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  • The Birth of Screenwriting

    January 11th, 2010

    By Alecia Smith

    In reference to my script titled, “The Performers” analyzed by Daniel Manus

    So, analyze this! A script doesn’t become a script until it has been conceived with thoughts and ideas, and a back and forth motion of words and thoughts are released. These words, ideas and thoughts, known as the premise, travel to the paper where a burst of brainstorm hits and conception has begun.  A seed has been planted and now that seed must grow. We help nurture the little seed by feeding it with food such as characters, plots, sub-plots, and moments of “Damn this is good!” However, is it really good? Listen, if you have nine months to get this baby together before it is born, you have to prepare, stocking up on all the things you will need. 

    So, let the birthing process begin.

    How do you birth a really good screenplay?

    This process is not as easy as it seems for many screenwriters, including myself. We all think we have a really good story. And I have to be honest, I was hit on the head by a hammer when I hired and started working with Daniel Manus of No BullScript Consulting. He has help me realized just how critical certain elements of screenwriting are like plot development and having three-dimensional characters. The process is painstakingly hard, and I’ve had a true moment of, “Is it all worth it?” I had to learn first hand just how to push the limits of writing a really great screenplay, let alone tell a story in industry standards of 120 pages (a 2 hr movie).

    Three months ago, I had hired Daniel to complete studio coverage on “The Performers”, a romantic love story that was adapted from a previous script titled, “Something to Remember.” Daniel completed the coverage and I was excited and couldn’t wait to hear all the good news he would have for me. However, it wasn’t good news. The coverage stated that it was a sweetly played love story but with no real punch! He said the characters were superficially drawn and not three-dimensional and my second act just fell apart. The person he thought was the antagonist turned out to be a really good person. WTF?

    Daniel said, “It’s great for a romantic novel, but not for film!” Of course, I’d taken this information as a slap in the face and I was really hurt. I really thought I had a pretty damn good story. I had many readings and people who were very excited about the story and then it hit me; everyone was not Daniel Manus. No one else was looking at it from an executive perspective. The story was just that – a good story. He pointed out what I did very well, and what I really needed to work on. I had a pretty solid premise, but the story was lacking the punch it needed to move it forward. There was confusion whether it was a romantic comedy or a drama. There were really funny lines, but not enough for it to be a comedy, and there really wasn’t enough ‘drama’ for it to be a drama. So, what is the genre? Daniel stated, “I needed to create the “OH MY GOD effect!” Things that may your jaw drop. It doesn’t have to be big budget, it can be small enough and still make you say wow!” So, I was given a challenge to go back and complete a re-write.  Daniel advised me that the story would be better told as a drama as opposed to a romantic comedy, because of its commercial appeal. It was up to me to take this advice or leave it. Should I re-write this story based on what someone else says, or should I just give up writing for good?

    Wink …I took the challenge and decided to move forward with Daniel’s notes. He’s the birthing coach and I’m the pregnant lady that’s trying to give birth to a stubborn child.  I wasn’t feeding her right. I was using the wrong formula, which would explain why I was so sick when I heard the bad news.  I needed to help my baby grow by feeding her the right formula. It was really that simple, but the hard part was finding the right formula, so she could grow in order to be born. The formula was Daniel’s advice.

    I’d gone to Office Depot and stocked up on paper, pens, highlighters and ink for my laser jet; I was ready. I sat and pondered the story; I didn’t want to change the story and I struggled immensely hard. “I don’t want to change my story!” Then, I realized I needed to find a way to make it punch and the only way to do that was to indeed change the story. It wasn’t easy, because I really loved the original, which was like a sweetly played Cinderella kind of theme. But I also knew that the Cinderella aspect would have to go if I really wanted to make this baby kick. After a few weeks of pondering, I told my self that I have the opportunity to tell a really great story, and deliver a powerful message. So, if I do this, I’ll have to go hard, really HARD!

