GOING INTO 2019, SCREENWRITERS SHOULD CONSIDER THESE 8 FACTORS
BY JACOB N. STUART
If you are like me, the start of a new year as a screenwriter is both intoxiciating and nerve-racking.
I’m excited about new deals, new connections, and new opportunities.
Alternatively, though, I’m always uneasy about the state of the industry; about what to write (film or television?); who moved to what company; and who are the new “major” players in town.
But the one question that plagues me each year (and many other writers) is “what to write?”.
And here’s the answer: JUST WRITE.
It’s that simple.
If you have nothing written, you can’t sell anything.
If you have nothing written, you can’t land a job when asked for a writing sample.
If you have nothing written, you can’t land an agent when asked to send your best piece.
So above all… WRITE.
With that said, I challenge you to consider 8 things going into 2019.
But first, why does my perspective warrant your consideration? After being a produced and award-winning screenwriter for over ten years, running Screenwriting Staffing (a site that connects writers with film/tv buyers) for 6 years, running, managing, or judging over 15 different film festivals a year, and being a regular contributor for Final Draft, Creative Screenwriting Magazine, and MovieMaker Magazine, I have an interesting, yet very REAL perspective when it comes to the industry.
So here is goes:
Read a screenplay a week.
Not just any screenplay. Produced screenplays. Every genre. I studied screenwriting in film school; I have taught screenwriting at film schools. I have participated in writers groups; listened to top writers at seminars. I’ve read all the screenwriting books. I’ve done it all — just like you have. But you will NEVER truly learn how to write a script unless you read scripts.
So what produced scripts should you read? New scripts. The industry is changing. How scripts are written are changing. Read the screenplay DELIVERANCE (1972). Then read INSIDE OUT (2015). Look at the vast difference.
Today’s spec scripts are sparse, trim, full of incomplete sentences, with lots of white space. Less is more. Show, don’t tell. Feature scripts are oftentimes less than 100 pages. SLOW WEST (2015) is only 75 pages.
Formatting has changed. More and more scripts have SCENE HEADINGS that are underlined or in BOLD.
More and more action lines are being spoken in first-person. Read ANNABELLE (2014).
More and more scripts are dropping the TIME OF DAY in the SCENE HEADINGS.
The list goes on. Formatting is ever-changing. Learn how the pros are writing; mimic it, adopt it, publish it.
Here are 8 scripts I compiled that you should read: https://www.screenwritingstaffing.com/blog/the-science-behind-white-space-why-it-matters-8-must-read-screenplays
Read this year’s Oscar-contender screenplays by Indie Hustle: https://indiefilmhustle.com/free-screenplays-download
Write a LOW BUDGET script.
Not sure why you can’t sell a script? Or, maybe you have tons of scripts optioned, but none get produced?
Take a gander at your budget.
Studios are peddling remakes that cost around 200MM to make.
Indie companies are producing low-budget indie films for UNDER 1MM, even under 200K.
So unless you are established and getting commissioned to write these stale (big budget) sort of scripts by studios, shelve your high-priced studio screenplay. The spec craze of the 90’s is long gone (but it will circle back… some day).
Indie producers who are making about 4 movies a year are looking for contained, limited location, limited characters, minimal special effects, character driven, mainly interior shot scripts. They want shorter scripts so they can film in two weeks or less.
Should you get stuck in the low-budget world? No.
Should you have at least one script to shop around that fits that mold? Absolutely.
You will open new doors, meet new producers, and quite possibly see your work produced.
List of 1 location movies: https://www.vulture.com/2017/04/the-best-one-location-movies-from-green-room-to-buried.html
The Future is Female.
No, I’m not one of those types who get into the politics and political correctness of Hollywood. In fact, I stay away from it because I believe it’s toxic and destroying Hollywood as we know it.
But personal opinion aside, one can not deny that Hollywood is making female-driven films at an alarming rate, and that they are selling.
