I just returned from the Gideon Media Arts Conference and Film Festival–a wonderful week of learning about filmmaking, acting, screenwriting, music videos, graphic novels (a genre, not a judgment), and just about anything else you can think of related to media arts.
Many of you know about my love of acting, but only a few know that I’m working on a screenplay, an entirely new area of writing for me. And since some of you might be interested in learning about it too, I thought it’d be good for all of us to hear from someone who’s actually completed a movie script that ended up on the big screen. So please join me in welcoming screenwriter, filmmaker, novelist, and new friend, Grant Skellenger.
So, let’s jump right in, Grant. You’ve had a screenplay produced?
Yes. It’s called More Than Diamonds and it’s the first of my feature screenplays I’ve seen on the big screen.
How long did it take you to write More Than Diamonds?
Actual writing time on the first draft was a little more than a month. However, I kept rewriting well into production. Though the actual writing process was fairly fast, the idea had first arisen two years before I started writing, so I suspect that some ideas were percolating even while I wasn’t consciously working on the screenplay.
Did you learn anything about screenwriting from seeing one of your screenplays produced?
Oh, yes. I learned a ton from seeing More Than Diamonds produced.
First, I learned that things will change. Some things won’t play on the screen the way they play in your head, and they’ll be changed or cut. Expect it.
Second, although I already knew that film was a visual medium (as opposed to the play which is a medium of dialog), I found that there were lots of spots where I’d over-written the dialog. Here’s an especially embarrassing example. I wrote:
Of course, he did. He’s picking up a few things for me while I’m at work today and he asked if she would like to go. They’ll be home this afternoon.
Here’s what I should have written:
I know. They’ll be home later.
Lesson: Don’t overwrite the dialog.
Third, actors will share the load. When I saw the actors performing scenes I’d written, I realized that I’d written way more direction than I needed to. (Yes, overwriting again.) In subsequent screenplays, I’m less likely to write, “He sits in the chair, crosses. Uncrosses them. Bounces his foot. Recrosses his legs. Glances at the clock on the wall and then at his watch. He strums his fingers on the table and licks his lips,” and I’m more likely to write, “He sits. Fidgets. Nervous.” Better for the actor. Easier for the writer.
Fourth, I gained new eyes for seeing when scenes should be combined. Near the beginning, I’ve got three scenes that I could have compressed to one. Having too many scenes reduces the force of what you write. A combined scene would have been far more forceful. Oh, well. Write and learn.
Great advice! Can you tell us about your process for writing?
Nothing magic. I keep one-inch sticky notes with me all the time. Whenever I think of a scene idea or a snatch of dialog or a character trait, I write it on its own sticky note. Then I group and order the notes and look for structural holes or scenes that the existing action suggests. It’s pretty easy to make changes-even serious structural changes–this way. And, unlike 3×5 note cards, sticky notes can live on my wall. Once I have all my notes done to my satisfaction, I automatically have an outline. Once I have an outline, the hard part is done. Going from outline to first draft runs from two to six weeks. Once I have a draft I’ll give it a breather and then go through a hardcopy with a red pen. You can guess what happens then.
What are you working on now?
A plan to take over the world. In my spare time I’m writing screenplays. I’ve finished one that follows a woman whose son puts her in a retirement home against her will. I’m also working on a screenplay for another family movie about a boy who loves horses and sets out to raise the money to buy his first horse. Meanwhile, in the background, I’ve got a list of fifteen stories-thrillers, sci-fi, drama–that are developing.
What basic things would you tell a beginning screenwriter?
Read a dozen screenplays. Read Syd Field’s book Screenplay and Lew Hunter’s Screenwriting 434. Now stop reading. I have a library of screenwriting books and I’ve discovered that reading about screenwriting can quickly displace screenwriting itself. Don’t let reading the next great book on screenwriting become an excuse for not writing. Before you start typing, download Celtx from wÃ¥ww.celtx.com. It will format your novels, plays, comic books and, for our purposes, screenplays. And it’s free.
Too bad I didn’t learn that before I spent $150 on Final Draft.
