When I started script writing, I was lucky enough to know someone in real life who was knowledgeable in the formatting and layout of writing scripts. I had no idea where to start and Ally has helped me tremendously over these last few years. She’s in the process of staring her own blog depicting her life as a woman, screen writer and disabled person. Please welcome Ally in first guest blog post. 🙂
My parents were practical people. Their favourite words were “Be realistic.” When I came to them and announced one day that I was going to be a writer, the response was predictable:
Okay, but what else are you going to do?
They weren’t unsupportive. They assumed it was good for me to have a hobby, and I’d grow out of it. I was physically disabled, shy, and, I don’t mind telling you, weird, with giant pink glasses that covered half my face, terrible haircuts mainly designed to stop me gnawing on and tangling my hair when I was nervous, (often) and the habit of turning anything within arms reach into a person, and then using the “person” to tell a story. When I told them I wanted to write movies? Well, what little girl didn’t want to be in movies, right? But then, I went out and did it. At twelve years old, amid a torrent of unfinished books I swore I was going to write one day, a pile of poems and an endless array of journals, I actually finished something. And it was a screenplay! That was about the time they started realizing, to their horror, I might actually think that screen writing was a real job.
In those days we lived in what I now cheerfully refer to as the back end of nowhere, on a tiny dirt road. We did have one neighbour within walking distance, and that neighbour was friends with, wait for it, a real live writer! When we met he offered to read my work. He said I was already better than he had been at my age, and handed me a copy of It’s a Wonderful Life because “Your formatting is a mess.” I went home, opened a new document file, and started again. If my parents biggest concern was that I should be practical, then dammit, I was going to learn how to do this the right way. And there, my education began.
All this is to explain the important stuff. Firstly, that anyone, anywhere, can learn how to write, no matter how little experience or resources they have, and second, that there are three major forces in my life: The desire to tell a story, the desperate need to legitimize myself in spite of my blue-collar upbringing and physical disability, and a sense of isolation that drove me, in spite of all my self-consciousness, and my stubborn (okay, controlling) ways, to an industry which requires me tell a story with other people. Eventually, there were other things I liked about the format, the explicit rules, at first so intimidating, the rigorous structure, that offers the perfect format to tell the story in, so I don’t even have to wonder where a chapter ends or begins, or whose perspective it’s in, and the fact that I can literally spend hours trying on various voices for various characters or looking up photos of various attractive actors and calling it “research” if I want to. But the biggest draw, for me, has always been the idea of writing as a collaborative process; Someone finds value in your work, and improves on it, just by adding how they see the characters, or the world, or the story.
Writers are possibly the lowest rung on the entertainment industry’s ladder. Often, a talented writer’s work is taken, stripped to its basic concept, utterly changed, and then given to someone else, who gets the credit when the work is finished. So much advice for writers of any type, but especially women, and especially in entertainment, is “Get used to rejection.” And it isn’t unfounded. When I did go to film school, I was asked to leave, because my disability made it impossible for me to do all the things the school promised their graduates could do. But I kept writing, and I kept waiting for the opportunity to go back to my first love. I wrote stories for other people as a ghostwriter, I did some freelance blogging, and ad jobs. I could get paid to write, but I wanted to write film and television. And here we are, a decade after I left film school in floods of tears, and I still do. And suddenly, the industry is being turned upside down. The world is no longer looking at 25-40 male as the ideal demographic. We’re in a media glut, which means terror to marketers who have to hold our attention for longer than the average YouTube video, but also means anyone with an iPhone can make a movie, and the world needs writers more than it ever has before. Am I going to sit by and watch everyone else have all the fun? Hell no! Okay, you ask, so what am I going to do next?
I don’t know.
And how great is that? As a freelance blogger and ghostwriter, my name is a blank slate. It’s possible yours is too. In an industry that is all about who you know, you may feel like you know no one, but I promise you, people are out there, making movies with what little they have. They’re not famous, but oh my God, do they love to talk about their projects. To anyone who will listen. All you have to do is take notes, and know when to offer help.
I’m probably not going to make anyone famous. But I never fell out of love with movies, the challenges and charms of the format, and the mythology of the right person reading the right script at the right time. I don’t care how unrealistic or impractical that is, because it’s also exactly the kind of magic that makes the whole thing matter. I couldn’t write a decent movie if I didn’t believe in a happy ending, could I?
You know those books with titles like The Girls Guide to Having It All? I like to think of what I’m doing as having none of it at all. No education, no credentials, no contacts. Just a lot of time writing scripts, and a lot of love for what I’m doing. A lot of friends who want to help out, and maybe, enough talent to get by on. There are a million ways this could go badly, but that’s only true because there are two million ways it could go. I don’t have an ending in mind yet. But I’m excited to do it here, because this is also a way to write with people. So hi! It’s nice to be here! I’ll be talking about formatting, free screen writing software, and how to begin, for a start, but feel free to chime in with a comment, if there’s something you want to see, or you have a specific question.
Let’s figure it out.