How to get ideas out of your head and up on the screen.
Movies. No matter their theme, budget or cast, they all start out in pretty much the same way. They start out with dreamers — just like you — sitting in darkened theaters around the world and imagining what it would be like to see their names scrolling up the credits after the words, “Screenplay Written By… ”
Is there a movie inside of you that’s been yearning to get out but didn’t know where to begin?
The exciting news is that 21st century technology and the proliferation of independent film studios have increased the newcomer’s accessibility to the bright lights of Hollywood. Chat rooms, film camps, on-line classes, local access stations, and trade magazines abound with insider tips, techniques, and hands-on opportunities that were previously the purview of a select community. If you’ve always wanted to write for the movies or television, there’s never been a better time for it than right now!
"Christina Hamlett, a woman of many talents, has tackled the challenges of writing (novels, plays and films) in her usual breezy, often humorous and always knowledgeable way, emphasizing every aspect of film writing, its demands and pitfalls, with myriad do's and dont's. This is not a primer on screen writing; it is more an inspirational guide dealing with the realities of authorship, forcing the would be writer to ask him or herself to question why he or she is writing."
- Peter. S. Fischer, Co-creator of Murder, She Wrote
Over the next couple of months, School Video News will be featuriing excerpts from this new book. You can get your own copy by visiting here.
"Lights!" "Camera!" "Action!"
Whether their job is to cry on cue, focus the camera, or ensure that none of the paychecks bounce, they are all in the picture because of one person the screenwriter whose imagination gave them an exciting starting point.
Could that person be you?
In this section, you'll not only discover what skills are required to write a screenplay for today's market but also what kind of factors dictate which ideas get gobbled up faster than a holiday turkey and which ones go the way of a fruitcake.
IS THERE A SCREENPLAY IN YOUR FUTURE?
Dilhinger robbed banks because that's where the money was. He also died in a hail of gunfire when he was only 31. This cautionary tale is to remind you to check your motivation before starting this journey. Many aspiring writers tend to view Hollywood in much the same way as the Depression-era bandit did banks - just there for the taking. And who can blame them? When they see the million plus dollar salaries that today's top actors and actresses command, the idea of selling to the movies sounds like a much more lucrative gig than hawking poetry chapbooks or novellas.
"Selling," of course, is the operative word. Just like Dillinger, you still need a plan to break in.
The first thing to ask yourself is why you want to.
A strange question?
Not really. Too often, the glamour of myth can cloud personal judgment in picking the best career path for anyone's talents. Furthermore, a fixation on the end-product of wealth, popularity,, and good tables at restaurants ignores the unique joy that comes from the creative process. In other words (with apologies to the U.S. Navy), it's not just a job: it's an adventure.
Take the entire mystique of the screenwriter's job itself. If your impression of being a wordsmith to the stars revolves around quaffing champagne, scarfing bon-bons, and doing power lunches, you've been watching far more movies than you've been writing. The truth of the matter is that screenwriting is a workaday job pretty much like anything else and prone to a comparable level of stress, criticism, and insecurity. In fact, it probably bears uncanny similarity to whatever day-job you're holding down now.
The promise of a paycheck, for instance, depends on your performing a specific assignment and demonstrating its worth to the organization. Your work product is constantly, subject to deadlines, delays, review, procrastination, censure,, and revision. Furthermore, it could be years before your dedication is ever recognized and rewarded by someone who is in a position to change the status quo.
Where the path diverges is in the perception of whether the job is simply a means to an end or whether it's the means itself that provides the feeling of fulfillment. Do you ever hear an artist grumbling that he has to go paint something or a musician whining that she has to go write down the tune that's been dancing through her head? Of course not! The true test of a creative calling such as art, music, or storytelling isn't in how much money you could make but, rather, would you still be drawn to it even if you never made a dime.
This was a disheartening revelation to an associate of mine several years ago. He had been laboring for some time over the opening chapter of his Great American Novel and clearly wasn't deriving much enjoyment from the exercise.
"So why are you doing it?" I asked.
"Because people who write novels make lots of money," he rationalized aloud. "Besides, all it takes is just one and then I'll be set for life."
Even if he should ever complete a first draft and actually submit it somewhere, he'll have yet to learn that the challenge of being a successful writer isn't about coming up with a single hot idea that will finance your entire future. It's about coming up with multiple ideas, one right after another, and being able to discern which among them are the most commercially viable to spend your time developing.
Like books, many people may well have just that one good script in them. For them, screenwriting is not a career but rather a labor of love to express one story, one time. The insights provided in this book will be useful in helping these people transform their great ideas into scripts that will get the attention of agents and directors. For the rest of you - those who want this as your full-fledged career and who constantly see the world around them as full of stories with compelling characters, high drama or low comedy - then start your journey here. Learn your craft well and appreciate the profound difference between what the eye reads and what the eye sees.
Excerpted from “Could It Be a Movie? How to Get Ideas Out Of Your Head and Up on the Screen” By Christina Hamlett. Available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.
As part of my ongoing commitment to supply great lesson plans for today’s classrooms, I always enjoy getting feedback on how the material is used and what kind of new content you’d like to see in future columns. I’m also happy to answer any questions related to specific problems your students may be struggling with. Just drop me a note at or through my website at http://www.authorhamlett.com.
Former actress/director Christina Hamlett is an award winning author, professional script consultant, and ghostwriter. Her credits to date include 31 books, 157 plays for young actors, and 5 optioned feature films.