First 10 Pages: 5 Major Rules

When it comes to the beginning of your screenplay, I’m a firm believer in letting the ending dictate the correct beginning.  If you know your character dies in the end, it makes sense to use that profound piece of knowledge to structure a suitable journey (both for your protagonist and your audience) to that tragic end. To think of writing a story as a discovery to the unknown is for the novelist, a quality that sets the novel apart as a different form of artistic achievement, but when it comes to screenplay structure, the screenwriter has little business sitting at that table of the unknown. The reality is that the screenwriter faces a lot of limitations. Only has so much time. Only so many pages. Can only write what we can see. And the audience expects a lot – and at very specific plot points, whether they realize it or not. And it’s true that knowing your ending is a key component to deciding on how to start your screenplay, but the first few pages of your script carry more weight than most of us can possibly imagine. Screenplays have to be read by somebody, and in most cases the reader, whether they’re professional or not (and there are professional readers, and assistants, and secretaries, and interns, and friends of friends of friends), knows whether the screenplay is of any worth within those first pages. Sure, you have approximately 24 to 30 script pages (depending on the genre) to lock your protagonist in, propelling him or her or them into the second act tension, but a legitimate studio reader, one that holds the lifeline of your screenplay with a simple pass or recommend, is looking for a lot in those early pages.

At the beginning of a screenplay, you’ve only got about 10 pages to accomplish these five major rules:

  1. Establish the tone/genre (is this a comedy, fantasy, spoof, etc.)
  2. Introduce your main character: interesting, flawed, and if not likeable, at least empathetic… somebody we can hope and fear for.
  3. Clarify the world of the story and the status quo.
  4. Indicate the theme or message (Good vs. Evil, Man vs. Nature, etc.)
  5. Set up the dramatic situation – that is, what the story is going to be about.

So don’t waste time. Never wander. Maximize script economy and get into your story quick – at the last possible moment – so you can move the story forward immediately, while always staying creative with character, world, and situation.


What You Do When No One Wants To Buy Your Script

Comedy writer expert Steve Kaplan gives us some honest, realistic tips on what to do when your spec is making no traction.

His advice? “Don’t take no for an answer. Don’t get angry. And do it yourself.”

This Rocky style philisophy is good advice, but it can be hard to keep full steam since (at least at this point in the process) you are struggling for money, equipment, etc.

Do you agree with Kaplan’s advice?


The Priceless Opportunity of Your First Screenplay Assignment Job…

 After I graduated from film school, I had the same misguided ideas as my fellow scribes – that we’d sell our first spec for a million dollars and build a career only writing specs. I didn’t yet realize that most working screenwriters in Hollywood make their living from assignment jobs­­­­ – it’s the bread and butter of professionals. Yes, specs are necessary to gain experience writing and to showcase your ability, but the reality is that most of your specs will not sell and you might have to write a half dozen or more before one might secure you a coveted assignment job.This was my personal story as I trudged through Hollywood with my first four specs and hoped for a sale to start my career, but the combination to the lock on Hollywood’s gates remained elusive. It wasn’t until my fifth spec landed in the top 1% of the Academy’s prestigious Nicholl Fellowship entries that my work received notice. The script was later optioned by a new production company, produced into a movie and distributed globally, but seeing my dream come true was a long seven year journey from the first draft to first day of production.

The film was a success and my collaboration with the producers made them feel confident about my abilities and they hired me for my first screenwriting assignment job. I learned their sensibilities, how to give them what they needed, and quickly became a member of a team of writers they hired again and again. These successful working relationships are vital to a screenwriter’s success and that is why it’s vital to build your reputation as a team player and collaborator – not a diva who bristles from every script change. Filmmaking is an art, but also a business with millions of dollars on the line for a project and anything that holds up the forward movement toward production will be eliminated.

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A Surprisingly Simple Solution for Women Directors

A Whole New System to Advance Women Directors

By Maria Giese

In the past 20 years female director employment numbers in Hollywood have been in stasis and decline, even while those of ethnic minority males have moved steadily up.

It is good news that diversity among directors is increasing, but why are women being left behind? As always in the United States, men of every ethnicity come before women of any ethnicity.

