The Subjectivity of Judging Screenplays

By Arik Cohen

"Hey judge, what do you look for in a winning script?"

So here's the inside scoop: There's a secret checklist.  It's ten points, and we go through your script and see if it has the ten elements.  Elements such as "A character named Jake" and "The word 'gregarious' on page 63."  If you have all ten, you make it to the next round!

I wish.  I totally wish.

How easy it would be if it was mathematical.  How simple it would be if this was not subjective at all.  I could go through ten scripts in an hour and then spend the rest of the day laid out on Venice Beach sipping a Pina Colada.  But it is very subjective.  And that's what's great about it and why I do it.  I love movies, I love screenplays, and I love subjectivity.

So "What do you look for in a winning script?" might not be the right way to phrase the question.  "What qualities do winning scripts tend to have?" might be better. And although there aren't specific elements that I require every script to have, there are a few things I -- and most readers -- tend to gravitate towards:



MacGuffin

By Armaan Uplekar

We’ve seen them all before but perhaps never recognized their importance. From the mysterious glowing suitcase in “Pulp Fiction” to the titular ancient idol in “The Maltese Falcon”, the nuclear warheads in “True Lies”, or DaVinci’s secret code; it’s that thing, or even person (“Get Shorty”), that everyone is chasing after, that everyone wants. Such familiar elements are the V8 engine that drive some of your favorite classics, motivating some of cinema’s most memorable and notable protagonists into action. These objects, while they might be diverse in origin and form, all exist for the same basic principle: They are convenient devices meant to spur your story’s hero into action.

To put it simply, they are MacGuffins. The term “MacGuffin” was popularized by Alfred Hitchcock; as a matter of fact, they were a mainstay in the thriller genre that he is routinely celebrated as being a master of. “MacGuffins” are objects that typically have no other greater narrative importance other than being a motivator for the protagonist. From R2-D2 in “Star Wars: A New Hope” to the Rabbit’s Foot in “Mission Impossible III,” MacGuffins have long been a mainstay in the repertoire of generations of screenwriters and storytellers.  Here are four reasons why a MacGuffin could be the answer to your next screenplay.



Chekhovs Gun Article

By Armaan Uplekar

 “One must never place a loaded gun on the stage if it isn't going to go off. It's wrong to make promises you don't mean to keep.”

Such are the fateful words of Anton Chekhov, a Russian playwright who outlined one of the most important dramatic principles in narrative storytelling. Even though Chekhov wrote this edict over a century ago, it remains crucially relevant to writers today. What’s so important about the principle of “Chekhov’s Gun” is that it establishes one of the great rules of storytelling: “Don’t make promises you don’t mean to keep.”

I know what you’re thinking: Rules, rules, rulesMore parameters and more restrictions on how I tell my story. When will it end? On the contrary: One of the great things about the Chekhov’s Gun principle is that it can help you become a better writer. By keeping Chekhov’s Gun in mind the next time you sit down to write your screenplay, you’ll be able to create stories that feel tighter, more intentional and even more exciting.

 

It Helps You Get Rid of Excess

What is Chekhov getting at when he says, “its wrong to make promises you don’t mean to keep?” Simple: Every plot point and character you populate your script with is a “promise.” Its a signal to your audience that this is important, whether it be a subplot or supporting role. Its a notation for your audience to keep their eye on this element, the purpose or significance of which will be revealed later.

The reverse of that is also true. If you introduce subplots that you don’t follow up on, your audience will feel cheated. They’ll wonder why you bothered to set-up a conflict or a scene that ended up going nowhere. As a result, Chekhov’s Gun is a principle that helps you cull the excess of your script. It’s a rule of thumb that will push you to only keep the essentials and jettison the rest.



Fresh Voices Founder Joel Mendoza

This article was originally published by Coverfly - https://www.coverfly.com/coverfly-inside-look-fresh-voices/

 

What’s the mission of Fresh Voices Screenplay Competition?

Fresh Voices was founded in 2009 with the intention of discovering, nurturing and empowering screenwriters of all levels. I have spent over 20 years in the industry as an agent, manager and producer before Fresh Voices, and so it was important to me that Fresh Voices be a platform to give the microphone to talented screenwriters that have a story to tell and a voice that deserves to be heard.

What’s one unique piece of advice you’d give to writers who enter your contest?

Have a purpose in what you write and why you write. Be a student of life, of people and of the human condition. Those who do are able to connect with their audience in a way that most other writers cannot.

What’s the best thing writers can do if they place in, but don’t win the contest?

Keep on writing, keep on submitting and keep on getting notes. And write something else. Don’t keep on rewriting the same script. Write something else. Explore your wheelhouse and try your style at different genres.




9

By Armaan Uplekar

If Act One introduces us to your story and characters, and Act 2 is where you set and raise the tension and dramatic stakes, then Act 3 is where the narrative must seamlessly come together to end your story with closure for your characters and your audience.  Every subplot, every character, every painstakingly crafted relationship and theme that you’ve pieced together; it all culminates in your third act: the grand finale. In most occasions, the third act is the shortest part of your script, but it is also the most consequential. You’ve heard the stories: Movies which have had their ending rewritten, re-shot and debated by executives and fan boys alike. Different endings tested by studios on various audiences to identify the one with the most emotional resonance and the most satisfying narrative conclusion.

