Monday, April 30, 2007

Getting the Scene Down

Sometimes your brain or id or muse just wants to do more than what you're ready for. It's got something it needs to say about whatever story you're tapping out and your hand just can't get it all down faster than what you are "hearing."

A playwriting teach of mine back in my college days (so, so long ago and yes I was a theatre major) told our class that sometimes when working on a scene it's best to leave a little left undone. The psychology behind that idea is that once you completely finish something you may tend to forget it and thus may lose some of the steam you had behind the thought of the scene while you just trying to get it all down.

Leaving the scene somewhat undone allows the mystery of the scene to come back and sometimes can allow your mind to also explore different possibilities to what could come about in that scene or beat or act for that matter. The playwriting teach went as far as to say to leave it sometimes mid sentence. Alittle extreme I'd have to say. Maybe that would work for some people. Me, I don't trust my rust trap of a brain enough to remember those kinda details. So, as a rule, I think it's always good to get it out in some fashion. That way it's there to be worked on down the road but the difference being to understand is how it gets on the screen/paper/ napkin/back of your hand (if that's true really time to get some paper.)

The last few stories I have been worked on I've taken on a system of just getting the basic gist of the scene--be it answering a few basic questions or putting in some very simple dialogue. But leaving it simple. John August touched on this superbly in a post
here on his website a few months ago.

I have taken his advice to heart and even incorporated with
Unk's idea to use Google Notebook to outline a screenplay. Again, another great resource. This should help with uncramping hands as the story gushes forth so and be rest assured the idea is out even if it just a shorthand scribble.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Premiere (1987-2007)

Finally got a copy of the last mag for US version of Premiere and wanted send my regards to a magazine that seemed to enjoy the process of movies and not just the hype that has become of movies nowadays. And though I love Will Ferrell (most of the time) I think if the end of the mag had been more planned they might have found a better more fitting end to it all. I left with Entertainment Weekly which unfortunately just doesn't try hard enough to bring movies to the level I see fit.

Bon voyage, Premiere...


I've gone to my fair share (and then some) of movies in a lot of different theaters and when I have, for the most part, I have usually had a good experience. I think people still like to see movies in the theaters (even though Hollywood doesn't see that in the numbers as much.)

But, there are some to seem to find the theater for other purposes. Some come to talk to the screen like they expect answers back, some laughs in all the wrong places just to be noticed by the audience and, of course, can't forget the cell phone talkers because they are thinking I like to pay 9 bucks so I can't miss what I'm watching and talk to someone that I could talk to outside of the movie...which makes total sense to me. ( If you are missing the sarcasm in that statement then there is no help for you)

On Friday night, the wife and I went to see Vacancy (which was good) however our experience was marred by a bunch of dumb ass teeny-boppers and some idiot dude who sat up in the corner using his cell phone through most of the movie.

People hear me now--the theater is like my place of worship. I come to watch movies and I take it very seriously. When the lights dim, I am preparing to leave my skin for a couple hours and live in the characters on the screen. When other people choose to deny me that right it is pure sacrilege.

After awhile the teens clamped up and actually watched the screen but this dude would not shut up. Now, I'm not the type to go up to anyone in a theater and tell em to shut it (since my movie was interrupting their phone conversation) cause that could just make it worse. My wife decided to go get a soda refill and on the way out one of the movie ushers was coming in (she had come in on a few occasions but just hovered by the entrance) and my wife asked if there was a way to get rid of talkers in a movie. The usher said she'd take care of it. Soon enough, the usher went up to the guy and said some words and about 5 minutes later the manager came in and said some more. Well, the guy took the subtle hint that maybe he should shut his ass up and maybe, I don't know, WATCH THE FRACKING MOVIE. Which he apparently did.

When the movie was over and the lights came up. The dude made a quick exit and some guy behind him said...

Are you the guys that went and got the manager? I was hoping someone would do that.

