Tag Archives: screenwriting

Top 6 Resources for New Screenwriters

My first foray into screenwriting was a disaster.  Okay, not a disaster in the sense of a cinematic Titanic or because it caused several small villages to be burned to the ground.  But aside from a handful of comedy sketches, it was a prose writer’s first real attempt to write a script.  And it showed.  But it taught me one very important lesson:

I HAD NO IDEA HOW TO WRITE A SCRIPT.

(Actual footage of me writing my first screenplay)

Again, not exactly true, but I think it’s important to underestimate your knowledge whenever possible.  If you go into a learning situation assuming total ignorance you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the things you do know and are good at.  It’s once you’ve gained the information that you can then sift and synthesis.

At the time, I was aware that lots of books about screenwriting were readily available.  In hindsight, I wish I had looked into these more before starting my programme, not because they could stand in place of it but because it would’ve given me a little more context about what I was learning in school.

Why 6?  I mean, there are thousands of resources out there, and you should read as much as you can, in my opinion.  I easily could have chosen 10.  But if you’re just starting out I really think this is all you need to start learning the basics of screenwriting.

  1. Screenplay by Sid Field: An oldie but a goodie – for a reason.  This was the first book I ever read about screenwriting and it’s been the most helpful book I’ve read so far about structuring the story of a film.  If you’re looking for a great introductory book, it has to be this one.
  2. The Screenwriter’s Bible by David Trottier: While this book also talks about structure, character development, and so on, where it really shines is an explanation about the technical details of formatting a screenplay.  How else will you know how to write a montage or introduce a character?
  3. Writing the Romantic Comedy by Billy Mernit: Even though I’m currently only working on one romantic comedy, the way this book breaks down the rise and fall of a relationship in a romantic comedy is useful in every genre of screenwriting.  Does your film feature at least two people who interact with each other?  Then you’ll find a use for this.
  4. On Writing by Stephen King: Half instruction booklet, half memoir, allll Stephen King.  Stephen gets into the nitty gritty of writing and the challenges all writers face.  Excellent motivation for dealing with rejection, “writer’s block”, and the overactive imagination that comes with being a writer.
  5. Thesaurus.com: Maybe this is just me, but 60% of writing seems to be finding the right word for any circumstance.  Not necessary for first drafts but a must for rewrites.
  6. RedLetterMedia: Bear with me here.  If you’ve heard of them it’s probably by way of the Mr. Plinkett reviews on YouTube, 90-minute-long videos made by a “creepy old man” detailing exactly how the Star Wars prequels failed as movies.  I discovered the channel late last year while looking for an honest review of Ghostbusters 2016 and never looked back.  Just from watching their videos, I’ve noticed a marked improvement in my writing and my ability to objectively analyze what does and doesn’t work in films – on every level, not just storytelling.  There’s a lot of crude humor and language, so if that bothers you I’d say avoid it, but if you enjoy that you’ll find it’s educational as well as so SO entertaining.

These won’t turn you into Quentin Tarantino overnight, but I think they’re a good introduction to screenwriting for people who are interested in pursuing it in school and as a career!

I’d love to hear from other screenwriters (new and seasoned) on what resources they turn to for help.  I’m always looking for new reading material!

Eileen

Getting Sappy About Star Wars

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So, 40 years ago this film came out.  It probably won’t surprise you to learn that I wasn’t actually there to witness the premier of the film, but I can say with absolute certainty that these films have had a tremendous impact on my life.

I still remember the first time I watched it.  My parents bought the original trilogy (or the Star Wars trilogy, as it was then known) on VHS from Sam’s Club.  I even remember picking up the box, still wrapped in plastic, and turning it over in my hands.

“What’s this?” I asked, wary of the black case and block lettering, obviously not my usual 7-year-old fare of Disney and The Land Before Time.

“It’s Star Wars,” my dad said, a twinkle in his eye. “We’re going to watch it tonight.”

I sat back in my seat with a doubtful “Okay…”

It was the last time I was ever reluctant to watch it.

That night, for two hours, I was glued to the screen, my tiny heart thrilling at the adventures of Luke Skywalker and friends.  Luke, a misunderstood kid who dreamt of something greater (i.e. me), watched the twin suns of Tatooine set as he gazed off into the distance.  My heart ached with him as we both yearned for something greater than our humdrum lives.  Yes, even at 7 (or perhaps because I was 7) I felt the limits of my existence, the smallness of my life, and a burning desire to be more, do more, live more.

I responded to this movie in a way I’d never responded to a story before.  It made me want to be in the story.  And then it made me want to tell my own stories.  Sometimes they were science fiction stories.  Sometimes the main character had magical powers, or was swept up in one of a thousand others adventures.  It’s no coincidence that I wrote my first story shortly after watching A New Hope.  In the past 20 years, not a day has gone by that I haven’t written.

