Academy Award ®-nominated writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio co-wrote the DreamWorks animated feature shrek, winner of the first Academy Award for Best




НазваниеAcademy Award ®-nominated writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio co-wrote the DreamWorks animated feature shrek, winner of the first Academy Award for Best
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WORDPLAY


Academy Award ®-nominated writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio co-wrote the DreamWorks animated feature SHREK, winner of the first Academy Award for Best Animated Film in 2002.


In 1992, the pair co-wrote the highest grossing film of the year, Disney animated feature ALADDIN, starring Robin Williams. Their live-action feature film credits include: LITTLE MONSTERS, starring Fred Savage; SMALL SOLDIERS, starring Kirsten Dunst; GODZILLA, starring Matthew Broderick; and THE MASK OF ZORRO, starring Anthony Hopkins and Antonio Banderas.


In 1996, Elliott and Rossio became the first writers signed to an overall writing and producing deal at DreamWorks SKG. Their animated projects at DreamWorks include: SHREK, with Mike Meyers and Eddie Murphy; THE ROAD TO EL DORADO, featuring Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh; ANTZ (creative consultants), featuring Woody Allen; and SINBAD (creative consultants), featuring Brad Pitt and Catherine Zeta-Jones.


In 2003, Elliott and Rossio co-wrote the feature film PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, winner of the People's Choice Award for Best Picture, and recipient of five Academy Award ® nominations, including Best Actor for Johnny Depp.


Under their Scheherazade Productions banner, Elliott and Rossio are overseeing development of JINGLE (written by Bill Marsilii), in association with Fortis Films, and the feature film INSTANT KARMA, in association with Digital Domain and New Line Cinema.


INTRO & DISCLAIMER

This is the part where I attempt to explain what Wordplay is, rationalize and justify its existence, and manipulate your attitude about the material. Specifically, try to really lower your expectations, so there's a chance later on you'll actually be impressed. In other words, you can skip this page, and go straight on to the Wordplay columns' Table of Contents if you want to. You've already seen the basic message: WELCOME!


Writing about writing You can't teach writing. I know it, and you know it. So why a website devoted to a bunch of columns on writing screenplays? Well, money, of course. Except... there's no charge for accessing this site, and no fee for downloading the columns. They are yours if you want them; I only ask that if you reprint or repost them, please keep my name on them. But there's no thousand dollar cassette series to buy, and I don't want you to send me your scripts for my professional analysis for just $150.00.

You want to come visit here, be my guest, have fun. It's free.

Okay, so it must be ego.

Mine, specifically. My big ego.

Those who know me would say that's definitely a possibility.

Except... deep down, I know that time spent writing 'how-to' columns isn't real writing, it's a way of avoiding writing. And it doesn't show me in a particularly favorable light (no offense to Syd Field, Linda Seeger, Jack Truby, et al). But I know the reader can't help but wonder, if I know so damn much about screenplays, why don't I just go write the next Academy Award-winning script? (Answer: because it's really, really hard.) I'm well aware of the "Those who can, do, those who can't, teach" maxim. Writing about writing is, in a way, an admission of defeat.

So if writing can't be taught, I make zero money out of this, and it makes me look silly, why do it?

Writing can't be taught.

But it can be learned.

And dammit, I'm going to figure it out.

Writing these essays causes me to focus on different aspects of the craft, analyze them, and truly figure out my thoughts and opinions. This is my way of learning. After all, you can't tell something to somebody if you don't have anything to say. Writing a column on screenwriting makes me concentrate on the art with a discipline that would be hard to achieve otherwise. Especially while working full-time as a screenwriter.

Or, to use another favorite quote: "You teach best what you most need to learn."

And... okay, it's fun, too.

And... okay, so I get to meet lots of neat people along the way (many of whom keep asking for more columns!).

And... finally, when I was just starting out, this is exactly the sort of information I thought should exist for new writers. But it didn't.

Now it does.

Though I never thought I'd be the one who would write it!


Follywood refugees "Wordplay" began in 1995 as a weekly column in the old Follywood section of America Online, an offshoot of the very popular and successful MOTLEY FOOL investment forum. The deal was, I submitted a column every week, and oversaw a message board, and got unlimited free use of AOL in return. (This was back in the olden days, before the advent of the flat-rate fee.) The column was originally designed to run 52 weeks, the total series amounting to an online course covering the essentials of screenwriting.

