Up-and-Coming Film and Television Creators Have Rare Opportunity to Personally Pitch Industry Experts in One-On-One Environment.
Studio City, Calif. –- For 17 years, the Biola Media Conference has been heralded as a premier event that gives entertainment industry professionals unique access to Hollywood leaders. This year, the conference introduces PITCHFEST to the schedule, which will provide attendees an exceptional face-to-face opportunity to individually pitch their stories and visions to industry leaders who can bring their projects to life.
In a forum reminiscent of speed dating, Pitchfest allows television and film creators to sit one-on-one with some of Hollywood’s top industry professionals to present their ideas. Creators are given a set amount of time to pitch their concepts, and to hear a response from the industry expert. After the bell rings, everyone moves to the next professional for another round of pitching.
Each participant will have the chance to pitch to a half dozen industry leaders in either the television or film track – all who have the unprecedented combination of experience, funding, networking and knowledge to take projects to completion.
Pitchfest attendees will be sitting across the table from industry luminaries and companies such as Downes Brothers Entertainment (Like Dandelion Dust, ChristianCinema.com), Lin Pictures (Sherlock Holmes, Gangster Squad), Mission Pictures (Seven Days in Utopia, Like Dandelion Dust, Bella), Brian Bird (Not Easily Broken, Touched By an Angel), Dean Batali (That 70’s Show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Leilani Downer (Growing Pains, A Different World), Owen Shiflett (Mad Men, AMC Network), and Susana Zepeda (Witness, 101 Dalmatians, The Truman Show), among others.
“We are thrilled with the addition of Pitchfest to the already impressive Biola Media Conference lineup,” explains Jack Hafer, Chairman of Biola’s Cinema & Media Arts department. “As a conference, we are humbled by the level of experts who have gathered to help lead and mentor the future of Hollywood. We believe this generation of storytellers has a desire to balance faith with art, and will undoubtedly change the landscape of entertainment. We hope the knowledge shared during Pitchfest will help guide our industry attendees to ‘FIND THEIR CREATIVE BREAKTHROUGHS.’”
Pitchfest is just one element of the 2012 Biola Media Conference, scheduled for Saturday, May 5 at the renowned CBS Studio Lot in Studio City, CA. With a stellar lineup of workshops and panel discussions hosted by industry leaders in film, television and digital media, Biola Media Conference already boasts a high caliber event of exceptional value. With the addition of the Pitchfest element, attendees now have the opportunity to discover the elements required to bring success to their ideas.
Pitchfest participants must be registered for the Biola Media Conference. A separate Pitchfest registration is required. Participation is limited and will be on a first-come, first-serve basis.
The Biola Media Conference attracts more than 600 industry attendees – making it the largest national event for people of faith working in the entertainment industry. It is known for its intimate and practical conversations with Hollywood leaders, and professional training and instruction from some of the most influential individuals in Film, Television, PR, Media Marketing, Management and Digital Media. Conference topics cover every aspect of media related careers, technologies, and ministries from the creative, to the financial, to the production process.
The Biola Media Conference is produced and sponsored by Biola University’s acclaimed Cinema and Media Arts Department. The event is also a member of the FrontGate Media group, the #1 culture-engaged media group in Christendom. Sponsorship opportunities are available HERE. Admission is $150 before April 26 and $180 at the door. Lunch and coffee bar are provided. For more information or to register online, visit Biola Media.
ABOUT BIOLA MEDIA CONFERENCE
In its 17th year, the Biola Media Conference exists to educate, inspire, and network media professionals while providing creative inspiration into the spiritual nature of any career in the media industry. The conference attracts participants who will benefit from direct interaction with acclaimed industry pros who are at the top of their craft. From CEOs to students, attendees secure valuable information, insight, and contacts that strengthen their character and their careers.
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For more information on Biola Media Conference, please contact:
Lori Lenz-Heiselman – FrontGate Media
Let’s talk format.
I was watching a panel discussion one day of some local yokels that happened to be independent filmmakers of various shapes and sizes. The question came to them about whether formatting was important in their scripts. One of them snickered and said, “In Hollywood, the trashcans are filled with properly formatted scripts…” and the room laughed with him. He went on to claim, “Write what you want.”
Well, he’s partially correct. Those garbage bins, also known as the “slush pile”, are filled with properly formatted scripts. But at the bottom of those bins, thrown out days, perhaps weeks earlier are the improperly formatted scripts.
We must be clear about one thing…script formatting was invented by Hollywood Producers, for Hollywood producers. There is so much packed into a script which tells the Producer how to break down a scene by character, props, locations, etc. The dialogue to description ratio allows them to guess-timate how many screen minutes will be taken up in a page. Typically 1 minute per page. So, Producers, understandably, are very picky about their script formats as our Producer Pal Ken Altman explained in his Top 10 Things Producers wish Writers Would Do article.
But they’re not usually the first ones we encounter. We generally have to pass through the Hollywood Reader’s omniscient and ever-watchful gaze first.
You see, the Hollywood readers pick up this new script and the first thing they do is look at the cover page. Do they know this writer? Because a William Goldman script carries ssssslightly more weight than an S. David Acuff script. Goldman goes to the top of the read list…Acuff goes to the top of the slush pile.
