Fixing Those Broken Scripts: A Conversation With Screenplay Mechanic Andrew Hilton


By Sean Tuohy

One of the most difficult parts of writing is sharing your work with someone. Screenwriter Andrew Hilton has made a career of reading other people’s scripts while also creating his own. A former story editor and screenplay reader, Hilton runs The Screenplay Mechanic, a fantastic service where he provides his clients with great feedback to better their screenplays. I’ve consulted with Andrew twice and his feedback is always pitch perfect.

In between writing his own screenplays and saving someone else’s, Andrew sat down to talk to me about how he got into the business.

Sean Tuohy: How did you get into screenwriting?

Andrew Hilton: I attended film school in the U.K. and New York, then finished my final year of university in Los Angeles so I could start interning at the studios. I have a photography background so my goal was always to become a camera operator and work my way up to cinematographer, but my first studio gig was working for a producer at Universal and I spent six months reading scripts for him. From there out, my path kept me in the development world and one of the execs I worked for encouraged me to start writing myself. My first script landed me an agent, almost sold for big bucks in the late ‘90s, and I was hooked. 

In the meantime, I began working in the story department of one of my favorite producers, Joel Silver (“Die Hard,” “Lethal Weapon,” etc.). After six months with Joel, I jumped to Paramount to become a story editor for Mario Kassar (“First Blood,” “Terminator,” etc.). It was there I began teaching others to write coverage and really honed my story skills. Throughout this time, I was writing on the side and every script I wrote was optioned. I was getting just enough success (and came close to huge success) to keep that carrot dangling in front of me.   

ST: Which screenwriters did you admire?

AH: When I was starting out, like many other action writers, I was inspired primarily by Shane Black.  Today, some of my favorite writers include Martin McDonagh, Scott Rosenberg, Charlie Kaufman, and, of course, the greats like Aaron Sorkin. He can write a dialogue exchange as exciting as any car chase and I’m in awe of that ability.

ST: What are the most common mistakes you see in first time screenwriters?

AH: Overwriting is a common pitfall. Screenwriting is somewhat unique in that one of the best traits a scribe can have is efficiency of language. Don’t use 20 words to describe something when 10 will do. Don’t try and impress anyone with your vocabulary or your grasp of metaphors and similes. Just write the most compelling and vivid movie using the fewest words. 

A poorly kept secret in Hollywood is that few execs and producers like to actually read. That’s work for them. So when they sit down to read a script, they crave a fast-paced, page-turning experience. If the first few pages of a spec are dense and verbose, they’ll skim-read or toss the script and move onto the next one.

Another common mistake is failing to create a character we can become emotionally invested in. We don’t always have to like the protagonist, but it’s essential they evoke our interest. If we feel nothing but apathy for the characters, that screenplay is DOA.

ST: What makes a stand out spec script?

AH: A spec’s potential really comes down to two things: Can this story entertain an audience for a couple of hours? Is that audience going to be big enough to turn a profit? It’s that Goldilocks balance of art and business, and reconciling that reality is one of the first goals every new writer should work towards. You could argue that there are good scripts which won’t be profitable at the box-office, but who is that script “good” for? It might make a solid writing sample, but a genuinely good script is one that’s well written and will make some serious coin in the marketplace once it’s produced. 

Obviously, a script that offers something I’ve never seen or read before is going to stand out, e.g. look at something like “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” However, that level of originality isn’t essential. One of my favorite films of 2017 was “Logan,” yet I would hardly say it reinvented the conceptual wheel. I also loved “Wind River,” but that script worked because of the execution and character work, not because the murder-mystery setup was mind-blowingly fresh and inventive. 

ST: What are agents/managers looking for in a script and in a screenwriter?

AH: This may sound cynical but that’s an easy question. Reps want a script they can sell, and a client who will crank out promising material consistently and have a long career ahead of them. Most reps live for the deals more than the end product. Hell, some agents don’t even read the scripts they send out but I bet they read the checks that come in.         

ST: How has market changed since you started?

AH: Globalization, flat-screen televisions, and Streaming or Subscription Video on demand have changed the market completely. 

The domestic box office used to be king. Now, the international box office is worth two to three times domestic, so America is really just another distribution territory to be sold off. Consequently, producers and financiers want projects that will work worldwide, not only in America. So, for instance, no more baseball movies and rom-coms because they won’t translate well in, say, China or Germany. It’s for this reason action and horror are perennial favorites.  

