Today's topic is back story; when do you use it, when don't you include it? While we were procrastinating about this post, we actually realized a nifty way to introduce back story without flashbacks or boring exposition.
After all, back story usually comes out like "when I was a kid we had to...."
In my mind the best way to cover back stroy is through a dream. Why a dream you ask? Well, because a dream has no "structure" you can put anything in you want - just make sure it's filmable - and it can be a precursor to an event, the reaction to a previous event or even a look into the psyche without dialogue or exposition.
As usual I used this in my favorite script, South of La Brea (Ascha's Song - new title). I changed it because I may be able to get the whole budget by using Louisiana instead of Los Angeles (get it - South of La Brea).
At any rate, there are two places where I use a dream to reveal story or character. The first is near the middle and the character is just getting used to being on her own.
She had a kind of bad day (almost everyday after the near-rape of a virgin) and as mos people know what is on TV while you sleep may affect what you dream about. Anyway, the idea is that we wanted to show that her mother died in a car accident so we give her a dream about it while her roommate is watching "Days of Thunder."
Lights fill the void, screeching tires break the silence.
A car horn.
The next one comes later in the film and we use it for several things. The first is that the protag's grandmother died, so we show an old lady reaching out. The second is we want to show that the protag now understands what "gay" is - she has a friend that is gay. I also use this dream as a look back at her college life and how she's changed.
Anyway, so that's out spiel about back story. I hope it is of use to the two of you.
"Keep writing as writing is the revealing of the soul"
On a side note, I have lost my fucking mind today. I hate being the good guy. Sometimes I wish just once I could be the asshole that only cares about himself, but then I remember that I like being me. A LOT!!
Monday, November 12, 2007
Posted by Christian H. at 4:24 PM
Just to stay sharp we are talking about the difference - as we see it - between TV and Film. It's a simple concept. Basically if you think about ads for TV, you will see more situations ( maybe that's why it's called "situation comedy") and most people who refer to a TV show will say do you remember the episode where.....
Now with film, it will be remember when the bad guy said...
It's interesting and there really isn't a lot to say about it other than it's somethign to take into account if you are going from one to the other.
That's not to say that dialogue doesn't attract people to TV or situations don't attract people to film, but in the long run, you will see that they are separated by this. A lot of the reason is because TV usually happens in a much smaller "area" than film.
I mean, look at Seinfeld or Frasier, two of the most popular sitcoms. They both occurred almost totally in one room. But even a small comedy like "Clueless" will take place over a much wider area.
Another good example is Curb Your Enthusiasm with Larry David. He starts out with a situation every episode. Don't confuse these situations with plots. His stories have no plots, just people reacting badly to situations.
I can't remember many of the lines but I do remember the show where he had the black guy staying with him take a baseball jersey from some guy. Or the one where he has to take the head off of a doll to replace another doll's head.
Now if you take "Clueless" the first thing that springs to my mind is not how hot Alicia and Stacey looked in those short skirts but when Alicia says "As if" to the guy trying to hug her in the beginning. or when Brittany says, "you're a virgin that can't drive."
Even though I can't remember the situation I do remember the line. or perhaps the most famous line of all "I'll be back." If you think for a second you can remember that he's in the police station but the line itself reminds you of that not the police station reminds you of the line.
There are tons of examples of this if you compare genres in TV and film. Another reason for this discrepancy is that TV is usually much shorter. The average sitcom is only about 24 minutes of air time, while a drama may be about 49 minutes. A film on the other hand will be a minimum of 90 minutes and may stretch to over 120 minutes.
This allows the writer to think less about the situation and more about the conflict in the situation. Added to that is the fact that TV is recurring and you can leave something unsaid at the end but with film, it has to be said\done in the time allotted.
Even if you start out with a plan for sequels, you have to definitively END each segment, whereas with TV you want to leave something hanging so that people will tune in the next time. So I guess that's another difference, the way you end it.
Well, that's it for today. We hope our ramblings are at least worth reading and at best help out a writer or two - which coincidentally is how many visitors I usually have. It's OK, though I'm the consummate writer who would rather stay home and write and then spend time in compromising positions in my favorite club than to have any friends.
Anyway, see ya and remember,
Keep writing as writing is the revealing of the soul.
Posted by Christian H. at 3:35 PM
Saturday, November 10, 2007
We're back and we finally have word one to say about the WGA strike on this blog. It'll be a quick word or several and I think shows why the WGA was right.
What is the issue at hand? New Media. Why is it important? I get Universal On Demand emails. Why is it not an issue? If they don't get any revenue, they don't have to pay residuals. Deal, schmeal. There are already horror stories about actually receiving residual checks. Just continue with that and at least writers will still work.
That's it. My next post will be - interestingly enough - about the difference between TV and features.
Support your fellow writers. Chip in for coffee on those cold NYC streets. Take a day off and join them.
Posted by Christian H. at 9:54 PM
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
Yes I know. I should be writing scripts but sometimes it's good to write about the craft to get it straight in your own head. After all, no one knows nothing so maybe you're nothing will be worth something to you.
So as the title states, we're blithering about 3D characters, but not those of the Ratatouille type, but those of the "having depth" type. I see people struggle over depth all the time but it's a really simple topic.
the amount of knowledge, intelligence, wisdom, insight, feeling, etc., present in a person's mind or evident either in some product of the mind, as a learned paper, argument, work of art, etc., or in the person's behavior.
Basically a person has more than one emotional state. You have to create situations(scenes) that take each of the aforementioned states and "reveals" them - or at least the character's version of it. Every great character has scenes with these emotions.
The great thing is that these emotions are a part of screenwriting structure and are a direct product of conflict\resolution in a scene or sequence. For example, action movies have killing so the direct result is sadness - depending on who gets killed. This also works in drama and horror as people usually get killed, maimed, tortured or just plain treated bad.
In a drama you want to concentrate more on the happy and angry cause drama usually implies "not the best of times or situations." Comedies are just the opposite, where you want to focus more on "strong emotion" not quite sadness but there needs to be a moment where we aren't actually telling a joke, but exploring a relationship or character flaw - which usually only turns up in relationships - aaah the circular notion.
