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Write every day: How to write your first screenplay

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? 

Write every day: The single best tool if you’re writing a screenplay

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:

  • The final screenplay and the final movie often look very different. Scenes are reshuffled or cut altogether. I watched one of my favorite movies and saw that an entire storyline had been cut from the final movie. Lines and words are different, too. Unlike a book or short story, the final screenplay is nowhere near final.
  • Screenplays are short compared to most books. A two-hour movie is ~120 pages (~25,000 words). That’s half the words of even the shortest novel.
  • Every single word in a screenplay counts. There is no room, or interest in, excess description. No inner thoughts. If it can’t be said or shown on screen, then it doesn’t belong in a screenplay. Writing has very few hard and fast rules, but in screenwriting brevity is one of them. Eliminate the unnecessary so the necessary can speak and be seen.
  • Scenes are Lego blocks. One thinks to the other in sequential order. In novels, you have rest scenes. In screenplays, you don’t. The question “And then what happened?” is crucial to ask at the end of every single scene. The answer to that question is the start of your next scene.

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?

Joy today: The Imagine Science Film Festival starts this Friday

Screen Shot 2019-10-14 at 12.45.38 PM

Image taken from Science for Nanos: Taking Flight

Joy today: The camera doesn’t make the film

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.

Joy today: Manhattan Neighborhood Network—a resource for filmmakers

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.

Joy today: Traveling to Saudi Arabia and the UAE for the first time

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).

Joy today: My new film project

“One thorn of experience is worth a whole wilderness of warning.” ~James Russell Lowell

After reading Adam Savage’s book, Every Tool’s a Hammer: Life is What You Make It, and watching Werner Herzog’s Masterclass on filmmaking, I decided to buy a camera kit to start shooting and editing some short-form film. My topic for this project is joy (no surprise there if you know me AT ALL!) Essentially, what I want to do is film you showing me and talking to me about something, anything, that gives you a supreme amount of joy. In exchange, I’ll share the raw footage with you as well as the edit. And, with your permission, I’ll share the edit on Vimeo and YouTube with any kind of attribution you’d like. If you’d be willing to have me film you, let me know and I’ll share more about the project.

Joy today: How film editing is like writing

Got started today in film editing with Adobe Premiere Pro and I love it! As writers and storytellers, we often hear that writing is editing. It’s also true for filmmaking – editing is the key to removing the unnecessary so the necessary can literally speak.

Joy today: Learning to edit film with Adobe Premiere

Today I’m rolling up my sleeves and starting to learn how to edit film footage with the Premiere software package by Adobe. Please send me any of your tips, tutorials, and resources that you think would be helpful! I’m so excited to dive in and learning this new skill.

Joy today: Day 1 of my new job in TV and film production

57277825_10104886286269956_3692905922977333248_oMy expectations for Day 1 of my new job were insanely high & they were exceeded in every way. See the hearts in my eyes?! All the side hustling & creative struggle for all these years were absolutely worth it. And I’m so grateful. I’ll find a way to pay forward this joy. Thank you to all of you who have been on this ride with me. Your constant support means more to me than I have words to express.

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