Monday, February 25, 2013

The Writing Week (Vol. 6) part 260 - The Weight of a Scene

It all comes down to one scene. The big reveal. The climax. The inciting incident. The heart-wrenching death of the protagonist's love. We've all written, giddy for the scene we know will sell our scripts and win us our Oscars. Anything can happen in a scene, and any scene has the potential to make - or break - a movie. 

Any scene can be a bull to write.

For me, that scene this week has come within the first 15 pages of the script and is charged with no small feat: it has to establish the protagonist, his goals, and his fears. In short, it has to prep him (and therefore, us) for his entire story arc. I know it might seem silly to boil such an important task down to one scene, but the anatomy of the first act of this new script is a little atypical. Many sci-fi scripts start off with a normal world, before the foreign/unknown/extraterrestrial/fictional invades Earth and kicks things into drive. That's no different with the collaboration I'm working on. However, this script also opens with a five-page prologue. The inciting incident still has to happen around page ten and is shortly followed by the aforementioned invasion, which turns normal on its head. In the script, that happens around page 13.

Page thirteen. With the first five pages setting future events up in a way that offer very little introduction of the protagonist. So, I'm down to eight pages to establish my protagonist, his world, his friends, and the current "normal" before all goes awry on page thirteen. It's a Sisyphean feat, especially when you consider that, in this particular scene, his character is being established mainly through dialogue with a confidante. Dialogue, as I'm sure you've experienced, can be a lot of fun or incredibly sticky. You don't want to be too on the nose. My protagonist isn't going to say, "this is my opinion of myself, and these are all the skeletons in my closet that are going to hold me back, which I need to overcome to grow as a person over the coming experience." But, of course, that's exactly what the subtext has to be, and it has to be subtle enough that it sounds natural, but not so esoteric that audiences won't follow it.

The dialogue has to be crisp, revealing, and deep. And right now, I have a three pages scene set up in which I can make it happen. The whole rest of the script will follow from there - and we have it, ready for this scene to be slotted in and the following dialogue tweaked to match - but the script can't go to our producer or representatives until this one scene is reworked. One little scene. What a bear. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Oscar Nominated Scripts Recap

Hollywood's big night is coming up on Sunday, and all the pundits are predicting who will win, and who will be snubbed. For those of us wishing to break in (and those in the industry, I'd imagine), the Oscars can be incredibly fun - or incredibly aggravating. 

What do you mean that was the best picture?! 
I can write better than that with my eyes closed!
How did they overlook him/her/that movie (cough Dark Knight cough)?!

Whatever your opinions may be, it's good to take a close look at the Best Screenplay Nominees - adapted and original - to see what caught the Academy's eye this year. Deadline has done a nice wrap-up of them.

You can read the Original and Adapted screenplay write ups there.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Writing Week (Vol. 6) part 259 - It All Goes Back to the First 15 Pages

I spent my Presidents' Day, not touring the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument as perhaps others did, but rather going over the second draft of my sci-fi collaboration with my writing partner. Almost a year to the date since we began working together, we now have a very strong workable draft of our script. It didn't come easily or quickly, though. Leading up to today, we went through seven drafts of our outline (and minor revisions along the way) and two major drafts of the script, before arriving at the one we went over today. 

We're poised to send the script to the producer who paired us together. Before we do it, though, there's one more issue we have to tackle in the script. It's not exactly a small matter. In fact, it's what the entire screenplay is built on. I'm talking about the protagonist's character. 

The hero of our story is a senior in college with some heavy baggage in his past. He is incredibly talented and smart, but he's also afraid (for good reason) of his own potential. He's at an amazing academic institution, but he's squandering his potential. In short, he's both the most capable student in his class, and a slacker. 

We've been struggling with our protagonist since we started working together, but today it was most apparent that he can't straddle the line we have him on now. It just doesn't work. And if our protagonist and his motivations don't work, then the rest of the script fails, too. 

In fact, over the course of our one and a half hour conversation, pretty much the only thing we discussed was our protagonist. More specifically, we spoke about our protagonist as we see him in the first 15 pages. Fifteen pages. Because of how we structured the screenplay (a 4 page prologue, inciting incident around page 11, and a big reveal on 15), we only have the first fifteen pages to set up our protagonist. However, with the prologue, we go down to eleven pages. That's not a lot of room to establish a deeply wounded character with incredible potential. 

We spoke at length about him. What does he want? What motivates him? What is he afraid of? Of course, all of this will have to come to a head over the course of the script, as he evolves, grows, and changes by the end of act three. I think we landed in a good place by the end of our conversation, but it just goes to show - if your protagonist isn't clearly written, especially within the first fifteen pages of your script, then good luck getting it to a producer. We're not even going to show the one that we work with our draft until this issue is resolved. It's a no-brainer that she would ask us about the protagonist - or tell us that she doesn't understand his motivations. It's that apparent. No way will we turn in something that's weak at such a fundamental level.

How do you make sure your protagonist is as strongly written as he or she can be?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Article Alert - Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair has a very interesting article on the recent history of the spec market's rise, fall, and minor blip upward. Check it out for a good read for anyone trying to break in with a spec these days (like all of us here at the League).

Friday, February 08, 2013

The Writing Week (Vol. 6) part 258 - Make Sure It All MAkes Sense

My writing partner sent me notes on the second draft of our sci-fi collaboration last week. As I mentioned earlier, after doing a read through of it simply to read it and get a feel for how it flows and for the strength of the plot, I had a pretty good feeling about the draft. For the most part, my partner responded in kind. He had three "big" notes, which I've been working on this week. (I say "big" because, though the notes are impactful, they will not alter the plot structure at all.)

