Writing when the movie could get ruined

questionmarkWhen you conceive a great screenplay idea do you ever worry about how that idea might be destroyed if and when it gets produced as a film? How do you overcome the anxiety that a great idea will be poorly executed and go on writing?

– Ralph
Los Angeles, CA

Whether it’s an original script or an adaptation, screenwriters have every reason to worry that their great script will get butchered, mangled and ruined. At least in terms of plot and character, my hunch is that most movies were significantly better before they were filmed — generally, at the draft when the director signed on. Because it’s after that point that the compromises begin: we can’t afford that location; the actor doesn’t like that moment; we need to cut 10 pages for budget.

This is what sucks about screenwriting. Unlike a novel, a screenplay is not a “final” art form. However beautifully written, it’s essentially a plan for making a movie. And plans change.

Even if a screenwriter directs her own movie, it’s never going to be as perfect as it was on the page. Between the camera, the actors, the lights and the locations, nothing will be exactly as she planned it. Directors like George Lucas and Robert Rodriguez may use technology to nudge their films closer and closer to their original vision, but it’s never going to be quite what they imagined. For instance, I bet JarJar Binks was great on the page.

So, knowing that things will get changed, and quite possibly ruined, how does the screenwriter avoid creative paralysis?

You have to embrace the chaos on some level. Moviemaking is like white-water rafting. You know you’re going to get from point A to point B, but it’s going to be scary along the way. You’ll have to paddle your ass off. You might get thrown from the boat. But if you make it down in one piece, that’s success.

If you’re not comfortable with those risks, screenwriting isn’t for you. There are many safer and less terrifying literary forms out there.


Handling dialogue-like situations

questionmarkI’m writing a screenplay where a magical typewriter communicates to people by typing them messages. Nothing verbal. Since this will be a selling script is ok to put in a note saying this, then proceed as…

TYPEWRITER

Hi John, how are you today?

Or is there another way to do this? This type of communication will exist through the entire story.

– Harry
Detroit

Since the typewriting is “speaking” dialogue, your way is fine. If it only happened once or twice in the script, I would be tempted to put the typing in boldface, centered on the page. But that would get really annoying, really quick. For what you’re attempting, faux-dialogue is best.


Screenwriting wastes a lot of paper

Do you print out your script pages as you go along, or do you wait until you have a completed draft before printing out the whole thing (assuming you’re using a word processor and not a typewriter.) There’s nothing more motivating to me than to see pages of script piling up, but then if I want to make a change to what I’ve written already there’s a potential for waste and I feel bad enough that we’re still using trees for paper instead of something more plentiful and efficient like cotton or hemp.

–Rob Workman
Saint Paul, MN

In the early days of ink-jet printers, there was a lot more incentive to economize: printing an entire script could take half an hour, and cost a few bucks’ worth of ink. Now, with fast-and-cheap laser printers, the temptation is to print a lot more. Fight it. The business of making movies already wastes a lot of paper — everything from call sheets, to budgets, to rainbow-colored script revisions. As a single screenwriter, you can at least make sure you’re not adding to the problem.

I tend to write first drafts longhand, scene by scene, and print out pages as they get typed up. Call it paranoid, but I like to have at least one hard copy in case my hard drive commits hara-kiri. So, for a normal first draft, that means about 240 pages — 120 hand-written, and 120 typed.

The real waste comes during countless drafts of the rewriting process. Here are some suggestions to keep it somewhat reasonable:

  1. Only print what you need.
    Before you hit Print, ask yourself if you really need the whole script, or whether you simply need a few pages. Often, your corrections are contained to just a few pages, and it’s easy to print only the range you need.

  2. Double-up.
    If you’re using Mac OS X, use the pull-down menu in the Print dialog box to select ‘Layout’. Set it for two pages, with a hairline border. (Confused? Here’s a screenshot.) You’ll end up with two pages side-by-side, and it’s perfectly readable. Your 120-page script is now sixty pages, and can be held together with a binder clip. (Never hand in a script printed this way; keep it for your own use.)

  3. Use recycled paper.
    HP makes a good paper that’s 30% post-consumer. Unfortunately, recycled paper rarely comes three-holed, but if you’re printing the two-page layout, that doesn’t matter.

  4. Reuse the back sides.
    I avoid printing scripts on the back sides of scripts — I get confused which pages are new. But script pages are perfectly good scratch paper for everything else you need to print.

  5. Use .pdfs.
    If you’re giving somebody your script to read, consider emailing them a .pdf rather than printing it out. These days, almost anyone can handle a .pdf file.

Even if you only implement a few of these suggestions, you can cut your paper use by 75%. Until they start making hemp copier paper, you’re doing your part to keep the trees in the forest where they belong.

(Originally posted January 20, 2005.)


Cheaper Charlie shirts

hot topic t-shirtReader “Bri” was thoughtful enough to point out that Hot Topic has started selling less-expensive Charlie and the Chocolate Factory t-shirts. They’re perfect for your your rebellious kid sister who wants to express her individuality in a completely conformist way.

The “Life Had Never Been Sweeter” shirt comes from a line of dialogue (narration, actually) in the movie, which comes out July 15th.

You can find the shirts here. (Link dead, March 2011.)


They still haven’t found what they’re looking for

Approximately five percent of visitors to johnaugust.com arrive from Google or one of the other search engines. Thanks to server statistics, I can see exactly what search phrase brought them here.

Some people were clearly ego-surfing: searching for their names as they might appear in comments sections, for instance. But other people, well, I have no idea why they thought this was a site for them. Keep in mind: these are things people actually typed in Google, which led them here.

Here’s a sampling of the best from the top 1000:

  1. gay girls
  2. the ride pimper
  3. blow movie quotes
  4. vlad girls
  5. regaining confidence
  6. things about daniel wallace
  7. define:motivation
  8. i expect you to die
  9. what does i.e. mean?
  10. teen girls first time
  11. how much do screenwriters make
  12. goddamn mongolian
  13. tasha would
  14. jodie foster movie deaf
  15. i am forty times this many t shirt
  16. what does story plot mean
  17. bad dialogue, great movies
  18. rollerblade dance
  19. depiction of the english in braveheart
  20. people who hate disgusting chewing gum
  21. girls gay
  22. low rider pimper
  23. what is the different between the firefox and the internet explorer?
  24. mongolian geisha
  25. monuments and anthems
  26. how to write good teen slasher screenplay
  27. chinese male sex
  28. this is the sort of english up with which i will not put.
  29. english words with latin numbers in them
  30. define:cutty
  31. persians are not arabs
  32. twips per page
  33. do you have the lines to the movie willie wonka the chocolate factory
  34. jimmy choos
  35. why does css in internet explorer 5 for mac suck
  36. willy wonker
  37. gramatical ruls
  38. men talking about girls
  39. worst unsold screenplay
  40. arabian sexy princes