In Eleven Easy Steps
It isn’t that Hollywood is out to make bland, bad films. It’s just apparently the industry has forgotten entirely what used to make them good. Or, at the very least, is just supremely good at making them mediocre…
If you know my writing (and, well, my attitude — I’m not exactly quiet when it comes to the subject), you’ll know that colouring within the lines is not exactly my thing. I take my craft pretty damn seriously, and that’s why I try to up the ante with each major piece of writing I attempt: hone the style, find unique ways of looking at a fictional world and portraying the characters who inhabit it, and try oh so hard to keep you guessing about what’s going to happen.
Let’s face it. An astonishing self-serving message from Amazon claims that books compete directly against movies, video games and other forms of entertainment, but I know that’s just not true. People who read continue to read. But far more people will only ever experience my work if it gets translate to the screen.
That makes scriptwriting a kind of mystical, holy passion many dream about, novelists or no. But if you wanna get your film produced, here’s what you gotta do.
Steps to Writing a Successful Hollywood Film
1. Think up an idea that can be successfully communicated in ten seconds or less. An idea, mind, not a story, and if you include a character or two, make sure you refer to him (not him/her) as “the hero,” not by name or personality type. This is the famous so-called “elevator pitch,” so called because “something a drunk producer you met for ten seconds at a party will remember tomorrow morning in the bathroom” is way too long to be hip.
2. Don’t go out of your way to learn how to write. Especially, don’t read yourself. If you want to learn how to write scripts, just think of what you’ve seen in the past few years. If you remember them at all, those films must have been AWESOME. If you must read classic scripts, don’t go back further than Quentin Tarantino. I mean, he references everything that matters from before anyhow.
3. Your hero must be an everyman. He must combine the best of the schlubbish laziness we’ve come to accept as the pinnacle of cool with killer abs for the ladies. After all, if there’s killer abs, they’re not going to make a fuss about a little bit of female T&A on display.
4. And you’re gonna need some T&A. If it’s an action flick, a preternaturally skinny kick-boxing hottie with an utterly humorless attitude who dislikes the hero, so you know she’s gonna fall for him (schlub magic at work! or maybe it’s the abs…) If it’s any other kind of film, you’ll need a preternaturally skinny Pilates-tricked-out chick with an utterly humorless attitude, who gives you the impression she’s been preparing every moment of her life to be a beautiful Hollywood actress, so, you know, no time to develop a personality or outside interests. She should also be able to authoritatively deliver her lines entirely as questions to the hero: “What do you mean?” “Where are you going?” “I don’t understand about the main elements of the plot to this point at all so perhaps you could give a synopsis for me and all the intellectually slowish audience members?”
5. Fight scenes. This is what your movie turns on. Yes, there’s the action scenes to worry about too, but the big climax is going to come down to a fight. Mano a mano. Your schlub against the up-to-this-point undefeatable so much stronger villain. Spend most of your creative time trying to think up something you haven’t seen in a film before. Doesn’t have to be good, just different enough to be memorable.
6. Action scenes. Not to be confused with fight scenes. These are where your CGI guys will really earn their money. You can include your characters, but seriously, it’s not the climactic fight scene where you actually DO need to have people around, so concentrate on minor stuff they can shoot greenscreen and pimp out big time time in post.
7. Issues. Gotta have issues. I mean, no matter what else is going on in the plot, your main schlub has to have what poncey hipster screenwriting gurus refer to as “arc,” something that any good producer will strip to a bare minimum. Something about the schlub’s inability to connect with his daddy is awesome. Dead wives and kids are great too. Just stick to one, and make sure it affects everything he does — until it suddenly gets solved right after the big fight scene. That’s called “catharsis.” Or “denouement.” Whatever. You need it. Just don’t labour too long to come up with something spicy. It might not be universal enough!
8. Add some subsidiary characters. Don’t worry too much about them, and remember you can always cheat using my famous “Handbook of Minor Characters.” Just make sure you use the current edition, or you’ll end up with some retro “funny black guy who can trip over his own toes for comic relief” character that’ll get the political set all riled up. For your reference, here are some must-haves:
i) The big-ass strong, dumb guy.
ii) The wiry hyperkinetic out-of-control guy.
iii) The know-it-all techie guy who sucks with women
iv) The token girl. Don’t agonize over this one: if you already have a T&A girl in the script, no one will notice if you leave the second chick out! It’s like having an Asian or a black guy in your script. As long as you have one, you’ve done the due diligence.
9. Tart up the villain with something special, either a power or secret pain we haven’t seen before. Maybe something about his daddy! You can throw in some low-level flunkies, and maybe one more developed one. The more developed one, traditionally, is the one who betrays his boss by having an attack of conscience. Don’t fret any other characters; they’re just there to bring coffee, drive cars, and die without any emotional burden to the audience.
10. One liners. Screw dialogue! Just watch a few days’ worth of J.J. Abrams reboots and you’ll be in the right mood to hammer out some sardonic, sassy catchphrases that moviegoers can memorize and repeat ad naseum to each other.
11. The story. I know, you figured the story really tells itself! Well, no, honey. You have to actually think up a story to go along with all the awesome characters and action sequences. Think back to the elevator pitch, and see if you can tease something out. Look up “MacGuffin” online so you don’t stress TOO much about this part. What they’re fighting for doesn’t really matter that much. The fact that they’re fighting is the point.
And voila. There you have it. Now, just arrange to have a family member or someone who owes you a LOT of money in a position of power at a major studio, and your paycheck will just write itself.
Comments? What are your favourite/least favourite Hollywood go-to tropes?