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in Filmmaking
on Jan 19, 2010

Ted Hope has an excellent blog post today, one of those print-this-out-and-post-it-above-your-computer lists to guide you through your work as a screenwriter. It’s entitled “Ten Things to Do Before You Submit a Script,” and it’s not about getting an agent or using two brads, not three. It’s about the final stage of a writer’s own in-house (i.e., in brain) development. There are a few that really resonated with me. One is: “Know what the historical precedents are for your story and how you differ from them in how you have chosen to tell it.” This is crucial. If a producer is going to spend a year or two of his or her life making a movie, that producer will want to feel challenged — emotionally and intellectually — by the material. He or she will want to talk about it, and will want to place it within a context of other important work. When a writer writes a script and seems unaware of not only classic movies exploring similar themes and stories but also great works of art and literature, it instantly devalues the process that lies ahead.

Another great one: “Recognize what some of the mysteries contained within both the characters and story are that you are committed to protecting — as not everything should be explained.” This is very tough to do. The trend in script development is to over explain, to give backstory and psychological reasoning for everything. But the most resonant movies preserve an element of mystery. (Sometimes more than an element — witness Mulholland Drive being ours and most everyone’s Best Film of the Decade.) Figuring out that balance between mystery and sound construction, between emotional continuity and emotional instability — and being able to discuss it in front of producers and developement execs — is one of the hardest parts of the writers’ job. But, the great ones know how to do it.

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