Monday, November 12, 2007

The Dangers of Backstory

Hi again,
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.
Metal crunches.
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.

Au revoir,

"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!!

Situation vs. Dialogue : TV vs. Cinema

Howdy strikers,
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.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The funny thing about the strike

Howdy bloggers,
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.

And remember,

Support your fellow writers. Chip in for coffee on those cold NYC streets. Take a day off and join them.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Happy, Sad and Angry: The 3 Dimensional Character

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.

Depth means
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.

And remember,

Keep Writing as Writing is the Revealing of the Soul

And also,