The winner of our Horror Award 2019 was also the Grand Prize Winner of our Fall 2019 Screenwriting Contest: MONGER by David Axe!
Having already introduced it here, we thought we’d get a more in-depth look at the project with a Q&A with David…
To find out what inspired the project, how he went about writing it, and his advice for writers, take a look below. And if you’d like to give yourself a chance to follow in his footsteps and win our Grand Prize of $2000, enter our Winter 2020 Screenwriting Contest by March 1st!
What was your inspiration for writing MONGER?
I borrowed from my own experiences. I was a war correspondent for many years and spent time with combat troops in several war zones. In 2011 I was riding in a U.S. Army vehicle in Logar province in Afghanistan when a bomb exploded underneath it. I was fine but many of the soldiers in the vehicle were not. More generally, I’m no stranger to trauma, guilt and alcoholism. I wanted to write about these things while also giving them substance. As in, a monster.
Why did you choose to write a horror movie?
Horror stretches the rules of everyday life, allowing a writer to play in a much wider space than, say, a strictly naturalistic drama would do. I wanted to give form to guilt. I wanted my characters to literally fight a monster that embodies their worst trauma. Hence horror.
What was the writing process, and how long did it take?
I write steadily, from beginning to end, over a period of a couple of months. Once I’ve got a solid first draft, I get some notes from readers I trust. In the case of MONGER, I hosted a table read that was very helpful. Then revisions lasting a few weeks. The whole process of writing MONGER took maybe four months.
How have your own experiences as a filmmaker informed your writing?
I’ve made a few indie features, most recently LECTION. The more I direct, the more I simplify my writing. As a director, I want a very clean script with clear conflict and strong characters. The texture and nuance come from performance, photography and production design. The writing should be a robust, strong framework. In other words, the director in me wants the writer in me to not overthink it.
What would be your advice to other screenwriters?
Write like it’s your job and you’re going to die soon, which you are. Get used to rejection and being ignored. Don’t be shy about showing your work. Be humble when people offer notes but also learn to smile and nod and ignore bad notes. Try everything you can think of to con someone, anyone, into producing your script. And if no one will shoot your script, consider doing it yourself. At the very least, you’ll learn a lot. Then sit down and write another one. And another. And another.
In Part 1 of this Writing Insights series, we discussed how exposition is often a necessary evil in scriptwriting for conveying information that your audience needs to know, and how sometimes it’s better to use the visual medium of film instead.
But what happens when visuals aren’t enough? What do you do when you have to use dialogue instead? The answer is to make exposition so interesting that the audience doesn’t notice that it’s there – they’re too engrossed to get bored by the dreaded “info-dump” or feel that the characters are speaking in a way that might otherwise seem unnatural.
There are quite a few different ways to make exposition interesting, though. Here are a few of our hints and tips on how to go about it…
- Ignite the audience’s curiosity about what you’re about to reveal. Pose it as a question – for example, THE MATRIX‘s famous: “What is The Matrix?” – and make the audience want to know the answer. Then, when the answer is given, they’ll already be interested!
- Another trick used by THE MATRIX is including exposition in situations that are exciting – containing striking visuals and action – so that the dialogue is enhanced by what’s going on around it. Morpheus could have explained the rules of The Matrix to Neo over a nice cup of coffee – but instead, he does it through a demonstration of kung-fu.
- Make your protagonist be an outsider. As mentioned in Part 1, we don’t tell people things that they already know – but if there’s someone who doesn’t know the world or situation, then you’ve got a good excuse. And that means that it no longer feels unnatural!
- Think about what else you might be able to convey through the exposition itself. Character is best revealed through action – the things we choose to do, the decisions we make – so consider what you might be revealing about the character who is talking. The titular character of the TV show SHERLOCK comes out with huge amounts of exposition, but it feels fine because it’s in character to show off and it tells us a lot about who he is.
So there are our hints and tips to make exposition interesting. Keep these in mind the next time you’re writing a script, and make sure that your dialogue shines!
When you need to convey information in your script – about characters’ backstories, their relationships, the setting or story – it’s a natural instinct to turn straight to exposition, telling the audience what they need to know through dialogue.
