A humorous and pithy guide to the craft of writing a screenplay and the business of being a screenwriter.
Seeing your name on the silver screen beneath the words "Written By" is a moment most writers only dream of. But for those daring and talented few, brave enough to take their hopes to Hollywood, there are clear and tangible steps to achieve that goal if one knows the path. The Aspiring Screenwriter's Dirty Lowdown Guide to Fame and Fortune provides that path. And Andy Rose has walked it.
With years of experience with every major film studio and network, and dozens of successful screenplays, Andy knows the business. He’s here to debunk the big screen and teach you how to write a blockbuster screenplay and equally important, how to sell it.
Andy has worked with the best: Ron Howard, Tom Hanks, David Geffen, and Jeff Katzenberg to name a few. He has filled this book with real life examples to learn from including contracts, screenplays, treatments, press, and more. For anyone who’s ever dreamed of writing a screenplay, for anyone who’s wondered how to sell one, this is a must read.
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|Publisher:||St. Martin's Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Andy Rose teaches screenwriting and television writing at Ohio State University. He has written and/or produced over two dozen projects for almost every major Hollywood studio and network, including the feature films McHale’s Navy and Splash Too; the TV movie The Richest Cat in the World; and the TV shows Life With Louie and UC: Undercover. A WGA member, he has also written numerous articles for MovieMaker Magazine, a national publication on independent filmmaking.
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NAME YOUR GENRE
What's your favorite type of movie? The one where the brawny hero leaps into his sleek sports car and races the heinous villain down a treacherous mountain road? Or perhaps it's an old-fashioned Dodge City standoff between two gun-slinging cowboys battling over stolen gold? Or maybe you prefer a lighthearted chick flick where the clumsy boy pursues the dreamy girl, and captures her heart in the end? Clearly, all of these movies are distinctly different, and that's because they belong to different genres.
Genre is the artistic category of a film defined by its style, content, and form.
Consider a story about a jewel heist. It could be a thriller, or an action/adventure film, or even a broad comedy. It all depends on the writer's approach to the subject matter. You need to figure out in which genre (or genres) you would like to write, and this is usually determined by the kinds of movies you like to see. There are numerous genres recognized in the world of cinema. The main ones are as follows:
1) DRAMA: True to life stories of a serious nature. They are realistic and rely on genuine character relationships and intense emotional involvement. Some may be biographical (Lincoln), political (All the President's Men), or historical (Schindler's List) in their premise. But all should touch the hearts of the viewers, and even bring out the hankies to dry their eyes. Other examples of dramas include Nebraska, The King's Speech, Cool Hand Luke, The Shawshank Redemption.
2) SCIENCE FICTION/FANTASY: These movies are usually set in a future timeframe (Star Trek) or in an imaginary world (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone). The characters often include nonhumans, and the writer establishes the rules of what they can and cannot do. All rules, no matter how unreal in our contemporary world ("Beam me aboard, Scotty!") must be presented in a credible manner. These films are a total escape from reality, but that's exactly why we go to the movies — real life is boring. Other examples include The Matrix, Alien, The Princess Bride, The Wizard of Oz.
3) COMEDY: Stories in this category approach a subject using humor. The audience better be laughing, or at least chuckling, when watching your movie. Otherwise, your comedy becomes a tragedy. Since there are many types of comedy, we can divide them into subgenres:
a) Romantic Comedy: Love stories that put a smile on your face. (Pretty Woman, The Wedding Singer, Annie Hall, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Sleepless in Seattle)
b) Black Comedy: Serious matter dealt with in a comedic way. (The War of the Roses, Eating Raoul, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Harold and Maude, Throw Momma from the Train)
c) Teen Comedy: Appeals to teenagers and involves school, dating, pimples, proms, and the issues that affect today's youth. (American Pie, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Superbad, Clueless, Mean Girls)
d) Broad Comedy: Very unrealistic and revolves around slapstick jokes and physical humor more than character development or believable plots. (Airplane!, The Hangover, Animal House, Blazing Saddles, Monty Python and the Holy Grail)
e) Action Comedy: A serious story, often crime-related, but with lots of physical humor and dialogue played for laughs. (Beverly Hills Cop, 21 Jump Street, Rush Hour, Ghostbusters)
4) ACTION ADVENTURE: These stories present characters who tackle dangerous events with lots of physical action. There may be brief moments of humor, but the characters are on a serious mission with dire consequences. Examples include Die Hard, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Dark Knight, Mission: Impossible, Goldfinger.
