The Wall Street Journal recently published an article titled “Financially Hobbled for Life” in which they talk about film school graduates who leave their programs $100K – $300k in debt. Now these were master’s degrees, but this problem impacts graduates at all levels.
It’s. Not. Worth. It.
No one in the film and media industry cares about a fancy degree. They want people who know how to function on set. You can get that experience without going into massive debt. So don’t trade your future for those Film Schools.
We succeed when you succeed. It’s been our driving force for the 20 years we’ve been educating students.
Whether you’re interested in Directing, Cinematography, Screenwriting, Editing, Sound Recording, Producing or VFX. We teach you how to work in every area of the film/television industry, while allowing you to specialize in your preferred path.
If you would like to know more about our school and programs, come check us out in one of our Open Houses.
A great character makes or breaks a film. It’s also what will get a major star to agree to sign on to a project.
Having written a great character is money in the bank, so here are three helpful tips to help make yours the best they can be!
Don’t make them too much like real people.
People tend to think super-realistic writing equals good writing, but there’s a difference between a film that “feels” real because it hits you emotionally and a film that feels real because it could be a home movie of two people having a boring talk.
One thing about real people and real life: they use a lot of filler. What percentage of your life actually has something HAPPENING? Are your friends riveted if you tell them you: Got in your car, turned it on, went down the street, made a left, went to the grocery store, and got eggs? No? Ok… then why should a screenplay give this much detail?
Additionally, “real” people tend not to talk in a super-exciting way. They make a lot of chit-chat and often dance around their real point. In a cinematic world, you want people who are clear about their wants and put it out there. This drives the drama.
To that end:
Limit their traits – and make every line stem from a trait.
In real life, people have tons and tons of traits. You could sit down and list your traits – and easily fill a page. The more traits someone has, the more complicated they are.
While you do want your characters to be complicated, too many traits will dilute them to the point that they come across as vague. Yes, this might make them more ‘realistic’ – but it will also make them boring or confusing… or both.
Good characters should have no more than four core traits, and every action they take and word that comes out of their mouths should reflect on one or more of these traits. This delivers characters who are clear and memorable. Four core traits – and one clear thing that they want. That’s it.
Make your descriptions count.
When a character’s first introduced, the introduction should be short and to the point, so as not to slow down the reading. However, just because it’s short doesn’t mean it shouldn’t pack a punch. Make those descriptive words count!
Also – avoid describing anything physical that doesn’t give a trait. A huge complaint in the industry is that female characters tend to just be described as “beautiful,” or described in an overly specific way, like “LENA, 20s, short black hair and big green eyes.” This tells nothing about the character and limits the number of actresses who fit the description. Also, unless it’s important that the character be ugly for some reason, don’t worry – a beautiful woman will likely be cast anyway!
Instead, use physical traits that DO tell you something about the person. For example: “PENELOPE, 18, hair out of place and too much in her backpack, stumbles down the hall.” What do you know right away about Penelope? She’s awkward, a bookworm, doesn’t care too much about her looks… You get a lot more than you would from “PENELOPE, 18, brown hair and blue eyes. Beautiful.”
Those are the top three tips for writing great characters. Let us know if you have any others in the comments!
Alexander Felix took a long road to Hollywood, but on the way, he kept his focus on his end goal: to write amazing screenplays.
He credits his writing success to his real-life experiences and his filmmaking background. A graduate of the Digital Film Academy, he recalls his time there as extremely important because it taught him to see things visually. Being able to “visualize what the end product needs to look like” is more important in the world of screenwriting than people realize. It’s certainly helped garner Felix much-deserved attention.
Felix also notes that the DFA is not a super-expensive school, but one that has “a solid curriculum and (where) everything is very hands-on.” His experiences with directing and cinematography while in the program were inspirational, and he remains open to one day directing his own work.
After his time in NYC and with the DFA, Felix felt ready to make the move to LA and pursue his writing – but fate had other plans. On a cross-country drive, his car broke down in Michigan, prompting an extended stay in Detroit. It wasn’t what he’d planned, but it wound up being a blessing in disguise: while there, he finished writing the Detroit-based Where Angels Die. Being in Detroit, he was inspired by his surroundings and able to location-scout as the script took shape.
Angels was his seventh feature script – and the one that brought him enough attention to propel his career to the next level. It garnered a rave review from Script Shadow, and before he knew it, Felix was talking with some heavy hitting agents and managers. He soon signed with two CAA agents, no small feat. A great two-part interview with Script Shadow gives more detail on this experience here.
Now, Felix is truly about to enter the big-time. He’s been officially brought on to adapt Vicious, a V.E. Schwab novel about two pre-med students who discover how people can develop superpowers, with intense consequences. Scott Free, Ridley Scott’s production company, and Story Mining & Supply Co. bought the rights to the book last December and, among others, Ridley Scott will be producing.
This may be the film to help turn Felix from a promising newcomer to a Hollywood VIP. Stay tuned!
I recently sold a screenplay. I’d previously done paid writing assignments, been hired to write scripts based off other people’s ideas … but this was the first time I sold one of my absolutely original, written-for-myself, feature-length scripts.
So I want to impart some words of wisdom to other screenwriters about making a deal.
