I’m excited to introduce a new series of articles where I share advice from award winning writers, directors, producers, editors, cinematographers, and other filmmaking individuals. We kick off with four screenwriters offering the best advice they ever received. Here’s what Doc Benson, Keith Perna, Anthony Hackett, and Sean Paul Murphy had to say.
Early on, a film teacher named Dov SS Simens gave me a piece of advice that has stuck with me. He said “The greatest shortcoming of first-timers is their inability to tell the difference between a good script and a great script.” There are many good scripts written every year, but frankly good is not good enough. Your job is to craft a GREAT script: something new, or at least a fun twist on an old theme with several subplots and emotional arcs that take the audience on a roller coaster ride of emotion.
Do you want to know if your screenplay is potentially great? Give it the “Head Test”. Hand it off to a trusted reviewer to read in person (preferably not a close friend), and watch their head movements. If they are drawn into the story and are excited about what might come next, their head and eyes will drop down the page quickly. If the story is a chore to review, the head and eyes will tend to scan left to right over and over as they weed their way through the page. Pass the Head Test and you just might have a page turner worthy of production.
Doc Benson – Seven Deadly Words, The Publication
I have two if that’s okay.
1. This is more a general piece of writing advice that I’ve heard from multiple sources. Make sure you have a unified message throughout your screenplay. My screenplays tend to have more than one message but there’s always one primary message that the whole script revolves around.
2. This is for us as Christian writer’s and it’s straight out of the Bible. I need to remind myself of this just as much as anyone. Colossians 3:17 And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father. This of course applies to all areas of life and no less our call to write screenplays. So as I’m writing and making changes and polishing what I have I always have to ask myself “does this represent God and can he work through this?” If I can’t honestly answer yes to that the script isn’t ready. I’m always seeking him in prayer on that as I go as well.
Keith Perna – Christmas Grace
I once saw something written on a manager’s website. It said: “Screenwriters have very short careers because after they achieve some success they refuse to make changes.” So true. That’s why I always make the changes.
Sean Paul Murphy – The Encounter, Marriage Retreat, Revelation Road series, Sarah’s Choice, Holyman Undercover, Brother White, Hidden Secrets
“A powerful message can be lost if shared through a weak story, so make sure your story is just as powerful as your message. If you water down one or the other then you’ve lost the impact you could have on your audience. “
Anthony Hackett – Catastasis
Do you have screenwriting advice to share? We’d love to hear it in the comments section. Thanks!