5) THRILLER: Suspense and mystery abounds in these films. The audience should be on the edge of their seats as they follow the protagonist's journey. Examples here include Chinatown, Se7en, North by Northwest, The Silence of the Lambs, The Fugitive.
6) FAMILY: Stories that are suited for kids and, if done well, also tolerable for their parents. They may be live action (Beethoven), animated (Toy Story), or a musical (Mary Poppins). Other examples include Frozen, E.T., Babe, Finding Nemo.
7) HORROR: These movies usually contain graphic content, meant to scare viewers out of their seats. The good ones have clever stories and work from a psychological perspective (The Exorcist). Today, however, we often equate horror movies with slasher films (Nightmare on Elm Street). Other examples include Rosemary's Baby, Night of the Living Dead, Friday the 13th, Halloween, The Evil Dead.
8) WESTERN: Films in this category deal with the emerging frontier. Think cowboys, horses, saloons, and lots of gunfire. Examples are Unforgiven, High Noon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Wild Bunch, True Grit.
9) DOCUMENTARY: These are unscripted stories about real people and events. But just because there's no script, it doesn't mean the movie is void of structure. A narrative needs to be laid out and the dots need to be connected. However, the bulk of the writing is done in the editing room and not on the page. Examples include Roger & Me, The Last Waltz, Amy, Woodstock, Hoop Dreams.
Some writers work strictly in comedy, others science fiction. Some writers have no preference and can write any genre. Naturally, the more versatile you are, the better chances you have to get hired for a writing assignment. The main thing is to be comfortable writing in whatever genre you choose to tackle.
One thing to be aware of — many films fit into more than a single genre. For instance, Star Wars may be science fiction, but it is also an action adventure movie. Little Miss Sunshine is a drama, but it is also a comedy (or dramedy as it's commonly called). Being able to combine genres is a positive thing. It increases the potential audience for your movie, which means a bigger box office for the company producing it. In a business driven by revenue, this may make the difference in getting your film made.
Don't, however, try to force a crossover genre into your story simply in hopes of attracting a financier or a larger audience. Years ago, I wrote a very witty feature comedy for Universal Studios based on the '60s TV show McHale's Navy. Unfortunately, the producers decided it should also be an action adventure movie, so they had the script rewritten, sacrificing a lot of the humor for some physical, and expensive, set pieces. Despite my protests, I was just the writer — one notch below craft services on the feature film totem pole. There was nothing I could do about it except bang my head on the wall and cry. The end result was a film with neither enough laughs nor enough action to be successful in either genre, and the wrath of the critics, along with the empty seats in the theaters, let the producers know just that.
Think about the movies you like and identify what genre they belong to. If they all fit into the same category, that's clearly your favorite genre and probably the one in which you should be writing.
HERE'S AN IDEA
You know that old saying, "Ideas are a dime a dozen"? Well, not in the movie business. A good idea in Hollywood can be worth over a million dollars to a writer if it becomes a successful motion picture, once script fees, production bonuses, and residuals are tallied. I still get checks every few months for a film I wrote two decades ago, thanks to DVD sales in places like Mozambique and Kazakhstan. Finally, after all these years, I have found my true fan base!
But how do you come up with an ingenious idea? Certainly not by staring at a blank computer monitor and hoping that a brilliant concept magically leaps off the screen and invades your ravenous mind with dazzling inspiration (though wouldn't that be a great premise for a movie?). No, in order to find that amazing idea, your brain needs to be stimulated. And stimulation comes from the world around you.
Walk the dog, surf the internet, hit the mall, go to the gym, take a day trip. While doing so, be cognizant of your surroundings and think about whether the things bombarding your senses could somehow translate into a movie. This will require some creativity on your part. After all, movies often suspend reality, and it's highly unlikely that on any typical day you're going to come across green-skinned Martians, or witness a grisly murder, or find a million dollars that falls off a truck.
