Friday, February 15, 2008

How many licks does it take?

Question: How many scripts does it take to get good?

Answer: Infinity. Or one. Or forty. Or six.

I can't shut off my imagination. At night when I'm bored I imagine what it would be like to be on an adventure somewhere fighting for survival or uncovering a terrorist plot.

In college I mostly shined at creative nonfiction but I could never stop wanting to make up stories. My thesis director always wished I'd stick to nonfiction. I refused.

Then I graduated and stopped having a push to write.

One day I thought up a story about a girl who is the only survivor of a space ship that crash landed with only children on board. Lord of the Flies meets War of the Worlds meets Cast Away meets an episode of Star Trek.

I kept planning to write the novel. And I kept planning and planning and planning until I had a whole story and no words on paper to prove it.

Then I read Bruce Campbell's incredibly inspirational first book (referenced in my sidebar) and discovered that people actually write movies down. So I looked up the format and asked all the standard newbie questions and in one day I had twenty pages of my story in a Microsoft Word file.

And it was easy and fun and on the page. And it was mediocre. But it was my first. I actually got an agent interested with the logline but I never heard back. And I'm glad because I wasn't ready.

I moved to LA. I wrote a script about a teacher who's secretly a badass martial artist who leads a bunch of kids out of the ghetto one night while they're being chased by gang members. I wonder where I got that idea?

It was awful. Then I wrote half a script about something I don't even remember. Then I wrote another half a script about something else I don't remember.

Then I turned to television. I wrote a pretty good Lost script that became obsolete two months later. I wrote a really good House script. I wrote half a Supernatural. Then I wrote another half a Supernatural. Then I wrote another half a Supernatural. Then I gave up on Supernatural.

I tried to write a My Name is Earl but it wasn't funny. Then a month later they used my plot so I'm really glad I only wrote five pages.

Then I wrote a pilot about a guy who's recruited into the mafia. It was a great idea but I was too lazy to do research and you could tell.

Then I cowrote a pilot about the aftermath of a school shooting. It was a great idea but it never felt right. And since there's a school shooting every couple of months, it will never be commercially viable until I have a proven record of pulling off edgy material. That ain't happening any time soon.

Then I discovered short films and found out I was really good at them. I co-wrote one, then I wrote another one, then another until Writing Partner and I turned them into a feature. Then I wrote some more. Now I write shorts just for fun when I'm bored. I have about eight I'd be proud to show anybody.

Now I'm writing my zombie flick. Will it be good? I don't know. I think so. I feel so. I've had much more fun with this than anything else I've written. I feel like I know what it takes to tell a good story, like I've learned a ton from what didn't work in all those crappy features.

So I don't know how many screenplays you have to write before you stop sucking. How many did it take you?


  1. About 9.5. Seriously. I quit halfway through the tenth, deleted the bastard, and started over entirely from scratch. New story, new approach, new technique. I have two scripts that I'm proud of now, and strong outlines for several more.

  2. Always one more than I've written.

  3. I know a moderately successful writer (novels, not screenplays) that says he still thinks his stuff is crap. I don't think we ever truly feel we do good work -- it's the perfectionist in us.

    I think that is the real struggle -- getting work done when you feel like all your work is bad. When you learn to manage that, you kinda just accept the fact that you'll always judge your own work as poor.

  4. Still trying on a daily basis not to suck...

  5. You've never mentioned it on your site before (that I can recall - I've been reading your blog regularly for six months or so), so I thought I'd ask... It seems like you put an awful lot of effort into this but I can't tell what your goal as a writer is - is it to make your own (short) films and ultimately act as a writer/director? Is it to sell a high-concept spec? Is it to produce? Is it to just have a hobby? Because the end goal changes the criteria of evaluation. I think your game has to be a lot higher if you're trying to sell a spec than gain a following on YouTube.

    Have you ever taken a class at UCLA or a seminar with a pro who teaches? Do you enter contests? How do you get your stuff out there? How will you know when your stuff is improving? Because it starts placing in contests? Because you're able to get an agent to call you AFTER reading the script? Because a short you make get 100,000 views on YouTube?

  6. Anonymous1:10 PM

    You should read Wil Wheaton's blog (if you don't already).

    He talks about all of this.

  7. Heavens to Betsy, Christina that's a lot of questions.

    Sounds like a blog post for tomorrow!

    But the short answer is my goal is to be a professional screenwriter.

  8. I really want to read / see your lord of the flies type movie now!

    How do any you decide to stop writing a script and move on to something else? At the moment I'm close to finishing the first draft of my first script, though it still needs a lot of rewriting.

    Problem is that I seem to have lost the passion for it, so its becoming more of a chore to keep going, but I also want to have that 1 finished script done, and learn as much as I can about going all the way.

  9. I really want to read / see your lord of the flies type movie now!

    Man I must have written my pitch for that film a lot better than the script.

    Trust me, you don't want to see it.

    As far as knowing when you're done, I think if it's your first and you're losing interest, just finish the first draft then move on. If you don't love the script you should move on to something you do love.

    But that's a whole other post. Perhaps for Sunday.

  10. I haven't quite stopped writing sucko screenplays, some are good, or even border on great. One or two of the bad ones have actually been made into movies--shit happens, I've grown tired of apologizing for it...

    Here's the thing, no one (okay some people have, but they're twisted) sets out to write a bad screenplay or make a bad movie from a good or great screenplay. When a movie gets mad from any screenplay I'm freaking thrilled about it--and I cash the check either way.

  11. My goal as a screenwriter is to make enough money so that I never have to write another screenplay.

    I figure eleventy trillion oughta do.
    B (6 scripts completed, 5 partials, 1 burned and forgotten and denied forever)

  12. So far...7.25.

    I'm counting the 14 pages on our current Dexter, but not Chuck, Pushing Daisies or the forever-in-outline-form animated feature.

  13. I have written close to three dozen scripts and I am only really happy with three of them. I don't think there will ever be a time were I don't think my writing sucks. Being a good writer is about throwing away all the stuff that sucks.


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