Monday, February 28, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 165 - What to do When You're Stuck on Your Script

Raise your hand if you've been here - you're working on a new script (maybe outlining, maybe writing pages blind). Act One maps itself out pretty coherently and fairly naturally. Then, Act Two begins. And promptly stops. From there, your cursor blinks, and blinks, and blinks, but does not otherwise move. 

Unfortunately, this is exactly where I am and where I've been for about a week now. I have an idea of where the script - should I say, rather, the character and his journey - will go. But I have no idea how to help him get there, and he's sure as Hell not telling me. At a certain point, staring at the same blinking cursor started to drive me nuts, and every writing session - no matter how long I spent at the computer - began to feel fruitless.  What was my solution?

Start another project. Perhaps that answer seems completely intuitive, even obvious. Perhaps it doesn't. The fact of the matter is, I can still feel the wall that I haven't been able to scale between Acts One and Two in my horror script, and I know when something is going to click. Like the old woman who can feel an impending storm in her bones, I can usually sense when the creative dam in my brain will break, and the ideas will come flowing. Until that happens with the horror script, I've started working simultaneously on my Medieval spec (not in the same writing session, mind you, but doubling up on my time at the computer each day). The hope is that creative juices flowing on the one script will start them pumping on the other; and failing that, at the very least, I will still turn out pages soon, only on a project different than I originally intended. 

Another short tip that I've actually found helpful on this - writing the outline in narrative format. Rather than trying to conceive of the outline and story by beats, I've opened a new Word doc and started writing it as prose - a short story, if you will. When it clicks that way, I transcribe it into outline format. It helped a lot for some of the beats that happen off camera and in Act One, so tonight I begin the process for Act Two. Maybe that approach will help you when you're stuck. 

Finally, a brief update on the situation with the production company from last week. The week began with a call (slated for Tuesday) to confirm that the independent producers on my team wanted to work with a major production company that had expressed interest in my post-Apocalyptic spec. The call got bumped. On Wednesday, someone was sick, and it got bumped. It happened on Friday. The long and short of it is that, while the parties are still interested in working together, the relationship will be determined by the agreement that we can (or can't) reach - on paper - about the rights to the script. By "we" here, I mean the already-attached independent producers and the mega-producer who heads the production company. If "we" can come to an amenable agreement about rights and producer credits/roles in the next two weeks, which results in my team retaining the overall rights to the script, then we're a go. If not, then who knows. 

It's one hell of a roller coaster, folks. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 164 - Partnering with a Production Company

Gretchen, the independent producer who first optioned my post-Apocalyptic spec back in June of 2009, was in town this week, and she and I had an opportunity to meet up yesterday morning, before her flight back to LA today. Our meeting over dim sum brought some exciting news. Back in late January, Gretchen and the other producer attached met with the head of a major production company. He's one of the few producers whose reputation engenders enough trust from studios to allow him control over a major budget picture. He was very interested in my script.

As with anything in this business, it only takes interest from one individual to get something made. (That is, keep the saying in mind, "It only takes one person to say 'yes.'") A hundred rejections might precede that "yes," but that single interested party might be enough to bring a script to studios and get it made. We had gone out to a few other production companies, but this particular mega-producer remained the most interested. 

At breakfast yesterday, Gretchen informed me that we'll likely be going with the producer and his company. It's a pretty exciting turn of events, but not an entirely different situation from the one we were in back in October 2009. Then, we came to another production company, which was also interested in the script, albeit from a more developmental position. That was not a money deal, nor is this current one. We worked on a handshake agreement, essentially enabling the production company to try and get the material out there, but with both parties able to walk away if need be. 

The current situation - actually, the official "we want to work together" phone call is scheduled to happen tomorrow, so none of this is guaranteed - would be somewhat similar in nature, but with a different goal. As far as I can tell, we will not be entering into partnership with this particular prod co. (assuming everyone is still on board tomorrow) with the intention of further developing the script at this point. Rather, we go into it with the hope that the head producer and his partner will be able to get a director and maybe talent attached, so that they can bring it to studios as a package. Of course, a director might want changes, and those might be called in before a sale - but all that is down the road.