Theatrical is dying because most folks have a 42”+ widescreen TV at home now, so the appeal of the multiplex has declined. Add to that the sheer glut of original product now available at home thanks to Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. I wish those entities would support more theatrical releases of their projects or else I fear the cinema will go the way of the dinosaurs. Big spectacle projects, i.e. all those comic book pictures and IP tent-poles, are currently keeping the domestic theatrical market on life-support. But we’re in a weird evolutionary stage that is tough to predict. My only hope is that we can still go see original features on the big screen in 10-20 years.

ST: As a screenwriter, what is your writing process like? Do you outline or write a vomit draft?

AH: I write in my head for months, and then transfer that story onto the page. I once read about a famous screenwriter, it might have been Billy Wilder, who was caught sleeping in their office. Their boss angrily asked, “Why aren’t you writing? You’re supposed to be writing!” The screenwriter replied, “I was writing. And later I’ll type it on paper.” (If I butchered that quote and anyone has the accurate anecdote, please get in touch.)

That said, sometimes I’ll simply sit down with a glass of wine, a legal pad and a pen, then see where that takes me. 

ST: What is new projects do you have in the future?

AH: I have a sci-fi thriller and another action picture I’m writing. Right now, however, I’m focused on my project “The Guns Of Christmas Past.” I’m a producer on the project too, we’re fully financed, we have a director, and we’re currently making offers to lead actors.      

ST: What is one random fact about yourself?

AH: I’m a pathological chocoholic and won’t hesitate to steal it from children. 

To learn more about Andrew Hilton, visit his official website or like his Facebook page.

Royal Writing: 8 Questions With Best-Selling Author Meg Cabot

Royal Writing: 8 Questions With Best-Selling Author Meg Cabot

I, like many girls my age, grew up with Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries series. The book first came out when I was a preteen (braces, bangs, the whole nine yards) so something about a frizzy-haired socially awkward heroine resonated with me.

Writing and Hustling: 9 Questions With Screenwriter Shane Weisfeld

Shane Weisfeld

Shane Weisfeld

By Sean Tuohy

Shane Weisfeld is the screenwriter responsible for trapping Dylan McDermott in a freezer and sending Russian mobsters in to torture him.

I sat down with Weisfeld to talk about how he got into screenwriting, how he came up with the concept for “Freezer,” and what screenwriters need to do to be successful in Hollywood. 

Sean Tuohy: How did you get into screenwriting?

Shane Weisfeld: I come from a planet called hip-hop, and from an early age I was exposed to that raw, visceral, pure art form of storytelling and poetry in motion. So much of hip-hop is about proving yourself, having your own voice, and making something out of nothing, and it’s all about lyrically paying your dues—with receipts. Coupled with my love of film, and that medium’s power of storytelling, it was just a natural progression to get into screenwriting. Once I went to film school as a screenwriting major, it solidified my intentions.

ST: Was there a special movie that caused you to get into film?

SW: “The Exorcist” was the first movie that had a lasting impression on me, where I was thinking about it for days afterwards. I’ve probably seen it 50 times since! While I was in film school, I was exposed to so many of the classics—both Hollywood and foreign—and many of those had a huge influence on me. However, in my last year of high school, I did a report on “The Karate Kid,” written by the great Robert Mark Kamen. I had first seen it when it came out in 1984, but when I did this school report on it, I learned for the first time the script-to-screen process and what’s involved in getting a movie made. That’s when I realized that I wanted to go to film school and get serious about pursuing this in a creative capacity.

ST: How did you come up with the concept for “Freezer?”

SW: I definitely wanted to write, for the first time, a one-location crime-thriller. That’s a sub-genre I’ve always enjoyed, and certainly it’s less risky for financiers to take on something like that as opposed to a big budget script. Not that I was only thinking about budget—my main concern was coming up with a compelling story with mounting conflict inside one location—but I was definitely thinking about all the elements that could be attracted to something like this and what could not only finally land me representation, but get produced as well. 

ST: How long did you take to write “Freezer?”

SW: The first draft was pumped out in only three weeks. No outline, but a general idea of what was going to happen. It was a slim, bare-bones draft, not much to it. However, the rewrite and polish process was a good two and half years after that, as more story and character was injected into it. Rewrites were done with development notes from my manager in Los Angeles at the time, and also from the producers during pre-production and up to the point it started shooting.  

