Gerald Hanks Filmography

Monday, October 10, 2022

Story Into Screenplay Interview with William Akers, Author of “Your Screenplay Sucks”


William Akers has taught screenwriting for over thirty years. He is a lifetime member of the Writers Guild of America. He has written feature scripts and TV episodes for Universal, Disney, MGM, and Paramount.

I recently got the chance to talk to him about his wonderful book, Your Screenplay Sucks: 100 Ways to Make It Great.

Story Into Screenplay (SIS): Before we get started, I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Out of the hundred mistakes you mention in the book, I've probably made about ninety-seven of them!
William Akers (WA): I'm sure you got the three most important ones right, so good for you! 

SIS: How did you get started in screenwriting?
WA: I originally wanted to be a cartoonist for newspaper comic strips. As the idea of a story strip vanished, I got into screenwriting because it used a similar format: a story told within a frame.
I went to USC Film School and met someone who introduced me to a producer. That introduction led to me getting an agent and landing some writing assignments from the studios.
From there, I shifted from writing to teaching. I moved back to Nashville and taught at Belmont University for a few years.

SIS: What inspired you to write the book?
WA: The book came about because I was invited to speak at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. I knew I needed to give the students a handout to follow the lesson.
The handout came from notes I had developed from fifteen years of teaching. It ended up being about a hundred pages long, so I thought, "This could be a book."
I remember the saying, "Write the book you need to have." I kept seeing the same mistakes over and over, so I knew it was a book my students and clients needed to have.

SIS: Out of the hundred mistakes you mention in the book, which ones do you see the most often?
WA: The mistake I see most often comes from writers who include too much detail in their descriptions. You've gotta cut stuff out!
The script has to be easy to read. When you put too many words on a page, the reader will want to quit reading. 
I remember visiting a producer's office and as I was waiting, I counted the number of screenplays on the shelves.
I counted over 1,400 scripts! Each of those scripts came from a writer with representation. Only a handful could ever get made.

SIS: What is the smallest mistake you've seen that can cause the most damage to a script's chances?
WA: That's a diabolical question! One small mistake I frequently see involves parentheticals. Writers often use them too much or put them in the wrong places.
For instance, writing action in parentheticals when they should go in the action lines. When you misuse something so simple, it signals to the reader that your writing lacks attention to detail.
Even the title can make or break whether a script hooks a reader. If a reader has to spend the entire weekend reading scripts, they'll go for the one with a catchy title first.

SIS: You also mention the mistakes that writers make when it comes to professional behavior. What's the biggest mistake you see from writers in that area?
WA: In a word: paranoia. When a writer asks a reader to sign an NDA, this signals to the reader that the writer is going to be a problem to work with.
First off, producers and studios stealing ideas from unknown writers are practically unheard of. It's usually cheaper to pay the writer than to steal the idea and face a legal battle later.
Also, even if the writer's idea gets stolen, producers and studios have floors full of lawyers who can fight back.
A writer's best hope is to throw their scripts out to anyone willing to read them and not be afraid of someone stealing their ideas. It's okay to BE paranoid, but it's not okay to ACT paranoid.

SIS: Your book came out in 2008. What changes would you make for a 2022-23 edition?
WA: I'm in the process of creating an updated version now. I have a massive three-ring binder I've labeled, "Your Screenplay STILL Sucks" that's still a work in progress.
The biggest changes I've noticed have come from the increased number of buyers for content. The streaming services are all looking for the next hit that can bring in subscribers.
Most of these services are looking for series rather than features. The ideal model is a limited series of three seasons with eight to twelve episodes per season that viewers can binge-watch.
However, you still need a great story. All the elements that relate to concepts, characters, plot, structure, and dialogue haven't changed.

SIS: What advice would you give to writers who are looking for a coach or mentor to guide them through the screenwriting process?
WA: Find someone you can trust. Don't let them string you along and keep you paying for advice that doesn't help you.
Also, find someone who can give constructive notes and who knows about the business. If you can trust them enough to pay them, listen to their advice, and don't get defensive.
I remember a friend telling me about how he approached William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President's Men, The Princess Bride) and asked him to review his son's script.
Goldman agreed to meet the young man at a coffee shop and discuss his script. Every time Goldman had a note, the young man argued with him. When Goldman had finished with Act I, he pushed the script back to the young man and told him, "Everything else is fine."
This should serve as a lesson to young writers: don't get defensive about notes, especially when it comes from a writer with two Oscars on his shelf!

SIS: How would writers reach out to you with any questions?
WA: You can check out my blog at You can also email me at wma(at)yourscreenplaysucks(dot)com.

Get your copy of Your Screenplay Sucks through Amazon or directly through the publisher at Michael Wiese Productions.

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