Fake your way as a screenwriter

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“This guy is obviously a hack. If you wanna become a screenwriter, follow my method instead, which is working hard instead of smart and then complaining on the internet. BTW, I’m not a produced screenwriter, but hey, any fucking day now..!”

– random internet guy who will never do anything to advance your career. 

So, you just clicked on a link that is obviously clickbaiting. Well, congratulations, you just learned one of the most important rules of screenwriting: a good title beats a good script.

Lets put a number on it, for good measure. Let’s give it the number 10. That way, you know this is a list, and you’re on a measurable countdown. That means I’m not wasting your time, and if I am, I’m only doing it for a little while. So, without further ado:

10) a good title beats a good script

Here’s the brutal fact: Most scripts don’t get read. That’s because most scripts aren’t good. Admit it, you dread reading other peoples scripts, and other people feel the same way about yours.

One of the most important insights you’ll have as a screenwriter, occurs when you start thinking like a producer and not as an artist. Here’s the sad truth: Nobody cares about you or your script. A producer, a reader, a studiohead – none of these people wake up in the morning stressing over how they can advance your career. They spend every waking moment thinking about their own. They get a shitload of scripts, most are horrible.

Imagine yourself in the position of one of these people, living just as difficult a life as yours, with limited time and energy, 1238 unopened mails in their inbox and 20 unread scripts on their desk. Which script would YOU open?

A good title indicates a good premise, a good premise indicates a good movie – worst case it can be bought and rewritten, you’ll still be credited.

Don’t worry, the next builletpoints are shorter. Here’s a picture:


9) Don’t read “Story” by Robert McKee

I don’t hate screenwriting gurus, I’m one – but for some reason, Robert McKees 1000-pages-or-so testament to his love of French movies has become a business standard – not for reading, but for telling other people to read when they approach you with a script. Ask anyone who tells you to read “Story” to sum up 3 or even just one of it’s major teachings in a single sentence and they’ll blank out and eventually tell you “You just have to read it yourself”, indirectly confessing that they themselves haven’t read it through and neither has anyone else because it fucking sucks – but hey, the book has a great title, right?

8) A good premise beats a good story

You can’t make a good story from a bad premise, promise. Given the short attention span of studio heads and humans in general, you should captivate your audience in one-two sentences. If you have to spend more than 20 seconds explaining your movie, you’re trying to cram too much into a story. 

Good premise:

“Fucking Jane Austen: Two friends angry at Jane Austen for creating unrealistic romantic expectations among women today get sent back in time to the nineteenth century. The only way for them to return home is for one of them to get Jane Austen to fall in love and sleep with him.”

Bad premise:

anything containing the words “me”, “my”, “misunderstood”, “experimental”, “captivates”, “metaphor”, “eternal”, “nocturnal” or “incest”.

7) screenwriting isn’t therapy.

If you’re trying to process shit, look at Woody Allen. 52 movies in and still messed up. No, writing is not therapeutic.

6) int. means inside, ext. means outside, write only what you see on screen and make every scene drive into the next

and that’s about all you need to know about the technical side of screenwriting. Oh, and enter each scene as late as possible and leave it as early as possible.

4) learn the plot points.

This is what you’ll get out of most screenwriting books, only the terminology changes:

– setup: the first 10-12 pages, where your main character (protagonist) is introduced.

– inciting incident: something fucked up happens around page 12 that breaks the stasis of the protagnoists world.

A-story / B-story: Basically, every movie has two stories, and one of them is usually a love story and the other one about saving the world or some minor aspect of it. The two stories (spoiler) intertwine, at extremely predictable points (see: act break)

– act break: around page 30 you break into act two, which is the main meat of the story – it’s Alice when she’s actually in Wonderland. Around page 70-90, you break into part three where she decides to get the fuck out, for real.

– midpoint: in the middle of the movie, when you think it was about to end but another level of hell is just released and the protagonist is worse off than when the movie started.

These are basically the plot points you need to know in order to read and evaluate scripts, and most experienced readers turn right to these pages to see if you are as well educated as they themselves are or toss away the script – congratulations, now you can do so as well!

5) You probably didn’t notice that i skipped point 5

As long as you’re invested in the narrative you can do just about anything. Once you lose the audience, it’s almost impossible to reconnect.

3) Movie people are visually oriented

People think in one of three modalities: Feeling, hearing or seeing. People in the movie industry are predominantly visual, so if you want to communicate in their language, make them see things. Talk in pictures. Use visual metaphors. Make them Imagine. If only the poster outisde the movie theatre.

Here’s a picture, to make you read the last two points and share this article.

This picture made me laugh more than the Farrelly Brothers last three movies combined.

This picture made me laugh more than the Farrelly Brothers last three movies combined.

2) Your literary and grammatical skills are useless

Quentin Tarantinos scripts are such a mess they would make any unproduced grammar nazi cringe from reading it. Wes Andersons screenplays are filled with little drawings. A screenplays only function is to make the reader visualize the movie. If you catch yourself proofreading your script more than once, you’re procrastinating. Focus on story, characters, emotions. Nobody ever threw away a brilliant story because of a spelling mistake. Nobody ever bought a script because of excellent grammar.

1) You already know how to tell a story

In ancient Greece, people were lucky to catch a dozen plays in their lifetime. You’ve probably watched more shows than that this week already. People are natural storytellers, and your innate storytelling talent is honed daily by reading, watching TV shows or movies, by glazing over the daily funnies in your local newspaper.

You already recognize a good story when you hear one, which means it resonates with something within you – people are basically constructed from the same blueprint with a common set of wants, needs and desires, and stories fulfill these to a certain extent. That’s why most movies are about love, heroism, sex, crime, loss, gain, and probably less than half a dozen other things that’s less specific to your personal taste than you’d probably like to think. Identify the stories that appeal to you, and just apply their model to your own story.

Yes, steal it.

After all, Hollywood remakes the same pictures over and over, why shouldn’t you?


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One thought on “Fake your way as a screenwriter

  1. Thanks – This is really helpful. Love your sense of humor, although I think my mind kinda short-circuited on rainbow hitler santa, lol. I refer to your site often as a guide for my screenwriting. dunkashein:) not sure if that’s thanks or you’re welcome, but you know what I mean.

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