Archive for the ‘story editing’ Category

September 25th, 2014  Posted at   screenwriting, script consultant, story editing
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Here’s a screenwriting truth.

A script is for READERS. A film is for AUDIENCES.

Seems obvious, right? Clearly you can’t have a film without a script but, here’s the deal, our engagement with a script is entirely different than our engagement with a film.

Why?

Because a screenplay is a written document that tells the story in words. This is done in such a way that the reader will visualize the movie in their mind’s eye. Though a script is a blueprint for a story that will be told visually it’s ultimately a piece of writing. Because of this a reader’s engagement with a script is akin to reading a novel.

A film on the other hand is visceral and immersive. A film has the benefit of actors, a visual world, music and special effects. These elements help tell the story in ways that words alone cannot. Given this an audience’s engagement is a lot more focused and full on.

What does this mean for screenwriters?

It means that we have to choose our words very carefully thinking about how the reader will respond. Yes, it’s also essential to keep the audience in mind, but first we need to fully engage the reader and tell a story that will keep them hooked to the very last page.

How can writers keep the reader engaged?

-Immediately grab the reader by getting to the heart of the story quickly. Audiences are engaged with a film from the moment it begins through music, the opening credit sequence and the unique visual world of the story. They have likely seen the trailer and the one sheet and are willing to settle in and let the story unfold. The first pages of a screenplay don’t have this luxury. You have to get to the heart of the story quickly and economically with urgency and tension.

-Hook the reader emotionally. On screen emotional engagement happens almost immediately when we first see the actors (especially if this is an A-list star) and there is an automatic buy-in that doesn’t happen on the page. The way to hook the reader emotionally is to clearly establish the protagonist’s goals and the deep underlying need that drives them. This helps the reader engage with the main character’s journey and become invested in the outcome of the story.

-Clearly establish the world of your story. In a film the unique world of the story is conveyed in every frame. It’s communicated through costumes, set design and music. On the page it’s easy to lose the sense of where the story is set unless we’re reminded of it throughout the piece. With this in mind attention has to be given to the specific detail that communicates the world your story is set in. If your story is set in a rundown urban center this has to be evident throughout the script not just on the first page and then forgotten. You may need more establishing shots or beats that hone in on the kind of details that tell us where the story takes place. On screen the setting is woven into every scene and doesn’t require the same kind of specific focus.

-Use explicit dialogue such as exposition judiciously. On screen a character’s backstory, inner world, conflict and relationships can be communicated in many different ways especially through performance. Clearly a script doesn’t have the ability to fully convey how an actor will play a role so this sub textual information has to be clearly established on the page lest it get missed. While this may lead to the occasional piece of dialogue feeling somewhat “on the nose” specific, judicious use of exposition (without going overboard!!) will ensure the subtler elements of your story are clearly communicated. This more overt dialogue can be removed in the production draft.

-Establish the visual relationship between characters through their actions. For example if your piece is an interracial romance or involves physical opposites like Laurel and Hardy this relationship will be front and center on the screen. Yet this kind of visual information will soon be forgotten on the page unless it’s apparent in what the characters say and do.

-Succinctly convey action sequences. Action sequences on the page rarely measure up to their on screen version. It’s nearly impossible to convey the excitement and spectacle of adrenaline fueled action sequences without the benefit of stunts, special and visual effects, sound effects, music and performance. Because of this readers generally skim action sequences to find out the outcome – who lives, who dies etc. While action sequences on the page still need to be tension filled and engaging write them with your reader in mind and leave the full blown description to the director and production team.

There’s something else to think about here. Readers/executives are reading screenplays for work. Not only do they have a stack of scripts to read, e-mails to answer and calls to make but they are evaluating the piece with their specific agenda in mind. Be it coverage, financing, repping the writer, seeing if it’s right for their acting client etc. Audiences, on the other hand, are watching a film for enjoyment – it’s entertainment. This means readers and audiences are coming at the material from completely different perspectives and engage with it in very different ways.