Second thing they do, they flip to the back. Does it fit in the 90 to 120 page range? Because they’ve got a lot of scripts to go through. So if they can skim a 160 pager off the top, that just makes their life all that easier.
Thirdly they flip quickly through. What is the white page to dark ink ratio? Is there plenty of space on the page or is this thing wall to wall words and description? There are a lot of frustrated novelists trying their hand at scriptwriting and as we’ve mentioned before, they are two different animals all together.
Fourth, they scan the formatting. Does it seem like in general this person knows what they’re doing. Is it a Courier 12 font or has this rogue writer gone all Helvetica 16 on them?
Lastly, they’ll bite in to the first 10 pages. What do your first 10 pages do for the reader? Does it hook them instantly? Any time someone reads one of my scripts I always give them the 10-page money back guarantee. If they’re not hooked by 10 pages, they can stop reading and are free to return the script to me and get all the money they didn’t pay me back. By page 10, the reader should not only have a good clue as to the main character but also the direction this story is going.
If it’s a comedy, they darn well better have laughed. If it’s an action film, something better have blown up or someone better have judo chopped someone’s clavicle.
The seasoned Hollywood reader knows this secret: If someone hasn’t taken the time to learn proper formatting technique, which is one of the simplest things to learn and implement within our craft, more than likely they haven’t paid attention to deeper formatting issues like story structure, character arcs, genre rules, etc. And so….slushpile.
You’ve got to be a little Rainman-ish about your script formats. ”Yeah, the Character name is DEF-initely 4.1 inches in from the left margin….DEF-initely.” And spell check! Poor grammar and spelling is a shortcut to the slushpile.
I wrote my first 3 scripts in Microsoft Word. It can be done. It’s more work, but you can’t let lack of tools be your excuse for not writing. As in, “If only I had the Ab&Back Plus 5000, I would work out every day.” Truth is…the Ab&Back Plus became an expensive clothes rack by the bed. I mean, if you can’t find the time for 30 sit ups in the day, put the credit card down…a fancy schmancy machine sold to you late night by chiselled gods and goddesses ain’t gonna help.
But if you’re serious about the screenwriting craft, by all means, go out and get Final Draft. Or buy a used copy on eBay. Spoiler Alert: Final Draft will NOT…and this is important..write your scripts for you. Often times in post-production circles, I’ll mention that with this new Final Cut Pro software, these tv shows and short films pretty much edit themselves. Har har har…laugh laugh laugh. Acuff you’re so funny, why are you out of your room?
Or in production circles, I’ll casually say that they could save themselves thousands of dollars of preproduction and time and shave off, like 30 crew members if they would just shoot on the Canon 5D. Cause Canon 5Ds, as we all know, pretty much make everything look exactly like a professional movie. No big deal. Laugh laugh laugh…har har har. Acuff you’re so funny, security please escort this man off the set please.
You get the point.
If you’re just interested in general “proper script formats” the quickest easiest is to Google it. You get some decent choices. I might also recommend this page from the Nicholls Screenwriting Competition which has this page of SCREENWRITER RESOURCES including a PDF showing you properly formatted script.
There are also dozens of screenwriting books available as you can see on THIS PAGE that lists Top 10 Books to help on your screenwriting journey. Some of the best of the best. The one I would trust the most on formatting is this one:
Yes, Syd Field has some good books on formatting, and there are others, and you can even pick up an online script and use that for a reference point, but remember that script formatting rules evolve and change through the years. What was “must do” 20 years ago is different. Used to be MORE and CONT’D were used at the bottom of each page where the scene carried on to the next page. Now, you can leave it off. Leave that for dialogue that straddles two pages.
There was a time when people wanted single sided scripts only. Now in our greener, more earth friendly studio environs, double-sided pages are more acceptable. Things like that change from year to year, so if you are looking at a screenplay as your formatting guide, make sure it is something VERY recent. 500 days of Summer recent. The Social Network recent. Also, certain scripts online are Word Documents, and others are PDFs. I prefer the PDFs because your MS Word may reformat the Word document in some crazy way, while PDFs are locked into however they were originally printed…usually from Final Draft.
It’s a good exercise sometime to look at a romantic comedy like “When Harry Met Sally” from the 80s versus the formatting and structure and pacing of a “Larry Crowne” to compare apples to apples.
So, in review:
1. Formatting is essential. So, be Rainman when it comes to formatting.
2. Spelling and grammar count.
3. Buy a book or Google some online resources to reference
4. Final Draft Scriptwriting Software has some assembly required
5. Ab&Back Plus is no replacement for some good ol’ fashioned stomach crunches.
Let’s write a movie!
Comes from the greek roots, “Dia-” which means “Two” and “logus” which means “locusts”. Two Locusts. Sitting there. Talking.
Let’s face the facts. The dialogue in your script has to do some heavy lifting. It’s got to communicate story, it’s got to inform on Character, it’s got to make us laugh, or cry, it’s got to draw us into the rhythm of a scene.
