Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Logline Central - Ring 3D

Logline Central is an irregular segment that takes a deeper look at loglines of scripts or projects that have just been purchased, as listed on DoneDealPro.

There's been a lot of talk recently about the 3D craze that seems to be hitting Hollywood (and, some worry, will undermine Hollywood even further). John August tried to put out the fire a bit this week, but it's hard to deny that 3D is everywhere - and increasingly so.

I'm not looking to debate the pros and cons of the 3D boom as it affects writers. (The short, if you're wondering, is that with 3D really taking off now, only projects that easily lend them selves to a z-axis integration will be greenlit.) It makes for some fun viewing experiences, but the decisions to go back and reshoot a lot of pictures in 3D to try and jump on board the Avatar kick seems a bit much. Avatar had flying... dragon things (as did How To Train Your Dragon). Flight looks cool in 3D. (Cough Up cough.) Other things don't so much.

Horror, though, is one of those things that I think can look good with the added dimension. I never saw Valentine 3D, but I heard it was campy and gory enough to work with the medium. Well, this week there's another one added to the franchise.

Title: Ring 3D
Logline: Teens find a VHS player that still works.
Writer: David Loucka
More: Sequel. Third installment of "The Ring" franchise. Walter Parkes & Laurie MacDonald will produce. Vertigo and Benderspink will executive produce. The film will be in 3D.

Ok - for a change, I won't linger too much on the logline itself. If you've read any of the other Logline Centrals, you'll probably guess that I think this is a less-than-stellar logline. I mean... this can happen at a pawn shop with no cinematic repercussions whatsoever. That's beside the point this week.

No, the reason I chose Ring 3D as our feature this week is that a few of us in the League - including yours truly - were taught by Loucka while at NYU. At the time, he had finished some work on Snakes On A Plane (I know you all know it) and was working on other things. Loucka had some interesting ideas about my script in particular, which really benefited from his more mainstream Hollywood career. He helped me break out of a structure that wasn't working, expand my idea, and really turn it into something much more workable. He's not necessarily a household name (as much as screenwriters can be), but it's good to be able to say, "Hey, I know him. He was my teacher." Plus, the Ring franchise helped kick-start the Japanese import horrors, which tend to be pretty popular, so it's double nice to see him getting in on the action.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 121 – Why It’s Better to Proof on Paper, Not on the Computer

Last night, as was my goal for the weekend, I “finished” the… sixth? seventh? draft of my post-Apocalyptic spec. This is a draft that came out of talks with an executive at a production company that’s been developing the script with me since October. No money’s passed hands yet, but the hope is that, once they’re on board, they’ll take it to the studio that they have a first-look agreement with. At the beginning of April, I met with the executive to go over an outline that I’d written for the script (after devoting two months to a massive re-write that she wasn’t totally on board with, we agreed that I wouldn’t put any more words to the page before cementing an outline everyone was pleased with). She approved the outline, and I’ve been writing semi-steadily since.

In last week’s post, I wrote about how I wasn’t exactly feeling the pages I was writing. I’m sort of still there, though I’m a bit more positive. Obviously, having a full (if not a bit long at 122 pages) draft is a good thing, even if it warrants a lot of edits. My main concern is that there are disjointed segments, holes in the information that I think I’ve conveyed – or needed to convey but didn’t fully set up – or redundancies that stem from the fact that I haven’t trusted myself enough that the clues are already in there.

At times like these – or really, any time I’m going to submit a draft – I hold firmly to the conviction that a script needs to be read in hard copy, not on the computer screen. It’s way too easy to overlook things while reading on the computer. The screen makes skipping ahead or skimming that much easier. On paper, though, you can really see the impact of every word, how one scene relates to another, and where formatting errors and inconsistencies make the finished product look sloppy. Printed scripts are also best for edits – both grammar and copy-editing – and for determining the cohesiveness of a story.

Tonight, I’m going home with my freshly printed (on recycled paper) script. I know I have to cut about 10 pages, so I’ll be looking for obvious and not as obvious trims. Some of the earlier scenes in act two are probably unnecessarily long, because I wasn’t sure how much filler I’d need, and therefore overwrote a lot at first. Mostly, however, I’m going to be looking for the key bits of pivotal information that I’m worried aren’t yet in there. Are the disparate parties involved fleshed out enough? Are the protagonist’s character and voice consistent throughout, even in the face of some major reveals? Are all of the reveals earned? Where are there plot holes and redundancies? I’ll be looking for all of this and more, and I know I wouldn’t have as great a chance at finding any of it if I opted to just read it on my computer.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 120 – That Feeling that Things Just Aren’t Working

Every writer gets that feeling. You know the one. It’s unpleasant. It makes writing sessions seem unproductive, no matter how man pages you bang out during them. I’m talking about the feeling that you’re just not writing scenes that work, that the work you’re doing is going to have to be undone and redone soon.

