One-On-One with The Screenwriter's Bible Author Dave Trottier
Dave Trottier has sold or optioned ten screenplays — three produced — and helped hundreds of writers break into the writing business. He is an award-winning teacher, in-demand script consultant, and friendly host of keepwriting.com.
Most will recognize him as the author of The Screenwriter's Bible, one of the most popular, authoritative, and useful books on screenwriting. A standard by which other screenwriting books are measured, it has sold over 200,000 copies in its twenty-year life.
We're thrilled to announce that the ScreenCraft Screenwriting Forum will be hosting a Free Exclusive Live Q/A Event with Dave Trottier on Wednesday, February 24th from 7PM-8PM (PST) where anyone on the forum can ask him questions about screenwriting, the film/television industry, The Screenwriter's Bible, etc. So please, mark your calendars, register at the forum if you haven't already, and be online to chat with Dave in what should be a fun filled and informative discussion with someone that has decades of knowledge and experience to share.
In the meantime, enjoy the following discussion we had with Dave recently about all things screenwriting!
ScreenCraft: How, when, and where did your storytelling roots begin?
Dave Trottier: I wrote silly stories in high school and made a lot of Super 8 films during my college years. One of them won a local film competition.
ScreenCraft: What was your first big break as a screenwriter?
Dave Trottier: Although I had contributed a few lines to Zorro, the Gay Blade, my first solo script was The Secret of Question Mark Cave. It found me an agent who got it to Disney. Four producers wanted to produce it, but the top producer passed. Instead, he produced Pretty Woman. Imagine that! But that script became my sample and about five deals resulted from it.
ScreenCraft: Great story. So what IS "the secret of question mark cave?"
Dave Trottier: “You have a power all your own.” In other words, you don’t need outside material things to give you “power.” It sounds heavy, but it’s a children’s story.
ScreenCraft: How and why has screenwriting changed since the boom of the 80s and 90s?
Dave Trottier: In the 80s, most everything was done by mail and phone calls. Now we have social media, pitchfests, email pitches, Internet searches, pitch packets, and on and on. In terms of the script itself, the trend has always been to a more readable script — that is, avoiding camera directions and other intrusions, and writing in a more entertaining style. Also, producers want shorter scripts. No one wants to read in this town.
ScreenCraft: What’s easier and what’s more difficult about screenwriting these days, compared to the 80s and 90s?
Dave Trottier: Easier — finding potential producers for your script. You can find out almost anything about anybody. Also, writing the script is a bit easier because there is more guidance available. The Screenwriter’s Bible was first published in 1994 and it was only the second book published on screenwriting. Syd Field’s book was the first.
Harder — getting read, especially by agents. That’s because the competition is much greater now. The large number of screenwriting books and script consultants like me is evidence of the huge increase in budding screenwriters.
ScreenCraft: Can you take us through the development of The Screenwriter’s Bible?
Dave Trottier: After I had sold some scripts, I started teaching at universities and conducting seminars across the country. To my shock, nearly half the questions I’d get in a class or seminar had to do with formatting. To hush those questions, I wrote a 36-page formatting guide which was a big success. That evolved into one of the five books that comprise The Screenwriter’s Bible.
ScreenCraft: What do you think has been the secret to the success of the book’s staying power over the years?
Dave Trottier: I wrote the book based on screenwriting questions that I’ve been asked by students and clients, and on the answers I gave that seemed to be the most helpful in moving forward careers and helping writers break in. The book communicates clearly and presents information so that it is usable. Also, it’s five books in one, covering every area of screenwriting. And finally, it is apparently encouraging and even inspiring. I was not trying for that when I wrote it, so I was surprised when I kept getting comments back that the book was inspiring.
ScreenCraft: Are you still writing and trying to sell scripts of your own?
Dave Trottier: It’s so hard to find time because my script consulting and teaching took over. I didn’t expect that to happen, but honestly, I love teaching. I think that is what I do best. I sold a script about six years ago, and have only written one since then. And, naturally, I have some wonderful ideas.
ScreenCraft: What’s the lasting screenwriting advice over the years for all screenwriters?
Dave Trottier: Relax and have fun; you cannot write when you’re uptight. Screenwriting is a profession; most professions take years of preparation, so be patient with your progress and be steady with your efforts. Your first script should be based on the idea you have the most passion for, regardless of market suitability. Thereafter, concept is important.
In terms of selling, think small. Everyone’s trying to write a blockbuster. Maybe break in with something less grandiose. The single key to writing and selling success is to set weekly goals and follow-through.
ScreenCraft: What’s one of your favorite Hollywood anecdotes that you experienced early in your career, and what did you learn from it?
Dave Trottier: I’m pulling this from the chapter “How I Became Dr. Format” in my book Dr. Format Tells All.
“After The Secret of Question Mark Cave rejection, Disney gave me a shot at a development deal for the sequel to Honey I Shrunk the Kids. When the title was first mentioned, I responded with unbridled enthusiasm, “Honey, I Faxed the Kids!!” They liked the idea, but I said, “Nah, it’s not visual enough. You’re going to have to blow them up.” And then they mentioned the Muppets.
“So I prepared a 20-minute pitch and treatment for a Muppet hockey story. They loved it. Jim Henson, who was in New York, approved it. A few days later Mr. Henson died, and so did the deal (since there was nothing in writing yet). In fact, his death effectively dissolved the relationship between Disney and Henson. A huge abyss between the two companies formed and I fell headlong into it.”
It’s a favorite experience because it’s painful, but I learned to be resilient and to keep writing. Good things followed. So… keep writing!
We'd like to thank Dave Trottier for the wonderful discussion. The Screenwriter's Bible is the must-have screenwriting book for all screenwriters, focusing on the general guidelines and expectations of the film and television industry so well. Please take the time to join Dave for ScreenCraft's Free Exclusive Live Q/A Event with him on Wednesday, February 24th from 7PM-8PM (PST). And come prepared with some fun questions!