A little more than a year ago I was sitting on a fancy desk at a fancy production company in West Hollywood, sipping on a diet coke, waiting on instructions from my bosses. Yes, bosses. When you’re an intern in LA, you work for everyone at the office. It was actually kind of cool though- they each have a random task for you, something that needs your very specific set of skills to be done properly. It can go anywhere from sweetening a green tea with the right amount of honey to actually doing something that relates to your major and/or life goals. In my case, the most exciting part of working there was reading scripts (and books, occasionally). But like all things in life, there was a dark side to that sort of responsibility. If I didn’t like a script, it would be shred into a million strips I would later have to dump into the recycling, just so we could do it all over again the next day. The assistant that assigned the script to me probably wouldn’t read it if my coverage wasn’t favorable, and that would be the end of that. Executives don’t have time for bad scripts (or books).
It was a bit disheartening. Getting a script through the office (any office) requires a lawyer or an agent, or some sort of magical connection with one of the head development executives. All of that work just to get read and some unpaid, overworked, caffeinated intern gets to be the first reader. On top of that, a relatively good script can get through everyone at the office and ultimately get rejected by the CEO, or the studios, or the investors, wasting thousands of dollars in salaries. On the other hand, part of me always thought: if this idiot can get this shit through us then so can I! I am going to write a shitty script! Every production company works differently, though, so what do I know? I have not sold a script to Hollywood yet. I wouldn’t be writing this blog if I did. However, as a former Hollywood intern and aspiring screenwriter, I’d like to give you some advice on storytelling. I took some screenwriting classes in college too, so I’m not like a total noob, ok? Also, I’d like to know your thoughts. Do you have any good advice for other lost souls like me?
1. Avoid cliched personality traits
I am going to explain this one through the example of Mama. It was a wonderful horror film by Guillermo del Toro and honestly the scariest thing I’ve watched since I overcame my fear of zombies. The stepmom figure in the story is this rocker chick that basically struggles to settle into a domestic lifestyle. She has the jet black hair (which I think was actually fake) and everything. She does really cliche rocker chick things like get excited when a pregnancy test comes out negative and refusing to leave music and performing on stage to become a full-time stepmom. Anyway, the whole point is that her entire existence was so boring and predictable that I almost didn’t even care if she died halfway through the film. A lot of scripts that are circulating right now have the most cliched characters ever. Remember that people have dimensions. Labels are so 2000.
2. Resist the urge to write stereotypically ethnic characters
This is kinda like the former one except this one particularly deals with race and ethnicity. Not all Latinos live in bad neighborhoods, get involved with cartels and remain illiterate. Not all Asian people are smart or kung fu warriors. And not all black people are sassy or violent criminals. Also not all white people are rich and fabulous. Come on! I lose a little bit of faith in humanity every time I see a film that is evidently trying really hard to diversify and then one of their ethnic character speaks. It’s like not even humorous.
3. Stop trying to write the next Twilight
It is not going to happen. So The Hunger Games came out after Twilight and became a massive success… I get it. I was surprised too until I actually read the book, honestly a much better reading material than the story of Bella Swan. Young Adult literature blew up for like a hot second and I understand why the studios thought this was the direction the market was heading. They were so wrong though. Beautiful Creatures was a total flop and nobody had anything nice to say about The Host, which also happens to be written by Stephanie Meyer. This genre is basically dead. The market is already saturated with things like Teen Wolf and Vampire Diaries anyway, so just stop. Instead, you should try to…
4. Adapt something everyone loves
There’s a million pop culture things out there that movies could be made out of right now. From video games (Mario Bros reboot or the Legend of Zelda) to erotic fan fiction (50 Shades of Gray) and unexpected sequels (Life Size 2), everyone loves a good adaptation. Just find the most popular thing out there and write a cool story about it. Seriously. The more you can package this shit and merchandise it the better. In case you weren’t aware, The Lego Movie is coming out soon. I swear to you this is totally possible!
5. Ask yourself this very important question “Why would anyone care about my story?”
It’s simple. Why would anyone care about your story? Not trying to be an a-hole here. I’m just saying that if you want people to buy your script and invest thousands if not millions of dollars turning your words into moving images then you need to consider the importance of the message you’re trying to send out. I read so many bullshit stories about basically nothing over time I’m never going to get back. Time I wasn’t even paid for. How dare you waste my time? Anyone’s time! This rule also applies to sequels and adaptations. Think about it. Does the world really need Life Size 2? Yes, yes it does. Do we need a PacMan movie? Perhaps not. I dare you to write a badass female character and not cast Jennifer Lawrence in it. I dare you to write a queer character whose identity isn’t defined by the partners ze takes to bed. I dare you to stop writing the same Rachel McAdams rom com over and over. I’m so bored with movies right now that I need to wait for award season to tell me what to watch. Judge me. Judge me all you want.
666. Sell your soul to the devil
Because like I said before, I have no idea how to sell a script to Hollywood. Getting a script to an executive’s desk requires representation. Getting represented requires experience and recognition. Getting recognition requires you to write something great. Experience is up to you. So get to writing! The best thing you could do to exercise your skills is to write every day. Maybe get a writing buddy and exchange scripts and other things. Chances are they’re probably too caught up with their own ideas and need a little break from their heads. That and you never really know where/when your next great idea is going to come from. Not that you should steal anyone’s ideas. Also I hope I’m not ripping someone off by saying that other thing.
BTW. I’m really sorry for all those scripts I had to shred. I promise it wasn’t personal and I hope the writing gods don’t hold this against me. I’ve had serious nightmares about this. Some kid who is now in high school (that means born right before 2000) and doesn’t even know what his/her future is going to look like ends up going to film school, finding an internship, reading my script and tossing in the trash. It’s called karma.
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