by Amir Hafizi

Pix Credit:
For us, it would be easier to have a Justice League of Malaysia, comprising of superheroes.
A lot of people say they want to write movies, but they never do. For some, it is perhaps because they like the idea of writing, but not do the actual writing. Because if you love to wield the pen, then you would hunker down, shut up, and write. 

The few locals that want to or are already writing might be intimidated by the Malaysian film scene since it is a unique industry. Indeed, the country has no national-level Writer’s Guild, which means it’s everyone for him-or-herself out there.

This topic is being covered only because Malaysia is always short on good, reliable scriptwriters. Why? For many reasons. Good, or even possibly great, scriptwriters die out from starvation. Scary much?

There is a lot of bad stuff out there. People not getting paid (read: in the kajillions! Unpaid scripts can amount to the GDP of a small country!!), creative differences, diva attitudes (that means YOU! Oh, best scriptwriter ever), laziness, con-men or getting a job with the government-linked or government affiliated outfits.

Those who survive do a lot more than just write scripts. Some, to survive, play politics. Others, sell burgers. Quite a few act, direct, produce or do everything in between.
Pix Credit: Grant Cochrane
If the Coen Brothers were working in Malaysia.
Here are some tips to keep in mind when breaking into this industry:
1.     Always ask for an advance
Never write a single word until you get at least 30% of the promised fee. How much? I don't know. Movie scripts get paid from RM6,000 to RM100,000 depending on status, quality, hardship and politics.

If you think the amount is pittance and not worth your time, don't write. You'll regret it later cause eventhough writing scripts is not as hard as a newbie would think, it is not as simple, either.

Some producers just waste your time. Forget them. Go for the ones who pay. The ones who don't, well, RUN! RUN!

2.     Never finish a script and hand it over until you get at least 50% of the payment.
Out of 10 scripts, only three will be made. So if your contract stipulates first payment only after the movie has hit the cinemas, forget it. Run! Run far away! You just got off lucky!!

3.     Starting out
So you want to write a movie script. Never done it before? Never went through some fancy scriptwriting class? Never fear.

There is a site called The Internet Movie Script Database. They collect movie scripts. You can find American Beauty there, as well as Pulp Fiction, Fight Club, A Beautiful Mind, etc. A Beautiful Mind won the Academy Award. That's the kind of script you need to strive for.

Pix Credit:
I wish I have the Amelie script… and for me to be able to know French.

Follow their format. Don't argue.

4.     Tools for fools
The best software to write a movie script on is Final Draft. It's intuitive and cuts writing time by half. Half! Buy it. It's a good investment.

If you're poor as hell, as I was, you can use some freeware. Open source, baby! There is a software called that does the same thing as Final Draft, and more. It even has a Gantt chart feature as well as costing spreadsheets for any film needs.

Wait! It also has different formats for film, theatre, audio-visual, audio-play, storyboarding and comic books!

Wow! I love Celtx! If you get a bonus from your movie, donate to Celtx.

However, Celtx can be a bit tedious to use since it's free. Even so, it will only cut your writing time by 30 per cent at most.

Also - understand and commit this to memory - you need keyboards. HP has the best keyboards. When I was writing scripts mainly for a living, I go through one every month. As a journalist, for reference, I go through one every two months. That's how much writing you need to do.

Pic Credit: KuihLapisKu
That’s four months of work up there. And for two weeks, stickers to replace missing letters.

Also, while not necessary, you need to start smoking. Writing scripts means a lot of staying up at night and you need the nicotine, tar as well as the 2,000 other chemicals. By the time you’re 50, the smoking will kill you, which is good, because you won’t have enough for retirement.

5.     The prequel
Before you start writing anything, though, go for pre-production meetings. Find out EXACTLY what the producers and, if possible, directors want.

If they say, "I just want a good script." RUN! RUN! Quit now while you have the chance! Indecisive people will make your life a nightmare.

You can write a screenplay, for fun, or to be put in a slush-pile. My advice? Don't.

If you have a movie you've always wanted to do, write a two to 10 page treatment or synopsis, and pitch that to people instead of a script. Saves you time, energy and heartbreak. Took James Cameron 15 years to do Avatar, and for the first 10 years, it only existed as a 10-page 'scriptment'.

Anyway, if people buy your ideas and want to do a movie, they really don't. They all want to have some input in. Even the accounts people want to have a say in it. If you can't handle that, quit and be an investment banker or a currency speculator. Pays better.

6.     The drama
Sometimes, producers and/or directors will want you to do things you REALLY don't want to do to the story.

Know - REALISE - that at the end of the day, directors and producers have the final say in things. Best you could hope for is a compromise. If you can afford it, diva-storm out of the meetings. Or produce your own movie. If you can't, find a way to make it work.

Film is a team effort. One guy screws up, and the whole movie is screwed up. Never be the screw up guy. Allow others to be idiots. Scriptwriters must never be the idiots.

7.     Rewrites
So you finished your script. It will be rewritten. Why? Because nothing is perfect and because by this time, the director might have full control. His vision might be different than the producer's.

If the rewrites come and you struggle back and forth from one guy wanting the main character a gay apothecarist and the other one stamping his foot on making the lead a paraplegic lesbian, wait out and see who wins the war.

Follow the winner. Because if there are creative disagreements between different people(hopefully not you), and it affects the script, you need to know which direction to take before you start rewriting them.

State your case clearly.

In my experience, the really professional creative people will sort things out within a week. If you're working with unprofessional people, RUN!! RUN! In fact, you should have run weeks ago.

8.     Valhalla
After the script has been approved, it is now in the hands of the director. You no longer have any say in it. It's like sending your daughter off to marry a Viking. If the Viking wants carnal knowledge of your daughter in her behind, you don't have a say. If your daughter gets a chateau in France, you don't have a stake in it.

Move on and write the next script. Hopefully, a better one.

*This view is just one perspective. Don’t trust me. Go see for yourself. We need more writers, filmmakers, and more films to grow the industry.

Look! Here’s a collectible sticker (Right click to save). Collect them all!