Last week, I complained a bit about not having accomplished as much as I had wanted to. I’d set a goal of 60 pages by the weekend, but only came in at page 50. Immediately after, though, I cruised ahead to 64. Then, I crept to a halt again, dragging myself painfully through another 3 pages that I just knew were not going to be in the final draft. The dialogue was feeling forced and going nowhere. The characters’ motivations were unclear and unnatural. As a whole, the scene was just not working. And I knew this.

The big question, though, was whether to push through it (did I say it was painful?), make myself sit in front of the computer for an hour a day, and just see what happens, or was it best to turn away for a few days and let things settle? Luckily, I didn’t really have much of a choice. In a weird twist of coital timing, my sister and I share a birthday, though we’re four years apart. So, the whole family went down to where my sister’s in school for the weekend. My laptop stayed up here in NYC, which meant that I wouldn’t be doing much writing at all for three days.

The break proved to be what I needed. (Full disclosure: I write this now without having returned to the script yet, but I feel less cluttered.) Sometimes, knowing that progress won’t come makes it difficult for me to even just sit in front of the screen for an hour. Many writers will tell you that it’s better to at least commit the time to sitting, even if you don’t produce a single word. This process helps you to get used to a writing schedule, if nothing else. And typically, I’d agree with this. Perhaps the fact that I had a trip coming up is why I allowed myself to step away for a few days. Had I stayed in town, I surely would have spent a few potentially unproductive hours in front of my computer this weekend. Right now, though, I’m grateful that I had an imposed break, time away from the script to get my mind in other places and reduce the stress level I’ll feel coming into tonight’s writing session. Just as stepping away from a script can be incredibly helpful after you complete a draft, stepping away from one (ideally to some other project) can be equally soothing for a few days if you’re feeling particularly stuck.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 119 - Writing a Character Backstory Helped Me with My Re-Writes

My goal for this weekend was to hit page 60 of my script. Granted, I’m primarily re-writing from page 40 on, so the task didn’t seem that challenging (I started writing around this time last week). However, when I sat down to write Tuesday and essentially got nowhere, I realized that I couldn’t just plow on ahead like I normally do. I was being held back by something, something very important; I had changed the nature of my protagonist fairly dramatically, setting up a very dark past for him, and I was having trouble advancing before fully fleshing that out and reconciling it with the existing pages.

To see that typed now, the problem seems obvious. Of course I couldn’t write 50 new pages with a drastically different protagonist before addressing Act One and the first part of Act Two. What’s the saying? “If you’re having Act Two and Act Three problems, the solution probably lies in Act One.” Sometimes, you just have to re-learn the old lessons through trial and error.

I thought I could achieve what I needed to before doing too much digging into my protagonist’s past. A tweak here and there to Act One – his past catches up to him in Act Two, but remains largely hidden until then – and I would be good to go. But something was still nagging at me, something telling me that what I had was… incomplete. In fact, the first scene that I sat down to write involved a flashback to one of the darkest memories from my protagonist’s past. There was no way I was going to b.s. my way through it, so I did the only thing that I knew would help me move forward – I wrote a character backstory.

Normally, I don’t tend to put too much about my characters down on paper. I did it in the outlining stage of another project I was working on, and I did a tiny bit in a general outline for this one, but I avoided specifics. I thought that the “gist” would suffice. Obviously, it didn’t, because when I was staring at that FLASHBACK transition, I had no idea what to write next. I set aside the script for a night, opened Word, and pumped out a page and a half about my protagonist’s previous life, detailing who he was and what he tries to hide from his life ten years ago. And once that was done, I felt like I’d made the breakthrough I needed. It was the most elegant piece of writing, and it probably won’t all make it into the script, but it was essential to my work. And, now that I’ve done it, I can move forward with him further into the script.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Logline Central – Violet and Daisy

Logline Central is an irregular segment that takes a deeper look at loglines of scripts or projects that have just been purchased, as listed on DoneDealPro.  
Right off the bat, this logline intrigued me. 

This week’s logline comes with a big ole WTF.

Title: Violet and Daisy
Logline: Described as a “Thelma and Louise” meets “Superbad” and “Pulp Fiction.”
Writer: Geoffrey Fletcher
More: Wendy Finerman will produce. Geoffrey Fletcher will also direct. Carey Mulligan and Saoirse Ronan will star. 

If you’re thinking about sending query letters and looking for logline models, do NOT use this one. Geoffrey Fletcher just won an Oscar for his adaptation of PRECIOUS. His logline could just have read, “I won an Oscar for Precious a month ago."

