Browsed by
Author: Wayne Coughlin

A Script Magazine Article on the Audience

A Script Magazine Article on the Audience

Why The Audience Is More Important Than You

Originally posted at

The audience – not the ‘industry’ – matters most. Your ability to get them to laugh, cry, be scared, angry, whatever – is the real key here.

I saw a video clip recently, where a very earnest actor/writer insisted creators should ignore the audience, and write what pleases themselves. Because if you don’t satisfy yourself with your work, you won’t satisfy anyone else.

So basically – if you are really good at self-pleasuring, you will obviously and naturally be really good at pleasing others. Right?

This line of thinking – shut out all the other voices and just focus on your own – is not entirely wrong. But it’s woefully simplistic, and easily misinterpreted, which leads to some truly awful, wildly self-indulgent scripts.

The self-pleasure advice is a response to the concept of writing what you think will sell, or what you think the ‘industry’ wants right now. It’s aimed at the writer who is trying to figure out how to stuff their science fiction rom-com idea into a vampire movie, because a trade magazine says Hollywood loves vampires right now. That’s entirely understandable, given the sheer volume of horrible advice floating around.

But that’s not the definition of ‘audience’ you ever need to worry about. That’s seeing ‘audience’ as the market for your work, and trying to deliver to that market something you think they want.

Here’s an easy tip when you find yourself mentally wandering in that direction. Don’t. It’s a waste of time, for two reasons. One, the ‘industry’ is not uniform, minds change constantly, and no one will ignore a great script, whatever it is. Two, at no point in this headspace are you thinking about the real audience. The people in the movie theatre, or on the couch, desperate to be entertained. And if you aren’t thinking about them…then what the F**K are you doing?

Let’s step back for a moment, and think about why we spend so much time writing, reading about writing, and thinking about writing. Is it for global respect? Hahaha – try novels. Is it to exorcize our own emotional demons? Sure. But we both know the real reason, don’t we? Lurking within is a deeply held belief we may actually earn some money doing this. Maybe a lot of money. It’s OK – no shame in that.

If money is not one of your stronger writing goals – then writing is a hobby, and you can safely ignore this entire article. And every other article. Just write whatever the hell floats your boat. Self-pleasure all the way.

But if you harbor dreams of being a professional – your job is to entertain strangers. Ideally with something that resonates with you on an emotional level, so your work will have an authenticity that cannot be easily faked.

So as you think about your work, and pleasing yourself, never forget the strangers. When you hear/read the old chestnut ‘write what you know’ – please finish the sentence. It should be – ‘write what you know…but make it accessible to strangers.’ It’s those strangers who will give you the opportunity to earn money. Not. You.

I confess there is a bit of a tightrope walk here. Entertain but avoid pandering. Staying true to what emotional space you want to occupy/explore, but keeping an eye on giving your audience a satisfying experience. It’s hard to know if you’re succeeding – which is why you show drafts to people, rewrite, and watch your script evolve.

The audience – not the ‘industry’ – matters most. Your ability to get them to laugh, cry, be scared, angry, whatever – is the real key here. Blindly shutting them out of your creative process is at best self-indulgent, at worst just plain stupid.

Pleasing yourself with your script is a great, and important start, obviously. You shouldn’t be writing something you don’t connect with. But it’s just the start.

I read too many scripts where a writer seems to be the only one pleased with their words. Or where the writer thinks more about telling their story, than about the experience for the strangers expected to watch it. Or even…when a writer has done extensive historical research, or is super passionate about something specific – like a war, a social issue, or a moment in time, and shares it all without thinking about ways to make it interesting, or accessible to someone who doesn’t have their obsessive passion.

As you write, keep asking some basic questions. What’s in this for strangers? Why do I want them here? What do I want them to feel? To care about? To take away with them? Am I doing a good enough job expanding this idea/characters beyond my own self-interest?

No one gets it right all the time. Even James Gunn seems to think oceanic creatures becoming villainous monsters is always hilarious to strangers when it really isn’t. And I know there is a certain degree of self-confidence needed when putting pen to paper and you don’t want to get lost second-guessing everything.

So if you feel you are making a choice between what you think an audience will like, or what your gut thinks should be in the scene – go with the gut at first. But if you haven’t had that internal conversation…then go back and have it. And please, be open-minded to your gut not being right all of the time.

There’s no template for this. No quick fix. It’s a constant battle. But you can help yourself if you are clear on the ‘audience’ definition, clear on your goals, and clear that sometimes simplistic advice from someone in a quick video is garbage.

Pleasing yourself is great fun, and very satisfying. But if you think it guarantees you will be able to please strangers…well…I think we both know the answer to that one.

Script-A-Palooza 2017 winners

Script-A-Palooza 2017 winners

Congrats to our Script-A-Palooza Winners!

We had a great time performing and seeing screenplays performed at the last general meeting of RAFAS (Rochester Association for Film Arts and Sciences). Overall, it’s always a great opportunity to share short subjects with the world and get actors, directors, and crew interested in your work. I’m looking forward to even more entries next year!

Got a desire to see your writing put to screen? Get some feedback at a RWW meeting and let RAFAS help match you with a cast and crew!

