The Harsh Truth about Screenwriting

Short of Stories began in April 8, 2012. In the meantime it had more than 7000 visits, which is amazing for such a new blog covering such a niche-specific subject. I also won a pretty award from Script Magazine. But the truth is that there’s not much to talk about. Of course, i could keep developing some article here and there, but i’d never fool you: i’d never offer to review your script for money, i’d never write crap to hunt page views. One of the reasons to have started this blog was because i was tired of the amount of bullshit i’ve found online.

When i say there’s not much to talk about i don’t mean solely about this blog, but to the whole internet. There are only a few places where is still valid to read about screenwriting, all the others are lists of repeated advice crawling for page hits through the internet searches.

Film is a brand-new art in terms of history, but storytelling is not. We’re still attached to the same rules Aristotle wrote in the Ancient Greek (take this note: read the Poetics). Then you could move forward in time and read Lajos Egri’s The Art of Dramatic Writing and Christian Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers & Screenwriters. Do you want something more straightforward? Read Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting, by Robert McKee. Don’t waste your time (and money) with these lectures, workshops and internet gurus. As you get deep into this world you realize how predatory it is when unexperienced people offer to read your scripts and give you feedback. Wanna pay for a reading? Don’t pay cheap, get a renewed professional.

But don’t read anything else about screenwriting on the internet. Is it a list? Close it as fast as you can. Advice to fight writer’s block? Block the goddamn page instead. This cage of birds that has become the screenwriting online content, singing the same tune all day long is exactly the opposite of your need.

Film is a stagnated art when it comes to storytelling; in more than 100 years barely nothing has changed and so didn’t the advice. This advice that precedes the film itself as it comes from the Ancient Greece. Can’t you see what you’re reading? It is the same god damn thing in loop since 335 B.C. and every form of art has already overcome this stage. But i don’t mean that the storytelling in film must change. I don’t care about film at this particular moment (it is much bigger than any of us), i care about you. I care that you could be writing, but you’re not. I care that people try to take advantage of your naivety as a writer (and your insecurity, most of the time) to grab your few bucks left.

In the end, the only good advice about screenwriting is don’t read about screenwriting. Do anything else. Disconnect. Write.

Yes, this is the last post from Short of Stories. It’s been a lovely time and i’ve learnt a lot. I’d like to says thanks to the Reddit community for the large support in this period. The blog won’t go down and there’s plenty of resources to check out if you’re willing to write a short film, but don’t. Block this page, block every page, every blog.

I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and i’m not going to take this anymore!’

If you love me, you may find me on Tumblr or we may have a nice conversation on App.net. Please, be welcome to use the Contact form to reach me anytime.

Regards,
Phillip 

Short Screenplay Competitions

The post on the DC Shorts was quite informative and the statistics said you enjoyed it. Then i decided to seek through the entire Withoutabox for competition you may enter with your short film script. I might convert it into a page and update it constantly when i get back from a trip.

Here you’ll find the links for the festival rules and some of its rules. For a competition to be listed here it must have a limit of pages for your script as i’m dedicating this page to short scripts only. I hope this turns out to be a constant reference for you. Remember these aren’t all the competitions available worldwide, but those available on Withoutabox.

Also keep in mind that earlier you join the competition, cheaper you pay. Please read the rules of the competition carefully before submitting.

If you find any errors or have suggestions, please leave a comment.

ReelHeART International Film Festival
50 ~ 80 USD
! January 4, 2013
 under 15 pages
* none
@ a trophy or medallion.

Bloody Hero International Film Festival
20 ~ 50 USD
! January 5, 2013
 under 40 pages
* none.
@ a sculpture.

L.A.Comedy Shorts
25 ~ 70 USD
! January 10, 2013
 under 30 pages
* comedy.
@ 1000 USD. goods/services: 1250 USD.

A Night of Horror International Film Festival
16 ~ 58 USD
! January 15, 2013
 less than 45 pages
* horror.
@ none described.

