It was also great to hear [another writer's] words come to life and I leaned a lot from seeing a different writer's work evolve.
Writers constantly get stuck up in their heads, which is the weakest, most boring place to write from. Sceneplay gets you out of your head and into your guts and heart - back into that wonderfully messy place we call life.
Screenwriter, Script Coach
Helped me focus on specific objectives for the scene as well as other elements that could be introduced. It was great!
Vol. I, Issue 1, July 26, 2007
In this Issue
|The Need for Speed
Wouldn’t it be great if you could write at the speed of thought? If you could turn out multiple drafts in a matter of months? Meet the man who claims he can help you reach top speed in your race for the Oscar®.
From book to screenplay in record time. Hear how author Ben Sherman turned his true-life story into a passport to Hollywood.
|A Note from Lisa
| We’re trying something different today – an interview with author Jeff Bollow. Jeff hails from Sydney, Australia, so we decided to conduct the interview by email. We pre-arranged a time for me to send questions. I sent them out and in just over three hours his answers arrived.
I laughed out loud when I saw his reply.
Six questions blossomed into 2,300 words. For those of you doing the math, that’s about 766 words per hour. Put another way, his interview is the length of three SceneZine feature articles. Now, I don’t know how long it takes you to write 766 words, but it takes me a smidge more than an hour.
I was tempted to divide the interview into parts and spread it over a couple of weeks, but decided against it. One of Jeff’s key points is that anything written with the FAST system reads fast.
Take a look and see what you think. Jeff's system seems to work for him. Maybe it can work for you too.
Lisa Phelps Dawes
Better than a podcast! Join us for a live phone interview and ask your questions.
Author Ben Sherman shares how his self-published book got snapped up by a major publishing house, turned into a screenplay and is now being shopped around Hollywood.
Mark your calendars for Wednesday, September 12 at 6:30pm PST! Registration for this FREE teleseminar begins soon!
If you’d like to read back issues of SceneZine you can find them in the article archive on the Free Resources page at www.sceneplay.net.
|The Need for Speed
Who wouldn't like to write faster? To be prolific - and rewarded for it - is a dream most writers share. If only your writing could keep pace with your ideas, you'd be a machine. Meet the man who says it's not only possible, but it's a better way to write.
Jeff Bollow is a former Los Angeles-based filmmaker now living and working in Sydney, Australia. He is an acclaimed screenwriting teacher, founder of Embryo Films and Screenplay.com.au, Australia’s Screenplay Development Centre. Jeff is also the author of Writing Fast: How to Write Anything with Lightning Speed.
SZ: G’day, Jeff. Thanks for agreeing to chat with SceneZine.
JB: You're most welcome.
SZ: I found your book at a very opportune time. I didn’t realize when I created Sceneplay how much daily writing I was signing myself up to do - newsletters, reports, script analysis, proposals, interviews, and, of course, my own screenplays. (Guess which one gets neglected...)
JB: Yeah, it's funny just how many things pop up to interrupt our creative time, isn't it? But don't forget, you can apply the FAST System to all those things you've mentioned.
The only problem is that there seems to be in inverse law -- the faster you do things, the more things end up on your desk to do! (Unfortunately, I can't control that!)
SZ: Yes! It didn’t take me long to realize that I needed a system, a structure -- some sort of paradigm for approaching projects. So when I saw your book I was excited. Writing FAST lays out a framework for writing anything. But one of my first concerns was: What if I’m in the middle of a project? Can I use the FAST system right now or do I have to start all over?
JB: No, you don't have to start over at all! Pick up from where you are in the process.
Look, the most important thing to understand about the FAST System is that it's NOT A SET OF RULES. It's not! It's a systematic approach to the writing process.
It breaks down like this: F is for FOCUS. In this phase, you take that swirling mass of ideas in your head, and you focus them into a writing plan. A is for APPLY. In this phase, you blast through your writing as fast as your fingers can type (which, with the Talktation technique is faster than you're doing now). S is for STRENGTHEN. In this phase, you go back through your work and strengthen it, to make sure it's working. T is for TWEAK. In this phase, you do all that wordsmithing that writers just love to do.
So let's say you're halfway through your current project. And let's suppose you hadn't heard of the FAST System before you sat down to write.