Also, in a comedy you always want a serious person (straight man) to balance the actions of the comic. That's I guess why buddy movies don't usually consist of two of the same personality. Like Father's Day where Robin Williams is the neurotic while Billy Crystal is the calm in control type.
Or even Dumb and Dumber where Jim Carrey is the wild man and Jeff Daniels is the "level-headed" one (very loosely - they're both idiots).
With dramas, you normally will contrast social graces with characters to maintain that 3D balance. With a film like Shawshank you have Morgan Freeman playing the outward people person and Tm Robbins is the introvert. A movie like North Country goes even farther and places the strong-willed Charlize with the seemingly "spineless" everyone else.
Horror has a built-in mechanism for this as you always contrast the "last victim" or hero with the killer. Take Alien for example, the creature is patient, biding his time while Ripley is moving fast to kill it. Or with The Ring, you have an unloved little girl contrasted with a loving mother - yes it's not direct but relevant.
Thrillers usually fall into the same vein as action, though a good thriller will give you more "character time" rather than just inserting a heart-wrenching moment in the middle of a shootout. Not to say that's a bad thing. It actually gives your hero a little "reality" to them - or 3D-ness if you will.
If you plan well, you can have three characters who lean towards one or the other and juxtapose what shakes them into one of the other emotional states. That's what I like to do, compare and contrast characters. In one of my scripts, I contrast two "stalkers" to show how a person reacts to stress and even courtesy.
In another I contrast the two heroes by showing one as a younger version of the other - it's a buddy movie with a kid and a super spy - or rather two kids and two super spies.
I was on UNK and got to talking about a horror flick with a serial killer. We are just fleshing out our "anti-hero" but he will definitely be a complex person on the edge (for 10 minutes of the movie) who then falls and commits horrible acts in contrast to the ugliness he perceives.
So in essence, once again, your mileage WILL vary as I probably have serious mental problems. I mean how can you make a grandmother into a torture tool? Very carefully, I think. Well, we're going to stop now as I have blogs to visit and work to do - well not much work as I'm currently doing an application support job where most of my day is spent trying to not be bored.
Keep Writing as Writing is the Revealing of the Soul
DON'T FORGET TO SUPPORT YOUR FELLOW WRITERS ON THE PICKET LINE.
Posted by Christian H. at 1:41 PM
Monday, October 29, 2007
I'm just back from the Pitch Fest - it was cheaper than Expo in vacation days - and I have to say that all writers should go there at least once. It is a great Conference. The first day you sign up for 10 pitch meetings, but you can get more at no extra charge.
After signup, you hang out and ask questions of screenwriters consultants and industry people. This go-round, they had Adam Rifkin (Look), Preston A. Whitmore (Fled), David Benioff (Troy) and John August (Go) showed up to replace Oliver Stone.
We had a brilliant pitch expert, Allen B. Ury, but unfortunately he suffered a medical problem and had to leave in an ambulance - last word is he's fine. Later in the day, you are given the opportunity to present 30 pages of a script to major agencies to try and get repped. It's hard to say what will happen though because of the potential for a strike.
The agencies, William Morris, CAA and others had a panel for questions about how to get repped. Of course, it's "write great scripts," but they had a lot of interesting stories about how they made it and I found it amazing how many came from a law background.
I for one, found that the best part was Saturday as it's great to talk to people who had made movies. You get a real feel for what's entailed. Unfortunately, most didn't hang out as I guess they didn't want to pitched while having beers with us.
If there's anything I did learn from the weekend it's that YOU SHOULD NEVER EVER PITCH to someone who is there to talk. Don't ask them to read anything either. Talk about your process, or your goals. They will be much more receptive and may even ask you "what have you written?"
A lot more execs would blog, etc if they knew writers just wanted to "talk shop."
But anyway, Sunday was the big day. At least 10 pitches and as many as 20 were possible as some people missed their meetings and they just slotted someone else in. That is definitely worth the $40 cheeseburger dinner I had at the hotel.
The day started out pretty well as the script I was most confident in got reactions like "I can pitch this" and "it's got a high concept to it." That was my first pitch. It went just as well for the others, though I was really there to interact and network rather than sell a script.
I got about 6 business cards and have started sending out the requested material. It is TERRIBLY unfortunate that the strike will more than likely happen which means that signatories HAVE TO stop buying as soon as a strike is called, but it will give me more time to complete more specs in different genres.
The pitch day went from 10AM to 6PM, though the wild fires did cause some problems with people not making it or being late. I think I had about 16 pitch opportunities and only one was a complete failure. I could have pushed more, but it seemed like the exec was either tired or just an asshole so I just pitched it to someone else and if the hook I came up with works, this movie is almost GUARANTEED to get made - or at least bought. With the nature, or should I say scope of the project, it's worth mid six-figures, so wish me luck.
At any rate, my poor little beautiful "coming-of-age, fish-out-of-water" drama is beloved still until it's time to pay up. It's really the first movie I want to make in terms of desire. I talk about it here all the time and I think I might extracts of it here.
Anyway, I highly recommend the February and July versions of this Conference. It's definitely worth $295, especially if you live near Beverly Hills as you don't need to get the $200/night room. Well, I guess you could find cheaper hotel but it's not worth the travel at 7AM. There are even actual execs, whereas I've heard that assistants show up to other Pitch-Fests. I can't verify that as this is my first, but I will definitely go back.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
I'm back again with my version of the cinematic experience. Today's topic is one that I hear bandied about everywhere: do you start with a story or with a character.
As usual there is no answer, only the way you are most comfortable. As a sw developer I come across a similar conundrum when designing software. Do you concentrate on the man page(character) or the interaction between all of the pages(story).
I myself usually come up with a story and then find a character that can cause as much conflict and drama in that situation as possible.
My first and most beloved spec is a good example. I wanted a dramatic story about a girl who wants to graduate college a virgin. So I said how can I make this character?