FANTASTIC PLANET: Sydney International Sci-Fi & Fantasy Film Festival
16 ~ 53 USD
! January 15, 2013
 under 45 pages
* none.
@ to be adjusted.

Steeltown Film Factory
15 ~ 75 USD
! January 18, 2013
 under 12 pages
* none.
goods/services: 30000 USD.

Brooklyn Girl Film Festival
15 ~ 35 USD
! January 19, 2013
 up to 30 pages
* written (or co-written) by woman.
@ yet to be determined.

Bare Bones International Film & Music Festival
20 ~ 65 USD
! January 21, 2013
 under 40 pages
* none.
@ a medallion.

International Family Film Festival
20 ~ 35 USD
! January 25, 2013
 under 44 pages
* must be registered or copyright, drama, comedy, animation, sci-fi/fantasy, musical.
@ a certificate

Canadian Short Screenplay Competition
25 ~ 75 USD
! January 31, 2013
 under 15 pages
* screenplays must not be based on another piece of work unless public domain.
@ over $75,000 worth in prizes.

Kansas City FilmFest
25 ~ 55 USD
! February 1, 2013
 under 15 pages
* must be written (or co-written) by a woman
@ 1000 USD.

Sacramento International Film Festival
20 ~ 65 USD
! February 10, 2013
 under 20 pages
* none.
@ trophy and prize package.

Liverpool Lift-Off Film Festival
15 ~ 50 USD
! February 14, 2013
 under 45 pages
* none.
@ goods/services: 10000 USD.

United Film Festival
20 ~ 60 USD
! February 17, 2013
 under 45 pages
* dramacomedyhorror/thriller.
@ trophy and prize package.

deadCENTER Film Festival
20 ~ 40 USD
! February 25, 2013
 under 15 pages
* none.
@ live table read.

California International Shorts Festival
35 ~ 70 USD
! February 27, 2013
 under 50 pages
* none.
@ a title.

Hill Country Film Festival
15 ~ 40 USD
! March 6, 2013
 under 10 pages
* none
@ to be adjusted.

St. Tropez International Film Festival
137 ~ 226 USD
! March 14, 2013
 under 30 pages
* none.
@ you should read this one for yourself.

LA Comedy Film Festival
25 ~ 70 USD
! March 15, 2013
 under 32 pages
* comedy.
@ 250 USD. value of good/services: 500 USD.

London Independent Film Festival
49 ~ 89 USD
! March 15, 2013
 under 50 pages
* obscene, pornographic or illegal material is not allowed.
@ good/services: 500 United Kingdom Pounds.

Spirit Quest Film Festival
20 ~ 55 USD
! March 15, 2013
 under 49 pages
* none.
@ none described.

Nantucket Film Festival
20 ~ 55 USD
! March 26, 2013
 under 40 pages
* copyrighted or WGA registered.
@ 500 USD.

LAFF Vegas
25 ~ 60 USD
!  March 31, 2013
 under 49 pages
* comedy.
@ none described.

Woods Hole Film Festival
15 ~ 45 USD
! April 10, 2013
 under 30 pages
* hard copy required
@ yet to be determined.

Las Vegas Film Festival
35 ~ 55 USD
! April 15, 2013
 under 75 pages
* none.
@ over 10000 USD shared among the winners.

Snake Alley Festival of Film
20 ~ 60 USD
! April 15, 2013
 under 30 pages
* none.
@ wood sculpture.

Vegas Cinefest
20 ~ 65 USD
! April 25, 2013
 up to 25 pages
* none.
@ none described.

DC Shorts Screenwriting Competition
35~ 75 USD
! May 31, 2013
 up to 15 pages
* none.
@ 2000 USD.

Creative World Awards Screenwriting Competition
24 ~ 69 USD
! June 1, 2013
 less than 40 pages
* screenplays must not be based on another piece of work unless public domain, no more than two authors.
@ 250 USD. Goods/Services: 1000 USD.

Columbia Gorge International Film Festival
15 ~ 95 USD
! June 3, 2013
 less than 15 pages
* hard copies required, .
@ none described.

