Manny Fonseca talks about the journey to developing a screenwriting class in the hopes of helping out beginning writers. He also gives out how to sign up for said class in a solid sales pitch.
Manny Fonseca is a former Hollywood creative executive that gave up a life in perpetual development for a life in perpetual development as a Hollywood screenwriter and author. His first book, BURST!, Is currently looking for a publisher and his first script, Whittier, is in pre-production. Twitter: @mannyfonseca
Some of you might have noticed that my columns were quite sporadic in the last half of 2017. To say 2017 was a little chaotic would be putting it lightly. I can say this: most of 2017 was spent reading scripts for various screenwriting competitions.
That said, you (the writer) and I (the screenplay judge) are going to have a little chat and you’re not going to like it.
But we’ll save that conversation for next time.
This is more about the positives that came from that experience. A positive that I hadn't really seen coming but am truly happy about.
LIFE AS A WRITER
When you give up everything to pursue your dream of being a writer, you might come across paths that you might not have thought you'd take. In theory, you'd love to quit your day job, write scripts all day long, sell a couple to keep the lights on and unlock the golden gate to Hollywood riches. All through your incredible grasp of the English language.
To be blunt, that’s not gonna [CENSORED] happen. At least not right away.
As many of you know, while I love my life as a writer, I was sorta forced to take the plunge when I became a caregiver to Cheryl. (A story you can read HERE).
Since then, I’ve had to self-motivate myself and find sources of income wherever I could get them. This means you have to have your eyes open for any opportunity that you can take advantage of in order to turn that into landing that rose and getting a night in the fantasy suite.
A.K.A. Making that money!
Which brings me back to judging screenplays…
TURNING WATER INTO WINE
Unfortunately, due to NDA’s, I’m not allowed to name names, but let's just say I've been reading for some of the biggest competitions in the country/world, down to the smallest. This means that I read A LOT of scripts. None of which, sadly, were of the high caliber that one comes to expect, given the quality of the competition.
I was pulling my hair out. Literally. I felt bad for my friends who had to endure my daily rants on some of the worst scripts I have ever read.
My days were filled being knee-deep in reading scripts and, like many of us do, I procrastinated reading my next piece of… ahem, script. And as many of us do, I procrastinated via Twitter.
IT ALL STARTED WITH A TWEET
Scrolling through my feed, I saw a Tweet from the wonderful Whitney Davis (follow her on Twitter @wdavisliterary). She was putting a class together and asked the Twitterverse what would they like to see in a screenwriting class that doesn't typically get taught.
Well, I couldn't help myself. I was in the middle of reading horrible scripts, and I was pissed off. There was just no reason why I should be reading scripts that were this bad. Not with the sheer amount of information that existed about screenwriting in the world. I had to toss in my two cents.
After dumping all of my pet peeves on Whitney, she liked what I had to say and, jokingly, said that we should teach a class together. Clearly, that got me thinking.
Regardless of what you think of me or how I deliver my message, I genuinely WANT to help writers. Especially writers who make an effort to get better at the craft. Plus, maybe I can save some of these writers a great deal of time and sorrow. And let's face facts, there are some selfish reasons, too. The more writers I help, the less crappy scripts I have to sit through.
AND, to be perfectly blunt, I know WHY these scripts are crappy. So, I know I can help because, at the end of the day, I genuinely want to see writers find success.
It’s fair to say, at this point, you’re all well aware that I tend to overshare, and I rarely keep my mouth shut. So, it should be no surprise when I emailed the fantastic Jeanne, editor of this very column and website, to talk about the frustrations with finding the class a home.
“Well, why don’t you do it with us?”
A couple of emails later... boom… I have the green light to move forward with creating a document outlining all of the details and the nitty-gritty of my class.
DING, DING, DING! We have a winner! My class found a home at the Screenwriters University!
I asked for an example of what they were looking for, and I got sent a document created by the great David Trottier, author of The Screenwriter’s Bible, a book that sat on the corner of my desk for many years starting out.
I was in fantastic, yet serious, company. It was time to step up my game.
FINDING A HOOK
I started working on my document and realized that I was a little all over the place. It didn’t take long to realize that my concept was a little flawed. The information was there, but I hadn’t found the package yet.
I pushed forward and did my best to get as much of the information I had in my brain, down on paper. Every pet peeve, grievance and psychotic [BEEP] hatred that I had from reading scripts for the past year.
I was about 3/4’s through that process when I threw in some line about school. Originally, I thought about looking at screenwriting as a science. A formula that had to be followed in order to concoct the perfect potion of success. You know, something stupid like that. But then that school line got me thinking.