Ultimately (fingers crossed) a screenplay will eventually be a movie. This means the writer needs to tell the story in a way that communicates what we’ll see and hear on the screen and enables the reader to see the movie in their mind’s eye. Film, clichéd as it might be, is a visual medium and at the end of the day visuals come first. That said in order for a script to eventually become a movie it has to fully engage the reader. Knowing how to keep your reader hooked through to the very last page is the first step in getting your story on the screen.

originally published in Scriptmag

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Each year Film Independent, under the banner of Project Involve, brings together filmmakers from communities traditionally underrepresented in the industry. The program accepts Fellows from all disciplines and runs from October to June. Fellows participate in master workshops, classes on the business and craft of filmmaking and one-on-one mentorships. The cornerstone of the program is the creation of short films and for the past three years I have had the honor of being the story editor helping the writers/directors bring their stories to life.

The process begins with the amazing leaders of Project Involve, Francisco Velasquez and Jane Hwang, giving the Fellows a theme from which to develop a treatment for a 10 page short film. Francisco and Jane review the treatments and choose 8-10 projects to develop. Once the first drafts are turned in I join in. Over a series of weekly development meetings the writers, Francisco, Jane and I get together to discuss each script in depth.

This process echoes traditional story development meetings found at studios and production companies and requires the writer to  look at their script from every angle. We explore the theme, characters, structure and dialogue while ensuring the final piece will be producable given the budget and time constraints. Writers dig deep to find the heart of their story and explore solutions that ensure they will tell it succinctly and visually. Notes are given, implemented and rewrites turned in. Once the final drafts are submitted directors are invited to pitch and Francisco and Jane greenlight six scripts to go into production. Teams are assembled and after roughly a month of prep and one final story development meeting the projects start shooting.

The short films go through full post and the final versions are showcased at the Los Angeles Film Festival in June.

In six short months the Project Involve Fellows see their projects go from script to screen. As the story editor shepherding this process there’s no way to fully describe the pride and joy I feel when I see the results of all their hard work on the big screen in a packed theater. Many of these shorts have gone on to play at festivals across the country where they have won both awards and critical acclaim.

This year’s Fellows have just wrapped production and I’m looking forward to seeing their films at the Festival. They are an incredibly talented group of filmmakers and I know you’ll be seeing their work in the years to come.

 

 

 

 

 

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July 27th, 2013  Posted at   screenwriting, script consultant, story editing
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Before I read a script I don’t want to know anything about it. I like to come at the piece with an open mind and no preconceived ideas about the premise or intentions that might ultimately influence the read. Now, is this truly possible?

Nope.

Because all reading is inherently subjective.

All writers, whether new or established, have to deal with a certain level of subjectivity when their work is being evaluated. This of course can be both good and bad.

For example when a script goes out for coverage the reader doesn’t generally know about attachments such as cast or a director. But knowing who is set to star or what kind of director will be involved can make a huge difference when reading the script. Put yourself in their shoes. If you know Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat) is going to direct you’ll instantly filter the writing through his unique perspective. If Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook, The Hangover) is the lead you’ll have him in mind as you read the script. Clearly knowing the attachments will have a big effect on whether or not you respond to the piece and ultimately how you evaluate it.

Another factor that can come into play is if the executive knows the writer personally either as a friend or professionally. If the writer is a friend the reader may bring qualities to the writing that aren’t there just because they know them. Some of the story events may have a familiar ring to them or they might sense the writer’s “voice” more easily than someone who doesn’t know the writer. If the executive has worked with the writer in the past and has read other material they will bring that context to the current script seeing patterns and themes that other readers wouldn’t.

In addition we all have our own personal taste and interests. Maybe you love sci-fi and hate romantic comedies, perhaps you’d choose an epic drama over a horror script. You might be into period pieces because you really like history and detest teen comedies. Effects heavy action scripts might bore you while a low budget indie keeps you hooked. As a reader you can work to put these natural interests aside but they still can’t help but influence how you look at a piece of material. Another aspect of this is the reader’s mood that day. For example if a writer submits a romantic comedy to an executive that’s just broken up with their girlfriend chances are it might not go over as well as it would if they were still in the first few days of their romance. Ultimately we’re all human and respond to writing from our own individual, highly specific place.

