Fan Film Writer's Primer

Discussion in 'Fan Productions' started by Maurice, May 2, 2011.

  1. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    I recently had an lively email exchange with a member here over a script he was working on. He asked for blunt criticism—the kind I never give unless asked for—and he got it. But in the process the conversation touched on a lot of points about story structure, the act structure, and the difference between theme and plot. I decided to excerpt some of my notes and share them here, since they relate to topics touched on previously.

    Continuing with...

    THE MIDPOINT TWIST/TURNING POINT

    One thing that came up was whether or not a two-part episode should be written under the umbrella of a single Three Act structure, or if each episode/segment should have Three Acts of their own. The example posed was "The Best of Both Worlds", and while writing my response I realized it relates to the topic of the midpoint twist. To wit:

    What's the end of Part One? It's the Midpoint Twist/Turning point. We thought we were fighting the Borg; now we're fighting Picard. We've been reactive to this point (trying to occupy the Borg so Starfleet can assemble a defense), and next we must actively try to subvert the damage done by his assimilation. The Second Act culmination is the recovery of Picard (resolving the immediate problem but not the big one). In short: the two-parter is one story.
     
  2. doubleohfive

    doubleohfive Fleet Admiral

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    This superb article showed up in my Facebook feed this morning, all about whether or not you need screenwriting software for your scripts, why the free alternatives might not be the best choice for you, and why formatting is so important.

    Do I Really Need Screenwriting Software?
     
  3. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Let me say up front that I'm not arguing this with you, doubleoh, but I'm genuinely interested in hearing thoughts on the following from you and some of the fan filmmakers here.

    I agree that proper formatting is super important if you're serious about doing a professional, salable script. But a recent exchange with Andreich re scripts for fan productions has made me question how useful professional style production documents are to most fanfilm makers.

    Let's be frank: most people making fanfilms are dilettantes (and I use that word in the archaic and not pejorative sense here) with only a cursory understanding or interest in how it's "supposed" to be done. If a fanfilm's producers and crew don't understand how to read and break down a script for shooting, then how much will these tools matter?

    But, yes, pagination is paramount. ;)

    ************​

    As to the article itself, while I think there's some good info in the article, sadly, the writing is bad. The author has poor organization and random seeming paragraph breaks. Take this paragraph (please):
    The underlined does not logically follow the former.

    I also question this guy's knowledge base when he writes:

    Seriously? Note he fails to name the freebie app. Doesn't it save even plain text? Even if not, how about opening the script in that originating non-standard software and resorting to the old brute force approach:
    • Highlight text
    • COPY
    • PASTE into notepad/textedit
    • Save as unformatted text
    • CUT from text editor
    • PASTE into standard screenwriting software
    • Apply STYLES as needed
    • Tidy it up
    Tedious, certainly, but 100x easier than actually retyping it. I suspect he just never thought to suggest that.
     
  4. USS Intrepid

    USS Intrepid Commodore Commodore

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    I've used a variety of options, from Word templates when I started (and I used them very badly) to Celtx (which I thought was fine) to finally settling on Final Draft (which I like quite a bit).

    I'm still just scraping the surface of Final Draft's features, and I'm still learning how to format properly (something Maurice has been very helpful with) but I am determined to try and approach it as professionally as I can.
     
  5. doubleohfive

    doubleohfive Fleet Admiral

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    Excellent points all, Maurice. I'll see if I can answer everything.

    For starters, I shared the article here mainly with the whole discussion about the old Mind Sifter script still bouncing around in my head. Not really because of anything to do with that script specifically, but more out of the general idea at large regarding professional software vs. the alternatives available.

    Like Nick, I started out (at a young age!) with basic word processors. (I remember struggling to make PFS WindowWorks and later, Windows 95 trying to master formatting. I basically just did it as I went. Pain. In. The. Ass.) I later switched to Final Draft, once I became educated on how powerful a tool it can be.

    I also recalled the conversation we all had with Randy over at Project: Potemkin re: scripts and screenwriting software and thought the aforementioned article might elaborate other reasons I may of forgotten or just hadn't thought of at the time to share.

    But you're right on all counts. The article itself is sloppy. I'd say that has more to do with the blogosphere journalism that is all over the internet these days, but it didn't bother me that much.

    Regarding the free software he mentions and then fails to mention, I found that a bit odd as well. I don't know why he would leave such an important piece of information out of that particular section, unless he genuinely was instructed not to give that product any "press," as it were.

    Regarding whether or not fan film producers would need professional software, it's a three-edged sword I think.

    You've got people like the Phase II crowd who insist they are running their show as a professional production. Nick himself admits, that's what he's striving for as well. I applaud the effort. Too, not everyone knows or has access to the wealth of information we have and it felt like a good segue piece on the subject.

    But you make a great point that fanfilm producer's needs are likely not conducive toward having a professionally prepared script via Final Draft or MovieMagic. That's neither an attack nor a criticism. I guess I was approaching the whole thing from the perspective of my last job at CBS, (a terrible experience to say the least) where nobody, not even the executive producers, knew how to use Final Draft. Formatting, pagination, everything! It was all a mystery to them. And these are people who should, who need to know how to read and break down a script!

    Anyway. I get your points on the grammatic and general faults of the article itself, but my intent was only to offer more information on screenwriting software, and especially to those who might be wondering if they want to use professional software.
     
