Get Your Story StraightWritten by: Roger Soffer & Christian Ford
Published: Apr 2, 2009
We love writers. It helps that we are writers. We’re a team of working professionals, doing this together for about 16 years. We’re not the guys who wrote “The Bourne Identity,” “The Fight Club,” or “Eagle Eye” (though we can tell you where they hang out on Monday nights if you want to hang out with them). We’re a couple of guys who make a living writing miniseries for the networks, writing movies for Sci-Fi, selling feature pitches to the studios, once in a while selling a spec, and getting hired to write things, including animation. We’re also sometimes producers, which puts us on the other side of the table, and gives us a valuable perspective. We’ve co-produced some of those miniseries; we produced (and Christian directed) a movie with Josh Brolin, Minnie Driver and James Spader called “Slow Burn;” and we’re currently producing three pictures we discovered on — yes — InkTip. This regular column is devoted to you, your work, and your success. May it come quickly.
A PRODUCER’S READ
You slave on your project. You bleed for your project. At last, you're ready to take it out. You pitch it, send off query letters — and you put it up on InkTip. We want to give you a glimpse of what it's like on the other side of those feelers you're putting out.
The great news about InkTip is that it gives you a direct line. Real producers, real agents and real financiers, people you’d never have had access to, are really looking at your material. It’s a short-cut to to the big leagues. But what the big league means, is that when your script steps up to the plate, those pros are going to be playing hardball. And what happens to your project happens at 102mph?
Here’s what goes on inside the head of a producer (or a d-girl, or a newly-hired reader) when they log on to InkTip — they want the scripts to be good, they're praying for those scripts to be good, and they're ready to pay for those scripts to be good. With money. With their time. With whatever it takes.
But let’s get back to the hardball — experienced readers and producers, who have read hundreds, then thousands of scripts, can really tell in a few paragraphs and a line or two of dialogue whether your project is what they’re looking for. Think of music — you hear a few bars of a song and if it’s not for you, you're done. It’s the same for experienced readers and producers A quarter page into your project and it could be over. We know. That’s tough. But it does get better. If they’ve gotten past 3 pages, then they’re really reading, and that’s huge. And then past 13, 14, 15 pages, that's also huge — because a reader is looking for, instinctively at the least, the inciting incident, the hook — and they must have found it. If the reader gets past page 35, that's also huge, because, looking for the turn from Act 1 to 2, they found that, too, and they liked it. That's how it is all the way to the end of your script.
We are not telling you this to make things seem more impossible. We are urging you to be the best that you can when you step up to bat. You can't imagine how many scripts fail at the most fundamental level. But yours doesn’t have to. Screenwriting is a craft. It can be applied. It's never easy, no matter how many scripts you've sold, but as hard as it is to create something that will stand out, it can be done.
Be good. Get good. Train yourself. Practice. Read good scripts (you can download tons from the web). Get feedback from writers or readers you trust. Who will read you honestly and help you. Who will give you the good news and the bad news — so you can make it all good. And then — this one’s tough — you have to learn to throw out what's bad. You have to rewrite. We can’t tell you how many drafts we go through on projects we really like. If you take one thing away from this read, remember this: whatever you do, whatever you create, you must work to make it better. So that finally, it’s good enough, well-crafted enough, to get the reader past the first page, the 12th page, the 35th page — because you’ve done it right — you’ve spent the time, you’ve crafted it, and they know it.
In the late 1950s, William Wyler was directing the spectacle "Ben Hur" with Charlton Heston in the lead. After they'd been shooting for several days, Heston was over his jitters, feeling pretty good about his work. Wyler called him over at the end of one day. "Chuck," he says, "you've got to be better."
An appalling thing to have your director say to you. But Heston, after a moment, sucks it up, says, "Okay. Sure. I understand. What should I do different?" Wyler looks at him and says, "Don't know. All I know is, you've got to be better." Millions of dollars of shooting ensues, while Heston suffers through each day, wondering if he's in fact "better." Wyler says nothing. Then, after the last day, Wyler comes over. "Chuck. You were better."
That year, Heston won the Oscar for best actor.
You can win your Oscar. Or sell your script. Or have someone love what’ve you’ve written so much they hire you to write their story, adapt their book. That’s a great feeling. Or you can be sitting in a theater watching the movie you wrote play out in front of its first live audience — a nerve-wracking experience, but a wonderful one.
Welcome to the Get Your Story Straight column. We’ll cover all the craft fundamentals. The same fundamentals every professional screenwriter reviews on every project and on every draft of every project. We’ll talk about tricks of the trade. About the Execu-Dot. About what it’s like on both sides of the table. The Get Your Story Straight column is devoted to your project. To helping it be the best it can.
Make it great. Your audience is counting on it.
Ford & Soffer are a team of ﬁlmmakers who’ve written feature ﬁlms for, among others, Disney, Warner Brothers, Fox Family, New Line and Paramount. They’ve also written and produced top-rated mini-series for ABC, CBS & Hallmark/RHI, as well as the SCI-FI Channel. Ford & Soffer wrote, and respectively directed and produced, Slow Burn, a thriller staring Josh Brolin, James Spader and Minnie Driver, which they sold to Lions Gate. They are currently working on “The Nutshell Studies Of Unexplained Death,” for Aardman Studios, developing a live-action pilot for Cartoon Network, and casting “Frankenstoner,” a $13MM indie, first discovered on InkTip. Eleven of their projects have been produced or are in production. Ford & Soffer also offer professional story and script consulting, supporting your creative effort to help you most fully realize the movie you see in your head, and the story you want to tell.