Context also matters. If a reader or executive is looking at a script for a production company, agency, manager, contest or lab this too will play a role in how they evaluate a piece of work. All of these venues have very specific agendas and are looking for scripts that fall into their particular niche. While everyone is looking for quality work with a fresh perspective a big studio isn’t looking for the same thing as Sundance. An actor’s production company is looking at star vehicles and may not want something action or effects laden or too indie. HBO and Lionsgate don’t have the same agenda. Agents and managers are looking at the overall career of a writer and are looking at material from a sales perspective. Who the script is being evaluated for plays a big role in how it’s interpreted.

Where the writer is in their career can affect the read. For example brand new writers are at an advantage on one hand because their work can be looked at with a certain neutrality. But on the other there’s no track record or frame of reference which can often lead readers to be harsher and expect more. A more established writer can get away with more in both execution and concept as they have previous work to look to. I’ve read scripts by new writers that couldn’t get traction in the marketplace only to see an established writer successfully pitch and produce a very similar idea. So while concept is king so is how well known the writer is and this too will affect how a piece is read.

The experience level of the reader is something that comes into play as well.  An executive who has read 1000’s of screenplays will be able to spot formula from miles away, see twists coming and be underwhelmed by overused conventions. They may have higher expectations overall but be able to see good writing immediately.  Whereas a new reader might judge a script too harshly or focus on the minutia because they are still learning the language of feedback. They may see the piece as highly original when it’s premise is overly familiar. Either way how many scripts the executive has read will play a role in their interpretation of the material.

So what can a writer do to mitigate all of this and ensure your piece is being read in the most favorable way? Well, truthfully, there is no way to have a completely unbiased read. That said the only defense is to make sure the script reflects your intentions and is telling the story you want to tell. Getting feedback from trusted peers, friends, writers groups, story editors or consultants before you take your piece out is a good way to check to see if your script is in line with your intentions. Executives and readers will always have their own unique take on the work and hopefully it’s in sync with yours but if not at least you can be confident knowing you’ve written a piece that accurately conveys the movie you see in your head.

thanks to Lucy @bang2write for some last minute inspiration!

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It’s summer and people across the country are making travel plans. The first thing they do is figure out where they want to go. You can’t plan your trip until you know your final destination, right?

Lately when I’ve been working with writers to develop their scripts I’ve been using the same approach – beginning at the end. If you know where you want to end up it’s far easier to know where to begin. Looking at your script in reverse can be a really helpful tool when writing your piece.

Where your protagonist ends up tells us where they need to begin.

Screenplays are all about transformation – we want to see a character grow and change over the course of the story – this is the spine of their inner journey. In order to give the protagonist a meaningful transformation the first thing we need to do is determine where they are at the end of the story. How have they changed and grown? By looking at what they have learned we know what kind of shift needs to take place and can make sure we properly set this up at the beginning.

For example in Silver Linings Playbook Pat learns to move on from his marriage, embrace a relationship with Tiffany and manage his illness. Since we know this is where the story has to end we can backtrack to the first act and make sure we set up the fact that he’s fixated on getting his wife back, uninterested in any other romantic relationship and is not in control of his illness. In Little Miss Sunshine our family ends the story united this means they need to begin the story separated by their dysfunction. In The Descendants Matt ends the story having forgiven his wife for being unfaithful. This means he needs to begin the story being deeply upset about her infidelity.

When we know where our protagonist is at the end of the script it’s much easier to determine what information we need to give the audience about who they are and what state they are in when the story begins.  This helps us give the protagonist a clear arc. Yet in order for a shift such as this to feel emotionally satisfying and not arbitrary and forced it has to be properly plotted. Once again starting at the end can help us here.