Right now, I just have to cross my fingers that tomorrow's call goes well, and that the producer still wants to bring the script into his company. If that happens, the next few months will (ideally) bring more certainty about my script's future. In many ways, this will be a major indicator of what 2011 will bring for the script. Hopefully, having a major producer attached will garner the traction we need to get the script sold and the movie made. As with so many other aspects of this business and my journey with this script, I just have to sit back and wait and see what happens next. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Logline Central - The Returned

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.
It's been a while since we've had a Logline Central post (it's actually been over 3 months - whoops). To kick things off again, let's take a look at THE RETURNED. 

Title: The Returned
Logline: A woman works in a hospital's special unit where patients need daily vaccines to prevent the development of a terrible virus.
Hatem Khraiche
Genre: Horror Drama 
More: Julio Fernandez will produce. Carlos Fernandez will executive produce. Manuel Carballo will direct. 

My initial reaction is that the above isn't a logline, so much as the germ of an idea - a concept. Patients need daily vaccines to prevent the spread (development?) of a virus. Ok. Let's assume that the protagonist is this woman - based on the info provided, that's where we're told to focus; the only other option is that one of her patients is a protagonist, and that the antagonist is someone who might want this virus to develop unhindered. 

The info provided doesn't tell us a whole lot. It doesn't indicate what the virus could do if left to grow and reproduce. It doesn't say how quickly it can spread or how it's transmitted. All of that, though, is secondary to something else, something much more critical. Am I the only one left wondering - what's the story? The woman works in this hospital and administers vaccines on a daily basis. But are the vaccines running out? Are the patients no longer responding to the shots? Have people beyond the walls of the hospital started showing symptoms? What is the movie actually about?

Granted, with any "loglines" pertaining to something that's sold or been optioned, you have to take the info with a grain of salt. This is information that is put out there by the parties involved - the producers, studio, production company, and/or writer's reps - with the purpose of generating further buzz about their project. Sometimes, a sale will get logged before it's a done deal, just to entice other investors. Still, we unproduced writers look to these as industry standards by which we should model our own output. My advice: don't craft a logline like the one above if you're querying your material to producers or agents or managers or all of the above. Give that one extra bit of info that tells us what the story is about; A woman who works in a hospital administering vaccines to patients in order to prevent the outbreak of a terrible flesh-eating virus, discovers that the vaccination supply is about to run out. 
The revised logline does two things; it provides a bit more information on what the virus is or can do, and it tells you what the story is about, why it is happening now. We know that if more vaccinations don't show up soon, all the patients are going to be consumed by the virus. Alternatively, we know to expect this to turn into a horror movie where fleshless "zombies" walk around attacking other people.
Hatem Khraiche has some short-film credits on imdb and a feature in the works. I would need to know more about THE RETURNED before paying $12.50 for it.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 163 - Outlining the Horror Script

Most of my focus the past week has been devoted to outlining my horror spec, which revolves around a mysterious disappearance. There were a a few early plot points and character relationships that I found begged a thorough understanding before I could layout Act One. Sometimes, certain situations can remain vague, even to me, for a while as the rest of the early plot points fall into place. Not the case this time around. So, for a few days, I was stuck on those bits before I could proceed - even though I had an idea of what was to come. 
Once those details were sorted out, the rest of Act One fell pretty neatly into place. The bulk of the mystery and creepiness is going to play out in Act Two. Right now, I know what the next scene will be - the first in the dreaded Act Two - but I don't know much at all beyond that. Horror is a new genre for me (with the exception of a slasher flick I wrote in high school before I had any real understanding of story structure), and I'm not quite sure how best to proceed. 

In situations like this, I find that one of the most basic pieces of advice beginning writers get applies again. One of the best ways to determine how I should proceed is for me to read and watch a lot of successful examples of what I am trying to do. I've found a handful of horror scripts online that are in the same family as my idea, and my Netflix queue is filling up with films I should watch or, in many cases, re-watch. Horror, to me, is often laid out like an action script would be, with increasing stakes and heart-pumping scenes, spaced out by calming moments that set up the next big action. While that's how I'm going to proceed, I know that familiarizing myself with the genre even more is a must.

I have to say, though, even though I'm a little stuck at this point, the prospect of soon having another script underway is invigorating. I haven't seriously worked on pages since October, and it'll be great to get back on that horse. (And, a quick aside about my opst-Apocalyptic spec - bet you forgot about that one - another big producer is reading it; we've gone to one studio so far and never heard back, so fingers crossed the producer is interested and has some great ideas for the next steps.)