But there’s a negative side. Because it is all too easy to let the dialogue do ALL of the work in the scene. ALL of the heavy lifting, as it were. When that happens, what we have is called “Christian movies”:
Bob: “You’ve not been the same, Sarah, ever since you found out about my pornography problem and went to live with your mother who always hated me from early on and never understood that because I was an orphan growing up I just longed for intimacy but never knew how to fully achieve it with another person. Especially someone I met on a youth trip to Tijuana and married 2 years later when we found out we were accidentally pregnant. Sarah? I still love you.”
It may in fact be necessary for your audience to know every single piece of verbal plot pointage that was just vomited up on you in this long, but enlightening monologue. But those are things you’re going to have to sprinkle throughout your script. And most of it will never come out in dialogue.
Film, let’s not forget, is first and foremost a Show-don’t-tell medium. Show it. Don’t tell it. Lead us along visually. Just like that ancient dude whose name eludes me said about evangelism: ”Witness, and if necessary, use words.” Same point applies to your script. Your characters are saying VOLUMES through their actions. Let those actions talk….and if necesssary, use dialogue.
To be a scriptwriter you’ve got to be a life-long student of dialogue. The way in which two locusts talk to each other. Or people.
Your dialogue is linked directly to how well you know your characters. Have you studied them? Have you interviewed them? Do you know if they’re from the North or South or Guatemala? Do you know if they’re uber-Rich or ghetto? Do you know if they’re introverts or extroverts?
Take the simple question and answer dialogue between two people…
Man: How are you feeling?
Woman: Fine, I think. Actually, I’m afraid I might be pregnant.
…There are people that would talk exactly like that. If that suits your characters, then so be it. That’s perfect. But maybe not. Maybe they talk like this….
Man: Whaddup, B?
Woman: Fo shizzle, d-money! You about to be a baby daddy! What WHAAAAT?!?
Same exact conversation. Filtered through the mouths of two very different people.
Man: ‘Allo, Miss. ’Zere a problem, oy?
Woman nods and hands him a pregnancy test with a POSITIVE on it!
Same conversation again. Only you get a hint of an accent from the fellow. And the work of the woman’s dialogue was worked into an action instead. Sometimes words are not enough.
Man: What in bloody blue blazes in going on in that demented ugly skull of yours?
Woman: Would you shut the eff up and stop yelling! It’s bad for the BAY-BEEE!
Can you sense some emotional undertones in that one? Anger? The discourteous nature of their smack talk. Maybe they hate each others guts, maybe they love each other. Hard to say from just this interchange, but their dialogue speaks VOLUMES as to the type of character they are as well as their emotional status.
Your dialogue must be true to your character’s nature. We should be able to read on the page and get a different sense from one characters’ words to the other character’s words and speech patterns.
Your characters must COME ALIVE on the page! Fo shizzle!
Let’s face it…naming a script is hard work. I mean, haaaaaaaaard. Don’t believe me? Just look through the Hollywood Reporter’s In Production Listings section at all the projects called, “Untitled.” Of course you have to subscribe to Hollywood Reporter to see that section, which is why I haven’t seen that section. But I imagine that there has to be a handful of “Untitleds” nestled in amongst all the Marvel Reboots and Pixar films and Vampire movies because it is. so. difficult!
Naming your film is just as hard to do as naming a kid. And you KNOW how poorly that’s worked out. Just give any teacher a choice between having to call the class roll or spraying themselves with nutella and skydiving into a Tiger pit…of…Tigers that like nutella flavored…things…not sure where this is headed…
…the point issssss…..the point is, they choose the nutella.
“Napolean?” ”Here! G’aw!”
“Jefrognqua?” ”Here. I go by Froggy.”
“Braxxtyndle?” ”Here. I go by Xtynd.”
“Pernicious Alexanderinfuldorfer?” ”Here. I go by Sue.”
“Ahhhhhh, where’s my Nutellaaaaaaa…”
You’ve been warned. Naming your script, your darling beloved masterpiece, is no easy task.
Do you go ironic with your titling like the mob-movie “Goodfellas” or “American Beauty”? Do you interweave multilayered meaning and depth like “Shawshank Redemption” or “The Usual Suspects” or “The Smurfs”? Do you go for humor like “Stop! Or my Mom will shoot!” or “The 40 year old Virgin”? Or shadowy and obscure like, “Inception” and “Memento”?
These are the choices that drive a writer curr-RAZY!
But when it gets really fun is when writers have drained the last drop of creative juice from their oversized Starbucks mind mug and they just go with the blatantly obvious.
“Snakes on a Plane”
“Cowboys and Aliens”
“Friends with Benefits”
“Hobo with a Shotgun”
“Star Wars: Phantom Menace Where The Force is Not So Much A Mysterious Magic Thing Anymore As It Is Really a Blood Borne Pathogen More Akin to Lip Herpes Only Not Contagious Except Genetically And I Hope You Like C-SPaN cause then THIS movie is DEFINITELY for you! Die Jar jar!”
Okay, I quite possibly made the last one up cause I’m still bitter. But the rest are all SUPER-real titles. Visceral and vivid, their names lay it all out on the table. In fact, I’m glad we don’t name our kids like this or we’d have a lot more roll calls like:
“Snotty pucker wrinkle face?” “Here!”
“Bulbous Balloon Fatty Hog leg?” “Here!”
“Toxic Poopy Garbage Diaper?” “Here!”
