screenwriters on screenwriting – a three-stage approach (2 of 3)

ACOLYTES script Armstrong Krause WGA-1002133 release

ACOLYTES download via SCRIBD

Pacific Film & Television Commission – Onscreen: ONLINE July 09

Screenwriters on Screenwriting – A Three-Stage Approach

Queensland screenwriters Shayne Armstrong and S.P. Krause share their advice and experiences on the practice of screenwriting in the second installment of their three part series, broken down into three stages: getting the ideas, writing them down and getting them read. It’s a no-nonsense hands-on approach that every aspiring screenwriter should read.

Armstrong and Krause wrote the recent Australian feature Acolytes. They also developed the new television series featuring Doctor Who spin-off character K-9, writing the series bible and eight episodes of that show. Their latest commission is a new horror screenplay for Greg Mclean (Wolf Creek). They also have feature projects in development with directors Jamie Blanks (Urban Legend) and David Caesar (Idiot Box, Dirty Deeds). At the time of publication, they are deep into the outline for a new feature screenplay and concurrently writing first drafts of two other feature spec scripts which they hope to have completed by the end of the year.

Part Two: Get ‘Em Written

We asked Everett De Roche* last year how many spec scripts he’d written.

His answer: 50.

Let’s do the math. Everett has had 15 of his scripts produced. To round off, he’s had a third of his work turned into movies. That’s a ratio of three to one which is astounding. And that’s an optimistic ratio. We’ve adopted it now also.

In the first couple of years of our writing partnership, we wrote a script called Kraal** together, another called Monster Business and one called Acolytes. Acolytes got over the line. Three to one. Rings true. We’ve written three more since then so this formula is now being tested. Of course, we might write 10 in a row without any of them being shot but we’re hoping in our career that the ratio will continue to play out. It means we have to write a lot and accept that 66 percent of what we write will never be made. Or much more. That’s how it is. It’s a numbers game.

You have to have some level of talent – that’s obvious – but beyond that it’s about how many scripts you’re putting onto however many desks. We finish a script and then we’re writing another. Sometimes we’re doing three at once, which keeps things interesting. But it doesn’t matter how they come out as long as they do and often. The ‘often’ is personal but a script has got around 110 pages – 90 pages ideally if you’re a producer – if you pumped out five measly pages a week and this is disgusting effort, then you would have two screenplays a year. If you can’t hit a page count like that then teach or just watch movies and console yourself with the realization that you’re simply a consumer of cinema not a creator and just enjoy the ride (it’s always nicer and more relaxing to be a passenger than a driver, isn’t it?)

Something you quickly learn is never to second-guess anyone. We’ve thought we’ve written sure things before and no one could be bothered even reading them. We had so little faith in Oz with Acolytes that we were going to flog it around for a short period and then reset it in Florida around the Disney Orlando theme park (the theme park stuff didn’t survive into the final film but if you want to check out the original script take a look at )

We wrote a script last year that we thought was irresistible only to find everyone has so far resisted very well. The conclusion we’ve come to is that this is none of our business. This is our business: we have three jobs: conceive the stories – get ‘em ideated – write the scripts – get ‘em written – then get those scripts on desks – get ‘em read. They occupy all our thoughts when we’re writing them and then we have our heads in a new story.

That number again: 50.

50 for 15. Three to One. One in three.

Use it as a mantra. Write it on the wall where you work. Carve it on your furniture. Tattoo it on your frowning forehead.

You see a lot of human tragedies in the film industry but the most wretched of all is the writer with one script under their arm. One script that they will write and rewrite until they don’t even recognise it as the story they wanted to write and their families leave them and it’s been turned down by every producer in Australia.

Don’t be that writer.

*If you don’t know who Mr De Roche is you should.
** With our diabolical sometimes-collaborator Mr Greg Boylan.