Writing Against The Numbers
Tracey Becker - Los Angeles "Take A Meeting" event sponsored by Final Draft.
SCRIPT: What are some ways that a pitching writer can make a good first impression?
TRACEY BECKER: Know your material. Be able to pitch it concisely and with passion. Be a good judge of when enough-is-enough.
SCRIPT: What makes for that pitch you can’t say “no” to?
TRACEY BECKER: I tend to take on projects that are fairly uncommercial, very difficult to set up, but once they’re done, everyone says, “Oh my gosh! Of course! Who wouldn’t make that movie!” When my partner and I take something on, it’s got to be a story that I can see myself living with for five, six, seven years. It’s got to connect with me on an emotional level, and that is completely impossible to quantify. That’s why there are so many different movies and different buyers because everything hits somebody in a different place. I like something that hits me emotionally: very strong characterization is important, and a story that, at the end of the day, helps reveal a facet of humanity for the audience.
SCRIPT: Should a screenplay being pitched already be complete?
TRACEY BECKER: My process is that I love to work with writers, and develop screenplays from an idea phase. But, it’s also very difficult for me to do that with writers who are new to the business. It takes a long time to get to the point where you have a shorthand. So, with young writers, it’s very helpful to have a script. For me, I wouldn’t expect the script to be ready to shoot. What I’m looking for in a script is: author’s voice, their grasp of the content, how they handle the tone, and how they develop their characters. The rest can be enhanced, but I want to know that those elements are in place.
SCRIPT: How important is proper screenplay format?
TRACEY BECKER: It’s hugely important. For those of us on this side of the table, you have no idea how many screenplays we look at in a week. There is a format: it aids the process, it speeds up the process. We don’t have to belabor over trying to figure out, “Is that a stage direction, or is that dialogue? Are they trying to cram an extra thirty pages in by squeezing the font?” It’s really important to follow the format; the format is there for a reason. It aids the reader tremendously. You, as a writer, don’t want to do anything that takes the reader outside of the moment on the page. In order for you to be the most successful writer possible, make your script in a perfect format so that it’s not a distraction for the professional reader.
SCRIPT: Any pet peeves with regard to screenplays?
TRACEY BECKER: Format aside, spelling and punctuation mistakes drive me crazy. I’m also not a huge fan of “writing-by-the-numbers,” meaning there are plenty of places out there that will tell you exactly how to write a screenplay, and by this page you have to have that, and by that page you have to be at this plot point. I feel that that can be a crutch far too often. There are too many times when writers are writing-by-the-numbers: many times the screenplay feels like it could have come out of a computer-generated program. “Cookie-cutter” scripts I don’t like. I like to see creativity; I relish it when a masterful writer can play with the way a story is told.
SCRIPT: Do you have any advice for aspiring screenwriters?
TRACEY BECKER: The two T’s, talent and tenacity, can’t be emphasized enough. If you’re brought to writing because you have a passion for it, and then you’re brought to writing screenplays (which is a very difficult job), I would hope that there’s a talent there. I think that all of us have a way of telling a story that is unique to us: honing your unique talent is really important. Tenacity is also hugely important: don’t let a day go by without writing.