How does “gamut” make you feel?

emotions
Somewhere in here

No matter what your screenplay is about, or what genre it is, it really comes down to one thing: telling a story about the characters and what happens to them.

While some may put more emphasis on the latter part with its vast number of variables and possibilities, it’s equally important to put a lot of effort into developing the former.

You want your characters to be relatable. Let us see ourselves, or at least part of ourselves, in them. How they act and interact. What they do. Even if it’s within a completely ridiculous or unbelievable scenario.

A good example: the works of Judd Apatow. “Comedies with heart,” is often used to describe them. By injecting emotion into what might otherwise be just something silly, he adds that extra layer of humanity. Notice you never heard the phrase “wacky hijinks ensue”? Because it’s about the emotion within the comedy, not just going for the cheap laugh.

Nobody only experiences one emotion, and neither should the fictional population within your pages. If a character’s happy, sad, or angry, show us why. Don’t hold back. Put it there for us to see.

Do they act like a real person? Is this how they would act in this kind of situation? Is it a real reaction or a “movie” reaction? Getting your characters to act using their emotions makes them come across as more realistic, which makes for a better story.

“The characters are too one-dimensional,” or “He/She’s just a one-note character.”  Heard those before? If your character only acts one way, or remains static and never changes, or doesn’t even react accordingly, that’s what the response will most likely be. And you don’t want that.

A savvy writer knows how to use emotion without being blatant about it. Maybe it’s a subtle action, or a turn of phrase, or the subtext within a line of dialogue.

Find the way that works best to develop and advance the character both within their own story and the story overall.

Percolating. Always percolating.

Image result for coffee POT GIF

As writers, we fully realize that inspiration can hit at any time, and in any situation. And it’s what you do when it does that really matters.

Late last year, I was taking the dog for her last walk of the day. Something about that particular moment triggered a story idea. I won’t say the floodgates of creativeness opened wide; more like the squirt from a water pistol. It was just a sentence, maybe two, but I immediately saw so much potential in it.

We got home, I created a file for it on my computer, and I wrote down the tidbits of story I’d managed to come up with.

And in the hard drive it sat, practically untouched for months on end.

In a manner of speaking.

As is usually the case, even thought I may not actually be writing, I’m always thinking about the writing.

Although I’ve worked on several other scripts this year, every once in a while, a new detail about this story would pop up and I’d add it in. It’s definitely an ongoing work in progress, moving at a glacial pace, and there’s no rush to get it done.

It’s actually very beneficial to not put any pressure on yourself and just let the ideas show up at their convenience. And sometimes it pays off when you least expect it.

About a week ago, I came up with an idea for a short, but then realized the location would be a perfect setting for the climax of this script. Determined to hang onto that idea, I reopened the file and figured it was as good a time as any to to move things forward a little, so I started organizing the plot points. There are still a few blanks to be filled in, but it’s slowly coming together.

When the’s next time I’ll work on it? No idea. It’s still very, very early in the development process. A few other scripts currently have priority over this one, but I highly suspect the trend of occasionally adding a few details will continue.

As it should. And then when I finally get around to focusing all of my attention on this one, chances are I might be further along than I expect.

So keep on working on whatever it is you’re currently working on. But feel free to let your imagination wander about once in a while into something else, particularly something you plan to eventually work on. See what you come up with, and if you like it, stash it away for later. Hold onto it even if you’re not that crazy about it; you might find a totally unexpected use for it later.

No matter what you do, Future You will really appreciate everything Present You is doing.

The Force is strong with this one

galaxy
Don’t get your knickers in a twist. This isn’t about that.

Star Wars: Episode VII officially opens today, and my God, what an impact this is having. I’ve been a fan since way back in ’77, but not to the point of sleeping in front of a movie theatre for days on end.

I’m opting to wait a couple of days and let all the crazy hoopla die down. It’s not like it’ll play for a week and disappear. Even the neighborhood theatre up the street is playing it on both screens. That’s saying something.