Grant, thanks so much for allowing us a peek into a screenwriter’s journey. Your instruction and encouragement offer hope to me and my friends!
Here’s the blurb for More Than Diamonds: Although twelve-year old Alexander Mortensen wants to be a hero, life keeps getting in the way. But when he sets out to recover a stolen heirloom, he finds that he has unwittingly invited danger right to his door and that being a hero will demand more of him than he ever imagined.
I can wholeheartedly endorse this family drama/adventure. My 10-year-old grandson, Cole, and I loved it! Check out the promotional trailer here. See anyone you know?
Sound like something you’d like to see? Then head on over to the More Than Diamonds website where you’ll be able to see videos, read about the cast and crew, and order your own copy!
Be sure to connect with Grant Skellenger and More Than Diamonds on Facebook.
And if you’d like to win a copy of the More Than Diamonds DVD, just leave a comment and you’ll be in the drawing. Be sure to check back next week to see if you’re the winner!
Don’t Miss Out On Our 9th Annual Writing Retreat September 29-October 2, 2011–Only $350!
Do you feel called to write, but can’t find the time to stop and hear His voice? Are you new to the writing world and don’t know where to begin? Have you been writing for years, but need a chance to get away and focus on your project? Regardless of your location on the writing path, the NCompass Writing Retreat is designed just for you!
Come join us for FOUR days of instruction and hours of writing in peaceful solitude. Bible study will open and close our days as we seek direction from the Master Author.
This year’s retreat will be held in a luxuriously-appointed, 6000 square feet, 9-bedroom, 7-bath waterfront home on beautiful Lake Keowee in Seneca, SC.
The registration fee includes four days and three nights’ lodging, nine home-cooked meals, snacks, seven classes and handouts, a digital marketing track, hours of uninterrupted writing time, at least one 15-minute editorial meeting, and free give-aways-and you don’t have to cook or clean up!
NCompass classes include fiction, non-fiction, humor writing, platform-building, technology, articles, blogging, and speaking as a writer.
All for only $350!! What are you waiting for?
Check out the NCompass website for more information. You don’t want to miss this great opportunity!
Only Four Slots Remaining for the Christian Communicators Conference October 26-30, 2011
Do you have a story to tell? Would your testimony encourage and challenge others? Are you ready to take the next step in your speaking ministry, but don’t know where to begin? If you answered yes to any of these questions, this is the opportunity you’ve been waiting for!
You’re invited to join author and speaker Vonda Skelton and people-polishing expert and speaker Carolyn Knefely for the second Christian Communicators Conference at Lake Keowee, in the beautiful mountains of South Carolina. Leave the chaos, forget the stress, and escape to the comfort of God’s creation where you’ll have the opportunity to learn, reflect, and hear from the Lord.
The five-day, four-night conference will be held in a 6000 square feet, 9-bedroom, 7-bath, luxuriously-appointed, waterfront home approximately 90 minutes from Greenville, SC.
Check out the Christian Communicators Conference information here and then let us hear from you. Time is running out!
Writing Opportunities Just for YOU!
Thanks again to Marilyn Shipe for another great collection of writing opportunities.
This month, you can download the Christian Writer’s Den Writing Opportunities here.
Another MoGo7000 Achiever in the Drawing for $100
Because I was at the Gideon Media Arts Conference and Film Festival last week, I had to upload the blog post early. So congratulations to Patty Willett for earning an entry into the $100 drawing!
42. Patty Willett – 7,686 words
Would you like a chance to win $100? It’s not too late! Check out the MoGo7000 Guidelines here.
Please Be Patient with Me…
I need to let you know that I had a joint replacement in my right thumb yesterday and will be very restricted in the use of my right hand for a couple of months. I want to continue to communicate with each of you, but please be patient if it takes me a little longer than usual to respond.
Parting Words from The Word..
Do you ever feel that creative arts are a waste of time? Do others question your calling? If so, be encouraged today. God calls the creative to do His will. He calls you and He calls me.
Do you see a man skilled in his work?
He will serve before kings;
he will not serve before obscure men. Proverbs 22:29
I pray God’s blessing on the work of your hands and your hearts,