What Do Screenwriting Contests Want? A Reconsideration.


 

rant and rave secondFirst a word from our sponsor:

Check out my Script Consultation Services at http://ow.ly/HPxKE. I offer several types of service. Testimonials can be found at the blog entry.

Ever wonder what a reader for a contest or agency thinks when he reads your screenplay?  Check out the second edition of my screenwriting book, More Rantings and Ravings of a Screenplay Reader published on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07GD1XP9Y

Finally, I have published a collection of three of my plays, 3 Plays, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08478DBXF as well as two collections of short stories, The Starving Artists and other stories, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07FS91CKJ and The Five Corporations and the One True Church and other stories, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07KY5Z3CF.

 

 

I wrote a blog entry sometime back called Everything You Wanted to Know About Screenplay Contests* But Weren’t Afraid to Ask. For those intrigued, the link is here: https://howardcasner.wordpress.com/2015/01/24/the-future-is-now-a-pretentious-essay-for-screenwriters/

 

Since then I have been doing some rethinking about contests. Most of what I’ve said above, if not all of it, still applies. But there is one area that I did want to address based on my own experience and based on some facebook posts I have come across.

 

What sort of screenplays do contests look for? Continue reading

Rules of the Formatting Game


First a word from our sponsor:

Check out my Script Consultation Services at http://ow.ly/HPxKE. I offer several types of service. Testimonials can be found at the blog entry.

Ever wonder what a reader for a contest or agency thinks when he reads your screenplay?  Check out the second edition of my screenwriting book, More Rantings and Ravings of a Screenplay Reader published on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07GD1XP9Y

Finally, I have published a collection of three of my plays, 3 Plays, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08478DBXF as well as two collections of short stories, The Starving Artists and other stories, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07FS91CKJ and The Five Corporations and the One True Church and other stories, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07KY5Z3CF.

 

The next in my blog entries on screenwriting and film will be about common formatting mistakes I still see people make. I am surprised at some of these, that they are still committed on such a regular basis. But it still happens.

 

Probably most of you already know these rules. But it never hurts to have a refresher course. Continue reading

HOW DO I WRITE A GREAT SCREENPLAY, OR BARRING THAT, AN ACADEMY AWARD WINNING SCREENPLAY? SPOILER: YOU CAN’T.


rant and rave second

First a word from our sponsor:

Check out my Script Consultation Services at http://ow.ly/HPxKE. I offer several

types of service. Testimonials can be found at the blog entry.

Ever wonder what a reader for a contest or agency thinks when he reads your screenplay?  Check out the second edition of my screenwriting book, More Rantings and Ravings of a Screenplay Reader published on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07GD1XP9Y

Finally, I have published two collections of short stories, The Starving Artists and other stories, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07FS91CKJ and The Five Corporations and the One True Church and other stories, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07KY5Z3CF

 

I often see on facebook, as well as other media, screenwriters asking, how do I write a great screenplay? Or I see gurus offering advice on how to write a great screenplay or, falling short of that, how to write an Oscar nominated screenplay. Well, I am here to tell you the truth.

 

You can’t.

 

I’m sorry to have to break it to you, but you just can’t. No matter what people tell you, you can’t and they can’t. I mean, yeah, they say they can, but, hell, I could say the words as well, but that doesn’t mean I can help you do it.

 

There are reasons for this of course. A screenplay gets a nomination for an Oscar for all sorts of reasons, with the quality of the screenplay being only one, and sometimes the least important one, of how this process happens. One of the myths (though I don’t believe enough people actually believe this, but you never know) is that screenplays, like the other fields, just naturally get voted for simply because they are the best, they are the cream of the crop, and cream rises to the top.

 

And I have the deed to the Brooklyn Bridge in my back pocket.

 

And for proof, I give you Love Story, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, …And Justice for All, and last year’s Greenbook (the most edgy film about race relations of 1972).

 

Screenplays, like all the Oscar and other award group movies, tend to get nominations if: you have a producer and distributor willing to spend a small (ha, small, right) fortune on an Oscar campaign; they open it at the right time of the year (getting  a movie nominated in the non-technical fields is almost impossible if it opens earlier than September, and even more difficult if it opens earlier than that); and there is enough buzz, critical and otherwise (film fests can help here) before and as the film opens.

 

There are exceptions to the early opening rule. Get Out was a huge one, opening in February of its year. It also is a horror film, which is a genre difficult to get noticed at awards time no matter when it opens. But here, the Oscar campaign commenced almost simultaneously with its release and it never let up. It was also popular enough with the audience and the critics to give the campaign that much more energy to get the awards buzz going throughout the year.

 

This year, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood opened in July. But that is a movie by Tarantino. And the Oscar campaign really began long before the movie even opened.

 

Movies of high quality do get through. Last year, First Reformed, written by Paul Schrader, got an Oscar nomination for original screenplay. But Schrader is considered one of the finest screenwriters working in Hollywood and the movie got much critical acclaim, which helped with the Oscar campaign, so that the screenplay did manage to sneak in. (Ethan Hawke, however, did not manage to get into the Best Actor field.)

