Bullet Proof Pages

Posted by Shawn Speake
2006. I'm a radio air-personality at POWER 92FM in Richmond, Virginia when it happens: American Idol comes to town. One of my best friends auditions for the show, and he's voted to the next round. For Elliott Yamin, the rest is history. My boy placed third. There's nothing like seeing your friend on TV. "Surreal" doesn't do it justice. The energy of Elliott's story inspires me in a life-changing way. I must tell the story that has to be told. I devour every screenwriting book on the shelf for 3 years.

March 25, 09, at 12:19 AM I send my first script, EGOIC - what a horrible title - to Hollywood. I'm psyched. My very first coverage is a sit-down with the legendary Syd Field. Really. And I paid for it. But I'd thought, if Syd loves my story, all the doors in Hollywood will magically open for me! That didn't happen. And I realized as much as I loved sitting with Syd in his backyard talking craft, I should have taken that money and gotten like another fifty-eleven coverages!

My lesson with Syd begins a fascination with coverage and being a master storyteller. I believe we need a mentor to make it in this trade. Syd helped me become a man in the screenplay game; part of me wants to be like him. Love ya, Syd.

My plan for going pro is simple. Each month I have four weekly goals: Act 1, Act 2a, Act 2b, and Act 3. I write a new version every month. There's a huge difference in working on a story all year long in your head or getting feedback on a new version every month. Which script do you want to read at the end of the year?

2012 - I complete The Mission, my 6th script. I shoot it to Scriptapalooza, Scriptcoverage.com, and WILDsound. By this time, I've gotten double-digit coverages - plus Scriptapalooza did me a big favor by kicking me in the ass with their notes on action stacking and compression.

2014 - After eight years of studying the craft of screenwriting and the art of storytelling, I'm ready to network my brand. I join STAGE 32. I post Kingstown.
I post monthly revisions. Why? I know Back to the Future went back to Hollywood 40 times for notes before being accepted. Toy Story 3 went through 60 re-writes. If that's what's up with the big dogs, that's what's up with me.

Money is tight now - forced to save for coverage. I enter a 3-page challenge for free coverage, my first 3-page critique. I had no clue how bullet-proof the first 3 had to be. Wow! I learn the hard way you can judge a script by its first page. In 3 pages, you can see what a writer is all about - from beginning, to middle, to end. I'm blown away.

This October 28, I finish my latest thriller, The Dead Ones, and, inspired by RB in a webinar about power networking and giving back, I post. Extra, extra! Table reads of your first 3 on me! Only trying to spread the love. That's all. In the next seven days, I review six screenplays. I use critical analytical skills to evaluate and approach the writer on their level. No talking down. And no need to talk advanced techniques if there are more urgent issues. Most people enjoy just hearing their dialog read aloud. It's fun! And it's more personable. Like when Syd spoke to me.

I try to see what the writer needs most for the next rewrite. That's all - nothing overwhelming. Just solid advice for the next version of their story. Coverages range, but my reference source stays the same: The Screenwriter's Bible. Current market specifications mostly. Suggestions vary: -- Let's talk Master Scene Headings.
-- How you built your beats. Your story-world.
-- Let's talk widows in your direction/description/action. -- Are you familiar with absolute present tense?
-- Let's talk dramatic intensity, writing for the big screen. -- Are you familiar with compression?
-- Are you aware your pagination is off?
-- Let's talk dialogue. Have you read this aloud?

The first 3 pages are a clear demonstration of our abilities as writers and story builders, by far the most important pages. Actually, the first page...
Think about two homes, side by side. One is a mansion built from stone. Beside it, a trailer with aluminum siding. In the stone home, drapes decorate the window. In the trailer, crushed Budweiser cans fill the window seal. Now... without entering either home, which house needs the carpet vacuumed?

Just like that, a storyteller/storybuilder spots advanced techniques, strong sentences, or stones. In the same manner, he observes poor storytelling techniques, weak sentences, or crushed Budweiser cans in the window seal.

The first page does say it all. When Jack asked me to blog, I asked him if he was sure he had the right guy. No story sold here, yet. My characters are not where they need to be, yet. I'm just an obsessed storyteller in his 9th year who hopes to be an “overnight success story” in fifteen years. Jack assured me there were writers who could benefit from my experience. 'Nuff said. It's an honor, dude!
So... Extra, extra! Are you rockin' bullet-proof pages?
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