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Screenwriting: from Fail to Sale (4/5)

There’s this notion among screenwriters that if a plot point doesn’t work, you can brush over it, I’ve done it a bunch of times, why? Because we see plot points in great films that just don’t work and we forgive them.


By Samuel Bartlett

The Law of Causation

So why not forgive my little lack of logic at that last turn.

No. You really can’t do that.

That’s what re-writing and polishing is. You go through every little crease, really finely and iron out every single one of those bumps.

Everything has to make sense. Everything has to link, every scene has to feed into the next. Speaking about beats making sense, flowing into the next etc…

Here’s something I just learnt recently that is screenwriting gold…

Me and my South Park posseMatt Stone and Trey Parker, the South Park creators figured that if they can take the beat sheet of your film script and put the words AND THEN between every beat, basically your script is fucked.

The words between the beats of a beat sheet of a great film should read THEREFORE or BECAUSE.

That first script I sold was a ‘found footage’ film similar in style to Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity.

During the script selling process I had approached Full Clip Productions for script sale advice. I had a friend that worked there and he gave me some great inside advice from a producer’s POV.

The words between the beats of a beat sheet of a great film
should read THEREFORE or BECAUSE.

After the sale went through, said friend approached me with an idea Sam Worthington had just pitched to him that they wanted to develop, the idea was of the found footage variety. He said they were looking for a writer for the concept, would I be interested?

The Bottom Line

I took the idea, no more than a logline, extrapolated that into a feature script and wrote my nuts off for the next month. Sent it to them, they dug it and as of last night I finished writing the third draft. (That I really should be working on instead of this…)

This same friend, let’s call him, Mike, I had sent another one of my scripts, my baby, I mentioned earlier.

Circular QuayThen one afternoon he calls me and says he’s put that script in the hands of a manager that really digs it, he’s flying to Sydney for 48 hours to do a bunch of shit, but he wants to meet.

That meet went really well.

I’m not writing all this to bang my drum, I really haven’t done all that much yet, it’s this notion of ‘breaking in’ that I want to get back to.

It’s not about IN or OUT, it’s about the steps along the way, each leading into the next.

You can write Lethal Weapon, you can sell a script for $3million, but unless you’re constantly at it, constantly working, constantly writing, constantly reading scripts, watching films, you can slip back OUT again.

My advice in a nutshell is to learn the craft.

It’s not about IN or OUT, it’s about the steps along the way,
each leading into the next.

When you’ve got a script that’s good, send it out to script comps.

When you place, solicit your script around town.

If you’re easily dissuaded by rejection, then quit.

Seriously. Give up. This ain’t for you.

When you do get that first foot through the door, when someone who counts does take notice of your work, make it work for you.

Dominos people, dominos.

Here’s a list of the script comps that agents and prod companies give a shit about in no particular order:

Austin Screenplay Comp. Nicholl Fellowship. Champion Screenplay Comp. Scriptapalooza. Pipeline. TrackingB (or Tracking Board). Final Draft Big Break Comp. Slam Dance. Page Awards. Expo Screen Comp.

There are others, smaller ones, but these are the ones people take notice of.

– Samuel Bartlett

Part 1 – The Beginnings
Part 2 – Cars and Cops
Part 3 – The Truth about Comps
Part 5 – Writing and Reading

Photo Credit:  The Man in Blue –  dicktay2000

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Samuel Bartlett is an award winning screen writer and film maker with two feature films currently in development with Los Angeles based production companies.

He shot his first award winning feature film in 2011 and has another short film ready for the festival circuit. He divides his time between Sydney, London and LA.


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  1. Pingback: Screenwriting: from Fail to Sale (2/5) | The Story Department

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