However, if you use your imagination, even life's mundane moments can lead to all sorts of possibilities. What if those coneheaded trick-or-treaters you saw walking down the street in costume really were green-skinned Martians who happened to land here on Earth on Halloween night and nobody realized it? Movie! What if that big lumpy bag of trash you saw the local minister toss into the dumpster actually contained the body of a parishioner who discovered that the pastor was embezzling church funds? Movie! What if those Boy Scouts selling popcorn on the street corner near where the armored truck is making a pick-up found a bag of cash left outside the vehicle and went nuts with the money? Movie!
Over the years, I've sold several pitches based on seemingly insignificant events that, with the proper embellishment, turned into wonderful movie ideas. Sometimes you actually see the incident, other times you read about it, or maybe it's based on something someone told you. This was the case with my first studio project, called Modern Girls. A college friend casually mentioned that two girls from her dorm had dressed up as guys to see if they could fool everyone and pledge a fraternity. They were quickly discovered and sent back to sorority row. No, not much of a movie there. But it got me thinking.
What if this became a story about two sweet girls who trash a snooty sorority house on rush night after the rude and uppity sisters ridicule their less-than-attractive friend to tears? The two girls are caught, and as punishment, get suspended from the college for a semester and kicked out of their dorm. Afraid to tell their parents, too broke to afford an apartment, and unable to be seen on campus, they decide to dress as guys and pledge a fraternity. They are accepted and move into the house. There they must deal with secretly being girls in a house of boys and adjust to male rituals, frustrated romances, and a suspicious frat brother. This idea sold to Universal Studios in five minutes.
Another idea came from something I saw. While waiting in line to retrieve my car from the parking valets at a posh LA bistro, I found the contrast of these poor teenage drivers riding off in hundred-thousand-dollar Porsches, Ferraris, and Mercedes to be quite intriguing (sadly, my vehicle was the old Mustang). How tempting it must be for them to take these expensive speed machines for a quick joyride while their hungry owners unwittingly dine inside the restaurant. Out of this, Cruise Control was born. It was a story about an annual race where one valet from each local restaurant had to take the valeted car of a guest and race it around town to various checkpoints before the owner's meal was done or they got discovered. The winner was crowned Car Jock for the year. This idea sold to Warner Bros.
And finally, sometimes ideas come out of something you read. I was perusing a magazine once and saw an ad for the Christian Children's Fund which featured actress Sally Struthers (All in the Family), who at the time was still a household name. In bold print, she stated that a donation of just eighteen dollars a month would feed a poor, malnourished African orphan for thirty days. Heart-wrenching photos of these adorable, sad-eyed toddlers beckoned for your contribution. It got me thinking. What if someone wanted to go beyond the eighteen dollars a month and actually adopt one of these children?
I conjured up a story in which a liberal, upper-class, middle-aged American couple, unable to have kids and unsuccessful in adopting one, decide to bring one of these needy orphans over to America and adopt him as their own. They pick out a small cute boy from pictures, make the necessary legal arrangements, and anxiously wait for his arrival. They figure the neighbors will be so impressed with how progressive they are, that they'll be the toast of the town. Turns out, the photos they saw were a bit dated. The boy they chose is now sixteen years old, 6'3", 220 pounds, and excited to be in his new home with all the modern amenities. As for the shocked couple, they must now examine their own values, prejudices, and responsibilities as parents while dealing with the lad's acclimation to America. I pitched this story, called Big Bundle of Joy, all over town. People loved it, and though this one never sold, it got me lots of meetings and helped me make some worthwhile contacts leading to future business.
