I once overheard an Irish guy say that the essentials in life were “sugar and tay” (sugar and tea), which makes me chuckle every time I think of it, and I can no longer say ‘sugar and tea’ without reverting to the strong Irish accent/stereotype. The reason I’m telling you this is because James Newton, friend of the blog, got in touch to ask about “screenwriting essentials”.
First, “do you use any database software to track your scripts / contacts / letters / follow ups etc? Personally, I haven't been able to find anything out there that does this so I've ended up customising Microsoft Access. I'm just looking to see if there are any killer features I should/could incorporate into mine.”
Next, screenwriting essentials themselves: “we all know that you really only need a pen and paper but as you progress you find that these are never enough. If you are thinking about carving out a career in scriptwriting what would you deem to be the essentials that you couldn't live without?”
In response to the first query: I don’t know, or know of, a database software to track your scripts. It sounds good but I find my memory serves me well, as does the ‘Sent Items’ folder in Outlook, and my various files on Microsoft Word. And agents usually have a file of where everything’s been or has been sent out, so need need to worry there.
Unfortunately, I’m still stuck in the 20th century when it comes to the latest software and computer technology so while using Microsoft Access sounds inviting, maybe someone else could provide the right kind of pointers in the comments section below.
Now, onto the main event. Sharing your ‘Screenwriting Essentials’. This is a good idea. Here’s a list of James’s:
1. Final Draft.
2. Broadband Internet - for research and watching films online.
3. A never ending supply of Black and Red books for meetings etc.
4. A whiteboard for listing current projects and stages of development. A constant visual reminder away from the PC.
5. A spare printer toner at all times.
6. Subscriptions to Screen International, Sight and Sound, & industry blogs.
7. Visual Thesaurus.
8. A large pile of index cards and a board to stick them on.
9. A USB memory stick to backup scripts.
10. My new contacts database.
11. Time, procrastination and caffeine.
That’s a great list, and offers interesting practical suggestions for any screenwriter’s routine. I didn’t know of Visual Thesaurus before, and I always curse myself for not having that spare printer toner to hand when I need it.
My list is more basic:
1. A computer with broadband access, and a printer (backing up files a MUST).
2. Screenwriting books that you actually value for their inspiration and insight.
3. Ditto with your favourite screenwriting magazines.
4. Screenplays, printed out, to read for inspiration, entertainment or procrastination.
5. Final Draft
Er, that’s it. Everything else is dealt with as they crop up or whatever’s needed at the time. I don’t think Final Draft is necessary an “essential” but it has become extremely useful for the convenience it affords in immediately formatting scripts. The tools and features are good but I don’t really use them. While I would rather not do without my Final Draft, it’s not indispensable, and you can simply use the right font and margins in MS Word instead (and for a lot cheaper too!).
I have a corkboard to outline story, and a smaller whiteboard to remind me what projects are on the go, but again, I don’t consider it as an ‘essential’ as I vary the process from script to script. My office seems to be in a continuous state of disarray and momentum, so I don’t feel the need to be overly tidy or anal in my organisational habits.
But it’s good to get people’s takes on what screenwriting essentials are needed to either establish a good routine, or to get ahead with your career. Feel free to share your list, it’d be great to get a peek at what everyone does or does not do…