Plotting the protagonist’s transformation – All is lost and their epiphany.

For example in Up Carl comes to terms with the loss of his wife, gains a surrogate son in Russell and becomes a happier person overall. In order for this to work we need to open the story with Carl being unable to move on after the death of his wife, avoiding relationships and being unhappy and curmudgeonly. The key beats that help make this shift feel believable are the protagonist’s “all is lost” moment at the end of the second act and their corresponding epiphany.

All is lost. 

In Up Carl’s “all is lost” moment is when he’s forced to choose between losing his house and saving Kevin and Russell who have been captured by Muntz. Carl chooses to stay with his house. This is his lowest point and suggests that while he may achieve his goal of getting to Paradise Falls he’s not going to reconcile the loss of his wife or form a lasting friendship with Russell which is what we know he really needs to do.

Epiphany.

Carl ultimately decides to go after Russell but in order to do this he has to be able to let go of his commitment to fulfilling his and Ellie’s dream. This is beautifully done when Carl looks at their scrapbook and finds a note from her thanking him for the adventure of their life together. This is Carl’s epiphany. It allows him to reconcile the loss and fuels his decision to rescue Kevin and ultimately to let go of the house and go after Russell.

In this way the protagonist’s “all is lost” moment and their epiphany are the two main beats that work together to create their transformation. So once again if we know where the protagonist needs to be at the end of the story we can determine what “all is lost” moment and epiphany will help them to get there.

Second act linking beats.

So we know where we need to be at the beginning and at the end. We have a good understanding of what “all is lost” moment and epiphany will naturally lead them to change but we still need to link these beats so the transformation feels earned and emotionally satisfying. To do this we need to plot the protagonist’s shift over the course of the second act. This means seeding in small changes along the way.

In Up there are multiple interactions between Carl and Russell and we see Carl slowly open up to the point where we believe he would make the decision to rescue Russell and let go of his house. In The King’s Speech Albert meets with Logue giving the story a natural way to show Albert healing both his stammer and the childhood wounds that weakened his self-confidence. This helps us buy him standing up to the Archbishop and successfully giving his wartime speech. In Silver Linings Playbook Pat and Tiffany’s dance rehearsals bring them closer and help us to believe that Pat would fall for Tiffany and reconcile the fact that his wife has moved on.

Begin at the end.

The protagonist’s transformation is the destination and knowing this helps us to plot the stops along the way. Deciding where you want your story to go and how you want the protagonist to change is a vital part of your screenplay and can be a very useful tool to use when developing your piece.

 

July 8th, 2013  Posted at   podcasts, screenwriting, script consulting, story editing, theme
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Back in the day when I had a desk job in development I routinely took home 20-25 scripts to read on the weekend. This was in addition to my weekly read. Part of the reason I did this was because we had a ton of submissions to get through and also because I’d just moved to LA and didn’t have much of  a life yet so didn’t mind spending my entire weekend reading. But the main reason for this was because I knew I’d probably only read one, maybe two all the way through.

Many of the scripts I read were well written, had engaging ideas, great characters, good dialogue and were well structured but by the end of the first act (often earlier) I could tell the script wasn’t “about” anything – there was no theme. Theme is one of the most important story elements and one I’m deeply passionate about. Without a clear theme it doesn’t matter how well written your script is as it’s unlikely that it will resonate with the reader or ultimately audiences. Theme is what we emotionally engage with and is a vital part of a successful screenplay.

So what is theme, exactly? Theme is the underlying meaning behind the story events. In The King’s Speech this is Albert’s need to gain self-confidence. In Up the theme is about Carl’s need to reconcile the loss of his wife. In The Descendants Matt’s need to forgive his wife’s transgression establishes the theme. In The Piano the story is about Ada’s need to learn to be vulnerable and love someone as much as her music. In Wedding Crashers the theme is maturity as we watch John grow up and be a man. In The Kids are Alright Jules learns to value her family which establishes the theme.

In a nutshell plot is the story events – the action that moves the story forward – while theme is what gives these events meaning.

