Monday, November 03, 2008

The Writing Week part 44 – Ensemble Casts

A while back, I wrote about beginning a project that involves voiceover – new, unexplored territory on my writing map. That idea, for which I wrote a 12 page character background, was the first new idea I’d had in a while. I was beginning to worry that I had somehow dried myself up, perhaps since I was spending so much time working on rewrites at that point. Now, I have three additional ideas, two of which I’m particularly excited about, and all I have to do is narrow it down.

In five days, I’ll be getting on a plane bound for South Africa for the second time in my life. (If any of you have any desire to travel to Africa, I strongly suggest getting your name on South African Air’s email list, as they have great deals pretty frequently.) While I don’t foresee doing a lot of writing while I’m abroad, mainly because I’ll be too busy traipsing around with lions and rhinos and giraffes to sit down and bang out a first act of anything, I’m definitely looking forward to the freedom of mobility and the sun on my to help me figure out what it is I want to work on next (outdoors + exercise can often = creative decision making time).

One of the projects I’m working on, the one I’m most strongly leaning toward, revolves around an ensemble cast. The idea is for a war movie – with a twist unique to Cake Man – and Onyx and I have spent much time recently trying to work out the optimal number of main and supporting characters. If you take a movie like BRAVEHEART, there are a few obvious leading roles, followed by a handful of secondary and tertiary characters, who, because of the number of them or the lack of lines for most of them, are more “that guy” than anything else (as in, “remember when ‘that guy’ died?” or “hey, it’s ‘that guy; I like him”). How many of “those guys” can you have before you dilute your script completely?

While the example I gave is a war movie (because that’s what I’m writing), sports movies are another great example of character juggling. If you watch any football movie, you’re going to recognize at least 8 characters pretty easily, maybe even 12. You’ll know the names to probably 4 of them (give or take). But you’ll really only follow one or two of them closely. It’s the same in a war movie. You might not like it when your favorite guy catches that fatal bullet, even though you only knew him as “the guy with the stutter.” The trick, as I’ll have to figure it out, is to know when to stop adding characters and how to allot the necessary time to those you do have, while not drowning the protagonist in a sea of gratuitous tertiary characters. The juggling, or management, of multiple characters can be difficult. I did it (somewhat successfully, I think) in my comic-book spec, but my new idea requires more acute concentration on unique characters with sufficient screen time.

Has anyone out there *coughONYXcough* worked with multiple characters in an ensemble situation (i.e. sport or war movie) before? Any experiences you’d like to share?

Amazing advice/rant from Unk

If you haven't read The Unknown Screenwriters rant/post on original concepts, get on it. It's long and full of swears, but some of the best screenwriting advice I've read in a while, well worth reading no matter how many scripts you've written:
If you’re going to go ahead and write a spec about something we’ve basically all seen before, you might as well stand the fuckin’ thing UPSIDE DOWN. Instead of giving us the direct to DVD version, go the extra mile and do something with it we’ve never seen before! Make YOUR VERSION the new version by which this genre will forever be measured! And, if you can’t pull that off — that’s okay — as long as that’s what you’ve been striving for.

I mean go ahead and pull that spec out right now. Got it? Good. Why is it DIFFERENT than the plethora of movies within the same genre? Is it differerent? Is it good different? Is it the same as everything we’ve seen before? Even if it’s well written, is it the same old tired thing we’ve seen a hundred times before?

Check out the full thing here. If you're not already subscribed to Unk's blog, jump on that right away.

Lord Vader...

I'm not a big Star Wars guy, but this was hilarious.