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8 Industry Insider Tips for Screenwriting Success

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Think you can make it big in Hollywood? Think fast cars, fame and fortune will be yours once you’ve sold that killer screenplay? There’s only one problem: nobody’s letting you in despite your remarkable talent and passion. Faze sat down with Allen Covert, star of the upcoming film Grandma’s Boy, to provide some insider tips on how to break into the industry and write for the movies.

Allen, a writer, actor and producer has been in the business of making movies for over 16 years. He has appeared in all of Adam Sandler’s films in memorable roles such as Otto the crazy caddy in Happy Gilmore, Ten Second Tom in 50 First Dates and Sammy the limo driver in The Wedding Singer.

In addition to acting, Allen is an accomplished writer having penned half a dozen movies including Eight Crazy Nights and the latest Sandler flick, The Benchwarmers. Most recently Allen wrote Grandma’s Boy, a film that he not only wrote and produced, but also stars in.

But, without a plan of action, Allen wouldn’t be where he is today. He listened to his dreams and took the time to invest in himself. Read on to find out about his guide to successful screenwriting.

1. Get Some Training

While there is some debate as to whether or not formal training is necessary, Allen believes that it is useful, and feels that his education helped prepare him for his career. Says Allen, “Studying at NYU and Circle in the Square, performing and trying out new and different things, learning how to write scripts — all the various techniques that I learned at NYU, I still use — both in my capacity as a writer and actor.” He also suggests going to a school in a large city such as Toronto, New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. “When studying film in a city like New York, you have an opportunity to observe productions taking place all over the city, where you can get a real sense and feel for the business.”

2. Write From What You Know

Allen often draws from his personal experiences, seeing the humour in everyday situations. Not surprisingly, Grandma’s Boy was inspired by Allen’s real-life experience of living with his grandmother and father. It was several months of too-close-for-comfort living in a two-bedroom condo while he helped his father recover from bypass surgery. Seeing the humour in the situation of a man in his early 30s living with his 85-year-old grandmother and having to hide things from her “like my tattoos,” Allen thought it would make for an interesting story to tell.

3. Look at the Big Picture

When writing a script, it’s important to have a vision of what you want the movie to be. When writing Grandma’s Boy, Allen had an idea of the beginning, middle and end. “I knew where I wanted to start and where I needed to go, and I had some ideas of how to get there,” he says. Once he formulated the big picture in his mind, Allen was able to sit down and write.

4. Develop and Get to Know Your Characters

As a writer, it’s important to understand who you want the characters to be, and what you want them to look like. To do this, Allen finds that speaking out loud in their “voices” while writing helps him flush out and define characters. When it comes to casting, it often boils down to the actor fitting the image he has in his head of what a character looks and sounds like. Says Allen, “In Grandma’s Boy, one of the parts called for an African tribesman and I wanted a genuine African, not some ‘Hollywood actor.’ We wound up casting, although not a tribesman, an actor from Senegal. I knew from the moment when he walked into the room — that was it, I had found the actor that fit exactly what I was thinking.”

5. Be Open to the Unexpected

Once a script is written, be prepared to make changes — often for the better. “I had finished the script for Grandma’s Boy and was doing the read-through with the actors, when I discovered the actor who plays the African tribesman speaks seven languages fluently. Immediately I changed the script to reflect this, and included a scene where he speaks Mandarin to a karate instructor.”

6. Stay Current

Join an association such as the Writers Guild of Canada where you can network with those working in the industry. The Guild hosts numerous events and functions where you can schmooze with industry folks. You might also want to consider subscribing to magazines that specialize in screenwriting such as Canadian Screenwriter, Creative Screenwriting and Scr(i)pt Magazine.

7. Don’t Give Up

Getting into the business can be difficult. There’s no easy path. Allen advises those wanting to get into film “not to give up” and remain proactive. “There are too many ways to do things these days to just sit around waiting for someone to give you work. Go to class, write a play, get a digital camera and shoot a film, write a funny website — just get out there and do your thing. Eventually you will get noticed.”

8. Practice, Practice, Practice

Write, write, write. “The more you write, the better you can only become,” says Allen. Whenever an idea comes to mind, jot it down. “Write scenes or skits and show it to friends or teachers to review. Or write storylines for existing TV shows. Whatever you do, just keep on writing and keep that brain pumping. Without practice, that story might stay locked up forever inside you instead of out there on the silver screen.”

Grandma’s Boy, starring Allen Covert, is a colourful comedy in which Alex (Allen), by day, is the world’s oldest video game tester. By night, he is privately developing the next big game for the Xbox generation. Co-starring Doris Roberts, Shirley Jones, Rob Schneider and Kevin Nealon.

Alex (AllenCovert), left, enjoys gaming with good friends in the movie.

 Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox

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