Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Spotlight Interview: Blake Snyder/Part 3

Blake Snyder, Screenwriter/Author

Mike: What’s the No. 1 avoidable mistake that beginning screenwriters make when submitting their screenplay?

Snyder: Make sure the concept is strong. That will open a lot of doors for you. And including a nice query letter with your concept will get you a lot of attention as well.

The truth is, if you have something that someone wants, you can’t make mistakes. Everyone is looking for the next hit. This is why I focus so much on the logline in my book.

I have run across people who are totally tone deaf about concept. I could tell them about concept and “poster” and “loglines” all day long and they won’t get it. I think that’s the biggest stumbling block to success.

What is this movie about? That’s the key question when you’re pitching someone. We are busy people, with plenty of stuff to occupy our time and attention. So, how are you going to break through that haze and communicate an idea to me? How can you capture my imagination?

Mike: What makes for a perfect logline?

Snyder: A perfect logline is a poem. I have to see the movie and the poster and it has to intrigue me. The best ideas are ones where when you say it, anyone who hears it immediately chips in with suggestions.

Mike: During the writing process, how do you know when a scene is working or not?

Snyder: After a while you start to set up some rules for yourself. What’s the conflict? How do you start off emotionally? How do you end emotionally? How you satisfy that goal? It is kind of hard to explain, but I think that there is that thing about what is boring and what is fun. It’s hard to do a scene analysis, but if you’re reading the script and you can’t stop turning the page, that’s a good sign. For me, momentum is important. If a scene is a problem for me it’s because it stops me from reading. Why that is and what I have to do to fix it differs every time.

Mike: How has your writing improved over the years?

Snyder: Screenwriting is a craft. It’s full of tricks. And that craft and those tricks can be learned with experience. For instance, what’s wrong with a story becomes clearer faster, and I love that. I am better at it now because I am no longer afraid to say I’m wrong, or fix some part that’s just limping along, dragging the rest of the story down. I also think my writing has benefited from other kinds of writing I’ve done. In my occasional periods away from the business, I’ve written a weekly Internet column, a novel, and articles for magazines and newspapers—that has all helped my communication skills tremendously.

Mike: Have the style and requirements of scripts changed drastically in the last decade?

Snyder: Yes, a lot. When I started my career, a typical script was 120 pages long. If it was 119, people that matter in the business might read it, might not. Now, scripts are between only 90-95 pages.

Mike: What caused such shortening?

Snyder: Short attention spans.

Mike: Do you listen to or read pitches from aspiring screenwriters?

Snyder: Every single day. I’m approached all the time from 20-year-old screenwriters, and I absolutely love it. I’m always telling writers: “Send your best pitch to me. Let me hear your idea.” I’m thrilled to hear new ideas, and I try my best to give the most helpful feedback I can. But I’m a big believer in giving the screenwriter the truth about his or her chances to sell their script. The truth is, I’ve turned over many a student to my agent or producer friends of mine in the past. If you can intrigue me with your log line and your structure, I’ll help you. I am happy to provide that service for the industry. Because I think the industry needs new blood, new writers all the time. It’s also very rewarding for me personally.

Mike: Do you read full scripts as well?

Snyder: Yes, if they hooked me with their pitch first.

Mike: How long does it take you to figure out if you have potential hit on your hands?

Snyder: I can tell you if your movie has a chance in the first 2-3 pages. I could look at a script from across the room and know whether it’s been written by an amateur or a professional. If I see big blocks of dialogue or thick descriptions, I know that the writer doesn’t know what he or she is doing.

Mike: What should an aspiring screenwriter do to become better at doing the craft?

Snyder: Obviously, I think you need to read books like mine. But also read the ones written by greats in the industry such as Syd Field and Robert McKee. And go to screenwriting workshops and seminars. I’ve been to a couple of McKee’s seminars. He’s such a great performer. His intensity is very inspiring. Any aspiring screenwriter should find a way to go to one.

And, above all, practice, practice, practice.

Mike: Should I read a lot of scripts?

Snyder: As many as you can.

Mike: Any ones in particular?

Snyder: I would be as current as possible. Look at what’s being made now and what’s hitting it big and try to figure out why. And stick to your own genre. Each genre has its own rules and regulations.

Since my genre is PG comedy and family, I studied Wedding Crashers. What a great script! From title to concept, it was perfect. People think it’s just a silly movie. A lot of people don’t like it. But it made $200 million. And they made it for $40 million. I want to know why it was such a big hit.

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