A friend asked if I’d written a screenplay to submit to the Anchorage International Film Festival. And did I know the deadline was a week away? “No,” I said, “It’s a month away.” “Uh-uh,” she said, “One week.” After I screamed no-o-o-o-o-o, I thought long and hard. Do I want to wait yet another year to submit? No, a voice in my head thundered back. I’ll never do it. I’ll never write it.
Do it now. Just, DO IT.
Ever since I saw The Wizard of Oz as a five-year-old, I’ve wanted to write a movie, but figured it was too complicated. After worming my way into being an extra in several movies filmed in Alaska, I learned much behind the scenes about the do’s and don’t’s of writing a script. Mostly the don’ts.
With only a week to go before submission, I dusted off a play I’d written for the Last Frontier Theatre Conference. After the staged reading, one of the evaluators made the comment, “This would make a good movie.”
That comment is what kept the fire lit in my belly to write it as a movie.
I dusted off my play and expanded a scene list for a movie. I was amazed at how free and creative I could be, taking my scenes anyplace I wanted, not just limited to certain stage settings. I used aerial birds-eye views, ground level views, I panned rooms, landscapes. I brought in new characters, expanded my theme–the thing grew into a multi-faceted story with a few subplots.
In addition to the usual story construction of beginning, middle, and end and all that goes with basic storytelling, I discovered movies have a specific required format and structure. Certain things must happen by page 10. If the audience doesn’t get the movie by page 30, better start over.
Once I figured out whether a scene is INT., EXT., or inside-and-outside, it smoothed out. Probably because I’ve seen, oh, I don’t know–a gazillion movies in my life. I knew the basic storyline, then wrote by the seat of my pants without a net, like a wild woman. I was ecstatic just to finish the thing!
I studied The Screenwriters Bible, Syd Field’s Foundations for Screenwriting, and my all-time fave, Screenwriting for Dummies. I crammed like it was finals week. I took my 30-minute play and turned it into a full-bodied, multi-faceted, somewhat action-packed, drama feature.
In one week. I don’t recommend this. Mostly because I slept all of 25 hours the entire week, and didn’t leave myself time for revision before submitting.
Live and learn. I learned.
I had to think like a movie. Once I got the hang of it and planted myself in the zone, I couldn’t stop. The first draft, I fought the format in Word. I don’t recommend this either. It wasn’t worth the time and hassle of fixing the spacing each time I revised. I bought Final Draft, and haven’t looked back. The program does all spacing and formatting, converts it to the industry standard of pdf and even has a feature to register for a Writer’s Guild of America number if one chooses. I did, because I’m a neophyte, and have heard horror stories of films being made from pirated scripts.
I finished the script and submitted it to the Anchorage Film Festival. It’s too bad I didn’t start a month or so earlier. I could have submitted a more polished script. I’ve revised the thing 38 times now. It’s starting to look like a movie. After I submitted to AIFF, via the Film Freeway site, up popped the opportunity to submit to the L.A. Independent Film Festival.
What do I have to lose? My itchy trigger finger submitted my 21st or 22nd revision, I lost count. Wow, the Big Kahunas down in L.A.! Imagine my surprise when they emailed me a CONGRATULATIONS, EVACUATION IS IN THE SEMI-FINALS!
After I picked myself off the floor, I panicked. My script still needs revision! I hunkered down to study all things screenwriting for a month–reading everything I can get my hands on, watching podcast after podcast, taking webinars. The beauty of this process is, I can revise this script forever if I want to. First, I’ll get it critiqued by the pros. No, it isn’t free.
But I’ve stumbled upon something new I love to write. I have a passion for it. My family isn’t too happy. Instead of watching movies for entertainment now, I analyze them.
Now I’m trolling for another story to write a screenplay.
Yoda was right. Do or do not. There is no try.