Tips: 5 Tips on Scriptwriting

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Screenwriter Sarah Daly shares 5 tips on scriptwriting with Film Ireland

 

1. Know where you’re going

 

The more planning you do before you start actually writing your screenplay, the more likely it is that you’ll finish it. Having a detailed treatment is the best defence against the dreaded second-act block. That first rush of inspiration and momentum will take you up to around page 40, but if you don’t know where you’re heading at that point, you can easily get stuck, lose steam and meander unproductively or stop altogether. Not to say that you’ll necessarily stick 100% to your treatment – every screenplay diverges at least a little from the plan – but having a solid blueprint to refer to is vital and prevents you from going too far off track.

 

2. Leave out the camera directions

 

Unless you’re writing a script that you plan to shoot yourself, leave out all camera direction and just tell your story. It’s the director’s job to come up with camera angles and shots. A reader will find pans, zooms and tilts distracting and off-putting too.

 

3. Get straight into the meat of it

 

Don’t spend too much time setting up at the beginning of your screenplay. Try to get across what information you absolutely must in the most concise and visual way possible. Long expositional scenes at this stage will really affect the pace on the page and on screen. The first ten pages especially have to hook the reader (as the first ten minutes must hook the viewer) so make them great. A cinematic and attention-grabbing opening will set your script apart and get you off to a strong start with your reader.

 

4. Be brutal at the rewriting stage

 

Put every scene, every line, every word on the chopping block and cut anything that doesn’t progress your story, tell us something new about your characters or their world. Examine every element and make sure it earns its place in your story. If two characters perform the same function, cut one. If two scenes say the same thing, cut one. You’ll end up with something stronger, leaner,  and more compelling.

 

5. Proofread and proofread again

 

This is an obvious one but typos and spelling mistakes make you look bad. Fair or not, a reader will judge you to be an inferior writer if your script is riddled with little errors. So, before you send your screenplay to a single soul, proofread it until your eyes hurt. It’s a good idea to call in a second set of eyes too if you can. The more checks the better. It’s a tedious process but it’s time well spent.

Sarah Daly is a screenwriter from Waterford best known for writing the Joseph Gordon-Levitt produced Morgan M. Morgansen short films and the critically acclaimed supernatural chiller Lord of Tears. Her next project is upcoming monster comedy Kids Vs Monsters, starring Malcolm McDowell.

You can check out Lord of Tears at http://www.lordoftears.com
And follow Sarah on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sarahdaly42
 

 

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Irish Women in Film: Sarah Daly

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Continuing Caroline Farrell’s Irish Women in Film Series: Sarah Daly.

Sarah Daly is a scriptwriter from Dungarvan, Co. Waterford currently working with New Age Film in Scotland. Two of Sarah’s feature films are in the latter stages of post-production; dystopian thriller White Out and a supernatural drama which will be announced later in the year. In the past two years, her work has been performed by Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anne Hathaway and Channing Tatum. Sarah is best known for being the writer of the Morgan M. Morgansen short films which featured at Sundance and South By Southwest in 2010.

Hi Sarah. Let’s start off by telling us how and why you got started in the business? 

I’ve always loved to write but didn’t consider writing as a career until I discovered scriptwriting while studying Media Arts at DIT. I completed my degree and worked various office jobs for a few years, all the while writing away in my spare time and sending my work out to whoever would read it. Slowly, I started to gain traction. I had a few short films produced in the US and bagged a freelance job as a script reader for Samson Films in Dublin. My biggest breaks came in 2010 when Scottish director Lawrie Brewster from New Age Film took an interest in my work and made an investment in me as a writer. That same year I’d also started submitting work to a website called HitRECord, run by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He came across a piece of writing of mine and produced it into a short film which eventually ended up at Sundance, and its sequel at South By Southwest. I’ve worked with him and HitRECord on several projects since.

Did you have any formal instruction (film school etc) or are you self-taught?

