• Daniel Harding

WRITING YOUR FILM

Putting your ideas down on paper may be the most daunting thing a writer has to overcome. It's the point where people can judge you and tell you how rubbish you are. Or maybe, how wonderful you are? Either way, at some point you'll need to get your ideas into something readable



Formatting

There's really no excuse when it comes to formatting your work correctly. Whether it be a script, novel or blog post, there are millions of examples easily accessible online for you to look at (and copy). Formatting is important because it enables the reader to view your work comfortably without having to work out how you've decided to structure it yourself. Imagine if a car door was in a different place each time, it'd get a little frustrating, wouldn't it? The reason we have uniformity is to keep things easy and less-time-consuming for the reader. Half the time I get sent scripts that are not formatted correctly, and it's frustrating because it puts me off the idea and project almost immediately, regardless of how good the idea ends up being. You may think that this is an overreaction, but if I have to work to understand your script, the chances are I'm not going to want to read it. Personally it didn't take me very long to learn - hence my dislike for incorrect formatting. You can buy a program like Final Draft for little over £100 and it'll do most of the hard work for you. If you're using Word or something equivalent, you're going to struggle, as the program wasn't designed for script writers. If you're scared by the prospect of learning something new, just remember that it's like any tool: once you learn how to use it, things become so much easier. Knowing how to format correctly also makes writing easier because everything becomes automatic. If you want to write, the first thing you need to do (beyond figuring out your idea) is learn to format.


Can it be shorter?

Once you begin to write, a whole world of creativity opens up to you. You want to put every idea you've ever had down onto paper, and you want to tell the whole world your magnus-opus! But here is some friendly advice: don't. It's a waste of everyone's time, especially if you're a newbie writer. There is something hugely attractive about being sent a script that is tight, and to the point. Most scripts I read are overlong and wordy. The writer hasn't learnt to condense the idea down to it's absolute minimum yet - which I thing is key to any great script. One of the first things I learnt about writing is that we should enter late and leave early - and like a party host, the audience will dislike you if you out stay your welcome. By keeping your time to a minimum, it leaves the audience wanting more (which is surely better than making them want less?) - but be careful not to underwrite your idea either. There has to be just the right amount of information for us to jump on board and go along for the ride, but not too much that we'll become bored at the lecture you're giving us - I think the word is economic. If you're building scene upon scene, keeping them short and to the point will create urgency and pace. The audience will feel like they need to catch up with a train already leaving the station. Who wants to be the first at the party and last to leave? It's tempting to write more, and more, and more, trying to get your idea down. But stop. Don't. Backtrack a tad. Think about what your idea is about. How can you say it economically? Can it be shorter? Because don't forget at some point you'll have to film this thing (assuming you're a filmmaker), so if you can say what you're trying to say with less, it will save you time and money on set. Whenever I write a script I let the idea dictate how long the first draft should be. Regardless of how long it turns out, on the second draft, I try and trim it down by at least 20%. So if it's 10 pages, I try and get it down to 8. 100 down to 80 (good at math too, eh?). By doing this it makes me think about whether I need that particular line, or whether that joke is funny enough. I pride myself on telling a story in shortest time, because at the very least, the audience won't feel like I've wasted their time.

Think about character, but don't overwrite

Once again, I am assuming you are a filmmaker, because I'm not sure if this will apply to a novelist, but the point is that when I'm writing a script, I try to avoid overly descriptive text about the character. The reason being is that at some point you'll have to find actors (or the production will), so the more detail you give, the harder it is going to be to find the right person to play the role. Admittedly, if there is something about the character that is vital to the story, put it in, but thinking too much about the physical appearance or characteristics of the person may be detrimental in the long run. This probably goes against all other pieces of advice you'll receive on the subject, but I'm not saying you shouldn't know your characters, you 100% absolutely should. But by telling us what colour hair they have, what nose type, or how big their feet are, it limits the production to who they can cast in the role. What's more, you want the actor to bring character to your character - it's what they'll be paid to do, after all. If they're any good, they're going to embellish your writing and make the character three-dimensional - you don't necessarily need to do it all in your script (again, for novels especially, it's different), as it could stifle their creative input. When I write a script I put the character name and maybe their age range. That's it. The details come when we cast. I want the actor to own the character as much as me, and when casting, I am looking for my character, not the other way around.


