Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Writing Week (Vol. 5) part 216 - A Busy Week

I had one Hell of a busy week recently. for one, the outline on my demon thriller is finally chugging along again. At the suggestion of my manager, I stared reading Blake Snyder's Save the Cat to help re-energize my writing faculties. Though I don't want to, I have to admit that it's been helpful. At least, I think it has been - I've made more progress in the past few days than I had made in a while, and I attribute that to the informal refresher course I'm giving myself. 

Over the course of working on the outline, and act two in particular, I'm starting to see more and more the mistakes or redundancies I typically make in a script. Usually, these involve the same two characters in two different scenes that achieve two parts of the same goal. For example, with the demon thriller, the protag and his friend-turned-antagonist have an argument around the midpoint. I spread that argument across two different scenes, with a buffer scene between them. Looking at it, however, I couldn't for the life of me determine what naturally would go between those scenes, nor did I have a very strong reason for splitting them up. Rather than one good blowout fight, I was working my way toward two weaker confrontations with a stuttering step between them. It didn't make sense. Last night, after some waffling, I decided to combine them into the one intrinsic scene they wanted to be all along. No unnecessary filler needed, no mid-argument cutoffs, no redundant scene a page later. Just one scene with one fight. Much stronger.

Ideally, I'll finish the act two outline today. That's not the only thing I have going on nowadays, though. I have started contributing to Screenwriters Utopia, a site dedicated to screenwriters of all skills, levels, and experience. My first post there came out on Sunday and deals with the many frustrations I have with a show I still somewhat enjoy watching - AMC's The Walking Dead. (Don't even get me started on it; the most recent episode fueled the flames of my fury again. Why can't they just get a script supervisor - OR ANYONE - to check for inconsistencies? It would be so easy and alleviate so many glaring issues with the show.) I hope you like it. 

Finally, I was recently given an opportunity to look into some collaboration work with a known writer/producer/director. I can't or won't say too much about it beyond that, but this would be my first foray into writing a project that I didn't conceive of on my own. And though I've done some minor collaboration work before, that has all been within the League. I'm pretty damn excited for this chance, so I'll let you know what comes of it (within the scope of my ability to discuss it).

I hope your week was just as if not more productive, and that this Leap Year proves not just fecund, but fruitful.

Friday, February 24, 2012

2012 Writers Guild Award Winners Announced

Last Sunday, the 2012 Writers Guild Award winners were announced (for achievements in film and television during 2011). Will these scribes take home statues at the Oscars this coming Sunday? We'll have to wait and watch to find out. 

Click over to Deadline for a more extensive list in television and other categories.


Original Screenplay
Midnight in Paris, Written by Woody Allen

Adapted Screenplay
The Descendants, Screenplay by Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash; Based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings

Documentary Screenplay
Better This World, Written by Katie Galloway & Kelly Duane de la Vega

What do you think? Should Midnight and Descendants take home the awards? Personally, I'm rooting for either The Artist or Bridesmaids in original, but what do you think?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Writing Week (Vol. 5) part 215 - Watching Movies and Creeping Ahead Word by Word

Outlining isn't easy, nor is it quick work. If it was either, the ten incomplete projects on my hard drive would at least each have full first drafts, if not industry-ready scripts to show for all my (varied amounts of) effort on them. No, outlines are the meat of a developmental phase of working on a script. It might only take me three weeks to bang out 90 script pages once the outline is done, but that outline (in and of itself perhaps five to ten pages) is a month long endeavor, if not more. Because the outline contains the framework for the entire plot, each act and every potential major beat, it is a monumental undertaking. It is where the story comes together, and where the weaknesses reveal themselves.

It is also where a writer can most frequently become stuck. 

I can't (or don't want to) tell you how many days these past two weeks I've devoted my daily hour of writing to alternating my blank stare between the blinking cursor on my screen and the clock on my wall. Tick, tick, tick, the second hand mocks me, as the screen goes dim to conserve power, and the outline refuses to grow. Sure, I might add something here or there, but it is typically inconsequential. "The characters have their first date." That's all well and good, but it's also something that anyone who knows anything about the script must assume is in there somewhere, and it rebuffs any further description. While it appears good on screen (progress!), it offers about as much as it did in terms of tangible forward movement than it did when it was unwritten.