Denver Indie Fest
15 ~ 50 USD
! June 24, 2013
 under 50 pages
* none.
@ it’s not a competition, so no prizes.

Eddie Bauer Jr. Screenplay Competition Benefiting the National Childrens Cancer Society
20 ~ 65 USD
! July 1, 2013
 under 50 pages
* none.
@ value of good/services: 5000 USD.

2013 SF Shorts: San Francisco International Festival of Short Films
$ 25 ~ 55 USD
! July 7, 2013
under 10 pages
* live-action, narrative, non-period, non-effects based.
@ value of good/services: 1900 USD. Script produced under 5k budget.

Action On Film International Film Festival
30 ~ 55 USD
! July 20, 2013
 under 19 pages
* none
@ value of good/services: 100 ~ 2500 USD.

SoCal Independent Film Festival
15 ~ 55 USD
! July 26, 2013
 under 30 pages
* none.
@ none described.

Manhattan Short Film Festival
35 ~ 40 USD
! July 31, 2013
 under 20 pages
* none.
@ none described.

Hollywood Screenplay Contest
25 ~ 55 USD
! August 10, 2013
 under 75 pages
* none.
@ over 20000 USD  in cash, prizes and services shared among winners.

Silent River Film Festival
25 ~ 45 USD
! August 13, 2013
 under 50 pages
* none.
@ an award.

New York Screenplan Contest
25 ~ 50 USD
! August 20, 2013
 under 70 pages
* none.
@ none described.

Eerie Horror Film Festival
15 ~ 50 USD
! September 1, 2013
 under 69 pages
horrorscience fictionmysterysuspense of the supernatural.
@ sponsor prizes.

West Field Screenwriting Awards
30 ~ 50 USD
! September 30, 2013
 under 40 pages
* none.
@ an award.

WILDsound Feedback Film and Screenplan Festival
35 ~ 40 USD
! Rolling deadline
 under 50 pages
* none.
@ a read of your screenplay for the audience.

DC Shorts Screenplay Competition

The DC Shorts Film Festival and Screenplay Competition is the largest short film event on the East Coast. In our 10th year, we plan on showcasing 150 films from around the globe — including the largest collection of Russian short films to ever be screened in the U.S. Hundreds of filmmakers and thousands of audience members to mix, mingle and explore the art of short cinema.

That’s what they say. How i see it? An opportunity for you to send your short film script somewhere and see if it gets anything.

It awards up to $2000 to a winning script. It must be under 15 pages and not in production. Entering the competition before March 31 costs you $30 when submitted through DC Shorts and $40 when through Withoutabox.

You must read everything in this page before sending anything.

If you have a short film ready to visit international festivals, please read this page. If you send the film before January 30 the price is $25 through DC Comics ($30 through Withoutabox).

The awards are not so appealing and i hate this concept of “paying to screen” (it is bad for the festival overall, as you’re obligated to screen poor films as long as they paid). But if you think you got a shot for the prize, do it.

Writing a Short Film: Characters

First of all, i hope you all recovered from the New Year’s hangover and i hope you had a great party and most important, that your 2013 turns out outstanding. But it is time to get back to work and i’ll be discussing my method to create characters.

Often people underestimate character development since they’re working on a shorter format. But your characters are always greater than your story and you must build this person. Your length doesn’t matter, it won’t stop being a person. This overall means that the process to create characters for short films is identical to creating for feature films. But why should we develop characters?

Platypus

This is the story of a God.

A while ago we were discussing this subject on #scriptchat, someone agreed with me, “i know, you must be the God of your writing”, but i replied as it wasn’t like that. Being almighty towards your script means that anything is appropriate, and if anything is possible, then everything makes sense. Which is not the case. If you place yourself as the God of your story, it’ll end up as a platypus.

To avoid this we must place some boundaries and developing our characters is one of those things. I won’t come up with an example of a character that shouldn’t so something because it has certain personality, you’ll think of something as you read. But mostly because we develop our characters to stay out of these situations.

