Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Writing Week (Vol. 5) part 253 - The Elephant Graveyard

I like to think that I'm far from alone in having what I call an elephant graveyard of scripts. You know what I'm talking about; years ago, you had a great idea for a new spec, and you flew through draft one, and then... stopped. Or you wrote that draft, and while letting it settle, you decided to jump onto something new. And then never jumped back. Or you were in a rut, so you decided to just write something - anything - and got out of your rut successfully, leaving a draft of something you were lukewarm about in your wake. The end result of all those efforts (and others)? First drafts. Lots of them. Sitting on your hard drive or in your desk drawer with nothing to do but take up space. 

However, that's not quite true, is it? With any luck, even projects that we abandon entirely after typing THE END for the first and last time on them teach us something. My theory is that a piece of writing should never be a total waste. Even if the lesson learned is that that specific type of script or genre isn't your cup of tea, then it's been valuable. But what of all the other scripts that you have a draft of, which you like the concept of, but that you haven't touched in years? What becomes of them?

I've come to realize that, for me personally, the desired answer to this is, "something." The sci-fi project I'm collaborating on, which just saw a very upsetting similar project announced, is still in the works. The holiday week will hopefully bring forth a necessarily strong draft two from me that I can give my partner in early January. Of course, I also have other ideas that I want to work on when that is done. And, somewhere, the post-apocalyptic spec is still floating in the Hollywood ether. But let's go back to that elephant graveyard, shall we?

I don't quite know how many first drafts (or second drafts) or projects sit on my computer. Off the top of my head, I can easily count seven projects that I took from initial idea to at least one full draft (not including the three mentioned above). I'm probably forgetting some. I also have at least as many that I developed to some degree outlines, partial drafts, etc. Beyond that, there's a slew of two dozen or so loglines I came up with for completely different concepts. Bottom line: there's a lot of material there. Of the seven I did a draft of, there is not one I refuse to work on again. In fact, I still feel excited by most of them. At the very least, I would be willing to commit to getting them more industry ready.

I don't know what my next project will be. I have one idea in particular that I am really stoked to work on, but I don't know nearly enough about it yet to begin writing. As I keep thinking about what to do next, I can't help but mentally revisiting some of these other ideas. More than that I like any of them better than the other projects I'm tossing around, I dislike the notion that I poured myself into these works once, and then abandoned them. I try to make it a rule that I will only write things I would want to see, and I would still want to see all seven of those. So why not revisit them? If nothing else, I am farther along in their development for the sheer fact that they each have a full script to work off. Is there any reason not to try to bring one of them to fruition?

Do you have an elephant graveyard of scripts? Does it grow each year, or do you try to cull the proverbial skeletal herd?

Monday, December 17, 2012

2012 Black List Announced

December brings many things - holidays, family and friend gatherings, best (and worst) of the year lists. For the past eight years now, one of the more prestigious lists a screenwriter can find his or her work on is one that chronicles not the best films to come out that year, but rather the best unproduced screenplays that made their way around Hollywood in the past twelve years. Collected from mentions by agents and producers and those of a similar ilk, the Black List catalogs the best scripts of the year that have yet to begin production. 

A quick aside - the impetus behind the original Black List was to call out lesser known work by lesser known writers, to then forward their careers and thrust them (and their films) into production. Many of the titles and writers that show up nowadays are by known commodities (some very high profile talent makes it into the mix), which has caused the ranking to lose some of its street cred. That said, I know most (unproduced) writers dream of being on the Black List. I sure do.

Click over to Deadline for a full list, including titles, writers, who is repping them, and loglines of the chosen material. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Writing Week (Vol. 5) part 252 - Thinking about Threats

It's not fun to be threatened in real life (unless someone is threatening to buy you a shot or make you eat another bite of dessert), nor is it fun to watch a movie in which there's no threat posed to the protagonist. Every good protagonist needs a good (or maybe even great) antagonist. Otherwise, what's the point? If Batman had no Joker or Zsasz or Bane, he'd be just a guy in black tights fighting pickpockets. That would be dull. But that's not the case. Batman's villains are - literally or not - more colorful than him, and they provide the driving force behind his continued crusade against crime. So, too, do the heroes of our stores need someone or something to work against them in order to challenge them and force them to become the champions we want them to be.

My sci-fi spec has an antagonist, a really pretty interesting antagonist at the end of the day. He's twisted, warped, and a hero in his own mind. If the shoe was on the other foot, we would probably root for him over the protagonist. He's compelling and driven and has goals that make sense to him and within the context of the world in which he lives. He's also wickedly violent.

A lot of that of that violent nature will be toned down in the second draft of the script. My writing partner and I discussed it, and given the scenario that we've established, it doesn't make sense for either our protagonist or antagonist to be awesome combatants. That trait is not inherent in either of their characters, and neither my partner nor I want to write a movie in which an ordinary person becomes Rambo. That's just not the kind of film we're doing, and especially because our sci-fi is heavy on the "sci" portion, we need people who are smart first and physically threatening second. It doesn't make sense that our scientists would be able to pick up a gun for the first time and hold their own in a shootout. 

We were wrapping our brains around what exactly this would mean for our film, trying to make connections to established work we could point to for comparison. The Matrix is not quite sciency enough, and though we have an alternate earth situation like Children of Men, the threats are too common, too human for what we're doing. Finally, I thought of it - Jurassic Park! No, we don't have dinosaurs, but what we do have is a group of scientists who are thinkers, not fighters, and who are dropped into a world that is very far from their day-to-day realities, but still connected to them. In that world, very much as in ours, there are human "antagonists" of a certain sort, but the real threats come from within the world itself. The environment (and in this case, the inhabitants that come with it) causes the most compelling peril. And, in the midst of all of the action and nail-biting, there's a film with some humor that can be enjoyed by the whole family. That's what we're going for.

A tall order, for sure, but I think that we can do it. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Script Alerts!

Rope of Silicon has a list of links to just over two dozen scripts that could be up for Best Screenplay (adapted or original categories) this year. It's always great practice to read industry material, especially those that are considered stronger showings in their year. 

Click the above link to check out and download scripts for, among other things:

Beasts of the Southern Wild
Hyde Park on Hudson
The Lorax
The Master
Moonrise Kingdom
The Sessions
This is 40
Snow White and the Huntsman

Happy reading!