Thursday, September 04, 2008

Conversation on Screenwriting

Hey Everybody,

Sorry this is so late, I am out on the road so it is a little harder to post when I am supposed to. I drove 1800 miles in just over 2 days so I am a little tired.


I finally got a chance to talk to talk to William Akers about his book, Your Screenplay Sucks! 100 Ways to Fix it. I thought you’d be interested in what he had to say.

Tell me a bit about yourself.

I’m tall, dazzlingly handsome, and do not enjoy walks of any kind, even on the beach. As Elvis replied, when the reporter asked him what kind of girls he liked, he said, “Female, sir.” Oops. Wait. Wrong interview. Sorry.

I teach screenwriting and filmmaking at Vanderbilt. I’ve been writing and selling screenplays for quite a while. I’ve sold spec material, pitches, and have been hired to write by producers in Hollywood. I critique scripts for writers all over the world. Now I’ve got this nifty book I’m trying to peddle.

How long have you been writing?

For money, since around 1986. I sold the first script I wrote, and it was off to the races.

How long have you been teaching writing?

Thirteen years. Maybe longer. I’ve sort of lost count.

Why did you write this book?

Self defense, baby. I’ve been critiquing screenplays for a long time, and I found that beginning writers all make the same mistakes. Over and over and over and over. So, I thought to create a checklist so the writer could do all this boilerplate stuff I had to tell every client about, and then send me their script so I could hammer them on structure and character instead of “don’t have character names that rhyme,” “take out thes and thats,” “make your prose crystal clear,” and “beware of research...” The book’s voice is my voice. I dictated the first draft, so it’s a breezy read and, for a screenwriting book, pretty funny.

I also wrote it to help people. Someone writing in Topeka who has no contact with Hollywood, is going to make a half dozen fatal errors in the first ten pages of their script, and those mistakes will stop a reader from reading. Six months spent writing a script, and the reader gets to page ten and gives up. That’s really why I wrote it, so the reader will keep reading.

What are the 2 biggest mistakes that most screen writers make?

They don’t have a breathtakingly original, wildly creative, non-derivative idea. They put the backstory in the first act. They don’t take the time to pare down the scene description and dialogue to the bare stark-white bones. They have character names that rhyme or start with the same letter. Their bad guy is poorly constructed. They don’t separate out the characters’s voices. They didn’t throw out the first twenty pages. They don’t have a clue how the motion picture or television business operates. They are arrogant and think the rules don’t apply. They argue when you give them notes. They don’t keep the reader in mind when they are writing. Those’re probably the top two mistakes.

What's the funniest mistake you have seen someone make in a screenplay?

Obscene typos are always delightful.

What makes a good script?

One that grabs you by the throat on page one, and never, ever let’s go. It’s terribly difficult to do. The idea has to work like a rocket sled on rails and then after that it does get slightly easier. The prose HAS to be tight as a drumhead. The dialogue MUST be separated out -- each character has to sound only like that guy and no one else. Preferably like no one else in the history of the movies! Check out Ellen Page’s dialogue in JUNO. Nobody ever talked like that. Snagged the writer an Academy Award for her industry. Also, the writer needs to have a voice, so the reader says, “Hey, this dude really knows how to fuckin’ write.” Lord, it’s difficult.

What's your favorite screenplay? Why?

Lately? STEALING CARS by Will Aldis. Hands down, best thing I’ve read in eons. It’s a spec that should get made next year. It’s got it all, great characters, scenes, movement, a stunning story, killer dialogue... the whole package. You know what’s a good script? ROCKY is fabulous. Stallone really understands scene construction and dialogue. Anything by Preston Sturges or Samson Raphaelson. CHINATOWN, duuh. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. I like WEDDING CRASHERS. Hmmmm. Trying to think of people who have talked to my screenwriting class... DIE HARD, PLAYING BY HEART, those were superb. 8 MILE. Oh, yeah... you can’t get any better than ORDINARY PEOPLE.

What's your favorite film not from your favorite screenplay?

Most of my favorite films, I’ve never seen the scripts.

I’ve split the interview in to two parts, so if you want to find out what happens you’ll have to come back next week. In the mean time, check out his website, .

Other Stuff.

I am out on the road on tour (and still looking for sponsors).

It’s great to be back on the road again. I am promoting my new book, The Angry Filmmaker Survival Guide: Making the Extreme No-Budget Film, now if only the publisher would get me a few copies…

It looks like I’ll be appearing at 35-50 venues which will translate to 4,000 – 5,000 people on this tour. Over the last 5 years I would estimate that I have been in front of well over 25,000 film students, filmmakers, and film enthusiasts. I think that’s pretty good.

I still have a few dates available, so if you are interested in having me come to your college, university, media art center, independent book store, or even to your house for dinner, drop me a line ( and let me know.

I am thrilled that Film Baby ( is a sponsor on this tour. If you haven’t checked out their site and their services, you need to do it. They are a great group of people dedicated to helping you get your films out.

Also check out my new sponsor, Cheezy Flicks, they have some wonderful stuff on their site If you are a fan of some of the cheesiest movies ever made, you have to check this site out. I mean where else are you going to find titles like The Day of the Triffids and G-Men VS The Black Dragon.

My first two Workshop DVDs are available on my site,, (and Film Baby’s) so what are you waiting for, buy them!

Talk later.



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