Screenwriting : How did you become a screenwriter? by Stevan Šerban

Stevan Šerban

How did you become a screenwriter?

How did you discover that you have a talent for writing the screenplays and not poetry, short stories or novels?

CJ Walley

I wouldn't say it was discovering a talent so much as discovering a passion. But basically, I had a mental breakdown and it stemmed from there.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Peter... There's that patronizing tone again. Careful.

Stevan Šerban

What about you, Beth?

Beth Fox Heisinger

Hi Stevan. I'm also an artist, a painter. I also worked for years in advertising /branding as a design director. So, I've always been a visual thinker -- having to construct something from a concept. Through work, I gained exposure to incredible writers and creative thinkers. Anyway, I have always loved film. I love to discuss it; talk about concepts and hidden meanings behind images. Several years ago, it dawned on me that screenwriting is visual, so I finally pushed aside my fears and gave it go. Serendipitously, my path crossed with an incredible woman -- a former Vice President of Development at United Artists -- who was giving a talk about screenwriting. I spoke to her afterwards and she offered to consult me with my script. After receiving incredible feedback from her, she became my mentor. Without her encouragement I don't know what would have happened. Now, I try to stay focused on moving forward. :)

Stevan Šerban

Hi Beth! Without this kind of support in industry writing screenplays is "mission impossible"!

Beth Fox Heisinger

Very true, Stevan! I was extremely lucky to have that encouragement in the very beginning.

Christopher Binder

When I was told to write a feature in college in one semester.

Robert Huerta

Sophomore year of high school after making shorts with friends. I liked writing short stories and movies so I figured I should write movies.

Kristopher Rickards

I fear that to truly answer this question would take a personal biography - as viewed through my own reality tunnel - going right back to my conception & birth. Part of my biography is the daily battle I have with my own over inflated ego. Fortunately for you, today is a day I'm in control and know I shouldn't go off on a self indulgent tale.

CJ Walley

There's a really interesting and relevant Stage 32 blog post that's worth reading: https://www.stage32.com/blog/Why-Career-Pivots-Are-More-Interesting-To-M... It seems that many of us have discovered screenwriting later in life as a surprise passion yet, when we reflect back, the desire to dream up stories has always really been there. Due to my issues with spelling and grammar, the idea of me trying to build a career in writing seemed absurd for decades. It was only once I was at my lowest that I turned to it.

CJ Walley

That's a masterclass on how much you can show in just 1min, Sam.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Love your one minute short, Sam!

Beth Fox Heisinger

CJ, I completely understand... Writing is truly hard for me too. Laborious. I never had much confidence with it. EVER. I felt I couldn't write, so why bother. I've always been better constructing concepts/communication through art or photography or by creating graphic symbols. It was only after I realized that screenwriting is truly visual writing that I changed my mindset. Had I not made that connection, I would have never made the leap.

Anthony Cawood

Cracking Sam!

Stevan Šerban

How do you handle the stringent requirements of the industry that strictly prescribe how good script should be written?

Mark Walker

I think some of my reasons stem from that self-inflated idea that "I could do that" when watching film after film after film. And then deciding to try and prove it! Like many, I've always loved film, but also had that nagging doubt that I am not good enough to do it. I guess a little later in life I just thought sod it, let's give it a go. I know (in hindsight) I should have started earlier in life, but we don't always really know what we want to do at 18. If I never manage to prove I can do it at least, on my death bed, I can say I tried, met lots of great, like-minded people and had fun doing it. (PS - if you DO know what you want to do with your life at 18, grab it with both hands just go for it!!!! There is plenty of time to sort it out if it doesn't work!!!!)

Tony Cella

Each type of writing involves a certain amount of formatting, even prose. Learning the proper margin size, level of description and such are part of paying dues. Once the writer proves they know the rules, I'm told, the industry offers more leeway to screenwriters. That or they go out on their own.