  6. MikeH92467

    MikeH92467 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Just a thought from someone who does not know the first thing about writing or using a film script (if it's deemed worthless, no problem): it seems that the first thing to do is get something on paper (or saved document) in some form. If you have good ideas you at least have them preserved and have the opportunity to work them into a more polished form, or at least get them into the hands of someone who can put them into usable shape. I mention this because I remember hearing John Landis say that Dan Aykroyd's first draft of the Blues Brothers was full of great ideas but nowhere near any sort of usable script. Of course, that movie turned into a cult classic. Landis read it, liked it and sorted through the "great ideas" and worked them into a script. To me that was a clear message to not let any perceived lack of knowledge about script writing stop you from at least getting started. Everyone started somewhere.
     
  7. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Mike: Was Landis saying that the script wasn't formatted properly or just that the script was full of good ideas but just not shootable? Those aren't necessarily the same thing. Process isn't the same thing as product, after all. (Heck, I write longhand in notebooks and hammer dialog out in textedit before putting it down in Final Draft. Even when writing in Final Draft I often just bang out dialog in textedit just so I'm focused on the words and not the formatting.)
     
  8. doubleohfive

    doubleohfive Fleet Admiral

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    Likewise, Robert Rodriguez included his script for El Mariachi in his book Rebel Without A Crew, detailing the production of that film (his first) and it really just amounted to a long outline of descriptive paragraphs. Nowhere near industry standard, but enough for him to know what he needed to get shot and how so he could cut the film together properly in post.

    Myself, I generally gather all my notes and scribbles from wherever I've managed to jot them down, cull everything together into some sort of outline in Word and then go through it meticulously to find my scenes, act breaks, etc. before I even open Final Draft. It tends to be arduous in the beginning, but once I'm "Final Draft" stage, it's a breeze because all the hard stuff has been worked out.

    YMMV of course.
     
  9. MikeH92467

    MikeH92467 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    I think it was all of the above. Aykroyd frankly admitted he had no idea of how to write a script and that it took a lot of work to turn those ideas into something usable. I think the takeaway in either case, don't let a lack of experience stop you from at least getting something going.

    ETA: I'm going from a recollection of listening to the commentary track several years back. If you have the DVD or can find it, you'll get a much more detailed (and accurate) picture.
     
  10. MikeH92467

    MikeH92467 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    double post...sorry :(
     
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2014
  11. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    ^^^I'm seeing double

    Anyway, I did some homework, and it seems like what Reitman and Akroyd meant was that the latter didn't understand how to write a script from a storytelling/budgetary standpoint. The scope was too big and the film would have been impossible to finance. It sounds like they may be referring to various treatments, not actual screenplays.
     
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2014
  12. MikeH92467

    MikeH92467 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    It's possible that people don't know the difference between a "treatment" and a "script". Certainly, I hope we'd agree that someone with an idea, or group of ideas, shouldn't let a lack of technical knowledge get in the way of getting something on paper.
     
  13. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    No one's questioning the method of writing down ideas. The specific question is how important is an industry-standard screenplay to non-industry people? And is using an industry-standard tool important, even if you're not doing it exactly to pro norms?

    I see it two ways.


    INDUSTRY-STANDARD SCRIPT FORMAT

    PRO: Industry-standard screenplays are designed to make all the important details stand out so that the people making it do not miss the trees for the forest. It's why the names of characters are capitalized on their first appearance, why sound effects, entrances and exits, and transitions (e.g. DISSOLVE TO:) etc., are also capitalized on their own lines. The form is designed to help make sure mistakes aren't made.

    CON: Although it's considered bad form in a pro script to write in a lot of camera direction and overdirect the actors (wrylies), in an amateur production perhaps Harlan-Ellison-level overdone direction is helpful in making sure the crew doesn't shoot the thing or the actors perform their parts in the blandest way possible.


    INDUSTRY-STANDARD SCRIPT TOOLS

    PRO: You're going to end up with something that anyone on the crew with any pro experience is going to feel comfortable working from, and you'll have the option of automatically generating production planning documents, like "sides" for actors, scene breakdowns, etc.

    CON: The cost. Most of these tools are pay-to-play.
     
  14. Tom Hendricks

    Tom Hendricks You move! Premium Member

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    My view is this, if you are a professional screenwriter or an aspiring one. You use a professional screenwriting software. If you are a fan series/film who's writers use a professional screenwriting program, consider yourself luck.

    If you're a fan series/film just starting out, atleast use the free tools. Either a templet for Word or a free scriptwriting software. You will have the very basic but still professional enough that everyone can follow. This saves you cost, which most fan stuf can't afford and allows you to experiment and learn.
     
  15. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    And read lots of scripts. And not just Star Trek scripts. :)
     
  16. doubleohfive

    doubleohfive Fleet Admiral

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    +1
     
  17. GSchnitzer

    GSchnitzer Co-Executive Producer Moderator

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    For what it's worth, all our scripts since at least "Blood and Fire" when I joined the production have been written in .fdr format. (Our use of Final Draft might include our first four episodes as well, but that was before my time and I can't speak too informedly on that.) Final Draft is important to us for a number of reasons--not the least of which is all the valuable production reports and documents it can generate.
     
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2014
  18. Serveaux

    Serveaux The Wind Premium Member

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    Back in the early nineties a lot of folks used word processing software with formatting macros - in fact, the "professional" scriptwriting software that TNG was standardized on then wasn't much more than prepackaged Word macros. You don't need Final Draft or the equivalent to professionally format a script, though it helps with some things.
     
  19. Potemkin_Prod

    Potemkin_Prod Commodore Commodore

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    Exactly. We're quite happy using Word, and David Eversole, our script supervisor, makes sure they're in industry format before we even begin to produce them.
     
  20. Sir Rhosis

    Sir Rhosis Commodore Commodore

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    ^^^Well, fairly close. I don't number the shots in the shooting scripts, usually don't cap ENTER and EXIT, and some days I'll double-space before the next Slug Line, and some days not.

    Sir Rhosis