Screenwriting Advice: Write The WORST Scene Ever!

Guinevere Turner is a writer, director and actor who has been working in film and TV since her 1994 debut film Go Fish. She went on to act in several films, including The Watermelon Woman, Chasing Amy, and Treasure Island. Eventually she teamed up with Mary Harron to write American Psycho and then The Notorious Bettie Page. She stopped by Filmmaking Stuff to share some useful screenwriting advice and let you know about her latest project, Creeps.

Screenwriting Advice

I’ve been privileged enough not only to work as a screenwriter for the last 20 years, but to talk to many other screenwriters about what they do and how they do it. So I am going to steal some screenwriting advice from them.

Creeps The MovieOne of my favorites is from writer Mike Werb. He says when he feels stuck he just says out loud: “I am now going to write the WORST scene ever written!” and then he starts typing.

I do this all the time because of Mike and it works. And you will write the worst scene ever and then you will rewrite it and then there will be progress.

Don Roos says he forces himself to write for one hour, with a timer, every day. Every single day, no matter what. And he has a husband and kids. He says, “Even if I just write, ‘Oh my god, I’m so fat’ or ‘Oh my god, Dan is being so selfish today’, I have written for an hour, and I am writer, and then I can go on with my day. “

I’ve tried Don’s method and it doesn’t work for me at all – I don’t respond well to structure like that – but it just brings up the real issue which is this: as a writer, you must find your way.

What works for you, what makes you productive/creative/inspired. Some people like to have music. John August says that he actually gets a scented candle and lights it when he starts to work on a certain project – so that he has a smell associated with a story and it puts him in that world.

For me, it’s about morning, quiet, solitude and no Internet to plug me into the cacophony until I have written something. Also about not having a conversation with anyone. Which might be why I am single. I have often woken up to a person next to me who says in a sleepy affectionate way “Hey – what are you up today?” and I answer but all I am thinking is “You killed it! It’s over! Now I can’t write today.”

Working in TV was great for me though, because I learned to get over myself and just get the damn thing done. In film, you can lie on your chaise lounge with a Garbo-esque hand to the forehead and claim that you “Just don’t feel inspired today” and get away with it for a bit – in TV you either finish the script when you are told to, or you are fired. And there’s a line of people around the block who are ready to do your job.

Finally, I just want to say that you should never describe anyone as “ruggedly handsome”, and don’t tell me that Bob is thinking of his grandmother. I can’t read Bob’s mind. Tell me what Bob looks like when he’s thinking of his grandmother. And the biggest peeve I have in movies and TV is people saying each other’s names.

Notice, the next time you are with a lover, a sibling, an old friend, that you NEVER ever say their names. Really, it’s weird but true. People who know each other well only say names when they are very mad or very in love.

An equation that constantly surprises me is this: writing something = happiness. Not writing something = anxiety, fear, grief. So… just write something.

Speaking of screenwriting, please check out my current project, Creeps.

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Guinevere_TurnerI am Guinevere Turner – writer, director and actor who has been working in film and TV since I first got into the game in 1994 with my film Go Fish. I’ve been in some movies, including The Watermelon Woman, Chasing Amy, and Treasure Island. I teamed up with Mary Harron to write American Psycho and then The Notorious Bettie Page. I was a staff writer and story editor on Showtime’s The L Word, and I played the nightmarish Gabby Deveaux on that show. I’ve written and directed five short films, two of which showed at Sundance, some of which played on TV and around the world, and some of which were completely ignored.

 

How To Use Foreshadowing In Your Screenplay

Scissors can be used to foreshadow your screenplay

Scissors can be used to foreshadow your screenplay Image via Wikipedia

A screenwriter sent me an email saying she understands the need for foreshadowing but wasn’t sure how to do it. Of course the specific content depends on the story but here are some general ways you can adapt:

1. A visual clue. A very obvious one is letting us glimpse a gun in a drawer when your protagonist is looking for a pair of scissors. We know that gun will be used at some point.

