Creating An Unforgettable Screenplay, Part 6: Getting through the Martyr Syndrome
by Christine Autrand Mitchell
In various orders and subspecies, it happens regularly with my writing clients, with my writer friends, with strangers who contact me for advice via the internet (because writers reach out to other writers and we tend to be a fairly munificent group of folks to each other), and, on occasion, it happens to me: the Martyr Syndrome.
It’s basically a wall one hits in writing, for a number of reasons. I’ll go through the most popular symptoms and suggest some likely remedies. I’m not a medical doctor or a scientific researcher; I’m more of a country herbologist (didn’t want to say witch doctor) with some good listening skills and some insight.
You have options here: you try to find the answers on your own using this handy-dandy guide, and/or maybe you need a little help, from someone who does what I do, to help you through your tummy trouble. I suggest you turn to someone or a few folks you trust first (I know, I’m ruining my bank account with this), and have them read your script to point out what they feel is the fly in your ointment (oh, mixed metaphors be damned!). Make certain these are folks who will tell you the truth.
Symptom: “I’m no good!” and “Is this really a story anyone will be interested in?”
Yeah, well, there are a million answers to that one, huh? You must first ask yourself: “Am I really ready to hear the truth?” As it turns out, in my humble opinion, you’re the only person who can answer that. The thing is, you may be a terrible writer now, most of us start out that way, but we work on our craft for many, many years to improve our skills and hone them and, with any luck, we get to make it a career.
Insofar as if your story is interesting, well, there’s an audience for everyone. I’ve consulted on some pretty out-there scripts; some I’m not sure will see a screen unless it’s produced by the writer due to their niche topics, but there is always an audience. Why? Because even though we all have our own particular tastes, we share much with others. It’s entirely up to you, the writer, to pursue the sale, the production, the audience, or give up. But even a niche story can be expanded to attract a wider audience.
You can always seek help in improving the story – there’s the bright side.
Symptom: “My script is too long!”
That’s the good news, my friend. It means you had a lot of ideas. They’re not all good, I guarantee that, but that’s what that first draft is for: the vomit session, wherein you drain all of your ideas, your plot points, your characters, your themes, surprises, joys, etc. Now you begin to cut. How? See my article on DRAFTS, but here’s a hint: you only need to tell your audience something once. If you have multiple scenes that deliver the same type of information, use only one. So, meld them or find the one you like best, and that’s the one you use.
Symptom: “My script is too short!”
If you insist it’s a full-length project and you can’t get the page count, start analyzing your story to see where something is missing in terms of character development, story, plot, subplots, subtext, twists and turns (so you don’t have a one-note story), continuity, and so on. As stated above, you can always go to a script doctor, or take some writing classes, shelf the project for a while and work on something else, or maybe it’s one of those ideas that just wasn’t meant to be. We writers have a lot of ideas… but almost any idea can be massaged into a workable script with a lot of hard work. (Hard work: you’ll see that again.)
Maybe it’s a short film – there’s a great market for those in film festivals – or maybe you just haven’t explored everything you need for your full-length manuscript. Sounds too obvious, but really consider a short film: it takes skill to write a good short film and lots of filmmakers are looking for those.
Symptom: “I have all these ideas for a script, but I can’t tell which ones are worthwhile writing down?”
First, write them all down. Then, look at my previous articles. Then, write more, rewrite and rewrite and rewrite… Whether you have a series of ideas for one script or tons of ideas for different scripts, it will take time and a heck of a lot of effort to turn them into something good.
Symptom: “Do I have a plot? Does my story have enough depth?”
These tend to go together. Sometimes you just have to get to the end to figure that out. Sometimes, you can’t verbalize it, but it’s definitely in there, perhaps it just needs some more coaxing. Yes, and sometimes you miss the mark entirely. It needs to be looked at by several readers, I feel, to get a consensus of whether what you wanted to express exists or not. Whether you write “organically” and just let it all flow, or whether you meticulously map the script out, it is possible to miss the mark.