That does not mean that those obvious-named kids aren’t well-behaved or adorable child geniuses. And having a simple, tell-all title doesn’t mean your film belongs in the slush pile either. They can actually be fun films.
In fact, what even got me thinking about all of this today was a Trailer I saw for “Machine Gun Preacher”:
I liked the trailer and movie title so much, I may go back and rename my three daughters. You know, Caitlyn, Alexis and Gooey Monkey Face.
Okay, so you’ve seen Captain America? You haven’t seen Captain America? Where we at? Doesn’t matter. Here’s the idea. Before Captain America is Captain America he’s scrawny Steve Rogers. He looks anemic and sickly. Pasty white and pale. That is your script before you infuse it with Drama.
Then he gets pumped with the magical German potion of scientific advancement and SPROING! He turns into a beefy super-soldier. That is your script AFTER you infuse it with Drama.
Remember those stories your dad used to tell you about walking to school in the snow uphill both ways in bare feet carrying his sick Uncle on a backpack he whittled out of thorn bushes? Me too! Our dads must have talked. But they knew something innately about building a good story. You know for a while I thought I would have to tell Dad’s stories cause mine seemed boring by comparison.
“You know kids, when my DAD was YOUR age…”
But then life happened and I got plenty of my own stories of tale and tragedy and woe. And more importantly, I learned how to infuse my stories with DRAMA.
There are many many ways to infuse your story with drama and we are going to be exploring some of those over the next few days. Because you’ve got to ramp up the conflict to raise the dramatic stakes so your audience will continue to be invested in your story.
The first way to increase the drama in your scene is to determine the goal of that scene. Watch how we ramp up the stakes in this scene:
Henry learns that his friend Jane is coming over.
Henry learns that his beloved Jane is back in town.
Henry learns that his former fiance is back…from the dead.
Henry learns that his hated ex-wife Jane is back in town to collect her half of the lottery ticket he’s just won.
Keep cranking down those stakes. There are some cliched ways to do that, but even though they are cliches they can still be used succesfully to increase drama. For example, add a “ticking timb bomb.” This does not have to be an actual bomb, but is a symbol for some sort of time decay in your story.
In “Run Lola Run” not only does Lola have to get across town to bring $100K to her boyfriend…she’s only got Tventy Minutens (or 20 minutes) to do so. This incessant tick tock will continually drive the pace of your story. In “Speed” they can’t let the bus go below 50 miles per hour or it blows up.
A variation of this theme is the “Race”. You have a competition between two individuals or groups trying to get the same thing. In “Star Wars” the Death Star was trying to blow up Yavin-4 while at the same time the Rebels were trying to blow up the death star. In “Indiana Jones” everyone was going for the Ark of the Covenant. It was a race against the Nazis.
This is actually an editing technique called cross-cutting. Within an action sequence you’re going back and forth between alternate action sequences building each one to its exciting conclusion. In “Return of the Jedi” you’ve got the battle on Endor between the Ewoks and the Imperial troops. You’ve got the Death Star battle inside going on between Luke and Darth Daddy. Then you’ve got a space battle going on with Lando and Fish face trying to nuke the Death Star.
Very exciting stuff.
But maybe you’re not building a Space Epic. How do you bring excitement and drama to a home scene with a wife at home. Well, it starts with her goal. What is her goal? To get out the door to get to work on time? Well, once you know the character’s goal…their path….then you know where to start throwing all your obstructions in their way. The Babysitter is late, the 4 year old hides the car keys. The phone rings and it’s the Sick Aunt that Mom never has time for and she’s at wit’s end and needs to talk. Now you’ve got a frazzled woman on the phone, juggling kids, now the babysitter is lost, so she’s going back and forth between two conversations and bribing the 4-year-old with chocolate for keys….and the dramatic tension is HIGH!
And maybe in the midst of all of that, the husband is supposed to tell her he forgot to book their family vacay in time and so they’ve lost their weekend cabin getaway next week.
It’s one complication after the next. This is your chance to play God with your people. Don’t make things too easy for them. Easy = boring. Boring = changing the channel. Even for something as simple as “Driving Miss Daisy” you’ve got stakes being raised. First of all, she’s an old old OLD woman. That makes ANY travel more difficult. Then she’s got to go into the deep south with an African American driver. Conflict. Conflict. Conflict.
So get out there and infuse those stories with drama! Stop telling your dad’s hard luck stories and start telling your own!
THE TRUTH ABOUT MAKE-BELIEVE
by André van Heerden
JESSEP You want answers?! KAFFEE I want the truth. JESSEP You can't handle the truth!
(dialogue excerpt from A Few Good Men)
In films, where just about everything is made up, how important is truth? How important is the difference between right and wrong? And if everything else in a film can be created and altered – then can our values be mutated too?
People watch movies to be entertained. Integral to a movie being entertaining is that it also share a deeper truth. For example, a joke without a point, or a meaning, falls flat because no one knows why it’s being told. Screenwriting guru, Robert McKee, notes in his book, Story, that “all fine films, novels and plays, through all shades of the comic and tragic, entertain when they give the audience a fresh model of life empowered with an affective meaning.”
