Sunday, May 30, 2010

The King of counterculture is dead, long live...

Have been away from my house, my desk and my laptop for too long. But now I'm back and itching to get back to work. Movie Screenwriter has been calling. Yes, I need help. 

Work aside, very sorry to hear about Dennis Hopper's death. Whatever you think of the guy - and he annoyed a LOT of people during his lifetime - the guy was a legend. Full stop. I remember watching Rebel Without a Cause on a long distance flight and being struck by two things. How modern it looked, despite being made in 1955. And that Dennis Hopper was in it! With James Dean! He was also in Giant, Cool Hand Luke and True Grit, and that was when he was only getting started. A link with the golden age is gone - he'll be missed by all real movie fans.

Also, very excited about the first Indian Film Festival to hit Ireland, which will be taking place from 25th-28th June. I'll be blogging about the festival and tweeting as well. There's also a fabulous gala dinner where you can meet and mingle with Bollywood types. Check it out!

The King of counterculture is dead, long live...

Have been away from my house, my desk and my laptop for too long. But now I'm back and itching to get back to work. Movie Screenwriter has been calling. Yes, I need help. 

Work aside, very sorry to hear about Dennis Hopper's death. Whatever you think of the guy - and he annoyed a LOT of people during his lifetime - the guy was a legend. Full stop. I remember watching Rebel Without a Cause on a long distance flight and being struck by two things. How modern it looked, despite being made in 1955. And that Dennis Hopper was in it! With James Dean! He was also in Giant, Cool Hand Luke and True Grit, and that was when he was only getting started. A link with the golden age is gone - he'll be missed by all real movie fans.

Also, very excited about the first Indian Film Festival to hit Ireland, which will be taking place from 25th-28th June. I'll be blogging about the festival and tweeting as well. There's also a fabulous gala dinner where you can meet and mingle with Bollywood types. Check it out!

Friday, May 21, 2010

First Draft's a sprint, Rewrite's a marathon

I'm not a runner but if I was, I think I'd rather do a "put-everything-into-it-and-it's-over-in-5-seconds" sprinter than a plodding marathoner. Speed, not stamina. Which might explain why I love bashing out quick first screenplay drafts and dread the rewriting journey that follows.

But it's the rewriting that makes you see whether you're a real writer or not. Whether you have what it takes to rescue a draft and refashion it. So it's an essential skill to learn - I think every writer would agree on that.

Everyone has their own approach to the rewriting game but here's mine:
  • Get some perspective on the script. The one I'm currently rewriting has been languishing in a drawer for months.
  • Do character arcs for all the main characters. See where they should be at the start of the movie and at the end, and at all important points in between. Then see how far they are from these arcs in the current draft.
  • Work backwards - see where each character has to get to and decide what they will need to do during the story to get to that point. If it's a murder story, what clues does the sleuth need to find or what leads do they need to chase in order to solve the death? If it's a romcom, what ups and downs are going to keep the main couple apart - and what events/actions will bring them back together?
  • Work the Board - I don't necessarily do this for first drafts but it's essential for rewrites. Write each scene on a Post-It or index card and arrange them in order. Does it look right? If not, re-arrange it until it all fits together!
  • Go for a walk and have a think. I do this whenever I have a scene that isn't working or a plot-hole I can't fix. By the time I've come home, I've usually come to a decision about what to do.
And remembers, writers write but real writers do lots and lots of rewrites....

First Draft's a sprint, Rewrite's a marathon

I'm not a runner but if I was, I think I'd rather do a "put-everything-into-it-and-it's-over-in-5-seconds" sprinter than a plodding marathoner. Speed, not stamina. Which might explain why I love bashing out quick first screenplay drafts and dread the rewriting journey that follows.

But it's the rewriting that makes you see whether you're a real writer or not. Whether you have what it takes to rescue a draft and refashion it. So it's an essential skill to learn - I think every writer would agree on that.

