Friday, May 31, 2013

Site Alert - IndieFlix

There are thousands of brilliant filmmakers out there. Netflix, Amazon, iTunes - all these services offer us ways to view the latest (and classic) cinematic offerings. However, it can be hard, or downright impossible, to discover new talent, new voices, and new visionaries through services like the aforementioned ones. For those of us interested to see what independent filmmakers are working on - what our peers are working on - the options have been scattered and few. Until now.

IndieFlix is a new, subscription-based streaming service that focuses entirely on independent cinema. Founded by filmmakers, the site allows users to search for films to view by genre, length, country, even by what festivals they've shown in. Check out the offerings for yourself and see what catches your eye. 

The site isn't solely concerned with garnering a film viewers. This is, after all, a business. To that, Indieflix has a unique Royalty payment system called RPM - Royalty Pool Minutes - to share the money made through subscriptions with the filmmakers themselves. Every minute you watch helps fund more independent films. And you can stream on platforms you're already using; IndieFlix already has apps on Roku and xBox.

As a special promotion, The Screenwriters League is giving away 10 2-month subscriptions for our readers. First come, first serve - just email if you'd like to give IndieFlix a try.

So get out there and treat yourself to an immersive experience in the world of independent cinema.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Writing Week (Vol. 6) part 270 - Yellow Revisions

I've been away. Could you tell?

I busted my back to get the script revised and off to my collaborator, W.A., before heading on vacation on the 15th of this month. This latest draft became a patchwork quilt of colored revisions - blue, pink, and finally yellow - leading up to me submitting it to him again. While it might seem a bit unnecessary to keep adjusting the revision color, doing so made it extremely easy for W.A. and I both to track the most recent edits. 

(In case you have yet to use revision mode, scripts keep track of edits in chronological order by assigning a color to them. A page with "blue" edits, for example, is one that has only been revised once. "Pink" is second, "yellow" third, and so on. Ultimately, you get weird colors and double colors. Especially in the past, studios actually printed the various versions of the script on multi-colored paper to the degree that it wasn't uncommon for a script to come out looking like a rainbow by the time it was done. In Final Draft, you can alter the color of the text with each revision mode, which I recommend doing so that your producer/collaborator/manager/whoever can see where the edits are. However, the header of each page also gets labeled with the most recent color and applicable date. For example, if you finished the first draft on 4/1/13, then did a pass on 4/4/13, all pages you made edits on will have "Blue 4/4/13" for a header. If you do another revision a week later, pages that get revised again read "Pink 4/11/13" at the top. A final pass on April 14 will yield "Yellow 4/14/13" on edited pages. The draft I turned in to my writing partner had all of the above color pages. That way, he could see where something had been fixed on the first round of edits, what was address on the second, and what I had finally resolved on the most recent pass. I had set a different color text for each revision mode, so he could immediately call out the changes.)

As we discussed and re-revised, three or four scenes stuck out as being problematic, hence the numerous revision modes. Each subsequent edit was less involved than the one that had preceded it, but the dialogue still wasn't right. Or the scene wasn't working properly. Or something that happened first should have happened second. I kept whittling away at the script, dropping a cumulative 12 pages and chipping away at what wasn't working. Finally, on the night before I flew out, I wound up spending three near-uninterrupted hours at the computer, putting all the pieces into order, touching up the script with "yellow." I thought it was working, but I also felt like perhaps I was starting to lose the forest for the trees. 

Off the script went.

W.A. called me the next morning as I was finishing my packing. He liked the edits and, other than one line of dialogue I had meant to cut but forgotten about, had no notes that merited immediate attention. He sent to our producer, and I boarded a plan for Belgium.

We will get her notes this week. 

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Season of Serial Killer Serials

There are a lot of serial killers in the world these days, and so many of them seem to live on television. Take a look at this season's offerings: The Following follows a questionable quasi-FBI agent trying to track down a collective of killers; Bates Motel tracks a young Norman Bates, as he grows into a wig and dress wearing murderer; Hannibal, based on The Red Dragon, is an earlier look into the rise (and, one assumes, incarceration) of Hannibal Lecter. The characters In the above shows have a lot of blood on their hands. And they're not the only ones. (Throw in the veteran Dexter, and the body count rises by at least three figures.)

With so many serial killer offerings, it is inevitable that the series draw comparisons to one another. (Let's ignore the question of WHY we as a society want so many programs about such evil people, for fear of where that might lead us.) Which shows hold up? Which were worth getting excited about? 

