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Screenwriter Q & A: common questions answered

Here is a compilation of questions I was asked by screenwriters on varying topics a few years back and my advice still holds firm — some helpful screenwriting tips that I’ve learned over the years and I hope this information can help you…

Questions Below (links removed):

  • What is the criteria for script contests?
  • How long should I wait to submit my work to the industry?
  • Getting the read
  • How long will it take me to break through?
  • What do you look for in a story?
  • Art Films vs. Popcorn Movies
  • A contact wants a “cut” to pass on my script, should I do it?
  • To a writer worried about their idea being stolen…
  • I know I’m shooting my script as an indie feature, do I need your services?
  • Is it a big Hollywood movie or a TV spec sample?

WHAT IS THE CRITERIA FOR SCRIPT CONTESTS?

hi Dan,

What is the criteria for judging scripts in script contests? If you don’t place in one does that mean odds are you won’t place in another? Is it possible for a good script to not place simply because it wasn’t what they were looking for?

I entered my script into the San Diego Script Competition and found out yesterday I wasn’t even a finalist.  I was pretty disappointed and it got me thinking that my script isn’t as good as I thought. I am still waiting to hear from another contest but, I can’t get it out of my head that it is hopeless…

I won’t ever give up and have already begun redrafting, but man did that hurt. Can you offer some insight into to how the whole script contest thing works?

Thank you from a newbie!

J.

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The Voice of the Screenwriter

Featuring examples from The Departed, Saving Private Ryan, Collateral, Munich, Lethal Weapon, As Good As It Gets, Forrest Gump, Casanova and The Chronicles of Narnia.


Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan

[note: some of the screenplay excerpts on this page have not been properly formatted for this blog, yet.  I’m working on it. -Dan]
There are three main categories of skill needed to write a screenplay: Structure, Characters and Voice. Dialogue may win Oscars and get many an established pro hired on assignment, but I believe it’s a distant fourth when it comes to a spec screenplay submitted by a NEW writer.

You’ve probably heard about the dreaded studio Readers who read only the dialogue in a script.  Well, that can happen, so I’d contend that it’s your job to make the reader WANT TO READ your description by seducing them with a compelling narrative voice that establishes TONE, PACING and EMOTION right off the bat, rather than just listing flat stage directions.  You need to grab them, shake them, and hold them.

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Screenplay Help

Would you like to learn how to write a screenplay from a professional screenwriter and Script Doctor who has worked for major movie studios and is based in Los Angeles, California, Hollywood, the entertainment capital of the world?

I can give you the TOOLS — the professional screenwriting how to — to write a great movie screenplay or television script. My method is called Story Maps Screenwriting and it is the most simple, clear and effective roadmap to take you from your initial concept all the way to a polished draft that you can submit to agents, managers and producers in the movie industry in Hollywood. Read more

Don’t Give Up

It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room.  Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.

Stephen King: On Writing

Some time ago I was watching video of a live performance by the late blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn. He was playing fiercely, passionately, covered in sweat, unaware of anything but his music. I watched and listened, and something dawned on me. This was no “ordinary” performance. It occurred to me that he wasn’t just playing his guitar — playing an original song he’d played a thousand times before.

He was channeling something. Read more

Screenplay Tips

Would you like to learn how to write a screenplay from a professional screenwriter and Script Doctor who has worked for major movie studios and is based in Los Angeles, California, Hollywood, the entertainment capital of the world?

I can give you the TOOLS — the professional screenwriting how to — to write a great movie screenplay or television script. My method is called Story Maps Screenwriting and it is the most simple, clear and effective roadmap to take you from your initial concept all the way to a polished draft that you can submit to agents, managers and producers in the movie industry in Hollywood. Read more