The reason why endings are so important is that its what you leave your audience with; its their final impression of your script, the summation of their experience with your storytelling. It influences how people will feel as they walk out of the brightening movie theater; how they’ll talk to their friends, family and peers when they describe your work. As you can tell, sticking the landing properly is paramount, but it can also be extremely tricky. To do so, you’ll need to create a third act that feels exciting, memorable and high-stakes all at once. Here are three important tips to ensure your final act ends your film with a lasting impression. 



3 Act Story 3 Keys To Unlock Your Second Act

By Armaan Uplekar

If act one introduces audiences to your story, act two is the chance to tighten your grip on them: Raise the stakes, show your protagonist what defeat looks like and throw in a monkey wrench or two. For many writers, the second act is the tipping point – it’s the longest stretch of your story, and in many cases, the most complicated. It can be easy to lose yourself, and your readers, in the wilderness of middle-act intrigue as the plot literally thickens.

Luckily enough, there are a few simple guidelines that can help you navigate the thornier aspects of Act Two. By ensuring that your script touches upon the items outlined in this checklist, you can find ways to keep your story moving, your characters fighting, and your audience enthralled.

Does My Second Act Raise the Stakes?



3 Act Story 3 Questions You Must Ansswer Truthfully About Your First Act

By Armaan Uplekar

With a handful of variations, the three-act story structure is a tried and tested formula relied upon and employed by story-tellers since the times of Aristotle to tell a clear and focused story. It is the most widely used and recognized narrative device to arrange plot points and emotional beats in a way that best tells a story with the greatest emotional impact on its audience. At its core it’s as easy as Beginning – Middle – and End, others refer to it as Set-Up – Confrontation – Resolution.  However, as simple it sounds, there is more to crafting a well-executed three-act screenplay that will get you noticed in Hollywood.

Act one is all about perception. It’s your golden opportunity to lure the reader in and plant them in the world of your screenplay; to enmesh them in the characters, settings and story you’ve painstakingly woven. It’s also your opportunity to lose your audience if you don’t know what you’re doing: a rickety first act is all it takes for a producer to put your script in a discard pile and pass on it completely. As a result, the stakes are high and the message is clear: First impressions are essential.

Crafting a riveting first act takes skill and a firm grasp on the contours of your story. You need to be able to understand how to hook a readers’ attention and keep it, while continuing to introduce plot points, conflict and characters. These three questions are vital to ask yourself to ensure your first act is firing on all cylinders and hitting the required narrative beats experienced industry readers and are trained to look for in the first 30 pages.


4 Tips for Writing Engaging Dialogue

By Armaan Uplekar

Dialogue, in many ways, provides the thrust to a good screenplay. It gives characters a voice and it gives a good story its rhythm; in many ways, it’s the way audiences receive vital information such as backstory and plot details. Good dialogue can clarify and develop relationships between characters.  The right line of dialogue can stick in an audience’s mind – memorable, iconic even. It can even transcend the screenplay itself, becoming ubiquitous: There’s a reason “You talkin’ to me?”, “I’ll be back” and “I’m walking here!” have permanent places in the pantheon of pop culture.


Writers Block 5 ways to beat the blank pageBy Armaan Uplekar

For many writers, there’s few things as crippling as a case of writer’s block. It can stunt your productivity, dampen your voice, and shake your confidence in your abilities. Every writer, at some point or another, is forced to grapple with a time where their own words may not come forth so easily. You’re ready to write, the computer is up and running, but your brain is not. Self-doubt begins to creep in and you decide, before you do anything, that you need another coffee.

Moments like this can feel like running headlong into a brick wall. There’s nothing more frustrating than staring at a blank screen, willing yourself to write, but feeling unable to do so. Thankfully, there are a few tried and true methods that can help you shake your writer’s block and get you back on track with your project.


Blueprint Banner

Outlining. Many writers cringe or scratch their heads in confusion when presented with the task. But consider an architect who attempts to construct a building without a blueprint. He wouldn’t know where to start, he probably wouldn’t have a clear vision of the expected outcome, and the building would probably not be very well made. The blueprint ensures each step of construction is accounted for and the end is clear from the beginning. Similarly, in screenwriting, the outline will ensure a purposeful structure and a clear end goal for your story.

Despite its importance however, the idea of outlining varies greatly and is open to interpretation. Each writer has their own unique process that they undergo before they launch themselves into their next project. However you decide to go about it, the process of outlining before you begin is essential to writing a successful screenplay.

The pros to outlining are plentiful. What makes outlining important, is that it has the potential to give you a clear sense of direction and purpose before you write Act 1, Scene 1. You can clearly visualize act by act and even scene by scene. It also allows you to write in a cohesive manner that prevents many of the logic problems that plague those scripts that have not been as thoroughly thought through before the actual writing process begins. It allows you to know the end goal from the very beginning. Outlining will not only lead to you writing a stronger first draft, but also greatly improve your abilities as a writer, making you more efficient and precise. Outlining will bring a clear sense of structure to your screenplay, and will help bring structure to you as a writer. Outlining is an often-undervalued part of the writing process that can nevertheless reap great rewards for diligent writers. Here are a few tips primed to help you with your outlines before you FADE IN:


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