The LAST BOOK you will EVER need on how to write a short screenplay!
This is a SNEAK PEEK on Norith Soth’s latest book on how to write a short script, available now.
In 1998, I was on a panel with five filmmakers who had made $10,000 films…
At this time, making a film for 10k was considered next to impossible. And worse, it made no business sense; only Robert Rodriguez had achieved the impossible with his 7k action film, “El Mariachi,” getting studio distribution and launching a career; otherwise this was a doomed notion.
This was before HD, before it was respectable to shoot on video, before iPhone cameras (hell, before cell phones and email became a normal part of existence). I was one of the naïve directors who, against all logic, borrowed and begged money to buy and develop 16mm film – to over the course of years, achieve the completion of his or her first film; on film, no less.
Our debuts were pretty similar, most in black and white with bad sound, experimental storytelling, and years of labor; what we had in common was that the desire to do it.
Of the filmmakers on the panel, I can only name one film you may or may not recognize (that filmmaker was timid and didn’t speak much). When the panel descended to the last question, via a woman who paid to attend it, it was something along the lines of, “what do you think making this film will do for you?”
Strangely, none us could answer. There was a fog of silence in the room, like we had all been caught doing something wrong. We knew it was a positive experience, but we were tongue tied. We had all been too obsessed to consider this end game? That it could all amount to nothing. What did we expect from our films?
One of the filmmakers may have replied that he didn’t know, but he was glad he did it. The panel ended very negatively, dissolving into a cautionary tale rather than the inspiring exhibition of filmmakers IFP West had promised.
Like Jason Alexander in “Seinfeld”, only an hour went by before I had an entire soliloquy in my head about how making my film was the greatest experience, blah, blah, blah, and only good things had come out of doing it. I have since fantasized professing a Malcolm X-like inspirational speech about the creative empowerment of doing your own production. Everyone applauds in the end. They leave determined to make their own 10k movie. In reality, it was the worse ending to a film-making panel I had ever been a part of, either as audience or speaker. It was dreary and grim.
My film did get distribution; two midnight screenings at Laemmle’s Sunset 5, one screening at Panavision in Tarzana. Today, “Beyond The Screen Door,” an adaption of Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis,” is available on DVD through Pathfinder Pictures and on streaming via Fandor.
I never made my money back. The film did not launch my career, but neither did it end it. I continued making films either as a writer, producer or director and today, my job is mainly that of a professional screenwriter. I can say, without being full of crap, that I aim paid to write scripts (I will elaborate on this later). Did making “Beyond” help me in anyway? Sure, every experience builds, especially the first. I can’t honestly answer how, but it did. However, that question, “what do you think making this film will do for you?” is today the seminal question before embarking on any film-making adventure. The proper translation being the ever-parental question, “how do you expect to make money from this Endeavor?” This was the smoking gun. It was perfect. And the answer was actually right in front of the woman who asked it. The problem was, like many things in life, it would not be answered until a later time. Two years, to be exact.
Remember the timid filmmaker? The director of the film you may or may not recognize?
Title of that guy’s film was “Following” (made for 6k, filmed in black and white, fractured storytelling, and years of labor). Two years later, this guy made a movie called “Memento” and five years after that, “Batman Begins.” In the 17 years since that panel, Chris Nolan successfully launched his career as a result of making his cheap, 16mm movie – most recently, with his 200 million opus, “Interstellar”.
Nolan was one of the six filmmakers in the panel – and the straw that broke the camel’s back. The perfect role model, answering loud and clear the question, “what do you think making this film will do for you?”
With “Memento”, the Camelot of micro-budget bull rushed into the new millennium. With the advent of HD, people now believed they could make a really cheap movie and succeed in Hollywood… and as it was said in the Old Testament, “this was good.” Even established directors like Richard Linklater, Brian De Palma and particularly Steven Soderbergh got into the mix. Why do I bring up this story about feature films in relation to the short screenplay book in your hands?
Because, in 1998, there was no model, and very little financial motivation, for making a $10,000 film in 16mm; that model eventually materialized. Much like short films today.
There isn’t a clear path to making an income from shorts, there isn’t the proper distribution and so on – but there will be. How do I know this? Supply and demand. Simple as that. We like our stories short. We watch films on tablets, just as our children watch cartoons on tablets. Hollywood films average two and half hours, not including commercials, and many of us don’t have that kind of time or money to burn. The price of a movie ticket goes up every year, whereas the quality of story lessens every year. The “virtual campfire,” the place where we find out stories, are mostly on the web. YouTube, Vimeo, Netflix, Fandor, HULU, etc.
This is where the New Chris Nolan will emerge,
a director of rich, engaging short films that enriches audiences worldwide. His films will be 45 minutes in length, properly financed, cast with major actors, written by major writers. His works will be anticipated. His stories will be talked about and emulated. The New Chris Nolan could be you. How do I know this? Because the New Chris Nolan has not emerged yet, therefore it could be any of you.
The only thing in your way is not money, not resources, but a story, a short screenplay. A blueprint that represents your vision, your point of view in sound and picture. You have often fantasized the events, the characters, what they say, what they wear, the music they hear, the architecture they see. You just don’t know how to harness it, control it, tame it on paper.
How do I know this? People hire me to write their shorts almost everyday. The most common phrase I hear is, “I have the idea, I just don’t know how to write it.” The second most is, “I want to make a short, I just don’t know what to make.”
This book was written to free you from the false notion that you “don’t know” how to design your short screenplay. By the end of this book, you will be very aware that you are in control of your film-making destiny. The decision to make your short, to determine if you are the Next Chris Nolan, will come down to one single person – you!