And now I’m getting ready to finish a Master’s degree in screenwriting (!!!) in LONDON, of all places.  I’ve been on my own journey, taking me from my homeworld of Tatooine (Maine, admittedly slightly less arid) to Degobah (Florida, obviously) with a slight detour in Hoth (Alaska).  Although my adventure hasn’t included blowing up any Death Stars or picking up X-wings with my mind, it’s taken me far beyond the reaches my 7-year-old self could have wished for.  I think Luke Skywalker would be proud.  I’m proud.  And I’m thankful to have Star Wars in my life.

 

February Small Goals

Nicole S. over at writes like a girl introduced me to this really cool idea.  You set five small goals for each month.  At the end of the month you review your goals and see how many you’ve met!  I love this because it can help set an intention for the month, or just get me around to doing things bigger than “taking out the trash” but a little less important than “figuring out my life”.

  1. Finish a full 3 weeks of C25k.  I’m already on my way to this and I even have a reward set.
  2. Try meal prep.  You know those Pinterest posts where people plan their meals for the week and put them in cute little containers?  That really appears to my “not sure what to eat so I’ll have half a container of ice cream” brain.  I’d love to see if it’s a good fit for me so I’m going to try it for a week!
  3. Have an awesome time with Lydia.  For those not in the know, one of my best friends is visiting me in London.  I’m SOOOO excited to see her – watch out for our trip hashtag! (TBD)
  4. Develop 10 pages of a new script.  I’ve been trying to choose between a couple different projects, so this month I want to pick one and really work on it.  10 pages shouldn’t be hard, right?
  5. Hang pictures.  I’ve slowly started actually decorating my flat, but haven’t hung anything on the walls (except the mural over my bed).  I have some super cute pictures made by friends that I’d love to display so I need to get frames and hang them (using 3M tape, of course).

That’s it for me!  Anybody else setting some medium-sized goals for this month?

XO Eileen

Helpful sites

Hello there.  Are you doing well?  Lovely.  I had two London-related dreams last night, and one was simply that the prices of plane tickets went down.  Yeah, sad.  The weird thing is, they actually had.

I think I might be psychic.

Anyway, there are a lot of websites out there aimed at making the transition from America to the UK as easy as possible but wading through them can be a bit overwhelming.  I’ve compiled some of the websites that have helped me the most in preparation for my move.

UK-Yankee Forum: I would say this website has been THE most helpful, since, as a forum, it is updated just as regularly as anybody needs it to be and you can ask individual, specialized questions.  The people on this forum KNOW what they’re talking about.  However, I will say you can spend too much time on here and make yourself worry about things that don’t pertain to you or have the smallest chance of happening.  If you’re a student like me, start with this board.

UKCISA: This site will take you through the basics of applying for school, getting funding, figuring out where to live, and getting your visa.  This is for the beginner who needs an overview of the process.

Homestay: Like Airbnb, but you’ll be living with the family who owns the home.  This is a good alternative to hostels or arranging for flats you’ve never seen.  A great advantage to this is that you’re living with people who know the city.

Zoopla: If you plan on living on your own or buying, check out Zoopla.  You can search by the kind of property you’re looking for or area such as post code.  Even if you planning on having flat mates, it can be a good springboard to give you an idea of what’s available in any given area.

Flatshare: The most popular website for finding flatmates, although there are more out there.  You can search for any number of factors including preferences in the ideal flatmate, but I tend to just search by location and price.  It’s good to look at even before you’re serious about looking just to give you an idea of what’s available and what you can expect price-wise.

Of interest:

London property prices by tube line map, international scholarships, check to see if your creative programme is accredited

This is by no means a complete or exhaustive list.  It’s just a good jumping off point from which to start preparing.

Our story so far…

I can only assume you’ve found this post/blog if, like me, you’re preparing to go to postgraduate school in London and are worriedly whiling away the days waiting for yet another person to get back to you.  Or maybe you’re considering doing so, in which case… hold on to your butts.

I’ve been slowly compiling a timeline of my journey through the entire process.  I’m going to post it for other people to reference, keeping in mind that it isn’t over ’till the fat lady sings and she’s not even on stage yet.