 I was most excited about The Following's premier. A series about a cop trying to fight his way through a band of serial killers to find the most nefarious one, one he has history with? Awesome. It reminds me of one of Neil Gaiman's Sandman trades, which was a great read. But The Following quickly succumbed to three major problems: poor character development, shoddy writing, and some of the worst police work in recent television history. It probably comes as little surprise that the cops andolice procedures in a show about a federal agent necessitates strong detective writing. The Following showcased the worst in cop abilities. The FBI was a never-present entity, only around at the end of each episode to examine crime scenes. Kevin Bacon's somewhat alcoholic, somewhat physically injured, somewhat psychologically demented protagonist was never consistent in any of his flaws. The only thing he did regularly was ignore procedure, fail to call for backup, and lead his colleagues into danger. Even when his adversaries were sloppy and exposed, Bacon and his FBI cohorts were unable to track them. Some of the most interesting characters wee part of the following, but their bickering soon became petty and uninteresting. Or, they died. There was so much to get jazzed about leading up to the premier of The Following. Unfortunately, by the third episode, the show proved to be not worth caring about. 

Bates Motel - frankly, I only watched the first two episodes, and for the second, I was doing work on my laptop for most of it. The rest of the season to date is on my DVR. Perhaps I'll get to it some day. I mildly enjoyed the first episode, but it didn't seem to know when it was set, and neither did I. Norman Bates spoke and acted like he was from the 50s or early 60s, but he had an iPhone. His mother was... interesting, and their relationship was far more incestuous than any I would ever want with my mother. But I also didn't really care about any of it. I'd glance at the screen periodically - oh look, someone is on fire - and then back to my laptop. Has anyone watched? Does anyone care?

I'll be honest - I really like Hannibal. I think it is by far the best of the three. Oddly, what I like most about it is how it handles the police shooting its protagonist is forced to commit. Like I. the Following, the protagonist in Hannibal is a sort-of FBI agent called back into duty to catch a killer. Like in The Following, he is forced to shoot a suspect. This is where the similarities end. In The Following, Kevin Bacon kills more people on screen than any of the "serial killers" do. In fact, he shoots some of them when making an arrest would just take too much time. It gets absurd. When a suspect was killed in Hannibal, I thought, "Here we go again. Should I just cancel the series recording now?" But a ton of time is dedicated to the nightmares and fears the protagonist has as a result of the shooting. He is clearly troubled by what he's done, which is incredibly refreshing. The show is also smartly written. It looks good. The characters are three dimensional, unlike in the above examples. And actions have ramifications. What more could you want?

Interestingly, another show I've taken to this season is Arrow. I am a comic book guy and watched Smallville from start to finish, so there s little doubt that I would subscribe to a show, also on the CW, about the Green Arrow. I did not expect the level of violence it broadcasts each week. According to a recent episode, the hero (the agrees Arrow) has killed 26 bad guys on the show. 26! That's serial killer numbers. The show's writers hint at guilt over the deaths, but it doesn't really factor into play too much. Sure, it's not psychological the way Hannibal is, but with so many deaths on its hero's hands, it seems plausible that Arrow would address the killing more than it does. Lackadaisical treatment of murder aside (...), Arrow is entertaining and a fun watch. 

Perhaps it bears mentioning that three of the four shows referenced are based on existing characters. But, maybe not. That just goes to show that original programming is rarer these days. And there's no obvious connection to draw between the success of existing content versus established properties. The only conclusion to draw is, no matter where the idea for the show comes from, there is nothing that can make it successful (or unwatchable) more quickly than the quality of the writing. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Writing Week (Vol. 6) part 269 - Another Leg of the Journey

I think today officially marks 15 months that I have been working on the sci-fi script with my writing partner, W.A. The project has taken more twists and turns than I can count in that time. We developed nearly ten major versions of the outline. I wrote three substantial drafts. I've done smaller scale revisions of all of those.

I think we're in the home stretch... for now. 

A few weeks back (actually, it's more like a month and a half ago at this point), we got the second major draft of the script to our producer. To her, it was a first draft. She praised it, by saying the issues we had to address were "second draft problems." If that sounds like a slight to you, I assure you that it's not. Whatever incarnation of a script your producer, manager, agent, or director sees first is the first draft to them - even if you've written a dozen drafts of it prior to showing it the light of day.