According to the current US Census Bureau stats, ethnic minority males make up 17.9% of the US population.  They comprise 7% of DGA director members, and they helm 17% of episodic TV shows.

According to “The Guardian” list of top 40 international feature directors, 25% were ethnic minority males. Just 2 were women.  It is possible to suggest that in terms of directors, ethnic minority males have arrived.  Their numbers, in terms of ratio, are no longer disparate.

Women have been left behind.  Women make up 51% of the US population, are not a “minority” and yet comprise just 13.7% of DGA director members, and direct just 14% of TV.  And we know they direct less than 5% of studio features.

For this reason, in 2013 the DGA Women’s Proposals Committee drew up a detailed proposal to include women’s issues in the 2014 Guild-studio Collective Bargaining negotiations.  Longtime DGA Executive Director, Jay Roth, led the negotiations last fall, but newly elected DGA president, Paris Barclay (himself an ethnic minority male), was an important voice.

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And it’s written by Celine Palavioux, a producer I’ve actually worked with before. Small world.


Music can make or destroy your film.

And I’m not talking about a bad score or a cheesy tune. No, I’m talking about music rights. You only need one unclear copyright and you can say goodbye to your distribution deal or being shown at film festivals. No one will touch your film until the copyright in question is cleared.

As a filmmaker it is your responsibility to clear music rights. You cannot expect a distributor or film festival to do it for you and if you are a new filmmaker, it is highly likely you will have to do it yourself.

Unfortunately music is not always straightforward to clear and, more often than not, you may have to change your plans. But there are actually things you can do to simplify the process and make sure you deliver the music fully cleared. Here are 5 tips to help you get started.

Tip 1: Know your copyrights!

If you don’t know the difference between a sound recording and a composition, find out! Music licensing is much easier once you understand the basics of how music copyright works.

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Cecile Emeke explores cultural appropriation in new film ackee & saltfish

After going viral with her documentary series Strolling, filmmaker Cecile Emeke continued to explore the themes of gentrification and black culture in the diaspora of Dalston, in her latest film Ackee & Saltfish.

Having just released its final episode, Ackee & Saltfish is both familiar and hilariously funny. London native, Cecile Emeke started it as a short film but it quickly expanded into a breakout web series depicting the everyday lives of besties Rachel and Olivia. Whilst the likes of Deadline‘s Nellie Andreeva may think that the recent rise in “ethnic” casting is “too much of [a] good thing,” it’s brilliant to see homegrown talent creatively expressing the conversations, issues and daily exploits that many of us experience.

Emeke’s foray into filmmaking came from a need to explore her creative interests and has seen her launch documentary series’ such as Strolling and Fake Deep – material that at its core offers truthful insights into the experiences of the black diaspora and black women.

Tell us about your background in art and filmmaking…
I have always been a creative person but I got into filmmaking in early 2014 after dropping out of university. I started playing around with a friend’s camera, taught myself the basics and started to experiment from there.

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MDA3300: BFI Mediatheque & Philip Ilson Talk

At the beginning of March, our lecturer Elhum arranged a trip to the BFI Mediatheque and a talk from Philip Ilson, the Creative Director of London Short Film Festival and the shorts programmer for London Film Festival. I’ve previously been to the Mediatheque, and used their archive whilst writing an essay in 2nd year about Joss Whedon’s works. There is a wide variety of source material available and is a wonderful resource for media students. Plus, it’s free and that’s always good.

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend. Though, I wish I did, as the talk Q&A thing from Philip Ilson would have been amazing and nice to pick his brain.

MDA3300: Finalised Film CV

So after taking Elhum’s advice previously about my resume, I’ve finished up my first Film CV. I have taken on board most of her advice, but disregarded others, such as moving my name and contact details to the top of the page. I did this, because 1. I think them being to the side makes it more interesting than the standard CV and 2. I didn’t have enough space at the top of the page.

I haven’t included all of my work as it’s either a small university project, is a similar role to several other productions or my volunteering experience. As I write this I’ve already applied to 3 internships and have noted down about 2-5 more I intend to apply to. The deadlines for most of them don’t close for another few weeks and so it’ll be a while until I hear back regarding interviews and assessment days etc.

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