On a recent podcast with Pilar Alessandra’s On the Page we talked about how to plot theme without being too heavy handed or eschewing theme all together.  As part of this we discussed the all-important protagonist’s epiphany. This is the moment towards the end of the second act and sometimes in the third act where the protagonist learns what they need to learn or heals what they need to heal. This beat establishes the theme.

In order to make sure this key moment works successfully the protagonist’s flaw, unconscious need or longing has to be established in the first act. This is where we see what they need to learn or heal (think Carl’s bitterness in Up or Albert’s lack of confidence in The King’s Speech). From here the protagonist needs to have a slow gradual awakening to this flaw as the protagonist moves from a lack of awareness to awareness and the unconscious becomes conscious. The midpoint is a good place to really highlight this progression. This is nicely done in The King’s Speech through Albert’s sessions with Logue during the second act.

All of this comes together in the protagonist’s epiphany. In The King’s Speech this is where Albert stands up to the Archbishop prior to his coronation. This beat tells us Albert’s learned what he needed to learn and establishes the theme of the piece as the importance of self-confidence and believing in yourself.

These three key turning points (flaw, midpoint & epiphany) can be a very effective way to plot theme. A screenplay with a clear theme will ensure your script stands out and makes it through the weekend read from start to finish.

Want to hear more? You can listen to the podcast here.

July 1st, 2013  Posted at   screenwriting, story editing, synopsis, theme
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I’d have to say that for many writers their worst nightmare is having to write a synopsis of their own script. (Did I hear a “hell ya?”) Most writers are way too close to their material to be able to step back and see the key beats they need to include. The issue here isn’t what to put in it’s what to leave OUT which is for the most part huge chunks of the story. For a writer who’s spent months or years working out every small detail of the plot this can be very, very hard to do.

Over the years I’ve written well over 600 synopses both for coverage and for projects I’ve helped develop. But I still remember the first synopsis I ever wrote. Back in the day I was working as a writer’s assistant for a Showtime series called Fast Track and writer/story editor Ashley Gable gave me a crack at writing the synopsis for an episode the writers were working on. I took a stab at it. Ashley gave it a read and returned it to me a short time later completely covered in red lines. Basically it was a total mess. A lengthy conversation ensued and multiple drafts later we had something workable. While back then I was embarrassed by my inability to pull off what seemed like a simple task I now know how difficult it can be to write a succinct synopsis. I’m extremely thankful that Ashley was willing to take the time to show me how to do something that is far harder than it looks. She taught me a lot.

Suffice to say many synopses later I’ve come up with a few tools that make writing a synopsis a little easier. In the spirit of Ashley’s ever so patient instruction (remember we were in the middle of shooting a series and juggling multiple episodes) want to pass them on here.

1. Spin the story

Never do a beat by beat synopsis. You don’t need to include every single plot point to tell the story. Instead “spin the story” reorder events, leave things out, embellish, paraphrase etc. While you want to make sure you stay true to the main beats of the story you’re trying to capture the essence of the piece not tell every single thing that happens. You’re also trying to “sell” your script on the page so the synopsis should be simple and clear but also fully engage the reader. If you write a linear retelling of the story beat by beat your synopsis will likely be too long and confuse and bore the reader.

2. Think in three acts

The basic format for the synopsis should be comprised of the three main acts and run three to four paragraphs. For example the first paragraph is the first act and sets up the protagonist, their goal and the main obstacle. The second and third paragraphs will cover the second act and the final paragraph will be the third act including the climax and resolution.

3. Use active, present tense

Just like in a screenplay a synopsis should be written in active, present tense.

4. Set up the protagonist

The synopsis needs to clearly establish who the protagonist is. While a script may use most of the first act to set up the main character you want to distill this into one or two sentences that tell the reader who the protagonist is. For example if we’re writing a synopsis of The Descendants we could open with “Matt, a successful lawyer, estranged from his wife and an emotionally absent father to his two girls learns his wife has had a boating accident and is in a coma.” If we were doing Silver Linings Playbook it might be something like “Pat, recently released from a mental hospital, is struggling to manage his illness and stay on an even keel. His erratic behavior troubles his parents, who he’s moved back in with, and turns him into a powder keg just waiting to go off.” Once again you’re looking to spin their main traits and flaws into one or two sentences.

