Sunday, July 21, 2013

How I became a screenwriter

So if you read yesterday's post you'll know that I didn't always want to be a screenwriter. In fact, it's a passion that developed later on in life. I didn't go to school, nor have I ever taken a professional course in screenwriting at all. Yet I'm now repped at a big management company and an have an A-list agent.

When I was in college, I bought a great book by Elliot Grove called The Screenwriters Handbook. I had always wanted to write SOMETHING, but didn't quite know what. I began adapting my favorite Phillip K. Dick Novel, Our Friends from Frolix Eight. It's set in a totalitarian society in the future where mankind is ruled over by super-intelligent people called New Men, and how this society eventually falls apart when a giant amorphous alien arrives and returns power back to the Old Men. Basically, it's a big metaphor for the way government is run. I loved it then and I love it now. I'll make it into a film one day. 

Anyway, I wrote about twenty pages and that was it. I didn't pick up a pen in about five years, when I had a conversation with my best friend and we talked about writing again. I went back to Grove's book and also read Syd Field's classic tome, Screenplay. This taught me rudimentary structure (Three Acts, plot points at the end of each). Syd Fields work now seems so basic, but at the time it really became great to watch films and identify these points. We wrote our first feature The Pick Up, a black comedy about a the world's greatest pick-up artist who is eventually killed by the woman he's desperate to get with. Fun.

I also read Brian McKee's Story, and studied Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces after hearing that George Lucas studied him when writing Star Wars. 

When I moved to LA, I planned to write a screenplay. It was about a struggling actor who realizes that he is a character in someone else's movie, and is actually a world famous A-list actor who has become consumed by his role. But despite that fact that I covered my wall in post-its, having broken down the story into scenes and sequences... I just didn't write it. It never happened. Wild horses couldn't drag me to my computer to write. And so I came across the first hurdle in screenwriting: It's easy to start, hard to continue. 

At that time I began working with a friend of mine, Ben Lustig. Ben had sold his first screenplay, and it was even made! The film was called The Thirst, and was a straight to DVD vampire flick. He had written a film called SilverFox and wanted help re-writing it. So I came on board and we began to write. 

This project started my real journey in LA to become a screenwriter. And the real hard work began. 

Ben really instilled in me a great writing work ethic. You need to always be writing. Always. 

We regularly logged 20 hours per week together (which I did while working three jobs and having a steady girlfriend). If one wants to succeed, one has to be constantly writing. We also really began further research into screenplay structure and why our favorite films worked. 

We read Christopher Vogler's The Writers Journey which absolutely complimented the research I'd already done on Joseph Campbell. But my world really changed when I discovered John Truby. For me, John Truby is the absolute master of structure work. He pushes away the three act structure and creates his own 21 steps to creating good screenplays. I found that when combined with Vogler, Field and even Blake Snyder's Save the Cat structure, we now found a system that really worked. 

I also worked as a screenplay reader for a while. This is invaluable for a writer (at least for a while). You get to read BAD scripts and identify why they are bad. You also get to read good scripts and learn why they work. 

Anyway, there are tonnes of resources out there to become a screenwriter. All I've done is read a lot of books on the subject, read lots of scripts and most of all WRITTEN. I've written seven feature length screenplays and I can honestly say each one is better than the last. So read and write and you just get better the more you do. 

So I became a screenwriter by accident. I found that while I wasn't working as an actor, I had an outlet for the creativity I had burning within me. Nobody had to tell me to write. I could do that whenever I wanted. And despite the fact that I came to LA with acting aspirations, I don't feel short changed. Life has a way of pushing in the direction you're supposed to be going in. 

For now, it's screenwriting.

More soon


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