Hollywood has long subscribed to the theory that males won’t see female-led films. This myth has been busted.
According to sites like Bustle, Hollywood Reporter, and Variety, female-led films accounted for more money made in 2018 then male-led films. In 2017, women led the year’s 3 biggest movies. Statistics show 52% of moviegoers are women. With today’s social climate in Hollywood, especially surrounding Weinstein, women in Hollywood (and all over the world for that matter) are energized and motivated to take on Hollywood. Blumhouse is now searching for female directors for their horror films. As of 2017: Victoria Alonso is the Executive of Physical Production at Marvel Studios. Bela Bajaria is Vice President of Content for Netflix. Sarah Barnett is the President of AMC Networks. Karey Burke is President at ABC Entertainment. Meredith Ahr is the President on Universal TV Alternative Studio. This list goes on and on.
But it’s not just about writing female characters, but writing strong and ambitious female characters. Characters who are flawed and passionate. Characters who are scarred, but plow through, becoming a hero. Ditch the cliche stereotypes. Yes, the movie LEGALLY BLONDE was a major hit and the SAVE THE CAT book drones on and on about the movie — but that was a different time period (2001), and Reese Witherspoon was actually relevant then.
I read an amatuer spec script earlier this year that used these words in the ACTION LINE when describing a female character: blonde, busty, beautiful, who was once the head cheerleader.
This is what drives female (and even male) entertainment executives crazy!
Think about your mother, your 4th grade teacher, or your friend’s sister who joined the Marines.
Your characters should not mirror a Megan Fox or Kim Kardashian type. Think about people like Ho Ching and Condoleezza Rice instead.
They should be real; fighters; survivors; strong-minded; spiritual; creative.
Write what you know. And as a male screenwriter, I tend to write male characters. So I get it, men. But step outside of the box this year. Can’t think like a woman? Fine. Think about all the inspiring women in your life. Or, partner with a female writer.
And women, the same can be said about you when writing male characters. Not all men all perverts, jocks, misogynist, stupid, and so forth. We are all creative, afterall — so let’s be creative when writing characters.
Write for the Asian market.
No, not every script should be centered around Asian customs with an all Asian cast like CRAZY RICH ASIANS.
But consider this: while Americans ditch theaters and subscribe to Netflix, Chinese moviegoers go to movies in a physical theater. According to a report on CNN, they build a movie theater a day.
China’s box office is expected to reach 200B by 2020, passing up Hollywood. China produced more movies than any other country (including Bollywood — India). China is one of the last places a spec script can sell for 1MM. Google Shu Huan and Qin Haiyan.
Your major American and Canadian films have found more success opening in China than the States.
The future is China — they are on the brink of ruling the film world. All the mistakes Hollywood’s made over the last two decades, China has found the remedy. Hollywood caters to Chinese audiences now. Don’t believe me? Just follow the money. It all leads to China.
Google top grossing Hollywood films. Look where the majority of their sales came from — China.
Should every script you write take place in Hong Kong? No.
Should you consider writing a script where one of the main leads is Chinese? I’d recommend it.
Do you have an action scene that takes place in France? Consider moving it to Shanghai if it doesn’t change the story.
Those who don’t adapt their writing and change with the times will be left behind. You can bank on it.
My last 3 writing assignments were from overseas: 2 Chinese productions; one India production. Money (at least for film) has dried up here in the States — remember that.
Learn more about the Chinese Film Industry: https://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/chinas-film-industry-a-bubble-waiting-to-pop
Explore other writing mediums.
For a screenwriting article this seems absurd, right?
A majority of films are made from novels, novellas, comic books, video games, board games, amusement park rides, and more.
Producers want material that have a built-in audience. So do agents.
Writers who can pitch their book that was published with fairly good reviews, a moderate to large following on social media, accompanied by an already-written script have a good chance of getting noticed.
The goal is to see your story on screen, right? So who cares how it gets there — whether from writing a book, an article for a local newspaper, or a 90 page spec script.
