Hello Film Doctor friends.
This week’s Monday Prescription is dedicated to those of you out there who have just completed their first feature-length screenplay…
So it’s done. You’ve plotted and structured and typed and typed and cut. You’ve faded in and out and your head is full of dreams of where it will go, but what do you do next?
Well, given that it’s your first screenplay, and assuming you are not already an established writer in another field, then let’s go through some steps you might want to consider taking.
Why? Because, as with most things, when you are new to a craft you are not used to the process (industry or creative). You may not be comfortable with the ebbs and flows of creativity or know the ‘different hats’ one must wear or what hats the agents and executives are wearing.
So, before you charge full steam ahead without knowing your destination (or how good the condition of your vehicle is!), take a look at the list below.
1. Register your script – It is always worth protecting your creative work and ideas, even if you do begrudge spending a few pennies/cents on doing so. You can send your script to yourself (for proof of date) or you can register it with WGA (Writers Guild of America) to have a third-party keeping it on record. Regardless of your ‘position’ on this matter, if you have no record then you have no argument, should a dispute arise.
2. Organise a read-through – This is project specific. Not all genres or screenplays lend themselves to table reads. Read-throughs can be especially useful for comedy projects or dialogue driven pieces (put your comic timing and speeches to the test!). Make sure you work with performers who ‘get you’ and your project. If they do not have the same creative sensibilities or knowledge of your influences then you might find that they do not connect with a role the way another actor would have (seeing it performed badly defeats the object of organising the reading). When they do work, read throughs can reveal where laughs are, what does and doesn’t translate to performance and what moments will and won’t work on the screen. You’ll also get multiple feedback from actors and writers, some of it illuminating!
3. Submit it to a development lab, professional support program or a contest – The Sundance Labs, the IFP Emerging Narrative Program, the Film Independent Labs, Tribeca’s All Access Program — there are filmmaker support mechanisms out there that can help you refine your vision, connect with the industry, or both.
4. Check your format/Read screenplays – If your script looks galaxies away from the rest of the herd (of produced screenwriter’s) then, chances are, you are not the ‘James Joyce of screenwriters’ but a man/woman about to spend a long time getting nowhere. Read read read!
5. Rewrite the script based on the feedback you receive – Feedback, if given articulately (preferably by someone in the business!) can really raise your screenplay up and up and up. Writing is, contrary to what many say, hugely collaborative. Even the best writers will attribute their perfect screenplay/novel success to their wife/husband/agent/producer/actor/editor.
One thing to mention: Make sure you’re showing your work to people who actually like the genre you’ve written you script in. That way you will ensure that the person reading and giving you feedback will be speaking from his/her experience with similar projects, i.e. if you’ve written a comedy, you want a feedback from those who know their comedies.
6. Attend a screenwriting conference / networking event – You will need to be meeting agents and producers, so get out there and meet them. Learn to pitch – boring industry folk to tears with every scene description and with how ‘much more amazing’ your screenplay is than everyone else’s will place you in the ‘mad newcomer’ category. Get out there and do it right!
7. Write your second screenplay in the meantime – And third. And fourth. Always have more than one project up your sleeve!
8. If you decide to take the writing-AND-directing route (as well as possibly self-producing), then you might want to also consider doing a budget. Go back and re-write the project, if the projected budget figure is too high for your first-time feature.
9. Sometimes you have to cut your losses -As creatives, we have a myriad of ideas and they don’t always work. Sometimes, a project is just not meant to be. The draws and dustbins of A-list screenwriters are littered with failed first, second and third attempts, so do not feel a failure!