In 2010, Allen Palmer, wrote an excellent article titled, 10 screenwriting insights I wish I’d had 25 years ago. In it, he sees form and technique as being in service to human feeling. Additionally, he gives great suggestions about the writing process, and issues several clear warnings about methods to avoid. The article leaves you with a better sense of the writing craft.
3 years on and it is time to ask the question, are these top 10 screenwriting insights still valid and are there any additional insights that aspiring filmmakers need to become successful?
1. Main reasons people go the movies
It’s funny, because people go to the movies for all sorts of reasons. Some are going on dates, some have been waiting for weeks for a new picture, often a sequel to come out. Sometimes, they even do it because the whether is hot and they are looking for a nice place to relax. However, Palmer makes the point that the major reason that people go to the movies is to be moved by a good story. This is important to note, because while it is always handy to have available funds to make your movie, you should be still focusing on telling a good story.
2. Delivering relatable characters that become successful through change
So then, the question now becomes, how can I tell a good story? The answer to this question is simple according to Palmer: focus on delivering relatable characters that become successful through change. Or in the case of villains, the opposite would apply. If you hold onto this simple principle, you should be able to tell a fantastic story, without needing an exurborent amount of cash.
3. Stock-up on resources
The next insight that Palmer provides relates to the best book that on screenwriting that he has ever read. At one point, he even states that really only need to read one book. While there is no doubting that Chris Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, is an excellent book, however if you truly want to be a great film maker then you should be passionately stocking up on every available book and/or course that you can. While there is much debate about which one is best for you, it is felt that you should be learning enough that by the time you really need to ask this question, you already know enough to be able to answer the question. From a cost perspective, the good news is that libraries are free and you can also try university libraries and some really good second hand hand bookshops if you need more detailed information.
4. Elevator test
The next screenwriting insight that Palmer talks about the 27 word sentence test to describe your next project. While it is true that the most obvious question for any budding filmmaker is: ‘What is your next project?’, to be able to answer in one sentence of 27 words can be overwhelming. While it is felt that 27 words should be limit, if you need more than one sentence, feel free to use as many as you like. As a general rule, you should be able to spit your story out in less than 30 seconds, hence, the elevator ride.
5. All the important questions start with ‘W’
When it comes to telling a story, the questions that every viewer wants to know is who, what, where and why? These four basic questions need to be answered for each new character and each plot twist, otherwise either boredom or confusion ensures.
For more on this screenwriting insight, please feel free to check out the related post.
6. Use contradiction in character and events
The advantage of using contradiction, is that is leads to an emotional response from the viewer. This can be powerful when you are trying to engage them, or if you are on the brink of delivering a plot twist.
It should be noted that Palmer uses a number of classic examples.
7. It’s all in the delivery of the pitch
The premise of this screenwriting insight is to tell everybody about your new project! If you have a good idea for a movie, there is simply no place for modesty. This is especially true if you are just starting out and/or need funds to help get your project off the ground. Additionally, by telling people about your story, you also get a chance to refine your elevator pitch and/or take on board new ideas.
8. Let your subconscious mind guide you
While it is a good habit to commit a certain amount of time to writing each day, when things aren’t going according to plan, you should stop and take a break. The human mind is incredible and chances are, when you come back to the problem later in the day, your subconscious will have worked out the answer for you.
9. Means to an end
The saying that cashflow is king, has never been more important than to the budding filmmaker. Palmer suggests to look at freelance work to keep the money coming in while you continue with your passion. The good news is that the internet has made finding freelance work incredibly easy with sites like oDesk, Fiverr and Freelancer all being popular.
10. The most important person in show business
Basically, the person paying to get your movie made is the most important person in show business. Therefore, it stands to reason that you value the relationship with your producer.
So after reading these screenwriting insights, what do you think?
If you have any other screenwriting insights, please feel free to share them here, so everyone can benefit.