The Secret to Smart Screenwriting

Having a big, big idea is a good start, says Derek Haas.
  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Topic: The Secret to Smart Screenwriting

Derek Haas: Typically there’s three ways to get hired as a screenwriter. You write an original spec, you’ve written a script on speculation that you will sell it and somebody wants it and buys it. That’s way number one. Number two is you get hired off of a pitch. You’ve thought out the idea of a movie, you haven’t written it yet. You get a producer attached to help you break the story or whatever, you go into the studios and all of them and you say, ”This is the movie that we want to tell,” and you tell it in a 15 minute succinct. Maybe you’ve written a five page treatment and you perform it for them and tell them every beat of the movie. You pretty much can’t sell a pitch like that unless you’ve sold a spec because they want to be able to say, “OK, I’ve this guy’s writing. He will deliver on this kind of a…We like this story. We’ve read his writing. We know he can deliver.” So it’s hard to sell a pitch without having sold a spec originally. And then the third way is the studio buys the rights to something a book like, The Matarese Circle the Ludlum book and they say to agents all over town, “We are now entertaining pitches on”-- the Matarese Circle is a different situation but—“we are now going to listen,” then ten writers may come in and they are competing against each other for the studio to then hire somebody to now write a script. For instance, I know they are going to remake the movie Highlander, the original Highlander. I don’t know how many writers pitched that, I know of a few myself that did and they’ll end up hiring one writer, one team of writers. Those are the three ways to get paid to write. I think the biggest thing we think about in writing is, number one: have a big idea. Big idea doesn’t necessarily mean an asteroid is going to hit the earth and you’ve got to send up oil drillers to stop it. A big idea could be a small movie like the Blair Witch Project which was a small, tiny budget but it had a great idea. Some documentary film makers are going to go into the woods and see if this witch legend is true. What Hollywood doesn’t care about is the little idea of how you grew up in the suburbs and your dad was mean to you. Now there’s always going to be exceptions and the independent world’s full of those, but for Michael and I it was start with the big idea, like in our case, The Courier, the guy who delivers things to people who don’t want to be reached, and then we just write with a pace, a sense of pace. I think Michael’s editing background really helps. We just want you flipping those pages, and that’s I think most beginning screenwriters, when I read scripts their biggest mistake is that their scenes begin too early and they end too late and they just stretch out things because they feel like, “I’ve got to show the guy turn on the light switch and come into the room,” and we don’t you just need to the scene should just be moving forward. That’s what we try to do.