Script Writing Advice

MasterWolfMasterWolf Website User Posts: 369
Well we all have our strengths and weaknesses. When it comes to film making I have skills in many areas. Directing, camera operating, Set design and set dressing, story boards, sound design, special effects make up, stunt work, model building, digital matte painting, 3D animation, sound design and mixing, etc.
My Achilles heel has been script writing. I can write, I enjoy writing. But something about the script format irritates me. Taking my film ideas and writing them as short stories or as novellas, not a problem... formatting them as a script... ugh. I've tried having other people take my writing and convert it into a script for me, but it has always been problematic. No one seems to get my vision no matter how well i try to explain it.
I think a big part of my problem with script writing is dialogue. I'm absolutely crap at writing dialogue. I write my best dialogue after 2 or 3 or more screw drivers. As a director I tend not to stick all that tight to the scripted dialogue anyway. I tell my actors to use the script as a guide, not as a carved in stone document. I care more that the words they say get the important information across and sound believable to their character. If they change the words to make it more comfortable for them to say, i'm fine with that. I encourage my actors to ad lib.
To me, a script is like a recipe, its the guide to how to make a movie. Most experienced cooks tweak the recipes. But you still need the recipe to start from.
I feel my lack of script writing ability is holding me back as a film maker. So does anyone have any advice to improve my weakest link in my film making chain? I can think up a story, I can create characters, I can write a time line of events to put them through. But the dialogue and script format confound me.

Comments

  • spaghetti manspaghetti man Website User Posts: 24
    Screenwriting is often looked at as something that anyone can do, it in itself is just as difficult as rotoscoping a buzzing fly; it's the blue print of the entire film. That being said, not everyone can be a writer, just like not everyone can be a cinematographer. I think you can teach formatting but the ability to craft a story is a skill set.
    So, my advice would be to learn how to properly format a script and then find someone to do rewrites based on your drafts. Some of the best film directors have their own drafts rewritten by experienced and skilled writers.
    Best of luck.
  • SimonKJonesSimonKJones Moderator Website User, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 4,450 Enthusiast
    It sounds like you do enjoy writing, so shifting into scripts is probably just a matter of practice. Perhaps try writing a series of 2 page test scripts, without any pressure to actually produce them, to try to improve your ear for dialogue.
    Maybe try starting off with very, very extreme characters with particular speech styles. Maybe one is incredibly coarse and offensive. Another very shy. Another very aggressive. Then throw them into different situations and see how they react. Try adding a subtext to each of them - maybe the coarse and offensive guy is only like that because he lacks confidence and over-compensates.
    Another tip: try going to your local pub/bar/coffee place, grab a table and just sit with a notepad. Listen to people around you having conversations and jot down some of the phrases, the way they speak. Normally when we're in a conversation we're part of that conversation, so it's quite difficult to actually pay attention to the way things are said. By simply observing from the corner of the room you can learn quite a lot about how people talk.
  • MasterWolfMasterWolf Website User Posts: 369
    edited November 2011
    Yeah I do enjoy writing very much. But short story writing is very different from screen writing. Scripts feel so anemic to me. I can write pages describing a grassy field in the summer time. I can go on and on about the warm breeze, the grasshoppers jumping and taking flight, the sound of the wind blowing through the willow branches... but in script form it gets reduced to EXT. GRASSY FIELD - DAY. All the things I am good at writing, settings, details, descriptive writing all seems to disappear in script form. Pretty much all that is left is dialogue, and I'm crap at writing that sober. After a few drinks I can get decent at it.
    I appreciate the tips. I'm not giving up on this. I just get frustrated because this is the one area of film making that I am really not good at doing. I have stories I want to tell, films I want to make. I don't want to be stuck working from someone else's script all the time. And trying to work with another writer to bring my ideas to the page is almost more frustrating than writing it my self.
    I guess on the bright side. I can look at my screenwriting and know its bad. Most of the so called writers I have met had way more ego than talent. I have met some really talented writers, but they are few and far between.
    Thanx for the advice, i really appreciate it. I'm going to soak it all up like a sponge. Like i said, this is the one area i feel needs the most work.
  • DreamArchitectDreamArchitect Website User Posts: 595 Enthusiast
    I find the same issue at times. I've been held back from making films because I find the writing hard. Unlike you I don't struggle with dialog but with tying my individual ideas together into a coherent story.
    The only advice I can give you quite simply is that given the way you treat a script when you do the practical side of things. The filmmaking side. You use the script as a guide, not as a line by line specification to be followed to the letter. So when you write it see it as that. write it that way and carry your detailed ideas to the set in your head. Of course if it's writing for someone else then thats a different story.
