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25 Screenwriting Tips From … David Bowie?

A brilliantly original and creative guest post today from Matt … Enjoy!
David Bowie has graced our screens many times over the years in varying amounts of lyrca, but who ever knew that he wrote a screenwriting manual?
In-depth analysis of the lyrics to Life on Mars? shows they are not surreal non-sequitirs at all but tips we could all learn from.So play this, sit back and read the commentary notes below.
 1. It’s a god-awful small affair

  • Everywomen and everymen in a humdrum situation are a great relatable starting point

 2. To the girl with the mousy hair

  • Keep character descriptions concise but evocative and start with your main character unless you’ve got a damn good reason not to.

 3. But her mummy is yelling “No”

  • Don’t make it easy for your protagonist to abandon their safe everyday life

 4. And her daddy has told her to go

  • But have opposing forces that give them no choice but to enter the big scary new situation

 5. But her friend is nowhere to be seen

  • Isolate your protagonist, make them the underdog, give them a tough deal so we really root for them to succeed

 6. Now she walks through her sunken dream

  • Regret and failed ambition are strong character flaws that we can all relate to, and will spur the character on to change for the better

 7. To the seat with the clearest view

  • Think about the film’s point-of-view, which characters’ eyes are the best to see this story through?

 8. And she’s hooked to the silver screen

  • Keep the audience hooked, whether that’s through compelling drama, heart-racing tension or unrelenting laughs

 9. But the film is a saddening bore ‘cause she’s lived it ten times or more

  • Inject your script with your real life hopes, dreams, heroes and villains to give it a voice no one else can mimic, but use creative license!

 10. She could spit in the eyes of fools

  • Passive protagonists fall flat, give them some bite!

 11. As they ask her to focus on sailors fighting in the dance hall

  • Conflict, whether internal or external, verbal or physical is the backbone for EVERY scene

 12. Oh man! Look at those cavemen go. It’s the freakiest show

  • A little bit of spectacle won’t do you any harm, especially if you’re going for a genre film

 13. Take a look at the Lawman beating up the wrong guy

  • Dramatic irony is a fail-safe way to ramp up the tension – let the audience know more than the characters

 14. Oh man! Wonder if he’ll ever know

  • Make sure your characters are not self-aware, if they know their own faults then there’s no arc and no development

15. He’s in the best selling show

  • Don’t forget the bottom line. Is this script sellable?

 16. Is there life on Mars?

  • Define the key dramatic question of the script and make sure this permeates throughout

 17. It’s on America’s tortured brow

  • Would this script survive travelling to America? And further onto the international market?

 18. That Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow

  • Character transformations are best when they are remarkable and unexpected 

19. Now the workers have struck for fame ’cause Lenin’s on sale again

  • Don’t rule out adaptations. They always do well and more books and plays go out of copyright every year.

 20. See the mice in their million hordes from Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads

  • Keep your locations interesting, interiors, exteriors, gritty, otherworldly, whatever suits your story and genre best.

 21. Rule Britannia is out of bounds to my mother, my dog, and clowns

  • Think about age ratings, is there the right amount of sex/violence/language for your target audience? cf. Gremlins

  22. But the film is a saddening bore ’cause I wrote it ten times or more

  • Redraft, redraft, redraft, redraft, redraft, redraft, redraft, redraft, redraft, draft… 

23. It’s about to be writ again

  • And redraft again for luck.

 24. As I ask you to focus on sailors fighting in the dance hall…

  • Build to an epic climax…

 25. Is there life on Mars?

  • And make sure your ending provides a satisfying payoff for the dramatic question, whether this is corny, bittersweet, open, ambiguous or bleak 


 BIO: Matt Reynolds is a screenwriter and playwright living in London.  He has written short plays for theatres around London and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. His first full-length piece is in pre-production with Quirk Productions. Matt may also be seen about town as his ukulele-wielding comedy character alter-ego Artie Skittle.
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