Symptom: “Damn, this writing thing is way too easy. I cranked out a draft in 6 hours. I’m ready to send this sucker out!”
Whoa, there, dude. First drafts are NEVER to be sent out to producers, actors, production companies, and the like. You have a good start, now do some major editing and have it go through readers, take their feedback, and revise again! Yes, the initial draft can just flood out of you in one incredible burst of creativity, feel privileged, but now step back and let your analytical side take over and turn it into something great.
Symptom: “I thought this would be so much easier…”
That is my main complaint and I’m leaving it for last. Why? Because writing isn’t easy. Yes, you can have some scenes that come together well or crank out a first draft in a day, but refining your manuscript into a good story is another tale entirely. And still there is not guarantee that it will be optioned. But, your perseverance in making your script better is what will separate the dedicated writer from the chaff. If you can’t let it go and you have to work on your script, have to finish it, must improve, must hone, must pefect, it won’t leave you alone – chances are you’re a writer! And if it turns out you’re not a good one, well, that’s something for which there is medicine!
Christine Autrand Mitchell was raised across four countries and splits her time between writing and filmmaking. She writes screenplays, fiction, non-fiction and plays, and is an editor and script analyst. She has credits as a Producer, Director and Casting Director, and heads Entandem Productions.
The fine folks at Script Pipeline are now offering a 10% entry discount for their 2013 Screenplay Competition when you enter TLL’s logline contest before their final deadline— May 1st! When you enter our logline contest, you’ll receive an email with a promo code to use to get the discount for Script Pipeline’s competition.
*Over $100,000 in cash & prizes*
*Winning script “Killing Season” releasing Fall 2013 w/De Niro, Travolta*
*$4 million in spec sales from Pipeline alumni*
Since 2003, the Script Pipeline competitions discover up-and-coming creative talent and connects the finalists with top production companies, agencies, and managers. This process has yielded remarkable breakthroughs for former finalists and has served as a valuable outlet for industry execs in need of new material and fresh voices.
“I’ve found amazing talent from the Script Pipeline competitions,” said Benderspink’s Jake Wagner. “I consider this contest FAR above the rest and have personally signed writers they’ve discovered, including Evan Daugherty (Snow White and the Huntsman).”
Evan’s 2008 Script Pipeline Contest-winning script Killing Season, starring Robert De Niro, finished production and will be released fall of this year.
Wagner also signed Jason Kaleko, last year’s Screenwriting Competition winner.
“Entering contests can sometimes feel like jettisoning one’s work into a faceless digital void,” said Kaleko. “With Script Pipeline, this couldn’t be further from the truth. From the personal call I received as a finalist to the career brainstorming and connections that they provide… Script Pipeline’s support for its entrants is simply amazing.”
The Script Pipeline team is looking forward to another huge season and eagerly awaits an anticipated 4,000+ entries certain to bring even more notable success stories.
(1) Grand Prize Winner
- $20,000 (screenwriting); $2,000 (TV writing)
- Direct circulation to companies in Script Pipeline’s industry network
- 1-on-1 consultation sessions with a development executive
- A seat to Script Pipeline’s Secret Door Pitchfest on August 3rd, 2013
Runners-up and finalists receive cash and other prizes. View complete list here.
Finalist judges include:
JC Spink - The Hangover, A History of Violence
Tripp Vinson - Journey to the Center of the Earth, The Rite
Jake Wagner - Benderspink
David Boxerbaum - Paradigm
Sean McKittrick - Donnie Darko
As always, new members to Script Pipeline’s Writers Database receive one FREE entry.
Other Script Pipeline contests and services:
Finalists, Feb/March, 2013
#TLLjournal || #feb #march || #finalists || #loglines
The prize-winning, top seven loglines are listed in order. The remaining finalists are listed in no particular order.
