Saturday, November 21, 2009


On Thursday, Adam Levenberg gave us his thoughts on the five types of highly unsuccessful writers.

He continues today with:


In my previous article, I discussed some highly ineffective work habits for those trying to break through into the world of professional screenwriting. Today, I'll share some approaches to material that I routinely recognize in unrepresented writers.


The Independent has no need for structure or rules, because they believe that the success of their idols is due to bucking the system. Their screenplays are often unreadable as they have a toxic reaction to any helpful advice inspired by Hollywood films that sold a lot of tickets.

The Independent has no idea that their indie idols (often they cite Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino, Charlie Kaufman and recently, Diablo Cody) are usually huge fans of great Hollywood Cinema. Their idols understand traditional structure inside and out, using this knowledge to construct films that fit nicely inside the box while giving viewers a taste of creative rebellion that makes their work seem original.

The oddest thing about The Independent is that he or she refuses to stick to (or learn) the conventions of Hollywood Cinema, but is more than happy to copy the style of his or her idol, resulting in a spec that manages to be both derivative and unreadable.


The Award Winner (In Training) is similar to the Independent with a few key differences. They attend the same art-house theaters, but the AW is buying tickets to British period pieces and "important" films on serious subjects. When it comes to their own screenplay, they trend towards big issues and biopics.

Their "big issue" scripts often suck because they don't understand Hollywood Cinema well enough to help the medicine go down with a spoonful of sugar. Often, they fucking hate the spoonful of sugar and think it represents common taste, which they are far too important to indulge.

The Award Winner (In Training) loves the films of Alexander Payne like ELECTION or SIDEWAYS, but refuses to recognize Payne's credits on I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU CHUCK & LARRY and JURASSIC PARK 3.

The Award Winner recommends Alexander & Karazewski biopics like THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT or ED WOOD and probably hasn't seen the duo's very funny SCREWED starring Norm MacDonald, PROBLEM CHILD (and it's sequel) as well as several production drafts of THE PACIFIER.

Usually this type of writer doesn't realize that the ability to write a film that wins awards is predicated on being able to write simple, fun genre movies first (which can be considered the building blocks of cinema).


The Librarian is often a strain of the Award Winner. The Librarian understands that strong research skills are necessary to create interesting characters, situations, and value in their screenplays. They set out to learn as much as they can and overshoot their mark by one or two years, immersing themselves so far in the research that they forget to write a movie. Instead, they've constructed a vehicle to vomit as much information on to the page as possible.

This is why page counts matter little to The Librarian. How else can they fully capture the scope of their research without hitting page 150? Entertainment value is not relevant either--who has time for a subplot involving a love story when you've got eight briefing binders to cover?

Often, The Librarian is obsessed with a particular issue or event. He or she thinks a movie is the best way to raise awareness because the issue is so important. Writing a book isn't good enough. It has to be a movie!

The good news is that usually The Librarian is a highly intelligent person who quickly realizes that they haven't written anything resembling a movie and even if they rewrote the piece, it wouldn't be anything remotely fun or entertaining.


Whether you're an Independent, Award Winner, or Librarian, chances are you have yet to write a movie that a studio would want to buy. Ask yourself--are my scripts FUN? What is the specific value of my screenplay? Will it make people laugh? Will it scare the shit out of them? Is the dialogue snappy?

Independents need to know traditional Hollywood structure (I like SAVE THE CAT because its the most user friendly, but there's other versions of beat sheets you can use) and write a script that follows the numbers. Stop trying to write PULP FICTION and see how you can translate that creative energy--perhaps by writing something like HOSTEL, which I consider to be a great genre piece that Tarantino produced.

Award Winners need to stop being so ambitious. No more period pieces or biopics, assuming you are intent on writing a script that sells. If you're simply a history buff and write screenplays as a hobby to keep yourself occupied, go right ahead and keep chugging away. Whether you garden, build train sets, or write scripts, your free time is your own to enjoy as you see fit.

For Librarians, it is absolutely essential that you realize that you're not going to bring anyone's attention to a life and death issue by writing a screenplay about it.

If you are a witness to history or feel that the information you've uncovered needs to be shared with humanity and documented for historical purposes, write a book! Please. You are welcome to do as much research as you want, just make sure that it's research on the genre you're attempting to write and not the issue you want to tackle.

Remember that having a touch of these characteristics is just fine. There's nothing wrong with cbeing rebellious, hoping your movie will be critically respected, or doing adequate research before starting a screenplay. Like everything else, it's all about balance, and ultimately, bringing new ideas to the table to pump life into your movie.


Special thanks to Adam for his contribution to my blog. Look for more of his postings here in the future.

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