A one-man demolition & construction crew

April 18, 2014
Tear it down, then rebuild

Stuck in a vicious cycle of build, knock down, rebuild (repeat as necessary)

Due to circumstances beyond my control, actual work on revamping of the monster spec outline was practically nonexistent this week, but I’m hoping to get back into the swing of things soon.

In the meantime, there’s been a lot of thought about the next steps in terms of developing the story.

Since so many of the details have changed since the previous version, a lot of material was cut. I really hated to see it go, but it had to be done. As always, some of it may return in a modified form.

This, of course, left significant gaps in the story to be filled. Challenging, thrilling and maybe a little intimidating, all at once.

Working in my favor is knowing what the major plot points are. They’re in place, so the focus now is how to connect them in the most effective ways I can come up with.

Just putting a few empty lines between the plot points (each one represented by a dash) actually helps with getting from one to the next. Here’s Point A, so what needs to happen to get to Point B?

Simple, yet productive. Sometimes.

This also enables me to see how the various plotlines play out (protagonist, antagonist, various subplots), how they all connect and when would be the best time to show the latest developments, all while constantly striving to keep it all fun, interesting and exciting.

As always, fingers firmly crossed for progress in the coming days.


Introduce your character with character

April 15, 2014
BETTIE, mid 20s. Don't let her all-American looks fool you. Trouble goes out of its way to avoid HER.

BETTIE, mid 20s. Don’t let her all-American looks fool you. Trouble goes out of its way to avoid HER.

When we, the reader, first meet an important character in your script, how do you describe them? What are the important details?

A lot of the time, the emphasis is on their physical traits – “tall”, “imposing”, “blonde”, “handsome”, “drop-dead gorgeous”, etc.

Or maybe it’s a simple adjective or two – “bubbly”, “funny”, “a nice guy” and so on.

These are okay, but you have to admit they’re kind of dull, which makes it more challenging for us to be interested in wanting to follow their story.

So how do you fix this? Time to ramp up that creativeness and really focus on what kind of person this character is, rather than what they look like. Unless a physical description is a key character trait, don’t worry about it.

One of the most memorable intros I ever read described the best friend of the teenaged protagonist – “James Dean cool at 15.” That’s it. Pretty effective, and in only five words.

Doesn’t this give you a better idea of what this character is like than say, “cool and aloof?”?  This is the kind of writing that catches our eye AND makes an impression.

A former co-worker of mine used to describe a very talkative friend as “If you asked him what time it was, he’d tell you how to build a watch.” See how it goes beyond the good-but-simplistic “chatty know-it-all”?

Cliched as it sounds, we really are painting pictures with words – not just for the story, but the characters in it. You’re already crafting a unique and original story, so why not develop a unique and original way to tell us about the characters in it?

This isn’t saying you should always strive to be clever and witty about it, but at least try for something different. This is just a small part of showing off your writing skills.

Take a look at how you introduce the characters in your latest draft. Does it really tell us what you want us to know about them? If not, how could you rewrite it so it does?


Q&A with 2014 Table Read My Screenplay winner Nick Schober!

April 11, 2014

With so many contest deadlines looming, here’s a tale of encouragement in the form of an interview with Nick Schober, winner of the 2014 Table Read My Screenplay competition.

I met Nick through Twitter a few months ago (@nicschober). He’s a great guy, and recently started his own blog HusbandDadGeekWriter, which I’ve also set up a link to over on the blogroll.

Enjoy.

sundance 3

1. How did you get your start as a writer?

I guess I’ve always been writing, just for different reasons. In college I knew I wanted to work in the industry, but I was sure I wanted to be a director of photography… and then an editor.. then a director, and so on, and the only way to constantly hone those crafts was to write material. After I took a serious run at producing a few years ago, I realized writing was my favorite part of the process and I’ve been at it ever since.

2. What’s your script about, and how did you come up with the story?

GIVEN is a story about a wealthy widow who offers her vast fortune to a local slacker in exchange for one small favor… that he kill her. The concept originated as a “first 15″ contest put on by The Writer’s Store. They provide a logline and everyone submits 15 pages based on that. I think the original logline was something about a New England matriarch offering her fortune to anyone who would grant her dying wish. I thought the twist of her asking someone to kill her would grab attention.

