It’s done! I wrote a full first draft of my first feature-length screenplay in preparation for the ScreenCraft April summit in Chicago. It feels amazing to have done this. Now it goes away for a few weeks before editing begins.
Here are some thing I learned about screenwriting during this process:
1.) The months of research, reading, storyboarding, visualization, and treatment writing were incredibly helpful. More so than any other kind of writing, the planning and organization of a screenplay is critical. It makes the actual writing easier, clearer, cleaner, and faster.
2.) I wrote the first draft of my screenplay in two days, and not because the story poured out of me. It absolutely didn’t! It was the months of pre-work, that was actual work, that made all the difference.
3.) Dialogue is the main vehicle in live-action screenwriting. The look and feel of the live-action film is the director’s domain. The story and dialogue, not the visual rendering, is the domain of the writer, and the screenplay respects and reflects that.
4.) I watched Aaron Sorkin’s excellent Masterclass on screenwriting. He said that most of screenwriting is not writing at all, and that jumping in to writing too soon can complicate a screenplay in problematic ways. I had to fight the urge to jump into writing. I had to force myself to do all the upfront work before I put down a single word. I’m grateful for his advice, and though it was difficult to follow it was absolutely worth it. You can free write for a novel, short story, or journalism piece. Screenplays need a plan.
Have you written a screenplay? What did you learn in that writing process?
One of the most informative actions I’ve taken as a beginning screenwriter is to watch movies with their screenplays in my lap. I read a scene, watch that scene, and read it again to see how it translates from the page to the screen. Here’s what I’ve learned in this process:
If you’re writing a screenplay, reading screenplays and then watching their corresponding movies is the single greatest tool you can utilize. Are you writing a screenplay? Which screenplays do you recommend reading and watching?
Small stories told incredibly well can be every bit as powerful as the sweeping, complicated tales of history. To be honest, I’m naturally drawn to the latter but telling those epic tales as a writer is not a place to begin. It’s a goal.
This spring, I’m attending my first screenwriting pitch event. I had a long conversation with my writing mentor and dear friend, John Bucher. I was considering writing an against-all-odds story rooted in the untold story of New York City’s most notorious and unlikely gangster.
Because it’s a period piece, I was worried that this would cause producers to count me out before I even finished my log line. In this kind of pitch situation, I’ve got to stack the odds in my favor in every way—a great story, strong writing, short shooting period, and a small budget without any complicated production or editing tactics needed. Period films by their nature are expensive and expansive because you have to recreate that world that the characters inhabit. Is a bold period piece for this pitch competition really the risk to take? Though I love the story, I doubted whether this was the time and place to take that shot. To check this hunch, I turned to John.
John said something to me that was an absolute lightbulb moment that I’ll be retelling for years to come: producers often look for a way to say no. Your job as a writer is to make that “no” very difficult for them to deliver. As The Godfather has taught me well, “Make them an offer they can’t refuse.” A killer small story that fits squarely into a genre that sells shows that as a writer you know the market. You understand it in your bones, and that shows that not only can you write but you also know how to make something. And that last bit, the ability to make something beyond words on a page is the secret sauce. If a film can be made on a sliver of a budget, that lets a producer take a risk on a new voice. If it costs them next to nothing to make, it gives them the chance to take a chance. And as a new voice, I’m a chance that I want them to take.
So, it’s back to the drawing board for me on this project but you know what? I feel great about it. I feel lighter. I feel like I’m starting with a blank page that can be anything my imagination can conjure. I don’t know what my genre or subject will be, but I do know the story will be small, relatable, set in the present day, and center around a strong female lead who’s underestimated. She’ll likely be in New York because it’s the city where I live, and the one that I know and love. And the rest? It’s all TBD. Stay tuned…
As a scientist-in-training in the field of biomimicry and a beginning filmmaker, the Imagine Science Film Festival is a perfect lab for people like me who want to use the medium of film to ignite and inspire curiosity and wonder about our natural world.
The New York City-based festival kicks off this week on Friday, October 18th, and runs through next Friday, October 25th. There are events each day at various locations around the city, and the majority of the films are short-format. Whether you’re interested in science, filmmaking, or a combination of the two, this festival is a wonderful way to see new research that’s emerging as well as new ways of explaining and communicating science. Get a feel for the festival by check out the trailer at https://vimeo.com/363581326
The whole schedule is available online, along with links for tickets sales, and here is a summary with all of the direct ticket links for each:
Friday, October 18
Opening Night of the Imagine Science Film Festival | The spaces between utopia and dystopia, gene editing, and the post-anthropocene.
