Gerald Hanks Filmography

Monday, March 17, 2014

Screenwriting and March Madness: Final Four Things You Should Do Before Sending off Your Screenplay

For fans of college hoops, March is the most marvelous month of the year. The annual NCAA men's basketball tournament, also known as “March Madness”, gives fans the chance to watch dozens of games, fill in tournament brackets, compete for prizes and possibly win some cash and prizes in friendly (legal) wagers. The goal of each team in this highly competitive tournament is to “survive and advance” in an effort to reach the Final Four and the National Championship game.

For screenwriters, March can also be a maddening month, as both first-timers and veteran writers prepare to submit their scripts to various screenwriting contests. The deadline for this year's Scriptapalooza competition is April 14, while the Austin Film Festival deadline is April 30 and the Script Pipeline deadline is May 1. All of these contests represent opportunities for aspiring screenwriters to “survive and advance” in their careers.

Before you can reach the “championship” level – whatever that means to you – you must go through the “Final Four” steps to prepare the script for submission.

#4: Don't Shoot! Like a nervous freshman in his first tournament game, a rookie screenwriter may be tempted to “shoot” too much. Spec scripts should not include cuts, close-ups, pans or other camera directions. These directions show contest judges that the writer is a newbie and may have received his education from reading shooting scripts rather than spec scripts. Writers establish the story, but choosing the shots falls on the director and cinematographer.

#3: Drive the Lane. Aggressive players look for chances to drive down the free throw lane to get easy baskets, draw fouls and go to the free throw line. Their aggressive play gives their teams more chances to win. Aggressive screenwriters use action verbs and short, quick dialogue. Don't use the script to tell the reader what happens, show it on the page. Save the purple prose for your best-selling novel – where the screenwriter who will write the movie adaptation will cut it all anyway.

#2: Stay Active. Since only one player on the floor can have the basketball at any one time, his four teammates must keep moving and stay active to get open shots and find weaknesses in the defense. Writers must make sure their story stays active, even in the slowest scenes. You don't need car chases, explosions or hardcore sex in every scene, but you do need conflict, escalation and tension. If a scene doesn't have these elements, cut it and replace it with one in which the characters are actively pursuing their goals.

#1: Play in the Present. Teams in the tournament must forget their previous performance and must not look past their upcoming opponent. They must focus on the present if they want to “survive and advance”. Screenplays also focus on the present, as they always use present tense in their actions and descriptions. Too many rookie writers, especially those transitioning from prose to screenplays, fail to account for something as simple as the use of present tense.

Overtime: Focus on the Fundamentals. The best players in the game practice their fundamentals to the point that they become second nature. They analyze their game tape for every possible flaw, since they know that one minor slip can cost their team the game. Screenwriters should also focus on the fundamentals of writing, such as grammar, punctuation and spelling. Writers should go over their scripts with pen and paper, without relying on their software's spelling and grammar checking systems, to avoid making a simple yet fatal error.

With just a little effort, you can plant the “seeds” of a winning screenplay and hoist your own trophy, just like the players in Dallas on April 7.

When you're ready to turn your next story idea into a screenplay, get in touch with us at StoryIntoScreenplayBlog [at] gmail [dot] com.

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P.S. Kansas, Arizona, Virginia, Louisville, with Arizona winning the title over Kansas 82-76.
All images obtained through Wikimedia Commons and approved for reuse.

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