1st place:
“Time to Feed” by Curt Markham

2nd place:
“Biometrics” by Shawn Essler

3rd place:
“Mama Masta” by Joanne Casey

A Note About the Writing Process & the Step Outline

A Note About the Writing Process & the Step Outline

As we go through the process, from idea & theme to script, questions have arisen regarding the step outline.

If we think of the process as Most General (idea & theme) to Most Specific (script), the Step Outline falls somewhere in the middle.  The Step Outline is the blueprint you will follow when you get to the actual script writing.

It needs to be specific in regards to the sequence of events starting with FADE IN and ending with FADE OUT. It should lay out “What” will happen, while supporting the theme. Save the “How” until you are at the script phase.

A couple of other benefits can come from creating a Step Outline. Is your story long enough to fill 100 pages of script? Does the story make sense based on your Steps? Are there other opportunities for plot development once you review the Outline?

The tendency to “write too much” in each step … to embellish … gives a false sense of security about the eventual length of the script. Each step should average about 3 pages of script.

Remember, a Step Outline is a tool you will use as you sit before your computer and type “FADE IN”. It will allow you to focus only on “How” you want to communicate that event, adding all the character bits and scenes necessary to do it.

It allows you to focus all your creativity on how to craft that communication in the most creative way possible.

The following article by Dan Bronzite provides more info on the subject.

Story Planning & How To Step Outline A Screenplay

by Dan Bronzite

What Is A Step-Outline?

Okay, so you’ve got this great idea. You think, if only someone would make a movie out of it! Then it hits you.. Hey, why don’t I write it myself?! Well, why not? Go for it! But before you jump into the deep end you need to lay the foundations for your screenplay.

Plan Your Story!

Many novice screenwriters make the mistake of leaping head first into a full screenplay without taking the crucial first step of outlining their story – otherwise known in the biz as “step-outlining”.

A step outline is essentially a step by step breakdown of your story. By planning your story structure in advance you will save yourself a whole lot of time in the “rewriting” stage of your project because no matter how good you are at screenwriting, all writers have to learn to love rewriting!

Step Or Scene?

A “Step” really means an “Event” in the progression of your story, and this means that each step can consist of more than one “Scene”. A Montage sequence is one good example or:

Joe leaves his apartment, gets in his car, drives to the bank.

Although in a screenplay this totals three scenes, in a step-outline it is only one step since the nature of creating a step-outline dictates that you focus on the main story event and do not get into too much detail. Unless something big happens to Joe while he is getting into his car, the scene can be described within the overall event. What then happens when Joe enters the bank is another step.. and so on.

Another example could be a car chase. In a screenplay, each location that the cars involved in the chase pass through is technically a scene, but since we’re dealing with the same story event, the entire chase and collection of scenes is referred to as a step.

Or supposed your screenplay has your Hero bravely dashing into a burning building to save a child while other fire-fighters frantically do their best to put out the blaze. Technically, each room your Hero searches in constitutes a scene, and every time we cut back to the other fire-fighters, they are separate scenes too, but when planning your story, it is much easier to think of this as one single event and as such, a single step.

Outlining vs. Rewriting

The thing is, I never used to outline my movies before I wrote them. I just sat down with a pad and a pen and jumped right into it. To be fair, it was a liberating experience. A “stream of consciousness” as they call it in literary circles. What pops into your mind, suddenly appears on the paper. The flow takes you away with it … but beware, before you know it you are ten pages into your feature script and you have no idea of where you are going or indeed, where you came from.

Like I said, I never used to think this was a problem, until I was faced with the dreaded experience of having to rewrite absolutely everything I wrote another one hundred and fifty times. And this wasn’t for development execs or producers. It was for myself. I was and still am my own worst and best critic. I know when something I have written works and when it doesn’t.

Being a director too, I have always thought visually and approached each screenwriting project as if I was going to put it on the big screen myself without anybody’s help. This may be unrealistic, but it enabled me to view my work from a different perspective. An objective one. I learnt the basics of pace and cutting out of a scene early and into one as late as possible. I now look at all of my stories as pictures. I see them as paintings rather than words. And I see the entire scene-to-scene progression of my screenplays as maneuverable blueprints rather than an adhesive concoction of prose and dialogue stuck together and to the page.

Confused? I’ll try to explain further.

When you write a film script either straight onto a pad or punch it directly into your computer, the worst thing you can do is imagine that these words are chiseled in stone. That the scenes in the order you have created them are rigid and will remain where you put them for all eternity. You have to see the script as a reflection of your original idea that can now be molded and shaped into the story it was always meant to be.

The problem is, when you don’t plan out your screenplay first, this is much harder to do. That’s why I started outlining scripts before writing them. Well, that’s actually a lie. I started outlining them because producers and development execs wanted to see the ideas for my pitches and I couldn’t just hand them a bunch of scribbled notes. These outlines then developed into longer treatments and before I knew it I was already in the habit of “step-outlining” first and writing screenplays second. It was a bizarre, subconscious transition, but I’m extremely glad that it happened.

Since planning out my screen stories step by step (or from major event to major event) I have been able to focus my cinematic ideas and nail down the real central structure of my screenplays and their principle character arcs before committing myself to the script itself.

It does take a little commitment, especially if you are eager to start writing dialogue and getting to know the characters populating your new world up close and personal, but if you try to curb your enthusiasm for just a few days and hammer out the central event driven plot beforehand you will most certainly save yourself a whole load of time and screenwriting headaches in the end.