You should know your characters as a best friend. You may be able to predict their reactions, but they may still surprise you. You must know what ticks them and their flaws.

We should begin drawing our characters now. There are applications specialized on character development, as Persona, and a mere google search should lead you to several character sheets and questionnaires. I sincerely can’t work like that. The reason is that i few trapped in these forms and questions and i like to work freehand on my characters. I create by brainstorming.

Open up a text document and just type. Sometimes you’ll already have plot twists and a fate for this character, you must keep that in mind when you’re writing its biography as the decisions that lead to these twists must make sense. If you don’t have much more than an inciting incident, then developing a character properly will help you to come up with events to improve your stories. It’s like throwing mice in a maze.

I do most of my writing on iA Writer, but for character development i work on Scrivener directly. That’s because the smaller font makes me visualize the entire block of text. As i write on a single paragraph, it’s important to be aware of everything. I usually begin with tags which i’ll attain for the entire biography. “Isabella: Intellectual, stubborn, objective, overconfident“. These are my guidelines. I use the rest of the page to describe the past, reactions and justifications. Creating a background is to solidify the reason why pursuing your story’s goal actually matters for this character. “If John achieves his goal, he’ll be promoted” is a motive, “In his childhood, John was constantly bullied in school for achieving nothing” is what justifies the motive and humanizes our character, improving his empathy. My main character, Isabella, as i described, became an intellectual because she couldn’t settle down with her mother, drowned herself in books to run away into a decent university.

Scrivener

But my method is all about brainstorming, so it includes snippets of text that wouldn’t interfere in the story. Isabela remains quiet in the elevator, says there, but i won’t have any scene with Isabela meeting a stranger and having a chat in the elevator, but what motivates me into these sentences is that they bring clean images of the character, because a person that refuses to chat in elevators is reasonable and it takes our impressions someplace else. It’s what lies beneath. In my previous script (which will soon be posted in the blog), i wrote this on a character: has several books in the shelf, never read any of them. This is a person who cares for the visual impression he presents to others. These little things, images, that pop up in your head while you think about your character say more about they than the typical relevant information you would conventionally include in their description. And this is the main reason why i avoid all those techniques, i miss most of this when i get into forms and questions. I lose the imagery.

Developing your characters is not solely about raising limits, but also narrowing your path, drawing some guidelines when it comes to dialogue and reactions. In what situation would your character lie? How would he do it? Is he a natural liar? How does he react when someone finds out his flaw? These are not arbitrary questions, they don’t need an input in your development, however if you live with your character, sooner or later you’ll be able to answer these and many others. My brainstorming experience focuses on that: living among your characters, and that’s why i recommend it to you.

Quick notes on this subject:

1. Create a great character: Your job is not to ‘create a great character for a film’, forget about the media. Just create a great character.

2. Would this character pursue the goal of your story? Not an arbitrary question, but a reminder that your story must fit the character.

3. If you feel it is wrong, then it is wrong. This is a great advice when it comes to editing your story, but you could also put it in practice right now. If you write your character doing something that doesn’t seem right, then he probably wouldn’t do it. Stop thinking and let your character talk to you.

4. Use your imagery well. Your job is to create and induce images. How deep this image goes depends only on the dedication you apply to its layers. Start right now. Think in images.

5. Have a conversation. When you manage to have a fictional conversation with your character, then you’re ready.

6. Respect your boundaries. Don’t distort your characters because it would turn your story easier. Put some thought, otherwise we won’t bite it.

Writing a Short Film: Research

In the case you kept close track of this blog, you might be aware i’ve already commented on research. However, this is a new series which will follow my personal process while i work on my new short film script. This is meant to be a suggestion if you’re lost under the writing steps, yet feel welcome to share your own method.