We are storytellers , afterall. Explore other mediums; flex your creative muscles. Don’t stray too far away from film/screenwriting, that’s our passion, but challenge yourself, at the very least, to write a short story this year.
A small list of books adapted into movies and shows in 2018: http://time.com/5069010/books-being-made-into-movies-tv-2018
If stuck in a rut, write a SHORT.
Short films are made daily. In fact, over 35% of the produced films made through my site (ScreenwritingStaffing.com) were shorts. Producers pay money for shorts. It’s a great way to get IMDb credit, connect with up-and-coming talent, and get your work out there. Even the Oscars recognize shorts.
Can you make a career out of making shorts? No.
Can you add to your portfolio and get noticed by making an award-winning short? Yes.
Shorts are great to work on when working on your craft and formatting. Or, focusing on one storyline/one character.
Who knows, it may sprout legs and become a feature.
Don’t underestimate the short. Wes Anderson and George Lucas got their start with short films.
Screenwriters are great, but they don’t produce films.
It’s imperative as screenwriters we connect with and support other writers. We should all work together and create a safe and productive community. It’s also refreshing and encouraging to attend screenwriting groups such as the PHOENIX SCREENWRITERS ASSOCIATION.
But that’s not where it ends. Writers don’t produce other writers work.
You MUST connect with the movers and shakers of the industry.
Attend film festivals. Attend pitchfests. Attend mixers. Attend film commision events. Work on-set here and there. Facilitate meetings (even if it’s over coffee) with those who are “active” in Hollywood. Maybe even consider producing your own short film?
In 2019, get out of your comfort zone.
Take a break from social media.
Social media can be great, especially for a screenwriter. I’ve made deals and connections over sites such as LinkedIn, Reddit, and Facebook. They have their place and purpose.
On the flip side, I’ve also met some very toxic and destructive people online.
Most screenwriting groups, especially on Facebook, are full of bitter and aggressive “wannabe” writers (there are some amazing groups, though). They are not there to support you, but to cut you down. Most of them spew out advice that is counterintuitive.
Look up your favorite screenwriter. Do you see them engaging in conversation over social media? No.
Your major writers who do use social media use a verified Twitter account where they post updates on their films or useful tips. Others use their personal blog (or podcast). But even the ones who actively do that are semi-retired, who also teach and consult on the side.
Those who work full-time as a screenwriter do not have time for petty Facebook arguments or posting pictures of them “writing” on Instagram. Seriously.
So use social media sparingly.
If you want to join an informative Facebook or Linkedin Group, be sure to check out mine: www.facebook.com/groups/1511632165767929, www.linkedin.com/groups/5147444; it’s moderated closely by me.
OKAY — so maybe all 8 won’t apply to you, but they are all worth considering, I promise you.
2019 is going to be an exciting time for film. Netflix announced they will be producing 90 films in 2019.
Writers are finding more jobs due to the growth of television.
Youtube and similar online streaming services are giving indie filmmakers more ways to promote their work.
More and more film festivals are popping up, giving a voice to the indie world. Do be careful of the growth of screenplay contests — not all are what they appear.
With amazing state tax incentives across the country, no longer do you have to live in Hollywood to find success (although it’s helpful).
Scrap the “how to finish your script in 2019” articles. You should be finishing a script every 3 months (at least!).
Now it’s about which scripts to write!
Good luck; and cheers to a fruitful screenwriting year!
This article was written by Jacob N. Stuart. Jacob is an award-winning screenwriter with over 20 scripts produced to screen. He holds a film degree from The Los Angeles Film School. He is the Founder of Screenwriting Staffing [www.screenwritingstaffing.com]. In just 6 years, he has helped facilitate (through his site) over 200 screenwriting success stories. His latest feature film can be seen on Amazon Video: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07KJRH7S2/ref=atv_feed_catalog. For more on Jacob: http://imdb.me/jacobnstuart