I decided she would be very sheltered, almost "clueless." She would also have a party spirit, so immediately we have two antagonists, one who tries the "turn your head" method and one who doesn't believe she could be so innocent when she dances like a stripper.
Another story involves a young kid who daydreams a lot. It's a comedy so I figured we'd give him a real "daydream."
A basic logline is usually enough to flesh out your protag and that's what I do. I brainstorm a bunch of story ideas and then start to research the topic to find the best protag, or perhaps I should say "personality-type."
I also tend to use the "high-concept" path where I think of a topic that would be exciting and interesting to most people. I have a few at this point and they are coming together. The story skeleton almost always give me the path to the best character type, though I admittedly don't do a full "what's in their refrigerator" character map.
I usually let my sequences guide me from the story skeleton and basic character actions to the widening of the personality. If you pick the right character, you will definitely have too much material with which to torture your protag.
Of course, every piece of writing has to be taken with "YOUR" particular grain of salt as what works for others may not work for you. For example, I "appropriated" the use of large index cards from Rossio\Elliott but probably use them totally differently.
I have looked at the sequence method but ended up making it more granular( up to 60 sequences rather than 8). It usually works out pretty good as I am zooming through several specs right now, with the hopes of an assignment that will give me my first credit, WGA-sig or not. But I digress...
So just like always your mileage may vary so you have to find the voice that suits you especially since different genres, though basically structured the same, have different necessities for advancing the story.
For example only a dark comedy can effectively use violence, just as there are not going to be many poignant speeches in an action movie or sex scenes are usually not acceptable in Rom Coms.
Someone in the BlogoSphere mentioned that comedy is all situations but I'd extend that to all genres as situations and reactions are what make a story move. Plot-driven stories usually involve actions by the antag while character-driven stories usually involve actions by the protag so looking at Die Hard, the bad guy always does something to sweep McClane into action, but in Shawshank Andy's actions are what caused the antags (especially the "sisters") to act.
I'm not really a firm believer in every "rule" but some are just a part of the cinematic experience and should be adhered to.
Well, my fantasy comedy awaits so I think we'll call it here and hope it's worth something to someone as I've obtained a wealth of useful info from folks here. I always say that screenwriters are the most helpful professionals followed closely by software developers.
So see ya in the movies and don't forget:
Keep Writing as Writing is the Revealing of the Soul
Posted by Christian H. at 11:45 AM
Friday, August 24, 2007
We're on track with our current specs so i thought I'd rant a little about the titled references.
What does it mean? It's probably the most important things for new writers to consider when starting new specs. I mean, for your first spec you should limit locations, which eases logistical problems and thereby is logical.
I have read specs at various places where the stories take place in exotic locations, like mountaintops and islands off the coast of Japan. Unrealistic unless you are a prodigy.
I mean it's one thing to submit to contests where they are not considering production but whatever the hell they look at. I have heard stories of people who won several contests and can't get their calls returned or even arrested.
The first thing is BUDGET, BUDGET and finally BUDGET. Movies like Evan Almighty and Stardust faced the budget wall in that they have made money but have yet to recoup the total costs. Sure it's great to have explosions and cross-country car chases but someone has to pay for all of that stuff so LEAVE IT OUT. Go for the small movie. Show you can write characters and dialog rather than sweeping descriptions that may never happen because there is no place with a waterfall next to town.
Of course, you can say what do you know? That wold be a good question as I know very little - wait I mean I haven't sold anything yet - but then I don't sell movies, I make them. I'm probably the guy who would turn down lots of money for the ability to do MY movie, not some producer's or other writer's movie. There are a few that I consider "sellable" but they're all comedies, horror and action. Thrillers and dramas are what I want to be known for and would not accept ANY AMOUNT OF MONEY for them unless I have a deal like the Writing Partners with Fox.
If all goes well with a playwright I came across, I could end up with a small credit in the next few months. That would be great as I want to start small and work my way up. Then if my first movie flops, I didn't lose someone millions of dollars. But then I hope it just makes a few bucks to cover costs.
Posted by Christian H. at 1:55 PM
Thursday, August 23, 2007
We're back with a new post. This time we're talking about character juxtaposition. What's that you say? Simple it's a method for getting the most out of your antagonists. When I create a character\story the first thing I do is map out the protag's outward personality. Inward personality traits very rarely show up around others.
For example I have a character that doesn't appreciate when guys only hit on her so I gave her an antag that can't and won't take no for an answer.
Or if you have a protag that doesn't like children surround him by children.
The protag cant swim, the antag kidnaps him to a boat in the middle of the Pacific.
And so on.
It's the best way I've found to create conflict.
The next thing I usually do is intro a functional or support character who does take no for an answer and then flip flop interactions between the two.
This also adds conflict as the functional character will be in opposition to whatever the antag does.
This also works with the other supporting characters. Everyone needs their own personality so one support maybe more shy or less aggressive; more experienced or less worldly; more open or less social.
A lot of teachers recommend letting the character determine the story and I wholeheartedly agree. Some people may call it character-driven but I call it "character-centrism." When the story or plot points take precedence, characters are more likely to be dry, just reacting to the plot and not driving the story with their personality.
I'm of the opinion that plot-driven stories end up "boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back" because of the "non-use" of personality.
As an example I have a spec where a guy follows the protag to college and instead of them having some horrible falling otu I chose to have her goal be "inconsistent" with his and he finds that he assumed too much and has to change his plan. Then I pulled a fast one and put him together with the "more open" support.
Another thing I noticed with plot-driven stories is that people tend to wreck their apartments out of anger from "being an asshole" to the love interest. It happens all to much which is why you have a dearth of action stories where no characters are developed to balance out the crappy plot-driven dramas and thrillers.
More writers should be willing to sacrifice box office to write something substantive. With practice it becomes possible to include those "character moments." Myself, I feel that it is better to have ten people see something different. That means that those ten people may converse and try to see what the other sees. After all, repeat viewers are what you want.
