Starting with a Movie Script
What’s the first thing a script writer does?
K: Read a bunch of scripts. Take about 100 movies that you love and hate and ask yourself what you like about them? What makes them work? What’s the structure like, and the characters? Read the script of the movie you love and see how much of that actually ended up on the screen, how much of it translated to the final cut…then read the script of a film that did not work, ask why…what didn’t work? Was there something in the script that could have been fixed? That’s where I would start. Do the homework. And also, you need a good grasp of what you’re writing. What’s your idea in one sentence? What’s your elevator pitch? It needs to be clear and succinct. If you can’t articulate it in one sentence, then you probably don’t understand it as well as you think you do…
Any advice on the writing process?
K: Writer’s Bootcamp. I’m a big fan of their process. Anybody looking for a course to take, or how to take an idea and turn it into a screenplay, I recommend the Writer’s Bootcamp. I know they’ve done some really good work for some really good writers and I like their process (I have nothing to do with them).
What’s the best thing a person can do to break into the industry?
K: Ideally you gotta get your script read. And before you start sending your script out, you should get it registered with the copyright office, or the Writer’s Guild of America, just as a safety measure…whatever you need to do to protect yourself. After that, you try to get it read by as many powerful people as you can, the hope is that you eventually get it optioned, packaged and made.
So people don’t buy scripts outright?
K: Sometimes they do but that is rare, typically the script is optioned. Buying it outright could cost a lot of money – why would you buy it if you don’t have all the elements in place? The movie could get optioned for anywhere between $1.00 to $50,000.00 typically for around 12 months instead, and if the movie doesn’t get made in the agreed-upon timeframe, then the option can be extended, or the rights go back to the writer and they can try to option it again somewhere else.
What are the best kind of scripts to send out right now?
Well first of all, you gotta have a proper script. Don’t turn a script that’s 300 pages. It needs to be the right size for the box you need the script to fit in; and it needs to be between 90 and 120 pages. Do your research. Businesses are always looking for something new and fresh, but you need to be resourceful. If you have a good script then you want to get an agent, get it read, go to festivals, aim for the blacklist…there’s all kinds of things you can do to try to get some noise, but ultimately, I believe that good scripts find a way. Someone’s gonna read it.
It is it difficult to get movies made/financed?
K: Horrifically challenging. So many stars have to line up. It’s a miracle that any movies get made. It’s not easy! I am sure there is a singer somewhere that got noticed and signed to a deal while humming and walking down the street but that is not the norm! I’m sure stuff like that has happened but that’s definitely not the norm. There’s no formula for success and the reality is, you gotta sing in clubs and restaurants and drive around the country in your station wagon until hopefully somebody notices you and likes your voice. ITs the same in the film business.
How many scripts do you think a scriptwriter might have to write before they make it through?
K: Again, there’s no formula. You could write 50 and never get any made or break through with the first one. There’re no guarantees. If you’re a dentist or a doctor, you can start practising right away; but in our world, you could write 100 scripts, and nothing ever happens.
It’s good to get that reality check because there’s a lot of dreamers out there…
K: Dreamers are good. You need to dream and dream big–but it’s also good to have some reality. It ain’t gonna happen just ‘cause you hop on a bus and come here [Los Angeles] expecting to make it. It takes hard work, diligence and talent.
Any industry jobs you recommend to help writers network/get to know people?
K: Production companies typically have a division called development. It’s a great place to start… reading scripts , doing coverage or giving notes on existing scripts -you could build a lot of relationships. Another good place to start is in the mail room at one of the agencies.. You float on somebody’s desk and hear everything that is going on and learn about the players. You find yourself in a position to hear who’s looking for what. Perhaps you learn there is a studio looking for a horror movie or a romantic comedy. You could have a table read of your script and invite some friends and colleagues and hopefully some influential people to see your project on its feet. You gotta hustle. You gotta be scrappy.
So what’s your favourite part of a script? Dialogue?
K: My favourite part is not the dialogue. I like good structure and good characters. We need to care about these people, and when you have that, then other things can be fixed. It’s an ever-evolving process… it’s rare we option a movie and it’s ready to go.
Some people would say it’s all about dialogue though, that writers like Tarantino are defined by their dialogue.
K: That’s a complete mischaracterization of Quentin Tarantino’s screenplays. It’s not just all about dialogue. That’s actually not a smart thing to say. Quentin Tarantino writes terrific screenplays that have amazing characters. They have depth, great structure, AND amazing dialogue! If I gave you a script that just had great dialogue, but you didn’t give a f*ck about the characters and there’s no structure you’d likely say : What is this?
You need to tick multiple boxes.
What’s your favourite movie/screenplay?
K: E.T. is my favorite movie. I’m a big Spielberg fan (surprise) . He and this particular film are the reasons that I make movies. That movie had a profound impact on me. I experienced so many emotions. I thought this is fantastic, I wanna do this, this is what I have to do.
Big Spielberg Fan in general?
K: Yeah. And I had the pleasure of meeting him once and he was very gracious and kind.
Any final advice for screenwriters?
K: Don’t give up. Write every day. Write well. Write badly. Write all the time. Just write.