The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Don't write that screenplay!

My wife Tananarive is teaching at Spellman College again starting tomorrow, and we've been talking about her curriculum. One class is screenwriting, and I've been encouraging her to push a very specific technique idea to her students that I'll share with you: create your pitch before you write your treatment, and your treatment before you write your script.

Most people plunge into writing their script, bash it out, and then ask people to spend a half-day reading it. Then, their egos totally invested in all the work they've done, it hurts like crazy to chop and burn and slash. There's a better way.

First, spend your initial time (1-6 months) on your pitch outline, whether on paper (no more than 3-5 pages), an outlining program or (my favorite) a stack of 3X5 cards. When you know your idea thoroughly enough to "pitch" it to friends, ask one in your target demographic to sit down and listen to you for five minutes. Pitch them the story, as if telling them about a movie you saw last night. As you pitch, watch their face: do they laugh, flinch, become concerned or angry on cue? Do they have those reactions without CGI, stunts, sex scenes or slapstick? Then the basic structure and content of your film or story, the basic human dilemmas and conflicts are real and involving. You are ready to write your treatment.

The Lifewriting Year Long

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