I can’t reinforce properly how important a decent research is, because the opposite may put your film down instantly. Why? Plausibility. This is the reason why you should develop your research and your characters with the same effort as if you were writing a feature film. Have you seen The Dark Knight Rises? **SPOILER** Did you notice there was no freaking way for Bruce to return to Gotham from the pit? **END SPOILER** These details break the magic a little bit and in these internet days, all you need is a single viewer to spot it. Then they will post it everywhere because it is their chance to grab the attention his mom missed to give him and all the hipsters in town will criticize the plot and say they noticed the screw up. And then the experience after your film projection will be bad buzz. Even if you didn’t care about the TDKR screw ups *cof* Burning symbol in the bridge *cof*, you’re not Christopher Nolan. You’re just like me: a nobody.

My rule of thumb for research is: do it for everything that does.

What this means? You must study every element from the story that do something. Even if not a direct action, your scenario, for example, affects the story just for being. There’s no need to go really deep into most of the stuff you study. Most of the time researching is all about confirming what you already now.

Talking about my new story, it’s more like a challenge i have no idea if i’ll succeed and if you keep reading you’ll how nuts it is. I want to write a dramedy with a clear 4-act structure in 15 minutes tops. It’s about a young woman who has to take care of her grandmother, who collects cats. This is just a taste out of it and you’ll certainly learn more about the project as this series moves along. There’s a scene in which the woman goes to buy the largest pack of pet food. How much it weights? Calling my local pet store and asking is research, even if i had an idea it would be around 20kg (44 pounds). This is essentially for credibility, although some fact-finding might improve your story some other ways.

Out of nowhere, the woman finds out her grandma has Alzheimer’s. This is a crucial point for the craft because even though i’m interested, no one in my family had Alzheimer’s. I’m a complete stranger to this world. Several amateur writers i know would avoid this. Playing away from their backyard. Yet is this process of incorporation into someone else that attracts me into the writing world. Without the proper research you can’t get underneath the skin.

Dealing with Alzheimer’s puts me in a very tough position, because it is easy to go cliché or wrong, meanwhile the good path is narrow. Then i apply the deep research for my story. In this moment, research is my resource for effective plot points. I start working on the experiences of people whom took care of relatives with Alzheimer’s. Basing my twists into real situations beyond giving me solid ground to proceed, is also a respectful attitude towards those whom live in that world.

Most of the time, research is virtual and i need a place to store everything. I use Together for that. It’s an Evernote that works. Allows me to tag my files and organize them within folders. Plus making it superb to send information and don’t invade my workflow. In the image you may check the folder and some files i’ve stored so far.

Screenshot 12 21 12 4 49 AM

Using Safari Reader or Evernote Clearly, it is smooth to save a formatted web article within Together without much of that whole internet pollution. Works better than the Evernote Web Clipper, honestly. Together also keeps the files in a uncompressed folder, so i sync them in my Dropbox and can access my research pretty much from anywhere.

Screenshot 12 21 12 4 55 AM

Some quick comments on researching:

  • If you’re insecure about something in your story is because you didn’t study it enough. Research is backing it up.
  • Maintain your research notes stored and organized. You must have them at hand at any given moment.
  • Most of the time researching is confirming your suspicions.
  • Don’t be afraid to play journalist. Interviewing an expert is really good to clarify your thoughts.
  • Get what you need and fucking move on. It’s a thin line between research and procrastination.
  • Plausibility, plausibility, plausibility.
  • And most important: research everything that do anything in your story.

See you around (:

Successful Short Films – Tune for Two

I’ve seen this piece while checking a list from Film School Rejects on the best short films of 2011. It stands in the first place. Below you may find zombies, nonsense, Spike Jonze, fan-fiction and even the short film which won the VIMEO Awards, Blinky™. And still this short film with less than three minutes reigns in the top.

Tune for Two is an amazing experience due to its simplicity, but that doesn’t bear the quality of this film by itself. What Tune for Two evokes is the freedom that the short film format allows us. The endorsement of ignorance that we persist to renounce for what it takes for a short film to be complete. The liberty to ignore the questions that drive a mystery, the how-why-and-when, the possibility to leave explanations behind in order to give a take on the is.

