NOTES ON WRITING A SCREENPLAY

Here’s how it went down. A good friend with a cousin living in L.A. (a screenwriter), sent him my two memoirs, I Only Cuss When I’m Sailing and its sequel, the award-winning, My Next Husband Will Be Normal – A St. John Adventure. Months went by. I forgot about it. And then she called to say that he thinks the memoirs would make a good film, but he couldn’t take on a spec screenplay because he’s busy with other projects. For a six figure amount, however, he would eventually have time to work on it.

Since a writer friend had taken a workshop and burped out a screenplay, and since I don’t do Christmas, I thought, Hell, I’ll just write it myself over the holidays. What do I have to lose? I had no clue. If you are toying with the idea, I can tell you that writing a screenplay might look easy but is tremendously difficult. Basically, my screenplay needed to be a haiku version of 600 pages from two memoirs. 105 pages tops, with lots of “white space” on each page. Hah! It’s relatively easy to write crappy haiku, but just try to do what Rumi did!

You will need screenplay writing software, because the format is excruciatingly specific. Whether you take a workshop or not, you will want to read books on how to do it. I read The Art of Adaptation: Turning Fact and Fiction into Film by Linda Seger, and Your Screenplay Sucks! – 100 ways to make it great by William M. Akers. Both were helpful. You will want to read screenplays and watch the films, but don’t read the screenplays written by a film’s director, because he gets to take liberties you can’t afford with a speculative screenplay. You will spend hours reading online forums about what works and what doesn’t, and about the contests you can enter along with the thousands of others who write screenplays, many with degrees specific to writing screenplays.

You will perform minimal housework. You will decline social opportunities. In terms of your story, you will create composite characters and rearrange the truth. You will leave out scenes of major importance. And even with the significant drama and humor in my story, key events must be on steroids. This is Hollywood. Once you do all of that, you need feedback. I emailed my Act 1 of 36 pages to the friend who’d taken the workshop. Okay, so you only get 10 – 15 pages for Act 1, and no one would care about most of what I wrote, but I prefer my feedback with a touch of sugar.

And then, in this remote, curious little town of 800 inhabitants, I found a young man writing screenplays. M. G. Garrison — a UCLA grad, no less — who agreed to work with me for a pittance, compared to what he’s worth. He turned out to be a miracle worker, I swear. After his encouragement, professional notes, and line-by-line comments on my new first 50 pages, I was able to finish the entire draft. Hooray, he said. Not everyone’s able to do that. He then repeated his performance on this draft, and while I have a few major overhauls to take care of, I believe I can end up with a screenplay I will be proud to pitch. This talented young man is moving to L.A. Watch for his name on TV shows and films. And someday I wouldn’t be surprised to see him at the Academy Awards.

About Rae Ellen

Rae Ellen grew up on a stump ranch in Northern Idaho. She is a former landscape architect and the author of 5 books, including fiction, memoir and humor. She now lives in Escalante, UT. To celebrate a landmark birthday, she is painting her life and blogging about it at www.70Paintings70Years.blogspot.com

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