After walking away for a couple of hours, hitting the treadmill and letting my mind wander, I had finally found my hook. Screenwriting was nothing more than a final exam.
YOU HAVE TO DO WELL ON THE TEST TO PASS
Typically, when you take a test in school, there are three sections to it. You have your multiple choice section, your true-or-false section, and then your essay section.
While the multiple choice and true-or-false sections are worth less than the essay section, they’re just as important. In fact, you can’t get an “A” without them. Sure, maybe the true-or-false section is only worth 10% of your grade, but ignoring it means, at best, you’re only going to get a “B.”
Ignoring both means you’re only going to get a “C.” Is that what you want? A “C” script? NEWSFLASH: No one gets in the door with a “C” script.
In the screenwriting world, a “C” is not a passing grade.
So, how does this translate to your script? Well, obviously the essay section is your story. At the end of the day, that’s the most important part. So if the story is the essay question, then the format of your script (scene headings, action, parentheticals, etc) is the multiple choice section and the technical execution (grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc.) is the true and false sections.
If you want a 100%, you’re gonna have to ace each section, and I can help you do that. I can help you study for the test and get you the “A” grade you’re looking for.
WHAT YOU’LL LEARN
It only takes gatekeepers about 2-4 pages to tell if you can actually write a script. Not talking about the story or the character development, talking about your FORMAT. Does your script LOOK like a script? Do you have the proper scene headings? Are your margins correct? Did you, *UGH*, write your script in Word?
The next thing gatekeepers can tell right away is if you have the TECHNICAL ability to write a script. Can you write a sentence? Is your action exciting, quick and easy to read? Does your dialogue pop or is bogged down with useless information?
Lastly, and most importantly, it all comes to your ability to tell a story. Do your first two pages tease the story? Is the structure of your first act tightly constructed? Or does it meander and drone on? Do the gatekeepers have an inciting incident and some idea what the script is about?
WHO SHOULD SIGN UP
A hobby writer looking to prep his or her first script for submission.
A professional writer looking to hone his or her latest screenplay.
Writers of other mediums who want to break into the screenwriting business.
THE LESSON PLAN
1. Improper Formatting Will Kill Your Script
- Setting your expectations
- Page count, scene headings, typos. . .
- Formatting rules and guidelines
- What to keep out of your script
2. You Have to be Able to Execute Your Great Script Idea
- How to execute your script idea
- Crafting engaging action
- Developing characters
3. At the End of the Day, It All Comes Down to Story
- Crafting your story
- Making the best impressions from the start
- Your first 30 pages, page by page
The class starts on March 1st and runs for two weeks. At the end, you’ll get my feedback on your script and, more importantly, your writing. This will prep you to get your script ready for mass consumption in the form of screenwriting competitions and general Hollywood gatekeepers.
You can sign up for the class HERE.
Also, follow me on Twitter (@mannyfonseca). I will be randomly offering new followers a 20% discount on the course! Just make sure you check your DM’s before the 1st.
OH! THE IRONY
One last anecdote: At the top of this column, I spoke about keeping an eye out for an opportunity. THIS column itself was an opportunity. I got this column by being a bit of a dick. Yeah, I know, shocker.
I had clicked on an “article” about writing action movies, figuring, “Hey! I write action. Let’s see what this person has to say.”
About halfway through the article, I realized that it was less about the information and more an advertisement for a stupid webinar about writing action movies.
I. WAS. PISSED.
I had been duped by these articles before and was angry that I fell for it again!
So, I did what anyone does these days, I bitched about it on Facebook, criticizing ScriptMag for not knowing the difference between an article and an advertisement.
I never thought it would ever reach anyone of importance. Yeeeaaahhh… That didn’t work out and one of my screenwriting friends commented, tagging Jeanne. You know, the EDITOR of ScriptMag?! Oops.
She added a response that I thought was super classy, given the fact that she really should have told me to go [QUACK, QUACK] myself!
I messaged her a long apology, explaining why I was so cranky. That I respected ScriptMag and felt duped. That began a long exchange (and friendship that I respect) with Jeanne. Somewhere in that exchange, I ended up sharing a couple of quick stories about “Navigating Hollywood.”
She saw the opportunity herself and, well, here we are.
Before writing this column, I emailed Jeanne and asked her permission to share this story. She took great joy in rubbing the irony in my face. Cause here I am, hawking products.
Touché, Jeanne. Touché.
A major thank you to Whitney Davis for planting the seed and a huge thank you to Jeanne for watering said seed.