Monday, August 7, 2017

Screenwriter Robert Gosnell ~ Rule Number One: Beware of Rules

Hi Guys, this post made me laugh but think as well.  
There are a million rules out on.

In the first major screenwriting class I took, the instructor insisted that the first act of a screenplay must end on page 30. Not around page thirty, not give-or-take, but on page 30.

So, that's what I did. I ended the first act of every spec screenplay I wrote on page 30. The trouble was, sometimes my first act didn't want to end on page 30, and conforming to that was often a source of frustration.

That frustration led me to do some research. I got my hands on a few produced scripts and timed some successful films and discovered the fatal flaw of this rule. A fast-paced, 90 minute romantic comedy might have a 20 minute first act, while a longer, more involved drama with complex characters and subplots might require a 40 minute first act. It isn't determined by page length, it is determined by the story.

Another rule, one which I've heard many times, recently resurfaced in a conversation.

Voice-over narration is death!

Only amateurs do it. A script with voice-over narration will be instantly rejected. Show, don't tell!

I fact-checked that one, too. It didn't take long to find evidence to the contrary.

Okay, we don't want a screenplay that reads like a 1950's wildlife documentary, with all of the action being described off screen, but many notable films have employed voice-over narration to great effect. "To Kill A Mockingbird," "Sunset Boulevard," "Forrest Gump," "Apocalypse Now" and "The Wolf of Wall Street" all relied heavily on it, and it seems to me, those films did okay.

There are a number of hard-and-fast rules to the screenplay form,  but different methods from different instructors create new rules, some of which are debatable. Understand that they are teaching you how they write a screenplay, not necessarily how to write a screenplay.

I have a personal hard-and-fast rule of my own: Never kill the dog.

That one can likely be debunked, too, with a little research, but I can't help it. I've never forgiven Disney for Old Yeller. (LA here, neither has my husband and I refuse to watch it.)

A comic friend of mine once enlightened me with this advice:

"Bob, what's the most important rule of screenwriting?"

"I don't know, John, what is the most important rule of screenwriting?"

"Number your pages."

There's a rule you can take to the bank.

~ Robert

"The Blue Collar Screenwriter and The Elements of Screenplay" is currently available at:
Amazon digital and paperback
Find Robert at:
Website (with information on classes)

A  professional screenwriter for more than thirty years,  Robert Gosnell has produced credits in feature films, network television, syndicated television, basic cable and pay cable, and is a member of the Writers Guild of America, West and the Writers Guild of Canada.

Robert began his career writing situation comedy as a staff writer for the ABC series Baby Makes Five.  As a freelance writer, he wrote episodes for Too Close for Comfort and the TBS comedies Safe at Home andRocky Road.  In cable, he has scripted numerous projects for the Disney Channel, including Just Perfect, a Disney Channel movie featuring  Jennie Garth. In 1998, he wrote the  Showtime original movie, Escape from Wildcat Canyon, which starred Dennis Weaver and won the national "Parents Choice Award." Robert's feature credits include the Chuck Norris/Louis Gosset Jr. film Firewalker, an uncredited rewrite on the motion picture Number One With A Bullet starring Robert Carradine and Billy Dee Williams, and the sale of his original screenplay Kick And Kick Back to Cannon Films. Robert was also selected as a judge for the 1990 Cable Ace Awards, in the Comedy Special category.

In 1990, Robert left Hollywood for Denver, where he became active in the local independent film community. His screenplay Tiger Street was produced by the Pagoda Group of Denver and premiered on Showtime Extreme in August of 2003. In 1999, Denver’s Inferno Films produced the action film Dragon and the Hawk from his script. In 2001, Robert co-wrote the screenplay for the independent feature Siren for Las Vegas company Stage Left Productions. His feature script Juncture was produced by Front Range Films in March of 2006. 

Robert  is a principal member of the Denver production company "Conspiracy Films." He is frequently an invited speaker for local writers organizations,  served on the faculty of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference in 2002, and in 2007 was chosen to participate as a panelist for the Aspen Film Festival Short Screenplay Contest. Robert regularly presents his screenwriting class "The Elements of Screenplay," along with advanced classes and workshops, in the Denver area.

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