Monday, 12 February 2018

'You want to be a Screenwriter, but you've got NO time?' Here's What To Do

I consider myself fortunate to be in a position, given my living circumstances, to be able to devote myself fully towards film and television as a career, not just the screenwriting pipe dream. I knew I wanted this career for years, and took the steps towards it. Wasn't always easy, but I believe very strongly in this.

Others, however, don't get the itch like that: some may get the 'writing bug' later in life, some when they're knee-deep in another career. Some even get it when they're tangled up in others commitments, like caring for the sick or elderly, or raising children. You just don't have the luxury of time to devote to pricey courses or really beefy screenwriting tomes and workshops that are often the first go-tos of many wannabes. You can't get away to network at festivals and fancy screenings, or live near major productions hubs.

What are you to do? How can you get rolling, get better at writing and still live your regular life? Is there any help? Is there anything cheap or even free?

Well, I have a few pointers.
  • Via BBC Writersroom and FutureLearn, the University fo East Anglia offers a free, online (so no travel expenses, debts or schedule changes needed) screenwriting course. This offers you a starting point if you're entirely green or haven't written in forever.
  • Books to read? Again, bearing in mind time and budget, there are two instant recommends: first, Save The Cat! The Last Book On Screenwriting You'll Ever Need by Blake Snyder. Disney scribe Snyder famously created a durable 'beat sheet' to help one structure and plot out a movie that would be A) commercial and B) keep the interest of cynical readers and jaded audiences. It's an easy, concise and often amusing read that offers help on other elements too, such as pitching, loglines, outlines and even networking (though don't worry about that right now). Second, and one tailor-made for you-of-so-so-little-free-time, is The Coffee Break Screenwriter by Pilar Alessandra. Part manual, part writing course, veteran consultant Alessandra teaches how you can build a screenplay in ten minutes exercises. That's right: just ten quick and easy minutes. Can fit that in between school runs and Nana's medication, right?
  • On the note of books, another good investment will be either Your Screenplay Sucks: 100 Ways to Make It Great by William M. Akers or How Not To Write A Screenplay: 101 Common Mistakes by Denny Martin Flinn. These are masterclasses in rookie blunders that can destroy your chances of a career. It's really not funny how a few typos or characters with rhyming names have ended many dreams. Don't let 'teh' screw you over.
  • Of course, you have to read real scripts to know good from crap. Good news is they're free, plentiful and downloadable. Here's where:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom/scripts
https://indiefilmhustle.com/free-screenplays-download/
http://www.simplyscripts.com/movie-scripts.html
  • How about advice and tutorials? Bang2Write, run by veteran consultant Lucy V. Hay, is your one-stop shop. It's filled with great articles and lists on just about every facet of screenwriting you could want to know, told in Hay's humourous and snappy style.
  • Got a Facebook account? The site has tons of filmmaking groups, filled with a never-ending supply of fellow writers who are happy to help, talk and even read your stuff (if you ask nicely and properly pitch it). It's really as easy as typing in film or screenwriter and BOOM: off you go. Added bonus: a way to network without leaving the house.
And well, hope those help. At this point, don't worry too much about the wider market or machinery of film & TV: get comfortable writing and developing a proper work ethic. Give yourself the space and time to write material, make mistakes and learn from said mistakes. Your first draft will suck: all first drafts do. Rewriting is the only way to make it better.

Even with these shortcuts, screenwriting is the long game. Patience is a must, and frankly, if you can devote a small chunk of time out of your schedule to it, then you may have what it takes to eventually make it. All the books and classes won't make a difference if you don't have the willpower to do it.