Since the screenwriter’s education is ongoing, there’s always something for you to work with or study to get a better grasp and understanding of what constitutes good writing, which can then be applied to your own.
Read scripts. Attend or take part in a table read. Watch movies.
While there are countless examples of exemplary writing and filmmaking to see it done properly and effectively, there are even more examples of crappy writing and lousy filmmaking to see it done poorly and ineffectively.
Nobody starts out with the intention of making a bad movie. What starts out as a great script can easily be messed up along the way to the point that there’s no salvaging it. It happens.
Is watching one waste of time? Not necessarily.
As enjoyable, informative and educational as the good stuff is, the bad stuff is actually just as good, possibly even more so. Because from these cinematic travesties you can learn what not to do with your own scripts. Lessons abound with all the glorious misfires regarding story, characters, and dialogue.
Regrettably, bad acting is a category all by itself and there’s nothing that can be done about it. Do what you can to ignore it (which can border on the impossible, depending on the quality of badness) and focus on the non-tangibles.
It’s especially helpful to work with something from the same genre as your script. See how they did it, then compare it to your own. Can you see why theirs didn’t work? Is it riddled with plotholes you could drive a truck through? Is the dialogue pure on-the-nose? Do the characters come across as unrealistic caricatures?
Look at it as a whole. Does it respect the reader/audience’s intelligence? Is the structure solid? Do you care about what happens to these characters over the course of the story?
Now bring your script into the equation – and be objective! How much of a similarity or difference is there between that story and yours? Did that other material open your eyes to some previously unforeseen flaws and potential problems within your script, so much that it made you realize “this needs work”?
Once you identify these problems, your writer’s mind goes to work, figuring out how to make sure your script doesn’t repeat the mistakes you just read or watched.
It may not be easy to endure having to watch a bad movie just for the educational experience, so just keep reminding yourself “It’s to help me become a better writer”.
Question time! What’s your favorite bad movie? Feel free to list it in the comments.