What are some common mistakes that first-time screenwriters make?

In Screenwriting: Sean Hood promoted an answer.

Over the last 25 years I’ve read countless first time screenplays. In my rewrite class at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, I see 8 fresh “first time” screenplays a semester. Here are the most common flaws and mistakes that I see:

  • The writer doesn’t rewrite.  (See http://ift.tt/1qPxoWKt.com/2…) Most first timers think their first draft is “good enough.”
  • The writer doesn’t listen to notes. Most first time writers aren’t willing to listen to honest criticism. They just want to be told that their script is great. This is why most professional screenwriters refuse to read first time scribes. (See: http://ift.tt/1qPxmOE.com/ru…)
  • The writer hopes his/her first screenplay will be a winner. It takes thousands of hours and years of hard work to learn the craft of screenwriting.  Everyone’s first screenplay…well, sucks. Have you heard a story of someone’s first screenplay, one they dashed off in “21 days,” selling for millions? Sure you have. Hollywood is full of stories.
  • The CHARACTERS are weak. More than any other specific flaw, first time screenplays have weak, underdeveloped, ill-motivated characters. Protagonists are passive.  Antagonists are cliches.  Supporting characters have no complexity.  It is difficult to see what any of the characters’ objectives are or why we should care about them.
  • The stories lack TENSION. The first rule of screenwriting/filmmaking is “keep them in their seats.” This means keeping the audience’s attention, through the emotions of hope and fear, focused on what will happen in the future. Most first time screenplays get muddled and lose tension; and then the reader tosses the script aside, not caring how it will turn out in the end.
  • Too much focus on “idea” and not “execution.” Most first time writers think they have a “brilliant idea for a movie” and take a half-assed shot at writing the screenplay. If there is one consistent lesson to be learned on Quora, whether about startups or screenwriting, it is that “your idea means nothing.” This isn’t exactly true, but it’s mostly true. (See: http://ift.tt/1qPxoWKt.com/2…)

There are lots of books out there on first time mistakes that get more specific:

  • Your Screenplay Sucks!: 100 Ways to Make It Great by William M. Akers
  • How Not to Write a Screenplay: 101 Common Mistakes Most Screenwriters Make by Denny Martin Flinn

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What were some ideas left out from the Rambo saga? And why did that happen?

Sean Hood voted up this answer.

In the first movie, First Blood, Rambo was going to die at the end. There is in fact a scene that didn’t appear in the movie, where Rambo forces Colonel Trautman to shoot and kill him at the end. Instead, an alternate ending was created in which Rambo lived.

In the same film, there was a bizarre disco scene. Yes, seriously, at one point in the movie Rambo falls asleep and remembers a night in Vietnam when he and fellow soldiers were hanging out at a disco parlor in Vietnam and he picks up a prostitute, leading to a brief sex scene. The scene was so out of place, and Stallone looked so funny wearing the disco mustache and casual clothing, that luckily the scene was not used in the final film.

When the film was first written, it was much more like the book on which it was based. Rambo wasn’t quite as sympathetic in the book (which I’ve read several times), and apparently the film was going to have Rambo killing a lot of innocent people like in the book. But this was changed due to Stallone’s star status and his desire to play the character more as an anti-hero than a dangerous murderer.

Keeping Rambo alive meant there was sequel potential, and James Cameron actually wrote the original script for Rambo: First Blood Part II. But that script had Rambo teaming up with another soldier, and so it was rewritten so Rambo was primarily alone but had a female Vietnamese soldier guide him through the jungle and serve as a half-assed love interest before being killed.

There’ve apparently been talks about doing a fifth Rambo film, but the project has changed repeatedly. It was at one point to be a story about Rambo rescuing his daughter, then a mission targeting drug cartels, then a story based on a novel about a genetically mutated animal escaping and killing people until Rambo is hired to kill it. Our own fellow Quoran Sean Hood even wrote a screenplay for a fifth Rambo movie at one point, based on a story more like the first film! Whether a fifth film ever gets made or not is uncertain now, though.

EDIT:  Just an FYI, I have the DVD version of First Blood (which is a great action film, by the way, despite how bad the sequels were) and it has all the deleted scenes and alternate endings etc, and the first time I saw the disco scene I cracked up thinking at first it was a joke added to the DVD for fun. When I realized it was real, I was stunned, haha!

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What were some ideas left out from the Rambo saga? And why did that happen?

Sean Hood promoted an answer.