But what is truth? And since every decade’s films reflect the culture in which they’re made, then surely too, values have changed as society has as well? The influential philosopher, Friedrich Nietzche, wrote in his book, The Genealogy that values are relative to every time and culture; that values are “created” by the “masters” in control of society; that Christian morality is nothing more than the weak seeking to make the strong feel guilty and requiring the “sublimation” of natural passions; and that we need to move beyond the notion of good and evil.
Such thoughts are based on moral relativism and on the premise that there are no such things as absolutes. One of my favorite political cartoons shows a lawyer defending his Viking clients to a jury in a courtroom. He eloquently argues, “Raping, pillaging, looting… Yes… but may I remind the court of my client’s UNIQUE cultural value system.”
Clearly, we all have an idea of what is right and wrong, even if we disagree where that knowledge may come from. Also, as author George Forell notes in Ethics of Decision, there is an obvious self-contradiction in the idea that there is no such thing as absolute truth. “On behalf of open-mindedness we are confronted by people with utterly closed minds who dogmatically assert the absolute truth that there is no absolute truth.”
Ironically, in today’s society it seems that the only thing you can actually label as “bad” is the so-called prejudiced belief that there is such a thing as “good and bad.” This makes a story-teller’s task extremely challenging. The role of all artists is to share meaning and insights into of all life. But how can a story share a great truth when the audience is offended by such a thing? Or is too jaded to care? Billy Mernit asked in Writing the Romantic Comedy, “Where’s the tension when sex doesn’t have to mean marriage, and happily ever after lasts until the lawyers get called?”
Truth is certainly under assault – and with it, great story-telling. After the US Supreme Court upheld the right for a woman to kill her unborn child in the Planned Parenthood vs Casey case, the Justices asserted that “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of the meaning of the universe and the mystery of life.”
With such “define your own reality” statements coming from the highest court in the land should we be surprised that traditional family values are now seen as backward; that sexual deviance is on the rise; and that school shootings have become common place? How can we expect order when there’s nothing to base it on? And should we be surprised by the current popularity of gruesome, sadistic horror films which glorify human torture and degradation? How can we expect truth or value from popular culture when society seems to disdain it?
Robert McKee writes: “The final cause for the decline of story runs very deep. Values, the positive/negative charges of life, are at the soul of our art. The writer shapes story around a perception of what’s worth living for, what’s worth dying for, what’s foolish to pursue, the meaning of justice, truth – the essential values. In decades past, writer and society more or less agreed on these questions, but more and more ours has become an age of moral and ethical cynicism, relativism, and subjectivism – a great confusion of values.”
The truth is: we need stories of value more than ever. Despite all the noise, pride and contempt that try to shout it down, truth is not a fad and it is not determined by public opinion. From the earliest Greek plays to Shakespeare to the classics of Hollywood, themes of great truths still hold sway. And if honored, truth still has the ability to entertain and the power to transform. As John 8:32 says, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
André van Heerden is the President of Film and TV production at Cloud Ten Pictures. He has worked in almost every aspect of film and video production for nearly 20 years. His very first documentary, done as a video thesis at Carleton University’s prestigious Journalism school, was sold to the National Film Board of Canada.
Most notably André directed the feature films, REVELATION, TRIBULATION, JUDGMENT and DECEIVED; wrote the features JUDGMENT and LEFT BEHIND: WORLD AT WAR; and produced the extremely popular LEFT BEHIND series of films as well as SAVING GOD with Ving Rhames. Most recently he wrote and directed the documentaries: Shadow Government, Dragons or Dinosaurs? and The 12 Biggest Lies with Kevin Sorbo. He lives in Ontario, Canada with his wife and three children.
For more information about Cloud Ten Pictures, call 1-888-684-5561 or visit www.cloudtenpictures.com
That’s what Mark Twain wrote, anyway. Presumably sober.
No, he’s not advocating we get our best ideas from inebriation and substance abuse. (Although one has to wonder about Charlie Kaufman and the eternal sunshine of his not so spotless mind – brilliant film by the way)
The idea of “Write Drunk, Edit Sober” is the same concept as the Right Brain Left Brain thinking. You’ve got the Left Brains that are all organized and mathematical and logic oriented and scheduled and systematic and stuff. A.k.a. the Sober side.
Then you’ve got the Right Brainsesss that are creative and free thinking and loose and unrestricted by rules and kinda hippy-like. A.k.a. the Drunk side. Each of us uses both sides of our brains, but we tend to favor one side or another.
Writing drunk means not limiting your story or characters in any way. Being as hopelessly creative as possible. Taking the lid off the box and showing us a story that we have never seen before in our lives. And by knowing your characters and listening to them, allowing them to take you wherever the story leads.
Sometimes this clashes with our Christianity, because we also have our own set of morality and rules that we have to live by. Biblical rules. Stay with me now. This next concept is pretty huge. But writing drunk also involves not imposing our own religious values on ALL of our characters and scripts. Not in the writing phase.
In the writing phase, just write. Explore. If the character curses, let him curse. If another character sleeps around, let them sleep around. Create characters who are true to themselves. Ghetto Gangsters that yell out: “Shucks Golly, I’m going to malign you!” is not true to any gangster in any ghetto on planet earth. So write true to the characters.