 

So how do you write an Oscar nominated screenplay? As I said, you can’t. You can write one and if all the various factors come together just right (and these are factors the writer has absolutely no control over), then you might, but only might, get one. But you can’t write that. You can only write the screenplay.

 

Writing a great screenplay is actually probably easier, but that’s because greatness in art is something that isn’t dependent on how much money a movie makes, how many awards it receives, how it is received at the time, or factors like that. The only determining factor in whether a screenplay is great is time, with the irony that the author may very well be dead long before the film is ensconced in the pantheon of greatness.

 

Since greatness in a screenplay isn’t dependent on those factors, what factors is it dependent on? The intrinsic quality of the script helps. Bad screenplays almost never are considered great no matter how much time has passed.

 

But the most important ingredients that will help in this area is the author writing their vision, writing something that really means something to them, that is original and unique. And if the author succeeds in writing a good screenplay with those qualities (because you can actually write your vision and do everything else I mentioned and still fall short-), it may one day achieve greatness.

 

However, at the same time, such screenplays can be much harder to get greenlit in the United States.

 

About the only thing a guru can really do to help here is to guide you in making your script the best it can possibly be. They might be able to give some insight into marketability and such, but generally speaking, when it comes to that, to paraphrase the old saw, nobody in Hollywood knows anything (if they did, they wouldn’t be making any flop movies).

 

But nobody can write a great screenplay or write an Oscar nominated screenplay. And no one can teach you how to do it. That’s just not the way the system, or life, works.

 

 

Screenwriting and Little Women


rant and rave second

First a word from our sponsor:

Check out my Script Consultation Services at http://ow.ly/HPxKE. I offer several types of service. Testimonials can be found at the blog entry.

Ever wonder what a reader for a contest or agency thinks when he reads your screenplay?  Check out the second edition of my screenwriting book, More Rantings and Ravings of a Screenplay Reader published on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07GD1XP9Y

Finally, I have published two collections of short stories, The Starving Artists and other stories, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07FS91CKJ and The Five Corporations and the One True Church and other stories, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07KY5Z3CF

If you want to see what a difference a screenwriter and a director can make to a movie, it might behoove you to see all four versions of Little Women, 1933, 1949, 1994 and 2019.

 

The ranking quality of the films are generally thus: the 2019 version is the best, then 1994, closely, closely followed by 1933, with 1949 a distant fourth. And I think there are reasons for this, which lie in the areas of both directing and screenwriting. In the end, what makes the 2019 version the best is that it is the best directed combined with the best screenplay. The 1994 and 1933 versions are almost as well directed, but the screenplays are not nearly as strong. And the 1949 suffers from just not being that good in either category (it’s all right, but that’s about it).

 

One place to see the difference in the direction is to look at the first party scenes at the Laurence’s. In the 1949 version, directed by Mervyn LeRoy, this scene is incredibly limp and boring. It really sags. And it’s a reflection of the movie as a whole. It never really comes alive.

 

However, look at the same scenes in the 1994 version, directed by Gillian Armstrong, and the 1933 version, directed by George Cukor (who always had a knack for this sort of storytelling), and one can instantly see the difference. These scenes are far more alive and exciting.

 

At the same time, we then get to the party scene in Greta Gerwig’s version of 2019 (she both wrote and directed), and this scene soars. In fact, the earlier dance scene after the theater is the place where this version really takes off. But in the party at the Laurence’s, it is so exciting and riveting, it is a signal of the quality that is to come.

 

At the same time, I still maintain that in the end, what ultimately makes Gerwig’s version the best is the superb screenplay (without it, I suggest the film, though still enjoyable and well received, might not be regarded as the best of the top three-probably just as good). It is far richer with more vibrant and more deeply developed characters. Where characters like Aunt May and Mr. Laurence are sorely lacking in early versions, Gerwig has made characters like these pop out and stand on their own by giving them more time and development. She even introduces a new character, the crusty curmudgeon of a publisher that Jo has to battle to become the artist she wants to become, who also has a vibrancy about him.

 

Alas, or it may be inevitable, she is not able to do more with Mr. March than in any earlier version. He has no real character and doesn’t seem to have any real purpose in the story except to show up in time to preside over the marriage of his daughter (he’s a minister). After that, he seems to disappear. And not only that, he is never missed.

 

Gerwig has also taken the feminism of the 1994 version and gone much further with it. It is very modern in its psychology of women’s role in society and what they have to do to become their own persons and achieve each their goals.

 

And she has given it a non-linear structure which, for me, further deepens the emotions of the film (some didn’t like this aspect of the film, but for me it is one of the ingredients that raise it above the other incarnations).

 

The earlier versions have screenplays by Robin Swicord (1994); Andrew Solt, Sarah Y. Mason and Victor Heerman (1949); and Sara Y. Mason and Victor Heerman (1933)-I don’t know if Mason and Heerman actually worked on the 1949 version, or just get credit because much of their original screenplay was used. But of the group, Swicord is the next strongest, followed by Mason and Heerman (1933), and a the one in 1949 (the weakest, possibly because the directing is the weakest).

