Monday, April 25, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 173 - (Finally) Started the Medieval Spec

It's been half a year since I last sat down to write script pages. Six full months. That's a hell of a long time. Granted, I spent a lot of that outlining other ideas (full outlines for three projects) and developing nearly a dozen others. Still, six months with no actual pages to show for it was getting to be pretty hard to take. 

Last Monday, though, all that changed. Typically, I can average four to five pages in an hour long writing session. On Monday, I scraped together about two and a half. And I don't think they are particularly good. I could tell I was a bit rusty. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday all brought evening commitments that kept me from the pages again. Finally, I was able to sit down on Friday and get back to it. I ended the weekend with 15 pages, which I felt a lot more positively about. 

If you've ever been in a writing slump or gone through a long developmental process with material, then you know exactly how good it feels to finally start producing something again. In my desire to get this draft done so that I can go back and revise it - I know it will need another pass - I'm resisting any temptation to tweak scenes and dialogue before I move forward into the next beat. There's a lot that I'm not content with, but I feel like getting the foundation laid is what I most need to do now. Especially for the first act.

This is an interesting project for me in that it's somewhat top-heavy. There's a lot of very crucial, detail-oriented character development in act one that sets up the entire rest of the script. More than in other projects I've worked on and seen, the bulk of character information is going to come from the first 30 pages, and it has to be strong enough to carry through the balance of the script. I'm quite aware that I haven't hit some of the necessary beats correctly yet, but I want to get all of act one written before taking another look at those weaker links. 

Despite knowing that some parts aren't great, the feeling of actively working on something new is. Hopefully, I'll be able to bring the pages to the group soon. If I can get the first draft of act one out, then touch it up, within another week or week and a half, I'll be thrilled. This amount of up front character work is a bit new for me, but I like the challenge. Fingers crossed I'm up to it. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 172 - East Coast vs West Coast

It is, without a doubt, a different ballgame trying to launch a writing career from the East Coast than it is from the West Coast. For all intents and purposes, "East Coast" in this argument can be expanded to include anywhere not LA. Now, though, we'll stick with the East Coast, and New York City in particular, because that is what I know and where I am trying to kickstart my career from.

I've done a lot of thinking about this recently - whether a beginning writer should be based in Los Angeles or not - and the cryptic answer that I've allowed myself is that it would probably help. Whether it makes an actual difference in terms of results at the end of the day is harder to determine. The fact is, a good writer with a strong script and the know-how to get it seen can get his or her script into the industry from virtually anywhere (and by "know-how," I don't at all mean "connections"). With the internet, geographical location is less crucial than it used to be. 

Take my experiences thus far, for example. Once I believed my script to be ready for agents and managers to read, I sent a dozen email queries. I was particular - very particular - about where they went. But I was also consistent, sending a few a week for about a month. Part of why I only sent twelve (many how-to guides or teachers will tell you to send a hundred or more), is that I specifically targeted New York based representatives. That naturally required me to cast a much smaller net. I knew, though, that starting from New York meant that securing New York based representation was a sound idea - not only would their contacts be in New York and LA, but they would be here for me to meet with. I liked the idea of having direct, personal access to my first representative.

My line was in the water, and a fish bit it. That wound up not working out, and within six months after first meeting that rep, I was with an LA based manager. Two years have since passed, and my lease just recently came up for renewal, so I got to thinking, "Should I move to LA?"

I was tempted... to a degree. To be honest, I don't really want to have a car, my friends and family are here, and I'm reluctant to move anywhere without a friend coming with me. At the end of the day, I find it's easier to have someone I know splitting an apartment with me, and I don't want that to be someone I met through a Craigslist posting. But that's just me. More realistically, though, I also don't have any concrete reason to make an official move west yet. My job allows me to write and I have a solid understanding of what the workday has in store for me, so any large change to that routine would jeopardize my writing. And at this point, writing is the thing I need to do every single day. To throw that into flux would be a large mistake. 

Do I think it would be easier if I was a West Coast aspiring screenwriter? Sure, sometimes I do. Right now, my manager is looking into whether or not I should head west in a couple weeks for a few meetings. The meeting slate isn't huge, but there are a few producers and directors who liked my writing and would be worth taking a general with. However, they read the script in question half a year ago, and there's little doubt in my mind that if I was out in LA, I would have already had face-time with them. And maybe work that came out of those meetings. Is New York killing my chances? No, I wouldn't say so. Would opportunities have arisen if I was there and not here? Probably; I think they might have. 

At the end of the day, the decisions is a big one, and it's something that each of us who is not currently in LA has to grapple with. Maybe the advice I got from the chairman of my writing department in college will clear things up for at least someone out there; "don't go to LA until you have at least one ready script, a treatment for another, and a pitch for a third. It can be hard to make a life out there, and you risk losing all the free time you have to write."