And if this doesn’t sound very Godly to you then just pick up the Old Testament sometime, open it randomly to any book, any chapter and start reading. As long as you didn’t land in the legal mirey depths of Leviticus or the genealogical dude begat dude labyrinth of Numbers…you probably land on some very colorful people leading some very colorful lives.
Okay, now after you’ve got a couple drafts of your script you need to sober up. You need to switch to your other brainsesss and take a new look at your characters. Start with language. The goal is not censorship…the goal is evolution. Evolve your words. And to do that, maybe take a page out of the Shakespeare handbook:
Away, you cut-purse rascal! you filthy bung, away! By this wine, I’ll thrust my knife in your mouldy chaps, an you play the saucy cuttle with me. Away, you bottle-ale rascal! you basket-hilt stale juggler, you!
2 Henry IV (2.4.120-22)
No one denies that this character is angry and saying some rude things to another character. It’s pretty clear without using the 5-cent swear words. The english language is an amazing tool. Think of all the films under the Hayes Code from the 40s through the 60s. The golden age of Hollywood.
We knew when Bogart was mad. We knew when Scarlett almost got raped. We experienced laughter, fear, love, hate…every single emotion we feel when we watch today’s movies only without the curse words. Without the love scenes. Without the gore.
Trust me, I’m not saying every one of our films has to be rated-G. I don’t agree with that. ”Crash” is a very powerful film in part because of its edginess and raw dialogue. I wouldn’t change a word. ”American History X” was one of the most powerful redemption stories on film. Some very tough scenes to watch. Wouldn’t change a thing.
So, again, I’m not saying cut everything out, but take another look and find new ways for your characters to express themselves, new ways to show a love scene. I mean, “Titanic” had one of the steamiest scenes ever with just a hand pressed up on a fogged car window.
“Jaws” had the scariest monster ever BECAUSE you didn’t see it for so long. And only glimpses when he did show up. Course that was because the huge clunky mechanical beast looked like “a floating terd” according to Spielberg if they showed too much of it, but he set the bar for many many creature features afterward. Less is more.
Know your audience. And your first audience is the filmmaker or studio you want to make your darling beloved script. If that is a faith-based audience, there’s going to be a zero tolerance attitude for cussing, nudity and to a lesser extent, violence. That’s changing, but for now if you’re going for that market, you need to evolve your script right out of an “R” rating.
But, in your first draft, let your characters talk however they want to. If you stop to fret over the F-bomb you just put on paper, you may lose the heat of the scene you’re writing. Besides this draft is for you and you alone. Stay in the writing moment and get your thoughts down on paper. Then, go back and edit once you’ve sobered up. So to speak.
Let’s write a movie!
Day 11. Somebody out there on the interwebs needs this one today.
And even though I don’t need it today, as in right this second, I’m bookmarking this link because every one of us comes to this crossroad. You know the one — where we have to decide if we’re continuing on with the dream or if we’re just going to lay it down cause stuff got too hard. Too overwhelming.
To start, here’s a clip from “League of Their Own” where Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) is about to lose his star player, Dotty (Geena Davis):
“If it was easy, everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great!”
That’s the Word of God for someone here today.
There’s a scene in “The African Queen” after their long, long journey down the river where they’ve had to resort to pulling the boat through the tall reeds to reach the mouth of the river. They’re battling leeches, they’re battling enemy soldiers, they’re battling the heat and exhaustion and with no end in sight to their circumstance, they can’t go an inch further and pass out on the boat’s deck. At that point the camera cranes up and we discover how close they were to their goal. Literally a few more feet of tall grass and they would have made it.
I think of that a lot. How many times do we give up because we lack the vision, we have no clue where the end is and sadly, we’re right upon on it. Right there! In the film, the rain begins to pour down which not only revives our two heroes, but lifts their boat in the swelling river and carries it the last few feet to their destination…Lake Victoria. If you haven’t seen the film, watch it, it’s a classic, or wait a couple years, I’m sure it’ll be remade with Ashton Kutcher and Anne Hathaway.
You’ve probably also seen this powerful scene from “Facing the Giants” because it’s been played in every church in North America so often, it’s almost earned canonization in the New Testament. But it still gets me because we all need a coach that is driving us harder, pushing us farther than we think is possible. Hopefully, you have that person in your life.
If we’re going to attain impossible things, we’ve got to develop a certain set of emotional musculature that simply will not allow us to quit. Have you got what it takes to be a scriptwriter? A filmmaker? A producer? It requires a certain amount of bravado. I’m talking Marines type of bravado. What’s that t-shirt they wear?
“Pain is just weakness leaving the body.”
It’s time for someone to get up and get moving again today! I’m serious…don’t make me cross the interwebs and kick your heiney. Just take a step. Then another step. And another.
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. With duck sauce.
Let’s write a movie!
There’s a natural progression to writing a script. To test out your idea in phases. To grow your story organically, as it were. You could dive right in and just start writing a 120 page script off of your brilliant logline but inevitably you spend a lot of time on dialogue and character interactions within a scene that may not even be needed in the end.