It's always nice to met others who understand how sacred theaters should be.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Someone Must Die

I've been in a funk lately about the screenplay I'm currently working on again because I have found out something which will help me do it immensely.

I have to kill someone.

Please don't call 911. They wouldn't understand.

It's one of characters in the screenplay which I thought was important enough to have at the beginning, but I was realizing that the character didn't serve enough purpose toward the latter half of the story.

So, I'm going to kill this character off and it's bumming me out. Originally, I had it where this character and the main protag would go together on the adventure that is presented in the story . But, I have realized in order to make my protag have to get to where he needs to be in the end he has to have a major loss. Though I am sad over this loss, I know it is for the best and it's a good sign that I am feeling the loss because if I wasn't how could my main protag. I am working out the details of adding another character instead who will interact with the main protag in the latter half of the story in a more significant way.

Now, I just need to figure out the details of poor character's death and find out how to make this new character I just thought up end up helping the main protag.

( I omitted stating specific character details cause I have some people who may end up reading this puppy once it's done and I don't want to give away this major event yet.)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

What's on your soundtrack?

Music plays a big role for me when I'm writing as I'm sure it does for a lot of writers. Why not? A song is capturing a moment or feeling surrounding a story that is spoken in song lyrics. Plus, the added emotion that comes from the song may resonant within your own story. I usually just hit random on my Zen and listen to whatever comes across the headphones (occasionally skipping if the song just does feel right for the moment.) Before I had my mp3 player I'd listen to Radio365 cause they have internet stations that aren't too bad. I got into listening to a couple that just played soundtracks which worked great for inspirational screenwriting.

Thinking of soundtracks makes me wish I could have Howard Shore work out a soundtrack any movies I get made someday. His work on the Lord of the Rings was phenom. Basil Poledouris would have been another great choice however his composing days are done (he passed on Nov 6 last year but I still love The Hunt for the Red October and the Russian Hymn...) But while we're discussing make believe another good composer would be John Barry.

Dancing with Wolves was further enhanced by Barry's work ( I have the CD of the remnants I took of my sister who passed away October 2001. It was only fitting since she and I shared the love for good music.)

I definitely have other composers I would have loved or would love to work with some day...until then I just have to let their stuff inspire me now.

Any thoughts on music that inspires what you're writing?

Sunday, April 22, 2007

A List of the Best (and Worst) Battle Scenes

A couple weeks ago, I ran across an article at CNN discussing the best and ultimately worst battle scenes in movies. I'd have to agree with most. Interesting how any Star Wars battles--prequel or original--are quashed among the worst. But, what about the Battle of Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back? Definitely, should have been considered in the top 10, I think.
One interesting note though is the fact of having battle scenes from real wars with Saving Private Ryan and Apocalypse Now (somewhat specific in scene and location i.e Omaha Beach D-Day and displayed in all its' beautiful horror as well as to be expected from Spielberg) except Apocalypse Now didn't rely on specifics just like Platoon and Full Metal Jacket didn't either (but those two didn't make the list) and from fantastical wars of the Lord of the Rings (which could fudge specific details for spectacle.) getting the top honors. CNN made AN the No 1 best battle scene which I don't know if I agree with totally. I think SPR should be No. 1 because it presented a true story with unflinching detail and threw the viewer into the character's world right from the start.
The article is a nice piece of fluff which can lead to some interesting discussion. Any battle scenes that you thought might be missing or off the map on the list?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Feed the Cat

It's better or worse than an alarm clock, but just some time after 5 am it's the clawing at the cage that starts, then the mewing. When someone finally gets her out of the kennel (usually the wife) there's the sporadic attacks at your feet, jumping on the bed and finally standing on your chest purring.

The cat needs to be fed. If I need my sleep though I'm gonna kick that cat out and shut the door. But this time I didn't Dammit.

The clock reads 6:40 am...Sure why not--I haven't been sleeping for the past hour anyway.

