The Best Gifts for Screenwriters

Preface: I wrote a similarly titled short piece last year (Gifts for Screenwriters) but if you haven’t read it, that’s fine. This one will cover everything that one did. I don’t know why I linked it. Don’t read it.  Seriously. –Eric

From scheduling plane trips, to dealing with obnoxious relatives, there is a lot to think about during the holiday season.  The top thing on your mind – and I’m just guessing – is without a doubt:

What do I get my screenwriter friend/relative?

Or perhaps you ARE a screenwriter* and wonder which gifts you should ask for from your clueless relatives?**  This list should cover both groups of folks.

Why am I writing this list?  Simple: I hate getting bad gifts.

When I was starting out as a screenwriter, my friends and family were a bit clueless about what presents might support my new “habit.”  While they had the best intentions, I received everything from a book covering a post-modern analysis of screenplays…to a box of pens.

Pens!

And so, on behalf of all screenwriters who have received a box of pens, I present, for your consideration:

The Best Gifts for Screenwriters***

1. A Good Screenplay

If someone wants to be an architect, should they look at houses all day?  Sure, but should they also take the time to study blueprints, since those are what they’ll be creating?

As screenwriters, while it’s important to watch as many films as we can, our job is to create the blueprints for the darn things.  The more screenplays we read, the better writer we’ll likely become.

It’s very easy to buy screenplays of produced films.  You could get your screenwriting friend CHINATOWN or ANNIE HALL (or YOUR FAVORITE MOVIE HERE) and they’d probably be pleased.

However, those are usually shooting scripts which differ from the spec script your screenwriting friend is writing.  If you REALLY want to get that aspiring screenwriter something special, get them a spec script of a movie that hasn’t been made.

Where can you find those?  This is where it becomes a bit unconventional.  The scripts are out there, but you’ll have to work a little.  Go to a site like Script Shadow and then search for the top scripts listed.  Or find The Black List from the past few years then download the top scripts from a site like Simply Scripts or wherever you can find them.  (Legally, of course.  No, really.)

Then – and here’s where it gets REALLY unconventional – print the script out on three-hole paper and fasten it together with a 1 ½ inch brad in the first and third hole (but NOT the second hole, are you crazy, why would you put three brads in three-hole punched scripts you freaking retard-…woah talent agency flashback.  Where were we…).  If you’re in LA, a lot of local printing places will do it right and make it look professional. If you’re outside the area, you may have to take it to Fed-Ex Kinkos or just print it yourself.

Imagine the delight and surprise of your friend when they get that hard copy of an awesome screenplay for an unproduced film.  A script they can hold in their hands, and read over and over again; a script they can study to really see how the pros do it.  Trust me; they’ll dig it.

2. Screenwriting Software

Throw away that typewriter (what’s that?), screenplays in the 21st century are written on computers.  Final Draft is still the industry standard as far as I can tell, so if you want to make your screenwriting friend feel like a true Hollywood player, get them the latest version of the software.  It’s not cheap, but no overrated screenwriting software ever is.

If you don’t want to shell out the big bucks, Movie Magic also looks great when it’s nicely wrapped.  The program does everything Final Draft does at a lower price, and these days everyone sends PDFs of their scripts so it’s difficult to tell what program you wrote the thing on.

Yet, if your friend is serious about screenwriting, they’ll eventually get Final Draft.  Everybody does.  I don’t know why. (But it probably has something to do with the fact that “everybody does.”)

3. A Book on Screenwriting

Are there books on screenwriting that are useful?  Hell yes.

Depending on the skill level of your screenwriter, you’ll want to get them one of three books.  Though some may disagree, and I don’t offer a money-back guarantee (see the Men’s Wearhouse) I’ve found the following books more useful than any others:

Save the Cat by Blake Snyder
Writing Screenplays That Sell by Michael Hauge
Story by Robert McKee

If your buddy is just starting out in screenwriting, go for Save the Cat.  It’s a fun and informative introduction to the craft that I still return to for reference.

If they’ve written a screenplay or two, you can’t go wrong with Writing Screenplays That Sell.  Hauge covers so many key concepts in screenwriting I find myself learning something every time I reread it.

If your friend has written more than two screenplays, give them a copy of Story by Robert McKee.  It’s a bit long-winded and seems overly complicated, but has great insights into the intricate nature of this world we call screenwriting.

4. A DVD (or Blu-ray if you’re fancy)

There are two types of movies you should get for a screenwriter.

One: A movie about screenwriters

Especially: THE PLAYER, ADAPTATION, and even SUNSET BOULEVARD.  All great films written by great screenwriters ABOUT being a screenwriter.  Bonus: it doesn’t get more “meta” than that.

Two: A well-written movie

These include most of the top films on AFI’s list of Top 100 films.  A few of my favorites include:

THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION
CHINATOWN
WHEN HARRY MET SALLY
PULP FICTION
NORTH BY NORTHWEST
ELECTION
THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS

Of course, you know the taste of your friend better than I do.  (I hope.) Get them a good movie; they should thank you for it.  And if they don’t like to be scared, don’t get them SILENCE.

5. The Hollywood Creative Directory

One of the biggest mistakes screenwriters make is showing their work too early.  Don’t show your first script to everyone you know.  Trust me.  I’ve been there.

That said, it’s important to understand how the market works.  Who buys screenplays anyway?  What do I do when I’ve written three or four screenplays and finally have one that is somewhat decent?

The Hollywood Creative Directory (HCD for short) lists all the people who are buying scripts or paying screenwriters who work on assignment, and while it’s less of an “insider’s list” than it used to be, it’s still a fairly reliable account of who works at what company, and what that company has made.

The HCD has the addresses and contact info for these producers, so please tell your screenwriter to use it wisely.  Take the time to craft a solid query letter, and above all, be professional.

And…

That’s it!  You can’t go wrong with one (or more) of the gifts above for the screenwriter in your circle.

If only one screenwriter gets something more meaningful than a box of pens, I’ll count this article a success.

Happy holidays, and of course…

Onward!

-Eric

—-

*This includes those who are maybe not a screenwriter YET, but looking ahead to the new year, it’s obvious your top resolution is going to be “write a screenplay.”

**Different than “obnoxious relatives”

*** I have not been paid for any of these endorsements.  Yet.  (If interested in contributing a few “thank you” dollars, please see the “Donate” button on the right.  I’m talking to you, Final Draft, Inc.)

One Response to The Best Gifts for Screenwriters

  1. TB says:

    I would like to add that, if giving a DVD or Blu-Ray, try and get one with a writer’s commentary! Listening to writer’s commentaries on films I love has been extremely insightful. Whenever I buy a movie, that’s the first feature I look for. :)