But that also means researching your protag to line them up with the demographic they represent. If you get the demographic with the character people outside the demo will be interested enough to see what the fuss is about. The key is no fear. Let your characters live and breathe, but don't make the mistake of letting them "decide" what they say or do.
Rather let them get themselves into the positions that CAUSE plot points and twists.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
It's a twofer today. I watched an amazing movie last night that justifies my psychosis involving the aforementioned. The movie was Hoffa, with Jack Nicholson Danny DeVito and Armand Assante. It got a nod for Cinematography and should have, even though it also got two Razzies for Actor and Director.
To watch closely you can see that every scene exits and enters with an image or sound that maps them together. This is the first thing I do when writing a movie so I feel good that David Mamet uses the technique.
My first spec uses it diligently and is the main thread that ties the action together. Well all of my specs use it and it seems to provide a more seamless look at the sequences. It also makes it a little more sublime as it has stumped pro readers.
By stumped I mean they flowed through the movie and missed a few things that were placed in. Truthfully, after I rewrote with their notes and sent it back, it still hid things just under the surface with dialog and images. That was what it was supposed to do as it has a total of four, count em, four antagonists intro'd at various points throughout Act II.
But every sequence flowed from the following one with things like a radio playing, a video camera, a pair of sneakers, people drinking champagne, and more than anything characters looking into mirrors.
My favorite transition comes after the main antag was defeated. The characters are cleaning up a mess and find a hat. The hat is tossed into the air towards a trash can and when it comes down it's a cap for graduation and the hero is fulfilling her inner desire.
Some others that I liked were ones that linked scenes with studying. Like one transition has the hero stacking books after a tutoring session and then the main relationship character says "Put those books away" in the next scene.
Some of my favorite ones are scenes where one person goes down steps in one scenes and back up in another. It implies the passage of time or the perhaps the emotional state of the character in the two scenes.
I also have one transition where the supporting love interest (unrequited though it maybe) has a frown in one scene and a smile in the next and they define the tone of the scenes.
From what I've read in the 100 or so specs I have gone through at this point, this is a hard thing to do and it's not something that you can do after the story. It has to be written into the story.
I even do it with non-dramatic stories. It seems to add a bit of, what's the word, ambiance to the entire movie. I think it also helps keep the audience from losing their place. Some people do a good job with the dialog and situation but it would be so much better with an image, whether in contrast or comparison.
I wish I could find more examples of it but they seem to be few and far between. There was another recent movie that had one good transition using the protag's face. It was The Covenant. Not the greatest movie but it was interesting enough to watch, mainly because of a scene where a character says "Harry Potter can kiss my ass..."
But speak of the devil, I'm working from home today and I'm kind of watching "The Lake House" with Keanu and Sandra. It tends to move between a mailbox and an apartment for each sequence. The technique seems more prevalent in dramatic cinema but I am definitely using it for action and comedy as it's different in a standard way.
Most good writers could probably find an image that can be carried across sequences (not scenes as those should be chronological) and probably even an auditory cue or two.
Give it a try.
Posted by Christian H. at 9:53 AM
We're taking a break from our action\adventure to talk abotu something that most of us probably don't think about. As the title implies we're talking about characters walking while deliver dialog.
You'd probably wonder how that is important but if you think about it distance can make or break a scene. If your characters have two minutes of dialog but only walk for one minute the scene is long. If your characters have one minute of dialog but two minutes of walking it's now too short.
I just hit this exact problem with a script and found that clever editing and filming will allow five minutes of dialog to last for a cross-country trip. A good example is "Little Miss Sunshine" which had them going a long way but the movie was only 2 hours long including hotel stops and the like.
I've also come to the conclusion that green screen can be used for this kind of thing though it still requires the same editing to insert the background correctly.
Posted by Christian H. at 9:33 AM
Monday, August 20, 2007
What does that title mean you say? Well it's my definition of a character flaw. Of course as usual I'm totally going against the grain but at least in this case I have at least a well-known author who passively agrees that a flaw doesn't need to be a terrible internal conflict, it could just be a trait that would serve you well in one instance but be a hindrance in another.
The example the aforementioned author - Dr Linda Seger - wrote about was that she was from a small town and the values and mores she considered important would likely be a problem in say West Hollywood.
My favorite example of this occurs in the movie "RV," starring Robin Williams. In the movie Robin's character takes his wife and family on an RV trip to cover up his having to cancel his vacation.
Along the way they meet the Gornickies, a nice enough family but with living in a bus and home-schooling most people would stay far far away from them. Their light demeanor and wholesome folk singing would be pretty much frowned upon in the average trailer park full of tattooed temptresses and under-achieving rockers.
Another good example that I think of is both Red and Brooks who were institutionalized and all of the things that made them "big men" in prison will hardly serve them well in a world where people don't need cigarettes are books delivered or even solemn companionship.
In Brooks' case his traits wouldn't allow him to succeed, but with Red his friendship with Andy forced him to keep a promise else he would have been hanging from the ceiling also.
Another good one from a non-produced movie is a character I created named Ascha, a sheltered young virgin who dances like a stripper. Now of course in high school, where everyone knew her over-protective brother, no one wold dare say or try anything, but in college - where casual sex on alcohol and drug use are the norm - her friendly wholesome attitude will lead to trouble as people expect her dancing to reflect her lifestyle. It doesn't and she quickly finds out that there are those who can only see external personality traits and not internal.
Another really good example is North Country, in which Charlize Theron plays a woman who wants to stand up for herself in a place where it is not accepted. She goes through hell as soon as she makes note of the total abuse of women in the mine. Of course her negatively impacting social trait can be described as a "single mother." (She must be a slut)
When looking at modern movies, several come to mind, beginning with "Clueless" where Alicia Silverstone is a virgin who doesn't now a guy is gay or what a "bent one" is. In her sheltered environment she is a "queen" but throw her into a party college and her "wholesome" traits would definitely be mislabeled.
Jaw Breaker is another where the new girl wants to fit in with Rose McGowan's crew but finds she is not quite "vicious" enough.