Pets can be a lot of responsibility but, sometimes, I like the excuse to get out of bed a little early cause I get the run of the house before the wife graces us with her presence. So, for a couple hours of quiet, it is a prime time for the muse to tap on my shoulder. The devil of my id who's got a secret to tell.

In a sense we all have to feed the cat in our lives. The screenplay's gonna wake you at obscene hours and isn't gonna be quiet. Jumping on your lap looking for some good ear scratching. Where's my toy, it'll say.

I have neglecting that pet. I'm sure we all have at some point. But, I went into writing my stories half assed. I figured I could make sense of what the screenplay needed as I went along. God, I was so wrong and I paid for it.

Not outlining or fleshing out the story in some through manner will only starve it. Characters can't live in your mind alone. Taking the time to develop the characters into true believable entities is very important. Anyone who truly believes that in some manner that doesn't need to be done are gonna have to bury their ideas in the backyard. How do I know? I've burned myself too many times and had this tough lesson slammed hard into my gut. I've come close to killing plenty of ideas myself.

I've learned it's important to fill the water dish and make sure there's plenty of food when the story needs it. That screenplay is only gonna mew in your face till it's fed. And you could feed it the cheapest bag you could find at the store. (Well, hopefully not the recalled stuff.)

But you know what food your screenplay needs.

Make your screenplay happy and fill that dish. In the end, you'll be glad you did.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Can't you smell 'em?

Okay, so you're at the movie theatre with the lights dimming. Almost time for the big show but first its Movie Trailer time. Sometimes, for me, it can be as good as the upcoming movie (like a pre-movie warm up.) A whole batch of movies can hit you like a 1-2 punch of excitement.

Anticipation of trailers can play into expectations but if you're like me you gain a "sense" when watching them. Do you have a nose for movies? I like to think I do. Mind you, I think the sniffer can be off sometimes. (I didn't think The Sixth Sense would be that good--okay, let's keep that little dirty secret to ourselves) But lately I have to say...can't you smell 'em? It ain't pretty folks. We're seriously talking a tank of floaters here. And that never a good sign. A few I have noticed lately--

Perfect Stranger: Yeah looks good on paper, I mean Halle Berry and Bruce Willis in a thriller. But from the looks of it--straight outta Skinemax with higher paid actors...

Premonition: I really am one who has a kind heart and wishes Sandra Bullock could find her place in Hollywood but this one had my bells and whistles going off to avoid at all costs...

The Reaping: Again looks good when I first heard about it. I am a Hilary Swank fan cause she does good drama, I think. But this thing just seems like a Omen rip off...

Slow Burn: Sorry this one didn't even look good on paper even though I like Liotta. Again it has Basic Instinct written all over it and the trailer doesn't do much to help that...

There are more but I think you get my meaning. Now, of course, this is all my opinion and you might say this are movies I'm sure the screenplays were better and something got effed up along the way. Seriously?


I strongly believe it is way too hard to screw up a good screenplay and make it a bad movie then it is to take a poor screenplay and succeed in making a good movie.

I'm gonna have some detractors to that statement, I know. But more times than not, I believe it.
Something along the same lines, in regard to screenplay contests, is touched on in MaryAn's blog Fencing With the Fog. She writes in her April 10th post--

...No amount of screening or standardizing of scores can change somebody's predisposition for drama over comedy or their disdain for horror. The process doesn't work. And yet, it works. It works because, as subjective as people are, sometimes ugly is just ugly. Maybe contests don't always get the "best" screenplay and sometimes a "better" one rises above a "best", but has the "worst" ever won? Be fair. Don't say "yes" unless you've read some of the juvenile crap that gets entered in contests alongside the well-written stuff. The worst doesn't win because the worst is the worst...

Sometimes ugly is just ugly...I hope Unk got that for his quotes.

MaryAn talks about the subjectivity of screenplay contests and makes a valid point that people are people and sometimes it's all a beauty contest. It's a good read and look forward to more from her (Even though she kinda knocks us Midwesterners as not being "pretty" by Hollywood standards but I'll let it slide 'cause she's from my birth state of Texas.)