Trey Wickwire

I was a comic book writer with limited success, a few shorts published in anthologies. At a sci-fi convention I met a local film maker and we became good friends. He encouraged me to try my hand at film scripts since they were fairly similar to comic strips. I found I really enjoyed it and the opportunities were greater than in the comic industry so I made the switch. Now I'm a screenwriter with limited success, a few episodes in a Zombie web series and a freelance gig writing monologues for actor's demo reels.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Hey Stevan. I choose to think of "industry requirements" more as "industry guidelines." And, elements of screenwriting, like, formatting, structure, plot; I like to conceptually compare them to music composition with its notes, measures and keys. Music is highly structured in its creation and execution, and yet we have an infinite number of styles and varieties. It's learning how to use the tools of your craft. Formatting and structure are the notes of screenwriting, however it's the originality of the writer's voice that makes the script sing. :)

Anthony Cawood

I'd always loved movies, wrote reviews and had my own film fanzine (Subterrene) back in the day, I'd also written short stories in the past, publishing in small press magazines in the UK. 18 months ago I got the urge to bring both passions together and try my hand at writing movies. I started with an adaptation of one of my short stories and found I really liked the process and was actually better with scripts than normal fiction (imho). That first short has been purchased for adaptation into a feature and I've sold/optioned another ten short scripts and had three made so far... Only wish I'd have tried writing scripts sooner!

Stevan Šerban

There is a big difference between European film and Hollywood industry. I live in Europe, but I want to write for Hollywood. I have success in several competitions in the USA. Of course I know how to write a screenplay, I am a 52 year old and I wrote a bunch of screenplays for radio, TV, comics and stage plays in my country. For the last couple of years for which I wrote several screenplays adapted to all requirements of the Hollywood industry, I realized that one thing is to write a good script and quite another is to sell it.

Stevan Šerban

About selling a script. It is like Catch 22, you can be sent home from the battlefield if you're crazy, but if you ask them to send you home you are not crazy. Not one agent will take to represent an unknown writer, but if you're famous writer you do not need an agent?

Kristopher Rickards

The problem with the formatting is that different studios have different specifications, from the margin indents to line breaks before a SLUGLINE. There are specific screenwriting programs available which allow you to chose who you are wring for, whether it be a BBC TV sitcom or Warner Bros.

Brett Ihaka

My first stories reflected my life and a time came along when I decided that writing them as movies would be way cool.

Lisa Clemens

I used to write fiction for fun and for friends and I did enjoy it, but while I was writing reviews and doing interviews for a magazine, I was able to interview Andy Cheng, we became good friends and a few years later when he was in need of a writer, he asked me to give it a try and it turns out I'm pretty good at it! I've always loved movies and how they are made so combining fiction with film making was a great fit for me!

Becky Fink

I tried every other kind of writing first, never even considering screenwriting even though I love movies and everything about them. I guess I just thought I didn't have a shot at making it to the big time if I didn't move to L.A. I had just moved to Utah right before the Oscars. I was unemployed and I drove down to L.A. to just be there in all the craziness, hoping to catch some of the inspiration and talent floating around in the air. When I got back to Utah, I taught myself how to write a screenplay, and I haven't looked back since. I think screenwriting came along at the exact right time for me. Now I don't feel like I'm writing aimlessly, just trying to find my place. I think I've found it.

Tsara Shelton

I have no talent for writing screenplays, and am most certainly a novel writer at my core. But for some reason the first thing I ever completely wrote, beginning to end, was a feature film. And because all of my sons love the film business, I figured I'd learn a bit more about screenwriting so we could be learning together. To be honest, once I started to know more about screenwriting I realized it would be way easier to start a new script than to edit the one I'd already written. Especially since my movie wants to break almost all of the rules of screenwriting! But, I also really liked it, as did quite a few others, so I've done my best. I've written one spec script, and doubt I'll write others, but I'm having fun sharing what I've learned with my boys! They plan on writing many!! RANDOM ADDITION: I'm so much more a novelist than screenwriter that I even planted the concept for a series of books I'm going to write into my movie. Or rather, the movie planted an idea in me for a series of short novels I'm going to write. I'm not sure who did the planting! tee hee!

Jisen John Ho

I always loved stories. I read vociferously as a child, books that I didn't even understand: Moby Dick, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, etc., I forgot about for a few years but then realized after I started my career (in a non-creative field) that I wanted to be a writer. I honestly started screenwriting because I thought it would be easier than novel writing. Of course as I've found out, it's very challenging as well. Still though, it's creating stories that drives me. Also, I think poetry is different from short story, novel or screenwriting. It's more about the words than the story. I never had any real interest in poetry.

