Script Tips with Salt on the Side

Submitted by Amisha Upadhyaya

As I polish my scripts one last time before my babies go out into the big bad world, I’m taking a look at some “tips” from trades etc. First, it seems tippers have a lot of extreme emotions on not-so-big-deal opinions. One writer in “Script” wrote if he ever sees — again “just tear him a new one.” Hmm. Well, I did see it. In some of the top 10 box office movies out there now.

In fact of all the tips given, of all the advice doled out on writing or selling a script, the only thing I can advise is to carry a large container of salt when reading or hearing these tips.

One tip said to know the difference b/w a novel, screenplay, etc etc and think “would this really make it on a marketing level”? Yes that’s true. To an extent.

Let’s take a look at Juno, Lars & the Real Girl, Being John Malkovich, and tons of other movies where right off the bat, it makes you go: how the hell did they sell that pitch? “Thumbsucker” amazes me: depressing, not marketable, yet snagged a great cast.  Takeaway:  Great writing and story will always trump the marketability factor. It’s a bigger uphill climb than a horror pitch but can be done.

“Stick to one genre.” Another tip said to pigeonhole yourself.  Do names like Orci, Turcman ring a bell?  They didn’t try different genres after fame; they had been doing it.   Without at least venturing out there you will not know if you can’t traverse genres. I don’t know any professional writer who has withstood the trials and tribulations of becoming one only to do Saw 1-10 ad infinitum. They may do it as one project, to pay bills, but they’re writers usually because they have some angle on the world and stories they want to share. So share!

Then naysayers will say, well you’re not them — those folks who bridge genres or don’t follow tips. They weren’t them either at one point.  This is one of the major insecurities of this town.  The “us” vs “them” mentality, which buys into the “you’re no one till you’re someone.”  It’s starvation for the soul and very unhealthy to view yourself or anyone else in that way. “They” were “us” not so long ago.  People who haven’t read your stuff can’t blankly make decisions about if you are worthy or not to continue on your resume-building way.  It’s a tough industry and if a project catches your passion, do it.

Don’t ever say “typical” as a character description was another tip I read. Then I read some Oscar nom’d and winning scripts, like Babel and Beautiful Mind, and guess what? “Typical American kids,” “typical suburb,” “typical…typical” came up everywhere. If anyone pigeonholes and stereotypes, it’s Hollywood. If you say it’s a typical something, a vision and sometimes actor springs to mind for the reader. So if someone is a typical stock from a film, “typical doughnut-eating cop,”  then I see no reason why your story should get a pass when somehow box office hits and Oscar worthy scripts do it.

Don’t overdo dialogue, don’t write too much. A tip that’s mostly true but not always. If it’s true to your original voice and your story demands a longer script, then why not. Naysayers will say, Tarantino can do it but you can’t (the “they” and “us”). Well, how did Tarantino get his original voice out there, which began with a lot of verbiage from his first film? Juno is another verbiage wonder. Original voices. If dialogue fits, do it.

This advice was given right after an article detailing how the screenwriter of “Shutter Island.”  She was asked to do a genre she had never done and her reps and everyone encouraged her.  She turned in a 130 page script that the producers didn’t want to trim because they wanted to attract an A-list filmmaker, and they did: Martin Scorcese. There are moments of heavy dialogue and the word “typical” crops up.

The one tip that seems critical is to have an original voice. Dig, dig, dig; cut, cut, cut to the most concise, most well-structed story out there that resonates with the truth of your voice.  Of course, one must understand structure and craft, but a lot of advice given is one of style over substance.  Of the 20,000 scripts registered per year, the success stories have an unique voice. And to that be true even if it means breaking some rules.

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