Script writers with stories to tell should check out www.scriptbytch.com to make the most of your ideas!
Shawn Schepps began her career as a child actress in such shows as, “The Brady Bunch.” As she got older she appeared in “The Terminator,” “Racing with the Moon” and “The Golden Girls.”
Schepps started writing plays and musicals. Her first play, “The Steven Weed Show,” was performed in Edinburgh and New York at the Montreal Comedy Festival and at The Aspen Comedy Festival.
While writing and producing theatre, Schepps wrote “Encino Man,” and thus began her writing and producing career with films like “Son-In-Law,” “Drumline,” “Lip Service” and, recently, “You and I” directed by Roland Joffe.
Schepps’ television writer/producer credits include “Drop Dead Diva,” “Inconceivable” and “Weeds,” which she spent two years writing, producing and acting in. She has worked for every major studio like Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox and Disney. She has been on shows and written pilots for major networks like ABC, NBC, FOX, CBW and CBS. She has sold and developed to cable outlets like HBO, Lifetime, Showtime and more.
Shawn Schepps has taught writing all over the country and our hope is that through this interview, you will learn a thing or two….
You’ve got a great site at www.scriptbytch.com for many reasons, including the visually appealing artwork on the home page and the layout. However, what I found most inviting is that you break down the “Tools of the Trade” terms. Words like “logline” are explained as well as how TV scripts will be formatted differently for sitcoms, multi-camera shows, etc. Also, it’s explained how film scripts need to look professional and hold up to industry standards. Would you say that having a professionally-presented script is a prerequisite in today’s world? If so, then has this always been the case in Hollywood?
Yes a professionally-presented script is a prerequisite. Always. It’s like tennis; the court is the size 78 feet long and 27 feet wide. That’s what the professionals play on. Three strikes and you’re out in baseball. If you put your entire body through a basketball hoop, you’re not going to make two points. The same thing is true for script writing. It is a business.
It is a business that wants to make its money back. Professional sports have rules. So does screenwriting. When we think of scripts, we kind of think of them myopically. This is my script. This is my story. Why can’t I just put it on the page how I want? We can’t because the truth is a script for a film or television is laid out on a page with specific rules so the actors, directors, cinematographers, line producers, art directors, special effects departments, wardrobe, and electrical departments can all follow a template they are familiar with.
If I were to write a script in the style of e.e. cummings, development executives would laugh in my face, or think I was crazy, or kick my ass out of their office because it would be a waste of their time, even if I thought it was the most creative script in the world. It wouldn’t be. It would be an amateur’s work. So yes, there is an industry standard because the movies and television are big businesses and with big business come rules and standards.
You have very reasonable prices for the packages you offer. Would you explain to TAM readers what they can expect to get out of your “Idea Package?”
Here’s an example: one can say I have an idea for a movie about a shark. Well yeah, that’s an idea, but it’s vague. I would ask them what happens with the shark? They might answer that the shark kills people. I might ask where does the shark kill people? They may say, in the ocean. But a shark killing people in the ocean is half a movie idea. So I might ask is the shark in the middle of the ocean or in the shallow waters where it has access to people? We would talk about this until we came up with a final idea which would be… “A shark begins killing vacationers in the waters of a small town so the sheriff, a scientist and a shark hunter take a fishing boat to the middle of the ocean and in a gruesome fight to the death kill the shark.” That’s the idea, or “logline” for “Jaws.” It is only an idea, but it still tells a cohesive story.
An idea for a script must have a cohesive story in order for you to move on in the script writing process.
What about “The Outline Package?”
This is probably the most important package at least for me as a writer because the outline is your roadmap for the script. It tells the entire story. We meet the characters. The writer takes them on a journey. They change because of the journey. We meet the protagonist, the good guy. The antagonist, the bad guy. We learn the rules as to what makes the beginning of a movie work, the First Act. In the First Act we want to grab the audience by introducing our characters and the conflicts they have to overcome. We decide what the inciting incident is that takes the character away from his/her normal life and sends them on a journey.
When Meryl Streep met Clint Eastwood in, “The Bridges of Madison County” that was the inciting incident because after they met their lives changed. In the Outline Package we create the middle of the movie, or Act Two. We make relationships develop; we add conflict.