    Maybe write out your ideas as a short story or novella. Take the important parts into a script. Just the necessary parts. Then take both story and script on set and work from both. Also you can be more descriptive in your script that just those EXT - grassy field - DAY lines. You can write some more information in there. I've seen some of the Doctor Who confidential readthroughs and quite often they are fairly descriptive about the environments in which a scene takes place. So it can be done.
  • EstevezHUNEstevezHUN Website User Posts: 84
    If you need a software for text formatting see celtx.
    If you want to be seen to be professional, you need to use the format.
    If personally you will direct or produce the film, you can use any format you like.
    Maybe you just put a disclaimer to the top/bottom of the page about stating that it is a concept or experimental way to not to use the industrial standard ;) Maybe this way you will find out a better way, which will be industrial, or indy standard in the next decades.
  • MasterWolfMasterWolf Website User Posts: 369
    Right now I am mostly looking to write scripts for my own productions, but I think it would be best to get into the habit of writing in a professional script format.
    I've thought about getting a program like Final Draft. I've heard some bad reviews of the software, but to be honest, it sounded to me that the people giving it bad reviews were expecting it to write the script for them and they were upset when it didn't.
    I've downloaded scripts and gotten a few as special features on DVDs. Its interesting watching a film and following along in the script to see the differences from what was written to what got filmed. Somewhere I have a photocopy of one of Quentin Tarantino's scripts with his hand written notes on it from when he was shooting. That was interesting to look at.
    Are there any books on screen writing you all would recommend? I have a few, but mine are very old, I picked them up in a yard sale.
    I'm thinking that i may need to write how i am comfortable, and then gradually convert it into a screenplay. That might be a better way for me to go about it.
    Again, thanx for all the advice, it helps a lot.
  • DanielMorganDanielMorgan Website User Posts: 324 Just Starting Out
    edited November 2011
    Okay, well to sort your problem out with script software, Celtx is the way to go if you cant get final draft. Also remember a screenplay is unlike a novel or short story, a screenplay focuses on describing the literal, visual aspects of the story, rather than on the internal thoughts of its characters. In screenwriting, the aim is to evoke those thoughts and emotions through subtext, action, and symbolism.
    It seems to me that your writing novels, and then trying to turn them into a screenplay, this is always a challenge for inexperienced screenwriters. It might be easier to instead, write a screenplay first.
    If your serious about screen writing, then buy some books and research it, and keep on writing and writing and writing. You can only get better at it.
    A good book for screen writing is , Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field
  • FroiFroi Website User Posts: 966
    @masterwolf do you have any videos where we can see your awesome set designs and directing... Etc... Skills, :D becaue u sound like a real pro at these things ;)
  • MasterWolfMasterWolf Website User Posts: 369

    @masterwolf do you have any videos where we can see your awesome set designs and directing... Etc... Skills, :D becaue u sound like a real pro at these things ;)
    not at the moment unfortunately. Hit some rough patches the last year or so, but things are starting to turn around for me. I don't consider my self a pro by any means. I am very much an amateur independent film maker. Truthfully I have more experience as a freelance artist and cartoonist. I kinda got into film making by accident. My dream for most of my life was to be a comic book artist / cartoonist. A few years back I had a friend who was trying to get into film school. It was his dream to be a screen writer. Well after he failed to get accepted into film school, he went into a very long drawn out moping depression. I got sick of him doing nothing but whining about how his life was meaningless because he couldn't get into film school. I had seen Clerks and El Mariachi, I rented a copy of Rob Rodriguez's Once Apon a Time in Mexico and took it over to his place to show him the behind the scenes special features. Rob's 10 minute film school segments. I said "dude, you want to make movies, then bloody do it." I knew a lot about computers and had already gotten into 3D computer graphics. Ever since I was a kid I had been fascinated with "movie magic". any time there was anything on tv about how movies were made or about how special FX were done I was glued to it. So I had a lot of rough back ground knowledge of film making. So I told him, I'll build a computer to do the editing and get the software we need, you write us a script and we can look into getting a camera and we will make your movie. I also had another friend who had been a production manager at a local tv station. I figured he knew even more about how to do things than I did, so I had him come in on the project. Well a few weeks in, we had a big falling out with my writer friend. I kept trying to get him to write something that we could film using what we had and he kept writing this script that would have cost $40 million to film. The whole thing escalated into a big old fight. Afterwards I talked to my friend from the tv studio. I said "at this point we don't have much invested in all this, we can cut our losses and walk away right now... or we can keep going and see what we can do with it." So we decided to go on with it with out our writer. Shortly after that I started to realize that every hobby I had ever had really kinda fit in with film making. In a sense, I've been in film school all my life, I just never realized it. Had my friend gotten accepted into film school I may never have realized it.
