Q: I'm working on my first screenplay, but I just saw a coming attraction for a movie that's similar to my story. Should I dump this project and work on something else?

A: Yes, this does happen from time to time. You should probably find out more about the movie that's coming out. If it's virtually the same story, then I'd say tweak your story so it's more unique, more yours. But don't worry too terribly much about that "similar" movie. Truth is, chances are frighteningly against any novice writer selling his or her first screenplay (it could be at least a few years and several scripts before you're seasoned enough to start marketing anything), so consider your first scripts as practice runs. Just write the script you want to write...get it more rewrites...then more critiques. It's all about trial and error and learning from your mistakes. This is how you will learn to write that killer, saleable screenplay down the line.

And here's something else to think about: You need to complete projects you begin. I've known way too many budding screenwriters with piles of abandoned scripts in their storage bins. They start a project, get bored with it by page 30, and then simply move on to something that seems to be more enticing. DO NOT DO THIS. Just choose the story you want to tell...and tell it. Get at least a first draft completed. Believe me, it's a real psychological boost in the early stages of your career having completed scripts on the shelf. That "boost"that psychological edgecan make all the difference in the world in the ol' screenwriting game. FINISH WHAT YOU START!

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Addendum to "WHY I LOVE MOVIES"...

A couple of days ago I posted an entry entitled "Just one reason WHY I LOVE MOVIES." I also posted a link to a clip from the classic Steve McQueen film The Thomas Crown Affair. In the scene, McQueen's character, the mastermind behind a bank robbery, plays a sexy game of chess with Faye Dunaway's character, an insurance investigator hot on McQueen's trail. The scene has virtually no dialogue; it's just two great actors, great cinematography, great editing, and a wonderful score. My reasons for posting the clip were twofold: 1) I love this movie (this scene in particular), and I'm a huge Steve McQueen fan; and 2) I wanted to show how you don't always need a whole lot of dialogue to get your point across. (McQueen was famous for cutting his dialogue to the bare essentials.) A few of you wanted to know what the scene looked liked on paper. Well, here it is (excuse the formatting)...

The play begins, chess with sex. She excels at both. Good as Crown is, the combination is formidable. Crown has the white men, she has the black. Crown soon has trouble concentrating. Presently, he is in trouble on the board. She is glowing, and he’s much too conscious of her. She doesn’t touch him, but she has him conscious of every mover her body makes. He watches her hands, her arms, her shoulders, and, of course, her chess men as well. It gets harder and harder to concentrate. Respect for the performance begins to grow, he struggles to concentrate. Then he realizes it is hopeless. Methodically he reviews the board, looking for an escape. The black queen dominates the board, blocking his every move... Moodily, Crown stares at the board.

CROWN: Let’s play another game.

He seizes her, first gently, then holding her hard. He pulls her roughly toward him. Chess men scatter all over the floor...

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By posting the above screenplay excerpt, I’m showing how you don’t need to include every twist, turn, and infinitesimal move that takes place within the scene (aka overwriting). Just give us the basics; just get your point across in an entertaining, succinct manner, and let the reader—and the filmmakers—use their imagination and talent to fill in the rest.

The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) Written by Alan Trustman

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