Mar 272003

by Jim Munroe

Having only written two feature-length screenplays with a partner, I’m not willing to pretend a general expertise in the area. As such, this article’s subheads are not What-You-Need but rather What-I-Found-Helpful-To-Have.

An Idea

Have a good idea for a story or characters bubbling in the skull for a little while, preferably something that interests you deeply. Something that suits the visual medium. (Skip to the next section if you’re planning to make the movie yourself.) If you hope to sell the script, consider the exploitability factor: you won’t be doing the casting or the wardrobe for your riot grrrl character, for example. Any script can be fucked up and inverted, but some scripts are more susceptible to it than others.

If that makes you wince, ask yourself: Why are you doing a script? Rather than a novel you could publish yourself or an album you could record? Creative projects that you could actually see into the world without having to filter your original vision through a gazillion people? It actually increases your chances of following through and completing the script if you have a good answer for this — I’m not just being a negative asshole.

A Week

Since you can write the 90 pages that add up to a feature film in a week or two, why not do it? A much bigger problem than the actual writing of the thing is maintaining your will to do so in the face of self-doubt, worries about how to get it made, and various personal calamities. “So, are you still working on that screenplay?” is not the question you want to be hearing month after month after year. It stands a better chance of being done if you can just set aside a week or two to write the first draft — we did it in five days, with one day to edit.

A Partner

With the aforementioned difficulties with writing a screenplay, it helps to have backup. Find someone with similar tastes in movies and writing who you also have fun with. F.U.N. is K.E.Y. mainly because you want to transform this from a chore into an enjoyable experience.

Our Patented Method

The Slutsky-Munroe method, perhaps peculiar to us, was as follows: A quota was set up (total pages needed / days allotted=pages per day). One types while the other paces, reading over the shoulder and laughing or simply saying “nice” as merited. Incessantly type in dialogue that has the characters saying smutty and absurdly incongruous things: it’s easily deleted, inspires new tangents, and occasionally even kept. If you’re not sure what happens next, say “Imagine if..” and “How about..” and “What do you think…” back and forth to each other until you find something that sends you back to the keyboard in a rush.

A Bell

Does anything say “Hollywood” like a smartly rung hotel bell? No sir! I wasn’t sure what we needed it for, but I brought one anyway. Its primary use was to signal the end of a scene, but that was only the beginning. Alternately it was rung for product placements (a quick double ring to simulate a cash register’s ca-ching!) and simply to divert mischievous energies (better to “accidentally” ring the bell than “accidentally” pour coffee in your partner’s lap — take it from someone who knows).

An Audience

Beyond your partner, it helps to have a reader in mind, a person whose opinion you respect. It’s hard not to default to a boardroom of faceless movie execs otherwise. Tell this person when you’ll be giving them the script — this gives you an extra incentive to get it done.

At the same time, you don’t want to write this script for one person. So it helps to refer to this person not by their real, serious sounding name but to a silly but almost-believable name. When I was telling my partner about a potential reader months before the collaboration, he said the fateful words: “So this Lemon guy, he’ll want to look at it?” Neither he nor I could figure out why he chose this name, although he may have been drinking a glass of water with a slice of said fruit at the time. “Lemon” it was.

Unfortunately, we were unable to stop there. Perhaps taking the partnership to an extreme, we submerged our own identities: we took to calling each other “Dude.” Although it’s impossible to fully justify it, it did allow us to add a note of levity to potentially ego-bruising suggestions: “But dude, we can’t make him [the character] too arrogant,” or “Dude, everyone will totally think that plot twist is totally lame,” or the harrowing-but-necessary “Dude, time for me to take a walk. Alone.”

Read a Few Scripts

…yeah, that can help. I had never read a script all the way through at the time, and half-way through we realized we had been using the wrong format — the margins were considerably narrower and so we ended up having done much more than our quota. Cries of “Dude, Lemon will know! Lemon will totally know we’re idiots!” were heard echoing down the Montreal streets until we fixed it. If you’re a writer, you don’t need any special training to do it — just read a few till you feel that you can fake it convincingly. Then go to it.

But remember the bell — the bell is K.E.Y.

We’ve made one of our scripts available under a Creative Commons Licence.

  One Response to “DIY Scriptwriting”

  1. […] a great essay about DIY scriptwriting, writers Mark Slutsky and Jim Munroe unveiled the Slutsky-Munroe Method–a funny and effective […]

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