That's not to say that being an asshole can't be exploited as a "flaw" or even an angry person who doesn't mix well with others (As Good As It Gets).
I'm actually working on a Rom Com where the hero is insecure about women exceeding his level of achievement and acts to maintain his "superior position" however he must; moral or immoral, legal or illegal.
A trait like that can be totally destroyed by a woman already his equal and only concerned about getting the job done. It ought to be interesting. Of course we throw in the boss who wants to teach him a lesson and voila, instant 90 minute drama.
At any rate I've been promising to post this for awhile but the original draft got lost when Google Pages crashed or something. So here it is in all its glory. I think it's important to remember that no one really knows what will be interesting to the masses but the re-telling of stories is starting to get rather lackluster as is evidenced by the bad numbers from "The Invasion" and several other remakes.
As writers we have to push the envelope, as something like the Matrix blew away all comers for a franchise. I'd love to create a franchise like that but I'd be happier with 20 small movies that movies critics stand up and say, "What the hell was that?"
It was interesting but I didn't get....
To do that nowadays, you have to find your pop culture voice.
Of course I don't believe in the exploitation of various groups for laughs but then I also write heroes who don't smoke so maybe that's my "flaw." I just have to be positive. Most of the time. Sure I have a movie that could end up NC-17 if I'm not careful but it is a real story about a real person whose "egotistic traits" cause her many problems as she is reluctant to take advice from anyone.
For more examples of this just find movies that are "fish out of water" tales. Most of those have a hero whose flaw is just being different from the majority of their social or cultural group.
Posted by Christian H. at 11:46 AM
Thursday, August 16, 2007
We're back again. This is the first tiem we've posted twice in a day but I just had an epiphany - or maybe it's a hangover LOL. Kidding. I kid.
This post concerns when you should start a new script. Should you force yourself to work on one at a time or should you let the wind blow to the scenes you want to write today?
The hell if I know. I haven't gotten a year into this yet so I guess I can find out the answer as others do. Right now I am working on a fantasy comedy and as I was working on a logistical issue (getting everyone in a middle school), I just had the feeling i should work on another film that is serious in nature and rather uhhh, how should I say, sexual.
So should we start something new when the current one has issues or is sailing smoothly or is tempting you to end it all?
Again, I don't know but I do know that when I work on two different genres I seem fresher when I go from one to the other. Don't know why. Maybe it's because I can clear my mind of one but not feel guilty for letting writing time pass without any pages.
So I guess the ultimate answer is:
Whenever you want. Just don't write until you have an outline or sequence map.
Keep writing as writing is the revealing of the soul.
Posted by Christian H. at 3:39 PM
Howdy writers, wrongers, and all in between,
This post as the title says tries to ask\answer the question, do you pitch something you haven't finished?
It's a tough question, I'd say and is totally p to the discretion of the screenwriter. No one is going to hate you if you say:
"I'm working on a great idea that... It's not done yet but I love it so far. It's about..."
I see everyday on Done Deal Pro that many of the sales are for pitches. I, for example, have one spec finished, two in various states of completion and about ten that are sequenced and have all of the characters defined.
Sure it's better to have them written but being able to come up with ideas is just as important as having 10 finished scripts. besides, if you write ten scripts, the shelf life will be different than if you concentrate on selling some of them before piling up a bunch more.
This is of my course my humble opinion and should in no way encourage anyone to approach a pitch fest or the like with unfinished work, but you never know if someone maybe interested if you don't pitch it.
A good example is a prodco that I queried for one script. They were willng to read it so I asked about ones that weren't done.
The answer was:
"Send the loglines and I'll let you know which ones may interest us."
Funny enough the ones that I thought were my strongest concepts and most complete stories were the ones that garnered interest. I should be sending them out by mid-September, around the time I should hear about the first script.
My fingers and toes are crossed on that one as it is my baby.
One reader thought that so much was going on they may have missed something. Of course that was what I was going for. I mean if a viewer mentions something they noticed but you didn't, there is more incentive to actually see the movie again to try and catch that part.
I guess having one protag for each year of college is a lot but all of the subplots revolve around the desires of the protag - as they should.
I personally am looking for an apartment in LA right now so that I can take a day off every two weeks and hawk scripts. I carry my first one in my bag at all times and soon hopefully I'll need a bigger bag.
Even contemplating this takes huge balls so I say go for it. Every chance you get. No Fear. They can only say no. True the pitch works better for an established writer but a new writer with a good sense of a good story can at least et a meeting.
For me it would be much worse to have scripts or ideas in any form that I didn't push than to have an exec say:
"Come back when it's done. It sounds intriguing. Here's my assistant's email."
"We don't look at unfinished work from unknown writers. What do you have completed OTHER than that?"
At that point your newness may pay off as you say, "though my completed body of work leaves a little to be desired, I did get through three drafts in under two months and have the others sequenced and researched. could I possibly initiate a query upon completion?"
I mean, you have to be as open and excited about your work as possible or no one else will. I hear from lots of paid writers that enthusiasm and positivity will get you farther than three scripts and a bad attitude about criticism or notes.
I actually would love the opportunity to discuss possible changes and their ramifications with an exec.
So to make a long story short, do your best Carlton Fisk impression and get out there. Execs are waiting to hear from you.
Posted by Christian H. at 2:55 PM
Monday, August 6, 2007
This is a post inspired by the MernitMan over at Living The Rom Com. he really made me miss the old days where women actually had to act and men had to be honorable.
I really need to watch more of those types of movies. I get sick of the silly dramatic conversations that consist of guys calling each other names for 10 minutes at a time.
A laugh or a tear are perhaps the most powerful images. With a furrowed brow or the raising and lowering of a head coming in a close second.
More emotion can be packed into that than C4 in a trashcan.
I also long for better scene transitions that allow for a seamless look at different parts of a story.
I just wrote something that utilizes wardrobe and hair styles to show change rather than speeches about how a character changes.
I did add some more conflict to it to appease the reviewer gods, but I think I did an excellent job with imagery and sub-plots. Most sub-plots tend to be some back story connection between the protag and antag but I think that's a cop-out. Who cares if they killed each other's dog.
