Screenwriting is a competitive trade. To distinguish yourself as a prize-winning writer you need to master organizational skills, take creative risks, and learn how best to present your final product. For aspiring screenwriter, Tom Lazarus' book, "Secrets of Film Writing" is one of best. An exceptional screenwriter with five produced screenplays, Lazarus developed this book for beginning writers enrolled in his classes at UCLA.
This article examines a few of many techniques outlined in "Secrets of Film Writing" and provides examples of screenwriters who succeeded with Tom Lazarus' guidelines.
ORGANIZATION IS KEY Master organization and you're closer to producing a stellar screenplay, not a mediocre one. Ask yourself these questions:
1) Does screenplay have a clear beginning, middle and end? 2) Does story drift aimlessly or does it make its point successfully?
These may seem like basic questions, yet many screenwriters grapple with organizational problems.
Lazarus addresses this issue in his book; he recommends writers use one of four organizational methods to ensure their screenplays flow smoothly: outlines, treatments, index cards, and scene lists. All four of these tools are equally effective. Writers need to be discreet to decide which organizational crutch best suits their needs.
In writing screenplay for Hollywood feature film "Stigmata," Lazarus chose to use a scene list for organizational support since he already had specific ideas about chronology and action details of his story. To writers who have difficult organizing and prefer a different method, Lazarus says, "Go for it, because no one is going to see it. It's a process. There is no wrong way."
MAKE IT INTERESTING Writing is a process. Great screenwriters take creative risks. Without an interesting story, even most organized screenplay will be unmarketable. The goal should never be to copy another writer's style; instead exercise your own imagination and experiment with different ways to spark your story.
When Warner Brothers hired Tim McCanlies to adapt Ted Hughes' famous English novel "The Iron Man" for screen, he struggled with whether he should remain true to Hughes' vision or develop a new story based loosely on original book's events. McCanlies chose to do something risky and wildly creative; he Americanized "The Iron Man" by setting story in 1950s during Cold War terror and renamed it "The Iron Giant." His calculated risk proved worthwhile. American audiences related to film and appreciated its examination of an unusual time in their nation's history. Also, English audiences embraced "The Iron Giant" despite its variation from original English text and awarded it 2000 BAFTA Award for best feature film.