2. An innocent verbal clue. This could be something that we don’t even notice standing out in any way, but later it pays off. For instance, someone might mention that he used to enjoy hunting, and that makes sense later when we see that he’s a great shot.

3. A verbal cue that stands out. By this I mean something that is out of the ordinary and you do notice it. For instance, if somebody is asked casually which school they went to and they answer, “I don’t see why that’s important,” it signals that at some point in the story we’ll find out a reason why they’re touchy about that subject.

4. A musical cue. This often is the province of the director and the person who composes the sound track. In a thriller, for example, a particular piece of music may tip us off that something awful is about to happen.

To avoid having any one element of foreshadowing be too obvious, often the writer will throw in some red herrings–some things that could be foreshadowing but in fact don’t pay off or pay off in a different way than we expect.

The person who has the gun in the drawer may become an immediate suspect in our minds, but later maybe we see him use it to light his cigarette and we realize it’s not a real gun (of course he may have a real one somewhere else….). That kind of misdirection keeps the audience guessing.

The goal is to make your foreshadowing subtle enough that it’s only in hindsight that the visual or verbal cue takes on significance.

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Jurgen Wolff offers a new screenwriting tip here every Tuesday; also see his site,www.ScreenwritingSuccess.com and his book, “Your Writing Coach.”

 

Should You Go To Film School?

If you’re just starting out as a filmmaker, deciding if you should attend a traditional film school is something you need to decide. And it’s a costly decision – some of my friends here in Los Angeles are over fifty-thousand dollars in debt.

While most of my friends value having a college education, all agree that having a  film school degree will not guarantee success in Hollywood. Like any industry, becoming successful requires passion, commitment and hard work.

Last year, I was introduced to filmmaker Seth Hymes. When he was in high school, he worked as Production Assistant, Sound Tech and an Editor. After high school, he went off to film school. In fact, he graduated from NYU with honors. From there, he was an editor for Fox News Channel and also managed to get two features into production.

So I sat down with Seth and asked him some questions about his experience.

Jason Brubaker
Seth. After visiting your website and chatting, you seem to have an interesting perspective on formal film school education. What are your thoughts? Is there any value in film school?

Seth Hymes
No, there isn’t. And it’s a great question. What does “value” mean? It means that something adds merit or worth to your life for a reasonable cost. A lot of people say things like “you learn the basics” and it’s a “good place to experiment”.

Jason Brubaker
So in your experience, you think film school is over priced?

Seth Hymes
Well, in film school, you write a check for $100,000. In return, they give you a $2,000 video camera and tell you how to push the on button. Are you going to learn something? Sure. Is it valuable? No. There is no value in learning basic technical concepts for an obscene mark up in cost.

Jason Brubaker
In the past, students enrolled in film school because held the promise of networking, as well as access to equipment. You’re saying this sort of stuff is no longer relevant?

Seth Hymes
The 3 main “values” of film school are no longer relevant. They are, access to equipment, lessons in filmmaking craft and connections. In the 60s, 70s, and 80s, when people like Lucas, Scorsese, and Spike Lee went to film school, it was probably a good investment. You couldn’t just pick up a high quality HD camera and start shooting. Filmmaking equipment cost a ton of money and was hard to find. You really couldn’t learn about things like continuity and storyboarding without either apprenticing with a filmmaker or going to school. And it was a good place to meet other creative professionals.

Jason Brubaker
But all of that has changed.

Seth Hymes
Yeah. If you look at today, High Definition filmmaking equipment costs less than a semester at most film schools. The craft of filmmaking, from lighting, editing, shot composition, writing – all of it is available to learn on websites like yours, as well as other sites all over the net. And these days, most connections happen through the net. And further, many new filmmakers find their agents because they produce a short and get some heat on youtube, rather than meeting them in school.

Jason Brubaker
Sort of a silly question. But would you recommend that anybody attends film school?

