Film Courage: What advice do you have for a screenwriter when they sit down to start writing a screenplay? What are some things they should have already done before before they type that first page?
Eric Edson: Whether it’s outlining, they should have beside them a list of the 100 most-recent screenplays that they have read. The published ones, the successful ones…Okay!…I’ll give you a break…make it 50.
You are not ready to write until you are very well-read and well-versed in the literature you are proposing to create. And in this case, it’s screenwriting.
I would say systematize your organization. The first thing you have to do…see a really bad habit that most screenwriters have is that they’ve got a great idea and they’re cooking and they just start writing a screenplay “I’m writing screenplay pages. Oh boy!” And it’s fun but it’s going nowhere ultimately without a plan and a very well thought out one. The hard work is in the outline and it has to be a very complete outline and you have to have confidence that all story problems have been addressed.
So the first thing you have to do is the dirty work, the outline. Write yourself…I would say hero-goal sequences because I happen to think and I happen to know that it works. But however you know, beat sheet, (however they do it), have a very complete outline. And then good bloody luck.
It’s a lot of work and then I would also say…yeah, you can write it on a little piece of paper and tape it above your desk, “Write Badly With Pride.” No writer’s block. None. Just write badly with pride. Write a piece of junk.
You know, if you haven’t, just sitting there staring at the wall for an hour, okay. What would you write if you were just really writing trash, really writing garbage? Go for it. Because you’ll never know when the real idea is the depth of what you are doing will be sparked. You just don’t know. You don’t know and there’s so many things you have, the tone.
I’m working on and beginning to have some fun at this stage of things. I have some original screenplays (of course) as it turns out, that never sold. And frequently what happens is the stuff you like the most, that’s the stuff that doesn’t sell. And there are three or four of them that I want to turn into novels before my clock and race have been run. And I started on one some months back. And I’ve been working a month and a half now on the first five pages.
Every day I do…I kind of fell into it, but it’s what Ernest Hemingway did. Everyday he started at page one and that’s what I have to do by instruction of being instructed by him but also by a nature, every day I start at page one. You can do that for the first 40 or 50 pages you reach a point, you know it doesn’t work anymore but what you do by that, what you gain by that is do not be in a hurry to zoom onward. Because those first five to ten pages are the most important pages in the whole thing, in a novel, in a screenplay. You either convince your audience it’s worth to come along (or reader), it’s worth their time to come along for this journey with you or not. Either they trust you by then or they don’t.
So in the search for the tone, rhythm, the use of language and character, it’s amazing spending five pages with your central character in this case. What you can learn about that character and doing the same five pages over and over and over and over. You’ll learn a heck of a lot about your hero. This is invaluable as you move forward. So I would say also, don’t rush.
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The Story Solution – 23 Actions All Great Heroes Must Take – Eric Edson
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About Professor Eric Edson:
Eric Edson has written seventeen feature screenplays on assignment. His produced script credits include PASSION’S WEB for Showtime, and he co-wrote and co-executive produced the NBC Movie of the Week LETHAL VOWS starring John Ritter and Marg Helgenberger. Other films include THE ROSE AND THE JACKAL starring Christopher Reeve, THE SOGGY BOTTOM GANG starring Don Johnson, and DIVING IN starring Kristy Swanson. Eric has also written for episodic television.
Professor Edson’s new book “THE STORY SOLUTION: 23 Actions All Great Heroes Must Take,” published by Michael Wiese Productions, uncovers for the first time the 23 Hero Goal Sequences® used in every successful motion picture to create dynamic, three dimensional heroes and link together all plot development from first page to last (Read more here).