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Features
January, 2008


IN Advertising

Your Screenplay And Why It Didn't Sell
It's simple: movies are driven by action
By  Christina Hamlett

I can't think of anyone who enjoys a barrage of Greek chorus explanations.

You've dotted your "i's," crossed your "t's," and read every book on how to pitch your script in person, by mail, and via the Internet. Yet it continues to sit. Unsold. Unwanted.

Maybe the problem isn't that it's an unsaleable story. Maybe it's that you've incorporated elements in it that would be better served in a different medium. In my capacity as a script coverage consultant, over half the plots I read are encumbered by the writers' lack of distinction between what makes a good film and what could make a better book or stage play. Here's why.

* * *

TEST: Go through a random page of your script with a pen and circle every adjective and adverb you've used. If you come up with more than 10 per page, you'd be more successful writing a novel or short stories.

The tendency of novice screenwriters to spell everything out that the audience should be looking at does far more to jinx a first read than to encourage it. Why? Because it implies that directors don't know how to direct, actors don't know how to say lines, and cinematographers are clueless when it comes to pointing a camera. Skip the detail and eloquent narrative.

You're not writing a plot that's meant to be read. You're writing a story that's meant to be seen.

TEST: How many historical references have you plunked into your master scenes? Delete them. How manytimes have your characters referred to past events as a device to explain the present plot's context to the audience rather than credibly convey information to each other? Delete any that are contrived and/or don't advance the story.

A recent project I evaluated involved the seamy side of 1840's London. Apparently to justify all the gritty factoids she had soaked up, the author felt compelled to interject most of them into her storyline via dialogue. Those which were not conveyed by conversation were embedded in each master scene as a device to indoctrinate the director on the significance of this period of time.

As rewarding as it can be to subliminally educate an audience, I can't think of anyone on the planet who appreciates a barrage of Greek chorus explanations that would better suit a high school filmstrip. No one likes to feel stupid, especially the person who holds the power to say "yes" to your script. Don't teach us. Entertain us.

TEST: How many locations does your script utilize? Identify how many are necessary as a backdrop forthe conversation(s) that take place there. For instance, if a scene could take place just as easily in a kitchen as it could in a café, decide which one is the more important of the two.

For those scenes which have to transpire in a specific place, identify what you would have to do to recreate that scene on a stage (i.e., a full set vs. a spotlighted or platform vignette). For those scripts containing extensive special effects, go through a spare copy of your script and X-out each one. Now read the script again. If you still have a compelling plot and characters without those glitzy extras, you've probably written a strong film.

If, however, it's dependent on the glitz in order to work, it may not be as strong as you think. That's not to rule out a novel or short story, of course, which are both more economical to produce than movies or theater because everything that happens only takes place on paper.

Movies are driven by action.IN Icon



Former actress/director Christina Hamlett is an award-winning author and script coverage consultant for the independent film industry. Her credits to date include 21 books, 115 plays and musicals, four optioned films, and columns that appear throughout the world. Her latest book Could It Be A Movie, is available through Amazon.com. For more information on her work or to request a professional critique, visit her website at www.absolutewrite.com/site/christina.htm


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Read All Of Charles Ghigna's Poetry at FatherGoose.com


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