The two most important bits of wisdom about writing that I’ve ever taken to heart were from my screenwriting teachers who said: “You’re all a bunch of liars!” and “Nobody wants to read your script!” Now admittedly, when my writing teacher shouted, “You are all a bunch of liars!” to my class this wasn’t so much advice as much as it was an indictment of our outrageous reasons for our consistent tardiness and absenteeism. He was right. We were lying, our excuses were terrible, and, by default, we were terrible writers.
Writing a script is telling an hour-and-a-half lie. Everyone loves to hear tales of trouble, and the struggles people overcome, but the second an audience senses BS they are taken out of the lie and start wondering who this jerk wasting their time is.
And that leads me to my next favorite piece of writing wisdom: “Nobody wants to read your script.” The truth is that it takes some luck to get someone to open up to the first page of a screenplay, then read on to the second. So that means you don’t have much time to get a reader’s attention, and even less to keep it.
Writing, directing, and editing at 5secondfilms for the past three-and-a-half years has taught me that clarity in character and story is key. Nothing is worse than a lie that drags on. Get in and get out. Keep descriptions and dialogue short and sweet. Always ask yourself, “What’s the latest I can jump into this scene, and the earliest I can leave it while still making sense?” Get into the story as fast as possible and keep it evolving. Remember, though, your story cannot get stale, but it also cannot get too unbelievable in plot and character motivation.
The experienced film reader is usually ten pages ahead of the typical writer. The experienced writer has to subvert those expectations, which can mean leading them astray towards a true and carefully lain twist. The best surprises move the story forward, evolve your characters, and, in hindsight, seem completely natural. Those are the best sorts of lies; the kind that gets people exclaiming, “You’ll never believe it! Then this happened!”
The ugly truth about screenwriting is that no one wants to make the time to listen to our stories because they assume it’s a lie they’ve heard before. When they put down that last page of your script make them feel bad for doubting you.
Michael Rousselet is a Los Angeles native and one of the writer/actor/filmmakers behind 5secondfilms.com who make and release a new 5-second film every Monday-Friday since 2008, currently they hold over 1,000 films. Their work has been featured in Spin Magazine, Wired Magazine, Tosh.0, Attack of the Show, and Last Call with Carson Daly.