ST: How did you break into the industry?

SW: Years of writing, re-writing, mistakes, rejection, struggle, hard work, sacrifice, patience, tenacity, insomnia, determination, persistence, perseverance and timing. No luck. That doesn’t exist. All these things still play a factor though, and always will. The basic timeline goes like this: I didn’t find representation until the 12-year mark, and I didn’t become a produced screenwriter until the 15-year mark. I’m 41 years old and it has currently been more than a 17-and-a-half-year journey in terms of actively pursuing this crazy industry, and I’ve still got a long way to go; but any success so far is that much more worthwhile knowing what went into getting this far, and those things are opening more and bigger doors. 

ST: What is your writing process? Do you outline?

SW: I try and outline as much as I can, whether it’s a formal outline or just basic point form scene and character ideas. Outlining is really having a blueprint for your script, and you can’t go into it blind—you need to have some kind of structure for knowing what your beginning, middle and end will be. Once I have an outline, I prefer to write my script every day, even just for a little bit. Staying consistent is key. Sometimes I’ll be writing a new script and at the same time rewriting or polishing an older one, but I do prefer to concentrate on one script at a time. 

ST: What is next for Shane Weisfeld?

SW: Continuing with the WHGTA [writing, hustling, grinding, and taking action]. I’m writing both original features and television, but I’m also going back and rewriting previous scripts, because things can always improve, and constructive criticism and feedback just makes me want to get better. Also, continuing to make connections and building relationships the blue-collar way.

ST: What advice do you give to fellow screenwriters?

SW: Once you’ve been at this for a while and the rejection starts mounting, you need to ask yourself if this is what you truly want, need and can’t live without. The reason is, it could take years and years of no progression and a ton of rejection, so you absolutely have to be in it for the long haul, ready to develop a backbone and very thick skin. Also, don’t try and guess what the marketplace wants. You should really write what’s in your heart, what you know, and the type of film (or television show) you would want to see. Watch as many films (both commercial and independent) as you can, but also read just as many scripts. Lastly, follow the business. This is so important. Read the trades, learn who the players behind the scenes are, get to know what’s in development and why. The craft will always be the most important thing, but this is a business; you need to stay on top of it because it changes constantly and can eat you up and spit you out if you don’t know it.

ST: Can you tell us one random fact about yourself?

SW: I know the capital city of every single country in the world, and every U.S. state as well. 

To learn more about Shane Weisfeld, follow him on Twitter @ShaneWeisfeld.


Championing Storytellers: How the Writers Guild Foundation Encourages Aspiring Screenwriters

By Sean Tuohy

There are now a lot of great resources for inspiring screenwriters, but one of the most useful can be found at the Writers Guild Foundation. The WGF is a nonprofit institution designed to help screenwriters learn and better their craft. Managing director Joanne Lammers was kind of nice to sit down and discuss the WGF’s resources and how to help the institution.

Sean Tuohy: What is the history of the Writers Guild Foundation?

Joanne Lammers: The WGF was founded in 1966 as a nonprofit philanthropic institution separate from the Writer’s Guild of America. The WGF Library opened in 1984 as a non-circulating public resource for aspiring writers and scholars. The WGF Archive was created in 2011 to care for the rich history of writers and the WGA. The WGF's mission is to preserve and promote the art, craft, and history of screen storytelling and storytellers. In addition to the library and archive, we also have writing programs for veterans and high school students.

ST: For an inspiring screenwriter what some resources they can find at the Writers Guild Foundation?

JL: We are only the library on the planet devoted solely to screenwriting. We have scripts that range from the dawn of early cinema dating as early as 1908 to classical Hollywood and the golden age of television to the most current web series and video games. We're known for having rare show bibles and development materials such as Shonda Rhimes' pitch outline for “Grey's Anatomy” and scripts for hot new shows such as “Empire” and “Transparent.” The crown jewel of the library is Billy Wilder's personal desk set of every script he ever wrote from “The Apartment” to “Sunset Boulevard.” The members of our enthusiastic reference team all have backgrounds and degrees in film and television history and writing, as well as advanced degrees in archival studies.

ST: What are some upcoming WGF programs that writers could use?