Now you're looking for help (or otherwise procrastinating by reading this article) probably because you veered substantially off course. Maybe you started with a great concept, idea, or intention, but what you've written feels like it's gone off the rails, and you don't know how to get back.
First off, you didn't FOCUS your original idea, so you may have the problem of not knowing exactly what you're trying to achieve.
Secondly, you don't exactly know where you're going (or how to get there), so you're faced with too many options.
Once you understand the FAST System, you can simply go back and FOCUS the overall project into a writing plan. You've already written half the material, so just plop that into your draft, and APPLY your writing plan to the second half of it. Then go back through and STRENGTHEN everything. Remember to only TWEAK last!!
It will absolutely get you back on course.
SZ: My next question was: Will it really help me to write better or simply teach me to turn out schlock faster?
JB: When I first released the book, that was a common question. After all, don't the best writers spend years fine-tuning their masterpieces? We all know that "the best things in life take time". Surely, nothing brilliant can be written quickly, right?
Nothing could be further from the truth.
I contend that the faster you write, the better you will write. Why? Two reasons.
First, because your mind moves at lightning speed. The speed of our thought is extraordinary. When you truly tap into your creativity, what you're really doing is giving your brain the opportunity to play. If you're writing fiction, your imagination is your greatest strength, and the faster you write, the less you're censoring yourself, which gives your mind the freedom to explore uncharted territory. If you're writing non-fiction, that same imagination will find metaphors and creative organizational structures for what you're writing. Either way, your mind thinks much faster than you can commit those thoughts to paper (or the screen). The faster you go, the more "elbow-room" your mind has, the greater the result.
Second, because the faster you write, the more you will write. And writing is a craft -- the more you do it, the sharper your skill will become. It's a quantity thing. The more you write, the more you learn what works and what doesn't. The more you learn, the better you get. Who do you think will understand novel writing better, the writer who has written 1 novel in 10 years, or the writer who has written 20 novels in 10 years? Assuming they're both continually striving to improve their work, the writer with the greatest output has more "real-world" lessons from which to draw. Write fast = write more = write better.
One more thing on this question.
Think about the best writing you've ever READ. Something that wasn't written by you. Your favorite author, for example. Do you notice how you just fly through their words? Have you ever noticed that the BEST writing READS fast?
The FAST System isn't only about helping you churn out more material. It's about making sure that material READS fast. It's about making sure your reader will soar through your words, connecting with your ideas at a fast pace. That's clear writing. That’s good writing.
SZ: Now for the hard part, is it like going to the gym? Does your system depend on self-discipline?
I'd love to say No, but I think all writing requires self-discipline. But the discipline is not in the writing itself. The discipline is in parking your butt in the chair and keeping your attention on the issue at hand, rather than checking your emails, seeing what's on YouTube, or flicking on a movie for "research". For me, the hardest part of writing is just getting motivated.
But that brings us to the very essence of writing, doesn't it? What IS writing?
I think you'll be much more inspired to write if you take a moment to realize that ALL WRITING IS COMMUNICATION. We love to put so much more into it and pretend it has so much more power. But at the end of the day, writing is simply the act of communicating through the written word. It's no different to talking, and it really doesn't need to be any more difficult.
For example, let's say you're not feeling very inspired to write today. Ask yourself, why not? Are you bored with the project, struggling to find something interesting to write about, or just facing a project you don't really want to do?
Take a step back and realize that this thing you're writing -- it's just a piece of communication. Through it, you will be taking an idea (or a bunch of ideas) from your mind, and putting them into a reader's mind. Okay, so what's the idea you want to put in their mind? How can you communicate that effectively? How can you play with that idea to make the ACT of communicating the idea more fun for you?
I think we get lost in the writing process and start feeling its heaviness -- feeling like it's a chore -- only when we forget that we're communicating an idea.
What do you want to say to the world? Or in that newsletter, report, analysis, proposal, screenplay, novel, whatever? Communicate your ideas. How can that be boring?
SZ: One of the great things about the Sceneplay process is that it’s very generative. We also turn out material quickly, but with lots of variations. The process allows writers to cherry-pick elements that work best. Could the FAST system be used to create multiple variations of a single scene? And would that be a good use of the techniques?