I studied Media Arts at DIT which was basically a bit of everything – TV, film, radio, documentary, but the only part that I really enjoyed was the writing, so I did a lot of my own study on the art and craft of screenwriting – read a lot of scripts and all the screenwriting books I could get my hands on as well as just writing a lot until I found my voice, and understood better what works and what doesn’t.

Where did your seminal influences come from?

I have to start with my family who are all very creative and were always supportive of my childhood artistic endeavours from drawing maps of imaginary lands to belting out compositions on my toy piano. As regards other writers, a lot of my writing is quite poetical and often absurd so writers like Roald Dahl, C.S. Lewis and James Joyce have been a big inspiration. I love writers who play with language and I adore fantasy, fairytale and science fiction so, basically, any artist who creates alternate universes is okay by me! I adore artists/people who go against the grain, who ask questions with their work and who stick their necks out creatively. My good friend Lexy Hulme, an actress and dancer who starred in the Morgan M. Morgansen films is a constant inspiration as well.

And your current influences?

I take inspiration from everywhere and anywhere – the news, science, sociology, history, folklore. Film-wise I always enjoy the work of Charlie Kaufman, Wes Anderson, Ken Russell and more recently Miranda July. I love filmmakers who can create whole new worlds on-screen and I have a particular soft spot for irreverent trailblazers. In literary terms I’ve been reading a lot of science fiction lately as research for a new script and have been inspired by the work of Philip K. Dick and Walter Tevis – I’m going through a serious dystopia phase at the moment!

Let’s say you’re having a fantasy dinner party.  Living or dead, name six people you would love to have around that dinner table!

Bill Hicks, Kate Bush, Noam Chomsky, Oscar Wilde, Frida Kahlo and Shakespeare. I’d just listen though – I’d be far too intimidated to join in!

What is your opinion of the current Irish film scene?

I’ve been away from Ireland for the past three years, and practically all of my work has come from abroad for whatever reason, but, still it seems to me that Ireland is doing exceptionally well. We certainly punch above our weight for such a small country. The animation scene in particular is thriving and I think we should be very proud of the volume and quality of our output. Still, I think it’s vital that the supports in place are safeguarded so that the industry can continue to grow. It’s a tough business and these are tough times but hopefully the powers that be continue to recognise the crucial role of the arts in our economy and cultural landscape. Especially as I’d love to work more with Irish producers and directors in future!

Can you tell us what has been the highlight of your career so far?

Probably seeing Gary Oldman perform my poem The Man with a Turnip for a Head at the HitRECord Fall Formal event in LA last year. That was pretty surreal! At the same show, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anne Hathaway also performed a song I’d written. Definitely a night to remember. But, there’s also nothing like seeing your words brought to life on set. Shooting our latest feature was an incredible experience – that’s what makes writing for film so rewarding.

What would you consider to be your ultimate goal, right now?

I just want to carry on doing what I love for a living, to make art that I’m proud of and that others enjoy (or are affected by)! Anything else is a bonus.

Do you have any advice to offer Newbies?

This is advice I hated receiving as a shy, retiring writer, but, it really is all about networking. Putting your work and yourself out there is absolutely the most important thing you can do. All it takes is one crucial connection for your career to take off, so make sure you put yourself in front of as many people as you can. There’s nothing like doing it in person, but the internet is also a valuable tool. Yes, it’s oversaturated but if your work is genuinely good, and if you’re persistent enough, then you will get notice and you will get work. Also, learn as much as you can about all aspects of the industry, not just writing. If you can think like a producer in terms of budget, genre and marketability when it comes to your scripts, then you stand a much better chance of getting produced.

Thanks, Sarah! And finally, any comments you would like to add?

I also make music, for film and otherwise under the name Metaphorest. I contributed to the soundtrack of my first feature White Out and have also written songs for webs series and short films. I released my debut album Metaphorest: Volume 1 last year. You can listen at http://metaphorest.bandcamp.com  and get all the latest news on my writing and music at www.facebook.com/metaphorest

SARAH’S LINKS:

Morgan M. Morgansen films:

http://vimeo.com/15649718

http://vimeo.com/15645613

Trailer for the feature film White Out:

http://www.whiteoutthemovie.co.uk/

 

Caroline Farrell is an author and screenwriter:

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‘‘Lord of Tears’, from Irish scriptwriter Sarah Daly, completes production

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Director/producer Lawrie Brewster has completed production on Lord of Tears, a supernatural horror film set in the Scottish Highlands.