Monday, February 07, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 162 - Fleshing out the Mystery

My agent, manager, and I settled on my next spec last week. Thankfully, the chosen project is the horror script I talked a bit about last week. It's potentially a very cool project with material that has yet to be explored on film too much (beyond a C-grade horror flick here or there that I don't even know actually exists). I'm glad we landed on this idea, because it's one that I can really flex my muscles on, while trying something new.

At this point, the approach I'm working on for horror/mystery spec is investigative. By that, I meant that my protag will go on a journey to find out what happened to someone in the recent past, and the thrills and chills will come along the way. Over the weekend, I began outlining the script. (Technically, I'd already started, but the earlier strokes were broader, less specific). The thing is, I ran into a wall pretty early on. 

One of the key components in the first act (which will detail the events leading up to the character's disappearance) is a relationship with some people who live in the area. That relationship becomes integral to all that comes later in the script. It also determines a healthy portion of the action in Act One. While I thought that I could work my way around it, particularly because we don't actually see the lost character disappear, I found I was proving myself wrong.

There is a lot that goes unseen in my script, especially by the protagonist. However, as the writer, I cannot proceed without knowing it. Even if I develop enough material for another script, I have to flesh out the mystery. What happened to this person? Where did they go? These questions seem obvious, because they are the very ones that the protagonist is trying to answer throughout the script. However, their answer - to me - must come before any actual pages. There's a saying that the solution to an Act Three problem can be found in Act One, and that's proving extremely true here. The ability to map out a script all rests on the ability to plan through the first act. Right now, I don't have nearly enough to go on. Before I can flesh out the script, I have to understand and map out the mysterious events - even if we never see them in the pages or on the screen.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

the Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 161 - Who to Identify Your Protagonist

There are, to use the technical term, a crap load of key things to figure out when you write a script: the theme, the plot, the setting. Similarly important, but less structural, elements include characters' names and the title. (These are important, but they are details that can be sorted out later or come from a deeper understanding of the earlier points.) One element that is essential, and yet often quite difficult to nail, is your protagonist.

Obviously, your protagonist carries your story. He or she bears the burden of maintaining our interest and being proactive (or, in some rare cases, captivatingly reactive) for 90 to 120 pages (minutes) of story. His or her name might mean something obvious, subtle, or just sound rad. The setting and other characters in your world influence your protagonist, and your protagonist, transitively, affects all of them. Your protagonist might be very obvious. Sometimes, unfortunately, s/he isn't.

When I develop a new script, I tend to start with a logline. Often, this logline will naturally lead to a protagonist - at least, in the most general sense. A criminal searching for those who killed his family is an obvious protagonist, but it doesn't say too much about who he is or what his ticks are. Yes, he's a criminal, a killer (theoretically), and a family man. But dig deeper. Who is he really? What is his arc? On the other hand, a script about, say, a castle under siege is a vague place to start. It leaves near infinite possibilities, which can be great for a writer, but doesn't begin to target your protag at all. So, how do you find him or her?

This past week, with a lot of help from Onyx, I've been developing a bit of a horror script. Like with many horror (or crime) ideas, there are two main approaches I see that can be taken. The first is to just show the audience what happens and experience everything in "real time" - or, at least, chronologically. The second approach is to attack it from an investigative way, revealing the horrors/crime clues bit by bit until the puzzle is complete. I waffled between these two approaches all week, until my protagonist emerged. In the story I want to tell, there's a person who, above all, has the most obvious goals, arc, and antagonist. The choice may seem unquestionable here; but the fact is, the route with the clearest protagonist is also the one that seems the most difficult to write here. I figure I can structure a script more easily the other way, but without a protagonist, it will all fall apart. 

At the end of the day, though, I know I've identified the most logical, clearest protagonist. That is hard to ignore. Consequently, it is the direction I'll take the script - at least for now. So, if like me, you're having issues identifying your protagonist, just ask yourself some simple questions. Who has the most to gain or lose in your story? Who will experience the most? Who is most likely to be the subject of the antagonist's evil machinations? This person will, with little doubt, make him or herself stand out as the principal in your story. And, with them leading the way, hopefully the rest of their journey will fall neatly into place.