The List of Ten Things - 6. Screenwriting Conferences
It is a bright sunny morning...
and I am sitting at our garden patio table, our dog is resting at my feet and the brightly flowered parasol anchored in the center of the table is opened, tilting and slightly spinning with the breezes.
The flowered parasol belonged to my husband’s deceased auntie and was left here with the house when she died. It is not one I would have chosen but it does the job, protecting my bare arms from being burned in the sun and keeping the glare off the pages. It is hot in England today.
In fact, it is the kind of day that reminds of me of those early mornings from one summer in California where I was having brunch, al fresco, at the hotel cafe patio.
The patio deck was lined with palm trees and had wrought iron wrapped around it like a strange design that looked like a cross between of jail bars and gift bows keeping us all in - a herd of novice screenwriters. We were all gathered, red-eyed from staying up all night preparing for the day, under the fringed parasols with the scents of magnolia, jasmine and honeysuckle wafting in between the aroma of coffee and pastries, sipping orange juice, exchanging business cards, revising scenes or rehearsing pitches with our fellow conference attendees.
In taking this journey of memory, I have scattered around myself the numerous books on screenwriting that I have accumulated over the years. These are books on how to do it, how to market it, how to pitch to potential buyers once you’ve got something to sell, story development, the craft of writing, how to write humour, how to write to formula, how to avoid the formula, how to negotiate contracts and how to write a screenplay in 21 days.
It’s an incredibly tough business to break into.
And, it’s also a paradox because you have to care about your work. No, not just care, you must be obsessed with it. At the same time, if you are serious about it, you need a constitution of steel to withstand the roller coaster that comes with taking yourself and your work seriously. There is the adrenalin rush and excitement when you find a producer who is interested in your script. Then, you can end up with what feels like irrecoverable deflation that comes with the crash when your project hits the red light.
Writing has always been a passion of mine. Even as a child, I used to love hiding away somewhere with a notepad, a pen and my thoughts.
It was a surprise that I became interested in screenwriting in the first place. I had been primarily interested in writing articles, short stories and the biographies, technical writing and some copywriting that I did for my work.
Then, one day while I was walking around a bookstore, I was looking through the books on writing. I happened to pick up The Screenwriter’s Bible by David Trottier. I skimmed it and then set it back down – at the cash till. I found the idea of writing for film intriguing.
As it turns out, David Trottier’s was the first of many books I added to my personal library focused on how to either write or sell screenplays.
For the next two years of my life, my recreational writing was largely focused on learning how to write for film and on completing my first couple of screenplays. I was addicted to and loved everything about the process. It was such a new and different way of thinking about writing than I had ever experienced. For some reason, the characters seemed more real than anything I had written in my short stories or the novel I had started. I felt I wanted to take it further but I didn’t know how.
Some of the books had advertisements in them for the various screenwriting conferences that are held throughout the year around the USA, such as in Los Angeles and Santa Fe, New Mexico. These conferences often host guest speakers who are established screenwriters. There are some with focused writing workshops, critique sessions and pitch coaching sessions. Even though the books were helpful, I decided that attending a conference would be much more beneficial for the interactive aspects. In fact, some of the authors of those books I was reading were authored by the conference guest speakers such as Linda Seger and Michael Hauge.
I was one of probably thousands of screenwriters with a few close calls and who nearly sold a script a couple of times. The frustration did get to me and I stopped writing for a while. No constitution of steel here. Aluminium rather.
But, even if you never sell a script, how can going to screenwriting conferences benefit you as a writer?
Writing a screenplay is an excellent exercise for helping to give your writing structure and focus. It is fantastic for helping you think about how each scene contributes to the story. If the scene does not move the story forward in some way, you don’t include it. It’s also about learning what does and what doesn’t contribute to the story. No matter how interesting or well-written a scene may be, if it doesn’t move the story forward, it has no place in the script.
Screenwriting challenges you to think about your story visually. This can really help you set the scene. The in-person critique and feedback from the experts can help you understand how to create better and more convincing dialogue. Sometimes so focused on what we want to say, we forget that different characters should have unique voices.
One of the best things about going to screenwriting conferences is that there is an intense energy that comes with the exploding egos and a pulsating air of competition. It is like every person there is in a race where nobody knows where the starting point begins or where the finish line ends. They think they do, but no one really knows. Yet, everyone is determined they will win and are willing to push everyone else out of the way to do so if they have to. It’s fierce – yet wonderful. It’s where snobby and obnoxious meets gracious and affable.
If you love writing, it is worth attending a screenwriting conference just for some of most extraordinary people you will meet. The writers who attend all have varying degrees of experience and expertise, all with different points of view. Some will be helpful, some will not, some are talented, some are not, but most all of them like-minded, sharing a common goal and enjoy bouncing off the energy of each other.
While I do lament that nothing substantial has (at least not yet) come from my going to the conferences (such as selling and seeing my scripts produced), going to these conferences are among some of the best experiences of my life. I would not have wanted to miss them for anything.
Some Recommended Resources for Screenwriting:
Writing Screenplays that Sell
by Michael Hauge
My recommendation of Michael's book comes from my experience of him as an author, speaker and a consultant. I attended his seminars and hired him as a consultant for one of my screenplays. Personally, I found him very honest and an absolute pleasure to work with.
Michael's book provides a useful perspective for all writers, not just screenwriters. So often writers stay inside their own heads and write what they want to write rather than telling the story in a way that captures and keeps the interest of the audience. While there are sections that apply only to screenwriting, the sections on story concept, character development, theme, and character growth & structure provide advice which is essential to good story telling. These are applicable to writing a screenplay, stage play, novel or short story.
Watch Michael Hauge in Action
Here is Michael's website
- Welcome to Screenplay Mastery
Screenplay Mastery is devoted to empowering writers, filmmakers and hollywood executive to realize their vision. Michael Hauge is a best selling author, script consultant, producer, and screenwriter who consults on a one to one and seminar basis.
Some of Linda Seger's books:
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- Three Steps to Finishing Your First Novel: Left brained solutions for a right brained problem.
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