W.A. and I chatted about her notes over the next couple of days. The outcome of those discussions, coupled with our producer's notes? A fresh draft. I thought the changes were going to be minimal. All but perhaps five pages wound up having revision marks on them. Final Draft defaults to doing revisions in blue text. Entire pages were blue by the time I was done. Rather than hunt for the changes, you would have done better to hunt for uncorrupted black text. 

The changes were, comparatively, minimal. 

Still, we had more work to do. W.A. read the new draft, and then we got back on the phone. He liked much of it, but a few things came to light for him. The biggest issue was that the leading science elements of the script weren't working. They came in too late and didn't track. Or they were incomplete. Or they just didn't fit within the context of the new draft. The rest was pretty sturdy, and we certainly weren't about to duct tape the science on as an afterthought, but it was necessary. We had to make it work. I have to make it work. 

That's where I am now. I head to Belgium to visit friends on Wednesday, so I have four more days and nights to complete my edits. The good news is that, after last night's work and today's session, I feel like it's in a good place. I think the Wednesday deadline is doable. Whether I'll come back from Europe with another round of rewrites remains to be seen. 

Friday, May 03, 2013

The Writing Week (Vol. 6) part 268 - Using Revision Mode

Up until this point in my career, I've had very little cause to use revision mode in my writing. Sure, I did revision mode a few times with my post-Apocalyptic spec so that my producers could follow my the edits I made. But I didn't really understand the scope of revisions mode, nor did I use them anywhere close to their fullest. I have since started.

As I mentioned a few weeks back, I recently made the switch from using Movie Magic to Final Draft, spurred on by the fact that both my writing partner and producer use Final Draft. More so, that software seems to have very clearly come out ahead as the industry standard for screenwriting. (I miss you, Movie Magic, but the transition to Final Draft has been a smooth one so far.) Granted, I also neglected to use Movie Magic to its fullest extent, but I'm really digging on Final Draft at the moment. 

It took me a little while to get used to the shortcuts in FD compared to those in Movie Magic. Somethings are actually a little more intuitive to me in MM; for example, hitting Enter in MM prompts the next field in a slug line. Doing so in Final Draft drops me down to the action paragraph. For instance, when I used MM, I could intro my slug line (INT.) and hit enter. The software was designed to ask me which location I wanted to use. Writing in one and hitting Enter again would then prompt me to decide which time of day I was setting the scene in. I couldn't move beyond the slug line without either completing it, or telling the system to ignore that field and let me proceed. With FD, hitting enter will take me to the action paragraph, risking a blank or incomplete slug line. Rather, with the latter software, I have to hit Tab to call up the location and then time of day. Hitting Tab in MM would prompt dialogue.

Discrepancies in key commands aside, Final Draft has been pretty intuitive. In addition to, you know, actually writing the script, I've been making use of the above mentioned revision mode features. To be fair to Move Magic, since I didn't really use that feature when writing in that program, I can't compare how it worked. But for Final Draft, it's easy to assign another revision mode (the initial revisions are "Blue" in both name and appearance; the second set of revisions are Pink, and so on). Like with MM, and asterix denotes any line that was edited, added, or cut. Pages that only have one revision pass have "Blue' as their heading. Pages on which I edited the revisions are "Pink" at the top, and so on, making it easy to track what version of the script each page - and whole script - my team is reading. 

Additionally, my writing partner and producer can easily read and mark up the Final Draft document I send them. Movie Magic has some weird settings, whereby it was difficult for me to even open a Movie Magic file I emailed myself. I would have to open the backup version in order to upload the script if I had been working remotely for some reason. WIth Final Draft, the files are universal (like Word documents), so anyone can open them and see all revision marks and script notes. (If you're paranoid about someone stealing your work, that might be a bad thing. But don't be worried. Just be careful who you send fdx files to and go with PDF when in doubt.) Speaking of, Script Notes are a way for my writing partner, for instance, to put his thoughts into the script without throwing off the formatting or page count. Script Notes enable him to tag a little note to any piece of text, which I can then click into to read. It can be anything he wants to make me aware of - "this dialogue doesn't make sense," "this is a typo," "you're brilliant and should win many Oscars." 

Whether you're writing for yourself, a writers group, or more professionally, I encourage you to play around with your revision mode features and see what they can do for you. It beats the alternative (which, embarrassingly, I relied on even until quite recently) of simply saving each draft with a new name or version number and not having any fast way to track where the actual edits were made. Sure, you should still save each version as a new document, but it makes for comparing versions so much easier. 

I guess it's not too encouraging that it only took me a decade of writing to really capitalize on these features, is it?