Logline: A charming Brit with the unfortunate habit of almost accidentally killing any woman he dates, struggles to therefore ask out the one true love who may finally break his curse. ‘They say you always hurt the ones you love, he just almost kills them.’
Screenplay title: Sorry, I Didn’t Mean To Kill You
-Finalist: Scriptapalooza 2012
-Quarter Finalist: PAGE International 2012
-Ridley Scott: “Incredibly beautiful visually” (of the screenplay “Enceladus”)
Written by: Chris J Simpson
Email: chris (at) the-simpson.tv
WGA Registration Number: 1503523/1519444
Logline: An embittered teenager is forced to run for his life after witnessing his dad killed at the orders of a radical geneticist, who, he soon discovers, is responsible for his very existence.
Screenplay title: Almost Genesis
Written by: Eve Morton
WGA Registration Number: 1635686
Logline: It’s Freaky Friday with a dog and a cat. After a body swap, a lovable but clumsy dog and an aloof but lithe house cat must learn to appreciate each other in order to compete in a dog agility competition and carry out a daring rescue mission at an unscrupulous puppy mill.
Screenplay title: The Pet Swap
-Semi-Finalist/International Family Film Festival
Written by: Emily Bukowski-Thall and Grace Bukowski-Thall
WGA Registration Number: I220329
Logline: Alex Murphy races against the lingering wane of a lunar eclipse to search for her stepbrother in the movies at the local theatre that have opened up as portals to the characters’ lives inside them, including the one that houses her worst fear.
Screenplay title: CandyCorn
Written by: Tricia White
WGA Registration Number: I245070
Logline: When a supercomputer enslaves a metropolis by manipulating medical devices and annihilates those who resist with its army, a droid captain learns the meaning of humanity as he helps a rebel free his people and avenge the murder of his father.
Screenplay title: Cities
Written by: Jim Jackson
WGA Registration Number: 1632817
Logline: When Harry Met Sally meets Taken. Mid-sixties and newlywed, a rugged geologist and a feisty journalist join forces to outwit an oil company conspiracy. When the conspirators trash his career and his wife is abducted, he begins a quest to find her and bring the conspirators to justice.
Screenplay title: With You I Will Dance
-Runner up/Script Vamp
-Winner/Acclaim Awards, for the feature HONOR SONG
-Finalist/Nicholl Fellowships, for the feature YONKHEER
Written by: Wendy Jane Henson & Michael F. Chase
WGA Registration Number: 1604713
Logline: “Salt” meets “Point of No Return”; A beautiful, timid, college coed, whose family was brutally murdered ten years ago, discovers the soul of a female assassin inhabiting her body. Now, as the same murderer returns, she must rely on the assassin within to save her life.
Screenplay title: Soul Survivor
-Semi-Finalist/2012 Outfest Screenwriting Contest, for the feature THE SCENT OF RED
-Round Two Finalist/2012 PAGE Int’l Screenwriting Awards, for the feature SCENT OF RED.
Written by: Eric W. Andersson
WGA Registration Number: 1625543
Logline: A damaged/defunct remote viewing team is called back into service to locate and rescue a kidnapped president. His extraction will require a dangerous paranormal trip through the ether before he and the psychic spy team members are eliminated.
Screenplay title: InSight
-Semi Finalist/Page International
Written by: Sam Mytys
WGA Registration Number: 1185803
Logline: An ex-trader and his family, fleeing the consumer world, join the micronation of Humility installed upon an old oil drilling platform. This small utopic state welcoming society’s most talented people soon spins out of control in a spiral of intrigue and violence.
Screenplay title: The 5th Nation
For the feature, THE ZONE:
-Semi finalist/Filmmakers Int’l Screenwriting Awards
-Honorable mention/Table read my screenplay
Written by: Mathieu Saliva
WGA Registration Number: 1633123
Logline: In this noir thriller, the lives of a social outcast, a mob assassin, a heroin-addicted prostitute and a detective battling his own demons, intersect in a dark, dismal city where the lines of morality and illusion blur and there is no escaping the damnation they create for themselves.