Looking at this phenomenon from a screenwriting point of view, you can’t help but be impressed with the world that’s been created here. Count me among those inspired by the creativity on display in these films and who strive to achieve something similar with our own work.

I’ve written before how I’d love to write the next STAR WARS (as would a zillion other writers), but I don’t mean a sprawling epic space opera, although that would be kind of cool.

I’m talking about an entertaining story of memorable characters and situations that you never get tired of seeing. That thrills you with its overwhelming sense of wonder. The sheer joy of being swept away as this tale unfolds before your eyes and ears.

Do I have that ability? Hard to say, but I like to think so. Nobody thought STAR WARS was going to do well, and you know how that worked out.

So in the meantime, I’ll keep plugging away, telling my own stories the best way I can, and hope that someday I come close to accomplishing something similar. At the very least, it’ll be fun trying.

See you at the movies.

 

Ask One of the Great Brains Behind the GAPF!

Signe Olynyk

The latest in a series of interviews with script readers and consultants who would be worth your while to work with if you want to get your script in shape. Today’s spotlight is especially significant for writers ready to pitch their material, as it features an interview with ScriptFest/Pitchfest co-founder Signe Olynyk.

Signe Olynyk is a writer/producer, as well as the co-founder of ScriptFest and www.pitchfest.com, which includes the Great American PitchFest, the Great British PitchFest, and the Great Canadian PitchFest.  She is also the co-founder of the Ultimate Logline Contest, and Your Career In A Day industry workshops. She lives in Canada, and runs the highly regarded Sooke Writers Retreat from a secluded, oceanfront home, where dozens of select writers join her each year for their personal writing retreats. In addition, Signe has written and produced a number of television pilots, series, documentaries, and feature films, and works in the industry. She has professional credits on more than 120 productions, including her two latest feature films, Below Zero and Breakdown Lane. Her work has been seen around the world on the CBC, Discovery Channel, Scream Channel, Fox, the BBC, and various others.

1. What’s the last thing you read/watched that you thought was incredibly well-written?

Great first question. There are so many. The ‘smartest’ movies I can think of right now include Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige, and The Disappearance of Alice Creed, which was incredibly smart and well written. These two films were dramatic thrillers, but I actually feel that comedy is some of the most difficult to write – it has to be smart and well-written, and generally, a brilliant mind must be behind a comedy to successfully pull it off. Creating original characters, situations, and dialogue that makes us laugh, and that we haven’t seen before, is an incredible feat.

2. How’d you get your start reading scripts?

I got my start reading scripts by writing scripts. For years, I was writing and sharing my work with others in my writing groups. At the time, I didn’t understand the value in reading, but the group I joined took turns reading a screenplay each week for a film that had been recently produced. Reluctantly, I started to read other screenplays. I just wanted to create new material and share script notes by reading each other’s screenplays, not spend my time reading the screenplays for movies that had already been produced. I thought it was going to be a waste of time when I could just watch the films. But that was when my world changed.

When you read scripts, you learn a rhythm and start to see the style in which a writer puts their words on the page. You see how evocative language and onomatopoetic words like ‘sizzle’ and ‘slap’, make your script come alive visually on the page, and in your mind’s eye. When you read other scripts, you discover and absorb lessons that you automatically start applying to your own work. And you are a better writer because of it, thanks to the work of other writers. It’s invaluable to your own development as a writer.

3. Is recognizing good writing something you think can be taught or learned?

Physical limitations are an interesting thing. I love to play soccer, but I know I’m not the best player on the field. My coach can make me run drills, and practice for hours, but my skill level is only going to get me so far compared to others, because there are others who are simply more skilled and talented than I am.

Writing is the same way. Same with math, with physics, with music, art, or sports, or anything really. Someone’s physical brain or body has developed in such a way that they are stronger at a certain skill than someone else.

What really matters is attitude and perseverance. Good writing can be taught or learned, but there has to be a certain level of natural ability and talent in the first place. And then there has to be a passion behind whatever skill you have to really drive success at anything.