Well, despite the column's brilliance, Follywood was discontinued due to lack of use, and Wordplay was orphaned at week number 32.

So, to all the readers from the old Follywood days who have made their way here, WELCOME BACK! Your response is why Wordplay exists.

I realize previous readers will likely be disappointed we're starting the run of columns over again. After all, people want new information, and they want the series to be completed. But to those readers, I offer the following:

1. There are new columns interspersed with the reposted ones.

2. All previous columns have been revised and polished. (Written, as they were, under deadline, many of them did get a bit ragged, and needed editing.)

3. New material is archived... interviews, screenplays, text files, etc.

4. We've put together an entire Letters section where you'll find answers to readers' questions.

5. Guest columns by Industry Pros are always in the works. (Pros, if you want to 'do a Wordplay,' drop me an e-mail!)

6. We've set up a couple of message boards for readers to discuss screenwriting and post general questions -- the Columns and Letters Forums.

The idea is to have a Website that continues to be useful beyond just the columns.


So, what's 'Wordplay'?

No bones about it, this column is for beginners. As my writing partner, Ted Elliott, once brilliantly observed: "Theory is only useful as a diagnostic tool." If you've got it all figured out, if your writing is happening, then you don't need to be here.

This site isn't about writing that inspired, Academy Award-winning screenplay (you could argue that it might even prohibit the effort, as would any attempt to formalize the writing process). If anything, this site is about discovery -- that search to find one or two tools or techniques that are in fact helpful in the terrible, terrific effort it takes to complete a script.

When I was a kid I studied magic -- card tricks, coin tricks, mostly close-up, sleight-of-hand stuff. So I read a lot of books on magic, the ones that let you in on THE SECRET. There was always the part about how the effect looked to the audience, and then the behind-the-scenes, in-the-know part, the actual SECRET technique on how it was done. For magic instruction, there wasn't any way around it -- you either gave away the secret, or you didn't.

So it's always frustrated me when, in interviews, columns, or even how-to essays, professionals would always avoid sharing the actual experience of things, the actual process by which stuff gets done. The actual essence of whatever it is they do. Whether it is sports or the arts or technical expertise, the pro would always talk in general terms about working hard, focusing, sacrificing, whatever. But they wouldn't say how EXACTLY they did it, what is step one, what is step two, what is going through their mind at the time, etc.

I want to know the SECRET, dammit!

So I think my sensibilities for writing about screenwriting come from that early influence of reading books on magic.

Simply put, these columns are about giving away secrets. Professional secrets. As many as I can find and write down.

My rule is for each column to try to have at least one bit of practical, useful advice. A technique, or a new way of thinking about writing, weighted specifically toward making a sale to Hollywood.

It's definitely a lot harder to try to provide useful content. And I won't claim that any single idea here may be of huge significance. But taken as a whole, I do believe that the reader will come away with a better understanding of the business of screenwriting today.

As your career continues and you grow as a writer, maybe that Academy Award-winning script will come. But the first goal is to learn the basics, enough to get into the game. You're a beginning writer, you want to make a sale, get an assignment, be able to quit that day job, and spend your total energies learning how to write.

Wordplay is designed to help do that.


How to use the Wordplay columns

Okay, let me put a final spin on how a writer starting out can approach this material. Here's one way to go: be extraordinarily talented, glance through this stuff, laugh with disdain, and go on to write a spectacular script on your own. (This method is highly recommended.)

Another approach: read all the columns, and do exactly what they say. The only problem with this is that it is doomed to fail. A slightly better technique would be to read all the columns and do the exact opposite of what they suggest.

But what you really should do is this: read the information with a critical eye. Adopt what you think makes sense, ignore the ideas that seem wonky. Use the material as a challenge, a springboard for your own critical thinking. Do the opposite when you want, break the rules when you want, find power in playing with the conventions.

It's a bit ironic, yes, but all the stuff here is important to know, yet designed to be thrown away.

Because in the end, we know that artistic excellence will never come from Truby, or Syd Field, or the Script Doctor, or Wordplay. Artistic excellence springs from the soul of the writer, and is a fortunate combination of inspiration, passion, personality, experience, vision, talent and craft.