Seth Hymes
I do not recommend anybody attend film school. It is an unholy waste of money and time. And not only are the schools making a huge profit, they also neglect to teach their grads about anything of real value or importance when it comes to having a career in the business. Things like real networking, fundraising, or film distribution.

Jason Brubaker
So instead of film school, what suggestions do you have for any students who is considering a degree in filmmaking?

Seth Hymes
If you’re considering film school, here’s the litmus test. If it’s a community college or vocational school where classes are anywhere from $60 to $1000, go for it. If anyone is charging more than that, they are making an obscene profit and should be dismissed outright. You will be mocked within the film business for attending such an institution. Instead, I recommend that students save their money, buy their own equipment, and learn how to shoot their own movie.

These days, filmmakers can learn everything you need to know in a week or less.

Jason Brubaker
Reading your posts on other websites and the comments that follow, I can see why some filmmakers, especially the filmmakers sitting on film school debt can get a little emotional with your perspective.

Seth Hymes
Most film school grads and filmmakers agree with me, but there are a few haters. Some people hate hearing the truth. It’s hard for some people to admit they got hosed out of $100K, but the consensus everywhere is that film school is a waste.

Jason Brubaker
I took a look at your website. Tell us what you teach there.

Seth Hymes
I teach people first, exactly why places like NYU are a complete joke and secondly, what to do instead of film school. There’s a lot of pressure to go to college, and I understand that. My book “Film Fooled” is a powerful reality check, a class by class account of NYU’s film curriculum to help people realize that no, they are not missing out on anything by skipping film school.

Jason Brubaker
Sounds like you think film schools should improve their curriculum.

Seth Hymes
Yeah. I get into the stuff they should be teaching in schools. Mainly, how to be taken seriously as a director from day one, how to get on real film sets, meet real working filmmakers, write feature scripts, manage a set, hire film students, and get seen. Anyone taking my course will be 4 years ahead of any film school student in just a week.

Jason Brubaker
Ok. So tell us about your online film course.

Seth Hymes
Ok. To find out more about my courseware at Film School Secrets, prospective filmmakers can Click Here!

Jason Brubaker
Thanks for stopping by Seth.

Seth Hymes
Thanks for having me.

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As a general disclaimer, all the links in this article are affiliate links. Please conduct your own due diligence before making any purchase, both here and anywhere on earth.

Screenwriting Tips – Hope for shy screenwriters

Your Writing Coach by Jurgen Wolff

Cover via Amazon

Shy and awkward is how screenwriter Seth Lochead describes himself. When he was starting out he felt he had to choose between building his career by socializing or by writing a great script.

He decided to try to do the latter.

The result is “Hanna,” co-written by David Farr, starring Kate Blanchett as the daughter of a rogue ex-CIA agent. He told the Vancouver Sun: ““I was going for the absurd mixed with action influences that are seemingly familiar, and then something that twists you a bit. You want to keep people intrigued and on the edge of their seat where they’re mentally having to keep up.”

It’s not clear from the article but I get the sense that Farr was brought in to do rewrites, but Lochead was flown to Berlin to do production rewrites for three months, which was a great education.

It’s a story that can give up to the other shy and awkward screenwriters (hey, isn’t that most of us?)

Beyond that, the internet gives us shy types another way to make connections. Here are three suggestions:

* Write intelligent fan letter (via email) to people whose work you admire–directors, producers, actors. I stress “intelligent” because most fan letters are of the “I think you’re really great!” variety. In yours, mention specifics about their work. It’s a long shot, but some working relationships have started out that way.

* If you’re looking for an agent, read the trades online to see which agents have recently opened their own agency or moved–that’s the time they’re most open to new people. (I know trade subscriptions can be expensive–why not split the cost with two or three other aspiring screenwriters?)

* Write and produce short films and make it easy to find them on the web, as samples of your work. If you’re not into the “making” side of films, team up with some aspiring directors who don’t want to (or can’t) write their own scripts.