Everyone has their own approach to the rewriting game but here's mine:
  • Get some perspective on the script. The one I'm currently rewriting has been languishing in a drawer for months.
  • Do character arcs for all the main characters. See where they should be at the start of the movie and at the end, and at all important points in between. Then see how far they are from these arcs in the current draft.
  • Work backwards - see where each character has to get to and decide what they will need to do during the story to get to that point. If it's a murder story, what clues does the sleuth need to find or what leads do they need to chase in order to solve the death? If it's a romcom, what ups and downs are going to keep the main couple apart - and what events/actions will bring them back together?
  • Work the Board - I don't necessarily do this for first drafts but it's essential for rewrites. Write each scene on a Post-It or index card and arrange them in order. Does it look right? If not, re-arrange it until it all fits together!
  • Go for a walk and have a think. I do this whenever I have a scene that isn't working or a plot-hole I can't fix. By the time I've come home, I've usually come to a decision about what to do.
And remembers, writers write but real writers do lots and lots of rewrites....

Monday, May 17, 2010

When Plot Holes Strike….

Plot holes – can’t live with ‘em…. They’re the bane of my life, and I suspect a lot of other writers too. I do the usual stupid things with plots – forgetting to tie up a loose end, neglecting to mention how someone travelled a long distance when they’ve no car, no money and a concussion, that sort of thing.

My own personal failing, however, seems to be giving multiple small characters the same name. In the same script. I have no idea why I keep doing this, but it leads to puzzled people asking, “Is this Tom on page 65 the same Tom that we had on page 15?” And if so, why is he flirting with Kate when he’s 85 and she’s 21? Oops.

I watched Hot Tub Time Machine on Saturday night, which is absolutely peppered with potential and actual plot holes. This is kind of the nature of time travel films, and I’m prepared to give them some leeway in terms of people not remembering 20 years of their lives once they travel back etc. But this one had a doozy – a 20 year old character who’s supposed to have been born in the year they go back to - 1986. But they travel from and back to 2010. Which would make him 24 in the present day! I can’t figure out a. how no one noticed this during production and b. if they did, why they didn’t just fix it by having them travel from 2006, which would have solved the problem. Maybe I’m just getting more and more anal….

The only surefire way to find these problems: get loads of people to read your script. Then read it BACKWARDS yourself. You’ll notice loads of spelling mistakes as well. Better to do it now before your plot holes cause endless rows on the IMDB chatboards…

When Plot Holes Strike….

Plot holes – can’t live with ‘em…. They’re the bane of my life, and I suspect a lot of other writers too. I do the usual stupid things with plots – forgetting to tie up a loose end, neglecting to mention how someone travelled a long distance when they’ve no car, no money and a concussion, that sort of thing.

My own personal failing, however, seems to be giving multiple small characters the same name. In the same script. I have no idea why I keep doing this, but it leads to puzzled people asking, “Is this Tom on page 65 the same Tom that we had on page 15?” And if so, why is he flirting with Kate when he’s 85 and she’s 21? Oops.

I watched Hot Tub Time Machine on Saturday night, which is absolutely peppered with potential and actual plot holes. This is kind of the nature of time travel films, and I’m prepared to give them some leeway in terms of people not remembering 20 years of their lives once they travel back etc. But this one had a doozy – a 20 year old character who’s supposed to have been born in the year they go back to - 1986. But they travel from and back to 2010. Which would make him 24 in the present day! I can’t figure out a. how no one noticed this during production and b. if they did, why they didn’t just fix it by having them travel from 2006, which would have solved the problem. Maybe I’m just getting more and more anal….

The only surefire way to find these problems: get loads of people to read your script. Then read it BACKWARDS yourself. You’ll notice loads of spelling mistakes as well. Better to do it now before your plot holes cause endless rows on the IMDB chatboards…

Friday, May 14, 2010

John August does NOT like ScriptShadow. The question is, should you?