  • SimonKJonesSimonKJones Moderator Website User, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 4,450 Enthusiast
    Interesting to hear that story, Wolf!
    I'd recommend The Complete Book of Scriptwriting by J Michael Straczynski. It's a bit old now but has great advice, and covers everything from radio to animation to TV to film.
    I used to use Final Draft but actually use Celtx now. Both great bits of software.
  • MatthiasClaflinMatthiasClaflin Website User Posts: 674 Just Starting Out

    I used to use Final Draft but actually use Celtx now. Both great bits of software.
    Why the change? Is there something about Celtx you like better?
  • MasterWolfMasterWolf Website User Posts: 369
    I'm definitely going to check out the recommended reading material. I used to have some books on screenwriting that i liked but i have a bad habit of loaning them out to people who have the bad habit of not returning them.
    As for software... in truth I think I will probably stick with Microsoft Word oddly enough. I found an article in an old digital film making magazine that showed how to set up templates for scripts. Celtx is inexpensive and i may try that out as well. Final Draft is just out of my budget at the moment. At the moment i'd rather put the money into PFHoe.
    We as modern film makers get so spoiled. We have programs and technology to assist us in almost every aspect of film making. I have read a lot on the history of film making. Scripts used to be written on old manual typewriters. I once read a story of an early film maker, i wish i could remember his name, at the time Edison's film camera was so expensive that virtually no one could afford one. This guy managed to get a bootleg copy of the blue prints to Edison's camera and built one in his barn. Even taught him self how to grind the glass to make the lenses. Now that is a dedicated film maker. During the silent era, the stuff film was made out of was quite volatile, if you dropped a film canister it could very possibly explode. We have generators and electric lights, we shoot digitally and can edit and composite on a computer. I wonder how many of us would be doing this if we had to bi-pack film in our cameras or if we needed an optical printer to composite shots. We really are the spoiled brats of film making.
  • SimonKJonesSimonKJones Moderator Website User, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 4,450 Enthusiast
    Don't use Word. Seriously.
    Celtx is free - it's only the add-on packs and stuff that cost. It will make you life vastly, infinitely easier, as it is specifically designed for scriptwriting and enables you to switch between headings, descriptions and dialogue really easily. When writing you don't want to have to be thinking about formatting - you just want to write.
    Matthias - Celtx seemed more fully featured, and was free so was more compatible with my writing partners. Plus I didn't feel the upgrade prices for each version of Final Draft were really justified.
  • MasterWolfMasterWolf Website User Posts: 369
    yeah i downloaded Celtx, haven't had much of a chance to use it yet. I'll def have a look at it when I get a chance, things are a tad hectic at the moment. And I have had a horrible toothache for a couple days now, its making things like thinking bloody impossible.
  • MasterWolfMasterWolf Website User Posts: 369
    well I just ordered The Complete Book of Scriptwriting by J Michael Straczynski. I've got a couple of contests this month, after that I think I am going to back burner everything else and work primarily in screen writing. Maybe finishing a script will be my new years resolution lol
  • MasterWolfMasterWolf Website User Posts: 369
    Well I ordered the book, waited a month and it still hadn't shown up. Contacted the seller and they said it must have gotten lost in the mail so they refunded my money. I really wanted that book, now I will have to reorder it.
  • StormyKnightStormyKnight Moderator, Website User, Ambassador, Imerge Beta Tester, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 2,726 Ambassador

    Interesting to hear that story, Wolf!
    I'd recommend The Complete Book of Scriptwriting by J Michael Straczynski. It's a bit old now but has great advice, and covers everything from radio to animation to TV to film.
    I used to use Final Draft but actually use Celtx now. Both great bits of software.
    Thanks for the tip, Simon. I had no idea Straczynski wrote such a book. Funny- I just got the entire series of Babylon 5 for Christmas and now it looks like I'll be getting this book too!
    And you should know that the age of the book matters not. Judge Yoda by his age do you? :))
    I think I'll check out Celtx too. I've been using Microsoft Word but it tends to be cumbersome at times.
  • StormyKnightStormyKnight Moderator, Website User, Ambassador, Imerge Beta Tester, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 2,726 Ambassador
    MasterWolf- Have you looked for the book on Amazon.com? They have quite a few copies- used ones being the cheapest.
  • MasterWolfMasterWolf Website User Posts: 369
    yeah, that is where i ordered it from. It was ordered though Amazon, but it was from a vendor selling through them. I got a refund for the copy that never arrived and I ordered another copy from a different vendor selling through Amazon. Hopefully I actually get this copy, I was hoping to have it by now.
