“Fade In” – Writing a Screenplay
With over 15 years of published work and a writing award under her belt, Doreen is well known for her artistry with words.
My dream is to pen a movie screenplay, an aspiration fuelled by the fact that it is a potentially lucrative speciality for writers. An accomplished writer for many years, the thought of my words lighting up the silver screen sends a thrill through my heart. Accompanied by an arctic chill: With no formal courses or experience in penning movie scripts, how do I proceed? On the other hand, could I really do any worse than the 1975 flick, “Black Gestapo”? The adventure begins.
apparent: they have accidentally entered Hell itself, a fiery pit usually reserved for the dead. In this mind-bending version of that demonic realm, people are tortured for eternity by memories that their minds had thankfully suppressed when they were alive. This brilliant vision could have produced one of the biggest blockbusters ever. But after a breath-taking build-up, the movie withered into an muddy, incomprehensible mess. My dream was born: using that core idea to write my own version of the plot, while sustaining the momentum with an engaging tale of horror until the end.
The Writer’s Store offers a shot of confidence to the nervous beginner: “Don’t let the seemingly endless parade of screenwriting elements scare you away from writing your first script!” My first task: “A familiarity with the basics of the craft is half the battle.” What is a screenplay?: “A screenplay can be an original piece, or based on a true story or previously written piece, like a novel, stage play or newspaper article. At its heart, a screenplay is a blueprint for the film it will one day become.” My pulse quickens at this radical divergence in creative direction, from using my writing skills to tell a story on a page to making my words come alive on a giant silver screen. “The very nature of screenwriting is based on how to show a story on a screen, and pivotal moments can be conveyed through something as simple as a look on an actor’s face.” I am drunk with excitement.
Formal training in the art of writing is beneficial to aspiring story-tellers, but not essential. The nuts and bolts can be self-taught – even th
e complexities of penning a film script. Plus, there is a universe of help on the Web and in local bookstores. Don’t let the title fool you – “Screenwriting For Dummies, 2nd Edition” is an authoritative reference for budding film scribes, written by multiple-award-winning Laura Schellhardt, whose scripts have been produced from New York to Seattle. “Whether you want to write a feature film or a TV script or adapt your favourite book, this friendly guide gives you expert advice in everything from creating your story and developing memorable characters to formatting your script and selling it to the studios” (dummies.com).
However brilliant, any script will collect dust on a shelf unless a writer knows how to market and promote it. Assuming that I surmount this writing Everest, who can I ‘wow’ with my fledgling script? This is an opportune time to contact people who may have some insider knowledge or clout within the film industry. A few years ago, as a volunteer writer for a small community newspaper, I was given an exciting opportunity to write about a new film on Rick Hansen, BC’s famous “Man in Motion.” This led to a golden connection with a publicity professional who worked with many major Hollywood directors and movie stars. He will be the first person that I email while the ink is still drying on my screenplay.
There are many worthy incentives to writing a successful screenplay, not the least of which is seeing your name and work on the silver screen. But all the blood, sweat and tears could also translate to a hefty paycheck. In Michael Hauge’s list of “The Right Reasons to Want to Be a Screenwriter”, “The Money” gets top billing. The long time Hollywood script consultant explains: “If money isn’t your only motive, and you know you want to write, then you can probably make more as a steadily working screenwriter than with any other form of writing.” (writersstore.com) According to Johnny Kilhefner in “Career Trend”, “the compensation agreement in effect in early 2017 by the Writers Guild of America called for a minimum of $71,236USD for an original screenplay on a low-budget production, and $133,739USD for a high-budget production.” In “The Pros of a Screenwriting Career”, LearningPath.org claims that it is “One of the highest paying writing specialities (average salary of about $68,000 in 2014).”
James Cameron, Hollywood king and multiple Oscar winner, wrote scripts in his spare time as a truck driver and taught himself about special effects by reading graduate students’ theses (Mic Daily). Note to writers: Go for the gold. Take a risk and put yourself out there. Write your screenplay and send it to Spielberg.
Make your next words “Fade in.”