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Meg's Blog

Writing a Screenplay

I am off to San Antonio to speak at the International Reading Association convention, and attend a booksigning. In the meantime, below is some info a few of you have been clamoring for.

(On a side note, if 600 guests had been invited to MY wedding, I'd have run away too.)

Ever since ICE PRINCESS came out, a lot of people have been asking me for tips not just on how to write books, but also on writing screenplays.

All I have to say about this is, if you come up with some, let me know. Ha ha ha.

Okay, seriously, I so don't know how to write a screenplay. I mean, obviously, I did it. But it was freaking hard. WAY harder than writing a book.

Also, I should mention that the version of ICE PRINCESS that I wrote is not exactly what you saw on screen if you went to the movie. For instance, in my version, Callie (not Casey) starts out as a hockey player, not a physics whiz, in a family of men—there was no mom, and Dad was a hockey coach.

Oh, and Callie? She gets seduced by a skanky boy figure skater before coming to her senses and going back to cute Zamboni boy, who by the way is also in a band whose music she skates to at the Olympics to show him she's sorry for sleeping with the skanky boy figure skater.

So based on that info, and given what actually ended up on screen, I do not know that I have my finger on the pulse of what studios want/expect in a screenplay.

But since you asked, here is what 411 I can give you:

Most screenplays are only about 90 pages long (the general idea is that one page equals about one minute of screen time…most movies are about 90 minutes long. Therefore, your script should be at least 90 pages, and really no longer than 110 if you don't want the studio to start projectile vomiting).

So naturally, since my books are more than twice that long, I was like, “Ha! That will be so easy!” when Disney asked if I wanted to write a screenplay.

Yeah. So not.

Writing a Screenplay Tip #1:

Don't.

Since you are still reading, I know you obviously ignored Tip #1. So here is
Writing a Screenplay Tip #2:

There's this software you're supposed to use, called FINAL DRAFT. I bought it, and it was like Algebra to me: I so didn't get it. There were these story cards you had to fill out, and character outlines or something—anyway, it was HORRIBLE.

But everyone else I know LOVES this software. So maybe it's just me. Most studios won't even LOOK at your screenplay unless it's written in this software. So if you want to be a screenwriter, you have to learn to use it.

Or you can hire a film student at NYU to enter your screenplay written in Word into FINAL DRAFT, for a few bucks a page, like I did. Expensive, yes, but less time consuming than actually learning FINAL DRAFT. To me, anyway.

Still interested? Okay:

Writing a Screenplay Tip #3:

Did you see the movie ADAPTATION? Well, if you haven't, go rent it now. That is what it is like to write a screenplay. Did you see the part where Nicholas Cage goes to that screenwriting seminar? That is a real seminar. Robert McGee is a real person. He is the Godfather of Screenplay Writing. If you are really clueless about how to write a movie, buy his book (STORY) or go to his seminar.

Before you shell out your money, though, here is one thing you should know about Robert McGee: if you are already a storyteller, there is nothing in his book or seminar that you don't already know. The way Robert McGee breaks down the formula for writing a good story is something most story-tellers instinctively know:

Act One:
We meet a character. Something happens to her.

Act Two:
She struggles to deal with it.

Act Three:
She either overcomes something, learns something, or dies (or all three) depending on the kind of movie you want to write.

The end.

Yes. This is the basic structure of almost all stories.

Still not getting it? Let's use, as an example of this, the movie SPRING BREAK SHARK ATTACK:

1. We meet Danielle. Danielle disobeys her overprotective father and goes to Spring Break with her friends.

2. Boys and sharks attack her, sometimes at the same time.

3. Danielle thwarts both the sharks and the boys, and learns she can take care of herself despite what her dad thinks.

The end.

But you might want to buy Mr. McGee's book if you have further questions. Or you could go to one of his seminars if you have like $500 or so to spare, not including hotel costs etc.

Here is Screenwriting Tip #4:

To sell a screenplay, you need an agent. To get an agent, you must a) know someone who has an agent and ask that person to recommend you to his agent, or b) send out query letters to agencies, asking if anyone there would like to represent you. You can buy guides/books on how to do this, and on where to send your stuff. Go to the library or your local bookstore. Have fun. It took me a full year, mailing out three-five query letters a week, to get an agent.

And no, no matter how good your screenplay is, I will not read it and give it to my agent, because my lawyers would kill me for even looking at an unagented story.

Screenwriting Tip #5:

So you got an agent and sold your screenplay! Good for you. Now the fun starts: you will be working with the producers and studio execs on your screenplay. Wait—you say your screenplay is already done? No, it isn't. Because the studio will want/expect you to make changes. A LOT of changes. Some of which will make no sense to you whatsoever.

And yes, by the time they are all done, you will no longer recognize your original work, it will be so different than what you started out with (see above, re: how my draft of ICE PRINCESS included sex and dead moms and hockey and rock bands).

But it's OK, because you get paid for every draft. So the more drafts you do, the more money you get.

Eventually, though, if you really aren't “getting it” the studio will “let you go,” and hire someone new, who will completely transform your screenplay, and get paid to do it. Probably more than you got paid.

That is why the most important tip is #6:

Screenwriting Tip #6:

Do not take the criticism personally. Do not freak out over what has happened to your story. Do not take it to heart if they fire you. Because really good writers have been fired from writing screenplays. I will not name names because I don't want to embarrass them. But trust me. We've all been there.

Just let it go.

And next time?

Write a book instead.

In closing:

Do I hate writing screenplays? Yes.
Will I ever write a screenplay again? Yes.
Why? Because like you, I love movies, and I can't resist.

Besides, the next time can ONLY be easier, right???

More later.

Much love,

Meg

PS He totally found out about the coaster.

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