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Rewrites are, of course, a crucial part of screenwriting. They put you closer to refining your narrative as you iron out potential hiccups and inconsistencies that might disengage a reader from your story. I’m not even talking about a complete pg 1 rewrite; merely redrafting specific scenes to improve the story, moving scenes around to better structure each act, and rewriting dialogue to better convey character intentions and subtext -- these are big undertakings that can take days or even weeks to straighten out. You start fixing one thing, and it effects how other things play out, and before you know it you’ve got an even bigger mess to fix. 

Rewriting is a literal house of cards. But once all that is said and done and you’ve got your story exactly where you want it, what are those small tweaks you can make that will take a script from good to great, from perfect to outstanding, from enjoyable to memorable? What can you do to your script right now to seal the deal with the next executive who reads your screenplay? Here are a few tiny improvements you can make to your script right now, that will add the necessary polish, sparkle and shine to make your script stand out for all the right reasons!


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#17 OPEN-MINDEDNESS

The most successful writers do not pretend to know everything. Rather, they each have a natural sense of adventure to experience the world and interact with new and different people. They are continuously learning from others and about oneself. It is in these experiences that the building blocks for accessible and relatable stories and characters begin. 

Being open-minded requires tackling one’s own fear of the unknown. Don’t shy away from things you don’t completely understand. Take a keen interest in them and learn what you need to learn to understand, approach and tackle the unknown with zeal and passion.


Secrets of Successful Screenwriters.Empathy Twitter Post
#4 EMAPTHY

The most successful screenwriters are the ones who show a deep understanding and appreciation for the journey others have taken, a general keenness towards others, internalizing the feelings of others, and the desire to share those experiences with others.

To be able to identify the emotional core of a person’s story, one must be able to identify with the emotional core of the person. Successful screenwriters all have a deep understanding and a great appreciation for the human condition. They question and examine the world around us in ways few would dare. They have a talent and innate ability to recognize what makes us human, and they use that ability like a carpenter uses a chisel. Empathy is an essential tool in the writer’s toolbox.


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As we gear up for another exciting season of the Fresh Voices Screenplay Competition and as we continue to bring on new readers and judges for our tenth season this year, I thought it would be a good opportunity to remind you, the screenwriters, of those questions our judges are asking about your material as they read, and that you should probably be asking about your screenplay too.

The important point for the writer is to answer these questions honestly, objectively and impartially; and therein lies the rub. This is no easy feat for a writer who has spent weeks, months and even years researching, developing and crafting their story. It is not easy to step back and see the work as strangers would. That is where we come in -- a fresh set of eyes to review your work with an unbiased and constructive approach to benefiting future drafts of your material.

So here are the 15 questions our readers ask about your screenplay as they read, that you should probably be asking yourselves too!

And remember, until July 7th, Fresh Voices Screenplay Competition is offering the chance to receive your scorecard and feedback for free. Enter this week, request the 1-page script evaluation, use promocode FREEFB50 at checkout and we’ll send you your judge’s notes as well as your score to each of the fifteen-point checklist below – FOR FREE!

FORMAT - There are specific guidelines for writing screenplays. The format of your script is the first impression. A script that does not have proper formatting lacks professionalism. Formatting allows an experienced reader to scan material in a way that he or she understands what is happening and what is being said, without being bogged down in dense prose. Are the guidelines and industry standards being met?

VOICE - The voice is the style and personality with which you write. A writer's voice should paint a clear and vivid picture for the reader and resonate after the material has been read. The voice of the writer should be evident in every aspect of the screenplay. The voice is based upon the hundreds of decisions the screenwriter makes in their choice of words, descriptions, sentence structure as well as how they craft their story. Does the voice exude confidence? Does the audience feel as if they are in capable hands? Is there a unique style to the writing?

PREMISE/ CONCEPT - How clear is the premise to identify? Is it a high concept premise, or low concept? Is it a genre driven concept, or character driven?

STORY- The story includes the hook, the set up and the pay-off. Do the first ten pages hook the audience and is the story engaging enough to sustain our attention for a full 90 minutes or more?

TONE - Tone is most likely determined by genre, so the question here is how well the tone of the screenplay compliments the genre. Does the horror film scare you? Did the comedy make you laugh? If it it’s a mix of genres, do they clash, or do they work well together?

THEME - The theme of the film is what you want people talking about when they leave the cinema. Why do we care? Beyond the story and characters, what is the film about and what is it trying to say?

STRUCTURE - Does the screenplay have a clear 3 act structure with an identifiable beginning, middle and end? If not, does the untraditional structure benefit the story in a purposeful way? Does the end of act one challenge your protagonist, pose a question or force him/her to make a decision?


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  • #7 Discipline

One of the greatest qualities all successful writers share is discipline. Discipline is the ability to impose a strict routine unto yourself and stick to it. The discipline to be the boss of yourself. To face the blank page and to write, to create, to imagine.

Discipline requires mental fortitude to keep on track, to work even when you don’t feel like it, and to deliver quality results with no one looking over your shoulder.

Discipline is the ability to look at your own work objectively and know when you need to expect more and demand more from yourself. It is the ability to push yourself towards higher levels of excellence and not finish until you’ve exceeded your own expectations.


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Is there a “Best-Time” to enter a Screenplay Competition?

by Arik Cohen

When it comes to the best time to visit a buffet, there are two competing philosophies:  1) You want to go when it’s not busy.  This way when a good dish comes out, such as delicious crab legs, you don’t have to fight a swarm of guests all trying to grab at it, and possibly leave with only one skinny leg on your plate.  2) You want to go to a buffet when it is busy.  When it’s busy, that means the buffet is in constant turnaround.  Platters are being emptied quickly, so they’re being refilled with fresh foods at a rapid pace.  You might have to battle for the crab legs, but you know the crab legs will always be fresh.   

Is it better to be one of a few or one of many?

Last year the Fresh Voices screenplay competition had over 1400 entries.  That’s 1400 different stories, 1400 different adventures, and (at least) 1400 different lead characters. 

No one judge has to read all 1400 by themselves (the first round consists of a group of judges tackling the ever-growing stack of submissions as an organized unit), but each judge reads a large chunk of them.  Assuming an average page count of 110 per script, I personally probably read close to 50,000 pages during my most recent season judging the Fresh Voices Competition.


5 Screenplays Worth Writing

Written by Arik Cohen

Aspiring screenwriters share a big dream: Selling a screenplay.  That’s the ultimate goal, isn’t it?  It’s with that in mind that most put pen to paper – or more likely put fingers to keyboard.  As such, writing a screenplay that’s un-filmable seems like a fool’s errand.  Why would you write a screenplay that no studio would want to purchase?  Well because it’s sometimes these screenplays that get attention and become your calling card to the industry. The following are five types of un-filmable, not-likely-to-get-purchased screenplays that are still worth writing!



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.


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