FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
These are some questions that have come up in the AMA sessions, discussion forums and private back and forths with my Skillshare students, I’ll keep adding to the list, if you don’t see your question answered please email me:
Is there anything you do to test the originality of your ideas or do you just trust your instincts when developing a storyline for a short film script? For example, do you ask people to read your script? Do you compare it to other films?
If I have a rough idea I just try writing it out. Along the way I'm usually full of a lot of doubt that it'll work out or that it's worth the effort, etc. But I try to write past the negativity of my inner critic on my own - I've found that getting someone else's opinion on a story idea doesn't help me. But that's me, you might be different, and talking it over with a patient friend might help flesh out your idea. My thinking is that even if the script you write doesn't work, you didn't lose anything - you got a chance to get lost in a story and your writing skills are now stronger.
What is your advice to screenwriters who have limited resources, time, and money?
From your question, I'm assuming you're also directing and/producing your intended film. I think writing with the elements that you have around you is smart. The problem with a lot of short screenplays, mine included, is that they involve inventing a world that doesn't exist yet. It can be very expensive to create a believable, credible version of that fictional world. Sometimes filmmakers, because they had limited resources, will short-change some of those details and it shows and the whole illusion of the story and the world they were trying to create crumbles onscreen. Instead of creating from scratch like this, one alternative is to build a story from the ground up inspired by the locations, actors, resources that you already know and have access to. For inspiration on how screenwriters have tackled this very problem, I recommend the book 'Fast, Cheap and Written That Way: Top Screenwriters on Writing for Low-Budget Movies', used copies are really cheap.
When writing, do you smoke, drink coffee, eat, listen to music? Questions is, how do you motivate yourself to stay focused?
I definitely will have coffee while I write, maybe too much. Usually I get really focused when I have a deadline, whether it's for an application or from my producer - it's hard for me to write without one. And if I find there's a couple days where I'm procrastinating or not really getting anything done at home I'll go to a Starbucks for an hour or two to change things up. An hour isn't much time, but I find that sitting next to other people 'plugged in', without the distractions of a fridge, tv, etc I can get a lot done. I also try to be precise about the music I listen to, for example if I’m thrashing out a first draft I’ll listen to an eclectic playlist with energy like this one.
Some writers can't work consistently, they depend more on marathon-like writing sessions where they stay up all night full of red bulls and pizza. If that's you, more power to you. I used to be able to pull off those kinds of sessions but I can't anymore, I just find it wrecks my week and makes writing a grueling physical activity. I think what's more sustainable, and I think what has helped me become a better writer, is building some momentum through small, consistent sessions. Creating a realistic schedule for yourself, with some soft goals and deadlines, might be the first step towards helping you find your own rhythm and motivation.
Is there some kind of directory of producers looking for projects out there so that we'd be able to cold-email them based on their previous works?
I've met producers two ways: in festival or workshop networking sessions and targetting specific producers by email based on their filmmography or a reference.
Festivals, markets and workshops are a good place to meet potential producers, because these attendees are usually hungry and actively looking for projects. If you can't make a market, sometimes you can find a industry market guide online or from a friend that attended that lists all of the producers that attended and their contact info. Again, that can be very valuable and saves you a lot of time and expense.
ImdbPro is also a good place to get direct contact info. If you got a list of producers you're trying to contact I would sign up for the 30 day trial version and see if their info is listed.
Before it was out of print, I also used this guide - if you have a copy at your local library or can buy a used copy for cheap it can't to hurt to flip through, you might find a relevant production company.
Have you ever gotten writer's block?
Many times. Sometimes it's an excuse, and I have to set a short timer for 20-30 minutes and try to write/rewrite - usually something comes out of those short sessions. But sometimes the writer's block is real, I'm just going in circles and I need some time off to gain some perspective. I think after a while you develop a sense of when you're procrastinating and when you just need a break. If you go on Amazon you'll find two published journals for John Steinbeck, journals that he kept while writing 'East of Eden' and 'The Grapes of Wrath'. It's a fascinating read, because it teaches you that writing isn't an easy, linear process, and even the masters experienced doubt and blocks.
I want to make a short film, but I don’t have any prior experience/education - what do you recommend?
The best education is experience, so try to make that first short film manageable. You’ll probably make a lot of mistakes, but they aren’t really mistakes, they’re lessons, ways of learning what to do the next time around. To smooth out that first experience I recommend two books: 'What They Don't Teach You at Film School' (the later technical chapters are a bit dated, but the first few chapters are really helpful) & 'Directing' by Michael Rabiger. Rabiger's book is more like a textbook, so a bit dense and thick, but there might be useful chapters to help you prep - he's at the fifth edition now but you can get an older version for real cheap on Amazon.
Wait, I have a question you didn’t answer!!
No problem, contact me