Monday, November 28, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 203 - Two Page Synopsis

In order to be at all productive during a holiday, when I'm not currently in the pages stage of a script, I have to set a goal for myself. This Thanksgiving, I did just that. I wanted to finish the synopsis of my demon thriller spec, so that I could finally send it out to my manager. I am proud to say that I did just that, wrapping it up in the last hour of my bus ride back from Arlington, VA to New York. 

Initially, I wanted to get a solid page-long synopsis done. When I began it, I didn't have a whole lot. I knew a bit about the protagonist and his friend, but I knew next to nothing about the other characters. The love interest was a major question mark, as were most of the plot points. Half way through outlining (I already had a page and was well into the second by that point), I decided that I needed more antagonists, in addition to the one I already accounted for. In came some demon hunters. Though I was hesitant to use them in the beginning, their presence really makes sense (at least on paper) and adds some great and worthwhile elements to the story. I think they have the promise of adding a lot of fun and great action, too - not in a gratuitous or tacked on way, either. 

The love interest's back story became prohibitively important, preventing me from moving any further with the outline until I figured that out. She's supposed to have some large flaw, but not so monumental that we cannot connect with her in the end. I worked hard at it, and managed to solve that one. Same with the protagonist's agenda. I did a lot of research about demons and demonology and that sort of thing, and his story naturally flowed from my findings. 

By the time all was said and done, I'd hammered out a full two=page synopsis. Sure, there are some big questions in there, as well as gaps or jumps in the narrative. The characters don't come across as fully fleshed out yet - I focused mainly on the big beats. But the bones of the story are undeniably there. They might change in an outline, but I have a lot more going into this week than I did seven days ago. For that, I am thankful.

In Loving Memory
Lottie Ziemba

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 202 - It Takes Time

I was speaking with a friend the other day. Like me, he is trying to get a production in motion. Unlike me, his is a play (one he's optioned, not written). Our experiences, though, have been quite similar.

He has some talent attached to the show and some people on his team who are working hard to make it happen. I have a lawyer, agent, and manager package, as well as two dedicated producers who are working hard to bring it to fruition. He's had a few readings of it, which have garnered some interest. My script has circulated around the industry and gotten some attention and positive feedback. Despite the readings and interest from a larger organization, he is back to square one (quote unquote), since the larger theatre passed in the end. And though I've gotten some good word of mouth and interest from producers and directors, none have actually bitten.

In short, neither of us is where we would like to be yet. We've had some steps forward and the corresponding steps backwards. Each small success seems to be met with a larger disappointment (larger, if for no other reason than we allow ourselves to anticipate that the minor success will be the first step toward fulfillment of the project). In my case, we've started looking into setting the project up for television instead of film, and that's still not earned us much traction. With his play, he has a recognizable star attached, and his wheels are still spinning. I recently read Down and Dirty Pictures, and in it, Peter Biskind discusses how even Martin Scorsese couldn't get Gangs of New York off the ground for many years. If guys like him have trouble, it's no wonder that unknowns like me face an uphill battle in getting their movies made.

Still, it only takes one "yes." My hope is that, by this time next year, I will have that "yes" to be thankful for as I wolf down my turkey. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

2012 Oscar Predictions

We're in the home stretch of the year, which means that most Hollywood heavy-hitting Oscar contenders are either out, or just about to come out (with a few notables that have already come and gone - to DVD). So, out of curiosity, and because I'm really not overwhelmingly excited about anything slated to debut in the next month and a half (nor was I too jazzed about anything in the ten and a half months before now), I decided to do some research, test the waters, and take the temperature of the current Oscar race. I did some googling and came up with a list - from various sources - of which movies are likely contenders, which might be upsets, and what movies are worth watching before the Oscars.

You're probably aware that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences earlier this year yet again changed the nomination voting system for Best Picture. Now, rather than a hard and fast 5 or 10 nominees, depending on the number of first place votes a film gets in the nomination round (it must receive at least 5% of the first place votes), it will be listed as a Best Picture Contender. Among the sites I read, the common consensus seems to be that we should expect seven (7) Best Picture nominees. So, I went with that.

I read - and actually put together a little spread sheet of contenders - the top picks list from Indie Wire, Reelz,  the Awards Prophets, Entertainment Weekly, and the LA Times' blog The Insider. (It is worth noting that these lists will likely all change as more reviews come out and the climate evolves for each film. Not all articles were written around the same time, either; for example, the EW one is from August. But let's play along anyway.) With the exception of Entertainment Weekly's contributor's picks, the lists were ranked in order of most likely to take the top prize. Because so many focused on seve real competitors, I looked at the top seven from each of those to determine if there were any unanimously agreed upon choices. There were three:

The Descendants
War Horse
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

I will make it a point to see each of those. Among other notable contenders, Moneyball, Midnight in ParisThe Artist, and The Help were in the top seven for all but one of the four lists. So those goes up there. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo made two top seven lists.

When calling in the top ten, Tree of Life, appears three times, while J. Edgar and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy garner two votes each (J. Edgar was lower on many lists, just FYI). Other notables include: Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Ides of March, A Dangerous Method, Young Adult, Hugo, and occasional shout-outs for The Iron Lady, Carnage, and We Bought a Zoo. Tin Tin is looking like the potential front runner for animated, assuming it qualifies for that category.

