The Screen Writer

Writers are a breed unlike any other.  They are usually the first glimmer of light, the first spark of imagination, the first stroke of a pen, the first click of a key in any project.

Personality

I don't feel like there is a specific type of personality for a writer - they come from all backgrounds and with varying imaginations.  I know writers who are very big on research and technical information while I also know writers who are about discovering something completely odd or something unimaginable.  A writer must be dedicated to their craft and must find the way writing works for them.  I know for me, when I write, it's not until I've worked out the story and the ideas and the characters all in my head before I even put pen to paper.  Yes, a pen.  I write everything free-hand.  It's only for the second draft that I'll type it onto my computer.  Transcribing allows me to edit while I type.  For other writers, it's all about outlines, character background, timelines, and research before writing anything in script format.

Prep

Once the script is handed over to a Producer, Director, or Executive Producer, the writer needs to be open to suggestions, changes and additions.  A writer is usually just thinking about the story and the characters and the world that is created can be anything on paper. However, as a producer I see a script differently.  The first things I think when I read a script are...

  • Is it innovative and well written?
  • How many characters?
  • How many locations?
  • Are there special effects required?
  • Are there visual effects required?
  • Is it set in present time or is it a period piece or future/sci-fi?
  • Is it marketable?

All of these items, except for the first, are a big deal when you talk in terms of money and logistics.  If you come to me with a script that takes place in one apartment with two characters and no effects then it's going to be much easier and faster to pull off then a vampire period piece with 10 main characters and 100s of extras.  That said, a two character drama might not be as marketable as a vampire movie (at least now, in 2010)... so it all depends on what your abilities, goals and resources are.

Production

Once production starts, changes to the script need to remain minimal however as the actors get into the script with the director, this is the time that the writer needs to be willing to see, hear and adjust.  One thing I recommend is having a table read as production starts so everyone, including all key production personnel can hear the script read out loud.  We recently did this for a project I'm in pre-production on.  We had our Director, Writer, Executive Producer and Art Director all in attendance to hear the script.  What this does is make it real for everyone.  It allows you to imagine it on a different level - it's the words coming to life.  A sentence that is genius on the page may not read the way you intended or a line you deemed serious could come off extremely funny.  It is that moment that a writer needs to recognize that changes will happen and you can either be a part of it or not - we hope you are.

Tips for a Screen Writer

If you are making edits, let your film crew and cast know.

The worst thing to do as a writer is to constantly make changes without letting anyone know.  I have worked on a handful of films where the writer is making changes up until the day of the shoot.  This becomes a problem for everyone if they aren't aware that changes are coming.  Actors need time to prepare their lines (at least 48 hours) as well as all other key crew are affected by changes.  If you change: INT. OFFICE DAY to EXT. PARK BENCH DAY because it shows more of a bond between the characters that they spend time together outside of the office, this affects Art Department, Grip and Electric, Location, Transportation, and other set logistics.

Stay involved in the production.

Don't consider your job is over when you hand a script over to a production team.  You should be a part of the process - it will only make the film better.  Even in the editing process, if you are able, you should be in the loop.

Listen and watch your team.

Whether it's a table read or a rehearsal, listen to the words and watch the body language and choices of the actors.  If something isn't working and the Director is having a hard time making a section work, make suggestions and adjustments.  Keep that communication open.

Recent Writers I've Worked With

Elias Benavidez writer of A Note to Etienne

Jonathan Nail writer of "S.O.L.O. The Series"

Boris Kievsky & Konstantin Lavysh writers of "Purgatory, Inc."

Marty Blackshear & Vincent Brantley writers of Hopelessly in June

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