Shari D. Frost

I started out as a playwright (still am!) and tackled my first screenplay in grad school. Though I've always loved watching, analyzing and discussing films, for some reason I hadn't thought about writing one. But I realized, through the process, that I love exploring and telling all kinds of stories. What some of you view as rules or requirements, I kind of see as tools in my tool box for telling different stories than I can tell on stage.

Richard Allis

By sticking with it for a decade and a half before realizing I could write decent dialogue. My visuals may still need work.

Steven Fussell

Met a producer at a film festival. I asked him what advice he had for an aspiring writer. He simply said, "Do you have a script?" It was like a kick in the guts. I knew I had missed an opportunity. 6 months later I have a script. I'm about to start my second script, and hope to have two ready for the film festival... in case he looks at my first one and says "Do you have another script?"

Siegal Annette

I started at 60.liked reading and movies all my life. Went to 3 years school of cinema and sript writing.Started writting 2 scripts under the supervision of a script doctor:2 modern versions of biblical stories.I was a finalist of2014 Creative World Awards contest and failed at 5 others but always with excellent reviews of the juges! I am most probably a good writer but so far didn't sell.meanwhile produced and wrote a short documentary.Thinking of turning the scripts into novels and self publishing them.Started a project of teaching Talmud to kids with animation shorts before and after the lesson turning this ancient quite dificult often boring teaching into a nowday adventure.Look around you !there are lots of stories and projects for us to write and enjoy doing.

Gordon Milburn

it all Started when I was: Down 'n' Out in Paradise; Unemployed, 3 kids, the local DJ's announced that Hollywood had run out of stories, they were going to make a movie of the Flintstones. Desperation or Ego, still not sure, but I thought, "#*:! I can do that". So I wrote, pen to paper, literally, and it was enlightening, therapeutic even. It gave me a voice. So here i am, you can do the maths, still banging away and still loving it.

Tsara Shelton

Okay, I just gotta say, what a fun question!!! I haven't read all of the answers yet, but the ones I have peeked at are full of bravery, conflict, growth, and characters I care about!! The world is a wonderful mess of stories!!!! Thanks for asking us to share, Stevan!!!!

Marty Mcmasters

I've always had a very vivid imagination and knew at a very young age I wanted to be in the business. I didnt know exactly what I wanted to do so I just decided that I'd be an auteur, and said those very words to my professor in college. When I did, he gave me a scholarship just for saying it. lol. My writing then got me a couple more scholarships and then on the Deans list. Still, at that time I wasn't confident enough in my talent. I even moved to back to North Carolina and had a few teleplays that I'd pitched to a couple of studios. One producer even went as far as to say that a script I'd written entitled Heart Break Rd., could very well take over Dawson's Creek which, if my memory serves was being shot in Wilmington at the time. I didnt pursue it, because quite frankly, it scared the hell out of me. I was in no way prepared for that. I even worked for another television studio for six years, got an agent and had four of my scripts produced and aired regionally over a pretty large footprint across the east coast. And believe it or not, I still wasnt convinced I had the stuff even though I received enormous praise. A few years later I moved to Washington state and got published with a book me and a friend worked on together. But it was a short story I submitted to the publisher to make that happen. lol. And yes! I still wasnt quite sure I had the stuff. Truth of it, it has only been recently that I've decided to believe in my writing and go for it, all the way. Figured, "If I didnt believe in me, it didnt matter who else did." So I began working from the inside out, drowning out those negative voices in my head and creating scripts with a belly full of belief. Just a mere five months ago I created a full feature screenplay that's currently being reviewed by two studios and was hired for a pretty hefty sum of money to work on another big project for a client in L.A. Belief can be a wonderful thing.....;)

Niksa Maric

Sam, that 1 minute was really good.

C.J Fischer

I've been writing for as long as I can remember. It started out with writing terrible little stories in my notepad to school, and it has snowballed since that. I always knew that I was going to stroll down the creative path career-wise, but I didn't always know that I wanted to be a screenwriter. I was more worried about which job would be the most secure and make me the best money; which pushed my creative instincts aside. I later realised that it isn't all about "job security" and leading a simple 9-5 life. That life just isn't for me.

