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Screenwriting Truths


I’ve been writing about movie music for a bit. I know a lot about it, and that’s where most of my audience comes from.


Back to screenwriting, which is what I spend most of my time doing now (and producing).


There is a large ecosystem of screenwriting gurus, “hope” companies (contests, coverages, networking), discussion groups, and so forth.


I go on the groups from time to time...and they’re always depressing. It’s upsetting to see people express their hopes and dreams, and know that they’re going to be disappointed.


On the other hand, I’m always confounded by how frivolous and useless most of the discussion is.


These are things that I have discovered to be true:


1. THE BIGGEST FLAW


The biggest reason that nobody wants an amateur screenplay is far more simple than anybody ever admits: It’s because most scripts are stupid.


By that, I mean they are not adequately observant and interesting in their depiction of human behavior to connect emotionally to a reader.


They consist of fake people doing fake behavior, in order to get a plot from a beginning to an end.


Because the behavior is so unreal, the scripts are full of clichés, and they become tiresome and exhausting to read.


So why doesn’t anybody want to read your script? Because there’s almost a 100% guarantee that it’s bad!


Therefore, agreeing to read a script from an unvetted source is a guarantee of two bad experiences: 1) trying to read it, and 2) trying to break the bad news about it.


Even if you have a super awesome concept (which is basically a prerequisite to get read), there’s still the prejudice that the script itself will be bad, and need a ton of work.


2. THE ONLY SOLUTION


The only way to improve is to have some measure of talent, and practice writing (as well as reading and studying) to the point where you finally get good enough to be interesting.


Nobody wants to talk about talent because it’s not something that can be sold by screenwriting companies. They actually imply the opposite: anybody can do it, you just have to spend enough money. Well, no, that’s wrong.


It’s kind of what the critic accepts at the end of Ratatouille: not everybody can become a great artist...but a great artist can come from anywhere.


Even if you have talent, you have to be willing to practice (write) to a preposterous degree. Write a draft, test it (get it read by peers or low-cost sources), revise—maybe (if not probably) throw it out and start over.


3. THE BUSINESS


Because people don’t like or want to talk about the thing that really matters in good writing—truthful human behavior—they spend most of the time talking about “the business”: managers, producers, options, and so forth.


That stuff is essential to know to have a career, but if you don’t have actionable material, it’s purely entertainment—it’s a fantasy.


Here’s all you really need to know about the business: it consists of people sending things (ideas, scripts, I.P.) to other people and asking, “Do you like this?”


That’s all it is!


When somebody else says yes, the project moves forward. When somebody says no—well, most of the time, it’s not because the person didn’t like it, but because they didn’t think they could sell it (not the same thing).


And also, most of the time they don’t actually say no. They just ghost or let it “die on the vine,” because nobody wants to have their fingerprints on a wrong decision.


This applies to movie stars and studio execs, too: they’re just sending something to other movie stars and execs asking, “Do you like this?”


4. YES, IT IS WHO YOU KNOW


You are not wrong to be frustrated that you can’t do anything with your script because you don’t know anybody.


But there’s a catch: knowing somebody only helps if you have something actionable (good).


If you don’t, you could have a one-on-one with Steven Spielberg, and the answer will be: “It doesn’t work for this or that reason, sorry, I can’t help you.”


###


That’s all for today.


But remember: it all comes down to truthful human behavior. What makes people tick? What do they believe? What do they want?


Don’t worry about formatting or how to pitch your script to a manager.


Just look at the humanity around you—and within yourself.

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