOUSE_31121. (November 21, 2013)
4. Back up everything often. Use USB Memory Keys and CDs.
5. Keep a recent backup offsite such as at the office or a trusted family members house.
6. Never delete or throw out anything pertaining your screenplay.

Your Assignment

1. Using the process described above, please take the time to review your first draft and prepare it for the first rewrite. When you’re ready, take the next 30 days to complete a page one rewrite.

2. Continue through the process and edit your second draft. Once you have completed the physical edit of the manuscript take the time to make the corrections on a new copy of your screenplay on the computer. Proof this version one last time before printing it.

3. Write down on a piece of paper five people you would like to have read your screenplay. You might be surprised in the next chapter to find some of the people on your list may not be the best people to read your masterpiece.

Preparing for the Sale

You’re very close to your story. You’ve now spent 10 or more weeks developing, writing and then rewriting it. You know it better than you know yourself. If there are any small potholes in the story your brain fills them in without realizing it because you know your story. It’s time to release your work into the wild. Select three people and ask them to read your screenplay. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Well it’s not. Who you select is very important. If you give your screenplay to your mother, for example, she might not give you an honest opinion. But maybe if you hand it to your father he might be the exact opposite and tell you not to waste your time. You need to find at least three people whose opinions your trust and will be honest with you. Do you have a friend who enjoys watching movies? He might be a great candidate to read your screenplay. Maybe you have a friend with an English degree? Or maybe your girlfriend’s best friend, you know the one, the actress, she might be a possible candidate to read your screenplay. If you have a relative in the field they may or may not be a possible candidate, as it would depend on how they will treat your screenplay. Is it a family favour or is it an unsolicited screenplay? Check with them first.

Another option is to hire a script consultant. A script consultant is an individual who will read your screenplay and provide a very detailed and very honest assessment of your work of art. You’re paying for honesty so you might not like what the person says about your screenplay, but it’s better to know the truth. A good consultant will provide you ideas to correct the problems with your screenplay as well as show you where your story worked.

Feedback and What to Do With It

You found four people to read your screenplay, including a consultant and they have provided you with feedback. My suggestion would be to read your friend’s opinions first. Start making notes of your own. What did they like? What did they not like? Did any of them outright hate or love your screenplay? Did someone have a problem with the screenplay, such as plot or a character they really didn’t like (remember, the audience is supposed to dislike the Villain). Once you made notes on your friend’s comments it’s time to read the comments of the consultant.

Did the consultant identify any of the same problems that your friend’s identified? Once you have made notes about all of the comments (good and bad) then it’s time to decide which comments do you agree with and which comments you don’t. If someone else tells me that a specific scene or dialogue is working, I generally don’t touch it. Focus on the bad comments, the problems, and the suggested changes. You don’t have to change anything if you don’t want to. It’s your screenplay. But the purpose of having others read your screenplay was to find the problems you don’t see. Why didn’t you see the problems? Because, you’re too close to your screenplay to see the problems.

Start with any problems that the majority of your readers identified. For example, if three of your four readers (including your consultant) really didn’t like the Hero’s girlfriend then you might want to consider making changes. Hopefully the comments gave you details as to why they don’t like her. Maybe two of the three said she’s too stereotypical. Maybe you’ve written the role as a textbook ‘dumb blonde’. Audiences have seen that a million times. You might look at either changing the character in some way to make her unique (not necessarily likeable). Maybe if you give her a secret that is revealed late in the second act helping your Hero get to the Second Plot Point. You would need to write a scene in the first or second act that would foreshadow her secret, but now she’s not as stereotypical and much more interesting.

What if the consultant says that the second Obstacle (he might have a different name for it) isn’t threatening enough, what do you do? Start with the definition of the Second Obstacle. I define it as the point in the second act where the Hero has hit the wall created by the Villain that plays against the Hero’s flaw and the Hero is contemplates giving up. Luke Skywalker’s flaw was his innocence and naivety. He relied on Obi-Wan Kenobi since meeting him. After watching Vader kill Obi-Wan, Luke freezes. He gives up. He doesn’t shoot back. He just stands there until Han yells at him. He finally boards the ship after hearing Obi-Wan’s voice say, “Run, Luke run.” So if there is a problem with your Second Obstacle answer these three questions.

  1. Does the Hero’s flaw play a key role in the Hero wanting to give up?
  2. Does the Villain trigger the event with some action taken against the Hero
    or his team?
  3. Does the wall directly prevent the Hero from answering the Story
    Question?

