A young bull and an old bull sit at the top of a grassy hill overlooking a pasture of cows. The young bull can’t take his eyes off one of the cows below and remarks, “Hey, let’s run down there and fuck that cow!”
The old bull, slightly dozing off, glances down to the pasture — back at his young companion and responds, “Let’s walk down there and fuck’em all.”
What does this joke mean to you as a screenwriter?
Cool. Then don’t bother reading on…
How can we turn this joke around to give it a little more meaning to us as screenwriters? Hmmm.
How about this…
A young screenwriter and an old screenwriter sit at a coffee shop writing their screenplays. The young screenwriter just completed the first draft of his screenplay and remarks, “Cool. I’m gonna send this around town and make a hundred thousand dollars!”
The old screenwriter, daydreaming into space glances at the young screenwriter and responds, “Cool but why don’t you bang out a few more drafts, send it around town and make a million dollars and a few more gigs?”
I know what some of you are thinking… There is no perfect script.
But there is THE ILLUSION OF PERFECTION.
At least that’s what I call it.
I’ve been reading some specs from some people trying to break in over the last couple of months… Some have stories — some don’t. Some could use a tweak and a polish — some need to be thrown away and either be completely rewritten or just simply thrown away.
I’m not talking about anyone specifically here so those of you who think I’m talking about YOU… You’re wrong.
What I’m talking about are simple red flags… Red flags that cause your spec to be passed on and stacked on top of fifteen other specs to hold the door open.
Let’s assume your spec actually has a story. A good story. A story worth seeing on the big screen. Do you really want to fuck up that potential opportunity because your spec looks like 99% of all the other specs littering someone’s desk?
Yes… You are correct. Occasionally, someone’s spec full of red flags gets noticed and makes it through the next round of reading or next several rounds of reading. Most likely however, that’s TALENT shining through.
What is talent?
Please read the definition of talent:
- A special natural ability or aptitude
- A marked innate ability, as for artistic accomplishment
- Natural endowment or ability of a superior quality
- A person who possesses unusual innate ability in some field or activity
Do you have talent? If so, does it contain ENOUGH of whatever this kind of talent MUST HAVE to RISE above the red flags? Do you have that kind of talent?
Cool, then don’t bother reading on.
For those of us that are left, I ask a very simple question…
Why would you not take out every red flag there is in your spec before sending it around? I really want to know. I’ve heard some of the following reasons…
- That’s the way I write…
- That’s part of my voice…
- The rest of my script is so good that all that little shit doesn’t matter…
- The blueprint is there…
- If I change it, it won’t be my script anymore…
- I’m shooting it myself so none of that is a big deal…
- Nobody cares about passive sentence structure…
- They’ll know what I’m talking about…
- So and So did the same thing in their script that sold…
- I’ve read a zillion scripts that were worse than mine…
I could go on but you get the gist… Just stick your own excuse somewhere in the list.
Hey, that rhymed…
Now of course I have absolutely no proof of what I am about write but it seems to me that many people are under the delusion that leaving all the red flags in their script is going to somehow make their script STAND APART from all the other specs.
And they’re right of course. Their script will in fact stand apart from all the other good specs. I’m here to tell you that no matter what they read… No matter how many gurus tell them… No matter how many professionals explain…
99% of all newbie specs leave the red flags in. Sure, you might see a spec on Triggerstreet or Zoetrope that’s had all the red flags cleaned up but I submit to you that those are the exceptions and most just don’t clean house.
As far as I’m concerned, this is where the CRAFT side of screenwriting comes in.
Let’s read the definition of craft:
- An art, trade, or occupation requiring special skill, esp. manual skill.
- Skill; dexterity.
- To make or manufacture (an object, objects, product, etc.) with skill and careful attention to detail.
- People who perform a particular kind of skilled work.
- Skill in an occupation or trade.
Some of you may think there’s a fine line between talent and craft… You could be right but that’s not the point. The simple point is that they are DIFFERENT. For instance, let’s compare the craft of screenwriting to the craft of a mechanic changing the oil in your car. He or she lifts your car, drains the oil, reinserts the drain plug, fills the crankcase up with new oil, screws the top on the filler opening, lowers the car and you’re driving again.
But what if the mechanic decided that there’s really no reason to tighten that drain plug? What if he or she leaves the top off the filler opening? He still changed your oil, right? But would you be happy?
Let’s take it further… Let’s say you’re a mechanic and you’re allowed to watch this mechanic perform his work OR inspect his work afterward… Would you be happy?
But why? They changed your oil, right? They technically did what you paid them to do, right? Isn’t that ENOUGH?
You wouldn’t send someone a script with incorrect format, right? Why not? Doesn’t the story shine through the bullshit formatting? Does changing to proper format keep it from being your spec? I once had someone send me a comedy spec and she changed the font to the COMIC font… She told me later that she thought it would add to the spec’s humor.
She was wrong.
I certainly have my own pet peeve red flags…
- Incorrect screenplay format.
- Passive sentence structure.
- Weak action verbs.
- No use of secondary headings.
- On the nose dialogue.
- Overwritten action that exceeds the one page per minute of film rule.
- Underwritten action that exceeds the one page per minute of film rule.
- Overwriting in general…
Hmmm. Wonder where I got all those pet peeves… Hmmm.
The truth of the matter is this… You never know where the spec you send out is going to end up. Sure, you sent it to X producer but in reality, you never know who else is going to pick it up — thumb through it — sit down and give it a read.
Stranger things have happened.
Do you not OWE it to YOUR STORY and YOUR SPEC SCREENPLAY to give it the very best presentation you can? Doesn’t all that hard work deserve a little cleaning up? At a minimum, how hard would it be to convert most if not all the passive voice to active voice? How hard would it be to open up a thesaurus and find the perfect action verb that creates the EXACT visual picture of action you want somebody to have when they read your spec?
Sure… Every so often, it’s okay to use passive voice in your screenplay… SOMEWHERE. But here’s the deal… A sentence here and a sentence there… A few in the entire script? No problem. All through the script? It not only dumbs down the reading but slows it down too. Passive voice just doesn’t flow like active voice and is in fact perceived as weak writing by a lot of experts.
The same goes for weak action verbs like walk, run, look, see, watch, take, hold, reach for, or pick up.
Do yourself a favor and at a complete minimum, make sure your spec has proper formatting, very little if any passive voice, and the perfect action verb that gives us the actual visual you want to relay.
Because getting rid of this shit will help make your spec STAND APART even IF the rest of it is garbage.