Jurgen Wolff has written more than 100 episodes of television, the mini-series “Midnight Man,” starring Rob Lowe, the feature film “The Real Howard Spitz,” starring Kelsey Grammer, and as been a script doctor on projects starring Eddie Murphy, Michale Caine, Kim Catrall and others. His books include “Your Writing Coach” (Nicholas Brealey Publishing) and “Creativity Now!” (Pearson Publishing). For more tips from Jurgen Wolff, also see www.ScreenwritingSuccess.com


Filmmaker David Allen Talks Modern Moviemaking and VOD Distribution

As we get closer to an independent filmmaking business driven by video on demand distribution, I am on the hunt for various case studies that can help filmmakers navigate the changing world.

I caught wind of an indie production company based in Australia called Rapidfire Productions. This is a production company that operates as a self sustaining modern moviemaking business. They develop, produce and distribute their genre specific titles through their own distribution arm. David W. Allen is one of the producers. Earlier this week he stopped by Filmmaking Stuff to share some ideas on how to make, market and sell movies through new forms of internet distribution.

Jason Brubaker
What is your name?

David W. Allen
David W. Allen

Jason Brubaker
How did you get started making movies?

David W. Allen
I have always been into making movies with my long time best friend and director of our most recent feature, “The Gates of Hell,” Kelly Dolen. As kids in our early teens we would always be running around with a video camera making home movies and writing our own horror and action screenplays.

Jason Brubaker
And then when you felt ready, you made the shift to features?

David W. Allen
Yes. Our first feature length film was a low low budget vampire flick called ‘Reign in Darkness’ which we both wrote and directed. We only had $49k to make this with and considering the budget it came out okay.

Jason Brubaker
Sounds like an exciting first feature.

David W. Allen
We jumped on a plane to LA wide eyed and innocent to sell our film and make it big in Hollywood.

Jason Brubaker
I felt the same way after our first feature. It’s like you work so hard to make the impossible, possible. Hollywood sure seems like the logical next step.

David W. Allen
Ahhhh how naive we were all those years ago. [Laughter]

Jason Brubaker
So what happened? Were you able to sell the movie for an amazing cash advance and get a 3 picture deal?

David W. Allen
We ended up getting a distribution deal with a sales agent who we were introduced to by an entertainment lawyer.

Jason Brubaker
Was it a good deal?

David W. Allen
No. We got ripped off and didn’t see a great deal of money for the film. That was 10 years ago. Today the title is still selling out there, online. The movie is making money for other people but not us.

Jason Brubaker
How did that change your perspective about traditional distribution?

David W. Allen
I learned a very valuable lesson with ‘Reign’ and vowed if we ever made another feature film we would distribute ourselves.

Jason Brubaker
I agree with you. Especially when it comes to video on demand distribution.

David W. Allen
I could see where the Internet was heading and knew it was going to be the way to reach our future audiences with our Independent films.

Jason Brubaker
What is Rapidfire Productions?

David W. Allen
Rapidifire Productions was established by Kelly Dolen and myself in 1999 with the sole purposed to produce a diverse, wide range of Independent high concept genre films, ranging from action, drama, horror and sci-fi.

Jason Brubaker
So you are staying very genre specific?

David W. Allen
Our long-term goal was to make commercially successful projects that satisfy a marketplace craving for intelligent genre films and build a distribution arm for low budget Indy films.

Jason Brubaker
And it sounds like your title called “The Gates Of Hell” fits your model. Tell us about the project.

David W. Allen
The Gates of Hell is a dark psychological thriller and horror flick which is inspired by a combination of “old school” films like The Exorcist and The Thing and the adrenalin of cutting edge video games like Gears of War and Manhunt.

Jason Brubaker
Could you tell our readers where to find out more about your movie?

David W. Allen
Here is the website: www.TheGatesOfHellMovie.com

Jason Brubaker
How did you come up with the idea?