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 171 - Upping the Stakes

This time last week, I'd finished the first draft of the outline for my Medieval sped. Though I was comfortable with it, my manager pointed out a number of weaknesses in it. I spent the next six days re-working on the outline, focusing most of my attention on adding to the complexity of the protagonist and upping the stakes of Acts One and Two.

Again, I'm please with the result. I know to be wary, though, because as happy as I was with the first draft, it proved itself rife with problems. This time around, though, I know there's much more to the story. In fact, it's a completely different entity in many ways, having been transformed from a fairly simple, straightforward tale of revenge to a deeper story about redemption and overcoming obstacles. That sounds pretty trite and faux-grandiose in the way writers like to talk about their material, so to better explain and not come across as having a swelled head about what, at the end of the day, is an action script, I'll explain a bit more. 

My protagonist was essentially a saint in the first draft; he always did the right thing, while those around him participated in corrupt activities. He was the unerring voice and embodiment of righteousness. While that might work for some characters, it didn't for this one. He had no growth over the course of the story. More than that, too, the love interest I gave him was also one-note, and their relationship never really built, because I did not give them any interesting screen time. 

Act Two was similarly boring. the action was straightforward, with one scene leading to the next in a fairly coincidental manner. This is an easy trap for a write to fall into, one that I have been victim to a number of times in the past. The story has to continue moving forward, but in such a way that what comes before directly affects what comes next, and builds upon what preceded it. Now, I'm pleased to say that, instead of one looming threat compelling the protagonist forward, he now faces at least three obstacles at any one point. We (and he) find out about them at various beats throughout the script, and they build in tandem to one another, creating a more-realized world and stakes that continue to escalate.

We have a writers group meeting tomorrow, and I'm eager to see how the other Leaguers respond to the outline. For many of them, this will be their first time looking at the project. Fresh eyes on the outline are just what I need to gauge whether or not I'm on the right track. Hopefully, with a vote of confidence from them, I'll be able to move over into the pages stage of this script and tackle any remaining issues there.

Monday, April 04, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 170 - Never Say Hello

I can't say I did a ton of writing this week, unfortunately. I did, however, spend a lot of time working out some more of my protagonist's back story for the medieval spec I'm working on. That will prove itself successful depending on how quickly the rest of the outline comes into being. A strong protagonist will inevitably lead to an organic and plausible story. Onyx helped me hash out some of the details, both by providing actual thoughts and suggestions, as well as just a sounding board to bounce ideas off of. If you don't have someone you can toss ideas around with, find one. It's really proven quite essential.

I also spent a lot of time this week talking to other up and coming filmmakers about their projects. I played host to a friend of a friend who has had work show in festivals, which gave me a great opportunity to talk to someone about making their own films (as opposed to writing a script for someone else to make). The projects I'm writing now do not lend themselves to independent productions as readily as some others would, nor do I think that I have any chance in securing directing rights to my post-Apocalyptic spec. There's just no way, what with the scope and scale of the project. But to speak to people who have and who hope to expand from shorts to features is really fascinating.

The other conversation I had this week reminded me a lot of some advice I got during my thesis crit panel my final semester of college (I probably got it before then, but it was hearing it in the thesis meeting that cemented it in my brain). Onyx and I are part of a group of four guys that meet up periodically (the other two are non-Leaguers) to talk movies and, once every so often, each others' pages. In prep for a meeting last Wednesday, I read one of our buddies' scripts. It's a long draft, but that's how he writes (which is truly awesome for him, since I sometimes worry about even making 90 pages these days). Of course, with that approach to writing, there will inevitably be things to cut. And our friend knows this. But reading it reminded me of that sage advice I got from two professors: "cut every hi, howdy, and hello."

Basically, they mean do not have a character say hello in a script, since that probably means your scene is starting way too early. Consider the following, set in a cemetery after a funeral (in which we watched our protag's wife die):

PROTAG is standing aimlessly by the grave, staring into nothingness. The sky is grey above him. His friend approaches.



How are you doing?

Been better.

Can I do anything?

Not unless you can bring her back.

Friend stands silently, not knowing what he can offer. Finally, he takes note of the impending storm.

At least the rain held off.

OK - so a short example. But hopefully you can see where I'm coming from when I say that we don't need the pleasantries at the beginning. Especially since this scene is likely following the funeral service, it stands to reason that the characters have already said hello to one another. More so, though, we as an audience don't need them to say hello. Start the scene right at the end of it - the friend not knowing what to say to his grieving buddy, and finally, after a long pause, simply says, "At least the rain held off."

This will hopefully be much more powerful. It will get to the meat of your scene that much more quickly, and will spare your reader or producer of having to read the words "hey, how's it going" over and over. 

Of course, this isn't to say that you can never have a character say some variant of "hi" in your screenplay. Sometimes, a hello moment - as during a long-awaited reunion between a father and son - can be quite poignant. But if the hello is not the crucial bit (and I would wager more often than not that it isn't), take a look at every instance of a greeting in your script, and see if you can nix it. You might just be surprised by how much faster your script flows after that.