If you answer any of these questions with a ‘NO’ then you’ve found the problem with your Second Obstacle. The Hero will need to start to overcome his flaw shortly after the Second Obstacle, so this is a good point to show the audience and the Hero that his flaw is holding him back. Once Luke is back on board the Millennium Falcon he sits at the chess table sad for a few minutes until Han gets him at the gun. This is where Luke finds his confidence, “We did it!” he yells after destroying the last TIE fighter. Make sure that the moment is triggered by an action of the Villain. The Hero controls the forward movement of the story while the Villain is the force pushing against the Hero. Since the Obstacle is a big push against the Hero, make sure it’s the Villain pushing. Vader kills Obi-Wan in front of Luke; I think that’s a very big push against Luke. Do you still have your Story Question written down? Everything you write about pulls the story towards the answer of that question. Does the Obstacle keep the Hero from answering that question? Luke just gave up. He froze while Stormtroopers were shooting at him. He could have died if the troopers where better shots. Luke’s death would have clearly prevented him from answering the Story Question.

That’s how you analyze the different parts of your screenplay. Ask yourself questions; make sure the different Story Beats are fulfilling all of their duties. Does the Climax answer the Story Question? Does the Inciting Incident ask the Story Question? Does the Hero push the story forward through the First and Second Plot Points? Is your Opening Scene the most interesting you can make it? Maybe one of your readers had an idea to make it better. Sounds a lot like we’re back to story development doesn’t it?

Just remember, it’s your story. If you don’t like an idea then don’t use it but remember don’t throw it out either. You might be able to adapt it for another screenplay down the road. Never throw out anything. Even all of the comments from your readers, scan the notes and save the files in the same directory as the screenplay.

Another Rewrite…?

Yep! Once you have reviewed all of the notes provided to you and developed and adjusted beats to integrate the ideas into your screenplay then it’s time to sit down at the computer and rewrite your screenplay, again. This might be as simple as a quick rewriting of a few scenes or it can be as intense as a full page-one rewrite. It completely depends on the extent of your changes. If you’re taking two characters and combining them into one character then you might need a full rewrite or if you changing the personality of a character (remember the ‘dumb blonde’ that no one liked) then you will need to do a full rewrite in order to make the change. I prefer a full rewrite at this moment to make sure that I’m changing everything that needs to be changed.

This would be draft four of your screenplay and should be saved as a separate draft. Once you have completed the draft. Print it once again and re-read it yourself first and find any obvious errors and correct them right away. Once you’ve completed that print a clean version of the screenplay and send a copy to one of your friends who read the screenplay before. If you can, pick the reader who had the most to say. If the consultant has a re-read clause as part of his deal, take advantage of it, but I wouldn’t pay a second time for another reading unless their comments are important to you.

Hopefully, the comments from your repeat reader should be a lot more positive than the first time. He should notice the changes you’ve made through the screenplay. The dumb blonde now has a secret that leads to a duel role reversal, the huge hole at the Second Obstacle has been completely rewritten based on the reversal introduced by the blonde and your Opening Scene now leaps from the page in a shower of action and suspense. If there any new comments returned to you, decide if you want to work them into the screenplay and then call the script done – for the moment.

Final Step of the 70 Days Workshop

The final thing we’re going to discuss is finding an agent. This is where you need to do some leg work. You will need to find an agent in the area where you would like to see your screenplays sold. Most people would think Hollywood, but myself, I’d like to keep my work in Canada and will be looking for an agent in Toronto. There are advantages and disadvantages for every choice possible. If the agent is in the same city as you, face-to-face meetings are possible, however even if you’re in Toronto and the agent is in Hollywood meetings are still possible. Over the phone or Skype are possibilities. Some agents may not mind you emailing your screenplay to them while others will require you to mail (or drop off) a cleanly printed copy.

The job of the agent is to find someone to buy your screenplay. They work for you not the other way around. You may not think you need an agent, but a good agent comes pre-loaded with amazing contacts. Maybe he knows a writer on the Paramount lot or the agent is partnered with an agency across town that can get your screenplay in Brad Pitt’s hands. At first I thought I wouldn’t get an agent because I didn’t want to pay him a percentage but then I discovered that a good agent does all leg work with my screenplay.

When selecting an agent you are both interviewing each other. Do you want him as your agent while at the same time he’s wondering if you’ll make him money? If the agent doesn’t feel you’re the right fit for him, he’ll tell you right away. If you’ve written a science fiction screenplay, make sure the agent can sell sci-fi. Sometimes agents are specific to a genre because of their contacts. He may not know anyone who’s interested in buying sci-fi and therefore knows that your screenplay won’t sell if left in his hands. I’m a believer that a great screenplay will get you a great agent. But like everything else in life, do your research first. Know what the agency’s focus is and know which agent you might want to talk with. I’ll leave this up to you. You’ll know what’s best when you get to this point.

This brings my 70 Day experiment to a close. I hope you’ve enjoyed these last ten blog posts. If you’ve been able to use what I’ve written to push your screenplay to a point of completion, please tell me about it. We are a community of writers and I look forward to hearing your comments and your experiences.

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