There Are Only Two Screenwriting Rules – Travis Seppala

There Are Only Two Screenwriting Rules – Travis Seppala

Travis Seppala, Screenwriter/Author: Tip #2… Film Courage: Okay…so Tip #2 – There are
only two screenwriting rules? Travis: Yes, so I’ve got in my book here
[365: A Year Of Screenwriting Tips] I’ve even got them labeled for you – Rule #1 is
“Write a script that looks like a script.” Which I’ve already talked about, right? So if it looks like a novel, it’s not a
script. It’s going in the garbage. So if it looks like a script you’ve at least
gotten past the first game because there are a lot of scripts that come in that don’t
look like scripts. When I was doing reading for a producer I
was sent the script to read that was three hundred and twelve pages. I’m not reading a three hundred and twelve
page script! It’s not happening! It doesn’t look like a script right off
the bat. So as long as it looks like a script even
the formatting you can have little tweaks here and there as long as it still looks like
a script. And #2 “Write a script that feels like a
movie. Preferably a good movie.” If you’re obviously writing TV then it would
be right to have it feel like a TV episode if you are writing this big lengthy thing
that feels like it should be a novel you’re getting into the character’s mind (all this
other stuff). It’s not a movie anymore. If you’re telling me something where it’s
just us sitting here having a conversation, this is great for a YouTube video. I’m not going to watch a whole movie of
me sitting here talking to you. Even documentaries they are cutting away to
other stuff, right? Other things are happening than just two people
talking to each other. It needs to look like a script and it needs
to feel like a movie. Bonus points if it’s a good movie. Film Courage: I like that. So don’t write War And Peace and submit
it. Travis: Oh yeah. Film Courage: Don’t have an eight-part series… Travis: Yes because if it’s a short. So I’ve been asked the question from people
on Facebook and stuff where they’ve DM’d me and asked me how can I tell if it’s a
short or a feature or a show? If you can tell the entire story in like 20
minutes or less and be done with it, it’s a short. If it’s going to take at least a half an
hour to tell it and you can have it done in like three hours and then that’s it, we
never have to see these characters again, like it’s a feature. But if it’s too short, flesh it out to feature
to get there. If it’s three hours, try to pull back a
little bit to make it a feature. But it’s a feature if you can tell it in
a couple of hours. But if it’s something that could go on and
on forever, it’s probably a television series. If I’m doing a comic book, if I’m doing
the Flash TV series versus the Flash movie that may or may not even happen now with Ezra
Miller, those are going to be two very different Flash stories because in one they are going
to be telling the story between like an hour and a half or two and a half hours. The other one we are already like what, six
seasons in and it’s still going? We can have episodic and keep going. They are going to be two very different stories
to tell sort of thing. So that is the thing with it being cinematic
is figuring out where does it fall in line? Is it a short? Is it a feature? Is it a TV show? Is it a book? Is it a comic book series? Is it a poem? All of these things have different worlds
and guidelines to them but it needs to go around the story you want to tell. So if the story you want to tell if you could
keep telling it over and over with different things, it’s probably a TV series. If you’re going to tell me this succinct
little story that’s cool and has a couple of different plots (A plot, C plot) but it’s
only going to take you a few hours to tell it, it’s a feature. Keeping those in mind is a way to figure out
where your story lies among all of the medium that there is to create in. It might be a painting. I don’t know? Film Courage: (Reading another part from Travis’s
book) “You cannot trash talk the field you want to be a part of.” Travis: Yes, this is one of the things…so
a big reason I wrote this book to begin with was because of seeing people on the Facebook
screenwriting groups asking the same questions over and over. This particular tip was seen as a huge faux
pas that a lot of writers do where they are like “I am writing this because there is
NOTHING good in Hollywood! There are no good movies anymore.” If you’re announcing that to the world why
do you want to make movies if there is nothing good? What is the point of you going into a field
where you think everything out there is garbage? Why do you want to be part of this? And why are you going to tell people that
you think it’s all garbage to begin with? So don’t trash…if this is the field you
want to be in don’t start trash-talking other people’s work, don’t trash-talk
other people who are working in the industry that you may or may not ever work with because
this is a small town and that gets around. Film Courage: So save it for politics?

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About the Author: Oren Garnes


  1. Two screenwriting rules for me: 1) Write the very best first draft you can possibly make; 2) write for your target demographic—not for yourself—if you want to sell anything.

  2. #1. I write shot lists which outline stories instead of scripts (because I don't need to write for anyone else). #2. I trash everyone in my scripts. But it's usually allegorical so usually they don't get it. But it makes me feel better. 😉

  3. I only have one main screenwriting rule. Write a story that makes you want to read it again and again. Because if you don't want to re-read your work, why would anyone else?

  4. Tell a story and be entertaining. I've seen movies that are entertaining and beautiful but there is no story. I have seen movies that have a story, but it wasn't good or entertaining, it felt like a meeting. My goal is to tell a story the best way I can while being entertaining, and if I'm good at it I can slip a message in as well.