David W. Allen
It was back when Kelly and I were sharing a place together and we were talking about what we can make next for a low cost and high commercial value. We were talking about a filmmaking seminar we attended in Melbourne, Australia conducted by Dov Simmens, a Hollywood indy filmmaking guru.

Jason Brubaker
I am familiar with Dov and his work. What was the most inspiring advice he gave you?

David W. Allen
He said the best thing to do with your first film is to get a bunch of young people and take them to a single location and chop them up.

Jason Brubaker
Ha! I think that is sound filmmaking business advice.

David W. Allen
That was the thought process that ignited the idea for The Gates of Hell.

Jason Brubaker
So once you had your idea, what came next?

David W. Allen
Kelly and I started brainstorming ideas and we come up with an old condemned orphanage that used to house discarded deformed children that upper class people didn’t want.

Jason Brubaker
That sounds like a true horror movie.

David W. Allen
We researched this online to see if in fact a place like this did exist and they did back in the early 1940’s. And then we added some Hollywood to the idea and the first treatment was written.

Jason Brubaker
So once you had the treatment, what came next in your process?

David W. Allen
From there Kelly ran with the idea and developed it into a screenplay which was constantly developed over some years to get it to a stage where it was ready to make. We had a local artist drawing characters for the film and story boards you name it was all happening.

Jason Brubaker
What was your role during this time?

David W. Allen
I focused on the producing and marketing. I was responsible for developing an internet marketing strategy, building the website and creating the entire online distribution business model. I planned an online release from the very beginning.

Jason Brubaker
Building your movie business plan based on an internet marketing strategy is a very new concept. Was there any pushback from other producers or investors?

David W. Allen
The Investors had no intention of going down this path. They wanted the big blue sky and Hollywood. But I knew in the end they would end up going with my plan to self-distribute.

Jason Brubaker
What was Kelly’s role?

David W. Allen
Kelly went out and raised the large majority of the money from investors of our previous film and the new investors came from people he knew from his years selling home audio equipment at the large retailer JB HI-FI. The main investors were customers of Kelly’s from this store and over the years they come to value him as a friend more than just a shop assistant.

Jason Brubaker
So would you say that filmmakers must first understand the value of relationships?

David W. Allen
There is such a valuable lesson to be learned here especially with the social networking explosion on the Internet… Success is all about the relationships both online and offline.

Jason Brubaker
That makes me remember a quote I learned while selling overpriced hot tubs in college. “People buy from people they trust and like.”

David W. Allen
In my opinion this is the key to being successful in offline and online business and film distribution. Over time your followers will come to trust you and believe you, so when you have something to sell they will be far more likely to buy because they feel like they know and trust you.

Jason Brubaker
So let’s talk more about your movie sales strategy. How did you handle the sales, marketing and distribution?

David W. Allen
After the film was completed we took the film to a number of film festivals such as Screamfest, Amberg, Sacramento, and NYC. We also attended some film markets such as AFM and Cannes.

Jason Brubaker
Were you able to gain any traction?

David W. Allen
The film had great reviews but with all the positive hype around the the film the distribution deals were not very favorable and we didn’t want to go down the same path as we did with our first film ‘Reign in Darkness’ where were got a raw distribution deal.

Jason Brubaker
That is a tough choice. Many first time feature filmmakers will consider deals that do not pay a dime, just for the validation that comes from someone else saying “Great work! You’re a REAL filmmaker!”

David W. Allen
Yeah. But being passionate about everything Internet, I was pushing the proposal of just self-distributing online. But it was a hard sell to our investors who wanted to see the film in cinemas and up in lights.

Jason Brubaker
That is interesting. I guess some of those folks need traditional validation too?

David W. Allen
Well, all I wanted was to see a positive net return for sales of the film and focus on introducing the film to its market online and letting its popularity spread over time.

Jason Brubaker
Sounds like a pragmatic approach to your modern movie business. Were you able to get your way?