So what are the take-aways from this little project? First, I have to eat my words with the League, because I as convinced that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 would earn a Lord of the Rings style nomination, yet it wasn't on any of the lists I looked at. Therefore, if you're trying to assemble your list of what to see before the 84th Academy Awards, as I am, then these are likely the fifteen you will want to focus on:

The Descendants
War Horse
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Midnight in Paris
The Artist
The Help
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Tree of Life
J. Edgar
A Dangerous Method
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Young Adult
The Ides of March

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 201 - Is It Blasphemous?

Something's been weighing on my mind this past week. Call it a concern. Call it a question. Call it... guilt? either way, the newest idea I've come up with, one that I am actually very excited about and that my manager has responded quite positively toward, is causing me a bit of angst. The idea has to do with religion. My concern, is whether my treatment of it is sacrilegious. 

Now, to preface, a bit of background on me. I'm not what you'd call the most religious person. By that, I mean that I didn't growing up going to church on a regular basis. (If the grandparents were in town, particularly for Christmas or Easter, then you better believe we were there looking our best, not to mention confused and bored.) Religion wasn't really discussed in my house; I can't quote any scripture, nor can I really paint a very vivid picture of the seminal Biblical events. That said, I also consider myself a believer. (Many of the Leaguers reading this are probably rereading that last sentence at this very moment - the image I bet they have of me is more likely that of an Agnostic, to be honest, if not Atheistic.) I do believe in a higher power, with reciprocal afterlife situations depending on one's behavior and actions. I don't want to get into the meat of what I believe and don't believe here, who I think gets "damned" and who doesn't. Suffice it to say, I am respectful and aware of the basic tenets of Christian theology and associate myself with at least some of them.

The new idea in question, then, invokes certain Biblical ideas. There's no direct naming of important figures; Jesus and God and the Devil will not appear on screen. We don't see angels. There's no talk of miracles or outward attempt to prove or comment on religion, Heaven, or any doctrinal debates. Rather, conceive of the idea more along the lines of Legion or Priest (admittedly, I have seen neither, nor do I envision Paul Bettany in my project, but hopefully that sheds some light on the overall integration of religion into the idea). Demons factor in, but not in the winged, pitchfork-wielding sense. Hell and souls are real in the world of the script, but dealt with in a more action, almost comic-book way. In short, I am invoking religion to create an action piece, and my concern - warranted or not - is whether that is a blasphemous act.

I could go further into depth about why I'm thinking about the nature of the script itself, but I won't. Whether that concern is inward (i.e., mine, regarding me) or not (i.e., dealing with the wider audience's reception to religious elements being treated in this manner) also seems a moot point now. Am I asking for an answer? I don't even know. I suppose the ultimate answer is that, if I am comfortable writing it, I should go forward with this idea. If not, then no. Yet I am excited by the concept. I feel it will offer me the opportunity to write some very interesting characters and quick, stimulating dialogue. I would be lying if I said I was not looking forward to working on this script.

So what is my take away? (What is yours?) Do I go ahead with this idea? Is it, in some way, blasphemous? The Bible has been a source of inspiration for a lot of pieces of art over the years - from paintings to prose to film to plays to sculptures and everything else imaginable. Should I be concerned that my usage of it is any different?

Monday, November 07, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 200 - Drawing the Line

At a certain point, we as writers must draw a line in the sand. Where do we scrap an idea? Where do we turn to ourselves (inwardly, in the mirror, however), and acknowledge that we don't want to work on a certain project, that we're just not invested in it?

A couple weeks ago, I sent my manager a few (four, actually) ideas that I was thinking of working on. Of the four, one was a re-hash of an earlier period piece that I had spent a bit of time on (my horror spec). The other three were new. I was really stoked about one of them - a mystery/thriller set during World War 2 - before another idea came along that surpassed it - a murder mystery set in a unique hotel. The fourth was kind of a tossup, not something I was extremely gung-ho about, but something I could potentially get behind if need be.

My manager liked idea number four the best.

Admittedly, there are some issues with the others. Namely, the first two a period pieces; while one of them is relatively recent (my manager thought it sounded better suited to television, but we didn't discuss it further, so I don't know exactly where he's coming from - I'm curious to hear, though), it's still tough to get studios to sign off on non-contemporary scripts. The horror thriller is centuries old setting-wise, so that would be an even greater stretch. 

This brings us to idea number four. It's sort of a revenge idea, but with a bit of a mystery and a bit of a twist. I still have an incredible amount of detail to figure out about it - in reality, the idea is quite nascent, so even if I wanted to, I wouldn't be able to go into greater specifics here. I just don't have them. 

There we are, though. Idea number four. The contemporary revenge thriller with a twist. At this point, I feel like my best option - or, at the very least, my option until I come up with an idea I like better - is to flesh it out a bit more. Why not, right? I came up with it. I sent it to my manager. At some level, I must be interested in working on it.

At a certain point, we as writers must draw a line in the sand. Where do we scrap an idea? Where do we turn to ourselves (inwardly, in the mirror, however), and acknowledge that we don't want to work on a certain project, that we're just not invested in it?

More importantly, can we become invested in something that presents itself lukewarm at first? I'll let you know next week, after I work on developing the revenge spec for seven days.