3. What was it about Table Read My Screenplay that made you want to enter?

I think I saw the emails about this contest shortly after I found out I did not win The Writer’s Store contest. I figured this was good a time as any to jump back on the horse. Besides that, the opportunity to go to Sundance and have your screenplay read by actors is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Also, as with any good contest, they blast your script out to their network of producers and agents, which is the name of the game.

4. What was your reaction to winning?

I tried to play it cool when I got the call from the organizers but I promptly called my wife and yelled at the top of my lungs. It was pretty awkward considering I was still at work. You can’t help but wonder if you really have what it takes to do this, and things like this are a great signpost to look back on when you need encouragement. 

sundance 2

5. As the contest’s name says, there was a table read of your script at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. How did that go?

It was amazing. They had a conference room at the Waldorf in Park City and cast some excellent actors who really went for it, even though it was just a table read. Harvey Weinstein was having breakfast right outside the door. They also recorded the audio and sent it to me to for review. It was invaluable to hear your words spoken. You can truly understand the importance of timing, what works and what doesn’t.

6. What was your overall experience being at Sundance?

It was a blast. The organizers put us up in an amazing house walking distance from downtown. They set us up with a few movie screenings and also got us into a few parties. It was an intense exercise in networking, especially for a serial introvert, but I made a couple of good contacts.

sundance

7. What’s been happening for you and your script since then?

Since then, I’ve jumped headfirst into trying to get this sold. I’ve uploaded my script to The Blacklist, submitted to all the major contests, and recently started querying. I’m also developing a few other ideas and trying to write every day.

A hearty congrats to Nick!

There are lots of ways to establish a career as a screenwriter. Winning or placing in a contest is just one of them. So keep on rewriting and polishing that latest draft, send it out there and see how it goes.

And in case you don’t make it past the first round (which does happen), more contests now offer notes and feedback, so you can make a few more fixes to make your script that much better.

Good luck!


Why we do this

April 8, 2014
You mean they'd pay me to do this? Where do I sign up?

You mean they’d actually pay me to write? Where do I sign up?

I had lunch the other day with my friend the working writer. Among the many things he’s always reliable for is honest feedback.

After updating each other on our latest project developments, I off-handedly quipped “I hope I’m a real writer someday.”

“You are a real writer,” he responded. He’s read some of my stuff, and doesn’t hesitate to give praise or suggest changes where applicable.

“Okay,” I said. “I hope I’m a paid writer someday.”

Which is really what it all boils down to – making a living at this.

This is not to say I see this as easy money (which it definitely isn’t), or won’t be happy until I make a million-dollar sale (although I wouldn’t complain if that actually did happen).

I’ll assume you’re in a similar situation and just really enjoy writing, hoping somebody will like your stuff enough that they want to buy it, or be interested in having you write (or rewrite) something for them, and being able to do it on a steady ongoing basis.

But it’s not enough to sit around and dream about it. Like our protagonists, we have to be the ones who make things happen.

Are you being active in your pursuit of a writing career? Are you constantly striving to make your script better? Are you a positive and supportive member of the writing community?

This is a massive undertaking, not to be taken lightly. It’s hard work, pure and simple.

My aforementioned friend, the working writer, spent twenty years getting to this point. And now every time we reconnect, he tells me about his latest assignment or some potential new ones. He put together a short he’s considering entering in some festivals, and to top it all off, he’ll be on set for a feature he wrote that begins production in a few months.

He’s not going after the big paycheck stuff – just solid, steady work.

Not everybody can write the box office blockbuster or mega-hit TV show, which is fine. There’s a ton of other stuff out there that requires solid writing skills and a dedicated work ethic.

As much I like the idea of the former, I’d be perfectly happy being the guy who gets to keep working on the latter.

-This is my 500th post. To paraphrase the genius of Monty Python, if you’ve enjoyed this blog half as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it, then I’ve enjoyed twice as much.

So there.


I seek rewatchability

April 4, 2014
Never gets old. Never.

Never gets old. Never.

It goes without saying that any screenwriter is a movie buff. We have to be. It’s our love of movies that got us into this in the first place.

We’ve all got our favorites. Countless genres are spanned. Writers, directors or performers we can usually rely on for solid, quality work. Who hasn’t claimed to have seen a particular movie “over a hundred times”?