And there’s no doubt that exposition is a necessary evil in scriptwriting. There are always going to be things that need to be established for the audience to understand what’s going on in your story!
Exposition is almost always a problem, though. Firstly, people don’t really talk in an expositional manner – stating a whole load of facts, one after the other – and they don’t tell people things they already know. So exposition often feels fake or forced, seeming to be there just for the audience’s sake.
The other problem is that it often has a negative effect on the story. An “info-dump”, as it’s often known, slows the narrative, putting the story on hold so the audience can learn things. But, overwhelmed by the amount of information being thrown at them, they’ll often just switch off!
So how do you get around this problem? How do you communicate the information the audience needs without boring them, overwhelming them, or making your characters talk like aliens trying (and failing) to impersonate human beings?
Well, the first thing you can do is to fully utilize the visual medium of film, and forget about dialogue entirely…
As a screenwriter, looking at the page all day, it can be easy to get stuck in a world of words. “Surely,” you think to yourself, “if I want to get some information across, someone has to state it out loud.”
But sight is the sense that human beings use the most, and it’s possible to communicate a huge amount about all kinds of things through nothing but visuals. An actor can tell us a lot about a character’s feelings with just a glance or an expression – or even by doing nothing at all!
The famous “Married Life” segment from UP is a great example of how to use visuals well. Decades of marriage are summarised – complete with information about the characters, their relationship, their families, and the things they go through – in four short minutes, and without a single word being spoken.
The power of visuals applies to world-building, too. The famous opening shot of STAR WARS sees Princess Leia’s tiny ship being pursued by the massive Star Destroyer of Darth Vader, and the difference of scale immediately tells us a lot about the two sides. Darth Vader and the Empire are powerful and dominant, while Princess Leia and the Rebel Alliance are the underdogs.
So whenever you think you need to use exposition to get some information across, stop for just a minute and think. Maybe there’s a way to get things across without anyone having to speak a single word. Try to picture things instead. Don’t forget – fundamentally, you’re not just writing a screenplay, you’re writing a film as well!
Keep an eye out for Part 2 of this article, where we’ll be talking about those times when you can’t use visuals – and how to make exposition interesting, so that the audience won’t even notice it’s there!
The standard deadline for our Romance and Comedy Award has just passed, and now the standard deadline for the WriteMovies Winter 2020 Screenwriting Contest is just one week away!
You’ve got until the end of Sunday January 12th if you want to enter the competition at the lower price rate of $39 for screenplays, stageplays, and TV pilots, or $49 for books and video game scripts. And there are a lot of good reasons to enter…
The Grand Prize for the contest is $2000 – plus valuable script development from our professional analysts and guaranteed pitching to industry. Take a look at our Wall of Fame 2019 – we’re already hard at work with all our winners from last year on developing their scripts. This is your chance to join them!
And don’t forget that you can also get free entry to the contest when you buy a script report from us. Get invaluable feedback on your work from top experts; all of our reports follow industry-standard formats, and are designed to give you honest, constructive feedback on your work. Get Studio Coverage for just $99 or more comprehensive Development Notes for $149!
So don’t delay. Click here to submit to the WriteMovies Winter 2020 Screenwriting Contest today and start your writing journey with us!
Happy New Year from everyone here at WriteMovies! The first deadline approaches for our latest genre award – the Romance and Comedy Award 2020 – with just a couple of days left for you to enter at the standard price!
At standard entry for this contest, you can submit a screenplay, stageplay, or TV pilot for just $39, or a book or video game script for $49. But you’ll have to move fast – the standard deadline is this Sunday, January 5th!
The successor to our first two genre prizes – the Sci-Fi and Fantasy Award 2019 and the Horror Award 2019 – the Romance and Comedy Award is here to celebrate more great writing. We’ll accept scripts that belong to either genre, or which are romantic-comedies.
And don’t forget that in addition to some great prizes, including development notes to help enhance your work and guaranteed pitching to industry, you’ll also get FREE, automatic entry to the Winter 2020 Screenwriting Contest too. The winner of our Horror Award 2019 also took the Grand Prize of $2000 in our Fall 2019 Screenwriting Contest – so give yourself the same chance and enter today!