5. Tell the story from the perspective of the protagonist using the three acts

Once you’ve established the protagonist you want to get right to their goal and what the main problem is. The synopsis needs to stay focused on the protagonist through the entire piece. So for The Descendants we’d establish that with his wife in a coma Matt now has to care for his daughters, Alexandra and Scottie, which is something that doesn’t come easily. We’d then get right to the reveal that his wife, Elizabeth, had an affair. In Silver Linings Playbook we’d establish that Pat wants to reunite with his wife but she’s moved on. This would then lead to him meeting Tiffany which complicates Pat’s goal of getting back together with his wife.

The second paragraph (and third if needed) encapsulates the second act. We want to stay focused on the protagonist’s main goal and what obstacles this runs into as they try to achieve it. For The Descendants this is Matt tracking down his wife’s lover, Brian, and discovering he’s on vacation with his family. Matt decides time is of the essence and takes both girls and Alex’s tag along friend, Sid, to Kauai. There Matt confronts Brian and learns the affair was just a fling and he was never in love with Elizabeth. Shaken by this the group returns to Honolulu where they are told Elizabeth will never recover and should be taken off life support. This is essentially the end of the second act.

The final paragraph is the third act and summarizes the climax and resolution. In The Descendants the family gathers to say their goodbyes and take Elizabeth off life support. Brian’s wife Julie arrives to pay her respects and tells Matt that she knows about the affair and while she wants to hate Elizabeth she doesn’t and instead forgives her. This triggers Matt’s forgiveness and having come to terms with her infidelity he gives Elizabeth a tender kiss before she passes.

6. Consider leaving out subplots

Subplots are where most writers go off the rails. Clearly subplots are in the story for a reason and play an important role but they are not always needed in the synopsis. Part of this depends on how long a synopsis you’re writing. If you’re sending a synopsis to an agent or manager they are likely looking for something no longer than a page often shorter. For a crowdfunding campaign you may want something that’s no longer than a paragraph. Occasionally there may be the need for a synopsis that’s two pages long. Much longer than this and you’re heading in the direction of a treatment or beat sheet.

In The Descendants the primary subplot involves Matt handling the sale of his family’s ancestral land. Turns out that Brian is related to the developer they plan to sell it to and he’s in a position to make a lot of money from the commissions on the sale. This further complicates Matt’s feelings around his wife’s infidelity and his decision to approve the sale. Ultimately despite incurring the wrath of his extended family Matt chooses not to sell the land and to look for another solution. This subplot helps us to understand Matt’s relationship with his family, sets up an underlying theme around the importance of nature and the environment, and adds texture to Matt’s interaction with Brian but it’s not necessarily a vital part of the synopsis. If you’re writing a very brief synopsis the story can be told without it. Matt’s relationship with Sid is another subplot. Matt is somewhat put off by Sid and suspicious of his relationship with his daughter Alexandra. Towards the end of the story Matt and Sid have a wonderful moment together where Matt learns Sid’s father was killed in a drunk driving accident. This humanizes Sid and helps Matt to see beyond his slacker nature. While this is a poignant moment their relationship is not essential and can be left out of the synopsis entirely.

7. End on theme

If you can it’s great to end your synopsis by elegantly and economically touching on the theme. With The Descendants this is the final scene that shows Matt snuggled on the couch watching TV with Alexandra and Scottie. This beat tells us that Matt has forgiven his wife and is not going to be the “backup parent” anymore. This shows Matt has grown and changed and tells us the story is ultimately about the healing power of forgiveness.

