The end of the year is always an exciting time. People celebrate various holidays and wish each other the very best of health and happiness. They look back to consider the ups and downs of the past year, and look forward to a year yet to unwrap itself. Best of all, aspiring screenwriters get to take their inspiration from blockbuster holiday movies the studios release just in time for Christmas season viewing fun. If you are writing a movie script, be sure to spend extra time studying these December films, and think about what they have that makes them such a hit with audiences, or, in some cases, what might be lacking.
In this newsletter, I provide some thoughts about scriptwriting for a December release, and as examples look at two films that are making a big splash this year. I also take a look back at what happened for The Story Solution in 2016. If you are looking for more screenwriting tips, or know someone who wants to be a screenwriter, my book, “The Story Solution,” makes a great holiday gift!
Screenwriting Lessons from December Blockbuster Movies
I’m sure scriptwriters know there are two huge times of the year for movie releases – summer and December. These seasons can make or break studios, and launch stellar careers for screenwriters. While summer leans toward the action genre, December movies tend to be more thoughtful and are often the best movies of the year. Audiences flock to local cinemas to see the latest Hollywood offerings, looking for cinematic heroes, drama, comedy, meaning – and a script that draws them in.
I advise my scriptwriting students to write each script as if the movie will be released in December. Here are some reasons why you should shoot for this goal, too:
- Award season is fast approaching: Winning a major award can catapult a movie and its screenwriter into the stratosphere. December movies are often the last chance to generate awareness and build momentum for an Academy Award nomination. If you write with a December release in mind, you’re automatically motivating yourself to produce Oscar-worthy material, because end-of-the-year releases must be very well written.
- The movie business rewards a December release: Because of the stakes at hand, movie production and distribution politics are at an all-time high during this season. A break-out script or star can change the entire outlook for a studio, so getting a December release slot is not easy. That means you need to study the kinds of stories being offered in December.
- Shorts work well, too: If you’re not yet ready for a full feature film, keep in mind that December is the month when movie theaters run more shorts from student filmmakers, in order for those shorts to qualify for Oscar consideration. It’s good to try your hand at bringing a short script from idea to reality – and THEN try your hand at directing it. But in film directing there’s also a whole lot to learn. Read, take some classes, be prepared to stretch your directing wings! Just have your short film finished long before December, of course. Plan ahead.
Study movies that are released in December, because they are usually well written and frequently high concept, with an eye toward an Oscar nod. This is also why movie studios would rather NOT release a fantasy action around this time of year, and usually wait until late spring or summer for the younger audiences of superhero movies. A couple of December movies which are already generating a lot of Golden Globe and Academy Award buzz include:
- La La Land: Release date: December 9, 2016 (USA). Starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend and Rosemarie DeWitt. Director Damien Chazelle is a 31 year old screenwriter/director who might have a huge hit on his hands. Already nominated for seven Golden Globes, including Best Screenplay, La La Land is the musical story of an aspiring actress and a jazz musician, who are struggling to achieve success in Los Angeles. The film takes viewers through the course of the first year they are together and then, in a unique story move, jumps ahead to compare what happened for them with what could have been. The script covers the joy and agony of pursuing your dreams, and leaves the audience wondering whether fame or love is more important.
- Silence: The film was previewed November 29, 2016 at Vatican City and is scheduled for a limited release in the U.S. on December 23, then wide release in January. Starring Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Tadanobu Asano, and Ciarán Hinds. Screenplay by Jay Cocks and director Martin Scorsese, based upon the 1966 novel. Scorsese invested over 28 years into bringing this novel’s vision to life. His efforts have already been rewarded with a 2016 National Board of Review award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Set in the late 1600s during the time of “Hidden Christians” in Japan, the movie tells the story of two Portuguese Jesuit priests who face the ultimate test of their faith when they travel to Japan in search of their mentor. The script explores the difficulty of pursuing conflicting goals of personal enrichment and spiritual transcendence, and is a testament to Scorsese’s dedication to searching for an answer. It’s also an object lesson for all screenwriters: getting movies actually made from your scripts takes a long – sometimes incredibly long – time. I personally wrote one original feature screenplay that took twelve years to get produced. Your commitment to your craft must be deep.
A Year in Screenwriting Tips
- Updated Website: I’ve revamped and updated my website to make it easier and more effective to use. More to come.
- Expanded Download Library: Visitors to my website can access many screenwriting resources, including my complimentary Hero Goal Sequence breakdowns for popular movies. Already available are “Bridesmaids” and “Back to the Future,” and I’ve recently added “Finding Nemo.” Visit now and learn how my Hero Goal Sequencing process applies to these – and all – megahit movies.
- Blogs: I’m constantly sharing information on screenwriting. Look for my blog updates for inspiration and insights.
- Interview for (Virtually) Everything Story: I was thrilled to be asked to provide an exclusive interview for this first-of-its-kind virtual story conference, talking about “Building Powerful Movie Stories.” I got to share my secrets for writing movie scripts that get deals. And don’t miss the interview my dear friend, Michael Hauge, and Laura Leigh Clarke conducted with Will Smith to learn about his insights into storytelling.
AND – the year ended on an extremely high note when I announced our new partnership with Final Draft®, the world’s most popular screenwriting software. My Hero Goal Sequences® Story Structure Paradigm is now a downloadable template included in Final Draft® 10.
My very best to you this holiday season, and I look forward to finding even more ways to help you become a great screenwriter in 2017.
About The Story Solution: Eric Edson’s The Story Solution provides screenwriting tips for those interested in screenplay writing. Seen as one of the best books on screenwriting and currently #1 in its category on China Amazon, Edson outlines 23 actions used to create three dimensional heroes. Visit the website at https://www.thestorysolution.com
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