An Argument Against Formulas (Or Why Scott Myers is My New Hero)

With a single blog post, Scott Myers, has become my screenwriting hero. I’ve cringed, for years now, as I’ve watched my fellow writer and filmmaker friends fall prey to book after book of screenwriting and filmmaking propaganda. And while I don’t believe everything these books say is absolute rubbish, I have to agree with Scott when he explains:

What many of these folks are selling — and that is their bottom line, to get you to buy their product — is a screenplay formula. To convince you they have some unique insight into screenplay structure that can somehow magically translate into a script Hollywood would feel compelled to acquire.

The assumption is that there is some right way to write a script. Their way.

I am here to tell you this: They are selling you a lie.” (Read the full article)

Whether you’re a screenwriter, director, actor, or makeup artist, Myers’ words ring true. “There is no ‘right’ way to write a script [or make a film]. Every story is different. Every [person] is different.” and sometimes you just have to keep writing and creating until you’ve found what works for you. I’m not saying you should never read a book on screenwriting or the like ever again. On the contrary, read as many as you wish. However, my advice to that would be, once you’ve finished with any instructional literature of this sort: put it down, hide it, give it away, throw it away if you must, but whatever you do, never read it again. Because if there was anything of real importance and relevance to your particular style, it’s going to stick with you. And while you may feel the urge to put into practice every concept and nuance you’ve just read into your next project… Don’t. Or at least don’t force it. Let it find its way there organically.

Another point Myers makes (or at least eludes to) is that if your screenplay fails it should fail on your own terms not someone else’s idea of how you should have executed it. Because what happens, when you allow the aforementioned propaganda to take over the essence of your film and it’s then rejected, is that you will never truly know if your story is being rejected or the formula you used to execute it is. By the time you figure out which is which it’ll be too late. As Emma Thompson so aptly put it in a lecture last month, “If you can’t fail, you can do this job.”  And what better way is there to know if something you created is good or not than to watch it sink or swim? But it should be your own to know for sure.

During the audience Q&A, Thompson dispensed no-nonsense advice to aspiring screenwriters. “You have to be sure, if you can, that your screenplay is good,” she remarked to a query from one writer about how to get their script made. “Sometimes what we write isn’t very good – sometimes what I write isn’t very good – and I do think it’s worth remembering that… Most of the screenplays I’ve written have not been made. And the ones that haven’t been made I’ve worked very hard on, believed in and loved.” (Read the full article)

What counts is that you believe in yourself and your aptitude as a writer and not some formula you try to force into your work because some self-proclaimed guru promised it was what you’d been missing. And, of course, that you keep at it, no matter what.

For Emma Thompson’s complete lecture listen here:

For the full article by Scott Meyers as well as the rest of his 5 part series, check out the links below:

Part 1: They are selling you a lie

Part 2: Formula leads to formulaic writing

Part 3:They diminish the craft of screenwriting

Part 4: They make the job of a screenwriter more difficult

Part 5: Times have changed and so have expectations

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