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BREAKING IN: Screenwriters “Bowling for Hollywood”

Recently, script analyst Staton Rabin went bowling for the first time in ages. And she found out that you can learn a lot about writing and selling your script from bowling. Really! Read on, Macduff, read on...

Recently, I went bowling for the first time in over twenty years. Let me tell you, it was an educational experience. And not just because I learned that I shouldn’t give up my day job as a script analyst to go on the pro bowling tour. You see, my lousy bowling improved once I finally figured out that the game was a lot like writing and selling a screenplay. Case in point:

When I rolled the ball down the lane, aiming for the center, I kept inadvertently hooking the ball to the left, where it always landed in the gutter. Nothing I did seemed to help. I’d always aim for the center pin, but end up with a gutter ball every time.

But then I realized that, just as in screenwriting, I should learn what my weaknesses are and compensate for them. So instead of aiming for dead center when I let go of the ball, for the next frame I aimed for the pin furthest to the right. And what happened? The ball went straight down the middle of the lane, mowing down all the pins. A Strike!

Let’s apply this to screenwriting. Let’s suppose that you’ve made an objective assessment of your own work (or a script analyst has done this for you), and you’ve identified some of your writing weaknesses, which appear in every one of your scripts. Perhaps you know that you have a tendency to write “on the nose” dialogue-- which lacks subtext and nuance. Or maybe you know that you don’t spend enough time preparing to write, making sure your concept and story structure are working before embarking on a new script. Or you always have some kind of deus ex machina-- a “miracle” that rescues your hero-- instead of working through the plot more carefully so that your main character overcomes obstacles through his own determined efforts.

Whatever your particular writing weaknesses are— and we all have them-- it’s important to figure out what they are, keep a watchful eye out for them in your work, and compensate for them whenever you write a new script.

Back to my bowling adventure…

A few frames later, I found myself in another challenging situation. After throwing the ball and knocking down eight pins, I was left with just two pins standing-- one all the way on the left side of the lane, and the other all the way on the right. Oh, no! A split!

If I tried to roll the ball along the right edge of the lane, chances are it would just slip off the edge into the gutter before it reached the pin on the right. And even if it hit it, which was very unlikely, I would only succeed in getting one pin-- not two. So, clearly, aiming the ball directly at my target pin was not the best way to go. It was quite a dilemma.

But then I figured out that this bowling challenge was a lot like trying to get your screenplay to Tom Cruise. If you’re an unknown writer and you want to get your script to Tom Cruise, you don’t go directly to Tom Cruise. You pitch your story to someone who can GET to Tom Cruise, who is a lot easier for you to reach. Someone in the film business that Tom knows and respects. Probably someone he works with, like a co-producer. Or maybe the director for one of Tom’s successful movies.

How did I apply this knowledge to my bowling dilemma? I knew that if I want to get to the pin on the right (“Tom Cruise”, for our purposes), I should try to hit the pin on the left (“Murgatroyd Smythe”). So I aimed for the dead center of the lane (knowing that my aim tends to hook to the left) and released my bowling ball, which rolled down the lane and struck good old Murgatroyd. Then, just as I predicted, at the moment of impact that pin flew across the lane and knocked over the pin on the right (Tom). Bingo! Wrong game, but you get the idea. Both pins down! By thinking counterintuitively, I’d reached my goal!

While my suggestions probably won’t improve your bowling, if you take a similarly analytical and methodical approach to writing and selling your script-- identifying and compensating for your writing weaknesses, and finding the best ways to reach your marketing targets in the fewest possible attempts-- you just might turn out to be a winner. But please don’t roll any bowling balls at movie stars or their friends.

Keep pitching (and bowling). See you next month.