JB: Absolutely. Writing more quickly will enable you to create multiple version of a scene, which would certainly have a great benefit when you're collaborating with a producer who has hired you to do a rewrite on a project, or in television, where you'd work with other writers on a team.
The thing to remember about writing is that YOU CAN WRITE ANYTHING. This has its upside and its downside. The upside is that writers have a lot of freedom to express themselves. The downside is that you have enough rope with which to hang yourself! After all, if you can write anything, how do you know what's right?
Add to this the fact that we all share certain common influences. The pop culture we watch, the books we read, the internet websites that get popular -- they float ideas out there into the general consciousness. It's only natural that people will come up with some of the SAME IDEAS completely independently of one another. A few years ago, I had four screenplays submitted from different parts of Australia, and all four had exactly the same story! I couldn't believe it! I wouldn't touch any of them, because as a producer, if I did, the others would've said I stole their idea! But it's true -- four different writers thousands of miles apart with the same idea.
What this tells me is that the FIRST ideas we come up with may very well be ideas that MANY people have. By digging deeper, creating multiple versions of scenes, finding the great idea beneath the great idea, we can truly discover our greatness.
But to get there, you've got to write. And then write some more. Can you see why I advocate writing FAST?
SZ: I know you used the FAST system to write the book, but what about a script? Have you ever applied FAST to a screenplay? If so, honestly, how did it go? Is it tough to eat your own dog food? Any tips for applying the system specifically to the screenwriting form?
I've used the FAST System to write two screenplays of my own, and I found it to be just as effective as it was on the book. I will tell you honestly, though, that you'll need to have a pretty good handle on the specific nature of the screenwriting craft in order to reach really quick speeds in that form. For me, I taught screenwriting for six years, and came to know the craft exceptionally well. So when I FOCUS my idea, I can create a very specific and detailed roadmap for the script, which includes structure, characters, subtext throughlines, turning points, character arcs, and so on. If you don't know the technical side of screenwriting, doing the FOCUS phase is a bit more guesswork. Which just means you'll probably spend more time in Strengthen phase.
I can also tell you honestly that I've attempted to write a screenplay with a writer who didn't want to use the FAST System. In fact, his approach was completely the opposite -- more of a "let's throw everything at the wall and see what sticks" approach. And truthfully, it just didn't work. Some people are very resistant to using a systematic approach to a creative process. But I don't understand that. Just because you're approaching creativity systematically, doesn't mean you're not being creative! There is a world of creativity throughout the entire process.
For me, the lesson was simple: There's no "right" way to do anything. Just make sure you know WHICH way you're going to do something. We could have very effectively thrown everything at the wall to see what sticks. Or we could have blasted through with the FAST System. We simply couldn't do both at the same time, because they work in different ways.
Tips for screenwriters? Know the craft of screenwriting. I spent 20 years writing, reading, and working with screenplays in Los Angeles, New Zealand and Australia. I read over 1,000 screenplays in that time. And I learn new things every day. You can never stop learning, or growing. Take classes.
I think the best advice is to never, ever think you've got all the answers. We can learn from everywhere.
Okay, so that's a bit esoteric and preachy of me. So I'll throw in a more specific tip, too:
With screenwriting, the first thing you should do is nail down your central theme. What are you trying to say with this story? Encapsulate it in one simple sentence. My film company's website accepts loglines, and I can't tell you how horrible the vast majority of them are. Nail down a powerful one-sentence logline. Not just to sell a producer on it, but also because everything in your story will hang off that one central idea. THAT'S how you know what should stay in the script, and what should get cut out. When you do that, you'll be able to FOCUS your story much more effectively.
SZ: One last question, what is the number one way that writers slow themselves down?
JB: They TWEAK first.
SZ: Great. Thanks for your time, Jeff. Best of luck with Embryo Films and www.screenplay.com.au
If you’d like to order a copy of Jeff’s book Writing Fast: How to Write Anything with Lightning Speed click here.
JB: Thanks Lisa!
||Want to use this article in your newsletter or website?
||You’re welcome to it. Just include the entire article including any citations and the blurb below:
Lisa Phelps Dawes, President of Sceneplay, is an Emmy® award-winning writer/director helping screenwriters and producers rewrite their scripts using professional actors. If you’re ready for your scenes to jump to life, work three times harder, and get noticed, get your FREE tips now at www.sceneplay.net.