Part 1 (rework)

Art Holcomb and Steven Barnes


The Machine for Screenwriters

A 21st Century approach

Part 1

The Statistics

  • 95% of all screenwriters will never finish the work they begin.
  • Of the 5% left, 95% will never polish their script or properly submit to get it considered by a script reader.
  • Of the 5% left, 95% won’t get past the script reader – the quality won’t be high enough.
  • And of the last 5 %, over 95% will not get to the “right producer”.

Why The Failure?

  • The Script Reader decides if it is a Pass /Fail Grade – this is true of Hollywood, Bollywood or BBC.
  • The dichotomy between creative process and the editing process is insufficiently understood.
  • The primary cause of writer’s block – the creative process and the editing process are at odds.

Function of a Screenplay

  • A novel is a direct conversation with the reader.
  • But the screenplay is a different creature because it’s really a blueprint – something to inspire and be shared between all the creative people who will make the screenplay happen.
  • The different gate keepers – from agent to script reader – locate scripts suitable for a producer to make.
  • Depending on the level of the writer, a script might go from agent to Script Reader or in reverse, from Script Reader to producer.
  • A good script reader will outline the strengths and weakness of a screenplay.
  • Producer – Director – Actor. All links in a chain, and all are looking for that emotional connection with the script.
  • The average script might be read by 50-100 people in the process of bringing it to life.
  • Your job as a screenwriter is to inspire the script reader or agent.
  • Producers and agents, once engaged, will guide the re-write process. For all practical purposes, no scripts are “shot as written” by a Hollywood outsider.
  • Start with something you are deeply passionate about. Without passion, you will never survive the re-write process.
  • You want every reader to be emotionally involved. This requires a strong “emotional through-line”
  • Art’s “String of Pearls” concept can help you build your script around the strongest emotional moments. Use it!
  • You must be able to answer these questions:
    • What type of producer are you writing for?
    • Who is your ideal audience?
    • Who would be willing to buy this?
    • Who are the actors you envision?
  • Sarah Silverman said: “I want you to write the very best story you can. And I want you to write it for me.”


  • A useful belief: “Limitations make me more creative”.
  • Scaling back the logistics can open the possibilities.
  • Limitations force you to look, think, dream more deeply.
  • Start small, before you progress to “writing large.”
  • Think about the human condition.

State of Education Today

  • Film schools and self-help books are technique based – designed to solve small problems.
  • Most teaching is “Model based” – “Save the Cat”, Hero’s Journey, etc. All speak to structure and not process.

So – What Is Lacking Today?

  • What does it really take to attract a producer, director, or actor?
    • A compelling story,
    • A page-turning read, and
    • In short, an effective story — not just a good story.
  • In actuality, there are really very few good screenplays to produce! There is virtually little competition.

What does it take to write a great screenplay

  • First Rule – Don’t bore me.
  • Second Rule – Write me something that can only come from you.Let it come from your personal experience.
  • Find your voice.

Personal Story Arc

  • Your emotional history is your primary storytelling tools (the same is true for actors).
  • It’s all about using:
    • Your personal limitations,
    • Your personal experiences,
    • Your unique losses and triumphs, and
    • Your challenges.
  • Don’t try to be “clever”–tell the truth!
  • Two most important questions:
    • “Who am I?”
    • “What is true?”
  • If I don’t feel your emotions, it is all just stunts and special effects.

The Core

  • You have to stop thinking of yourself as a writer, start thinking of yourself as a storyteller, a creator, a communicator.


  • There are only about 100 different things you need to know to write a screenplay. That is your beginning, and the faster you learn them, the sooner you can begin to deepen your craft.
  • Example: dialogue
    • Good dialogue “sounds real” but conveys more information and “punch” than everyday talk.
    • Develop subtext, people are often more about what is “not said.”
    • Contrast text and subtext: “Invariably what people argue about is NOT what they are upset about.”
    • Actors play the subtext, not the text. “Jazz is what happens between the notes.”

The Screenwriting Experience

  • You must take action.
  • Reading and Studying are useful, but experience is everything.
  • You have to learn how to survive the “Act 2 Flu”, when you are deep in the process, the excitement of your original idea has fled, and you are dealing with the reality of hard work.
  • Your writing starts in the “sunlight” but you will move into the shadows eventually, and there it is hard to remember why you started the journey. This is the writer’s “dark night of the soul.”

Four Stages of a Screenplay

  • Dream the Story: make sure it’s worth telling.
  • Get it on Paper: you will need to access “flow state” for this.
  • Strengthen the Story: Switch to “editing” mode.
  • Polish: Make it attractive to a reader.

Process: 2 drafts and a polish are a typical pattern – from initial idea to completed screenplay shouldn’t take more than 6 months.

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