  • SimonKJonesSimonKJones Moderator Website User, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 4,450 Enthusiast
    Hope you like it after all the hassle. :) I certainly found it extremely useful when starting out on scriptwriting.
  • StormyKnightStormyKnight Moderator, Website User, Ambassador, Imerge Beta Tester, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 2,726 Ambassador
    edited January 2012
    MasterWolf- Right? That's happened to me too and it's very frustrating. I may try eBay before Amazon this time. Good luck!
    Simon- You the man!
  • MasterWolfMasterWolf Website User Posts: 369
    well I just got a notification that the book has left Springfield MO, that is not too far from me, so hopefully it gets here soon. I'm actually excited to get started writing. That is odd for me, I never get excited about writing scripts.
    I like creating characters, I tend to do 3 to 5 pages of background on a character, even minor characters. Much of it will never be in the final production, its just background stuff for me. I also find it helps my actors get in touch with the character. I also create time lines, just blocking out the sequence of events. This is stuff I would do when I was passing my stuff off to another screen writer. I would create the characters, the plot, block out the major events, then hand it to someone else to fill in the gaps and the dialogue. I always figured that should work pretty well. It never has. I'm at the point now that i feel like if you want something done right you have to do it your self.
    My last fiasco with a writer went something like this... I asked for an alien invasion script. Pretty much a war of the worlds sort of thing. The only difference was, I didn't want to show any of the military or government people. All the invasion movies always seem to turn into Army vs Aliens movies. I wanted to follow the people in a small rural town and what they would do. Farmers, gas station clerks, ordinary folks. I wrote up a treatment of what i was looking for, wrote character sketches, wrote a few scenes that i wanted in the film, etc. I turned this over to a guy who said he could write it for me.
    6 weeks later he turned in a 120 page script that was nothing but 2 guys in a truck talking about politics in the 80s. That was it. I'm like where is my alien invasion movie? He was like, its in there, they hear about the invasion of the cities on the radio and then they talk about how Reagan would deal with it when he was President. I kept thinking it was a joke, i'm like ok hand over the real script. He was like I did, its done.
    That was sadly one of the best experiences I have had with a writer. 120 pages of 2 guys talking in a truck.
    This is why I need to start writing my own stuff. I may not be a good writer, but I can at least recognize when writing is bad, even my own.
  • MasterWolfMasterWolf Website User Posts: 369
    finally, after 2 months of waiting, the book has arrived !!!
  • SimonKJonesSimonKJones Moderator Website User, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 4,450 Enthusiast
    About time too! Enjoy. :)
  • MasterWolfMasterWolf Website User Posts: 369
    i've barely had time to get into it, but i've already learned a few things. Oddly enough some of what he says to do is stuff I have been telling writers for years. Not sure how I knew it, it just made sense. Thinking I might also pick up The Screenwriter's Bible.
  • SimonKJonesSimonKJones Moderator Website User, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 4,450 Enthusiast
    edited January 2012
    Rather unexpectedly, we found out yesterday that J Michael Straczynski has actually just bought HitFilm after he posted on Facebook.
    Funny ol' world.
  • MasterWolfMasterWolf Website User Posts: 369
    WoW that is pretty trippy
  • MasterWolfMasterWolf Website User Posts: 369
    got my Screenwriter's Bible today, now if I can just find time to read. I have 2 books that are must reads now, just need time. Today was a mess, people kept stopping by all day long.
  • MasterWolfMasterWolf Website User Posts: 369
    Update. I have my copy of The Complete Book of Scriptwriting and The Screenwriter's Bible. I really haven't had time to do much writing yet, that should change soon, i'm wrapping up a few things and should have more time. I really haven't had time to read, but every spare moment I get I grab one of the two books and read as much as I can. On the up side ( I guess kinda ) I did get a script handed to me a couple weeks ago. The writer was all excited and was anxious for me to read his script and start filming his movie. Thanks to the two books, rather than just handing him back his script and telling him it was a nothing but a big fuming turd, I could actually articulate exactly why it was a big fuming turd.
    I have always had a knack for recognizing bad writing. Heck I have done enough bad writing of my own, I know what bad looks like. I just never really could say why it was bad. Now I can say, its bad and here is why. It may seem odd but this kind of gives me a sense of confidence. Its like the difference between saying, "my car won't start" and saying "my car won't start because it has a bad alternator". Once you know what specifically are the bad areas, then you can work on fixing them. Before I knew bad when I read it, I just never really had a sense of why it was bad. Well, other than dialogue, I know I suck at writing dialogue.
  • MasterWolfMasterWolf Website User Posts: 369
    Finally finished reading the Screen Writer's Bible. Awesome book, I learned so much from this book, I can't recommend it enough.
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