We can’t wait to see what you’ve got for us. Submit by the end of Sunday January 5th for standard entry – but if you’re not completely ready yet, don’t worry. The final deadline is February 9th, so there’s still time.
Click here to visit the contest page and submit your work. We can’t wait to see what scripts you’ve got for us!
It’s been a great year for us here at WriteMovies, with three successful contests – Winter, Spring, and Fall – producing a lot of great scripts! We’ve also been very proud of our first two genre awards to celebrate great writing: the Sci-Fi and Fantasy Award and the Horror Award.
We’re already hard at work with our winners on developing their scripts and getting them out there to the industry, but today we look back at our contests and reveal our full Wall of Fame for 2019.
Here’s a reminder of our Grand Prize winning scripts…
- PROMISE OF TOMORROW by Andrew Pennington: A fantastic British rom-com that made us laugh out loud from start to finish, capturing our attention with its quirky characters, heartwarming story, and fantastic audience appeal.
- CARAVAGGIO by Alasdair McMullan: Based on the tempestuous life of the Italian painter, this television pilot was as fun as it was fascinating, making the most of its strong concept and engaging main character.
- MONGER by David Axe: The winner of our Horror Award also took the Grand Prize in the Fall Contest. The plot and the monster that haunts the protagonists both feel fresh, and with well-rounded characters we quickly came to care about, it kept the suspense high throughout.
And a special shout out to the first ever winner of our Sci-Fi and Fantasy Award, too: THE TIME-TRAP by Mark Flood! To describe this script as a thrilling ride would be an understatement; it kept us gripped from the first page to the last.
If you’d like the chance to see your name on next year’s wall, submit to our Winter 2020 Contest and Rom-Com Award today – just one week until the Standard Deadline!
Every year without fail, there’s a question that I can’t seem to answer. To this day, it remains one of the biggest unsolved mysteries in the world of cinema: is THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS a Halloween film or a Christmas film?
To some, it’s obvious. “It’s both, isn’t it?” they say. This stop-motion animated classic (usually associated with Tim Burton, although actually directed by Henry Selick) tells the story of Jack Skellington, Pumpkin King of Halloween Town, who grows bored of his usual holiday and decides to take over Christmas instead – so of course it’s both.
I’ll admit that this answer may be right, but it doesn’t help because it doesn’t tell me when I should be watching the film. Do I watch it at Halloween or Christmas, or at some strange midpoint on November 27th? Which set of celebrations should it be a part of?
This year felt like the year to try to resolve the issue. With WriteMovies running our first ever Horror Award and announcing the winner on Halloween, we’ve read lots of scripts and watched lots of films that made us think about the Pumpkin King’s holiday, whether they be scary and violent or more light-hearted like THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS.
And after some thought, I think I’ve finally figured it out. I think I’ve finally found an answer to the question…
Because I genuinely believe now that it’s a Christmas film.
Even writing that out now, it still looks strange to see. After all, this is the film that still, 25 years since it’s release, is most emblematic of Tim Burton’s visual style – a style that has been embraced by goths, outcasts, and lovers of the weird and spooky ever since.
It’s a film which has a skeleton as its main character, which opens on shots of ghosts and pumpkins, and which sees Santa Claus (or “Sandy Claws”, as the residents of Halloween Town call him) kidnapped by a misbehaving gang of trick-or-treaters. To call it a Christmas film therefore sounds strange even to my own ears.
But I’ve decided that it is – because thematically, it shares much more with Christmas films than anything else. Fundamentally, it’s the message a film conveys that determines where it belongs. Christmas films generally have a focus on family and community, and THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS is just the same.
After all his (mis)adventures, at the end of the film Jack comes to realize the folly of his mistakes. By turning his back on his friends and the town that loves him, disaster has followed. It’s only by returning to where he belongs, embracing his community, and accepting the love of the ragdoll Sally that he finds happiness again.
Nobody would ever accuse THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS of being a horror film, but I believe this shows that it’s not even a Halloween film either. It belongs firmly to the realm of Christmas, and that’s why I’ll be watching it as part of my holiday celebrations this year.
Of course, give it another twelve months… and I’ll probably change my mind again.
From all of us here at WriteMovies, a very Merry Christmas. Oh, and I supposed a Happy (belated) Halloween, too!