One of the things writers do to avoid actually writing scripts is read books about writing scripts. And I'm no exception. Sometimes I even learn something!
So I thought it would be fun to review the occasional screenwriting book, starting with this one: Writing Movies for Fun and Profit, by Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon.
These two guys have written nine features together, including Night at the Museum, Reno 911!, The Pacifier and Taxi. Their movies have, according to this book, made nearly 1.5 billion dollars at the box office. Now, if you read that, saw the list of movies and thought "This is exactly what's wrong with Hollywood today", then this book is not for you. If, on the other hand, you want to read all about writing Hollywood blockbusters from two guys who are actually out there doing it, then read on.
This is probably the thing I liked most about this book: it's written by two working screenwriters who are writing and selling scripts right now. There are way too many books out there written by people who last sold a TV movie in 1993 - if they have any credits at all. Incidentally, Lennon is also an actor and if you watch his performance in 17 Again and don't fall around laughing, you have no funny bone. The guy singlehandedly saved that film.
This book is divided into two sections, and it says a lot that the first section is Selling Your Movie, whereas the second half concerns Writing Your Movie. The selling part begins with the words "If you don't sell it, it's not a screenplay. It's a stack of paper for the recycling bin". Never were truer words said!
The three things you need to get started as a screenwriter are listed as follows:
1. A copy of Final Draft
2. An Agent or Manager
3. Discipline. The ability and desire to write loads. And loads.
You also need to live in L.A. They are very insistent about this and even provide useful information like the best places to park in or near studios and a list of In-N-Out Burger locations.
In the chapter "Why Isn't Anyone Buying My Brilliant Screenplay?", the two boys give their rules for writing screenplays that sell. And let's face it, they've sold a few. So here they are:
1. No one wants you to reinvent the wheel. For example, most people out there (I'd include myself in this) would not say on Saturday night "I know - let's watch Eraserhead again!"
2. Most people go to the cinema not to be challenged, but to be entertained.
3. You don't become a better writer by thinking about it. You get better by writing.
Next up, pitching the movie! Make sure the premise is easy to describe in terms of other successful movies. AND - the main character must be the kind of flawed (but amazing) character a movie star will want to play. Also, dress well. Practice your pitch til it's burned into your brain.
They go into a lot of interesting detail that somehow I've never seen in any other screenwriting book. What it means when you sell a movie. How much you can expect to make. Credits - and exactly what they mean. What face to put on when you're receiving notes and experiencing extreme rage. How one single movie exec can screw up your entire deal, and things to avoid doing yourself to avoid sending your deal toilet-wards.
I laughed a lot reading this book, especially the examples of scripts they sprinkle throughout the book ("Turbulence", a comedy set at the airport starring Kevin James as a downtrodden baggage handler and Cameron Diaz as an art historian). The brilliant but terrifying thing about these plots is that they could be real. They probably are!
You will absolutely hate this book if your favourite film is Eraserhead and you hate mainstream films. But even then, you'll learn something about the process of pitching and selling movies. I think it's well worth a read and I look forward to the sequel, "Writing Movies for Fun and Even More Profit!"