Screenwriting Expo runs through Sunday, October 18, at The Wilshire Grand Hotel in Los Angeles. What better time to talk about screenwriting! Authors Mario Moreno and Anthony Grieco speak with Write On! about their new book. The Pocket Screenwriting Guide: 120 Tips for Getting to FADE OUT, published by The Writers Store, is an invaluable resource for outlines, treatments, rough drafts, and rewrites.
Mario and Anthony are Story Specialists and Instructors for The Writers Store and Writers University, as well as emerging Hollywood screenwriters. Mario has written more than a dozen feature film scripts and has pitched executives at Paramount, Warner Brothers, Fox, Disney, Universal and Sony. Anthony has completed nine feature film scripts, with two optioned and one recently sold.
Why did you start screenwriting?
Mario: I always wanted to be a filmmaker and writing is an essential piece of the process; if you know how to tell a story, you can take a little more control of your destiny.
Anthony: The first movie I ever saw was Jaws when I was ten years old, and I couldn’t get it out of my head. I knew I wanted to have that same effect on audiences some day.
How did the book come about?
It was a happy accident. There were no plans for a book. We were creating tips to go in an upcoming online screenwriting program for The Writers Store named Screenwriting Pro. One tip was supposed to be on each page, to mirror the length of a screenplay and keep you going, almost like prizes you unlock in a video game. When we looked at the master file for the tips, we realized we had the content worthy of a book.
What was your process writing it?
Most of it was done while we were both working on our own scripts, respectively, and consulting clients through the Story Specialist Program at The Writers Store. Anything that came up that was useful, we put in, along with tips we had amassed through the years via classes, favorite writing theories, established screenwriters, and current mentors. Since we spend a lot of time in the same environments and workshops, we had the luxury of discussing many of the things we both deem crucial to the craft.
How was writing the book different than—or similar to—writing a screenplay?
A script is harder. But everything has a structure, including this book. The goal was to have many of the tips, especially those relating to plot and story, be ordered in a fashion that would mirror their place within a 120 page screenplay. For instance, a tip on story set-up would be found within the first 15 pages of our book. Random tips also found their place, often showing up when you need them most, like subplots.
How is this book different from other screenwriting books?
Well, it’s shorter, inspired by the look and efficiency of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style. This really is the one book you can keep in your pocket. It also has a lot of tips we haven’t seen in any other book—and we’ve read most of them. Much of it is the intangible information that you only learn by pushing yourself to be the best you can, and learning from the mistakes you’ve made along the way. One thing that we’re really proud of is the “aka” inserts after many of the biggest beats; we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel here, but we think learning so much terminology can slow a writer’s progress, especially when they keep having to learn the same thing by various names, one per every screenwriting book. We collected and list the most popular and currently used names … right beneath the new names we gave them.
What are the three most important bits of advice you’d like people to take from the book?
Everyone is talking about the same structure; they’re just using different names. Know that, and accept that it’s okay because structure is organic. The human brain thinks in terms of beginning, middle, and end. We need to wrap our heads around the organic nature of the whole thing, so we can focus on the really hard stuff like character and theme.
Finish the rough draft and go from there. Too many people give up before they complete the first pass because they realize writing is harder than it looks. There’s nothing worse than quitting and missing out on the euphoria of finishing a draft of something that you created out of thin air.
Also, rewriting is where you really define yourself as a writer—the tips in this book can help any writer improve any script. And any improvement is worth it.
What is your favorite part about being a writer? The greatest challenge?
Mario: I love most of it. I love movies and I’m fascinated by screenplays, their blueprints. What better craft than one where you watch movies for research, read great scripts for inspiration, and work with other artists to create something from nothing. Making a living from it is the biggest challenge. If more writers had access to the information that crosses our paths working at The Writers Store, they’d know that to make a living you really have to work harder than hard and be better than good.
Anthony: I find storytelling a gift. It’s how we communicate our myths, our histories, our futures, and try to make sense of our lives. To me, that’s why it’s just as important as any basic human need. The challenge of storytelling lies completely in its execution. That’s where craft and imagination meet, and they don’t always get along.
Additional advice for writers?
Write the script you’d write if you had six months to live. Everything can be taught except “voice”—the unique passion and world-view each writer brings to the table. If you follow your passion, the scripts will always be rich with emotion and readers will feel it and become fans. Selling a spec is like winning the lotto. But a great writing sample can get you work for years.
What do you know now that you wish you knew at the beginning of your career?
Everything we put in this book.
Tags: Anthony Grieco Author Q&A Mario Moreno Screenwriting ScreenwritingPro The Elements of Style The Writers Store