Because even if all the questions were answered, they wouldn’t matter. And if they were, the outcome would be bloated. Tune for Two then reminds us that we must prime for a goal and grab onto it with objectivity. That a satisfying experience is more appreciated than answers when well executed.

And above everything, Tune for Two is a proclamation that the short film will never die or even take a recess, because as long as there are stories like these, which wouldn’t fit in any other format as properly as they do as a short film, the flame will remain high. 

The short film will never fade away for the same reason no other cinematographic method will as well. Some stories are meant to be told a certain way. Do you need better evidence to sustain that? Try telling a friend about Tune for Two and see if they gig. Then turn your screen and hit the play again. You’ll enjoy a second round. And when you see the lips form a giggle, you’ll understand.

Why you should be writing in Fountain

If you’re writing a short film script, chances are your main occupation is studying. You know, film school. Perhaps it is only a hobby, you want to put an idea out of the paper, shoot that bastard and exhibit to your parents at Christmas’ Eve. If you’re writing in a regular text editor, then i feel sorry for you, because your formatting is possibly wrong. Yes, are you aware that writing for movies rely on a very specific format? In the case you don’t, google “screenwriting formatting” or something similar, you’ll find plenty of options. I never wrote about formatting and this ain’t the moment, because you may download a screenwriting software to do the drill for you. Just like that.

If you owe a mac and is really committed to get into the industry, you could ask your parents to pay the trifle of 250 USD for Final Draft, which is the industry standard. But you don’t have that kind of money, do you? And if you had, you’d waste on girls and booze. Then you could use Celtx, which is a cross-platform production application, with screenwriting included, and FREE. Within Celtx you have a problem as it doesn’t export as FDX, which is the Final Draft extension, only PDF, but besides that, i have my own issues with both applications and these screenshots will illustrate to you.

Screen Shot 2012 11 30 at 5 31 08 AM   Screen Shot 2012 11 30 at 5 52 22 AM

Simply put: Celtx is ugly and clumpy. Besides that you don’t even have much of a choice to customize the layout. Final Draft looks better, looks essential, you may just start writing. Plus that its customization options are much better. When it comes to writing, i always prefer to keep it as clean as possible so i may focus on, you know, writing and shit. This is the best i could do to change the layout of these applications to let them as distraction-free as possible:

Screen Shot 2012 11 30 at 5 33 09 AM   Screen Shot 2012 11 30 at 5 36 31 AM

You can’t deny that Final Draft still looks much better, it is like an invitation to write. But do you wanna know how do i write my screenplays now? Like this:

Screen Shot 2012 11 30 at 5 37 34 AM

That’s an application called iA Writer, it’s not a screenwriting application, but a distraction-free tool. After all that mess about formatting your screenplays, as you may check, i couldn’t care less about it. That’s because i use Fountain, which is not an application, but a syntax. Think of it as a language, like HTML or bbCode, but it has its origins on Markdown. Due to his nature you may use Fountain within ANY TEXT SOFTWARE. I chose iA Writer, but you may write your screenplay on Notepad/TextEdit if it pleases you. You’ll spend less time learning Fountain than you did trying to make a SUM work on Excel. As long as it writes, it may write a screenplay. Fountain gives you the freedom to write a screenplay in the application that fit you mostly and this is important because you must use the software that makes you more comfortable as possible. One of the creators of Fountain, John August, has posted a workflow from one of his readers which uses iA Writer, Scrivener and Highland. I’ve been testing it myself and it is lovable. If you don’t know Scrivener, it is the writer’s Photoshop. Costs 45USD, but worth every penny. Highland converts Fountain files into FDX or PDF and vice versa. It is free while in beta, but John August himself stated that it will be charged fairly whenever it goes live.

Another advantage of Fountain is that as a plain text, you may write it from your mobile, your uncle’s house. If there is a computer there, you have good odds to dig up some screenwriting time. Thanks to its format, Fountain makes it easy to send your screenplay to your friends and crew.

Celtx may be free, but Fountain is freedom. Freedom to choose your software, your workplace, your workflow. It’s about the job fitting for you, not the opposite.



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