Worse, you may get to the middle of Act II and realize you need to revise something in Act I and suddenly 2 or 3 of your scenes are no longer needed. Scenes that have your best jokes and wittiest lines in them. Now you’re torn. You don’t want to kill your darling scene, but it doesn’t fit in the story.
All this can be avoided with the Beat Outline. Some people do this with 3×5 cards. Some people just write it like a list. But, the Beat Outline reduces every scene to a single sentence or two. Almost as if you’re writing a logline for each scene. In the 3×5 card system, every important plot point/note goes on it’s own card. That way, as you look over the progression of your story, if something doesn’t make sense, add a new notecard, or shuffle some scenes around. Use the whole floor or a wall as your timeline and build the story in front of you. Visually. It really helps.
Work and rework this outline until the Plot, the Narrative Throughput is solid. After that, it’s so much easier to go into each notecard as a specific scene and flesh it out with dialogue and movement into actual script form because you’ve got solid bone structure.
Here is a humorous short film called “405″ that made a huge splash some years back. Take a look at it and then we’ll dissect the Beat Outline for the film:
Filmmakers Bruce Branit and Jeremy Hunt provide this beat outline on their website:
- Interior airliner cockpit
- Pilots struggle with ailing plane. ”No good tower, I’ve gotta put her down, and I’ve gotta put her down now!”
- CUT TO: A guy drives along at freeway speed. He is contently in his own little world.
- Other cars begin to steer off the road to the shoulder around him. He vaguely notices but mostly feels that the freeway congestion is opening up for him.
- CUT TO: A large commercial airliner settles in on an approach path that will land it on the freeway. One engine of the plane is trailing smoke. Ahead a large section of the freeway seems to be clearing, making room for the plane. One car driven by our guy, however, remains in the center.
- The plane sweeps in behind the car. It gets closer and closer on its final approach. The gears descend toward the pavement and the plane rushes toward the speeding car.
- For a moment the guy continues on. Suddenly he catches sight of the looming plane in his mirror. He twists and turns in panic. Steps on the gas. He has no time to get out of the way!
- The plane touches down on its rear landing gear still closing on the single car. The fuselage slowly lowers. So far a perfect landing.
- The car tries to out run the plane. It has almost matched the plane’s speed over 120 miles per hour.
- The front gear touches down with a screech just feet behind the car. The plane hits the car squarely behind with it’s landing gear. The guy is thrust forward in acceleration.
- The gear breaks off lowering the nose of the plane onto the roof of the speeding car. The car is crushed under the plane’s weight, but manages to take the mass of the plane and serve as a front landing gear. The two vehicles now permanently tied together rocket down the freeway.
- Violent wrenching and deafening sounds. Our guy’s face is full of terror. Then he spots something ahead in the road and his eyes bulge even bigger.
- Directly ahead is a slow moving older model car.
- CUT TO: Inside we see and old woman barely able to see over the wheel driving.
- CUT TO: Our guy gasps. He tries to steer the car but the momentum of the plane just causes the wheels to slide along the same path right down the middle of the freeway. He honks his horn as the car/plane coupling grinds down the freeway toward the car.
- CUT TO: Inside the woman takes her eyes off the road to look in the mirror. “All right, already… I hear you, I hear you”
- CUT TO: Still the car/plane bears down. The guy winces in terror. Blaring on the horn.
- CUT TO: The old woman says. “Hold your horses, would you.”
- She takes her hand from the wheel and moves the right turn signal indicator on the steering column. Ever so slowly she moves her hand back to the wheel and begins to change lanes.
- CUT TO: The Plane/car, close on the older car at alarming rate it appears they may still collide.
- CUT TO: The old woman continues to drive when suddenly a whoosh of chaos passes her from behind. The Car and plane pass to her left. The rear landing gear straddle the old car. The jet wash blows into the car sending her blue hair and napkins flying about the interior.
- CUT TO: We see the car/plane continue down the freeway. Slower and slower until they finally come to a stop.
- CUT TO: The guy in the car pants for breath. Sweat pours from his forehead. He grips the wheel with a death grip. He stares forward unable to comprehend the magnitude of the events that have just occurred.
- As he sits there a car slowly rolls by his passenger side.
- He looks over from his daze in time to see the old woman sneering at him. They make quick eye contact then suddenly she thrusts her wrinkled hand up high out the window and flips him the bird!
- Back to dazed and confounded look on the guy as he watches her drive on, having never changed speed.
- FADE OUT
This happens to be a very visual story and only has 2 or 3 lines of dialogue in the whole thing so a lot more detail has been added for each point of action. But you clearly see that by the end of the Beat Outline, you can completely visualize the flow and progression of the story.
This begs the question, “well how many notecards will I end up with?” And to that we return to Scott Myers:
In years past, I used to teach that the average scene was 2 pages long. Since a typical script clocked in at 120 pages, then you could basically expect to see around 60 scenes in a script.
However, I think that has changed. I have no numbers or facts to bear this out, but it just feels to me like scenes are getting shorter – and as a result, there are more of them in contemporary movies. Perhaps between 75-90 scenes per script.
Today when I write, instead of keeping in mind a 2-page per average scene, I’m thinking 1-and-a-half pages per scene.