Good luck!

CONTENTS


01. A Foot in the Door. "The Warner Bros. Hallway Test" emphasizes the importance of concept. The concept you choose is the first test of your creative sensibilities, and is your calling card to Hollywood.


02. Strange Attractor. The biggest mistake most writers make is that they start writing with a mediocre concept. A new way to think about film concepts -- the strange attractor approach. Your idea must be more than just clear and simple, it must attract audiences and professionals to your project.


03. Beachcombing. Everyone in town is combing the beach for the next great idea, examining each tiny grain of sand. Meanwhile huge conch shells are just sitting there, obvious once somebody points them out. Techniques on how to come up with a salable film concept. How to know when you've got one.


04. Steal this Column. Registering your script with the Writer's Guild is a great idea. But the time to worry about losing your script is before you write it.


05. Death to Readers. Here's a checklist similar to what many studio readers use when assessing the quality of your screenplay. Does your script pass the test?


06. Crap-plus-One. Many writers are encouraged -- and inspired -- by bad films. But many of those projects began as good scripts, and went bad as a result of studio politics. The standards held to the first-time screenwriter are higher than it might seem. Better to be inspired by -- and aim to match -- the really good stuff.


07. 23 Steps to a Feature Film Sale. Writing advice I'd give my best friend. A plan of attack once you have your basic idea. The Disney animated feature approach. Much, perhaps even most, of the work happens before you write FADE IN.


08. Impressive Failure. Elevate your heroes by focusing on their failures. In RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, Indiana Jones, the greatest action hero of all time -- fails repeatedly. But he fails impressively. Another tool in your screenwriting arsenal.


09. Name-dropping. Believable, memorable, distinctive. You'd be surprised how much time you should take to get just the right name. Subliminal and symbolic meanings.


10. The Audience is Listening. Don't try to sell me a confused story that makes me feel bad about your characters, your outlook on life, you as an artist, and finally me as a viewer. Exert an artist's control over your material and the feelings it invokes.


11. The Wind-up & the Pitch. Use show and tell to take the focus off of you and put it on your story. Creating a new industry standard for pitching. But you feel silly walking around carrying a big cork bulletin board.


12. It's Been Done. Focus your plot by referencing it to one, or a combination of, Georges Polti's "The Thirty-six Dramatic Situations". That's all there are, 36, no more, no less. (See Archives for all 36 in HTML & plain text formats.)


13. The Big Finish. Endings must be decisive, set-up, inevitable -- and unexpected. And that's not easy to do.


14. Anthropic Principle. For believability, embed the origin of a story coincidence in the set-up that brings about the need for the coincidence. Set the initial conditions of your story, and let time do the rest.


15. Building the Bomb. Writing the adaptation of Robert Heinlein's THE PUPPET MASTERS -- what went horribly, horribly wrong. (Subtitle: "Q: When is a Space Ship Not a Space Ship? A: When It's a Brain Coral.")


16. Tinsel-speak. How can you take this town seriously? Look at how they talk! A not-too-serious glossary of insider terms.


17. Fudging. Formatting tricks of the trade, to manipulate the all important page count. For the obsessive-compulsivescreenwriter. Or is that redundant?


18. Me & My Ampersand. My writing partner, Ted Elliott, writes an article on writing partners. No, we don't fight all the time. The art of ego-less arguing.


19. You, the Expert. Pretend that every agent in Hollywood has a brain aneurysm. The way they'd pick a doctor is the way they'll pick a screenwriter. They want an expert. Don't ask me if your script is good -- know enough to tell me that it's good. You be the expert.


20. Story Molecule. The strange world of subatomic story physics. Story elements do not exist in a vacuum; there's always who said it and how it was said. Exploring the true nature of the story molecule; the periodic table of story ideas.


21. Risk vs. Reward. Spec script or writing assignment? That delicate balance between money, risk, and creative control. Spec script sales torn from trade headlines. What are the odds?


22. Ink & Paint. The growing animation market. Is there such a thing as an animation spec? How animated features get started. And then the animation process takes over. Writing the deep-fly sacrificial draft.


23. Points for Style. "Write what you see." Force the reader's mind's eye to see your direction. Shane Blackisms. Don't embed needed information in prose. The Left-hand Line Technique. 14 specialized words you need to know.