ScriptShadow, as many of you are aware, is a site run by Carson Reeves (not his real name), an L.A.-based aspiring screenwriter. It’s been around for a while but really hit the headlines late last year when August wrote a blog post decrying it and the site’s review of Aaron Sorkin’s The Social Network led to thousands of hits. The site reviews scripts by established writers and newbies alike, and does not pull its punches about the quality of the scripts (whoever’s written them). Reeves is also not afraid to reveal spoilers - and therein lies the problem for John August.

August claims that the site could lead to a situation where studio writers are unable to show drafts to anyone for fear of a security breach, and that there is a real danger of scripts being spoiled before they’ve even been shot. On the other hand, some claim that the chance to read these scripts will only help writers, and that the promotion possibilities for scriptwriters from the site are endless.

My take? It does seem mad that we’ve gotten to a point where big-name writers face having their screenplay secrets spilled before a single take has been shot. On the other hand, this seems like the natural progression from sites like www.themoviespoiler.com. Movies get spoiled, so why not scripts? If you don’t want to know what happens, don’t read it!

For the minnow screenwriter, ScriptShadow could offer untold benefits; if enough online readers like your script, it could get made. For big-name writers, it could seem like the final insult. But for a writer of any type, the site does offer the chance to read a lot of scripts and carries informative interviews with the pros. Surely that’s worth, as one person already put it, more than four years in film school?

Ultimately, ScriptShadow is yet another example of how the internet is changing the way movies get made – and will continue to do so.

John August does NOT like ScriptShadow. The question is, should you?

ScriptShadow, as many of you are aware, is a site run by Carson Reeves (not his real name), an L.A.-based aspiring screenwriter. It’s been around for a while but really hit the headlines late last year when August wrote a blog post decrying it and the site’s review of Aaron Sorkin’s The Social Network led to thousands of hits. The site reviews scripts by established writers and newbies alike, and does not pull its punches about the quality of the scripts (whoever’s written them). Reeves is also not afraid to reveal spoilers - and therein lies the problem for John August.

August claims that the site could lead to a situation where studio writers are unable to show drafts to anyone for fear of a security breach, and that there is a real danger of scripts being spoiled before they’ve even been shot. On the other hand, some claim that the chance to read these scripts will only help writers, and that the promotion possibilities for scriptwriters from the site are endless.

My take? It does seem mad that we’ve gotten to a point where big-name writers face having their screenplay secrets spilled before a single take has been shot. On the other hand, this seems like the natural progression from sites like www.themoviespoiler.com. Movies get spoiled, so why not scripts? If you don’t want to know what happens, don’t read it!

For the minnow screenwriter, ScriptShadow could offer untold benefits; if enough online readers like your script, it could get made. For big-name writers, it could seem like the final insult. But for a writer of any type, the site does offer the chance to read a lot of scripts and carries informative interviews with the pros. Surely that’s worth, as one person already put it, more than four years in film school?

Ultimately, ScriptShadow is yet another example of how the internet is changing the way movies get made – and will continue to do so.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Is there anything you CAN'T write a good film about?

There was once a lady called Terry Martin Hekker who wrote a book all about how to be a happy housewife. It enraged feminists and was a bestseller. Some fifteen years later, Ms. Hekker’s husband of 40 years ran off with someone else, leaving her penniless. She fought back, penning another book called Disregard Last Book, refuting everything she had said before about the virtues of being a domestic doormat. Once again, it became a bestseller.