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early November 2014: submit application

24 November: receive offer for phone interview

24-26 November:  study for interview, (over-)prepare notes

26 November: phone interview w/programme director, told decision could take a couple of weeks

27 November (Thanksgiving Day US): receive acceptance e-mail

1 January 2015: fill in FAFSA – there isn’t really any use officially submitting this until you’ve done your taxes, I submit anyway

24 February: apply for SASS scholarship

17 March: put correct tax information in FAFSA, submit

31 March: start contacting potential homestays (homestay.com), start looking on school board for accommodation

1 April: hear back from most homestays within a day; only 1 says not available

7 April: book homestay for 21 August-21 September through homestay.com

8 April: submit enquiry to HSBC for overseas account

9 April: HSBC cannot open an overseas account for me unless I already have an account open with them

22 April: receive award letter, sign, send back to school loan administrator

23 April: complete entrance counselling and promissory notes for unsubsidized loan and Grad PLUS loan, send to school loan administrator

19 May: Buy my plane ticket!

Things that haven’t happened but are supposed to, with projected date

June/July: approval for loans from Department of Education

June: receive CAS, apply for visa

May the Fourth

Two bits of good news:

1. April is over.  Peace out, April!  Long live May! (actually, no, May, do not live long; live an ordinate and logical amount of time, please please please)

2. The ball has started rolling on my postgraduate funding!  I’ve completed my entrance counseling and master promissory notes, and my award letter has been sent to the Department of Education.  Now I get to wait until June or July (?!) to hear from them.

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Yay!

May the Fourth be with you!

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The plot thickens (and becomes difficult to stir)

If you read my New Year’s post, you’ll know I filled out my 2015-2016 FAFSA as soon as possible, i.e. Jan 1.  I figured I would send an e-mail to the school just to get an idea of how long it would take to process the information and get back to me about how much I could ask for in loans and such.  I received an e-mail back from them saying they don’t usually process those requests until April.

This makes me anxious for 2 reasons: firstly, I like to get things done ASAP.  I know on their end they have a lot more to deal with than one girl’s financial aid information.  In fact, they might not be able to do anything about my financial aid until April because the US student loan office might not process them until then.  The timeline just worries me a little because they won’t get back to me until right before I apply for my visa – will that give me enough time to hear back from the US loans office and get my information in order for the visa application?  They’ve done this before and know what they’re doing.  I just need to have faith in the process and the people carrying it out.

Secondly, on a pettier level, I really just hate waiting.  I keep reminding myself that 2 months have already passed and things ARE getting done.  Yeah, it’s a long time to wait, but having 9 months to prepare means I will be as ready as I can be when I actually go.  I’m grateful to have this time with my friends and family, so that I can appreciate their company while I still have the chance.

Hopefully as the time draws closer I will have more helpful information to share and confirm that there is nothing to worry about time-wise.  For now, though, I just have the worry.  Thankfully I’ve started doing yoga.

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Namaste.

An Admission (of Awesomeness!)

The Application

Though I didn’t realize it at the time, my school has one of the least grueling applications for screenwriting out of the many programs in London.  A lot of the other programs required a long and short writing sample, synopsis for several other screenplays, and the soul of my firstborn child.  Wait, maybe I’m thinking of something else…

Anyway, the hardest part for me was squeezing my original 600-word personal statement into 200 words.  This took me hours of hair-pulling and six different iterations.  I wanted to explain everything in my life that led me to pursue screenwriting, but I kept it to the things that best suited me for the program and why I chose that particular program.  In the end, it was mostly just a test in brevity.  Some people are good at being brief.  Writers are not.

The other part of my application, aside from the actual form with my name and such, was my writing sample, which had a word or page limit, depending on the program.  Since I was applying for script writing mine had a page limit.  I had to submit a 20-page sample, which was a piece of cake once I cut one of my pieces down to the right length and had a couple people edit it.

Okay, I SAY it was a piece of cake, but as someone who has only taken a couple of screenwriting classes and rarely lets anyone read my screenplays, it wasn’t easy.  First I edited it – about three times.  Then I finally sucked it up and had my parents and a friend read it.  Their notes were so minor that I felt sure I was missing something (call it creative writing workshop paranoia).  Nevertheless, I read it over a couple more times, felt satisfied, and submitted it.

The Interview

I only waited about three weeks for a response.  I got an e-mail from the director of the program offering me a phone interview.  I had a few days to prepare and spent hours looking up what kind of questions are asked in postgraduate interviews.  I’m forgetful on a good day and a space cadet when I’m nervous, so I made a list of notes about key things.  In the end, I probably over prepared a little bit.  I expected them to ask questions about my strengths and weaknesses as a student, an experience where I worked as part of a team, or why I wanted to move to London.

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Zee notes

My interview was held the day before Thanksgiving.  I talked about the writing sample I had submitted, as well as my favorite playwrights and screenwriters (the notes came in handy here).  Without specifically giving away other things I was asked, I think the ultimate purpose of the interview just to make sure I’m serious about screenwriting and didn’t just wake up one morning and decide I wanted to write movies.

The Acceptance

At the end of the interview I was told I should hear back from them in a week.  I settled in and tried not to dwell on it too much.  I even told my dad that it was going to be the longest week of my life.  Not even twenty-four hours later, as I was preparing Thanksgiving dinner, I receiving an e-mail offering me a place in the program.  Of course, once the stress of getting accepted has abated, you start realizing all of the other things you have to do: visa, financing, housing…

Eileen