As an aside, I have been very frustrated by some of the ramblings of some who like to criticize consultants and say that ‘those who can’t, teach’. What a hugely unfair, offensive and dismissive thing to say. I am the founder of the annual screenwriting conference ScriptFest, which is held each year in Los Angeles. We have had hundreds of speakers teach at the conference, and they are educated, brilliant, and generous people who give back to the community and help writers become better at what they do. Since when did we decide it was okay to criticize teachers? It is not an easy task, and great teachers are a huge gift to those of us who are still learning – which is all of us, isn’t it?

Yes, teaching can be taught. I’m incredibly grateful to all of those who have mentored me in my life. It is the moral obligation of each and every single one of us to share what we have learned with others, so that we can all learn from one another.

4. What are the components of a good script?

I want to see characters I care about in situations I haven’t seen before overcoming outrageous obstacles in the singular pursuit of their goals. I want to feel something, and root for them to achieve their goals. I want to go on a ride with them, and experience an emotional journey as they give everything they have towards reaching their goals, being beaten down and nearly defeated as they pursue an eventual triumph. That doesn’t mean a character must always reach their goal – and by triumph, I mean they’ve learned something meaningful that has changed them forever, for better or worse.

5. What are some of the most common mistakes you see?

Many writers write characters and stories they think people want to see, hear, or read. They cling to stereotypes, which does nothing to create originality or anything of interest to an audience. Finding your own voice as a writer is something that develops the more you write, because your confidence grows as you do.

I also see many writers fall in love with their first script or book, then spend years and years rewriting and tweaking it, and doing rewrite after rewrite. If you want to be a professional writer, you must generate new work. This is important not only because you are creating a body of work, but because you get better with everything you write.

6. What story tropes are you just tired of seeing?

Cats leaping out at people in horror stories. The guy who develops a cough, dying part-way through the story. Girlfriends who go after the girl their boyfriend cheated on them with – how stupid is that? Go after the ass who cheated on you! I want to see characters pushed as far as they can in directions and towards goals I haven’t seen before, and making decisions that are real for that character and that people can relate to. I want to see characters overcome their obstacles by making choices that only they would make. Story comes from your characters. Make your character’s reactions realistic for who they are, and have them respond in ways that only they would. Just as each of us has our own backstories, and these experiences shape who we are, our characters need to be developed the same way. Then you create characters and situations that are as real as each of us.

7. What are the 3 most important rules every writer should know?

-First, don’t miss out on your life because you feel a need to be writing or working all of the time to create success. You must have a life in order to be a great writer. Every experience you have helps to shape you, and you need those experiences to shape your characters and their worlds.

-Second, take care of your health. Watch your posture and get a good chair to support your back. Go on long walks so your characters can speak to you, and you’ll be amazed how ideas will come to you when you’re least expecting it.

-Third, go to every event you can and constantly educate yourself on your craft. You never know who you will meet, or what you will learn that will inspire you, enlighten your work, and help you to create your best work.

8. Have you ever read a script that was an absolute, without-a-doubt “recommend”? If so, could you give the logline?

I’m still seeking that script. I find lots of screenplays that are ‘recommends’, sure. But even then, rarely do you find any script that doesn’t need work, or still has tweaking or ideas, characters, or dialogue that need to be finessed a bit more. There are tons of loglines I read that make me smile and that I get super excited about, and keep visualizing the various scenes, and putting my producer hat on to think about logistics. Although I can’t give a logline exactly, what I can tell you is that they all have certain things in common:

  *TITLE: The title of the script captures the full essence of the story. We know what it is about, just from the title, and the theme of the story is also hinted at. JAWS. UNBROKEN. WILD. UP.

  *CHARACTER: They have a protagonist who is interesting to me, relatable, but who is someone I haven’t seen before. They pursue goals in a way that only they can do, and their backstories make their actions real and believable.

  *PURSUIT OF A CLEAR, IMPOSSIBLE GOAL: They have a goal that seems impossible, and the journey of following this character as they pursue that goal becomes irresistible to me. I must watch them pursue their goal.