Cherie Grant

I don't think people write screenplays because they have discovered a talent, more a desire or preference. Mine was a roundabout way. I wanted to be an actress, but I didnt want to wait for someone to approve of me at an audition so I decided putting no an original play myself would be proactive. There's a local Fringe festival that accepts anyone so I had a venues to choose from. I advertised at a city uni campus for a co-writer and a man who just finished the screenwriting course replied and we deicded to do something. it ends u he worked as a graphic designer at Australian Broadcasting Corporation and when we finished the script he thought it was more suitable for TV so with his access to the station and offices he dropped it off at the head of department of comedy on a friday, we got a call on monday to meet her on wednesday. she was impressed though our idea wasn't what she was looking for. she told us we could write for tv and she'd remember our names and she gave us some ideas to go away with and develop. my cowriter became too busy with work as there were staff cutbacks and he couldnt write anymore so what we developed fell to the wayside and as i didnt have a computer or know how to format an opportunity was lost for us both. i decided to apply for a writing diploma course and got in and did my two years and have been slowly slogging away, but far too slowly. now i should be doing something right now instead of writing here. see ya.

Edith Woi

I was telling a bit too much for novels...I hope no so much for screenplays :-)

Alan Taylor

Most good screenwriters are also adapt at the novel. After all, that is what creates the market in the first instance and reduces the risk for the producers. See GONE GIRL.

Cali Gilbert

After successfully publishing six books (four of which are bestsellers), I wanted to grow as a writer and reach a larger audience. Screenwriting seems to be the best option as I see things quite visually and eager to learn a new style of writing.

Brad Harrod

Late night conversation at a diner during that period of your life when you should be in college. We were discussing how there were no good movies out and we should write our own. So I did. With no idea of what I was doing or what I was writing. Been writing ever since that night.

Niksa Maric

Speaking of novels and books. Don't you need a written contract or permission from the author or his living relatives to write a script based on published book. Unless it's 70 or more years old. I do remember RB mentioning this in one of his webinar's, November or December last year.

Donny Broussard

You need a contract and an option on novels, books, comics, etc. If you didn't write it, then you need to go through the proper legal channels before adapting the work.

Niksa Maric

I know that Donny, but most times when you read on this subject, people are under impression or think they can just walk into library and pick anything of the shelf. Maybe they don't mean that but that's how it sounds like when you read it.

Donny Broussard

It's a common problem with young writers. I'd say just start out with your own original material unless you're willing to pay to adapt someone else's IP.

Siegal Annette

I'm old and agree with you Donny.The best and the easier is to start with original material per exemple you just met an homeless under you balcony, gave him a dollar and he will propose to you in exchange something you have never thought of...and your life....will...change...feel like.. Put what you can in this story.It could be the best first script ever written.good.continuation.

Richard Allis

I don't see why you can't adapt anything if it's just for your personal practice. Just don't try to sell any of it without securing necessary permission.

Niksa Maric

I think any of us can take any book and write a script if you know how, you're right, it is a good practice but who can spend months on writing something and then start asking for permissions, lawyers, authors.

Donny Broussard

You can do it for learning purposes, of course.

Cynthia Hochhalter

Movies and television have always been a medium I loved since I was a kid. Writing was a natural byproduct for the creative aspects, but I was immature and hadn't done much living or studying of the human condition. I then traveled around the world, met fascinating people, had unique experiences (both good and bad), and matured both in thought and emotion. Novel writing has never held my attention and I struggle with prose. I love seeing what I write come together in my head as if it were a film. I love plotting with unique and very real people (because that's what characters are to me) and watching them grow from awful or fantastic situations. To me, movies aren't just a story. They are an experience, visually, emotionally and intellectually. I've always been passionate about this medium (much to my family's dismay) and now that I'm older, lived a little, I feel that I have a lot to say using screenwriting to express it all. I apologize for being so wordy, but it's not often I express how I feel about film and television. Thank You.

Shari D. Frost

OMG, Cynthia Hochhalter, were we separated at birth? :)

Cynthia Hochhalter

LOL. Could be! I just read your bio. Fantastic!