PRICE ACCORDINGLY. Most people believe if you sell a screenplay, you’re getting a huge cash pay-out all at once. Not true. (Even worse are the people who convince you that you SHOULD be getting a ton of money even if you’re a beginner, and talk you into turning down a deal that could help your career move forward.) There are a whole lot of ways to sell a screenplay – and selling to a major studio (the least likely) is the only way that pays a huge amount of upfront cash.
Don’t be discouraged! At the start of your career, focus on making sales happen and racking up credits on IMDB. There are tons of small indie production companies far more willing to read spec scripts than studios, and more likely to stick with your original vision. But – being small and indie – their budgets aren’t studio budgets, and the 2-5% that goes to the writer won’t add up to a six figure deal.
They may also need to pay you according to a broken-out schedule. Or pay you via equity in the film.
Whatever their constraints, don’t give up if you’re not met with the pay day you’d envisioned. Work out a reasonable payment plan keeping in mind that the main goal is to get them to MAKE THIS MOVIE and make it well… which won’t happen if you bleed them dry.
THERE WILL BE CHANGES. My former screenwriting professor told me a terrible story. He wrote a script based on his father’s real-life experience in a poker tournament on a ship returning home after World War II. The pot was over $1 million (imagine that in 1945!) There was backstabbing, cheating, and violence. Every man was desperate to win and live out the American dream.
Sounds like a great movie, right?
A major studio thought so and bought the rights. But then… they wondered… would it resonate with a modern audience? Before my professor knew what happened, instead of a ship, they wanted a space ship, and instead of poker, they wanted the Ultimate X-Games.
You get the idea. Once you sell your script, the new owners have the right to ask for whatever changes they want – and there will ALWAYS be changes. Even when they say they love it as it is, just wait… after getting feedback from other sources (especially investors), they will want you to make changes.
And you will. With a smile. Because that’s your job. And if you can take whatever notes you’re given and turn over a new draft – writing will stay in your future.
And to be fair, sometimes their changes will be for the better. But other times… your World War II drama will get sent to outer space. Be ready for blast off.
THERE WILL BE CHANGES YOU HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH. The changes you’ll be asked to make are one thing. What’s harder is when changes get made without anyone telling you, which will also happen. Again, you have to stay positive. This is a collaborative art form, after all, and in film, unlike theatre and TV, the writer’s say is much less important than that of directors, producers, etc. If you want control, become a director – not a screenwriter.
One related piece of advice: when possible, be on the set. At least that way, the first time you see these changes won’t be at the premiere.
SHOW YOUR SUPPORT. No matter how it turns out, or what got changed, or what you pictured differently – always, always show support for the film. This was put together by people doing their best to make something great and who put their faith and money into something you brought them in the first place. Help promote it on social media, attend events when you can, give glowing interviews to the press if that’s an issue… Be proud of what was made.
Writing seems both mysterious and easy. That’s because, to anyone other than the writer, the work is pretty much invisible.
In reality, the easier a script was to write, the worse it probably is.
Here are four simple rules to make your screenplay the best it can be.
1. Test your concept
The hidden work of screenwriting is actually pre-writing. That doesn’t start with the outline, or the character descriptions – it starts with your concept.
Most people get an idea and are swept off their feet by how great it is. Spoiler alert: it’s usually not that great. Playing with the concept before writing elevates it to a higher level. Ask questions like:
A. Can I change the characters in a way that makes this more interesting? (By changing their careers, gender, etc.?)
B. Where can the story be set that makes it more interesting? What do different settings bring to the idea?
C. Think about potential marketing hooks. What angle could make this more appealing to more people? What would the poster art look like?
D. Come up with a list of concepts and run them by a few people. Gauge their reactions. Don’t waste your time on an idea everyone wrinkles their nose at – writing a script can take years. Find an idea that seems interesting to most people and use your time and energy on that.
If you want to save time and energy, outline your screenplay.
Screenplays are not wild expressions of creativity. Yes, you have to be creative to bring those characters to life – but screenplays themselves follow a remarkably strict set of rules and have to build tension in just the right way. If you don’t outline first (What’s your first plot point? Your second plot point? Your turning point? Your character crisis?) then what you’ll usually wind up with is a rambling mess that needs to be completely rewritten.
So you outlined, your story hits all the plot points, and you’re ready to write 90-120 pages. Wonderful. Now, what’s going to set it apart from the billion or so other scripts out in circulation?
You need to apply strong writing techniques. Do you know how to alternate between fear and relief during even the most mundane of conversations? Do you use misleads and reveals? Are your characters well-defined enough that, if you picked any line at random, you would know who said it? What are the dramatic choices you’ll make in EACH AND EVERY SCENE to make it both necessary and entertaining?
If you can’t answer the above questions, learn more about writing technique. There are tons of writing exercises and articles you can find online to help you.
I’ve never heard of a successful script that didn’t need at least one rewrite.
The best piece of advice I ever got about revising is “revise your outline first.” Start there (after receiving feedback from script consultants, teachers, and friends), because it’ll be easier to move around major pieces of your story when it’s in outline form. Does it seem like you’re missing a key scene? Find out where to put it by looking through your outline. Does your climax seem to happen too late or too early? Figure out how to re-position it in the outline.
Otherwise, the script itself might seem so daunting that you never look at it again.
Writing a screenplay is definitely a challenge – but it’s a rewarding one. If you dream of seeing your words on the big screen, just keep working on your writing skills! Like anything else, they’ll get there with practice.
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