Your Beat Outline may vary with mine which may vary with someone else’s depending on if you’re outlining broad strokes of your plot or if you’re actually detailing each scene onto a notecard. Either way would be correct if it is helpful to you as you grow your story.
Spend some time on building your Beat Outline. Visit and re-visit it. Trust me when I say, 12 revisions of a Beat Outline is far, far easier to manage than even 2 revisions of a full script.
Let’s write a movie!
Welcome to Day 9!
If you have not heard of Syd Field, you need to. That’s Screenwriting 101. Besides, Syd Field is the Jesus Christ of Screenwriting. Seriously, he actually died and rose again for your writing sins: bad formatting, one dimensional characters, stilted dialogue, lack of narrative throughput, non-causal scene progression, lame first 10 pages, and fizzling out in Act II. These are the 7 deadly writing sins. But they can be forgiven.
The unpardonable sin, of course, is writing a script about Vampires or the End Times.
Anyway, you don’t know how many scripts I’ve read where I just wanted to send them a Syd Field Bible (“Screenplay: The Foundation of Screenwriting“) and tell them to get saved! I’m not here to steal Syd Field’s thunder at all, but I have boiled down his screen theology and would like to present that for your consideration.
Remember when we were talking about loglines and I said we would talk more about the four points you need before you begin writing your script? Yup! Okay, then, let’s dig in…
Syd Field’s – Four Point Plot Structure
Most, but not all screenplays, are broken down into 3 Acts.
1. ACT I – The first 20 to 30 pages of your script. If it’s a 90 page Comedy, Act 1 leans more toward the 20 count. For a 120 page Drama, it tends toward the 30 page count.
This Act establishes all the characters. It introduces the HERO who has a PROBLEM. Act I ends the moment HERO makes a decision about the PROBLEM.
For Example: Elliot is the runt in his single parented family. Meanwhile, some Extra Terrestrials land to pick some flowers and when they leave, one of them is left behind. The abandoned E.T. is befriended by Elliot and his brother and sister. Elliot utters the words: “I’m gonna keep him” (BOOM! Did you hear that? That’s the decision which signifies the end of Act I)
2. ACT II – The next 45 to 60 pages
Also known as the “Sea of Act II” because it’s a loooooong expanse to voyage across. It can be very traumatic if you haven’t tossed in enough elements in Act I to create the DRAMA needed to propel the narrative into Act III.
SIDE NOTE about Drama: Drama=Conflict and Conflict=Drama Conflict fuels the action of Act II.
Act II is also the section where the HERO tries everything in his/her power to fulfill the decision of Act I and all hell breaks loose to stop them. The end of Act II is a specific point called the LOW of LOWS. This is the absolute LOWEST point the HERO has faced. It appears the goal is unattainable and that ALL IS LOST!
For example, in the MATRIX, Neo hits his LOW of LOWS. He’s dead. Killed off by Agent Smith. Meanwhile, Morpheus’ ship is under attack by the machines as they rip into the hull and they have to ignite the ElectroMagnetic blast which will prove even more fatal (since he’s just mooooostly dead) since he’s plugged into the Matrix, which is generally considered a no-no.
What happens next in the LOW of LOWS is a turn of events that is sparked by the SEEDS of the SOLUTION which have been planted all along the way throughout the story. In Neo’s case, the seeds have been the idea that maybe he is The One. Maybe he is endowed with special powers because he is a Saviour for all humanity. Is he or isn’t he? All along through the film the audience has gone back and forth on this one. Finally…we realize the truth. He is. (BOOM! Hear that? That’s the sound of us the audience careening headlong into Act III!)
In E.T. the SEEDS of the SOLUTION which have been planted through the story is the fact that ET’s life force is linked to other things like Elliot and that flower that ET “healed”. So after ET dies, Elliot cries and everyone leaves to give him a moment and then as he walks out he sees the Flower, coming back to life and he KNOWS that ET is back! (BOOM! You guessed it! Act III!)
3. ACT III – 15 to 20 pages
In this Act the HERO has one more chance to reach his/her goal. Act III barrels along as the HERO attains this goal, or not. Once the GOAL has been attained (or not) the story is over…it would be tempting to keep on going, but resist the urge. End the story as soon as possible after the GOAL has been reached. Do not dip to black 7 times a la “Return of the King” and do not pass Go and do not collect $200. Just finish your script, a.k.a:
4. The DENOUMENT. (2 to 3 pages).
In DIE HARD 2, after the climax and the Airplane with the baddies is blown up, the Denoument is the 2 to 3 pages where Bruce Willis makes up with his wife, gets apologies from the skeptical authorities and his wife punches out the pesky reporter and they ride off into the sunset together….er….they ride off into the dark of night on the back of an emergency vehicle.
So, to recap:
ACT I >>>DECISION>>>ACT II>>>LOW OF LOWS>>>SEEDS OF SOLUTIONS>>>ACT III (Climax)>>>>DENOUMENT
This becomes the spine of your story. The stronger you make it, the better your narrative holds up. Take a little time to dissect some other films and figure out the 4 Point Plot Structure. Here are some choices below, but it’s best to pick a film that you’ve seen 5 or 10 times and you know backwards and forwards for this exercise.
Using Syd Field’s structure, map out some of the following films:
“Facing the Giants”
“Back to the Future”