JL: We're currently planning our programs for the fiscal year, but typical events include TV Craft Day, Film Craft Day, and Serial Dramas. Past events have featured panels with the writers of “Breaking Bad,” “The Walking Dead,” and “Mad Men.” We have also held several Write-a-Thons where we kept the library open until 11:00 p.m. during contest and fellowship deadlines. You can check out past events highlighted in our podcasts at iTunes, our WGF Blog and on our YouTube channel.

ST: How can writers give back to the WGF?

JL: We are a non-profit without an endowment and rely on donations to stay open. Even $5 can help us provide more events. Information about how to donate is at our official website. Writers can also volunteer to assist during programs. Additionally, when a writer becomes a showrunner or writes a feature that is produced, she or he can donate their papers to the library and archive to inspire future writers.

To learn more about the Writers Guide Foundation, visit the organization’s official website, like its Facebook page, or follow the WGF on Twitter @WritersGuildF.


Writing Testosterone: 8 Questions With Screenwriter William C. Martell

William C. Martell

William C. Martell

By Sean Tuohy

A working screenwriter is as versatile as a well-trained Green Beret. They have to jump in to the middle of hazardous production, fight elements like bratty actors and loud producers, and punch up new pages on the fly while the whole production team waits for them.

William C. Martell is one of those screenwriters and has been producing scripts for more than 20 years. He's earned a solid Hollywood career by penning action thrillers, horror flicks, and noir films. Martell also give newbies plenty of screenwriting tips and advice on his blog "Script Secrets" and in his book Secrets of Action Screenwriting.

I recently talked with Martell about his career, how screenwriting has changed since he has entered the business, and what is next for the script guru.

Sean Tuohy: When did you know you wanted to become a writer? Did you always know you wanted to be a screenwriter?

William C. Martell: When I was a kid and I told all kinds of crazy stories and got punished for I had to find some way to get paid instead of punished. As a kid, I did everything from little plays in my backyard to making my own comic books and giving them to friends. I loved movies, but had no idea that someone wrote them, and for sure I couldn’t do something like that in my home town. My grandfather’s business was water wells and farm irrigation, so I figured I’d end up digging ditches for a living (literally). My father painted and installed signs, so during summers I’d often have to help carry heavy signs up ladders so they could be bolted onto the fronts of buildings. That was the other job I might have ended up doing, while making short stories, comic books, and little plays my hobby.

I loved movies, so I got a job at the local movie theater at 15 and a half years old and got to see movies for free (including R-rated movies). Around this time, I was also making short films with an 8mm camera and later a Super 8mm camera. Somewhere in there I discovered this business that sold actual screenplays from movies and television shows and ordered some and thought “I could do this!” Of course, I was hundreds of miles from Hollywood, so I just continued making short films (and a Super 8mm feature, which was a bad idea at the time). My first script sale was to a local production company that was making low budget kung fu movies. A decade of working in a warehouse later, I sold a script to a company on the Paramount lot.

ST: You have written everything from techo-thrillers to noir. Do you find it challenging to switch from genre to genre? 

WCM: I write testosterone. My home genre would probably be Hitchcock-style thrillers (which is why I have the first of three books on screenplays and Hitchcock out on Amazon), but my Super 8mm feature was a private eye movie. I then did that kung fu movie (and wrote a kung fu sci fi script that was supposed to be shot next, but that didn’t happen). The script I sold to Paramount was a noir script called "Courting Death." That got me to Hollywood, where a second noir script, "Treacherous," sold and was made, followed by "Implicated" (more noir!) and then a sci fi kung fu movie! Cable networks like USA, HBO, and Showtime began making their own films and that sci fi kung fu script was an HBO World Premiere Movie. The techno- thrillers came from trying to sell another script to that HBO producer. I’d read an article in Variety about U.S. Navy cooperation on films—where the Navy allows you to shoot on Aircraft Carriers and film SEAL Teams doing exercises for free—so I wrote a script targeting cooperation. The producer realized he could basically do "Hunt for Red October" on an HBO budget, and I made a sale. I continued writing techno- thrillers for a while. I also wrote action films, which led to all kinds of studio meetings on scripts that never managed to get made (on the average, for every 10 scripts they buy, they only make one). That led to writing my book Secrets of Action Screenwriting. I have a spy script that almost got made *ages* ago, kind of a kid Indiana Jones script that was optioned by a Hollywood company when I was still living in my home town, and all kinds of other “testosterone” scripts.