Shea Christian Reinke

I have always been a scenario creator and world builder because I am a story play conductor ( DM / D&D ). When I was very young a teacher asked me if I could write a play for the other students to perform. I based it on Greek Myth. Other than that play I only ever idely blogishly spent time toying with a play concept without quite putting any finishing notes onto the idea. Then, one day I was getting onto an airplane and I snapped up a legal rule flip top steno pad. I wasnt even certain what I was going to do with it. As I sat with the pad on the tray table the plane began to liftoff and I decided to try playing with a TV show idea that had been hiding somewhere in the bucket of a million wishes that is my to do list. The first episode was half done when the plane hit the ground. By the time of the return trip I had almost a dozen episodes. I got arrested and wrote five episodes in jail. For the next year I continued to work and work and the episodes kept coming and coming and then I had a full season and a fistfull of spinoff concepts.

Kiriakos Kanellos

Since the moment I wrote down my first short story. At first it was not in the form of screenplay but as I wrote it down, I found out that I was describing cinematic moments. Then I found out that I needed to design a scene so that the words I wrote to be completed. I am very new to this experience but in 3 years I managed (with friends alongside) to write two shorts (one is going to be shot in Autumn 2015) and a feature film script that has a positive response.

Shane M Wheeler

Wrote short stories primarily for my own joy for years. Economic slump, unemployed, I started attempting to write professionally in an altered market (pre-amazon self publish), got nowhere. Finally found a job on a boat, had too much spare time, began writing a screenplay idea I'd had for years with zero idea what to do with it. Then I wrote a novel which let me realize how much more I like writing screenplays. Around the fifth or so screenplay, figured I might have a knack for it.

Stevan Šerban

Are you satisfied with your writing or you think you can do it better?

Donny Broussard

There's always room to do better and learn more.

Shane M Wheeler

If you're not constantly improving, you're probably falling behind someone who is. "Perfection is a road, not a destination."

Cynthia Hochhalter

I'm not sure I can call myself a writer if I'm not striving to be better.

Lisa Clemens

I'm never satisfied. It's why I like to go back over some early spec scripts I have, when I have time, and rework them to improve what I can. Having an experienced mentor who is sometimes tough on me and never seems satisfied either, has pushed me to demand better of myself as well.

Niksa Maric

Lisa Clemens, the method you're describing sounds good. You should go over your script a few times and improve it. Your mentor should tell or give you advice how to improve it but if you constantly keep changing your script, it will become something else, a new script. At one point in all this re-writing process, your script is ready. Once you sign any form of SALE contract, the director or someone in that category should give you a few pointers to make it final. I don't think there are any PERFECT SCRIPTS on the market, there never were. Re-writing something over and over easily tuns into OVERKILL. I always read my scripts over and over, I don't have a mentor but when I read a part of the script, visualize it, and if it looks okay, that's it, no more changes. Again, I could be wrong about all of this but that's how it is for me.

Lisa Clemens

No I don't obsess and go over it again and again. To be more clear, I have taken some of my early scripts from when I first started, looked them over (and usually thought- wow what was I thinking! I have come a long way haha!) and make it better. I think I'm picky and self critical of my spec scripts because they are my own ideas and written on my own time. Writing for others, I'm more likely to be less self critical or second guess myself! I do take notes from my mentor since I do a lot of writing with and for him. And on the ones I have been paid to write, I always welcome notes that help improve the script but that doesn't mean I bend immediately to what the director or producer sees as a possible improvement. For instance I have a script that takes place in the early 60s and a suggestion involved adding "hippy" dialog. Once I proved that Hippy speak in the early 60s was not appropriate, we moved on. Another time I was writing a fight scene and a suggestion made would have made the audience feel cheated out of some action and gone straight to the resolution. So I explained how I felt and once it was discussed, I came up with an even better idea than I had originally which made both of us happy!

Jynnette Lewis

I started with a challenge posed by a friend of mine. She told me about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) which happens every Nov. We were interested in writing screenplays but we still used the system and momentum to join in. I was finally able to complete a script I'd been avoiding for years! HA! That experience opened the floodgates and inspired me to do another 30 day challenge to write a low budget feature. I accomplished that goal and am now in the process of making it as a first-time director. I cast one of my actors is from Stage 32 and just realized recently that my DP is also in my network (I had NO idea when I interviewed him! LOL!). I'm set to launch my crowdfunding campaign this week. Check out my profile for details. I appreciate your support in this crazy adventure!

Stevan Šerban

Who is you favorite screenwriter?

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