When you're first starting out, the best ideas are ones we call "high concept." This means you can state the premise in a line or two and anyone can immediately see the possibilities of why this could be a great movie. There's nothing wrong with writing a script about the internal struggles of a lonely priest holed up in a dank monastery during the Spanish Inquisition, but you're best saving that story for after you win your first Academy Award. Be careful, however, that a high concept idea doesn't become a one-note movie where you keep repeating the same beat over and over. In Click, the premise of a man (Adam Sandler) being able to stop or fast-forward through time using a magical TV remote control is clever, but it becomes overdone and feels episodic, relying more on gimmick than on substance. But in the movie Groundhog Day, where a man (Bill Murray) must live the same day over and over, the story is much more skillfully constructed. Here, the beats change and progress unpredictably as the main character goes through some honest revelations.
Another way to generate ideas is to put a new twist on an existing idea. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery was simply James Bond played for laughs. Scream took all the traditional conventions of slasher movies and satirized them. And anything in the public domain is fair game for an updating, often many times. Think of all the films based on Romeo and Juliet. There was Valley Girl, Shakespeare in Love, the all-time classic West Side Story, and lots more.
Producers also sell their own ideas to a studio, and then hire a writer to tackle the script. Usually, these ideas are nothing more than a basic premise for a film without any detailed story development. Competing writers will each take this concept, work out an entire story, and pitch it to the producer. He will choose the writer whose take he likes best. In order to beat out the other writers vying for the same job, you will need to come up with something fresh and unique. Think out of the box, but stay in orbit.
If you're lucky, however, in certain instances a producer may be such a big fan of your work, you're his first and only choice as the writer. This was the case when a producer with a studio deal pitched me a movie idea called Kid Mayor. It was about a teen who gets elected mayor of his small hometown and battles a bunch of old cronies for civic changes. Frankly, I thought it was one of the dumbest ideas I'd ever heard, but the president of the studio loved it and told me it was a done deal. All I had to do was work out a complete story with the producer and they'd hire me to write it. "Done deal, did he say?" Hmm, maybe this wasn't such a dumb idea after all. After a month of intense meetings, the producer and I came up with a pretty clever tale and I was actually happy I took the time to develop it. And as promised, the studio president immediately approved it and announced the new project to all his development execs at their weekly meeting. Unfortunately, his boss, the CEO of the studio, who rarely sat in on creative meetings, happened to sit in on that one. He thought it was one of the dumbest ideas he'd ever heard, and that was the end of Kid Mayor.
THE MIGHTY LOGLINE
Years ago, while I was shopping around a newly completed screenplay, a successful movie producer asked me to tell him what it was about. Unprepared, I quickly attempted to organize my thoughts and blurted out, "Okay ... there are these boys ... at a school ... it's by an army base ... and there's this instructor ... he's really a spy ... and uh ..."
Hmm. Remember that famous line from the film Jerry Maguire, "You had me at hello"? Well I lost this producer at "Okay ..." A writer needs to be able to describe his story confidently in a quick but expressive manner. The way to do this is with a powerful logline.
Excerpted from "The Aspiring Screenwriter's Dirty Lowdown Guide To Fame And Fortune"
Copyright © 2018 Andy Rose.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Fade In: So You Want to Be a Screenwriter xi
Part 1 The Creative Side of Screenwriting 1
Lesson 1 Name Your Genre 3
Lesson 2 Here's an Idea 9
Lesson 3 The Mighty Logline 16
Lesson 4 Structure, Structure, Structure 22
Lesson 5 Proper Treatments 35
Lesson 6 Outlines, Step by Step 56
Lesson 7 Quite a Character 62
Lesson 8 Running Dialogue 69
Lesson 9 The Subplots Thicken 75
Lesson 10 Formatting Like a Pro 78
Part 2 The Business Side of Screenwriting 101
Lesson 11 What It Takes to Become a Success 103
Lesson 12 My Script Is Finished, Now What? 110
Lesson 13 Agents, Managers, and Lawyers 130
Lesson 14 Producers and Executives 147
Lesson 15 Someone Is Interested 153
Lesson 16 Making a Living 182
Lesson 17 Writing Partners 199
Lesson 18 The Almighty WGA 212
Lesson 19 Software 222
Lesson 20 TV Writing 226
Lesson 21 Animation 237
Lesson 22 Graphic Novels 242
Lesson 23 Video Games 247
Lesson 24 Glossary of Terms 252
Fade Out: Looks Like You Made It 285