Take Tom Hanks’ character in “Big,” for example. In Act Two, Hanks starts getting used to being big. At first, it’s all just total fun for him. It’s a blast. He is experimenting with all the other characters and conflicts around him. He’s having a great time. But as we move along to the middle and end of Act Two, he isn’t having so much fun anymore. He’s becoming more of an adult and forgetting that he’s really a kid. He feels the pressure of being an adult; he feels the hostility and stakes of being “big” in a high pressure work environment. He misses his old life and family. He wants to go home. That is a perfect Act Two for an outline.
A character goes on a journey, at first it’s interesting, or different, but then it changes, and usually not in a good way. Which leads us to Act Three. Let’s take Sigourney Weaver in “Alien” for an Act Three example: Ripley discovers that the Alien is aboard the shuttle which she was hiding in. She puts on a space suit and opens the hatch, causing explosive decompression which forces the Alien to the open doorway. She shoots it and propels it out. The Alien attempts to crawl into one of the engines, but Ripley activates them and blasts the Alien into space. That is an intense Act Three.
Your Third Act has the most action in it, even if it is a romantic comedy and the lovers are trying to get back to each other.
Look, writers have stories, yes? The point of the outline package is to tell your stories in what we call “beats.” Beats are moments that build to the next moment and the next. If you have all your beats in line, your story told, your beginning middle and end worked out, then I wouldn’t say writing the first draft of your script would be a cake walk, but you could eat some cake while you are writing it, knowing that you’ve worked your story out. I walk the writer through all of this – we talk through it first on the phone. Then I give assignments that will help a writer with all the points they need to complete their roadmap for their script.
And “The Script Package?”
The Script Package is the actual writing on the of the script and we rely heavily on the outline. The first question you asked me is relevant here because the script has to look a certain way on the page for anyone who is in the business to read it. Anyone who is in this industry to make money expects your script to look and read like a professional document. A script really is a professional document when you think about it. I want my writer’s scripts to be taken seriously. This is where we talk about programs like, Final Draft, Scriptware or Movie Magic, which are templates that let you enter your Scene Headings, Dialogue, Actions, Parentheticals with the touch of a key on your keyboard. I will suggest the Final Draft program to everyone because it is the industry standard. It is used in television and movies, it is the only software used. In the script package we pay close attention to your dialogue, your character’s voices, we don’t want them all to sound the same. We talk about how to turn your outline into a script. The writer writes, I give them notes. I give the writer deadlines. If the writer gets stuck, we talk about it on the phone. I hold the writer’s hand. They will be supported and safe.
Lastly, “The Total Package?”
Because it’s the total package! A writer gets everything we’ve talked about and more. I would get into the more, but it would turn into a novel. Speaking of a novel, I have a client who wrote a script but now she thinks it should be a book, an autobiography. I agree with her, but I told her I think it should be a fictional autobiography because she has more room to be creative. And since she is telling a story that’s pretty famous, people will know from the jacket cover who it’s about anyway. That’s the total package. I have a novelist who wants to write a pilot for a television series, but she just doesn’t know how. Her novel is fantastic and I know how to give her the tools to turn it into that pilot. It’s a very exciting venture and anything can happen when you throw yourself into “The Total Package.”
I read something in your “Gallery” section that said “If they laugh, it’s funny.” So true, but what about those times they don’t? Have you had humorous dialogue that even made it past all the editing stages, but it didn’t get a laugh for whatever reason when the actor/actress actually said it? What’s the best advice you can give to those who aspire to write funny stuff? Maybe know your audience well? Use your friends as test subjects first?
If you want to write funny, write about what you know. Use your own experiences. Be true to yourself and dig deep. Don’t worry about offending anyone! Honesty is funny. Real is funny. Use your family, your friends and the people you work with for inspiration. Humans are naturally funny, even if they aren’t. There is always some quirk that makes an unfunny person funny, so exploit their quirk! Exploit the funny situations you have experienced and you can’t go wrong.
I grew up watching “The Brady Bunch,” and then grew up even more watching “The Golden Girls,” “The Terminator,” etc., which are shows and movies you actually acted in! So incredibly cool! Are there any funny stories from television and/or movie sets you’d like to share with TAM readers?
When I was a kid and I went on the “Brady Bunch” I was shocked that it wasn’t a normal house. It was a set! I didn’t expect that; I expected the Brady House. Working on “The Terminator” was interesting because it was just this low budget film. We didn’t have a lot of time to shoot it and no one knew – no one had a single idea this low-dough-show would become one of the hugest franchises ever. There are always surprises in this industry!
For any would-be script writers with stories to tell, check out www.scriptbytch.com and make the most of your ideas!