If you are an aspiring film writer, it’s more than likely that you’ve had questions about how to get a foot in the door. How do you pitch your script to a producer? Is it necessary to go to film school? We get National Award-winning screenwriter Juhi Chaturvedi to clear all your doubts. Juhi is an advertising professional who went from writing 30-sec ads to full-length features like Vicky Donor, Piku and the upcoming October.
Is it necessary to go to film school?
I went to an arts school. While I did learn how to hold the brush correctly and how to colour without getting cut shades and how to enjoy ‘bun makkhan’ every single day for 5 years, it still didn’t turn me into Picasso. Having said that, be it in a film school, or art school, or any other professional school, thing is that you do go through a focused syllabus and live in an environment which brings a basic understanding of your desired field. Which you can also learn if you attach yourself to a good director as his 15th assistant.
Which are the best books on screenwriting you recommend?
I haven’t read any so I can’t really suggest one. What I do recommend is that the best screenplay is your own life. Read it. Go back in time and revisit all those memorable or mundane incidents, and the way they panned out. Watching sensible films is another way to learn the craft. See the scenes again and again.
Is it necessary to move to Mumbai if you want to be a writer?
It helps to be in Mumbai because the industry is here. All the production houses, people who can help you take your story forward, all are here. There are multiple rounds of meetings, some fruitful, some not. So in the initial years, it’s best to be here.
What I do recommend is that the best screenplay is your own life. Read it. Go back in time and revisit all those memorable or mundane incidents, and the way they panned out.
Since writing is a solitary art, how does one maintain discipline? Is it necessary to write a little everyday?
It is indeed an extremely testing art. To sit in front of your computer screen and not move beyond one line for hours, sometimes days, can be awfully frustrating. But even if that is the case, I reckon it only helps to sit everyday and make that attempt. And then one day, out of the blue, your thoughts just begin to flow.
What are the kind of jobs one should look at before getting a start? Should one assist writers on TV shows?
If you have a story, or an idea, the only thing you need to do is begin writing it. I came from Advertising background and that really helped because unlike TV shows, which are long format, ads are just 30 seconds and that really is like a drill for the brain to crack an idea and a story that fits in just that much time. Including the product window! It did sharpen my thinking.
You don’t need to assist anyone, or take up a job in advertising, but definitely find a solid bouncing board – someone who has the authority to bomb your ideas on a regular basis, someone who can make you feel frustrated by making you rewrite again and again, and in the process, chisel your thoughts and your craft. Letting go of ego could perhaps be one job you could try doing before giving it a start.
I’ve written my script – what should the next step be?
Register it, my friend! Then begin. Identify the director or the producer. Looking at the kind of films they have backed, helps. Does it match your sensibility? If it does, proceed to sharing your script with them. A mismatch of thinking and vision can be a disaster for you.
You don’t need to assist anyone, or take up a job in advertising, but definitely find a solid bouncing board – someone who has the authority to bomb your ideas on a regular basis, someone who can make you feel frustrated by making you rewrite again and again, and in the process, chisel your thoughts and your craft.
Before sending out your first script what are the basic points one should keep in mind. For example, learning how to format a script, etc
Final Draft is a fairly popular software that writers use across the globe. However, I am still using Word. It’s fine. A good story is more important than anything else. It helps to write a brief note on the characters. In case you are mailing your script or leaving it behind, it helps to know a little bit about the characters and their background before one begins to read. If you can attach any reference image, maybe the city its set in, or the era, it’s a help too.
Should one send an entire script or just a brief to producers/studios?
I would assume that one would want the producer/studios to read the entire script and then take a call if its working for them or not. Synopsis can be attached along with the script but if they find it interesting enough, they can quickly read and take a call.
How do you set up a meeting with a studio to pitch a script? Is it wise to send a text/try cold calling, or do studios have an organised system for submissions?
Writers Association (SWA) can help you with getting contact numbers of the studios you wish to connect with. A polite text is perhaps the best first step. Then wait for a response. If you can find more connections to reach the person designated to read the scripts or make arrangements to make you meet the producer/director, it’ll only be a big help. Thing is that all these people have busy schedules, so have patience at all times.
I’ve found a producer for my script. Are there any red flags to look for in the contract?
You are not a lawyer, I am assuming. So immediately get one on board, who knows the fine print. Do run it pass the SWA officials, if you can. They have been constantly working to come up with a contract which is writer friendly.
To sum it up, the good news is that things are changing. Content is in demand. But first, we need to do our bit as writers. You can’t run around with the first draft in hand. Spend enough time in getting it right and wonderful that its tough to say a no. Take the responsibility of good thinking. No one is interested in a boring, lifeless, thoughtless film anymore.