8. Flashbacks, flash-forwards, parallel narrative and non-linear structure

Stories with an alternative structure such as Crash, Pulp Fiction, Slumdog Millionaire or alternate worlds like Looper, Twilight or even Midnight in Paris can be the most difficult to write in synopsis form. It can be helpful to remember to structure the synopsis along the three acts and to “spin the story” not tell it beat by beat. So for example while the script might intercut several different storylines the synopsis can tell them sequentially. The main beats of a flashback sequence might be summed up in one or two sentences and the placement in the synopsis might be different than in the script. If a key piece of information is revealed in a flashback then succinctly include it in but don’t worry about revealing the entire sequence. Something like “in flashback we learn Jack came from an abusive family” is just fine. Action can be significantly truncated touching on what kind of sequence it is (ie: car chase, gun battle, fist fight), who’s involved and what the outcome is. Alternate worlds can be set up in a couple of sentences in the first paragraph. Phrases like “time passes…” can be helpful in summing up events that don’t necessarily play a key role. Different time periods or locations can be indicated by: Ohio, 1945 and then the main beats of what happens. Though these kinds of synopses probably warrant their own blog post!

9. Format

In general just like in a script the first time characters are introduced their name is written in capital letters with their age in parentheses. You can include a description if pertinent. I.e.: MATT (49) “African American overweight and disheveled.” Occasionally it can be helpful to include direct quotes or pieces of dialogue but do this sparingly and only if it helps convey something specific such as the writer’s unique voice.

10. Tone

Ideally the synopsis will capture the overall tone of the script. So if the piece is a comedy the synopsis will incorporate some of the comedic beats, a horror some of the scares, a thriller will convey the tension. If it’s a big budget action piece the synopsis should make sure to touch on the elements that suggest this such as car chases or action based set pieces. We also want to get a sense of the world of the story so if it’s small town America then include a couple of details that tell us this. Ultimately whether a synopsis is being written for coverage, being pitched to a studio, or part of a crowdfunding campaign it’s essentially a selling tool designed to succinctly capture the story in a compelling way. So keep this in mind and make sure your synopsis is well written and engaging modelling the tone of the script is one way to do this.

 

Writing an effective synopsis is an important skill to have. Wikipedia is a great place to read synopses for completed films and can give you a sense of how to summarize 120 pages into one. Thinking about how you’d pitch the script to a friend can also help you focus on what beats are essential and what can be left out. Writing a synopsis might be a writer’s worst nightmare but with practice it gets easier and hopefully these tools will help you along the way. Happy Writing!

June 24th, 2013  Posted at   film festivals, screenwriting, short films, story editing
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I was just at the Los Angeles Film Festival to screen this year’s Film Independent Project Involve shorts which we started developing in January. It’s a whirlwind process for the filmmakers who go from treatment to the big screen in just under 6 months. The theme this year was cultural celebrations and the writers explored an amazing array of ideas including Day of the Dead, sitting Shiva, a same sex wedding, Diwali, a Korean funeral, a family reunion and the 4th of July. As the finished films, all under 10 minutes, played on the big screen I was reminded of the power of short films to pack an intense emotional punch.

I love shorts and they’re finally being given their due. They’re screened at every major festival from Cannes to Slamdance, can be entered in several on-line competitions and are being distributed internationally theatrically. One of the reasons for this sudden explosion of short films is that digital technology and access to the web are creating a perfect storm that dovetails beautifully with shorts. Clearly audience’s viewing habits are changing and more and more people are going to youTube, Vimeo, and iTunes for content which they watch on their smartphones, tablet or computer – there’s even an App that streams short films from top festivals. Smaller scale narratives are perfectly suited to these devices as they offer a brief burst of entertainment without the time investment of a feature film.

With this kind of exposure short films can launch a feature film career, help filmmakers gain recognition in the industry, hone writing and directing skills, provide a platform for a feature script, and give filmmakers an opportunity to experiment with new ideas, stories or cinematic techniques. This is a great time for short films and I was honored to be part of helping these very gifted Film Independent Project Involve filmmakers bring their stories to the big screen.