ST: What films influenced you early on?

WCM:  I write the kind of movies I’ve paid to see, so everything from Bogart films to Hitchcock films (especially "Rear Window," North by Northwest," "Psycho," and "Notorious") to "Chinatown" to "Point Blank" to James Bond movies to "Dirty Harry" to "Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein" to "Mysterious Island." As a kid, I’d watch horror movies and science fiction films and Sherlock Holmes movies that played on Saturday afternoons on television. And I read a ton of books (still do) and sometimes read the book before the movie or the movie pointed me to the book (for example, "Point Blank" sent me to Richard Stark, "Double Indemnity" sent me to James M. Cain, "Rear Window" sent me to Cornell Woolrich).

ST: Do you have any scripts that are stuck in "development hell?"

WCM: A stack of them! As I said, usually for every 10 you sell (or are hired to write) only one gets made. In 2007, I had two films come out the same day—one with Steven Segal, one without—and since then everything has either stalled or died along the way. A couple of years ago, I wrote the remake of a hit 1980s horror flick for a big name producer, but it hasn't been made. I wrote a big action script that takes place in Finland, a funny creature feature about giant killer frogs, a horror script about an elevator that craves blood, and a whole bunch of other scripts for producers where I got paid but the film never got made. Some of these went as far as to have posters designed before something happened and they ended up on the shelf. You get used to this after a while. "Courting Death" would pop up in Variety and Hollywood Reporter every few years when they hired another director or star and then it would fall apart again. David Fincher was the director on that one for a couple of months. The problem becomes scheduling, getting all of the people you need to get the movie off the ground in the right combination at the right time. On a recent project, we needed a star and a director that wanted to work with that star and we would either have one or the other. Star on board, but no director. Director on board, but no star. It went back and forth like that for almost two years before they just moved on to another project. It’s a miracle if any script gets made in Hollywood.

The “development hell” part comes when some star drops out of a project and the producer thinks that they need to completely change the script before they send it to the next star so that it’s “fresh.” They decide maybe your western should take place on Mars and you have to do the Martian rewrite, which, of course, doesn’t work. So the producer thinks, "Maybe if the Martians were really Nazis who fled to the angry red planet after World War II?" And you write that version and it doesn’t work. And then they “replace you” aka they fire you) and bring in some other writer to try the Nazi Martian western version, and when that doesn’t work the producer thinks maybe it can take place in Iceland, because he just vacationed there and it was really cool. So that new writer does an Iceland Martian Nazi western script...and on and on into the night. The strange part is that sometimes they make one of these crapfests and your name is still on it, but it doesn’t resemble anything you wrote. Oh, and it sucks (obviously).

One of the reasons I started writing articles and books on writing is that I was in control of those things. My column for Script Magazine (which ran for 20 years) was never going to sit on a shelf because the magazine was going to hit newsstands and be mailed to subscribers. If I wrote it, it went to print. My website, www.scriptsecrets.nethas a free screenwriting article every day and my blog, which are things that I can write and instantly people can read them. None of the frustration of writing a bunch of scripts that sell or assignments for pay, and having the projects get shelved when a star backs out to take a job with Clint Eastwood (that happened).

The Blue Book expansion thing is folding those 20 years of columns for Script Magazine into some old booklets I wrote in 2002 and turning them into full-sized books, which are instantly published on Amazon Kindle and people are reading them the next day. After a big project I’d been working on got put on hold by the producer at the beginning of this year, I wrote a couple of short stories and they were on sale at Amazon in 12 hours! The frustration of being a screenwriter is depending on a bunch of other people in order to get your story to the audience. For every movie you see listed on IMDB there are nine other scripts that you do a lot of work on, but no one will ever see them.

ST: What is your writing processing? Do you have any pre- or post-writing rituals?

WCM:  My main writing ritual is to sacrifice a movie producer with a special scimitar and then...oh, mean the stuff that’s not crazy psycho stuff?

Because I was writing scripts with a 40 hour a week day job, I tried to find the best method to get things done writing a limited time every day. That ended up being outlining the script and breaking it into manageable pieces that I could work on every day before work. I would basically do a bullet point outline listing the scenes of my script, and work that outline until it made sense and there was no fat. Then I’d write two or three scenes a week, at least one good page a day, and that added up to finished scripts.