  *OBSTACLES: They overcome increasingly serious obstacles in pursuit of their goal. The stakes get more serious as the story progresses.

  *NEMESIS: they have a formidable foe. A Goliath for every David. Goliath keeps putting obstacles in David’s way

  *LESSON LEARNED: the character is different by the end of the story than who they were at the beginning. By going on this journey with them, I am also changed in some way. It is the magical, emotional moment in a movie when your character becomes who they were meant to be, regardless of whether their goal is achieved or not.

9. How do you feel about screenwriting contests? Worth it or not?

Anytime you have an opportunity to get your work in front of someone who can make a difference to your career is worthwhile. It’s always a bit of a crapshoot whether your work will resonate with a particular judge. However, a lot of industry people find scripts by judging contests, and really, it’s a matter of the right script finding the right producer at the right time. If that’s the situation, then it behooves any writer – especially without an agent – to get their work out there and in front of as many eyeballs as possible.

Writers may also want to really examine the prizes. What is the real opportunity? Is it just to win a cash prize? Or is it industry exposure? What is more meaningful?

10. How can people get in touch with you to find out more about the services you provide?

I would encourage writers to check out ScriptFest and the Great American PitchFest. It’s an annual, 3-day conference with more than 40 classes, panels, and workshops offered. Writers who’ve written a book or screenplay can pitch it to more than 120 agents, managers and production companies. Visit www.scriptfest.com to learn more.

11. Readers of this blog are more than familiar with my love/appreciation of pie. What’s your favorite kind?

That’s like asking my favorite ice cream! So many kinds, so many flavors! Lemon meringue, pumpkin, butter pecan, coconut cream, banana cream, apple with cheddar…If I have to choose only one kind, I would probably say blueberry-rhubarb. I like the sweet with the tart (kind of like my favorite movies).

Ask a Most Excellent Script Consultant!

Wayne McLean

The latest in a series of interviews with script readers and consultants who would be worth your while to work with if you want to get your script in shape. Today’s spotlight is on Wayne McLean of Wayne’s Movie World.

1. What’s the last thing you read/watched that you thought was incredibly well-written?

The Imitation Game, Nightcrawler, Whiplash.

2. How’d you get your start reading scripts?

I fell into it by accident. I was in a writers’ group. One of the guys was produced and went to Toronto for a pitchfest. He brought back 95 or 100 scripts. I read them all and called each writer to give input. No charge. After about 90 phone calls I said, “I can do this.” My 25-year career in broadcasting really helped. That was about 10 years ago.

3. Is recognizing good writing something you think can be taught or learned?

I work with writers and their scripts to provide the focus necessary to perfect the skills required for the CRAFT of screenwriting in relation to their scripts. Then, through a careful process, the writers and I work together to develop their talents to enable them to become proficient in the ART of screenwriting.

4. What are the components of a good script?

Amazing writing with a unique point of view. Compelling, riveting characters. Crackling dialogue. Powerful subtext on all levels. Scenes and situations that are fresh. Marketable.

5. What are some of the most common mistakes you see?

Clichés. Sending out a script that isn’t ready for the market.

6. What story tropes are you just tired of seeing?

Characters waking up from a dream. Fragmented concepts. Two-dimensional characters.

7. What are the 3 most important rules every writer should know?

I don’t ascribe to the idea of ‘rules’. I prefer to see a writer following guidelines and principles. The script must be entertaining, entertaining and entertaining.

8. Have you ever read a script that was an absolute, without-a-doubt “recommend”? If so, could you give the logline?

I cannot disclose loglines. All materials submitted are confidential and conform to my rules of privacy. I do have some clients with million dollar concepts.

9. How do you feel about screenwriting contests? Worth it or not?

If a writer can afford it, enter as many contests as possible. Use them as an opportunity to develop writing skills and ask if there is input available from the judges.

10. How can people get in touch with you to find out more about the services you provide?

Check out my website waynesmovieworld.com or email me at wayne@waynesmovieworld.com.

11. Readers of this blog are more than familiar with my love/appreciation of pie. What’s your favorite kind?

Pumpkin.