Have you – I bet you have – watched something on tv, or in the cinema, and thought ‘I could do better than that’? Or at least ‘I could have a go at that!’
Of course you have – and that’s not a criticism of what’s out there, because there’s some great stuff on our screens at the moment. But just as it’s commonly believed that we’ve all got a book in us somewhere, so we could all write a screenplay, if we wanted to. Why not, after all? And yet far fewer aspiring writers choose this route – why? Is it because novels seem softer, somehow, maybe more fluid and flexible? Somehow easier to work on? I want to look at fears around screenwriting in this blog, because it’s a medium I love, and I’d like to writers embracing it as an opportunity more often. So I’d like to debunk some of the myths around it that might be holding people back.
First of all, RULES. Isn’t scriptwriting much more complicated and strictly structured than the ‘freedom’ of a novel? Well, no, not really. It’s true that there are some rules around scriptwriting, but they actually aren’t all that rigid – and like all good rules, once you know how they work and why they’re there, you can start to bend and play with them. There are time constraints – if you want to write for television, you need to tell your story in 60-minute chunks (52 for commercial channels!) and most feature films are around two hours in length (yes, yes, except the insanely long ones – some people get carried away, what can you do?) These are average numbers, but the time restraints are a practical aspect of the business – broadcasters work to tight schedules, and cinemas have to get people out to make room for the next showing …
The fact is, the ‘time rules’ are actually quite helpful in terms of shaping a story: if you know you’ve got to hit the midpoint of a television drama episode by around page 30, that’s a massive boost to your focus and concentration. And by page 45 you’re building towards your climax and resolution … so these ‘restrictions’ are actually more of a handy guide to keep your story tightly-woven and on track. Dare I say, it actually makes it easier?
Perhaps it’s that the world of film and television seems less accessible? Is it any harder, though, to get a script commissioned than it is a novel? It may feel like a distant, possibly alien world, but all writers start somewhere far distant from Soho or Hollywood, and the process is similar in so many ways. We’re all telling stories, just in a different format and medium. But a script still has a hero or heroine, and a series of events they must work through in order to achieve their goal. There are any number of genres, moods, styles, and tone differentiations, just as there are in the world of books. But every story has a beginning, middle and end.
So why are we so intimidated or anxious about the idea of a script? It’s really not that different, and the visual possibilities are HUGE and exciting.
People say they’re put off by the technical side – formatting, jargon, etc. Yes, there are technical aspects to production, but as the writer you don’t need to worry too much about that. As the writer, you’re concerned with telling a good story. But how do you get started if you don’t know how to lay out a script and make it look professional? I can teach it to you in an afternoon. Less. An hour or two. Instead of worrying about the technicalities, think about whether you fancy the idea of creating a story that is full of visual flair, characters and dialogue that actors will bring to life, and playing with elements such as flashback, montage and visual and aural flourishes. And – special effects. Think of the possibilities! Scriptwriting is no more of a mystery, no less accessible than any other kind of creative writing and the best bit – the reason why I love it so much – is it’s so much FUN. I thought I couldn’t do it (even after several years of working in the industry), and I was daunted by the prospect of that opening scene. But, just as with any story you want to tell, it started to grow and eventually became a completed script. It took a while, and it’s still a work in progress, but I made it through to the end. What’s to say you can’t do the same?
I’m launching a short course for any writer new to scriptwriting who’d like to give it a try: it’s a simple, FUN and practical programme that will get you from blank page to FADE OUT in a matter of days. It’s a short film in six steps. Find out more about SIX STEPS TO A SHORT SCRIPT here.