What about the buddy and the love interest? Do they interact? Give them a few scenes - hey hey can talk about the protag. Most movies rely too much on "conflict" and not enough on the human condition; the differences between five friends, the similarities between people we love and the people we hate, how psychological trauma(death of a loved one) is more powerful than external forces(death threats), etc.
I found in this movie that the use of dreams work really well to abstract a person's reaction to action. My most fervent desire is to make people stop and think, "What just happened?" They'll think about it until they figure it out or ask someone to see it and tell them what they thought.
I have never produced a movie myself but have you ever found yourself knowing what the next line would be? A strange feeling that. Does it mean the movie is bad or good or perhaps that you have found your calling?
Who knows, but I love to play games with images. I'm working on a comedy where I figured a way to introduce all of the main characters in the same scene, but they don't see it. I'm really happy with it.
I know that "fluff pays" but substance lasts.
Another thing I try to do when writing is finding parallel characters and arcs. In my favorite unproduced script, I parallel three different guys and how each of them influences a different reaction by the protag. I also use a parallel between two secret societies on different sides of the protag, though it also looks at how all men, in one way or another, want to possess women.
I don't use a lot of "conflict amongst friends" as a way to add drama - what the hell are the antags for?
In South of La Brea (my baby) I actually managed 4 antags through sub-plots at different times. I guess the first thing is like they say "write what you know."
But back to Mernit's post, I know what he means about the armchair reviewers who just want to see explosions and friends arguing for half the movie and making up for the other half.
As a screenwriter, I find it difficult to critique other writers, especially those that are selling movies, but I will critique a movie after I see it. not to say how good or bad it was but whether or not it had memorable images or dialog.
One from SOLB that I love is after a long day the protag sits in the car, exhales and looks to the sky, hands on the steering wheel. To me it evokes worry and strength.
Anyway, here's to cinematic excellence in all its forms and to Antonioni and Bergman, pioneers both.
Posted by Christian H. at 11:23 AM
Thursday, August 2, 2007
This is a short post that I just had to make. Recently I was working in Melville NY and though I wanted to stay (why I don't know - oh yeah it was an office full of T&A) I ended up getting a new assignment in midtown Manhattan (yes the land of beat up jeans).
The first day I came to work I was a few days from receiving my first license of Final Draft (yes I have two) and to my surprise the heavens opened and pouring through was what looked to be the HQ of my favorite company - get ready for it - Price Waterhouse Cooper.
Yes that's right I walk right by the very building where the Oscar Awards are tallied. I wonder if that's a sign? I don't know but I'm definitely writing more touching dramas now.
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
This is a post from my other blog. Little did I know when i wrote this that I would be mere months away from the "world of the spec."
It's been awhile and I know I’ve kept the four of you waiting but hey the early bird catches the worm and doesn’t always have time to update the blog. Today’s post is about wire work in movies.
I love advanced special FX and this is a topic I’ve long studied especially in the advent of the Americanization of Chinese martial arts movies, such as; “Crouching Tiger,” “Kung Fu Hustle” etc.
Watching these movies is more a hobby than entertainment for me because I have to figure out what I see. Most of today’s movies use a mix of blue screen and wirework to simulate “additional environmental collisions” and the like….. I digress, back to the topic.
Most movies have trouble with one particular thing in the use of wires for fights and climbing, etc.
There needs to be a motor curve worked out for each individual or an active lookup algorithm based on various physical maneuvers, so that differences in “active feedback” on the cable erase the appearance of “floating.”
I’m thinking about moving this kind of thing to a website because I hate not having active image references on Blogger – I have to link to another site – maybe one of you three can tell me how to access images with “root HTML.”
I’m working on a new website and I may try to squeeze in some features that allow for image storage.
This technique is slightly harder to implement though because it requires a “track” to run the engine on, but two cranes with two pulleys connected to either end of an IBeam, tracks can be made for “linear” action – meaning that a secondary beam structure would need to be added to allow for perpendicular movement.
But by adding a second “cam” to the X Axis mechanism it would then be possible to add a third “rotational axis” to allow characters to move farther than contact where contact is the zero point in relative coordinates.
I guess studies like these led to advances in “blue screen positioning of CGI objects” but that would make actors into “voices.”
Don’t know if that would be a bad thing.
Anyway, such a device could be scaled to fit small spaces by using an I beam framework instead of relying on cranes for support, though cranes would help with “aerial maneuvers” like those in the last Matrix.
Blue screening using this technique would definitely have helped with the SpiderMan 2 climax on the subway. I was left flat by their mixture of live action and CGI.
I need to get a good 3D app like MicroStation but that’s a bit much. Guess I’ll have to cough up $600 for one of the lower priced ones – too bad I can’t get the student rate anymore.
As I’m writing this I seem to have “visualized” a more compact version that would enable large groups in one scene on a coordinated group of “motor wire assemblies,” hey that could be patented – anyone got a couple grand burning a whole in their pocket?
The basis of the mechanism is that you have to do tests of “height displacement” using a multi-axis solid bar that registers these differences. Certain movements would use a single bar (only height changes or rotation around the perpendicular axis of connection) and certain movements would use two bars connected for the parallel axis range.
The second mechanism allows for additional points of connection along the body for flight scenes. Since this condition allows – necessitates – more connection points motors can be made smaller and connected in pairs. With a second level of resistance it would be possible to “balance the “shoulder and ankle” connections and move the ankle connection closer to the body and the shoulder connection farther to enable close quarters between two “flyers,” while enabling the same type of “free-movement”
Anyway, that’s the gist of today’s topic. Hopefully, someone will see it…..
Posted by Christian H. at 12:58 PM
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Howdy fellow scribes,
Today's topic is a bit of an "I knew it" story. As you can see from the title Disney as a company has totally backed away from smoking in any future movies. You may say "you knew that?" Well, not exactly, but I have never envisioned a character who smokes. Why I don't know especially since I smoke but it's good to know that at least my favorite script has an even better chance since nowhere in the script are cigarettes even mentioned.