Get feedback

This is hugely, hugely important. I always try and send my scripts out for feedback even if no one reads it. If I know that I am looking for opinions, then it must almost be finished. Yes, you can go back and rework something, but unless you're willing to let other people read what you've done, you'll be forever locked into the first stage of writing - the bedroom writer. There's nothing wrong with writing for yourself, cut off from the world (just ask JD Salinger), but if you want your writing to progress and get better, people need to read what you've done. Whether you listen to their opinions is totally a different thing, and I can almost say for certain that you shouldn't. But the fact that someone has read the script, means you can move onto the next phase of writing - redrafting. The reason I suggest that you shouldn't necessarily take on everyone's opinions/feedback, is that your idea will become a horse designed by committee. 99.9% of the people who end up reading my scripts don't understand what I am trying to achieve or go for. How would they? We haven't discussed it in detail and a script is often half-baked as it's not the finished thing. Typically the feedback consists of them wanting to change something, or perhaps they don't like this character, or this needs to be more like this. And guess what? 99.9% of the time they're wrong and I don't listen. On the odd occasion when I know something isn't quite working, a piece of feedback can trigger a solution in my mind. But very rarely, if ever, has a piece of feedback improved the script directly. Again, I think the reason for seeking feedback is that it allows you to move on with the acceptance that the script could be finished. If you don't show people what you've done and talk about it as though it exists in the world, it'll only stay personal, forever changeable and in-progress. It will remain forever unfinished.


Learn to accept your idea might not be very good

It's possible, that's all I'm saying. Why spend weeks, months, or even years on an idea that wasn't very good in the first place? There is only so much re-drafting that an idea can take before it falls apart. Personally, if I don't get the nugget of the idea down on the first pass, I either start again or abandon the idea completely. I will only move on to redrafting if the script reads well the first time around - or in other words, if I can see the gold laying underneath the surface. If I can't, I move on to the next idea. This is an important skill to learn because you don't want to waste your time. Often I'm sent scripts that I've read a million times before or perhaps something that doesn't really do anything - the person then asks for my opinion and I never know what to say ("Gee, thanks, it's exactly like every other script I've ever read, ever") No, I'm not that cruel. Think to yourself, once you've let go of the ego so proud because you're now a writer, whether you'd want to watch what you've written. If you can honestly say yes, then congrats, move ahead to the next phase of production. But if you can't, you know that the idea/script still needs some work. Because I honestly think you shouldn't be writing something that you are not 100% invested in. If you wouldn't watch or read your script, then how can you expect someone else too?


Lastly, write, write and then write

I am a big believer in doing more will result in more. If you write and keep writing, eventually you may stumble across something good. I believe that the only reason I am starting to produce scripts that are half-decent is because I've written hundreds of scripts that weren't. You can't expect your first attempt to be great, sorry. So the best thing you can do is write, finish, write, finish, write and then yes, finish! Some people might say that quality is better than quantity, but you only get quality by producing quantity (in my opinion). Now that I've written a tonne of scripts, in a variety of disciplines, I believe my writing has become more refined and unique to me - it's also becoming more informed and less cliché. People often tell me that they can tell when I've written something - my voice is there. Whether that's true or not, I don't know, but that voice can only develop from practise. I'm not sure you can expect to get good at writing if you've only ever written one thing. So... get writing!


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Founded in 2011 by award-winning filmmaker Daniel Harding, 23½ Films is a South East, UK based creative film production company striving to make unique and  original  stories