His first note was to look at the protagonist's character more closely, particularly within the first act. When we meet the protag, he's pulling into himself, unwilling to let his potential loose because of something that has happened in his past. He goes through a pretty transformative arc over the film, but in the beginning, he's not the most likable. That's not the problem; the problem is that, in the beginning, he gives us (the viewer) no real reason to want to get to like him - or to care about him at all for that matter. Therein lies the issue. It is fine to have a nasty protagonist; it is not fine to have one who is so apathetic about life that we are apathetic about him or her. 

The second big note was the most minor of the trio. It involved the antagonist's backstory, and required merely a reversion to the way we set something up in the first draft in order to correct it. Basically, the antagonist has some major scars and disfigurements. I had altered something in the second draft, which wound up negating the impact (but not the necessity) or the origin of those scars. The first draft saw a plausible and plot-driven reason for those scars, so I simply reworked his backstory to achieve that again.

Lastly, and most involved, came my partner's thoughts on the third act. Act Three, in particular the climax, is the pivotal moment of the film in which all gets resolved (or not) and the good guy wins (or not), forever beating his antagonist (or not). The stakes and competing objectives must be crystal clear at that time, so that the audience knows what a victory or loss could mean for the protagonist. Though my writing partner and I understand the stakes, he rightly pointed out that the way it's written now might not make it readily graspable for the audience. This week, correcting act three has been my biggest challenge, one I am not quite done with yet but see the obvious need for adjusting.

When the above three notes are all addressed, I plan to go through the script and re-read it from page one to make sure that everything has been integrated properly and coherently. At that point, I'll also go through and look for any streamlining I can do, particularly as far as the dialogue is concerned. My partner said he had some line notes and rejiggering of dialogue, but he wanted to wait until I had gone through the major points before giving those to me. Ideally, I'll be able to nip some in the bud and make his minute notes moot points. Either way, it feels great to continue streamlining, cutting, and making this the best possible script I can before we send it out to our managers and friends for fresh eyes and then, gulp, to buyers. 

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Logline Central - Teddy Bear

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.

Well, here's an interesting one. We've seen movies based on: video games, board games, toys, not to mention plays, other movies, and books. This week, we look at a film that is going to be based on an illustration. 

Teddy Bear
At night, a small brown teddy bear -- brandishing a laughably small wooden sword and shield - protects a little girl asleep from monsters under her bed.
Family Fantasy 
To be based on an illustration by Alex Panagopoulos. Dwayne Johnson, Beau Flynn and Hiram Garcia will produce. Johnson is also attached to star. New Line's Michael Disco & Sam Brown and Flynn's Adam Yoelin will oversee. Garcia, a former assistant to Johnson, found the illustration and brought it to New Line & Flynn. No writer is attached yet. 

An illustration? I'm intrigued. Not sure I love the idea that movies are made based off illustrations, but I'm at least curious to see it.

Oh. Ok. I'll bite. This could be fun. There's a ton of potential in there (for either a great film, or an awful one). But if a picture is worth a thousand words, then this is a strong and succinct pitch. And nowhere near as awful as my skeptical mind thought it would be. Of course, a lot of it will come down to who they get to write the thing.

Friday, February 01, 2013

The Writing Week (Vol. 6) part 257 - Reading with Fresh Eyes

The draft is done! Sci-fi spec, draft two, complete and out to my writing partner as of Monday night. And then, to kick off my edit phase, I something I've never thought to take the time to do before. I decided to read the script.

Say what? Yeah, I know what you're thinking. Of course, I read the script after I finish it. I check for typos and grammatical errors and redundant dialogue. But I don't really read it for content. Not really. Sure, I look to see if I can make any cuts or streamline and dialogue, but it struck me that when I revise a draft, I don't really look at the content, just the format. My edits become more minor than they should be. I'll tweak a line here or there or shorten a sentence of dialogue or description so as to cut a hanging line on the script and shorten it, but the trade-off is that I subconsciously commit to what I've written. I fail to read the thing from the point of view of someone who is unfamiliar with the script (or as close to that as I can get) and therefore don't look for story problems. I became most aware of this during my rewrites this go-around, when I read some dialogue from draft one and thought, "This is HORRIBLE." Same for certain beats. They just didn't make sense. How could I willingly submit that to my partner?

This time, however, I decided to put the pen away as much as possible and just read the script in one sitting. No looking for edits. No streamlining line by line. Just read it for the feel and flow of the story, and do the particular edits later. Sure, I found a few glaring things - missing period at the end of a sentence or a missing line of dialogue - that I flagged as I read, but I would have picked up on those if it wasn't my own material anyway. And you know what happened?

I liked the script. I mean, I really liked it. To be honest, I think it's some of the best writing I've done in a very long time. Very little seemed gratuitous. All the beats that needed to be there were. The characters had arcs and motivations. And Act One was the tightest, most refined that I have produced in a long time. Granted, I found some things that should go, but on the whole, I was incredibly pleased. I'm not trying to make the argument that this is because I did the read-through without edits - the two really aren't connected beyond the fact that I would likely not have seen this had I gone straight to line by line edits - but the product results were hard to ignore. I'm really jazzed by this draft, and I think my partner is, too.

Even if the draft was unsuccessful, or even just less successful, I truly feel that sitting down and simply reading the script before really editing it was the way to go. I absolutely plan to do that with every project I have going forward. It just doesn't make sense to me not to, and I can't believe I hadn't adopted that practice sooner. Getting mired in the nitty-gritty of an editing process is great, but it's important not to miss the forest for the trees. I was super guilty of that in the past. Plus, it's always fun to read a script, no?