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

Fresh from winning a 2009 AWGIE award, Queensland screenwriters Shayne Armstrong and S.P.Krause share their advice and experiences on the practice of screenwriting in the final 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. –  Onscreen: ONLINE September 09

Armstrong and Krause wrote the recent Australian feature Acolytes. They also developed the new television series featuring Doctor Who spin-off character K9, writing the series bible and eight episodes of that show. An episode they wrote for K-9 was nominated for a 2009 AWGIE Award in the Children’s Television category.

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.

A Take-It-Or-Leave-It Three-Stage Approach For New Screenwriters In Queensland

Part Three: Get ‘Em Read

These days we’ve got an agent and we’re known in various places. It’s gotten easier to get our stuff read. We still have to wait weeks, sometimes months and often the criticism of the material is dismissive and unhelpful but at least we have more desks to aim our stuff at.

What do you do when you’re some creepy little shut-in who’s written a script you like better than your own mother? Well, you start hassling anyone you can. Anyone. You never know who might actually fluke getting a movie made. Cultivate contacts. We’re still cultivating and tuning some people after a decade and still haven’t gotten a job out of them.

Unless you’re some uber-hip AFTRS graduate you won’t get an agent straight off the bat so get that idea out of your head. To get an agent you have to do the impossible which is get a film made without an agent. We did. Then we got our agent. But as an agentless slob what you need to do is meet people, read everything you can, Encore, IF, subscribe to websites about OZ film. Know what’s happening, who’s making what and who could be right for your script.

Too many people never do. They may somehow write something that isn’t completely embarrassing but then they have no idea what to do with it because this side of being a screenwriting professional has not been developed.

Okay, so you’ve been trawling the web, reading the trades, and hanging around bars and parties at industry functions seeing who’s out there. Now you get in touch.

Basically, people ask themselves one thing only when they’re approached by an unfamiliar writer: Is this person insane? Of course, the answer in every case is “yes” but you have to keep a lid on that for the time being. If you sound like a nut or an egotistical bore (which, let’s face it, you also are) then you’re going to be gently ignored. “Gently”, because they’ll be slightly scared of you.

Take meetings. Make a meeting with whatever producer you can find. Buy them a coffee or a beer because they probably can’t afford to buy you one. Ask them what they’re working on, tell them what you’ve written and what else you’re working on. Be normal. Save the crazy stuff for the page. And learn to pitch (perhaps a topic for a future article) but in short, this shouldn’t be hard – you spent months of your life writing a story you cared for enough to write 110 pages about – you should know what the story is and have some inkling about why you wrote it and why tens of thousands of other people (at least) would want to pay to see it played out on a screen somewhere. And if you followed our previous advice and write something with care, craft, passion and the intention to create something that you and the multitude of others just like you would like to see at the cinema or on DVD, then you should be proud and passionate and excited about your script.

The good thing about Australia is that producers give you time. You can sit around with them anywhere from 30 minutes to all afternoon and most of the night. Sometimes it’s difficult to get away from them. We’ve literally pitched eight concepts in 10 minutes to Yankee producers. We’ve gotten halfway through the opening sentence and they want to know how the third act ends and who we see starring in it. We liken the experience to being raped with a garden mattock.

We were complete snobs when we first started out and thought a Queensland producer was an oxymoron. So we went interstate. We still do this but we also have and do work with local producers. Do both. Check out who is around locally and then get on a plane and go hassle anyone who will see you down south. We once focused mostly on Sydney but Melbourne is getting better for us. Keep an open mind. See everybody, talk to everybody, read everything. Collect information and contacts like its precious intelligence. Because it is!

And this doesn’t come after you’ve written your masterpiece. At the same time you’re dreaming up your killer script, you should be asking yourself: Ok, once this proof of my genius is complete, who do I take it to? That way, everyday, when those pages are amassing so are the options for your script. When it’s done you have a list of people you’re going to send it to. In fact, you’ve already contacted them, enough have gotten back to you with a ‘yes’ about reading it and by the time it reaches its first desk, in the first of the scores of offices it will have to sluggishly pass through, you’re already deep into your new opus and you couldn’t care less what 99 percent of readers say about your last script, as long as that one percent get to the final page, and rifle back to the beginning to find your name and where you live and who they should be contacting to have a big chat to you.

Because that’s what scriptwriters do. They write and they do whatever is required to get what they’ve written read and someday turned into movies.

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

Not bad odds really…

To read Part One: Get ‘Em Ideated click here
To read Part Two: Get ‘Em Written click here