My longwinded point: sometimes our worst halves get the better of us and we write a piece of horseshit. My last blog post, for example. I had found myself driven to distraction by a script which I saw no future for. Yes, it was a clear case of self-pity. I had myself in a funk over giving literacy birth to a Frankenstein baby with severe defects. Well the pity party’s over, so Disregard Last Blog Entry…

What made me come to my senses? I tried to think of a script concept so flawed that the writer would have no choice but to abandon it. And I couldn’t! Consider this list:

· A comedy about Hitler – The Producers
· The story of a depressed Vietnam vet who shoots pimps – Taxi Driver
· A comedy about the Holocaust – Life is Beautiful
· A comedy about racism – Blazing Saddles
· A drama about two men who go on a wine-tasting weekend. Not a lot happens – Sideways
· Depressed unemployed men become strippers – The Full Monty
· A woman goes to meet her new in-laws and apart from someone losing a baby, nothing
much happens - Junebug
· Paedophilia on film – many, many Todd Solandz films
· Terrorists are hilarious! – Four Lions, but also one that got under the radar, American
Dreamz.

There are many, many more examples – that was off the top of my head. The point is that there is virtually no idea you can come up with that someone couldn’t write a successful film about. Gerard Butler is about to star in Machine Gun Preacher, the true story of a drug-dealing biker gang leader who found God and decided to take on the cause of Liberia’s child soldiers. Yes, really.

My point is – it’s not about what you write, it’s how you write it.

Is there anything you CAN'T write a good film about?

There was once a lady called Terry Martin Hekker who wrote a book all about how to be a happy housewife. It enraged feminists and was a bestseller. Some fifteen years later, Ms. Hekker’s husband of 40 years ran off with someone else, leaving her penniless. She fought back, penning another book called Disregard Last Book, refuting everything she had said before about the virtues of being a domestic doormat. Once again, it became a bestseller.

My longwinded point: sometimes our worst halves get the better of us and we write a piece of horseshit. My last blog post, for example. I had found myself driven to distraction by a script which I saw no future for. Yes, it was a clear case of self-pity. I had myself in a funk over giving literacy birth to a Frankenstein baby with severe defects. Well the pity party’s over, so Disregard Last Blog Entry…

What made me come to my senses? I tried to think of a script concept so flawed that the writer would have no choice but to abandon it. And I couldn’t! Consider this list:

· A comedy about Hitler – The Producers
· The story of a depressed Vietnam vet who shoots pimps – Taxi Driver
· A comedy about the Holocaust – Life is Beautiful
· A comedy about racism – Blazing Saddles
· A drama about two men who go on a wine-tasting weekend. Not a lot happens – Sideways
· Depressed unemployed men become strippers – The Full Monty
· A woman goes to meet her new in-laws and apart from someone losing a baby, nothing
much happens - Junebug
· Paedophilia on film – many, many Todd Solandz films
· Terrorists are hilarious! – Four Lions, but also one that got under the radar, American
Dreamz.

There are many, many more examples – that was off the top of my head. The point is that there is virtually no idea you can come up with that someone couldn’t write a successful film about. Gerard Butler is about to star in Machine Gun Preacher, the true story of a drug-dealing biker gang leader who found God and decided to take on the cause of Liberia’s child soldiers. Yes, really.

My point is – it’s not about what you write, it’s how you write it.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Can you make a silk purse out of a pig's ear?!

Sometimes you write a script and – after the golden haze of actually finishing something has worn off – you read it and think, “urgghh”.

The characters don’t work, or the dialogue is off? You can fix it. Lame ending? Ditto. But what if the concept is just off? What if it’s just not that good an idea to begin with?

Is it ever okay to stick a script in a drawer and abandon it? Or is it always possible/necessary to force yourself to rewrite it so that it’s better?

I’m in that very place right now, and my first answer is, you don’t know yet. You’re still hating the script, so do put it in a drawer for now until you have some perspective on it. Then in a few weeks, take it out and look at it.

However, and this is where I’m going to disagree with some writers, I do think it’s okay to toss a finished draft in the bin if it’s beyond help. And sometimes it is. It just wasn’t that good an idea for a story to start from, and no amount of tinkering is going to fix it. Or you’re not loving it, full stop. There was a good article to that effect in the PAGE Awards newsletter this month.

They say you’re going to write a lot of scripts before you write one that gets made. Maybe this is one of those scripts. Dump it, move on, and write something you can really get behind.

