Adam Coplan’s book, ‘Being Professional’, has a better explanation of purpose in its sub-title, ‘A Master Guide To The Do’s And Don’ts Of Screenwriting’. It is targeting the novice American scriptwriter, although there are some lessons for those in other countries that also apply. As always with publisher Michael Wiese’s books, I do have one eye on how it can be applied to my speciality of prose writing. Although some elements of three act plays sounds formulaic, the need to establish characters and their problems, escalation and resolution can only be disguised not removed. It’s a common language that tends to apply to any medium and, as Coplan points out with different genres, there are different tweaks needed for different audiences.
The main point of this book is knowing what to do that makes you look like a professional and not an amateur. You can’t come away from this book without knowing something. The scriptwriter writes the script not the casting or direction unless you are being paid for those roles as well. In many respects, the scriptwriter provides the initial blueprint from which everyone else then puts their hands in so there’s a strong warning not to be too precious and not expect the final film, if it ever gets that far, to look like its origins.
If I have to be critical at this point, Coplan will use actor names when discussing particular films as much as he does part names. Well and truly, he should have stuck to one or the other, preferably parts, bracketing actor names if he thinks its pertinent.
Authors should never leave it to people like me to point out the exceptions to the rule. In this case, Coplan says there aren’t female lead genre films when we have the horror series ‘Underworld’ starring Kate Beckinsale and SF/horror series ‘Resident Evil’ starring Milla Jovovich On TV, there have been several from ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’, ‘Star Trek: Voyager’, ‘Charmed’ and ‘The Sarah Connor Chronicles’ in the USA to the likes of ‘The Sarah-Jane Smith Adventures’ and ‘Eve’ in the UK. Granted the demographic in the USA might be towards a male audience, over here, although both my examples are, at most, young adult have had appeal to a wider audience.
I should point out that the film examples are across the board so includes several SF, horror and fantasy choices. The guides to these as to typifying the various genre audiences is insightful and logical although there is nothing on why. Our own genre is typified as being masculine and more attractive to the male population. I know that is probably a generalisation, probably more true for the USA than UK, but I think that is slowly changing. Caplon also says that what used to be work for the American market, especially sports orientated films, doesn’t work on the international stage which isn’t that surprising really as the likes of American football and even baseball doesn’t travel that well.
Something that I’ve always emphasised with novel samples is the opening chapters have to be your best writing. So, too, has to be the opening 5 or so pages of a script if you want to catch the pro-reader’s eye to go up through the levels. Grammar and spelling, as always, is the key failure, so learn it until it becomes second nature in all the writing you do as its part of your craft.
Like with prose, road map your story applies to all fiction. You might change your plot along the way but at least you’ll have something to fall back on and won’t have to ponder on how to move a story on and get a decent ending.
With scripts being dialogue based, Coplan guides you in what to look out for in making distinctive voices. In contrast to prose, where if we want an accented voice, we use it, this isn’t done for scripts, nor the use of foreign languages which is something I hadn’t known before. His tips in this section are also important to learn. In a weird way, less is often more so don’t get bogged down with paragraphs of conversation. Equally, don’t be wasteful and make every line count or risk it being edited out.
I did wonder why Coplan put the concept chapter so far into the book as I would have thought this would have been needed at the plot development stage.
Surprising the audience is also explored. I think I would go further and add look at every decision and turning point in the story and don’t always do the obvious or even misdirect to add to the story. This will add to the essence of plotting the story out. You might even try something I do on an initial draft and write the scenes that I know will work first if you get stuck.
As you should tell by my enthusiasm that I’ve learnt a lot from this book and even any criticisms are more like adding to what Coplan writes than totally disagree with it. If you’re thinking of becoming or improving your chances of being a scriptwriter, then this book must be on your table and constantly read to ensure you do the work that will make you look like being a professional.
(pub: Michael Wiese Productions. 209 page indexed small enlarged paperback. Price: $24.95 (US), £16.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-61593-249-8)