Friday, 3 August 2012

Top Go Viral script to screen tips from Martin Sadofski

Martin Sadofski is a playwright and screenwriter. His first play ‘Outside of Heaven’ premiered at the Royal Court Theatre, London. After that he spent two years as writer in residence at the National Theatre. He has had many single dramas broadcast for the BBC and ITV and worked for Miramax as a script doctor. Here he offers Go Viral competition entrants some brilliant script writing tips. He writes:

There isn’t much time here. So the idea you have has to matter. The viewer has to care and care quickly. So in short get to the point of your short fast! Some tips to consider.

1. Keep it simple.

You can’t establish a lot with complicate setups. In scripts this short it is good to think about adverts that tell stories. They do this well and don’t hang about. My advice is to go for one character and stay focussed on them. Can you pitch the idea in a lift to someone who is going up one floor?  This is the classic Hollywood elevator pitch test. Can you quickly tell the story in few lines and make the producer in the lift go WOW!

2. Define your hero.

Find something in your hero in which everyone can relate to, something universal. Quickly make them unique and different. In fact, if they're not, why write them?  Give that character an action or have them make a choice.  This is a dilemma and audiences root for a character who has a dilemma -   let the audience know right away who’s story this is.

3. Start strong and end strong.

Whenever you go to festivals or you’re surfing online, I bet you know  in the first ten seconds if you’re hooked. First impressions are everything. Do something right off the bat that grabs your audience's attention. As I said earlier, your hero needs to be defined quickly. Why not have your hero do something unexpected. It will let your audience know who he is, and it will grab their attention.

And remember that last impressions are lasting. Be sure to end with some sort of emotional punch. If you're doing a comedy, end on a laugh. Whatever your tone, make sure you give the audience a final impression that will keep them thinking about your short.

4. Once upon a time...

Tell the story to yourself like your telling a fairy story.  Fairy stories cut to the chase. They stay on story, they don’t describe anything else but the immediate action.  That’s why “Goldilocks was walking through the woods when she found a cottage. She went inside and found three bowls of porridge.”  Is better than “ It was lovely sunny day, the birds were whistling and the sky was blue. Along came a small thin girl with yellow hair and freckles who loved life and.... “ ZZZZZZZ.  It’s a screenplay not a novel! Screenplays are about action. Characters in a screenplay are ONLY defined by the actions they take.  SHOW DONT TELL.  Is a good mantra to have.  Don’t  tell me that Billy loves his mum – show me.

5. What happens next?

The audience only care about one thing. WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? Don’t have a character hanging about doing nothing.  Make things happen to them – put them in jeopardy.  Excite the audience.  And it doesn’t have to be an action film. A small film about boy meets girl still needs  action, inciting incidents. Setbacks, arguments. Resolution.

6. What does the hero want? What’s stopping him getting it?

This will drive the action of the plot. And its good to keep it in mind. It drives your story. Winnie the Pooh wants the honey. The bees are out to stop him. How does Pooh fool the bees get the honey? That’s a classic three act structure. A character wants something – Indiana Jones wants to find the ark.  So do the Nazis. Its a race. Who will win? I’m hooked.

7. Desire.

It’s hard to get involved in a film  if the story has no meaning. A character needs to be tested. The thing that they want should mean the world to them. If they care about it we will care about it. Charlie wants to find a golden ticket because more than anything he wants to get inside that chocolate factory.  Great characters will suffer anything to get their prize.

8. The Hemmingway principle.

Hemmingway wisely said “the first draft of anything is shit.”  So rewrite and rewrite again. And each time cut anything that holds up getting to the next scene.

9. No one is black and white.

Make your characters flawed. Make your villain likeable, make your hero a jerk sometimes. In short make your characters human.

10. Hitchcock

Pictured: A still from Hitchcock's Rebecca.
Alfred Hitchcock said: “Drama is life with the dull bits cut out.”  So keep it short. Fascinating and end it with a surprise.

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1 comment:

  1. Excellent tips, Victoria, thanks for sharing. I run a small Boston video production company, and I think one of the most important principles, as you have outlined, is keeping it simple. Too often for video production projects clients want too much and it takes away from their brand and messaging. As they say, "less is more," especially in this day and age.