I still do that now, just with more pages per day because I don’t have that pesky day job. By the way, this helps when I have an assignment with a deadline, because I know if I write "X" number of pages a day I’ll end up with a completed script by the deadline. I like to finish two or more days earlier to do a quick rewrite to fix things before sending it to the producer. I have a home office that almost never gets used because I bicycle from coffee shop to coffee shop in Los Angeles (and often parks), and try to write five pages a day. The cycling gets my blood flowing and gives me time to think. My job is sitting on my butt, so I before bicycling I was looking like Jabba the Hutt. Coffee shops are less distractions than working at home for me because there’s nothing else I can do there. I have headphones and listen to movie music from whatever kind of script I’m working on, and when I look up from the laptop screen I have a window on the world, people around me who might spark some idea. Plus, coffee is close by at all times. I switch up my locations often, so that when I look up at my window on the world it’s interesting.

ST: How has the screenwriting world changed since you first entered?

WCM:  Many different ways. Those HBO movies I used to write? Don’t exist anymore. I had a friend who made horror films "for" Blockbuster. They paid him to make six films a year as Blockbuster Exclusives because horror has loyal fans and exclusive movies would bring them into the stores. Blockbuster isn’t around anymore. If Hollywood stopped making some kind of film to focus on superhero movies or whatever, there were other places that would make those movies. Now many of those places are gone. So we have great television shows now on cable networks, but no movies. So it’s more difficult to get things made.

Because studios are focusing more on “branded” entertainment (stuff that is already insanely popular in some other medium) the market for original scripts is tough. Original scripts are basically job applications for some writing assignment working on those scripts in development hell, trying to break it out into production.

Screenplays themselves have gone through an evolution. About 15 years ago these people began popping up on message boards who thought screenwriting should be more than a document designed to make a film. It should be "literature." Now that some of those people are in the biz, screenplays have become “great reads” that sometimes may not make very good films. Though you want a script that is a “good read” you also want it to work as that blueprint for the film. This is a weird trend, and part of it is due to “the business of development” that sprang up. If most scripts are never going to be movies, let’s just not focus on that movie thing! We’ve ended up with these little factories that develop scripts that are separate from the business of making films.  Producers just want you to work for free on some script that’s probably never going to be made instead of changing their methods because studios are cutting back. The problem as a writer is we don’t know what projects will happen and which will not. So far, I’ve managed to get paid on every project, but that’s because I turn down unpaid gigs. Because the business continues to evolve, I suspect the “unpaid work” will shift back to the old model where there was less pointless “busywork” and scripts are focused on becoming films.

The great thing happening in screenwriting? When I turned from making my own films to writing scripts because I could no longer afford film and processing, I basically became Hollywood’s bitch. I work for "The Man." But now there are people making films on their iPhones! Now you can make your own film, and that’s a big shift in how the business works. Instead of working for free for some producer who is never going to make our film, we can make a film ourselves. We can still work for "The Man and" sell screenplays or land assignments, but if we get frustrated with the system we can just go out and do it ourselves. That gives us power and that power can help when we are selling scripts and getting paid gigs. Hollywood is not the only game in town, and we can go make "Paranormal Activity" and make them pay a lot more later. And that may be one of the things that has lead to an increase in spec sales. Add to that, as Hollywood focuses on big tentpoles, there are foreign companies like Europa who have moved in to make genre films like "Three Days to Kill," "Brick Mansions," and "Lucy." New script buyers!

ST: What advice would you give to an up and coming screenwriter?

WCM: Write! Read screenplays to get a feel what they are supposed to read like, then just keep writing screenplays. I’m always amazed when someone on a message board says they are going to quit because they have written four scripts and Steven Spielberg hasn’t phoned yet. WTF? A survey by the WGA a while back showed that the average writer wrote (and rewrote until they were great) nine full length screenplays before they ever made a cent! You either love writing, or you’re in the wrong business! Writers write.

Other things: grab a crew position on a film set. Since people are making films all over the place now with Kickstarter campaigns and doing credit card movies, find some low budget folks in your area making a movie and work on it. Once you see how films are really made, it changes the way you write screenplays. You see what works and what doesn’t and understand the practical needs of production. Also, don’t limit yourself to screenplays. Writers write! So write short stories and novels and articles and whatever else you can. It’s like working out, you use different muscle combinations and that helps you overall. Someone who wants to be an Olympic 400 meter hurdle runner, you don’t only practice by running the 400 meter hurdles, you do all kinds of stuff. Oh, and find some film related job you can do. Learn editing or sound or some other set job. Those are great ways to earn a living and make contacts.

