What Should A Screenwriter Know Before Writing A Screenplay? - Erik Bork

Film Courage: So Erik we’ve taken some questions from viewers our community tab for Youtube.

We have so many here and apologies to those we don’t get to one of which is from Melissa

Rose and Melissa writes “Is there one thing you feel is essential for screenwriter/writer

to know before starting?”

Erik Bork, Screenwriter/Author: Well there are a lot of things but I think the reason

I wrote this book about making the idea process a priority is strictly based on y feeling

that you need to know that choosing the idea that you’re going to write is so important

and so essential and not easy to pick and idea that is going to be a worthwhile thing

to write.

Worthwhile meaning it would have a chance at moving it forward in the industry.

It’s always worthwhile to write and have the experience for yourself and for your growth.

But fro a commercially marketable can move-my-career-forward standpoint, to me the most important thing

which is why I wrote this book [The Idea: The Seven Elements of a Viable Story for Screen,

Stage or Fiction] about is to understand what the elements are of a viable story idea and

to make coming up with one your main priority and take the time and get the feedback necessary

on your ideas before you launch into 6 months or a year or several years writing and rewriting

a script because you can write or rewrite a script several times to make it somewhat

better but if it was based on an idea that it was really going to have a tough time moving

forward no matter how you executed it, a manager or agent would call that somewhat wasted time.

So that’s probably my first obvious, self-serving answer based on my book being about that.

Film Courage: Well that makes sense.

Maybe we can actually go back to some of the words in this P.R.O.B.L.E.M.


So “Original,” we hear so much about “it’s got to have this writer’s fresh voice”

and all of that but hasn’t so much already been done?

It must be very challenging today to have something “original.”

Erik: It is tough to be really original and it goes back to writing things that are really

personal to you.

Sometimes the most original things do come from taking your real life or taking something

you have witnessed or experienced and using that as fodder for material.

So there can be a value for that if you can find a way that we talked about which is find

a perspective so you can make it viable, entertaining and compelling to millions of people who don’t

know you.

But it’s not easy to do.

Originality it’s a tricky one because you can only be so original because so many things

have already been done right?

So many types of stories and genres and types of story situations.

I just saw EIGHTH GRADE last night which was a very original voice which is something we’ve

already seen 4 million examples of which is kind of a misfit teen who the popular people

are mean to trying to find their way in a socially universe of school.

Is there anything that has been done more often than that?

But yet you watch the movie and because it’s so authentic and real and specific and vivid

it was done not exactly in the way we’ve seen it before and it had some currency because

there was the whole social media aspect to it where she had like a vlog and she’s on

Instagram all the time it feels very much like it’s about that problem for today’s

eighth graders in a certain setting.

So you update it, you make it current and you make it specific.

I think it’s that the thing, not that it has to be an idea that is so out there different

and special.

Because sometimes that can be a trap.

If you try to be too original sometimes you end up writing things that are contrived arguably

or hard to believe or understand because your focus is that is has to be different from

everything else.

When a writer focuses too much on originality (as I wrote in this book) sometimes they are

doing it at the expense of these other important elements of what makes a viable story idea.

Like it may not be as compelling or entertaining or as relatable because of these other things

because they are mainly focused on “Yeah, but no one has ever seen it before.”

It doesn’t matter if no one has ever seen it before if it doesn’t grab the audience

or the reader in the ways that great stories always have.

So you have to balance the need for originality with these other elements.

That being said you’re right that an original voice is highly-valued in a new writer.

It’s like finding that way to find an original (I think authentic is a better word) but authenticity

where things feel so real, so believable but so well-observed and unique and you haven’t

seen it quite this way before because something about this writer’s way of seeing this way

and the world came up with this version of it that is very memorable even if it’s within

the context of something that is somewhat familiar like if you look at NAPOLEON DYNAMITE

in its day kind of the same voice (kind of the same thing) but it’s about an awkward

teen that doesn’t fit in and people push him into lockers kind of thing.

But when you watch it you are mainly focused on the authenticity and originality of it

not noticing that this is a story form or a genre or a type of story problem that we’ve

seen in these variations.

It’s kind of like you’re taking something that has been done in terms of a genre but

you’re putting a very fresh, unique, current spin on it.

Film Courage: Right I’m thinking of PRETTY AND PINK so for our generation that was sort

of the misfit movie (especially for a female character).

Would this still work today?