  5. First, once you get it written… set it aside… Don't come back until you have "fresh eyes" to read it.

    I have this one for just about every bit of craft, actually. It usually takes about three days… It's amazing what YOU will see in YOUR OWN work after three days completely away from it. Whether you just briefly skim through, or (better) if you pour over every page like it's the first time you've seen it…
    With more visual media (painting, leathercraft, or what have you) then it's amazing how it takes on it's own sort of life, after you've given yourself a chance to refresh from it… AND no good having the thing sitting around where you can see it or picking it up everyday… I mean GET AWAY FROM IT… just three days to breathe and break from that.
    Obviously, you're not me, so you're results may require a different time. The point is to put it down without any going back or trying to fix anything, no reading or repeating it… just go do ANYTHING else.

    Second, and it's come up recently… It makes sense.
    "You can't get to a professional level if you've never even SEEN professional level work. Emulate the pro's if you want to be successful. Use them as you're guides."

    BIG caveat here. This doesn't mean "copy" anyone. You still have to find your own voice and style. BUT if you've never opened and read a script that ACTUALLY sold… You've already crippled your chances at making up a script that has a chance of selling. You don't know what it looks like… what it reads like… how long it is for the movie you're trying to make… and what came of it… or where the writer's control notes left off, and the director's decisions started taking over the "power to create".
    It's worth it to read whatever genre or style of film you plan to get into. Read LOTS from it. Emulate what you find appealing and useful… AND suspiciously experiment with the rest before "trimming out" the useless.

    I think it's likely to be a BIG eye opener for aspiring writer-producer-directors to look at the original scripts that sold, and even (if possible) get to some copy of the one with the scribbling and highlighter splattered through it, rewrites stapled to the fringes or folded and tucked between pages… sketches and diagrams of how the stunts should look… lenses, angles, etc… just soak all the information added to this thing before it went from abstract ideals scripted out in a book… to whatever the director thought "is too cool not to add it in"… or whatever.

    I'm sure there are at least a couple videos around here about the same thing… This is just one I recently had to argue with someone about, so… it's kind of on the top of my conscious mind. ;o)

  6. It's like saying: make an airplane that has engines on the wings, and a fuselage. It's that simple. That's the only two rules for airplanes. Then it's easy. Go ahead.

  7. 1:20 "I'm not gonna watch a whole movie of me sitting here talking to you." (Host remembers Film Courage's 90-minute+ content) GULP!

  8. His two rules were good but his best advice came at the end. Be nice; a great rule for everyone, every time, in every aspect of your life. A great man once said, “why don’t you knock it off with them negative vibes.” DS aka Oddball

  9. Over the last decade of learning and practicing the craft of writing, I’ve learned that the only things required for something to work are: 1) KEEP PEOPLE ENGAGED; whether that be interested, intrigued, captivated, thrilled, curious, stumped, angry, excited, mystified etc. Keep them watching until the end where you… 2) LEAVE THEM SATISFIED; pay off your set ups, reveal your mysteries, tie up your loose ends, weave together your threads, and make them feel something (EMOTIONAL) that is clear and specific. Tie this all to a beautiful or powerful idea, and you’ve won. Now, this is clearly easier said than done, but I really do believe that is the simplest way to wrap your head around the endless, wonderful mystery of storytelling. ❤️

  10. Number one, no one cares what I say about Hollywood, so there's that. Number two, J.J. Abrams will never see my screenplay, or direct one of my screenplays.

    (But if you do, sorry about raking you over the coals with the Star Trek reboot…)

  11. I think these are some great rules to go by another interesting interview I haven't Written enough screenplays to have a really valid opinion but i'd say don't make things longer than necessary and try to keep it interesting

  12. Another rule: Tension is the opposite to boredom, so bring on the tension!! (How do you create tension? Well its the moments before the ACTION)

  13. I'm reading a book "747" which is about the plane's development authored by the man who led the project. He said early on "if it does not look right, it won't fly." This apparently was a core principle of aeronautic engineering 90 years ago. Seppala here is saying the same thing, but applied to screenplays.

  14. Objectively speaking, no matter how small or big a town is, you should stand up for what is right. Being critical – not trash talking but critical – is a GOOD thing. Otherwise what's the point of being a screenwriter or filmmaker? Money, fame, notoriety? To steal from the great Richard Walters: "it's all about story."

  15. It's fun to bash the crappy Hollywood Movies. We're not sellouts. We're writers.. Anthony Mackie still has a great career and he bashed new Hollywood. .

  16. 4:46 Thats what people who protected people like Weinstein for decades said and ended the careers of countless women and men.

  17. Obviously you would want to be the one to actually make a good movie if they think there’s no good movies coming out. Personally, I agree. Movies are not the focus in Hollywood at the moment. I think television shows are where it’s at right now.

  18. Okay, don't say out loud when you dislike some works, stay polite but the "don't talk trash" thing is dangerous because: where do we stop to say what we really think? What's the purpose of making a film if we cannot think correctly? Remind that we think in words, we have words in our heads and form thoughs with them. When we block words, we limit ourselves to think.

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