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Is your screenplay really something different and original?

Before I write a new spec screenplay, I like to think about the Johnny Cash biopic movie, “Walk the Line.” There is a moment in this movie that is just so awesome, so powerful, I decided to post the moment here for everyone to read.

Here’s the quick setup: JOHNNY CASH is broke, married and desperate. His dream is to play music. He gets a chance to play a song for well known producer SAM PHILLIPS. He starts playing one. But Sam stops him only a few verses in. Johnny is defensive at first, but Sam gives Johnny a reality check that will change his life forever.

SAM: We’ve already heard that song a hundred times. Just like that. Just like how you sing it.

JOHNNY: Well, you didn’t let us bring it home.

SAM: Bring it home? All right, let’s bring it home. If you was hit by a truck and you was lying out there in that gutter dying, and you had one time to sing one song. One song that people would remember before you’re dirt. One song that would let God know how you felt about your time here on Earth. One song that would sum you up. You tellin’ me that’s the song you’d sing? That same Jimmy Davis tune we hear on the radio all day, about your peace within, and how it’s real, and how you’re gonna shout it? Or… would you sing somethin’ different. Somethin’ real. Somethin’ you felt. Cause I’m telling you right now, that’s the kind of song that truly saves people. It ain’t got nothin’ to do with believin’ in God, Mr. Cash. It has to do with believin’ in yourself.

JOHNNY: I got a couple of songs I wrote in the Air Force. You got anything against the Air Force?

SAM: No

JOHNNY: I do.

The rest is history.

Every screenwriter has an original voice. The sooner you tap into your personal gold, the sooner someone out there is going to take notice.

-TB

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Free Tips on Rewriting That Screenplay of Yours

Just a few tips on rewriting your screenplay. Please feel free to share and RT with other screenwriters out there.

#1: Having a catchy title attracts more readers.

Not all titles are created equal, so experiment until you find something that you and others really dig.

#2: Not all of your great ideas are worth writing.

No reason to work six months to a year on something that nobody wants to read or see on the big screen. Test “great” ideas out on friends, strangers, and even a few industry folks before getting to work on your screenplay.

#3: Until your story has a decent ending in place, theme doesn’t matter (and shouldn’t matter).

The more you rewrite your story, and get the nuts and bolts of your piece down on the page, it should become clear to you what your script is really about.

#4: During the first rewrite, second, third… it’s important to simplify the story as much as possible.

Simple is better. There are always characters you can combine and scenes you can cut to make the script easier to read.

#5: Challenge main characters constantly and put them through hell.

Forcing your characters into action reveals who they are to the audience.

#6: After another rewrite, make sure you still like your ending.

It’s important to make sure you really have the best ending for your story. Nine times out of ten, you’ll make an adjustment for the better and want to go back to the beginning of your script and do another rewrite, with the new ending (and possibly theme) in mind.

#7: Don’t worry about making everything perfect.

No such thing as a perfect script. But once you have a solid story foundation (beginning, middle and end) you can focus all of your rewriting energy on making your scenes and characters better.

#8: When you get writer’s block, work on another script so you never stop writing.

This is the only practical and drug-free cure to writer’s block I know.

#9: Always make sure the story you’re writing is somehow personal to you.

If you can’t identify with a trait or two in each of your characters, add something that’s inherently you to them, immediately.

#10: After about six or seven drafts (maybe earlier) share it with a few “secret” readers for some feedback.

If more than one reader mentions the same problem, always take it seriously and try to fix the problem.

#11: Go through each scene and experiment with different settings, character actions and ideas until you feel like you’ve created something an audience hasn’t really seen before.

Never rely on your first, second, or even third idea that comes to mind. These are the ideas that have been done before.

#12: It’s important to ask: Is my story raising the stakes?

You’ve heard this before, sure, but it’s a big deal and worth saying again. You always want to make sure you’ve given the audience a reason to root for your hero – that includes antiheroes. If your hero fails, then what will happen to him and others around him? Know the answer to this question.

#13: Never solve a character’s problem with a coincidence.

That’s cheating. Readers are really not nice to writers who cheat.

#14: Watch as many current movies in the genre you’re writing and pay attention to tone.

It puts the right words in your head when it’s time to do that “tone” rewrite pass.

#15 Write from the gut, not the head, as much as possible.

Screenplay writing shouldn’t be a paint-by-numbers formula. If your script uses one of these formulas, chances are everyone will see your script as unoriginal or just okay, which isn’t good enough.

#16 Readers, producers, agents and managers all have different tastes.

Once you have a solid screenplay (and you’ll know when you do) not everyone is going to love it. Cat people and dog people don’t always get along. Nothing wrong with that. Knowing this fact will help you deal with rejection better. It’s only business.

#17 The learning never stops.

And if it ever does, you’re toast!

Keep on writing and enjoy the ride. That’s the only thing you can control.

Cheers!
Tom Browne

How to Write a Strong First Draft Screenplay

— WRITE FAST! You want that first draft completed in less than 14 days. Sound impossible? It’s not. Write quickly, trusting your first instincts and you will reap the rewards of having a more original, creative, first draft screenplay.

— Don’t overthink your idea, and don’t worry about story structure yet. As long as you have a major problem that needs to be solved, you will be able to write a first draft.

— Know who your hero/ine is and what he/she wants and fears most. (This will allow you to mess with his/her life.)

— Know who your baddie is and what he/she wants and fears most.

— Make sure your hero/ine and baddie want the same thing, then in the end make sure your hero/ine wins.

— Create some kind of plot twist for your hero/ine every 10 pages, and try to make each twist bigger than the last one.

— Give all of your supporting characters unique personalities, and make sure they serve the needs of your hero/ine and baddie.

— Have a lot of fun when you write! Don’t censor yourself. Be rude, crude, funny, perverted, violent, creepy, angry, romantic, jealous or overly sensitive, if that’s how you’re feeling at the time your quill is moving.

— End your screenplay with your most emotional and exciting scene possible, bringing closure to your hero/ine’s problem.

— Your screenplay should be no less than 103 pages and no more than 120 pages, with very few exceptions. And lastly…

— Don’t procrasterbate! Write now!