I even went a step further and there are no scenes with anyone actually drinking though we do see beers during one party scene. Wow, that's boring you say. Perhaps, but throw in a few KOs, some hot dancing, serious wise-cracks (Where'd you get that line the phony papers? or Don't you have any friends? Yeah, but they're all ugly.) beautiful women with good lines and great clothes. (Well I may have to bribe a costumer, but...)
Anyway, this is great news for me and I had to share it.
Friday, July 13, 2007
Howdy writers, wrongers and everyone in between. Yes you heard it right, a two and a half month rubicon has been crossed. I have done the FADE OUT on my first feature. It's right now getting notes from none other than Scott The Reader (hey, he's cheap).
It's a poignant story about a young woman who wants to keep her virginity through college. Of course, she loves to party and dances like a stripper, but hey nobody's perfect.
It was an interesting journey as I found that it was the most boring topic ever (well, maybe Shawshank is in the running). Even though it is a college movie, there is no gratuitous sex or nudity. Very little alcohol (no one is actually seen drinking) and lots of violence (hey I had to put something in it).
I actually surprised myself with how well it reads. I even managed to make it the whole four years of college with some calendar/banner-based sleight of hand. I even managed to get my second rejection with it, but hey that's good. I've only queried two people and I'm sure there are those of us who feel like we have the plague with how many responses we get.
I have to give props to Chris Soth and his Hollywoodbyphone.com service.
Anyway, my next one is at the inciting incident and again no sex. Seems like a theme, but not really as my short(First Fade Out) has gay sex scenes and I have a few others in the works that may have more sex scenes than dialog.
I'd say that if nothing else, my scenes are linked so well to the plot that it doesn't seem like it could possibly be my first spec, but indeed it is.
I'm so happy I could masturbate. OK, maybe I'm not that happy.
I'm busy reviewing scripts on TriggerStreet and I should have the last two done this weekend, so my beautiful baby will be on display for all to criticize. MUSIC TO MY EARS.
If only it was that easy to get it read by the "greenlight" crowd. I think I managed to get every human emotion into 109 pages (I was shooting for 110); love, hate, anger, sarcasm, etc.
I managed to get some good foreshadowing in and kind of threw a twist at the end so that there are actually TWO climax scenes where one is an internal climax and the other is an external one.
I feel really good about it as both a writing sample (who would really buy a movie about a virgin in college with no sex or drugs?) and a movie blueprint. It is registered and any who view this can ask for a copy. I think you'll enjoy it.
Wel, that's it for today. I have to get back to my family comedy and also get my notes together for a post I've got called "negatively impacting social traits," which is my term for character flaw.
See you in the movies.
Tuesday, July 3, 2007
After an interesting discussion with Mystery Man I decided my next blog should talk about what I think can be the most effective imagery.
The wardrobe of the character.
For example, one of the biggest images in the Die Hard movies is how McClain starts out all neat and clean and ends up looking like a homeless punching bag. It makes him more human, more likable, than if he stayed clean.
Or with James Bond, he would be a totally different character dressed like James Coburn's "Flint," but with the tuxedo, he becomes more aloof and unreachable.
Or even Men In Black where RayBans made them look both professional and a little frightening.
Of course when describing wardrobe simple is better. Rather than saying "a beautiful white gown with ruffles and a matching choker," "a vision in white, reminiscent of Cinderella." That way the costumer can experiment drawing on the character's personality and the actor's "look."
As an extension, we can then illustrate our characters' personalities with accessories.
Like if you're describing a nerd and say "slips on his usual collection of jewelry," you would obviously get a total different look if you say the same thing about a drug dealer or a pimp.
The same would be true of a businesswoman vs. a female basketball player. I guess it all comes back to the saying that a screenplay isn't a movie, it's a blueprint for a movie. They don't contain colors or sizes as a house blueprint - from a post by UNK - doesn't contain walls or doors.
Another good example is Big with Tom Hanks where we would say "contrasting with the black tuxes surrounding him, making him appear naive." Big gives another example at the end of his circular arc where he stands in clothes that are much too big for him which reflects the departure of his love interest.
Aliens offers another look at the power of wardrobe with the Burke character, with his loosened tie and upturned collar, making him seem egotistical and even untrustworthy (as he is proven to be).
Wardrobe's effects can even be felt in real life as it's much easier to use a private bathroom wearing a suit than wearing jeans and sneakers.
At any rate, there are tons of examples of how wardrobe imagery can describe a character better than the silkiest "expositional" prose.
Another excellent example is "The Devil Wears Prada," where the frumpy journalist who probably gets ignored a lot becomes the beautiful butterfly who turns head wherever she goes, or Ms. Congeniality, the plain FBI clothes contrasted with the slinky dress worn on the Regis show which examines how her personality changes with the necessity of fashion.
Or imagine Arnold, in T2, grabbing a guy with a tux rather than the ubiquitous bikers' clothes and bartenders' shades. It wouldn't matter but "Bad to the Bone" would have no place in the sequence.
The Addams Family also shows this with Fester becoming more and more "shut down" wearing designer clothes and hair implants.
The comedy Second Sight also uses wardrobe to change a mood as when Bronson Pinchot tears off his suit and runs through the church in his underwear. That's a satirical use of it but it was funny.
Wardrobe can even define an institution as with the Star Wars story, where the robes of the Jedi evoke a feeling of piety and strength or even a society where Amidala wears the makeup of the queen, making her look regal and aloof. Also, the squared-shoulders of the vests Jedi where make them seem honest and morally strong.
Of course, the job of the screenwriter is to evoke the feeling with short exposition, like from one of my scripts, "her pony tail glistening like ribbons of silk" or "adjusts her midriff jeans jacket and heads towards the kitchen."
Those short phrases are designed to give a general idea of age and personality. Another great use of wardrobe. Well, that's about it for today. Next I think we'll talk about
PROPS. Not those you give but those you place.
