Monday, October 01, 2012
I win. Again.
Ok, so my short screenplay 1st and 10 was a winner this weekend. I can't really say it was a surprise. This is the third time one of my scripts wins at the Broad Humor Film Festival in four years. I didn't submit last year because I wanted to give someone else a chance to win and I didn't want to win three years in a row. I thought that would be embarrassing and greedy.
Now, you might think I'm arrogant and over-confident. Not really. 99.9% of the time I'm very insecure, critical of myself and not confident at all. What I don't do is false modesty. I have sat through the scene readings at this festival for four years and that's how I knew I would win again. It's not that I'm a great writer. Far from it. It's that I'm a better writer.
You see, I loathe reading un-produced screenplays so I've learned to have lots of empathy for the reader. My goal with every script is to color it white. Wondrous white. That tendency teaches you to cut out what's not essential to the story. That usually means taking out dialogue, description and scenes that make you feel clever but that do nothing to drive the story forward. And that's what most of the scenes read at the festival were like. I believe that you should be able to enter at any time in the screenplay and, even though you might not know everything that's going on, you should get a really good idea of what's going on in the scene without any explanation. That was not the case yesterday even with screenplays that were read from the very beginning. I doubt any of those writers ever heard of the 2 page hook. Or maybe they did and they forgot. I wouldn't have read past page 1 of most of them. And, if the actor reading the description is having trouble spitting out your words, take note. That's a big problem. Save the big words and fancy prose for the novel if you must.
There was also a lot of telling us what the characters are like. A lot of expository dialogue and a lot more clever dialogue just for the sake of being clever and funny. Whatever happened to having the characters do stuff and show us who they are? Why so much talking, ya'll? Talking isn't funny. Humans being funny and doing fucked up shit is funny. Cinema is a visual medium. Please make your characters shut the fuck up! I know I'm being harsh, but you know what? I used to write like that. (Well, now that I think about it I sometimes still do. : ( ) I thought I was soooooo good at writing funny dialogue. I was so full of myself and my funny characters who had so many funny things to say. Barf. I guess if I had any inclination or any desire I would be writing for a sitcom. That shit is pathetic. No thanks.
C'mon girls. We can do better. Much, much better. We have to. The competition is brutal. We can't really complain about the lack of female voices in the business if we're not up to par with the best of writers. And please, please, please, no screenplays about your divorce. No one cares.
You want to learn how to write great comedy? Watch Buster Keaton films. Voice, action, pathos and humanity are the key components to great comedy. I swear. For fuck's sake just watch The General.
If you're laughing when you're writing it's shit and if you're not crying and suffering then you're not writing great comedy. I know. It sucks. But it's true.
Here's a clip from His Girl Friday. Watch it, laugh and forget it. It's been done. You'll never write something this great. Never. Now get to work and make your characters shut the fuck up.
P.S. Fuck. I just remembered my goal was to be the female, Mexican Woody Allen. Yeah. That bad. I'm embarrassed now.