Screenplay title: The Darkest Corner
-Feature Screenplay, DEVIL’S PASS in development with Credence Talent
-Amazon Studio’s Contest Winner/for DEVIL’S PASS
-Feature Screenplay, THE HOUSE THAT EVIL BUILT, is in development with Gallagher Literary
Written by: Michael Coady
WGA Registration Number: 1633169
Logline: “Silence of the Lambs” meets “Queer as Folk”; A shy, reclusive artist is relentlessly stalked by a serial killer and struggles to save herself and those she loves from the terrifying murderer obsessed with the scent of her blood.
Screenplay title: The Scent of Red
-Semi-Finalist/ 2012 Outfest Screenwriting Contest
-Round Two Finalist/2012 PAGE Int’l Screenwriting Awards
Written by: Eric W. Andersson
WGA Registration Number: 1545315
Logline: XX a famous toon actor of the forties and his buddy partner, out of work, decide to be scanned in 3D. The scanning goes well but then happens something wrong. Will they get out of it with help of his friend Pete, grand-son of the detective who had once saved him?
Screenplay title: Who Scanned XX?
Written by: Jean-Marie MAZALEYRAT
WGA Registration Number: 1642374 – USCO case # 1-911996921
Logline: A woman who is sick of other people meddling in her love life decides to end the unwanted attention once and for all by taking her latest “soulmate” on the date from hell. But this guy proves to be a lot tougher to chase off than she expected.
Screenplay title: The Couple On The Top Of The Wedding Cake
Written by: Steven Guggenheimer
WGA Registration Number: 1639867
Logline: Finn thinks keeping his telepathic superpower a secret is his biggest problem—until he’s pulled into a paranormal mystery after hearing a girl’s voice through her used baseball glove. Tracking the girl down is more difficult than he thought because Finn discovers that Penelope is hidden behind a Cloak of Invisibility—and she’s not alone.
Screenplay title: Finn’s Super-Secret Summer Adventure
Written by: Leah Strange
WGA Registration Number: 1640000
Genre: Science Fiction
Logline: A teenage girl falls in love with a boy who crash lands on earth and possesses a device that accesses travel through the universe which others seek to control the planet.
Screenplay title: Starfighters
-Jury Award, Best Short Screenplay “Frontier Space”/University of Nevada Las Vegas Film Festival
Written by: Morgan Tegtow
WGA Registration Number: 1643104
Logline: A shady salesman approaches a female scientist on a Californian beach from which she is gathering evidence against his company’s planned resort. However his real intention becomes clear when asks for help to prevent a $175 million heist from a trade show that he is linked to. In return for her assistance he offers to stop the development of the resort.
Screenplay title: The Palms Backcast
Written by: Will Dixon
WGA Registration Number: 1633289
Logline: A lonely, isolated high school sophomore comes under the wing of the school rebel, who’s gradually revealed to be a manipulative sociopath with a vindictive agenda.
Screenplay title: The Student
Finalist/Creative World Awards
Semi-finalist/BlueCat, (2013, still running)
Written by: Augustus Rose
WGA Registration Number: 1445169
Logline: An incumbent Senator in his last campaign must face a formidable opponent in a debate over his commitment to his Pro Life stance; his Pastor. He must defend his faith while staying true to his conviction.
Screenplay title: The Pragmatist
Written by: Harold Henderson
WGA Registration Number: 1643350
Congrats to Stephen Ready & Tim Kozlenko who just signed with Credence Talent! Credence will be representing their script THE PRICE OF PROGRESS. Credence discovered Stephen and Tim’s script via TLL’s logline contest! Great work, guys.
Screenwriters attending Cannes, check out this great opportunity!
On Twitter: https://twitter.com/maisonscenarist