Friday, April 27, 2012

Your villain = your hero in Bizarro World

First of all, a great blog that I can’t believe I’m only finding now. Scott Myers wrote K-9 - an 1980s guilty pleasure of mine – and is also an instructor with the UCLA Extension programme. His blog Go Into The Story is here: and it’s well worth a look.

It’s the kind of content that sucks you in and suddenly two hours have passed and you’re still reading. Still, better this informative and intelligent site than the pure evil that is the Daily Mail and their stories of celebrities circling the plughole/kittens making faces.

I’m nearly finished with Script Frenzy and luckily I’ve nearly finished the script Last Girl Standing too. I’m one of those people who gets a physical pain if they do not complete a challenge so not finishing was not really an option. It was that or lie in the foetal position groaning.

The whole thing has inspired me – what if we could all write a new first draft EVERY MONTH? Or even every second month, and edit in between? Once you cut out procrastination and excuses, there are no limits! We can write six scripts a year! (They’ll be 120 pages long and full of brain vomit, but still).

Anyway. One of Scott Myer’s recent posts was about making sure to humanise your script’s nemesis, to make sure they’re well-rounded enough to keep the audience’s attention. I agree this is important. But what’s just as important is to make sure the protagonist and the nemesis are, in a way, two sides of the same coin.

For example, in Last Girl Standing my hero is a sleazy lawyer who’s prepared to marry a girl just to get his hands on 20 million dollars that she will inherit (unknown to her) once she gets married. He’s a real shit and the kind of guy who’d sell out his own grandmother. So it was important to have a nemesis who’s even more unpleasant. The nemesis has no conscience and no sense of humour, plus he takes himself seriously – none of which applies to the protagonist. He’s prepared to go even further and pull even lousier stunts than the hero to get his way.

Basically, he’s like a Bizarro World version of the hero – the worst example of where the lawyer could find himself if he doesn’t change his ways.

Like the Joker in the Dark Knight – what is he but the man Batman could become if he carries down a certain, darker path? Or to use a more real-world example, Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada is the woman Anne Hathaway’s character could morph into if she sells her soul and claws her way to the top of the industry.

The Nemesis is the character that the hero fears because they reflect their own faults and weaknesses. If you bear this in mind, you’ll end up with a flawed but well-rounded hero and a villain whose motivations we can understand if not identify with. And this is what makes a film – even a comedy - compelling, interesting and gripping.

That’s my tuppence worth – but what do you think? Should the villain be the hero’s dark mirror image or their polar opposite?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

How set pieces can save your script

I’m still writing at least 3 pages of script a day – it’s flowing along and doesn’t feel like a huge amount of effort. This is not so much because of my commitment or drive but because I had written a detailed outline in advance. This means you have a map. You know where you’re going so there are no plot hitches along the way. I highly recommend never leaving home without an outline.

The other thing that helps is that this is a script that comes with built-in set pieces. Dotted throughout are little scenes where the audience gets a chance to laugh and be awed. And no, it’s not an action movie, it’s a romcom.

But all scripts – at least in my opinion – need set pieces. These scenes don’t have to involve explosions or buildings collapsing. In my romcom, the set pieces so far involve a piece of bizarre behaviour in a restaurant, a silly accident on a construction site and a man wading out into a lake to rescue a vicious lapdog.

In a horror film, they would include a stalking or two and a couple of chase scenes, culminating in a bigger set piece where the hero faces the killer/monster/zombie.

It's probably exaggerated, but there's a story about producer Joel Silver insisting on a set piece every 11 pages in each of his action scripts. Still, maybe he had a point...

A movie I saw recently that used set pieces well was 21 Jump Street. The funniest one – and the least action-packed - was the bit early on where the two undercover cops are forced to do drugs in the middle of the school day. Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill were both brilliant in this sequence, and it helped that the script had foreshadowed this nicely a few scenes before where we saw a kid taking the same drug and his reactions to it. Strangely, the one set piece that didn’t work for me was the closing one, which you’d have thought would be the best (spoiler alert – the drug kingpin and the other bad guys crash the school prom). The writers just didn’t make enough of the prom setting and it wasn’t funny or dramatic enough.

In a lot of movies, the set pieces are also the trailer moments and often the bits you remember long after you’ve forgotten the rest of the film. For example,Casablanca is about transit papers. The good guys want them and the bad guys want to get their hands on them first. But transit papers are yawn-some. The parts we remember from Casablanca are actually things like Rick’s relationship with Ilse and their mouthwatering dialogue, the sleazy bar singing La Marseillaise in front of a bunch of Nazis and Claude Rain’s brilliantly devious Captain Renault saving the day at the end.  

Work on the plot, nurture the characters. But remember to build in some juicy set pieces!

I’ve also been plotting and planning re. my trip to L.A. Full disclosure: I know a fair few people I can look up over there but none of them are studio heads or big producers. So I’ll have to come up with a decent plan of action about who to contact, agent and producer-wise.

I had a thought the other day which was, why don’t I just contact some agents before I go and explain that I’ll be in Hollywood on such and such a day and can I buy them a coffee? Or even a decent lunch?

Has anyone tried this? And if so, did it work? Or is this hopelessly naive and Irish of me? Back to the Hollywood Directory til next time…

Monday, April 9, 2012

California dreamin'

California - or L.A. to be exact - has been on my mind even while I've been getting up each morning and going to my nine to five. I'm narrowing down my desired places to live in L.A., we've had some offers on the house in Dublin (although no serious ones yet) and I've been saving. Now I need to formulate a plan for what I'm going to do when I get there - more on this next post.

I'm still aiming to head Statewards this summer, it's only a question of which summer month...

Meanwhile, I've been taking part in Script Frenzy and so far I've completed 31 pages of script, at least some of which are hopefully usable. Actually I'm pretty happy with the pages so far, leading me to believe that there's something in this brain vomit stuff.

If you force yourself to write and not think, you end up coming up with solutions and ploughing past roadblocks. Also, I've really enjoyed just writing. We spend so much time as writers thinking things out and planning that actually sitting down and spilling onto the page is a real pleasure. As with all things like this - exercise, starting a new job and going on holiday - it's great once you get started.

So my motto going forward is twofold. First, write every single day, even if it's only three pages. And don't think, write.