What does this mean for screenwriters? We have to write good screenplays. Damn great screenplays. Screenplays so good that a person's subjectivity is put to the side and they are able to see the MOVIE being written on the page.

That's my objective. One that plagues me but allows me the justification that I'm not gonna write any floaters.

I'm just not. I'm sick of smelling 'em.

Monday, April 9, 2007

A couple tidbits I learned about Usual Suspects...

McQuarrie did his research. Taken from Wikipedia--

The name "Söze" resembles the Turkish word sözel, meaning "verbal,"... Additionally, the same term has a Hungarian-sounding pronunciation, when it is spelled with an "ö.". The name "Keyser", derives from the Turkish Ottoman title "Qaysar" [from Qaysar-in-Rum] like the German word Kaiser, which descended from the Latin word Caesar, itself from the Greek 'Kaisar' meaning "emperor"....

Course whenever I think of Verbal explaining why he got the nickname I love Hockney's line...

"Yeah I was gonna tell ya to shut up."

If you're not familiar with the irony of that statement go and rent the flick. Hell--buy it! The dialogue in this puppy has made me watch this one multiple times but I digress...

Another tidbit about Soze also from Wikipedia is McQuarrie had another name in mind of Sume as the last name. Apparently it was the name of a lawyer he had been introduced at the time. He changed it in pre-production. Maybe a smart move since a lawyer may be privy to slap a slander lawsuit over something as silly as being associated with Keyser Sume....err Söze ( good call--it just wouldn't have been the same)

Now, maybe there's some hidden meaning behind Kobayashi....

Friday, April 6, 2007

Push up your Stock Price

As I was reading Unk's blog yesterday he proposed a site for screenwriting advice contributed to by fellow bloggers. A grand idea, I must say. But how can I help with that, I thought? I haven't even finished my own work let alone helping someone else along with theirs. I even touched on that in the comments of his post. But I'll expand on that in a moment.

It got me to thinking though about a Creative Screenwriting article I read some time ago... You have to excuse me if I'm loose on the details about which article it was but it made a interesting point about viewing being a screenwriter like you do your real job. I'm sorry your paying job.

So 40 hours a week (or more) you do your work to bring the company more dough or customers or whatever it takes to make the company prosper. The article went on to say you need to become the boss (no more checking out the new games at Armor Games) and crack the whip to the screenwriter in you. Because your company needs screenplays to prosper. And your company doesn't want just any screenplays they want the best screenplays.

I think I can expand that metaphor some myself. What does having the best do for a company? Good products lead to a better profit margin, sure. But there has to be more than that. Even more--it drives up your stock. Another good day on the stock market. Others will profit for the reliability of your company. And if that company is making screenplays, so be it. Sometimes this analogy has helped me to realize what I am really doing here.

Getting back to Unk's blog, I think not only are you the company yourself, producing your product of screenplays, but screenwriters as a whole are the company. You have to think of yourself as one of the stores in a chain (maybe not so much the Wal-Mart of screenplays--cause we want to treat our employees better.) If one store falters, the whole chain feels it.

With what Unk is putting out to all of us is helping the newbies while we help ourselves. This part will also drive up our stock cause before we had this job we had to learn it to some degree like interns soaking up every detail every nuance related to the job. The learning curve is huge for a screenwriter. New ideas, concepts, genres and so on pop up every day not to mention your id sitting on your shoulder whispering the next great idea for a screenplay... It still happens. I have to admit I'm like Unk: I love movies 24/7--just ask my disgruntled wife ( please don't that could go on for awhile) and so I'm always on the prowl for screenwriting and movie stuff all the time.

But, as it goes, it's a job and even that stuff can make us not the best workers in the company. I know I've had way too many sick days and I should have been let go some time ago.

Thanks Unk for cooling me down and giving me pause to think more about what your grand idea is.

Okay, break's over...gotta get back to work.