Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Once More With Feeling...

Here is a copy of a letter I just sent to someone who sent me a screenplay to critique. I am putting it here because, it seems, some messages bear repeating. And repeating. And, uh, repeating.


Dear __________________,

Yes, as I noted in my initial message to you, you should definitely get Chris Riley's book so that you can rewrite your project as a screenplay. I will tear up your check as my opinion is that my advice would not be helpful to you at this stage. If you seriously undertake a study of the screen art form, you are probably at least a year away (I'm being optimistic here) from having a script that would be ready to shop around.

You should find a small group of other screenwriters with whom you can meet regularly to advance your skills. You need to read books like Story, by McKee, screenplay (by Syd Field), Making a Good Script Great (by Linda Seger), and Playwrighting (by Louis Catron). A course or two (or more!) in screenwriting at a local college would help you tremendously. Check out Act One's website ( and other on-line resources for screenwriters.

Basically, what I am saying is that writing for movies is a serious and studied profession that takes years to master. You need teachers and mentors the way any artist would. Imagine if you just woke up, read a book, and then decided to declare yourself an architect. What kind of buildings would you be able to realistically create? Movies are multi-million dollar enterprises, that involve hundreds of professionally trained people, not unlike multi-million dollar construction projects. And the writer's screenplay is the essential lynchpin of the whole project. It tells everybody on the team what to do.

You note in your message that you have had "interest from a producer" on this project. What I actually think you might have is kindness from a producer, who wants to be encouraging to you. But, if you had real interest from the producer, the project would be optioned by now and locked down.

My feeling after years of experience in this industry is that no producer who really knows what they are doing would take on your project in its current manifestation. There is no way to figure out how long your piece would be or how much it would cost. No professional director or actor or cinematographer or production designer or casting director, etc. would read beyond the first few lines, because the project is so unprofessionally written. You do not have industry standard formatting. When one flips through the script, it seems to be all speeches and no choices/actions. There are no visual descriptions, discernible plot points, character arcs, or sub-plots. It reads as very preachy and what we call "on the nose" in Hollywood. You need to take your writing skill beyond this very beginner level.

Please do persevere with your aspirations. I just encourage you to roll up your sleeves and do what you are doing with seriousness, intelligence and sacrifice. I will keep you and your project in my prayers. Good luck and God bless -


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