It’s one thing to compare a couple movies – in fact, that happens all the time. “Bill and Ted meets Jurassic Park“ gives you an idea of what you can expect (in this case, probably something about a couple stoners who somehow get zapped back to the time of dinosaurs; cue high jinx). In order for that to work, though, you A) usually still need an actual logline (where you give a brief description of WHO has to do WHAT and WHY) and B) should stick to two movies that people can logically piece together.

I can see how Superbad and Thelma and Louise can maybe go together. But throwing in Pulp Fiction raises too many questions for me to comfortably get behind this, if this is all the info provided. Mind you, I’m trying to think like an Acquisitions Exec here, and the titles just don’t mesh enough for me to think, “Yeah, I could see that; this sounds promising. I should read it.”

When you’re comparing your spec to other work out there (and by NO means do I imply you have to do this in your queries – I never did), stick to just two films. And in order for the example to be a successful one, choose two films that people can see the relationship between.

That said, I’m sure VIOLET AND DAISY is about something and not worth writing off just yet. However, don’t let that “logline” be the example you base yours off of when querying agents and production companies.

Monday, April 05, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 118 - Had a Play Reading and A Script Meeting

This past week held a lot of firsts for me. For one, I had my first ever play reading, which was both nerve-wracking and exciting. I have a day job in the Off and Off Broadway theatre industry, and one of my coworkers is an actor/director who wants to start his own theatre company some day. One day, we were heading to a work event and got to talking about his plans – which at that point consisted of little more than wanting to do a reading of a play – and I mentioned that I had a play sitting in my drawer from a couple years back. He asked to read it and quickly decided to get a reading of it going. I spent some time tweaking it in December and then again in February, and he managed to nail down a cast about two weeks ago. Of course, we probably shouldn’t have planned a reading for Good Friday, but it still went off pretty well.

Having worked in New York theatre for over two and a half years now – and been around it during school for four years before that – I wasn’t new to readings. I was new, however, to having my own material read. We had a rehearsal on Wednesday, which was the first time that I’ve ever had a full length piece (or actually anything longer than a one act) read aloud since high school. I didn’t quite know what to expect going in; I knew that the play read alright on paper, but that was about it. The beginning was a bit shaky, but the seven actors involved (one of them a 9 year old kid) got into their roles pretty quickly, and I calmed down in no time. On Friday, we did the play for a small audience – about 15 people – which was exciting. I remembered how much I dislike hearing my material read before an audience (something I’ll have to get over) and how difficult it is for me to sit still during it. Afterward, though, we had a Q&A that lasted longer than we’d expected and wound up being really successful. People were into the play and debating amongst themselves certain points I had intentionally left open to interpretation. None of the comments indicated a lack of clarity about the story or poor writing, which was great.

The next morning (Saturday), I had brunch with the executive from the production company we’re working with on my post-Apocalyptic spec. It was actually pretty weird timing that she wound up coming to the City last week. I had just emailed my manager to let him know that I have a bunch of vacation days to use up before the end of June and to see if he wanted me to reserve any for LA. While it’d be great for me to get out there, he said that the best time to take meetings would be after I finished the script. The next day, I found out that the executive was boarding a plane for NYC for a number of meetings and that she would be in touch to try and meet. We had sent her an outline for a proposed new draft of the script, and we were also eagerly awaiting her feedback on that.

So Saturday morning the executive and I grabbed a cup of coffee at Dean & Deluca in midtown. In case you’re wondering what to wear to something like that – I actually did some reading beforehand on proper meeting attire for these situations – I wore a polo shirt, Converse sneakers, and jeans. Pretty casual. It was also nice out, so I didn’t have to worry about a jacket or anything. Granted, this was an informal meeting with someone that I’ve been on phone and email with a lot in the past few months, but still – a first impression. Coffee lasted about an hour, the first fifteen minutes of which was us talking about a show she’d seen in town, my play reading (which I had invited her to), and my background as a writer. Then, we dug into her notes on the outline I had submitted, which she had responded to via email a couple days before. I was in agreement with her on almost all of what she said, but I did have questions on where she was coming from on three points, so we discussed those.

All in all, I’d say it was a pretty successful meeting. Of course, there were a few things I wish I had done a bit differently. I hadn’t anticipated talking about my other projects (for some absurd reason), so when she asked what else I had, I informally pitched a few that I would probably not have mentioned had I prepared a bit more for that. Not to say that they’re bad projects – I want to get back to them both – but I’d have gone with other ideas over one of them in particular. At one point she asked me if I had questions about the production company, and I kicked myself for not having asked first. Luckily, I’d done my research, so I could ask about different projects they have in the works (one of them I wish I’d known had fallen apart). Still, it was an hour very well spent, and I think we’re in a good place with the script. She’s excited about it, so are my producer and manager. Now it’s just up to me to write the thing (again).