As an actor, I sometimes have downtime. When it rains, it pours. And when it doesn’t, it’s a desert. Auditions come and go, and last, but not least, booking jobs. Due to recent global events — yes, coronavirus — Hollywood is dark, along with millions of other businesses and industries. What can we do?
Screenwriting is a great activity any serious actor should consider. Especially all you actors at home right now. You can create scenes for yourself. Write characters you want to play. Or even develop scripts that you want to get produced one day. It gives you back some control, especially since we deal with a lot of rejection in show business.
I know. I know. The voice inside your head will tell you, “But I can’t write! I only memorize! Why bother? I can’t create content!”
Red light. These are times when we should take responsibility to create our own content. If we can’t show people our capabilities in person, why not share our own produced material online? Everyone is on the internet. We’re all staying at home until this pandemic ends. We don’t know when our industry will fire up again. And most content, especially for film and television, begins with writing.
Which leads to my main suggestion to screenwriters or actors turning to screenwriting as a second skill: try storyboarding your script. Especially if you have a completed draft. Or several.
I decided to revise one of my feature scripts, Shift, about two travelers who wind up in a small town, stricken by a supernatural event, but I reached a point where I didn’t know how to improve plot elements, edit ongoing dialogue, or even cut out certain moments. I started sketching scenes, by pencil, to see if visualizing the film would help loosen up some creativity.
I ultimately drew the whole opening sequence to my script. It was great. My animation was pretty crude, but I tried to make the tone and pace of the story as clear as possible. What I discovered amazed me: I ended up adding less dialogue as subtitles under each image or camera shot in favor of more visuals. I took pics from my iPhone of each storyboard still then ported them to iMovie on my desktop. Underscoring the sequence with some music samples really helped to set a specific time progression. It also revealed how quickly the scene unwound the suspense or moments of discovery by the characters. If you remember that a page of script equals one minute of screen time, this may be the least painful method to cutting out fat from your narrative.
What’s even better about editing screenplays with your own storyboards? You can now share the script and your new visual reference guide with producers. Or maybe directors who are interested in your premise. Even fellow actors will more likely review your screenplay with a visual guide, especially if there’s a role that would showcase them. I get it. Not everybody has time to read a script or help you edit one. Oh wait. Maybe they do now. But with storyboard info — draw stick figures if you have to, you can really sell your concept and hopefully align with a director, another writer, or any investor who agrees with your vision and sees the potential.
One last thing. If you do enjoy the screenwriting process but get stuck with writer’s block, take heed: the key to creating arresting TV or cinema are images. Visual keys. As much as we want to read and act with good dialogue in a script, what’s most important is what we see. Showing is better than telling, although some will argue that there are exceptions, which is true. Nevertheless, film is a visual medium where images are strung together at a speed that creates movement. Every good screenwriting professor will remind you to avoid talking heads. Film is not theatre. Movies are not plays. Story may be king, but storytelling is what makes us remember the story.
Interested in the storyboards I created for Shift? Check them out here, and let me know what you think: www.facebook.com/themovieSHIFT