Monday, April 20, 2009

The Writing Week (Vol. 2) part 68 – The Power of Research

All movies require research. Think about some of your favorite sci-fi or historical movies. Think about the best war movie you can recall, or the great Wall Street, courtroom, or medical drama that just came out. No matter the subject, setting, or time period, extensive work goes into getting the most accurate depiction of the world possible – often before a film even goes into production. I recently found this out firsthand.

My post-Apocalyptic script, which I’ve been working on for about a yeah and five months now, is, like any script in that genre, set in a devastated Earth where many things have gone terribly, terribly wrong. And, like most post-Apocalyptic scripts, the way in which things have gone terribly wrong was the jumping off point for not only the story, but for my writing process. Before I really began writing, I did (what I thought was) extensive research into the “what-ifs” and “what would happen” behind all situations imaginable for the world I was creating. I thought I did a pretty good job hammering out the points and was pleased to be able to answer any questions that came my way.

Then, about a month ago, a friend of mine who works in the development office at a production company with a first look deal at Warner Bros. got in touch with me. She wanted to make a push for the script, but could I answer some questions about the world first? I sent off my answers, and things quieted down for a bit. Well, about two weeks ago, I heard back from her. She was still working on the script, but all the creative/development people she showed it to kept getting hung up on the logistics of the world. Could I send another few paragraphs explaining how certain things would happen if the Earth “died” the way I wrote it? A page and a half email later, I felt confident that I had done my best to answer everything as coherently and completely as possible. At Onyx’s suggestion, I even emailed some physicists about specific questions pertaining to my script, and sent those off to my development contact.

Though I’m still waiting to hear back from my friend about my script, I’ll say that I was surprised by how much and how many times I was asked to give detailed answers about my writing. I know, I know. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise. I guess what caught me off guard was how hard a time my friend and her coworkers were having getting on board with some of the key elements of the spec. How many times do we go to the movies knowing that we’re supposed to completely cast logic aside? Or we see fire in space (cough *Armageddon* cough) and don’t bother asking how or why? How many times do you, the viewer, ask yourself how any studio was able to get behind something that was so clearly not researched at all?

One of the best weapons a writer has is his/her ability to research. My spec would have been dead in the water long ago if I couldn’t answer basic questions from the rest of the League and my friends, let alone from development staff at production companies. Make sure you know your world. Research as much as you can. Know what it’s supposed to look, sound, smell, feel, and taste like. Because, I can almost guarantee you, someone will ask, and you’d better be able to answer.

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