Saturday, October 19
Science for Nanos: Taking Flight
Film program for kids at the Imagine Science Film Festival | Whether by wing, flipper, jet, or rocket, everyone must leave the nest someday.
Can humanoid robots be our friends? Scientists and tech visionaries believe that artificially intelligent robots will become an integral part of everyday life.
Sunday, October 20
Films on perception and memory, consciousness and identity, and the spaces that lie between mind and circuitry.
Tales from the Biosphere
The surface of the earth teems with stories, a drama which has played out over millenia. Will we continue to play a part of it all?
Monday, October 21st
Symbiosis Lab: Talks, Films, and Drinks
Watch six working scientists and six pro filmmakers as they compete to create new genre bending works in science filmmaking.
Tuesday, October 22nd
Self-care, Alchemy, and Other Life Hacks
Each year we save some of the most audacious reconfigurations of scientific themes for a program of largely animation and experimental film
The film program in which we allow some of the phantoms banished by science back into the proceedings.
Wednesday, October 23rd
This program collects 4 brilliant experiments in light, landscape, perception. Luminous photochemical effects. Climactic celestial events.
Thursday, October 24th
Eyes on Elsewheres
How do we observe that which we cannot experience directly? Whether searching the surfaces of distant planets or peering into the quantum world, science seeks to extend our perception ever further.
Friday, October 25th
Six new science films in which emerging filmmakers and working scientists have been paired and supplied with production funds to create new genre bending works in one week examining all aspects of emergence.
Today’s filmmaking lesson: the quality of the camera only gets you so far. What matters more is the filmmaker’s taste and ability to tell a story. A film with a lower grade camera and an A+ filmmaker will create a far better film than a high-end camera and a mediocre filmmaker. A class can teach you about techniques and the technology. It cannot give you taste. It cannot give you the story. That is up to you. Yes, a camera will give you the settings you need, the resolution, etc. But what matters most is what you put in the frame and how that frame drives the audience to keep asking, “And then what happened?” Without that emotional need-to-know, the greatest camera in the world will do nothing for a filmmaker.
Yesterday I had my first meeting to be considered as a director of photography on a small film. Still many more meetings to have and it’s by no means a done deal, but just the fact that this meeting happened at all so early on in my Double or Nothing Media venture is thrilling!
In my camera class we talked about the concepts of critical focus and framing each shot with the subject of greatest significance. Parallels between filmmaking and life aren’t lost on me. I’m grateful for the reminder and encouragement as I make massive changes in my life and career right now. It takes a village to start and run a business.
Aspiring Manhattan filmmakers, do you know about Manhattan Neighborhood Network – MNN, an award-winning public access TV offering Manhattan residents low-cost production training and shows in 40+ languages? Take classes, use their state-of-the-art equipment and studios, tell stories that matter, and discover filming opportunities. I’m going to their orientation on Tuesday evening, and I’m excited to learn more about this treasure trove of resources, support, and community for film producers and directors.
Next week I’ll be on the most unique trip I’ve ever taken—to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. I’ll be there for work on a film, and will be visiting Jeddah (on the coast of the Red Sea) via Amman in Jordan, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and the Empty Quarter, the world’s largest continuous sand desert. I’m excited to show you these countries through my lens and stories, and can’t wait to share what I find. Follow along here, and on Instagram (christarosenyc) and Twitter (@christanyc).
Let the filming begin! I’m so excited that my camera kit arrived and I can start getting a feel for filmmaking with my hands, heart, and mind. Let’s tell some stories that matter, shall we? Take one…
As a gift to myself to spur inspiration, I signed up for Masterclass’s All-Access Pass. I’m obsessed. Masterclass is basically Netflix for online learning. Neil Gaiman, one of my favorite authors, teaches a class on storytelling class and it’s wonderful. I’m about half-way through and I’ve already learned so much that is immediately helping me as a writer and author.
Given my new job for a film production company, I’m so excited to take the film and TV classes with:
Other classes on my “I need to take this” list:
What I can’t believe is that for just $180, I get all of these incredible classes and more for a year. Each class also comes with a downloadable PDF workbook and there is a mini-forum and office hours where you can post your comments and ask questions. Plus there’s a 30-day money-back guarantee so there’s no risk to try it out.
And I’ve got some good news for you! When I bought my 1-year All-Access Pass, they offered me a link to share with others to give you $30 off an All-Access Pass. So you can get all of this for $150 for a year. Just follow this link, and check it out for yourself: https://share.masterclass.com/x/5d9sN3