Tales From The Writer’s Desk: 6 Screenwriters Share Their Strategies

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Photo by O12 on Unsplash

Welcome to a new blog collaboration based on and inspired by the Filmmakers Podcast. If you haven’t heard of Giles Alderson when he’s not creating a weekly podcast on all things filmmaking he’s a writer, director, mentor and producer. Check out more details here. The podcast has been flourishing since its inception in 2017. If you haven’t heard of me that’s cool, nice to meet you on the page. I’m a prolific writer, though unproduced screenwriter…anyways.

The purpose of the blog is to carry on the mission of the podcast which is encouraging the act and art of filmmaking. The feedback from the podcast has been amazing; hence this blog project. We (I mean Giles ) know how hard the pot-holed road to getting your stuff made is and we want to continue to encourage and support the process by bringing together real stories of filmmaking.

The plan is to create a blog in response to each podcast and this one follows the episode with co-screenwriter of 1917, Krysty Wilson Cairns, who, amongst plumes of effervescent energy talks about an early strategy to dedicate a year to screenwriting. Her story of selling her first spec script and going on to co-write a feature with Sam Mendes is a delight to hear, and all managed with a steady supply of Jägermeister. Massive respect. Check it out here.

Personally, I get so lost in my stories and each time I sit down to write a script I feel like I’m starting the entire writing process over again. Which, I kinda am, but I’m kinda not. So we thought it would be exciting for the labouring screenwriters out there to hear some tried and tested strategies for success.

We’ve asked 6 extraordinary ( &produced) screenwriters two questions about their strategy and had a wide array of answers. Click on their names for a link to the podcast and do give us a Tweet if you use any of these strategies yourself or want to join in the conversation.

Questions

1. When you sat down to write your first ever screenplay what was your end goal and did you apply a particular strategy to achieving this?

2. When you sit down to write your next project how will that strategy have changed from your first script? What are your revised goals?

Jonny Grant

1. Back in 2009, I was naive enough to think reading Snyder’s Save the Cat was all I needed to write a good screenplay and green enough to pander to its prescriptive method. I followed its structure to the nth degree, neglecting the infinite amount of other spokes on the craftwheel. Not only that, I stupidly spent hundreds of pounds on feedback on so called script doctors. I’m glad I made all of these mistakes so early.

My goal was to finish the damn thing, but I ended up subbing it to Script Pipeline, where it received a Recommend grade. I was young and naive enough to think success was around the corner. Of course, I was very wrong and it’d take over a decade before I received my first credit.

2. Although I’m much more intuitive than I was a decade ago, these days I think much more about the why and the how rather than the what. My goal to finish the damn thing is the same, but I’m much more particular about logistics, budgets etc as well as the target audience. I guess experience and failure has just made me that bit more savvy and smart.

Clare Anyiam-Osigwe

1. I didn’t have a strategy, all I wanted was to have the basics covered — a beginning, middle and end that kept the audience gripped and wanting more. I really wanted to write 90–110 pages, but in the end, the script was just 77 pages! However, it translates into 104 minutes, so don’t worry about the page count, just focus on the content and giving your best with your genre, budget and cast in mind.

I deleted what’s app and Instagram so I could focus on writing. I think supreme focus is key.

2. Yes, I just finished writing the 1st draft of my 2nd feature and my strategy has been pretty much the same. My goal, however, this time is to be intentional in the potential for a sequel and for a tv series to come from it. This means my characters have lots of depth and the interwoven storylines keep the reader and audience on their toes. I’ve got a few A-listers in mind, so I hear their voices or see their faces as I’m writing. I listen to music and watch films of a similar genre for inspiration.

I deleted Instagram, Twitter and Facebook this time. I put my phone on busy with only incoming calls from direct family. This next story is big and exciting, it requires all of my attention right now.

Tori and Matthew Butler-Hart

1. We were basing it on a short film we’d already produced and so in order to develop the feature-length version of the story we came up with the simple premise of a journey; a group of characters start in one place and have to battle their way through a zombie outbreak in order to get to a ship, The Buxom Strumpet, so they can sail away to safety. We found the easiest way to figure out their route was to draw it out on a map of the town, Upper Trollop. They all started in the big main house, Fortitude Tower, and then along the way they got split up into smaller groups. As it’s a visual medium it’s good to have a tangible goal so that the audience can see how close the characters are to achieving it; so with the map, we could track our characters as they went their separate ways and could pepper the journey with obstacles, forcing the characters to make choices and we could sit back and watch the result before they hit another obstacle and so forth. It was a very visual way of working out pacing before we even got to the script level.

2. That kind of depends on the project that we’re working on, every screenplay we’ve written has had a very different process and strategy. Currently, Tori is adapting a novel into a screenplay, so working directly from a story structure that’s already there, it’s about how I can adapt and mould that structure to fit into a dramatic and engaging 120 pages! Matt is working on a couple of original screenplay ideas and whereas one is still following that almost geographical, visual, way of dictating where the story goes, the other is completely reliant on who the main character is so I’m spending a long time almost writing a novel version of the story to get inside the head of the character, their wants and likes, fears and hates, to determine how they will react to the obstacles that I’ll throw at them and let them tell me what the next step would be.

Hilary and Anna-Elizabeth Shakespeare

1. When we first sat down to write Soundtrack to Sixteen the end goal was to finish shooting it within the year. We were really concerned with writing realistic dialogue, so we spent a lot of time listening to how people talked and writing down funny quotes or weird things that happened to us and our friends.

2. We think a lot more about structure now and the turning points every scene using different coloured post-its on a big timeline on our wall in each characters arc. We track every character and their motivations through every scene using different coloured post-its on a big timeline on our wall!

Giles Alderson

1. I had no strategy apart from getting to the end. I’d written plays before and knew that was possible to finish one but to finish that script was so hard. I worked through the night for weeks and felt physically sick as I typed but it was the only way. It was a sequel to a recently released movie and my end goal was to get it the producers with the hope they might make it. The first film didn’t do that well so no one took it seriously after that.

2. My goals are much more organised now. I think of the story first and who my audience for the film will be. How will this speak to them? But also I write projects now I genuinely think can get made. It takes so long damn long to write one you really need to be thinking about which production team, sales comp. or distributor might look at it. When myself and Jonny Grant sat down to write The Dare I knew it could be made even it was just me and my i-phone because there was already an inbuilt audience looking for films like that.

Scott Beck

1. I was twelve years old when I first made an attempt to write a legitimate

screenplay and my only goal was to turn the scripted words into a

fully-realized short film. Therefore, I leaned into every resource I had at

my immediate disposal — I wrote parts for my friends; I wrote for locations

I had access to; I wrote visual effects that I could achieve easily in

camera for no budget. And days later, I emerged with my first short.

2. To a certain degree, my strategy hasn’t changed much. I find myself often

writing for resources that feel immediate or achievable. When Bryan & I

wrote A QUIET PLACE, we knew there was a version of that movie that could

be scalable, utilizing resources we had access to in Iowa. We always tell

people to “write for your own backyard”. We apply that philosophy to most

scripts we write since it’s so hard to get projects through the system and

we have an urge to just get things made.

Written by

Storyteller, ex playwright (produced), award winning screenwriter, always writing. Creating story-based content for businesses. London based but heart in Europe

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