Lord of Tears takes its inspiration from the traditional British gothic ghost story, but adds a Celtic twist with its Highland setting and pagan themes. Irish scriptwriter Sarah Daly describes the film as ‘The Wicker Man meets The Woman in Black’.

Lord of Tears is a startling, psychological, supernatural thriller set against the ominous backdrop of a cursed highland estate. The film stars David Schofield (Gladiator, Pirates of the Caribbean) Lexy Hulme (500 Days of Summer) and Scottish actor Euan Douglas in his feature debut.

The film tells the chilling story of James Findlay (Douglas), a school teacher plagued by recurring nightmares of a mysterious and unsettling entity. Suspecting that his visions are linked to a dark incident in his past, James returns to his childhood home, a notorious mansion in the Scottish Highlands. There, he finds love in the form of aspiring dancer Evie Turner (Hulme) who helps him to unravel the dark history of the house. But, when James finally uncovers the disturbing truth behind his dreams, he must fight to survive the brutal consequences of his curiosity…

Director Lawrie Brewster says of the film ‘With this film I wanted to tell the type of story I enjoy watching, the creepy type of thriller that gets under your skin, with unexpected twists, and memorable and disturbing supernatural inspired imagery. We take inspiration from classic British chillers such as The Haunting and The Legend of Hell House whilst adding our own, Scottish Celtic twist to the mix.

Writer/Director team Sarah Daly and Lawrie Brewster have worked together on a number of projects including their debut feature White Out and the festival favourite Morgan M. Morgansen short films starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Channing Tatum and Lexy Hulme.

Lord of Tears takes advantage of the stunning and often brutal scenery of the Scottish Highlands, mirroring the conflict between the refined and the primal aspects of humanity – a theme explored throughout the film. The film also features a dark and broody original soundtrack by Craig Sutherland and Andy McDonald.

 

Trailer – https://vimeo.com/48158701
Website – www.lordoftears.com

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'Morgan & Destiny’s Eleventeeth Date: The Zeppelin Zoo'

The second instalment in the Morgan M. Morgansen saga, penned by screenwriter Sarah Daly has screened at Austin’s prestigious South By Southwest film festival.

The short film that kicked off the series, Morgan M. Morgansen’s Date with Destiny, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, screened back in January at Sundance, garnering praise from the festival’s founder Robert Redford. Due to the positive response, work soon began on a second instalment. Sarah Daly wrote the script entitled Morgan & Destiny’s Eleventeeth Date: The Zeppelin Zoo and production commenced soon after. In this new addition to the series, Gordon-Levitt is again joined by rising star Lexy Hulme and, for the first time, by Channing Tatum, his co-star in recent Hollywood blockbuster GI Joe.

As with the first offering, Morgan & Destiny’s Eleventeeth Date was produced by Gordon-Levitt’s revolutionary online production company hitrecord.org. Collaborators from all over the world contributed visual elements which Scottish filmmaker; Lawrie Brewster then used to create a lavish visual landscape for the story. Jenyffer Maria, a talented artist from Florida again worked with Lawrie as principal illustrator. The soundtrack was also a collaborative effort, with over 50 musicians on the site contributing to a score composed by Nathan Johnson. Nathan is best known for his work on the soundtracks of Brick and The Brothers Bloom.

Sarah Daly travelled to South By Southwest to take part in Q&A sessions at hitrecord.org’s three shows. Sean Ono Lennon, who was performing with his band Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, drew attention to the unusual language created by Sarah specifically for the short films and declared himself a fan. Following his suggestion, a short dictionary booklet was produced and handed out to the audience at the final two screenings.

Morgan & Destiny’s Eleventeeth Date: The Zeppelin Zoo is viewable online here.

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