Can you make a silk purse out of a pig's ear?!

Sometimes you write a script and – after the golden haze of actually finishing something has worn off – you read it and think, “urgghh”.

The characters don’t work, or the dialogue is off? You can fix it. Lame ending? Ditto. But what if the concept is just off? What if it’s just not that good an idea to begin with?

Is it ever okay to stick a script in a drawer and abandon it? Or is it always possible/necessary to force yourself to rewrite it so that it’s better?

I’m in that very place right now, and my first answer is, you don’t know yet. You’re still hating the script, so do put it in a drawer for now until you have some perspective on it. Then in a few weeks, take it out and look at it.

However, and this is where I’m going to disagree with some writers, I do think it’s okay to toss a finished draft in the bin if it’s beyond help. And sometimes it is. It just wasn’t that good an idea for a story to start from, and no amount of tinkering is going to fix it. Or you’re not loving it, full stop. There was a good article to that effect in the PAGE Awards newsletter this month.

They say you’re going to write a lot of scripts before you write one that gets made. Maybe this is one of those scripts. Dump it, move on, and write something you can really get behind.

Monday, May 3, 2010

To conquer fear, you must... um, become fear....

I was watching Jonathan Ross' show on TV last week and American comedian Reginald D. Hunter was on. He was taking the piss out of that line from Batman Begins ("So does this mean that to conquer fat, you must become... fat?"). It was funny. And yes, that line from BB means nothing, when you look at it like that.

But conquering fear IS important. Fear is, after all, what stops us doing so many things. It's the little voice that makes years go by until you look back and see missed opportunities, timid decisions, situations we just opted, at some point, to settle for. This applies to just about every career I can think of, every life I can think of.

Including that of a screenwriter!  Now, I can't claim that this is the same for everyone, but the screenwriting-related things I have the fear for are: pitching (to anyone) and networking (I'm very hit or miss with this). I'm okay expressing my ideas in writing, but verbally, it's a different story. It doesn't help that I think faster than the capacity of human speech - and I talk pretty fast. 

So what's the answer? Well, it's fairly obvious that if you fear something, you probably need to go ahead and do that very thing. Just do it, as some adman for Nike said. Pitching is slightly easier as you can practice in advance in front of a camera (or family). To cope with networking, I recommend an excellent book called Good in a Room. As with pitching, this ultimately comes down to lots and lots of practice.  Go to lots of events and talk to lots of people. Eventually, you'll stop being a gibbering idiot.

Remember, to conquer fear, you.... just do it.

To conquer fear, you must... um, become fear....

I was watching Jonathan Ross' show on TV last week and American comedian Reginald D. Hunter was on. He was taking the piss out of that line from Batman Begins ("So does this mean that to conquer fat, you must become... fat?"). It was funny. And yes, that line from BB means nothing, when you look at it like that.

But conquering fear IS important. Fear is, after all, what stops us doing so many things. It's the little voice that makes years go by until you look back and see missed opportunities, timid decisions, situations we just opted, at some point, to settle for. This applies to just about every career I can think of, every life I can think of.

Including that of a screenwriter!  Now, I can't claim that this is the same for everyone, but the screenwriting-related things I have the fear for are: pitching (to anyone) and networking (I'm very hit or miss with this). I'm okay expressing my ideas in writing, but verbally, it's a different story. It doesn't help that I think faster than the capacity of human speech - and I talk pretty fast. 

So what's the answer? Well, it's fairly obvious that if you fear something, you probably need to go ahead and do that very thing. Just do it, as some adman for Nike said. Pitching is slightly easier as you can practice in advance in front of a camera (or family). To cope with networking, I recommend an excellent book called Good in a Room. As with pitching, this ultimately comes down to lots and lots of practice.  Go to lots of events and talk to lots of people. Eventually, you'll stop being a gibbering idiot.

Remember, to conquer fear, you.... just do it.