I have written short-form for years, commercials, short films and documentaries (yes, you have to write those too). So I wasn’t unfamiliar with the principles of visual storytelling. What I didn’t quite realise was just how deep the rabbit hole went.
I have a basic philosophy when it comes to learning new things. If someone earns a living JUST doing the thing you are learning – then it deserves your respect. Everything from focus pulling to plastering. Some things on the surface seem like a hill to climb. Then you try it yourself and quickly realise it’s actually a mountain. Believe me – screenwriting is NOT EASY. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get good at it.
How did I start? Like everyone else with an idea. Which I turned into a LOGLINE. And no, I didn’t know what that was either. It turns out a logline is a description of your entire movie in about 24 words or so. And believe me it’s a lot harder than it looks. The advantages of getting this right though are enormous – in fact if you can’t achieve a compelling synopsis in a couple of sentences – DON’T WRITE THE MOVIE. It’s that simple. Bad movies can often be traced back to bad loglines.
What next? Read a lot of screenplays. Yes a lot. I have about 60 just in my current reading list. The best thing about screenplays though is just how exciting they are. A great screenplay can be as exciting as a great movie. Which is why it is often so much more rewarding to read screenplays for movies you haven’t seen yet.
What next? Learn the craft. Which means reading a lot of books, blogs, forums and websites. Oh and go to the cinema all the time – what a nightmare! 😉
My next phase was research – about 5 months worth. I won’t bore you with details of my project but needless to say it required good research. It was about then that I also learnt another lesson. Screenwriting takes time. And unless you find that time you’re screwed. My solution? Get up at 5.30am every morning and write for 2 hours. It was the only way I could find to stop daily work and chores preventing my forward progress. Obviously I try to spend as many hours as I can – but 2 hours is my starting point.
Research became ideas, ideas became an outline, an outline became a step-outline, a step-outline became an expanded step-outline. On top of that are character biographies, archetypes and questionnaires.
Then the day comes when you realise you can do no more prep. You HAVE to write the bloody thing. So you type FADE IN and away you go. For me that was a big threshold – and a big fear. At first every page was about 2 hours work. A week in and that was 1 page in 1 hour. 2 weeks in and I’d settled down to a consistent 2 pages an hour. 110 pages took me 4 weeks (remember I’m not writing full time).
Then you type FADE OUT and you have – a first draft. And how does writing a screenplay feel? For me? Amazingly good! I LOVED IT. It was exactly like watching a great movie just really, really slowly. You’d be looking forward to scenes you haven’t written yet like scenes from a trailer. The characters started to come alive (I even cried when I killed one) and best of all once you get towards the end you feel their transformation, their journey.
Now this all sounds like a) I know exactly what I’m doing (which I don’t) and b) My screenplay is completely awesome (which it isn’t – yet). But either way the process was inspirational to me and I now know I was always be writing movies for the rest of my life. And that feels like a jolly great place to be.
So where am I today? I have a first draft which I’m taking a self-imposed two-week holiday from. Then I’ll start on the next journey – the SECOND DRAFT.
Meanwhile I’ve done the only logical thing – started another one! So if you’ve ever harboured a desire to write your very own movie – I’d say GO FOR IT! At the very least it will make you love movies even more.
To be continued.