Discussion in 'Fan Productions' started by Maurice, May 2, 2011.
Syd Field is well-known as a teacher for screenwriters. Never read him myself.
He's alright. I think there's better teachers and books. I feel like he's standard, so you come out with a "standard" screenplay... ie, something that looks and feels like everything else... which is meh.
And, just to be clear, I'm not saying a writer should throw out the rules, should throw out the format in order to stand out. That's unprofessional and a big red flag. Field is legend, but, the problem with following a legend... everyone else is too...
Well, if you follow a formula you get something formulaic.
That said, given how many people struggle with basic elements being drilled on some structure isn't a bad thing. The trick is knowing when you understand the craft enough to break the molds in ways that actually work.
Yep. It's why I'm a little wary of any book on screenwriting, especially ones that offer This Is How It's Done... because, no, it's not. It's A way... I'm a fan of The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lagos Egri. While it's focus is playwriting, it's a good place to start. And classes. A class is a better way of learning how to write screenplays than a book. And because of internet, there are lots and lots of places you can do online classes no matter where in the world you live.
I'm a big fan of a teacher named Corey Mandell, who does not teach a formula, but, teaches structure and really fantastic tools. His personality isn't for everyone, but, he's great. And, he does online classes.
The best way to learn to write a script is to write and also read a lot of scripts. And analyze them. Tease out the structure by marking them up.
Ken Levine (MASH, Cheers, etc.) has a lot of good observations on TV writing. For instance, this, recently, in response to a question from a reader of his (excellent) blog Hollywood and Levine:
Vincent Saia is.
D.C. Fontana said that when she was teaching screenwriting at AFI she knew the students who had been working on the same script for years were probably not going to become professional writers and Tom Wolf said, "It only takes six to eight weeks to write anything. The rest of the time you're just dancing around the project." Do you also feel the ability to write quickly and on demand necessarily separates the professional writer from the amateur?
I agree with William Goldman. Writers should go at their own speed but write as much and as quickly as they can. The danger of going too slow is you tend to obsess and try to make every word perfect, which results in stilted scripts. But if you go too fast you miss things.
The distinction between professional and amateur has more to do with the ability to be creative on demand.
Yep, same with fiction writers. I find it weird to meet indies who take 5 years to write something. It's like, you're that neurotic? Dude (or dudette), you're kinda in the wrong field.
Someone said that novels are never finished, they're abandoned. At some point, that's it. Move on. I think George Lucas couldn't let go of the original Star Wars and got the money and power to do it "right." In my opinion there was no improvement in the story and adding the CGI was a distraction. Cleaning up the print was needed and welcome, but the changes to the sfx and "Greedo shot first" were just sort of like drawing a moustache on the Mona Lisa.
Oddly, that is considered a work of art.
I heart the Dadaists.
Dada is great. I just did a Dada joke in a birthday card I did for my brother.
Writing can take as long as it takes. I've slammed out a 120 page screenplay rewrite in four weeks. I've written a first draft teleplay in 5 days. I also spent years writing the pilot for a show I plan to pitch because I had to figure out how to even write it, because I'm trying something experimental and I could only work on it between other gigs. (Now that I've written the pilot it's much easier because I've figure out the base "recipe" for the format).
The trick, always, is forward momentum. Write through to THE END and then go back and rewrite. Once you have a draft of something you can see it as a whole and assess what works and what doesn't. When it's unfinished you can't get that bird's eye view of it.
I read his book over 20 years ago, and just took note of the obvious things he pointed out (don`t ask me what they were, it`s been too long), but he just like Robert McKee are likely 2 of the worst things that have happened to filmmaking, the encroaching feeling of blandness that has permeated in Hollywood since the 90s, ever since the old generation of producers and studio heads that actually knew their basics of filmmaking were replaced with know-nothing lawyers and accountants with dreams of the casting couch and their week-long Robert McKee seminars to justify each and every bad decision...
If you ever should flirt with listening to Field or McKee, just have a look at how many successful films or tv series they themselves have gotten produced...Field has at most a handful of credits, notably a 60s series I`ve never even heard of
I don’t disagree about to many people following the dictates of Field and McKee, but I do disagree with the idea because they haven’t produced as much as others makes what they teach of any less value.
Just because someone might be successful doesn’t mean they would be good teachers or reflective enough to explain why they were successful.
I learned a bit of TV writing from the late Carl Sauter, who (with his co-writer) won two WGA awards for scripts for "Moonlighting". Nice man. I wish I'd stayed in touch with him.
I see a lot of people complaining about editing. Editing is where you make stuff good.
Good? PFFT. I make it great.
As someone who can be highly perfectionistic about his writing and creative work I can completely appreciate Lucas' viewpoint.
The trouble, of course, is that Lucas' claims about the Special Editions are dubious as of it was motivated by testing techniques they thought they might use in the prequel trilogy, so the motivation wasn't entirely to "fix" it. So take anything George says about those SEs with a grain lick of salt.
Oh, I take everything people say with a large amount of salt. But, I can appreciate the POV.
Back to the topic of when to stop (emphasis mine)...
And really what has to happen is the mess really has to stop, it really has to stop someplace, and we have to say to ourselves, "Where is the movie? What is the movie? I have all this stuff, I’m building this whole world, I need to know what the movie is about". And at a certain point, you cannot pass go without doing this. You can get, if you’re in the system, you can get seduced past this because sometimes you’re coming up with a bunch of groovy stuff.
I meant to share the following earlier but put off because the "work isn't finished it's abandoned" discussion suggested a different quote.
I was recently involved in a discussion about writers and how some cannot write "real" sounding characters. In reference to this someone paraphrased a Tony Gilroy quote that—I think—gets the to bottom of why some writers stories and dialog comes across as stunted or adolescent. Emphasis mine:
There is one thing that you have to know, that is a deal breaker on all of it. You have to know human behavior, you cannot pass go, you cannot move forward, you are dead stopped right here, right now, if you do not know human behavior and the quality of your writing is absolutely capped at your understanding of human behavior. You will never write above what you know about people. The writers that I’m talking about that have made a great living, without writing action, are experts in human behavior…The quality of your writing will be a direct reflection of your understanding of the contradictions and complexities of human behavior.
I think this goes double for genre fiction where your life experience doesn't necessarily prepare you for writing people who inhabit a world radically different from your own. The result is often that the writer takes to aping other examples of the genre and ends up with a bunch of pernicious banalities passing as dialog and characters who exhibit no "truth" to them at all.
Oh my God, yes.
A few years ago, I worked on a trilogy (2nd book was a NaNoWriMo project. I should probably clean it up and see if I can sell it) which is future but the society is tripartite - humans, robots (a term I used to really refer to more intelligent mechanical folks, versus android), and sapient aliens who are here and are trying hard to partner with us.
I was having issues writing an opening scene for Book 3. I like to try to recap a bit but avoid an info dump. Still, I want a reader to be able to pick up later stuff and not be totally lost. I could not get human mistrust down no matter what I did.
Then I went to a family gathering at my parents' home. I have no idea how or why the conversation turned this way, but people started talking about Muslims. And it was pretty obvious racism. I heard the greatest line:
"They're here for a reason. They have an agenda."
And that's when I knew I'd have our heroine and her robot partner (the characters are cops) start Book 3 at Thanksgiving at her parents' home. Neighbors were brought in as guests, and one of them says the exact same thing, except this time it was about aliens.
Couldn't have come up with a better line than the real thing.
One awesome way to get writing ideas and hear dialogue is just to ride public transportation and open your ears.
Separate names with a comma.