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Paul FitzSimons

There was a time when only established writers located in, or those who had made the leap and moved to Los Angeles, could dream of working in ‘The Movies’ – that billion-dollar industry that keeps the world entertained and actors, directors, producers, crew and, of course, writers out of the poor house. But nowadays, with California being easier and cheaper to get to, the ‘Industry’ existing closer to home (studios are setting up bases in London and even right here in Dublin) and, more importantly, with technology bridging the gap, writing a Hollywood Blockbuster and getting it into the right hands, has never been so feasible.

I’m not suggesting that writing the blockbuster should be the end-all-be-all for screenwriters. There are enough crappy franchises, reboots, remakes, adaptations and Shia LaBeouf movies coming out of LA to make us all want to stay away, but, for those of us who do want to break in, now is definitely the time.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that we just bang out a script in which cars blow up and buildings fall down, email it to ‘’ and wait for the royalties to come flowing. There are as many rules for writing the Hollywood movie (maybe more, I haven’t actually counted) as there are to writing that heart-felt, angst-ridden and sepia-toned Indy-pic.

If you happen to bump into that aforementioned boss of Universal or anyone else of influence and ask them what they’re looking for, they’ll give you a smirk and those five infuriating words – Something the same, but different.

That might sound like an oxymoron but it actually isn’t. The ‘different’ is what every writer should spend the majority of their time thinking about. It’s that unique concept, plot, character or twist that only each of us can come up with. It won’t be forced and it will be what makes us want to get writing every day.

The other side of the coin, the ‘same’, is important and also rife with danger – it’s where we poor already-frustrated scriptwriters become cynical and depressed,  where we think that applying that ‘same’, we’re cooking-cutting our movie into existence. But if we’re already armed with our ‘different’, that characteristic that makes our film unique, then embracing the ‘same’ will aim our script towards a raised eyebrow from that movie executive rather than a exasperated sigh and a rattle of a waste-paper bin.

So how do we determine how much of the ‘same’ we should let creep into our movie? What I’m about to suggest might cause a collective wince across the scriptwriting community, but it’s worth hanging in. Follow the Hollywood Formula.

As pointed out by the TV Tropes website, using the Hollywood Formula doesn’t necessarily mean ending up with something formulaic. What it does mean is using an established, tried and tested, method to write a film. A method that follows certain guidelines, such as making sure the story follows the interactions of three characters through the Three Act Structure. website lays out in more detail what the Hollywood Formula entails.

Speaking of the three-act-structure, Stephen J Cannell – famous for ‘The A Team’ and ’21 Jump Street’ – lays out everything he knows about how and why the Three Act Structure works. He also suggests what each of the three acts should consist of and shows how the structure might apply to a number of movie types.

One scriptwriting rule that does have to be followed to the letter – and this isn’t just for the Hollywood Formula, it’s a general rule – is that scripts should always – always – be correctly formatted. There’s a large number of scriptwriters out there, good writers who have devised a cracking plot, developed brilliant characters and agonised over the ending, only to fall at the last by not taking the time to learn how to lay out a script. Regardless of how compelling our story is and what a fantastic blockbuster it will make, if it doesn’t look correct on the page, that waste-paper bin will be rattling. The comprehensive screenwriting website Script Frenzy offers us some invaluable advice on formatting and tells us that it is, in fact, very easy to master.

As I mentioned, when it comes to breaking into the Movies, technology is our friend. One way that it helps us is by facilitating the online script competition. There are hundreds of these out there, offering everything from notes from ‘a top agent’ to production within a year. Many of these competitions and their promises should be taken with the proverbial grain of salt but some, such as The PAGE International Screenwriting Awards, are well reputed and have resulted in a number of optioned, sold and even produced movies and TV shows.


Follow The Formula.

The TV Tropes website takes us through what the Hollywood Formula is really all about.

‘Hollywood has a formula that has developed over almost 100 years of cinema, basically to get maximum emotional value out of every scene of a film.’


If No-one Else Can Help, And If You Can Find Him…

A-Team creator Stephen J Cannell takes us through the 3-Act Structure.

‘The Three-Act structure is critical to good dramatic writing, and each act has specific story moves.’


Up In A Frenzy.

Script Frenzy’s guide to correct script formatting is not to be missed.

‘While it is true that you must format your screenplay, it is also true that formatting is fairly simple.’


The Page Awards.

The Page Awards is a highly revered screenwriting contest which has helped many writers get recognised by and, more importantly, working in the movie industry.

‘The PAGE Awards screenwriting contest has become widely recognized as one of the most important sources for new writing talent within the Hollywood community and worldwide.’


You’re a Heartless and Mighty Machine…But We Like You.

On, Lucy V Hay verbalises how most of us feel – that, despite the plot-less action movies, remakes, reboots and incestuous casting, we still love Hollywood movies.

‘It’s almost as if he says, “Script? Don’t worry about it… HAVE THIS BIG FUCK-OFF EXPLOSION INSTEAD.”’

About the author

(c) Paul FitzSimons

Paul FitzSimons is a screenwriter and novelist and has written the novel ‘Burning Matches’ and a number of scripts for film and TV. He has worked as a storyline writer on RTE’s ‘Fair City’. His short stories are published in ‘Who Brought The Biscuits’ by The Naas Harbour Writers. Paul likes crime thrillers, good coffee and Cadbury’s chocolate. He doesn’t like country-and-western music or people who don’t indicate on roundabouts.

Paul also runs the Script Editing service Paul | The | Editor.

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