Yes, outlines can suck. They can be maddening. If I wasn't worried about going bald, I'd say they can induce hair-pulling. But there's a workaround that I've found helps. Watch movies. Not just any movie (though, sometimes merely seeing something succeed in any genre can be inspiration enough to get past the hump). Specifically, though, it can help to check out movies that are either in the same genre or are somehow otherwise related. For the demon spec, I watch both The Devil's Advocate and The Lives of Others. Devil's Advocate might be a pretty obvious connection, but Lives of Others perhaps at first glance seems an odd parallel. Think about it, though - demons, devils, and the protagonist in Lives are all observers, with the key difference being in how they respond to their subjects. Lives of Others is a great study in observation, and observation is one thing there's not going to be a shortage of in my demon thriller. Lives is also a prime example of a well-paced, engaging movie that has no real typical "action" (i.e., guns and explosions and whatnot). 

When I watch these, sometimes I take copious notes on beats and plot and structure. Sometimes, I just watch and try to absorb. I did a little of both with the above two films. Hopefully, the next time I sit down to work on the outline, I will find that I've actually gleaned something useful from those two viewings.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Logline Central - The New West

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.

Today's chosen logline highlights not necessarily the world's most engaging idea, nor is it an original spec (it's adapted from a comic book), but it has one thing going for it that's particularly worth looking at - a hook. Take a look.

Title: The New West
Logline: Nine months after a bomb creates an electromagnetic pulse causing all technology to stop working in Los Angeles, an ex-detective with a horse and a sword tries to find the kidnapped Mayor in a near deserted hostile environment. 
Writer: Jimmy Palmiotti (creator), Phil Noto (illustrations) 
Prod. Co: Benderspink, Black Bull Media
More: Option. Comicbook published by Black Bull Media. Benderspink’s Chris Bender, JC Spink & Jake Weiner and Black Bull Media's Gareb Shamus will produce.

Ok, so maybe you're thinking it sounds kind of cool. Or, perhaps you're thinking, "what a sell-out, that's such an easy idea. I can do that." Then do.

I like what this edition represents, because it's exactly the kind of thing my manager was encouraging me to strive for. (And, full disclosure - the notion of people in modern society reverting back to Medieval infrastructure, tools, and weapons intrigues me a lot; I actually had a very similar idea a while back, even involving an electromagnetic pulse, which I didn't spend much time further developing.)

Something that's recognizable/bankable, but with a hook - that was the goal when I was developing new material. Obviously, I wanted it to be something that engaged me and seemed worth my time, so I didn't just want to do "knights in space" or something likewise ridiculous. And, with The New West, we have a prime example. An ex-detective is quite recognizable and tried and true (and even my protag is one of those in the post-Apocalyptic spec I wrote a few years back), but a world where guns are no longer viable and society has been seemingly set back 400 years is a unique twist.

The objective is to mesh the tried and true with the twist in such a way that you the writer will want to devote months or years to it, and that you the audience member will want to spend $13.50 and 2 hours going to see it in theaters. Would I see The New West? Maybe. I skipped out on Cowboys and Aliens, which for some reason comes to mind when thinking about this, though in a way it is the revers of this one, but if I was hearing good things I would probably check it out. It's not the idea that's most blown my mind this year or this month, but it's a prime example of what the industry is looking for now.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Writing Week (Vol. 5) part 214 - Write Out Your Goals for Each Act

Have you ever written out your goals for each act of your screenplay? I hadn't - nor had I really heard of the idea before, that I can recall - until this weekend. I've been outlining my demon thriller spec, and the going was a bit slow to begin with. In order to kick things into gear, I decided it might be worth the exercise to write out my goals for each portion of the script before actually setting beats down.

Boy, did it help. I had a very loose document with some scattered thoughts here and there, and some ideas for what had to happen in Act Three, but little concept of how to get there. (I'm still stuck on Act Two, but hopefully that will sort itself out by the end of this week.) So, I thought, "what the hell, might as well give it a shot." I started small, bulleting goals such as, "introduce the main target," "explain that demons are real," and "introduce his best friend and hint at their history." Some things were a bit more complex, like "showcase the rules of eternally damning people," for example. 

