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Old 10-04-2013, 01:24 AM   #1
Troy
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Question ??? What have you learned from reading lots of scripts?

I've read around 30 scripts in the last couple months. Some from my favorite movies, some many people say you need to read and some from the best screenplay nominees the last few years. While many/most were enjoyable to read, I haven't taken away much to improve my own writing. For all the time spent reading these scripts, I feel it might have been better to have just spent the time writing instead.

What am I missing? My guess is that I should be trying to "analyze" the scripts, rather than just "reading" them. But is that really more helpful than buying a screenwriting book and seeing someone else's take and processing that instead?

What have you learned from reading lots of scripts and how has it changed/improved your writing?

Last edited by Troy : 10-04-2013 at 01:28 AM. Reason: spelling
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Old 10-04-2013, 01:35 AM   #2
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Default Re: ??? What have you learned from reading lots of scripts?

You've missed the point.

I'd say that reading lots of professional scripts likely demonstrates how to utilise the craft: it shows not just how to format, but how to construct a story, when to skip scenes, how to write good characters...

So, you've read 30 scripts and when you look at your own work, you still can't see anything differently?
This means that either your work's already at a top level or you're not comparing it properly to the higher standards you should be aiming to achieve.

It's going to take a hell of a long time to get that good - some people never do and nobody can ever say why - but if simply reading a screenwriting book or 30 scripts would make admired pro's out of everyone, don't you think this would be the easiest job in the world?
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Old 10-04-2013, 04:13 AM   #3
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Default Re: ??? What have you learned from reading lots of scripts?

Here's what I've learned from reading scripts:

- that there's no one way of writing. The Zaillian Dragon Tattoo script is as lean as its heroine; Alan Ball's American Beauty is like a novel; the Coen brothers' True Grit is like a folk song. All work. All are beautiful. Perhaps most importantly, all read like films.

- that whatever you think of auteur theory, 90% of imagery is there in the script. So you have to write visually - not describing every book on the shelf, but learning to conjure a world.

- that professional scripts move lightning fast. This still blows my mind. You read a script of your own, or from a good amateur friend, and you pause after about 11 pages; you read a pro script and you read it cover-to-cover in half an hour.

- that in a professional script you always know where you are. You don't have to flick back a few pages to remind yourself who someone is. You don't suddenly think, wait - why are they here? What are they doing again? It's a clarity often missing from amateur scripts (and my own).

- that sometimes a great script doesn't lead to a great film. Read all the Alien III scripts - there are a dozen or so - then scratch your head as to why they were still having to write pages whilst shooting.

- finally, that writing a good script is really f**king hard and there's still a massive difference between them and mine.


Personally I'm not sure about 'analysing' a script in terms of breaking it down and figuring out how it works. I guess it's a fun thing to sometimes notice how a particular writer did a particular thing. If you're writing a thriller then maybe reading thrillers will help. For me the best thing about reading professional scripts is that it just helps on a gut-level, makes me realise this is what I want to do and makes me itchy to get back to whatever I'm writing.
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Old 10-04-2013, 05:11 AM   #4
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Default Re: ??? What have you learned from reading lots of scripts?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jon Jay View Post
Here's what I've learned from reading scripts:

- that there's no one way of writing. The Zaillian Dragon Tattoo script is as lean as its heroine; Alan Ball's American Beauty is like a novel; the Coen brothers' True Grit is like a folk song. All work. All are beautiful. Perhaps most importantly, all read like films.

- that whatever you think of auteur theory, 90% of imagery is there in the script. So you have to write visually - not describing every book on the shelf, but learning to conjure a world.

- that professional scripts move lightning fast. This still blows my mind. You read a script of your own, or from a good amateur friend, and you pause after about 11 pages; you read a pro script and you read it cover-to-cover in half an hour.

- that in a professional script you always know where you are. You don't have to flick back a few pages to remind yourself who someone is. You don't suddenly think, wait - why are they here? What are they doing again? It's a clarity often missing from amateur scripts (and my own).

- that sometimes a great script doesn't lead to a great film. Read all the Alien III scripts - there are a dozen or so - then scratch your head as to why they were still having to write pages whilst shooting.

- finally, that writing a good script is really f**king hard and there's still a massive difference between them and mine.


Personally I'm not sure about 'analysing' a script in terms of breaking it down and figuring out how it works. I guess it's a fun thing to sometimes notice how a particular writer did a particular thing. If you're writing a thriller then maybe reading thrillers will help. For me the best thing about reading professional scripts is that it just helps on a gut-level, makes me realise this is what I want to do and makes me itchy to get back to whatever I'm writing.
Thank you. What you've said gives me some more perspective. Hard to disagree with any of your points.
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Old 10-04-2013, 07:45 AM   #5
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Default Re: ??? What have you learned from reading lots of scripts?

Reading pro scripts is all well and good and it does show how there are lots of ways to get the job done, but I feel like I've learned infinitely more about my own writing from reading lots and lots of amateur scripts...which isn't to say all amateur scripts are bad.