    So, I used the formula Daniel had given me and started forming a new treatment with all of my ideas from the original story and created something more dynamic. After weeks of writing the treatment, it was finished and I was scared all over again. It’s like going to the doctor for a check-up and you’re waiting to see if you’re going to have a healthy baby or not. So, I sent the treatment to Daniel to review it, to make sure I was heading in the right direction with the new developments.

    Daniel read the treatment and we had our conference call to talk about what I’d done and the new direction. I didn’t know what to expect. Honestly, I felt Daniel was going to slice it with an ax from some bloody horror movie like he did my first script. I was expecting it. I’d prepared for it.  The first thing he said was, “Damn, you created a whole new story!” I chuckled a bit, because it was a whole new story – same characters and premise, just a new direction. Then he said in a subtle, yet timid voice, “Hmm, I read your formula and I was a little worried there for a minute. I didn’t know how this could be pulled off!”  Of course my face fell again, and I casually said, “Oh no!” falling into the slumps again. I was devastated! But he quickly continued, saying, “But you totally pulled it off! This is totally sellable in the market, providing you execute the screenplay well! Very good, Alecia!”

    My face lit up like fireworks on the 4th of July.  I was ecstatic, goober-excited to hear those words, “Very good!” and it was from an executive perspective. I apparently had followed the formula. We talked for two hours going over everything: the theme, the premise, the pace, the characters, the plots, and sub-plots. Daniel said that everything was there for a really sexy drama to unfold and my characters now seemed very three-dimensional. He gave me kudos for a really good treatment format too, excluding the grammatical errors (it was for his eyes only). Now the hard work was turning that treatment into a sellable screenplay. Daniel had only one problem with the treatment – I had so much going on, he wasn’t sure if I could fit it all in a 120-page script.

    Months later, it’s January 2010 – a brand new year, and the screenplay is complete. It’s ready to be sent over to Daniel for coverage again. Fingers crossed. But little does Daniel know; there have been some new plot twists and developments that came from the powers of the universe. Totally unbelievable (in a good way) and the birthing process to writing a really good screenplay has begun. I totally look forward to Daniel’s response and feedback. I hope that I’ve executed a great screenplay and a really solid and powerful story. So to answer the question, “How do you birth a really good screenplay?”

    1. You get advice from a screenwriting coach who knows what they are talking about.
    2. You take that criticism and use it, even if it’s negative. Don’t throw it away. That’s valuable advice.
    3. Learn how to take those mistakes and learn from them, by taking your time and pulling back. Reconsider all options. Remember you’re feeding your baby the wrong formula.
    4. You follow the instructions (the formula) your coach has given to you.
    5. Follow your gut and go for it! If it speaks to you, your baby is telling you something. Even if it’s not the original direction you wanted. Take the risk and go for it. It may just pay off.
    6. Read books and other screenplays by writers whose scripts have been produced and turned into film. They are a great reference tool.
    7. You execute the formula correctly and you will have a really good and healthy baby (screenplay). Don’t give up. Keep writing.

    Writing a great screenplay is about executing the formula. Making sure you have a solid premise, theme, plots, twist and great characters to move your story forward.  For more information on writing great screenplays, read Robert McKee’s “Story,” an amazing book. It’s available for purchase at Barnes and Noble and the audio version on iTunes.

    If you are an aspiring screenwriter who has friends that keep telling you that your story is the greatest, then have Daniel Manus take a look at it and get a professional, executive’s perspective on it – you will be amazed. His notes are exactly as advertised – “NO BULLSHIT!” It may hurt, but wouldn’t you want someone to tell you that you’re making mistakes and give you the opportunity to correct them and let your work shine! Or would you prefer to rely on your friends and be set up for failure, because they won’t be honest with you, because they know how much it means to you and don’t want to hurt your feelings. The choice is yours.

    Daniel is as honest as it gets and I highly recommend him. Just like his tagline says, “Hate me today …Love me in your acceptance speech!” I know I will and that’s why he’s my professional reader! Please visit Daniel Manus and No BullScript Consulting at www.nobullscript.net

    Wish me success!

    Alecia Smith, Screenwriter of “Elysian Fields & Love Stronger than Pride”

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