Keep Writing as Writing is the Revealing of the Soul
Friday, June 29, 2007
Howdy folks in the ScriboSphere. I'm on Cloud 9 right now as I managed in 3 months of trying, to get a rejection for not 1 or 2, but 5 loglines. I love it. I can't wait until I get some more scripts finished as I could make it to 100 rejections by the end of the year.
How great is that? Some people are ignored by everyone but I can get people to say, and I quote:
but i'm not sparking to any of these ideas. my advice is to send query letters to producers and managers!
I mean how great is that? It's actual text and how many people can say they were turned down by a big shot?
It's like a dream come true. Now if only I could get a read, I might even think my life improved from being shit.
Anyway, maybe I should query,
Will write for food?
That's a good idea. I probably won't do it but hey what the hell, creativity is the key. I haven't been this giddy since I stole my first girlfriend. This one may even top the first fight in the street over me.
Man, I love this attempt at a job. I'm ready for my protag's close up Mr. De Mille.
Anyway, back to reality. I'm so pleased with myself, I could just pee. I guess my rotten life may be worth something after all as I have a very thick skin now. Almost thick enough to relocate to LA and walk around with a collection of scripts and pictures of notables.
I guess also that since SW jobs are plentiful, I could even support myself. Yes, I think that I will miss the NYC winter this year. If I can get a good deal on moving, find an apartment from 3000 miles away and find a job before I give notice where I am, I will eb an Angeleno in time for XMas. Aaaaah, joy.
Wow, this move is almost like trying to be a screenwriter. I'm not sure if that's a good sign or a bad sign but what the hell, I'm supposed to die anyway so I may as well go out in pursuit of my heart.
To all who enter:
Keep writing as writing is the revealing of the soul
Posted by Christian H. at 5:49 PM
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Well, this my second post. A lot sooner than I thought. What does that title mean, you ask. That is the title of possibly the most boring movie I ever tried to make exciting.
It's actually coming along pretty good as I have gotten YouTube, studies in sexuality, abusive relationships, close friendships, a shattered goal, the stages of grief (it was an accident), etc. into the script. The actor I want for it should love it (secret for now).
Anyway, this movie is teaching me more than I thought it would when I started. I am getting really good at scene transitions and my dialog is sharpening up tremendously.
I will definitely TriggerStreet it when it's done. Unfortunately, I can't talk too much about it yet, but after these last 30 pages fall this weekend, maybe I can loosen up some more info.
I can say that it is a story that should empower a whole lot of women. The story takes place in college but it's definitely NOT a college movie.
I'm also working on a fantasy comedy where a grandmother is actually a torture technique (I know. I'm sick).
It's coming along pretty good as I just came up with a novel way of introing the antag and main relationship character. This one shouldn't take the three months South Of La Brea is taking but I can also get away with 90- pages. It's also got this neat little trick to distingish it from other comedies like it(nothing is new after all).
Anyway, I've got to get back to the script and some database stuff I have to fix - in my real job - so I'm going to cut it here but as soon as we get to ActIII, we'll look at some screenwriting stuff featured in the excellent text "Advanced Screenwriting" by Dr. Linda Seger. I think it's the best of the four books I've read as it looks more at abstract ideas than examples (not to say it doesn't have examples) such as one that will be the gist of the next post.
She says and I quote
"A character's problem doesn't have to be negative. It may be a quality that is usually considered positive, but in a certain situation becomes a problem."
I take that to heart as the idea of a character flaw can mean so many things in every different screenplay even in the same genre.
I spoke about this on Mystery Man and I think it's the next frontier. Of course character change can provide an "intrinsic plot thread," but I don't think it should be done too "externally."
A good example is Red from Shawshank. Most people consider his last parole hearing the end of his arc, but I feel that it was just him not caring anymore. Andy had escaped, why get excited. It just so happened that those were the marbles he foreshadowed "rolling around in his head" earlier in the movie. Of course it could have been a genius plan or it could have been an arc where he finally has hope.
I'm betting on a tired old man that lost his best friend and just doesn't care anymore. Anyway, we'll save the rest for another time.
Keep writing as writing is the revealing of the soul.
Posted by Christian H. at 12:35 PM
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Yes ladies and germs,
I have written my first screenplay. It's a 15 page short but it does say FADE OUT. It was important for me to get something out pretty quickly as I really want this as my career. The idea for it came from the screenplayshollywood blog.
I scanned through all of May and found the perfect short. It has drama. It has sex. It has betrayal. It has more sex. Just kidding. It has redemption.
It's basically a pretty good writing sample. I'm hoping the individual who posted it wants it, though it's small enough that I could make it myself.
All I need is a cameraman and 3 actors with an apartment and a car.
Anyway, I'm now on my second project though this one is a feature length drama. It's coming along good as when I read it aloud, I like it and I am so picky that...well that's another story.
Plus, I am partly working on a few treatments for a couple of movies I could actually sell.
Mostly, I don't write specs to sell them but for them to be writing samples. I am trying to have at least two in every major genre and for the most part I do (read: they are just loglines and premises).
It's funny because I used to think about it and I wrote a pretty decent screenplay years ago and couldn't figure out what to do with it as breaking in can be intimidating especially when you're basically on your own with no support structure.
But now with the advent of the Internet and my resolving my issues, I am gong to make this happen no matter what. I think I am pretty good at this, even better than I program or engineer.
My ultimate goal is to see an actor go up and get an Oscar for one of my roles. Of course that's ot an easy thing but I figure if I can flood the market with good stories and great scripts, I may get a chance to be noticed by the sometimes hard to understand Academy.
It's a pretty good plan that will probably take years but I have nothing else to do. I have no life at all because my mentality is now so inward that this is really all I can do and be happy. I hate my cubicle now and I need to get away.
Sure I may end up in a cubicle writing for some TV show, but hey I guess it's not the cubicle but what I do all day. It's exciting at times but times like now are so boring I could shoot myself and have fake blood pour out.
Well, that's it for my first post commemorating my first FADE OUT but
"I'll be back."