 

So for me, the real triumph of this new version of the Alcott classic is the superior and remarkable screenplay. And writers should perhaps take note of just how important they can actually be, if allowed, to projects like this.

LOGLINES AND TITLES AND BEARS, OH MY!


Check out my Script Consultation Services at http://ow.ly/HPxKE. I offer several types of service. Testimonials can be found at the blog entry.
Ever wonder what a reader for a contest or agency thinks when he reads your screenplay?  Check out the second edition of my screenwriting book, More Rantings and Ravings of a Screenplay Reader published on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07GD1XP9Y
Finally, I have published two collections of short stories, The Starving Artists and other stories, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07FS91CKJ and The Five Corporations and the One True Church and other stories, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07KY5Z3CF

 

     This is the latest entry in my blog essays on various screenwriting topics. These are mainly inspired by postings on various facebook sites. This one is inspired by numerous postings that I personally believe give the wrong idea when it comes to the above-referenced issues.
     However, before I begin I should mention and it should be noted that based on the postings I continuously run across, I am very much an outlier in my opinions. So take this into consideration as you read.
     When it comes to loglines, the main issue I disagree with is when someone says that you have to have a logline that will make whoever (agent, manager, producer, director) want to read your script. That they are compelled to read it, that the fate of the world, the very life of their first born, will depend upon it.  Continue reading

EXPOSITION: CAN’T WRITE WITH IT, CAN’T WRITE WITHOUT IT or YADDA, YADDA, YADDA…THE END


For questions: hcasner@aol.com

First, a word from our sponsors: My short film 8 Conversations in 15 Minutes 58 Seconds will premiere at STUFF, the South Texas Underground Film Festival on January 27th, 2019 http://www.stuftx.org/

Check out my Script Consultation Services at http://ow.ly/HPxKE. I offer several types of service. Testimonials can be found at the blog entry.

Ever wonder what a reader for a contest or agency thinks when he reads your screenplay?  Check out the second edition of my screenwriting book, More Rantings and Ravings of a Screenplay Reader published on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07GD1XP9Y

Finally, I have published two collections of short stories, The Starving Artists and other stories, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07FS91CKJ and The Five Corporations and the One True Church and other stories, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07KY5Z3CF

 

     Exposition seems to bring out the worst in screenwriters. I don’t mean how they use it when putting fingers to keyboard, but how they talk about it. The way some of them go on…and on…and on about it, one would think using exposition is worse than child molesting and will damn you to hellfire for all eternity…or longer.

But have no fear. In the real world, exposition is nothing to be afraid of. In fact, exposition can be your friend. You will not only invariably use it in your screenplays, you will quite possibly use it multiple times…and not once grow hair on the palms of your hands.

In fact, exposition is just about unavoidable. It’s just a fact of the writing life. Continue reading

SUBTEXT: THAT PASSIVE/AGGRESSIVE FRIEND YOU HATE, BUT CAN’T DROP or WE’RE GOING TO NEED A BIGGER BOAT


For questions: hcasner@aol.com

First, a word from our sponsors: My short film 8 Conversations in 15 Minutes 58 Seconds will premiere at STUFF, the South Texas Underground Film Festival on January 27th, 2019 http://www.stuftx.org/

Check out my Script Consultation Services at http://ow.ly/HPxKE. I offer several types of service. Testimonials can be found at the blog entry.

Ever wonder what a reader for a contest or agency thinks when he reads your screenplay?  Check out the second edition of my screenwriting book, More Rantings and Ravings of a Screenplay Reader published on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07GD1XP9Y

Finally, I have published two collections of short stories, The Starving Artists and other stories, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07FS91CKJ and The Five Corporations and the One True Church and other stories, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07KY5Z3CF

 

    This is the second in a series of articles on various screenwriting topics. Further entries will include exposition, voice overs and passive central characters. The previous entry was on diversity in film.

 

On facebook and a myriad of other places, people put forth various requisites or must haves, do’s and do nots, they claim are needed to write, if not a great screenplay, at least a perfectly serviceable one.

 

One of the most popular ones is subtext. Now, I prefer writers not worry about things like this, at least at first. I’m on the side of the angels who say, concentrate on writing a good story that is successful on its own terms and if it has subtext, good, if not, good. I mean why tamper when you’ve got a good thing going?

 

I prefer elements like subtext to grow organically out of the writing, not be foisted upon it. Still, if you are receiving constant feedback that your dialog is too on point, or that the reader feels as if they are being told how to feel, rather than being allowed to feel, you may need subtext, taken four times a day on an empty stomach.

 

One problem with subtext is that everyone seems to know what it is, but have difficulty coming up with a clear, concise and satisfactory definition that everyone agrees with. It’s like art: no one can define it, but they all know it when they see it. Continue reading