24. Title Search. A project isn't real until it has a title. Titles to avoid: 'PERFECT, the Legend of.' Don't help the reviewers along. Saying the title in the story. Lamenting the loss of the literary title.


25. Hard Bargain. What to ask for when the bidding war happens. (May you have such troubles.)


26. Your First Contract. People breaking in want to see real stuff, not someone's diluted re-cap of their interpretation of events. Hard evidence, please. So here's an actual film contract. (See Archives for sample contract in HTML & plain text formats.)


27. Adaptive Behavior. The shoulders of giants. Above all you must make a good film. A perfect adaptation re-creates the emotions of the reading experience in the form of a film experience.


28. Pencil Test. Writing for animation, a multiple-choice quiz. Sympathize with the plight of the storyboard artists and animators, and maybe they won't want to string you up from the nearest tree.


29. Deep Thoughts. Write about something. Jeffrey Katzenberg: "Show the positive theme by demonstrating the negative viewpoint." A collection of personal thoughts to inspire.


30. The Task. You might not know it, but your story does -- you need a task. Plotting's dirty little secret. Invent the task, or it will invent itself. It all comes down to that thing which has to be filmed.


31. A Hot Script. Use unique details to make sex scenes memorable. A real-life fictionalized example.


32. Plot Devices. Wang theory. Clone Wars. Don't cut the last thing for a character. Subplot reveals theme. Don't internalize the story, externalize it. Play the beats. Reversals. Sixty two-minute scenes. Three great scenes, no bad ones. Story vs. plot, how you tell it vs. what happens. The MacGuffin. (Co-written with Ted Elliott.)


33. I Love LA So, do you have to live in Los Angeles to be a screenwriter? Yes and no. Or, more precisely... no and yes.


34. Throw in the Towel. Not all people are going to make it. And you probably won't. The qualities that people who make it have: passion, history, care for the moment, objectivity. Give up before you waste any more time.


35. Hacking Through the Underbrush. Ted Elliott weighs in on a weighty issue -- social responsibility. How do I offend thee? Let me count the ways.


36. We're Not Worthy. Meeting your heroes. What I learned from Spielberg, De Bont, McTiernan, Parkes, Rodriguez, Avery, Sonnenfeld, Hanks, Jones, Musker, Clements, Williams. Etc.


37. Proper Treatment. The ultimate no-win situation. No matter what you put in, they'll criticize what isn't there. And you don't even get paid. (Includes links to two outlines & one treatment.)


38. Breaking the Ice. The query letter. Getting to the second date. Twenty common mistakes from the slushpile. Three real query examples: the good, the bad and the ugly. (Includes links to three query letters.)


39. Cover Me. Real examples of studio coverages. Step-by-step, the making of a big summer movie deal; how we got one writer over the wall. (Includes links to five coverages.)


40. The Off-Screen Movie. Building momentum into your story. Reversals, exposition, and creating a compelling world. How to write a boring script. (Co-written with Ted Elliott.)


41. Point of View. The more limited the POV, the more elegant and effective the story. One of the key considerations in the initial stages of story design. Easily overlooked, yet a crucial aspect of storytelling; an advanced technique of great concern to pro writers and directors, even if nobody really understands it.


42. Mental Real Estate. Exploring the unique power of the familiar. Known items and situations give the storyteller power, granting access to the audience's mind. And it might even help get the studio to commit to a green light. An explanation offered for sequels, stars, trailers, remakes,franchises, and the popularity of "Harry Potter."


43. Problem Solved. What's more important, talent or hard work? A group of MIT professors explore the question in excruciating detail and provide a very precise answer. Along the way a third crucial element emerges.


44. Never Wait. Writers are naturally patient. Writers are naturally hopeful. That can be deadly to a Hollywood career. Don't allow yourself to wait for anything, ever. Take responsibility for making things happen. The proper mindset of a writer: you're too busy doing stuff to wait for anything, anyone, anytime. Excerpts from Carlos Castaneda and Robert Heinlein.


45. The Storyteller Cut. An argument is made that at the most basic level there are two ways to cut from one scene to the next, and two ways to organize the scenes of your film: Storyline cuts and Storyteller cuts. One of them makes sense and is relatively easy; the other will drive you nuts

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