Then you add in the vlogging element.

I haven’t seen EIGHTH GRADE (it’s on my list) but it’s sort of where she’s in

this town and she’s seeing the “soc” group (I know that words not really used these

days) but sort of looking up and looking to aspire.

I think anybody can relate to that, it’s a universal thing.

But yeah you throw in the vlogging element and the social media, that high school party

that everybody cringes at and you hope to be noticed but they don’t really see you

and you blend into the background.

Do you feel it’s still possible to do that story over and over again?

I know you said they’ve added in these new things the social media and the things that

are current today.

That story is very universal whether it’s male or female.

Erik: Yes I do think it’s possible and Bo Burnham proves it with that example that you

can do this thing we’ve seen so many times.

You can instantly call up other movies that have that same thing.

I mean it has that high school party that the character walks in and it petrified or

doesn’t get noticed or gets noticed in a negative way.

It has that very scene but it has a unique version of that scene that we’ve never seen

before that feels real and feels very well-observed and is very entertaining and emotional to


To me that’s the key.

Don’t try to reinvent the wheel in terms of genre or types of story problems but bring

something fresh, specific, real and original to your treatment of that sort of genre element

that we know is universally relatable because we know what a really hard thing that is to

know what you’re putting out is going to be relatable to millions of people and the

kind of story situations that are going to be a variety of them, there are certain core

elements that you tend to see repeated over and over again in successful stories.

That’s why I love [Author] Blake Snyder’s 10 genres in SAVE THE CAT, it’s one of my

favorite things about that book and I always work with those 10 genres when I work with

writers writing screenplays because I think he really pinpointed the kind of human situations

that we’ve seen work over and over again in successful movies and there are variations

on each but there are certain key, core elements that are present and sort of realize which

one you’re going for and then to really try to fulfill those elements is a really

helpful tool for writers coming up with ideas for films.

Film Courage: So the last letter in your acronym for P.R.O.B.L.E.M. is “meaningful.”

So taking EIGHTH GRADE or NAPOLEON DYNAMITE or PRETTY IN PINK or whatever in that high

school not fitting in genre, what’s the meaning that a movie like that could give?

You could just see it as Well hey everybody had it tough in high school.

It doesn’t matter if you were popular or if you were bullied.

Everybody had it tough to some degree.”

Where’s the meaning in that?

Erik: So I think if you walk away going “Everybody had it tough, what’s the big deal?”

That movie didn’t affect you very much and probably wasn’t meaningful to you right?

Meaningful to me is when we talk about theme and what’s a movie really about underneath

its surface plot.

What’s the message or what’s the underlying issue being explored or issues and also what

the audience takes home with them.

Do they feel impacted by that, do they feel it has some meaning to their own lives as

opposed to I just watched these people have this thing happen and I sort of forget about

it in the next moment.

It sort of doesn’t really…nothing that I saw impacts me and the view of my world

and people at all.

It’s just a fictional story and when it’s over, it’s very forgettable.

So meaningful is the most optional of these 7 elements that I put in the book because

certain movies (let’s say TRANSFORMERS or something) don’t necessarily need to be

so meaningful and have such a strong theme like that.

And I’m not dissing TRANSFORMERS and saying that it doesn’t have any theme or meaning

but certain kind of movies if they’re so entertaining and they have such a punishing

problem that is relatable enough to a universal audience when you have life or death stakes

you usually have that one covered.

Life altering takes, original and believable, if it’s executed in ways that do all those

things, you could have a hit movie on your hands even if it’s not that meaningful.

But what most writers trying to break in are trying to are do movies that have do a lot

of meaning.

Because that’s what most writers are trying to do is the theme and the character arc and

that kind of stuff that tends to give something meaning.

I also think when we talk about the originality and the whole executing something in a brand

new way that feels very specific and well-observed and real, that helps give it meaning to people

because if they feel like they are just watching this contrived thing that is just there to

entertain them but nothing about it felt real or my life or my kids or my memory of childhood

I went through that or it touches me, then it’s not going to be meaningful to them.

So meaningful is maybe the most optional and the final one to consider but it can be the

most important one in the end that puts you over the top because if your script makes

people really feel something and almost makes them think about their own lives in some way

(even a hardened, professional reader in the industry) if it really makes them feel like

I didn’t just watch these remote people but I connected and it feels like it explored

something about the human condition that is relevant to me and everyone, that’s really