Bit by bit, though, the objectives for those first 25-30 pages started becoming clearer and clearer. Shortly into the goal-laying process, the means by which to attempt to accomplish those objectives started to become apparent. I knew I could open with a particular scene, which would naturally segue into a second, then a third scene, and a fourth would shed light on what happened in them. I would start with a mysterious, cryptic hook, and then piece it together for the audience in a way that tackled four or five Act One goals at once. I wouldn't flat out explain everything (in fact, I wouldn't have to flat out explain anything so directly), but I'd offer enough for attentive viewers to pick up on what was happening, while capturing the interest of less discerning audience members. By the time act one ends, ideally, the basics are in place, and more specific details will be set up to come out later in Act Two. 

I'm not quite sure how many pages, roughly, I've outlined yet, but I have a sneaking suspicion I'm looking at a shorter first act. That's ok, to start. Now, I just have to get cracking on Act Two, and see where this story takes itself. The thing I'm enjoying so far, which has surprised me a bit, is how visual the idea is becoming. Before, my emphasis had been on the dialogue I anticipated I'd get to write. The focus is shifting toward the visuals at the moment, and I have to admit I'm quite enticed by them. I think this is going to be a fun script; hitting that realization marker is always a good step in the right direction.

Finally, I decide to try opening with a title card for the first time. (I attempted once before, but that project required little more than a time and place title card; this script requires a bit of a setup.) I found a particularly apt quote from the Bible, which I think will go a long way toward setting up the situations I'm writing about. Hopefully, a week from now, I will have a full outline to show for it.  

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

The Writing Week (Vol. 5) part 213 - The Ending Trickles to the Beginning

The League had its February meeting last night, and once again we focused primarily on my demon thriller. Everyone else is in some stage of development on their latest script or novel, so there weren't many tangible pages presented for the gathering. So that we'd have something to read and discuss - and since it would help me craft the plot of this increasingly logistically difficult script - I sent out the rules of the world that I'd worked on a couple weeks back.

The discussion was pretty fruitful. Doing their duty as scrupulous readers, they brought up some good questions about the machinations of the characters and their interactions. If this happens, then why do they need that to be a rule? Why do they have to submit to this power? How will you reveal all this?

This last question - the one that asks me to elaborate upon how I'm going to convey all the various rules and nuances - is pivotal. Luckily, my group members are astute and clever visual thinkers, and as a group we were able to piece together a few strong approaches to showing and not telling. Still, their ruminations made it clear that I still have a great deal of work to do in prepping how to best inform the audience of the ways in which my world works. Take, for example, Children of Men, a movie I enjoy. However, there's a blatantly expositional scene early on in which Michael Caine's character informs Clive Owen of the whys and hows of their society, despite the fact that Owen's been living in it for nearly two decades. This is clearly just for the audience, but too simple a device to seem organic. It is also the exact type of thing I wish to avoid.

During the meeting, I brought to the group one of the largest question I had and still have about the material. Namely, it deals with the ending of the movie. I've figured out how I want it to end and what it would mean for this ending to happen, but I was and am unsure of technically how it will occur in the story. Normally, I would let the writing take care of that. However, the ending and the rules that govern it is so contingent upon rules set up in the beginning of the script that I can't just wait to get there to work it out. More than with any other script I've written, the ending in this one is dependent upon hard and solid rules, which I am still working out. 

The group offered me a great suggestion that not only makes certain things easier to convey, but actually ramps up the stakes at the end, as well. Naturally, I decided to adopt this new approach. Yet, I am still left with the gaping hole before me of what in their world enables the protagonist to defeat the antagonist in a reasonable manner. 

All told, this script is shaping up to be quite a unique one for me of late. There are next to no guns or fighting in it. The material will be dialogue-cenric. And, what's more, I can't move forward with it until the rules and machinations are clear as day to me. Part of me feels that such an involved script is the wrong direction to go in, when I'm at a time where I'm trying to get something to my agent as quickly as possible. However, if I pull it off, I have a good feeling that this could be a very strong piece of screenwriting. 

Time will tell.