Self Expression Magazine


By Myfilmproject09

Someone asked me what it takes to write a screenplay. Is it the idea, is it a concept, is it something magical?
This goes back to my classes at ULCA, which I did for almost three years. Most of the students took classes to see what this screenwriting thing is about, since film schools suddenly popped up everywhere, inquiring minds wanted to know.
The truth is that most of them never came back mostly because it was a lot harder than they thought. And no, it's not my fault, I can show you my evaluations. And the ones that are left will most likely give it a try, I'd say out of 15 students, probably two or three would give it a try. Some keep trying and trying.
One of the problems I noticed was this; most of the students were writing and writing and ended up with nothing in the way of a story. They were more into technique rather than story.
In short, most students didn't have a story.
There's a difference between technique and story. Technique is about how you write it, story is what you write. And most of the students had no real story in their hearts. Just technique, making sure you separate the first act from the second or use the right button  for the scene.
So who does have stories?
You all must know one person who's always telling you about where they went, what they saw and maybe even give you some anecdotal insights.
Those are usually the story-tellers.
Take my example; I just finished a new book in which I tell stories I remembered on all my road trips, about half a million miles worth. I also have a very good memory of all of them, including the motels and hotels and truckstops and more. Actually I have a perfect memory of them.
And I always told stories as long as I remember. 
Some are good, some aren't, but I always notice something worthwhile. Like sitting in an empty cafe in a Montana town with a waitress and I noticed a sign beside the cash register (the register was 1050's vintage). As the waitress was telling me about how she changed her life by coming to Forsyth (the town) I noticed a hand-written sign on the wall. 
It read; "When Mary B. comes in for breakfast make sure she pays before she eats".
It caught my attention immediately.  Who was Mary B. and why does she have to pay first?
I asked the waitress and she said that Mary B was a local who drank a lot overnight and would appear at the cafe for breakfast and then forgets to pay before she leaves. 
A simple story. But my mind began to create stories about Mary B. I even wanted to wait and see if she showed up. But she didn't.
Most of my friends are always surprised at the things I notice, but that's why I'm a writer.
And that's why most screenwriter students, or even just people who buy the software and hope it creates magic for them, most of them never make it. 
Because they're not looking around.
There are exceptions, those people you see in coffee houses, but I think most of it is what a lot of us refer to as "performance art". Pretending to be a writer.
I can't work in public, there's too much to see all around me and there's a story with anything.
So what do you look for?
Look for a Mary B. Or the girl next to you at Starbucks talking on the phone to someone and who's mad. Why are they mad?
It all sounds kind of child-like, but that's where the best stories come from. 
It took my a few years to figure this out; I was writing screenplays but they were just imitations of movies I saw. They weren't real, just bland copies.
It wasn't until I started using real people in my screenplays that my work got better.  Because I wasn't making it up. It was real.
So what do I mean by that?
I use pieces of real people.  One screenplay that got me a lot of attention and was optioned was about a drug recovering female studio executive.
"She" was made up of an alcoholic female exec I knew, but there were other pieces of people I used, one was me and my father another was a woman I know who lived in the Pacific Northwest, another character came from a high school buddy.
All of these formed one person. 
Try it sometime and you'll have a good story. 

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