It depends on what kind of person you are, but I feel like it's a lot easier to spot how not to do something and take it out of your own writing than to emulate something that you hold in high regard.
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Old 10-04-2013, 08:06 AM   #6
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Default Re: ??? What have you learned from reading lots of scripts?

I like to read a script every few months or so, I just can't stand chain reading them. That said I think from reading both pro and amateur it has helped me to identify the flaws in my own scripts easier.

But in the end the script is just a blueprint. I find watching as many films as possible is more helpful.
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Old 10-04-2013, 08:10 AM   #7
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Default Re: ??? What have you learned from reading lots of scripts?

What I have I learned?

That "we see" a lot of these rules don't exist.

Only a good story does.

One should study other's works in order to learn how to craft their story, imo.

Identify the author's voice and in turn, try to cultivate your own.

Is there a magical number?

Each person is different.
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Old 10-04-2013, 08:50 AM   #8
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Default Re: ??? What have you learned from reading lots of scripts?

This is a fantastic list. I added a few under it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jon Jay View Post
Here's what I've learned from reading scripts:

- that there's no one way of writing. The Zaillian Dragon Tattoo script is as lean as its heroine; Alan Ball's American Beauty is like a novel; the Coen brothers' True Grit is like a folk song. All work. All are beautiful. Perhaps most importantly, all read like films.

- that whatever you think of auteur theory, 90% of imagery is there in the script. So you have to write visually - not describing every book on the shelf, but learning to conjure a world.

- that professional scripts move lightning fast. This still blows my mind. You read a script of your own, or from a good amateur friend, and you pause after about 11 pages; you read a pro script and you read it cover-to-cover in half an hour.

- that in a professional script you always know where you are. You don't have to flick back a few pages to remind yourself who someone is. You don't suddenly think, wait - why are they here? What are they doing again? It's a clarity often missing from amateur scripts (and my own).

- that sometimes a great script doesn't lead to a great film. Read all the Alien III scripts - there are a dozen or so - then scratch your head as to why they were still having to write pages whilst shooting.

- finally, that writing a good script is really f**king hard and there's still a massive difference between them and mine.


Personally I'm not sure about 'analysing' a script in terms of breaking it down and figuring out how it works. I guess it's a fun thing to sometimes notice how a particular writer did a particular thing. If you're writing a thriller then maybe reading thrillers will help. For me the best thing about reading professional scripts is that it just helps on a gut-level, makes me realise this is what I want to do and makes me itchy to get back to whatever I'm writing.
... character development is essential; we must write characters that an A-list actor is actually inspired to play. No out-of-central-casting stereotypes. To do this we have to know our characters intimately not as if they're just acquaintances we know little about.

... to write at a pro level you have to think out of the box. No seen-it-before or me-too scenes, characters, dialogue. Be daring. Surprise yourself, first.

... pro-level scripts make the reader feel something: anxiety, fear, sadness, excitement, anticipation, tenderness, empathy, etc. And to do this in a genuine way I have to dig around my own feelings to satisfy the writing commandment: write what you know.

... a great script fulfills the reader's/audience's desire for catharsis and balance. Which is something real life doesn't always provide for them.

... a great script makes the reader forget they're reading words on the page; there are no speed bumps that toss me out of the read. This requires precise writing to keep the reader in the "dream" of the script.

... a great script never bvllshits the reader for the sake of executing plot; never manipulates characters into doing things they wouldn't do just to hit a plot point.

... a deftly-infused theme separates memorable scripts from an "okay" script I forget a week later. This applies to all genres, not just drama.

Analyzing why this or that works well is helpful. However, thinking that reverse-engineering a great script reveals all of its secrets is highly misleading (which is why I think the how-to books are highly misleading).

There's always a ghost in the machinery of a great script that is unique to and specific to the psyche of the person who wrote it. Even he or she can't always "see" it at first glance because there's a type of alchemy going on in the writing process. The only way to bring this alchemy to our own writing is to be as honest and genuine as we can. Never skim the surface for pure effect or pure entertainment.
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Old 10-04-2013, 09:18 AM   #9
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Default Re: ??? What have you learned from reading lots of scripts?

I don't actually notice that I've "learned" anything new with reading scripts; all I know is that I write better material after say, reading William Goldman. My voice becomes focused, inspired. Technically speaking, I've learned a great deal already. Sure, there are other techniques I can aspire to seek out. The point, however, is that my scripts look and read like scripts. I read because it's immersion, pure and simple. If I'm reading scripts, my mind thinks scripts.

It's like re-reading the one screenwriting book you have, or Aristotle's Poetics, to give credence to what has already been inserted into your head.
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Old 10-04-2013, 11:22 AM   #10
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Default Re: ??? What have you learned from reading lots of scripts?

I think it's hard to put a finger on, but it's really about the process of osmosis.

A lot of the stuff we learn doesn't fit into neat boxes. That's part of why you need to read scripts: the stuff that fits into neat little boxes can be summarized in a book or by a teacher. The other stuff, not so much.
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