An interview at @ScriptMag.com with first-timer Ashleigh Powell who very recently set up her spec script “Somacell” at Warner Bros. An excerpt:
Script: With how difficult this industry is to break into, how did you keep yourself motivated along the way?
AP: I’ve always found it helpful to belong to a writers group. That constant interaction with other writers and in-depth discussion of the craft – plus consistent deadlines for turning in pages – is a great motivation tool.
I also adopted the mindset early on that quantity was just as important as quality. I knew from my novel-writing days that I couldn’t afford to spend months and years toiling away on a single project. Better to diversify and improve my odds. And, that way, every time a project gets passed on (which is most of the time), I can say, “That’s okay, on to the next thing.”
Mostly, though, it just comes down to a love of writing. When I was working 80+ hours a week as an Executive Assistant, I would wake up extra early in the morning so I could get in some pages before I started my day. That way, no matter what else happened, I could feel accomplished because at least I got my writing in. And I was always working on something. I kept a log to make sure I’d write at least a little every day. That way I’d feel that I was really making progress, even if the end result was just a script that would sit on my shelf.
Script: What did you learn about your own writing by being a reader? What are the most common mistakes you noticed screenwriters make?
AP: One of the most common mistakes I encounter is when the writer doesn’t understand the timeframe of his or her story. Sometimes it’s macro issue – the story starts when the main character is five years old, then jumps to the character in their twenties, then jumps to “ten years later” to tell this long, sprawling, epic life-long story… which isn’t how most movies work. Usually, the timeframe is very condensed – one day, one week, one month, one year, etc. Granted, there are exceptions. But most screenplays are written on an abbreviated timeline because it keeps the story focused. Sometimes the issue is micro – as in, not understanding when to bring us into and out of a scene. Ideally, we want to jump into a scene as late as possible and get out as early as possible. A lot of scenes make the mistake of starting too early and ending to late, which can kill the pacing. It’s a mistake I encounter so often that I’ve become very conscious of examining my own screenplays – on a macro and micro level – to make sure they’re as tight and streamlined as possible.
Perhaps one of the most difficult lessons to learn is knowing when you have an idea that is truly marketable and cinematic and has the potential to appeal to a wide audience vs. an idea that you may love, but that is so esoteric and odd and perhaps specific to you that others may not understand it or share your enthusiasm. It sounds like a no-brainer, but that should be the first question you ask: Is this interesting? I’ve read (and written) so many scripts where the writing is fine, but the concept just doesn’t feel strong enough. And it’s not enough to come up with a good concept. The concept has to be great. Like slap-yourself-on-the-forehead, “of course that’s a movie, why hasn’t that been made yet?” great. That’s a lesson I’m still learning. I’ll get attached to an idea, however wild or weird it may be, and it can be really difficult to let it go.
Also – spelling, punctuation, and grammar are so important. Nothing projects “amateur writer” like a script that is riddled with technical errors. Sometimes just a simple spell check can make all the difference.
For more of the interview, go here.