ST: Can you tell us one random fact about yourself?

WCM:  I was born in the same hospital as Tom Hanks.

To learn more about William C. Martell, check out his official website or follow him on Twitter  @wcmartell.

The Writer's Bone Interviews Archive

Who Watches the Screenwriters? 11 Questions With Script Consultant Linda Seger

Linda Seger

Linda Seger

By Sean Tuohy

As we’ve mentioned on this website numerous times, a great editor can make a world of difference for an emerging author. The same rules apply to screenwriters.

Linda Segar, author of several how-to books for budding film scribes, has been in the screenwriting consultation business since 1981. According to her bio on her official website, she has consulted on more than 2,000 scripts, including more than 40 produced feature films and approximately 35 produced television projects.

Segar’s mission statement is to “identify, analyze, and help solve elusive script problems while nurturing your creative process.”

What more can an up-and-coming screenwriter ask for?

I was lucky enough to ask Seger a few questions about navigating the screenwriting process and she gave scriptwriters plenty of helpful advice.

Sean Tuohy: How did you become a screenwriting coach and consultant? What is the backstory?

Linda Seger: Out of desperation! I was so well educated that nobody wanted to hire me, and I wasn't a corporate "type." I could see that there were so many scripts that didn't work, and I had developed a method as part of my doctoral dissertation about what the elements are that make a good script. I tried this method on some scripts that didn't work, and found that it pinpointed the problems very well. So, I placed an ad in the Hollywood Reporter and started getting clients. Then I went to a career consultant, Judith Claire, to figure out how to make this a full-time business. The plan worked, and I've been doing this now for more than 30 years.

ST: What is the most common error that you see among first time screenwriters?

LS: It used to be an inability to structure the script, but now it seems to be a lack of focus, which is related to structural problems.

ST: As far as style goes, who is the most original screenwriter, in your opinion?

LS: I think the Coen Brothers have a marvelous sense of style, and I'm particularly fond of “Fargo.”

ST What is the best way to learn the art of screenwriting?

LS: Write. Read books. Go to seminars.

ST: Do you believe it comes to some naturally or is it learned over many years?

LS: It is learned over many years, although some people have more natural talent than others. However, if they don't work at it and keep learning, they're still not going to become a great screenwriter.

ST: Has there been any screenwriters or scripts in the past ten years that have really wowed you?

LS: Absolutely! One of the best screenplays I've ever worked on that left me breathless is stuck in "development hell" in a studio. I have just completed working on a screenplay from a first-time writer from Austria. She amazes me and I love this script and hope she sells it. I recently worked with a Canadian on a first-time script that began as a muddle and has really found its way. I'm so impressed about where she's come through a process of about five drafts. I worked on a script years ago that left me breathless. I think the writer became ill, and I haven't heard from him in many years.

I have worked on many, many scripts that I think are really terrific, and I wish they'd make those into films instead of some of the others that are made.

I can't disclose the names of any of these, but I worked on several scripts that were made into films that I think are quite wonderful. One, called "Courting Chaos," has been winning a number of awards recently in film festivals, and two others were made in Italy that I'm very eager to see. They are titled, "Last Summer" and "Anita B."

ST: What is the most difficult part about writing a full length screenplay?

LS: Having a writing discipline and being willing to continually learn about the art and craft of writing.

ST: What do you believe is the most difficult part about making a good story into a great screenplay?

LS: Knowing the craft of writing so you know what you are doing.

ST: What are some of the first things you notice about a script when you are analyzing it?

LS: I can tell if it's great writing on the first page, but it might take me many pages to realize that what doesn't look like good writing actually has tremendous potential. My job is to bring out that potential in the writer and make that the best script it can be.

ST: What advice would you give to a first time screenwriter?

LS: Write and write some more, and write some more! And if you find great joy in writing, then continue writing. If you don't find joy, then stop.

ST: What is one random fact about yourself?

LS: I live in my dream house, a 1921 log home, in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

To learn more about Linda Seger, visit her official website, like her Facebook page, or follow her on Twitter @Linda_Seger.

The Writer's Bone Interviews Archive