The main elements left out were the aforementioned death of John Rambo in the first film, which would also mirror the original novel that the character and first film were based on, First Blood

Another element that was changed from the novel to film was Rambo’s overall emotional response to the horrors he witnessed in Vietnam.  In the novel, he was angry, confused, and emotionally tormented.  He somewhat caused the small war, rather than being the reluctant warrior that we see in First Blood who is overall pushed to the limits after they drew first blood.  In the novel, Rambo comes back to the town three times before he is arrested, as opposed to the one time when the sheriff takes him into custody.  That’s a key difference as far as ideas that were left out of the Rambo saga.

Teasle also manages to shoot Rambo in the chest in their final battle.  That was the novel version.  In the film, Rambo doesn’t get shot. 

The novel was published in 1972, during some of the darkest times of the war and society’s viewpoint of it.

The film debuted in 1982, where we had already seen some films deal with Vietnam vets.  Roger Ebert even said in his review that we had seen this type of story told before. 

In the end of the novel, Colonel Trautman, Rambo’s commanding officer, finds the vet in a park, wounded in the chest by Teasle’s shot.  He doesn’t try to talk him out of the situation or save him, he kills Rambo point blank with a shotgun to the head. 

“What’s it like for you?” Teasle asks him.  ( Thise is Teasle’s last moments because he is mortally wounded by Rambo and lies dying and eventually does just that). 

“Better than when I knew he was in pain,” Trautman replies.

It’s rumored that Kirk Douglas, who at one time was attached to play Trautman, walked away because the film changed the ending.  He wanted to kill Rambo in the end. 

The filmmakers played with the idea of Rambo committing suicide.  The scene was actually shot.  But in the end, they choose to keep him alive. 

Onto the sequels…

James Cameron wrote the first sequel, which would become Rambo: First Blood Part II.  In his original opening, we find Trautman visiting Rambo in a psychiatric hospital instead of a prison, which was a concept that Cameron himself eventually used in Terminator 2: Judgement Day

In First Blood, Trautman’s designation on his Green Beret was Army’s 5th Special Forces Group.  In the sequel, it shows that he’s in 1st Special Operations Command.  So between the events of the first and second film, he was reassigned to Spec Ops (Special Forces). 

At one time, the producers wanted to pair Rambo up with a young counterpart, specifically John Travolta, who at one time was considered to take on the role of John Rambo in First Blood and whom Sylvester Stallone directed in Staying Alive.  Stallone later nixed the idea, thinking that the sequel should feature Rambo alone on a mission.

Not much else is known, regarding the withdrawn concepts for Rambo III.

For the fourth film, Rambo, Colonel Trautman was written into the script.  Richard Crenna had died in 2003, but James Brolin was attached to take over the role until the character was written out of the script. 

There were many scripts for a fourth Rambo before the eventual one went into production. 

One told the story of Rambo living the quiet life with a wife and child until white supremacists kidnap his family. 

Another script had Rambo trying to stop a hostage situation at the United Nations, where he was working as a diplomat (??), when terrorists take hold of the UN headquarters in New York City. 

As Mark Hughes mentioned, Quora’s own Sean Hood was hired to write a fifth Rambo film.  Stallone moved onto other projects.  Later on, I had told Sean about my pitch for my own Rambo sequel.  He was nice enough to introduce me to the rights holders (Millennium).  I pitched my story to them and eventually was lucky enough to get the script into their hands.  Sadly, Stallone, once again, had moved onto other projects, including The Expendables sequel, Bullet to the Head, and Escape Plan

I can’t (and wouldn’t) divulge Sean’s script details, which were developed with Stallone himself (and it was a great script), but I will comment on mine. 

Like many Rambo V concepts, my pitch was Unforgiven meets the action genre, in this case Rambo. 

My script was peppered with Rambo mythos and variations of, but I really wanted to take this character to a new and final level.  He finally gets to truly makes a difference for his country.  It was everything you loved about Rambo films (reluctant warrior) mixed in with a Tom Clancy type plot, all set within the jungles of Mexico.  It also introduced Gunnar, a new reluctant warrior.  Same type of warrior, different war (Iraq and Afghanistan).  Think Tom Hardy.  And yes, it introduces that character for a possible reboot of the First Blood franchise. 

Below you’ll find my opening pages for the script.  I include them only for fun, just to offer a feel for it as far as tone, atmosphere, etc.  If the powers that be ever have eyes on it again, I’ll have to take it down.  But it’s just one example of where the Rambo saga could have gone (or will one lucky day).

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