Paul Peditto, screenwriter of Jane Doe shares some thoughts before committing your thoughts to paper (or keyboard).
Know why you’re writing the movie. You really should know what exactly you’re trying to say. Why is what you’re about to write important to you? They say write what you know … that’s probably because what you know is what you care about. Thus, you can write about it with conviction.
What’s new about your idea? What in it haven’t I seen before? Why will folks pay $10+ to sit in a theater and see it? For spec scripts, if it’s non-remake or sequel, it better have a monster concept behind it. For the Independent level, you’re still looking to raise millions, thus the need for a dazzling hook that will draw an audience and bankable cast remains.
Know your genre before you write page 1. Sounds obvious, but sometimes it’s not. A student wanted to write about a recent divorce. The movie would be a drama and she made no bones about wanting to eviscerate her ex-husband. Week after week she’d come in with fresh pages that made our Writing Group howl with laughter. Somewhere about week 4 she realized: “Hey, I guess I’m writing a comedy.” Once you know the genre, know the sub-genre. What kind of comedy? The Hangover or Welcome to the Dollhouse? Horrible Bosses or Best In Show? Knowing your genre helps establish plot, tone and character.
Single Protagonist? Dual Protagonist? Ensemble? Big difference between two protagonists and a single with a strong secondary lead. Ensemble movies like Crash, Lifeboat, Nashville or Airplane! All have great characters but not a single one that dominates more than others.
Sure, in Crash the Matt Dillon character might have twice the number of scenes of, say, the Sandra Bullock character. It doesn’t make him the protagonist. Screen time is one way to recognize your protagonist (the protagonist will rarely disappear from the action) but it’s not the only measure. A protagonist is the character from who’s point of view the story is told. He can share time with secondary characters but the main journey is his. All the subplot characters exist to further his story. Definitely know the protagonist model before you start or your story will lose focus.
“Style is the answer to everything.
A fresh way to approach a dull or dangerous thing.
To do a dull thing with style is preferable to doing a dangerous thing without style.
To do a dangerous thing with style, is what I call art.
Bullfighting can be an art.
Boxing can be an art.
Loving can be an art.
Opening a can of sardines can be an art.
Not many have style.
Not many can keep style.”
Style is voice. It’s you, coming through on the pages of the script. Not an easy thing to do. It’s been said you need to write a million words to develop a style. Absurd to put a number on it but the point is made: It takes a long time to develop as a writer. When we think of movie stylists we often think of directors: Tarantino has style. So does Lynch. So, too, does Woody Allen, Darren Aronofsky, and Orson Wells. But writers, too, can have style. Shane Black is notorious. Old school guys like William Goldman or Paul Schrader. Charlie Kauffman is recognizable on the page, and in his choice of projects. It could be argued that the writer is just a conduit to story, that they should blend in and not stand out on the page. I disagree. True voice is rare. Derivative voice is common. Good writing makes a sound and the best writing grabs you by the throat and never let’s you go. So, keep working at it, get to the million words as soon as possible, and find that voice.