So what is it about them that makes us have no problem with watching them over and over, as opposed to seeing something once and being done with it, or maybe even abandoning ship around the halfway point?

A favorite film motivates repeat viewings. You’re enjoying the whole experience so much that when it’s over, you’re already looking forward to seeing it again.

Consider the films in your home collection. What is it about them that made you go so far as to want to own them?

For as much as I talk about STAR WARS, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and BACK TO THE FUTURE, all of which I could watch over and over, I’m also perfectly content with something that doesn’t involve special effects, like TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN or SOME LIKE IT HOT.

What do all of these have in common? For me, it all boils down to fantastic storytelling with well-crafted three-dimensional characters, both of which also motivate and inspire me to be a better writer.

Which is what it all comes down to. The writing, which starts with us.

Not only are we striving to create a story, but we want to make them so amazing that they’re practically irresistible not only to the people who make the movies, but the movie-going public.

While working on that latest project, we imagine what the finished product would look like on the big screen and hope the audience is having such a blast watching it that they’ll want to come back for more.

But imagining is one thing. Actually making it compelling and involving is another.

We must continuously write, rewrite, hone and polish each individual piece of work to make it as involving and engaging as possible.

Not sure if yours is? Ask somebody. Writing group, trusted colleague, paid analyst. Doesn’t matter. Always be striving for greatness, my friends.

Our work is definitely cut out for us.  It’s hard enough to write a good script. It’s even harder to write one people want to continuously return to.


This, rather than that

April 1, 2014

 

It's going to take a while to find the right path

It’s going to take a while to find the right path

The past several days have been all about revamping the story/outline of the monster spec. The percentage of what’s being eliminated from previous versions continues to grow on a daily basis.

A lot of what’s left still needs to be fixed, or at least changed. As much as I love the original ideas, they just weren’t working.

Part of the problem was my stubbornness to consider alternatives, and the frustration over trying to force the creativeness wasn’t helping either.

As has happened before, I had to ignore what I wanted, and concentrate on what worked for the story.  This had to be slow, calculated and meticulous, but I had one slight advantage this time around.

Remember that whole ‘previous draft’ thing? Turns out a lot of the contents are becoming just what I need by applying “What if…?” or “How about…?”

(Yet another example of why you should hold onto your previous drafts – they’re a treasure trove of of potential material)

These questions are proving to be more than adequate in creating foundations for developing new material. By taking a slightly different approach, new and previously unconsidered alternatives are making themselves known.

It has definitely yielded some positive results, including a drastic reconfiguring of the antagonist – originally conceived one way, but after finally accepting that changes were necessary and much tinkering, now fits into the story a lot better, and also provides for stronger conflict with the protagonist.

Don’t be afraid to consider new ways or different approaches to what you already have. While you may think it’s perfect the way it is, chances are it could probably use some reworking.

 


Getting up to speed – OR – Our story so far…

March 28, 2014
An informed audience is a happy audience

An informed audience is a happy audience

As work continues with the monster spec, some of the focus has been on figuring out the backstory of how things came to be and working out the events that lead up to where the plot starts.

If this were a novel, I could just include them in the whole body of work. Not so the case for a screenplay.

In as few scenes as possible, I need to educate the reader/viewer about this world, who’s involved and what’s at stake. Once that’s done, we shift gears and dive right into the story.

A recent example – PACIFIC RIM. The opening minutes are all about what’s already happened – giant monsters showed up, we built giant robots to fight them, and we’re off.

Consider the opening crawl in STAR WARS. A few paragraphs floating in space sets everything up: here’s what’s going on, immediately followed by a space battle.

While this kind of thing is necessary for a ripping effects-laden yarn, what if your story is about normal folks in the everyday world?

Same rules apply. We still need to know what’s going on and who it’s about. Give us those parts of the story now, and pepper it with the relevant details as we move forward.

The example I keep coming back to for this is the opening of FIELD OF DREAMS: Kevin Costner narrates a thumbnail sketch about his character over a series of photographs, then we’re on the farm in Iowa.

No matter what genre you’re working in, it’s important to know what happened before page one, both regarding the story and the characters. You don’t have to go crazy with details, but at least know what needs to be known.


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