How To Write A Movie In 21 Days – My First Screenplay

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2013 New Years Resolution – write my first screenplay. A daunting task. As far as screenwriting goes, I’ve only really just started last September when I joined Writers Group. Got my feet wet with shorts. Finally came up with an idea in December for a feature.

By March, I have something of an outline. Follow the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet (or try to, anyway). But I just can’t get started. I work on character background and even just write scenes here and there that come to me. Write a scene about the main character and her sister. Fine. The next scene is about her Dad and his girlfriend. Well I don’t know how to write them. I don’t even know who they are. Sure, I have some history on them, but I have no idea how they are supposed to interact with each other and it actually be interesting. So I go back to my character background. Dane and I Skype once a week and he asks me a million questions to figure it out. “Was she married? Does she have any kids? What does she do?” I DON’T KNOW! Needless to say, I keep getting frustrated.
At the end of the month, Writers Group takes on an April Challenge to write a feature in one month using the book by Viki King, “How to Write a Movie in 21 Days.” I’m excited because I already have a head start. I’m also terrified that I just agreed to do something I’m not sure I can do.

So what this book does is force you to keep moving forward. For instance, I like my first scene. But I know it can be better. I know it needs more. I want to perfect it. Don’t! Move on to the next scene! Ugh, fine. This book is crazy. The 21 days isn’t even to write the first draft- it’s to write a final draft, so I’m supposed to write an entire 110pg. screenplay in seven days!!! Are you kidding me?! Then you go back and do rewrites and I’m not sure what else because I am certainly not that far yet.

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The first day is rough. I have to write 10 pages. I suppose that doesn’t seem like that much, but after I write for a while I look up at the page number, thinking I’ve written seven pages. I’m on page two. It’s not fair. So it takes me an hour to two hours to get this much writing on the page. This is different than what I’m used to doing. Before, I’d sit at the computer with my fingers on the keyboard, imagining what words to write but not actually typing anything because none of my ideas are my best idea. They’re lame. They can be better. So I sit there staring at a blank page. Or Facebook.

Now I have to write. Just write. It can be bad. It doesn’t matter because I’m going to go back and rewrite it! But I have plenty of doubts. OK, fine, so I write this awful, stupid scene, and I know I’m going to rewrite it, but what if this scene leads to another awful scene (which it surely will) and when it’s all done I just want to throw the whole thing out? What then? What then, Viki King?
Fine, have it your way. I write my ten pages. By page 3, you have to introduce a central question;  the theme of the movie. By page 10, what’s the story about? We should have everything we need to know – who, what, and where. There’s a lot of shaking my head and scoffing. Soon I’m just laughing at how dumb this is, but I keep writing.

Day 2 is pages 10-30. New information should be presented based on the challenge presented on page 10. What is the hero after and why is it a problem for him to get it? On page 30, an event will occur that moves the hero into new territory. What he wants is challenged, and he has to react to that event.

Day 3 is pages 30-45. The Act I Turning Point must occur. This is the event that sends the hero on a new pathway into Act II. What is that event? What action is the hero forced to react to? On page 45 is the Act II Metaphor: a small scene with symbolic undertones that gives us a clue to the resolution. We see the initial growth of the main character and are told where we’ll be going from this point on.

I have work on Day 2 and afterwards only get done four pages. So on Day 3 I have to play catchup and write 26 pages. Well, I do it. Three hours in the morning, a beach break, and three more hours in the evening. Page 45. I mean, this is not what I want my screenplay to be. I read some of it and it’s like one, big, fat cliche. But, there is a silver lining. It sucks. It’s awful. But it’s not as bad as I thought it would be for writing it in three days. So I guess I just have to suck it up and keep going.

Day 4 I have to write pages 45-60. The obstacles heighten and get tougher. The hero started to change on page 45, and now the hero does everything to stop changing. He learns two things: 1. He’s outgrown his previous life and can’t go back. 2. His goal seems closer, and he’s gotten a few successes along that path. On page 60 our hero commits further, against all odds, to her goal.

The thought of this day makes me tired, so I write a blog about my progress so far instead. Then I write 12 pages. According to the book, you should be finished a first draft by Day 10. I realize, that’s not going to happen. Our group’s goal is to write a screenplay in the month of April, so I will focus on that. First draft or not, it will be completed.

The rest of the “days” get blurred. The draft should be finished after three more days. It takes me the whole month, but here is what Viki King expects a person to do:

Day 5 – pages 60-75. Our hero is committed to his goal, but it seems he won’t achieve it. How is this handled? He’s about to give up, when something happens that he needed all along, while until now he’s been going after something else.

Day 6 – pages 75-90. The hero is on a roll. There’s no stopping him and no stopping the events around him. He is getting his life to change, even though this isn’t the way he expected it would happen. Instead of stating the solution and trying to solve the problem, state the problem and let the solution present itself.

Day 7 – pages 90-120. Carry out the resolution from crisis to ending. Does your hero get what he wanted? What last thing does he have to give up to get it? How is he different in the end than he was in the beginning? Make the last scene the answer to the first scene.

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