David W. Allen
I managed to get my way in the end with a little compromise. The investors wanted to see the movie in the cinemas so we did a distribution deal with an Australian distributor for Australian and New Zealand rights.

Jason Brubaker
Sounds like a hybrid deal. You retain some rights, while licensing other rights through other channels. Was this a profitable strategy for your movie?

David W. Allen
As I am writing this, the distributor is still yet to do anything with ‘The Gates of Hell’, which is no surprise to me, but a big lesson for the investors who wanted a quick return and blue sky.

Jason Brubaker
At least you can move forward with your own internet movie marketing strategy. Can you tell us a little more about your marketing plan?

David W. Allen
My marketing plan is simple. With very little money, I am taking the advice of a brilliant marketer Seth Godin and build a tribe and sell the movie to that tribe who over time will spread the word.

Jason Brubaker
What are the mechanics involved in building a tribe?

David W. Allen
I will be collecting emails from prospective customers so we can sell them backend products that they actually want.

Jason Brubaker
What about marketplaces? Where will you actually sell your movie?

David W. Allen
My distribution plan is to start off with selling the DVD then when I get some traction in the market I will approach a VOD distributor and then an iTunes aggregator and Amazon. I will also look at Netflix but I will wait until it gets more popularity so to get a better upfront fee.

Jason Brubaker
You mentioned DVD. Who is going to handle your DVD fulfillment?

David W. Allen
For the DVD distribution I use a company called Disk.com. They were highly recommended to me by some of my Internet marketing peers who use them to create and distribute their information products. They are based in the USA and is a great place for the shipping of the DVDs within the US and throughout Europe and the UK. There are some great companies here in Australia but the shipping costs would be way too high given our main market is in the USA and UK.

Jason Brubaker
Outside of distribution and your website, how are you spreading word of mouth?

David W. Allen
Facebook Pages and Twitter play a bit part in my strategy. I use these platforms to build what is called Market Leadership. I also hit the forums and get involved in the top ones and this is a great way to get people to check out the film.

Jason Brubaker
What about getting prominent website owners to review the movie?

David W. Allen
I am sending out copies to influences in the market place, people who already have a large following in the horror market and if they like the film they will tell their tribe about it.

Jason Brubaker
When I first saw your movie website, I was impressed. I think it has all the components necessary to create a movie sales funnel. But you also have something called an opt-in box to build your mailing list. How important is a mailing list for modern moviemakers?

David W. Allen
Very important! It is such a valuable asset for filmmaker if they don’t abuse it. It takes so long to build traffic to your website so you want to be capturing as many leads as possible so you can stay in touch with them, send them cool free stuff and then sell them backend products related to their film.

Jason Brubaker
Yes. I think filmmakers need to take charge of sourcing their own core audience. But what about in-between projects? How do you leverage your list?

David W. Allen
Between projects, the other thing filmmakers can do is introduce other people’s related products to their list for a fee or on an affiliate basis. Over time your mailing list will become very valuable. The bigger and more responsive the list, the more other industry players will want to pay filmmakers money to get related products or films in front of their subscribers.

Jason Brubaker
What suggestions do you have for other filmmakers who want to create their own movie business?

David W. Allen
Look at the market you’re making the film for first. This is a business and if you are going to spend money on making a film you better be sure there is a big enough and hungry enough market out there to buy your film and other backend products.

Jason Brubaker
You keep mentioning marketing related products. Could you explain this a little more?

David W. Allen
I look at the film itself as a lead generation product for the purpose of building a big list. I am not all that concerned about making the money back on the DVD itself but on other monetizing avenues over time including advertising.

Jason Brubaker
That is an interesting concept. Most filmmakers do not think like marketers. Yet if we want to make money making movies, it makes sense that we would need to diversify our product offerings.

David W. Allen
The modern filmmaker needs to think beyond the film itself as the only means of generating income. The money online is where the eyeballs are. Think about it.

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Find out more about how to sell your movie.