From our friend Skyler over at ScreenplayCoverage.com….
A producer asked me to put the word out that he’s searching for a script of this type, and has potential funding and distribution lined up, providing the script and package are right.
Feature length screenplay – It’s required that it be a female lead, early to mid 20s; coming of age, fish out of water. Examples would be similar to “Flashdance”, “Devil Wears Prada”, and “Coyote Ugly”. If you have something like this, please respond to this e-mail with some info about your script (logline and synopsis if you have it). I will forward all responses along.
Any other producers who would like to put a word out about a type of script you’re looking for, let me know and I can send a blast like this (no charge).
info [at] screenplaycoverage [dot] com
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.
# # #
For more information on Biola Media Conference, please contact:
Lori Lenz-Heiselman – FrontGate Media
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.
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!
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”
I know a silly man who has been working on a script for over 10 years. Oh, he’s left the project off and on to crank out some other stuff, but he keeps going back to that one idea. I believe he’s now into the 4th complete overhaul of the story. It’s exhausting just to hear him talk about it.
What’s his problem? The dude won’t research. He wants to sit in the confines of his stinky little home office and let his imagination run wild in an area that he has very little expertise in. And it’s not working.
“Write what you know!”
This is a phrase passed down from Cro-magnon Screenwriters thousands or millions of years ago. Probably Grog was talking to Thag about his idea for a script about Internet Piracy. But he didn’t know thing one about Internets or Piracy and Cave-Google was very limited at that point. That’s when Thag told him “Oog Woggy wog tatonka woogy” which we all know means “stick with what you know, kid.” And he did. We now have a gazillion cave drawings of Wooly Mammoth with arrows sticking out of them. Kinda like a tv with one channel.
“It’s Shooting Wooly Mammoth!”
“You mean Shooting Saber Toothed Tiger?”
“No, this is a spin-off series. Shooting Wooly Mammoth!”
“New Shooting Wooly Mammoth? Shut the front door! That Grog is unstoppable!”
If you ask me, Grog was kind of a one-trick pony. Sort of the Michael Bay of his time. But he was successful because he wrote what he knew.
As a screenwriter, we are painting a picture of a story on the reader’s mind. The less you know about that story world, the fewer color choices you have in your palette.
For example, say I wanted to write a police crime drama in Thailand, I could just sit down and start writing. I could probably take an interesting American police crime drama plot and make it all Thailand-y and stuff, but it’d be like painting with only primary colors. It would lack authenticity. For my characters to come alive, for the world to become 3-dimensional, I have to immerse myself in research. I’d have to research a specific city, talk to people on the Thai police force etc to be able to get the nuance of the setting, dialects and traditions so that it will inform the script.
Oh and one more thing, research for your Crime drama doesn’t mean watching CSI. CSI has done their homework. You go do your own research and find your own stories. Again, watching TV is NOT RESEARCH!
I know another scriptwriter who spent 2 years bartending in an Irish Pub. At the end of it, she decided she had enough material for a feature film script and wrote a very compelling story. Did she have to research much at that point? No. Because she had been steeped in it for a long time. She knew the characters because they were her actual friends. She knew their responses, their catchphrases, their achilles’ heels, what motivate and drove them…right down to the brand of cigarette they smoked and the shoes they wore.
A lot of times you will find that these type of scripts that you have lived out will “tend to write themselves” meaning the material flows magically from your fingertips because there was a literal progression of a narrative that already played itself out in front of you like a film. It’s more like you’re a court recorder at that point. Yes, you may need to combine a couple people into one character to streamline the plot. You may need to embellish a little here and there or re-order some events to fit more neatly into your dramatic retelling. But, the point is, your research has been 95% accomplished by writing what you know.
Again, if you don’t know about a particular subject, you’ve got to research the bejeebies out of it until it IS what you know. Tom Clancy is a novelist whose first book was “The Hunt for Red October”. Bazinga! How cool is that for an opening work? One thing he is known for, though, is his “dogged persistence and deep research.”
“You learn to write the same way you learn to play golf,” Clancy said. “You do it, and keep doing it until you get it right. A lot of people think something mystical happens to you, that maybe the muse kisses you on the ear. But writing isn’t divinely inspired – it’s hard work.”
In fact, he was SO well researched that after the book came out, Soviet Intelligence accused him of getting insider info from the CIA.
“That’s a lot of crap,” Clancy replied.
In fact, his basic sources were hundreds of books with dry titles like The World’s Missile Systems, Guide to the Soviet Navy and Combat Fleets of the World. Clancy also learned a great deal from a war game called “Harpoon”, which the Navy used as an instruction manual for ROTC cadets.
However, Clancy claims that most of his research involves talking endlessly to the types of people he wants to write about.
There’s a great article on Tom Clancy and The Hunt for Red October over at AMC.
Why am I telling you this? Because I am the silly man! I’m the screenwriter who is on overhaul #5 of a 10 year old story. Yes, I have completed 4 other feature film scripts and had one of them, Masquerade, actually produced. But I haven’t given up on that one script. It’s due for another draft. This time an informed draft. A well researched draft. Because Lord knows this world could use a good, laugh-til-milk-comes-out-your-nose burgle comedy.
Let’s write a movie!
POPULAR LOG LINES QUIZ
In 1984, the USSR’s best submarine captain in their newest sub violates orders and heads for the USA. Is he trying to defect, or to start a war?
HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER
Bob Munro and his dysfunctional family rent an RV for a road trip to the Colorado Rockies, where they ultimately have to contend with a bizarre community of campers
A group of Earth children help a stranded alien botanist return home.
ET: THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL
Two men who keep an eye on aliens in New York City must try to save the world after the aliens threaten to blow it up.
MEN IN BLACK
A best man stays on as a houseguest with the newlyweds, much to the couple’s annoyance.
YOU, ME AND DUPREE
The cross-country adventures of two good-hearted but incredibly stupid friends
DUMB AND DUMBER
An ambitious ex-con and his ten accomplices plan to rob three Las Vegas casinos simultaneously.
A workaholic architect finds a universal remote that allows him to fast-forward and rewind to different parts of his life. Complications arise when the remote starts to overrule his choices.
A dysfunctional family determined to get their young daughter into the finals of a beauty pageant take a cross-country trip in their VW bus.
LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE
When a regular guy dumps a superhero because of her neediness, she uses her powers to make his life a living hell.
MY SUPER EX-GIRLFRIEND
Berated all his life by those around him, a Friar follows his dream and dons a mask to moonlight as a “Luchador” (wrestler)
On New Year’s Eve, a luxury ocean liner capsizes after being swamped by a rogue wave. The survivors are left to fight for survival as they attempt to escape the sinking ship.
How’d you do?
Writer’s block…an original Wired4Film Haiku:
“Oh curse you blank page.
Blankety Blankety page.
Who laughs now? I type.”
Whew! And like that, I’m writing.
How do you overcome Writer’s block? That blank white page can be quite a bully can’t it? I mean, for reals, stop you in the hallway, sock you in the gut, pick you up by your ankles and shake you til your milk money rattles on the floor and your brains rattle in your head type bully.
It doesn’t even matter if it’s a page of notebook paper, Microsoft Word or Final Draft 7. A blank page is a blankety blank page. Pardon my french.
Wanna know a secret? A lot of times we feel we have to have the Ernest Hemingway pulitzer prize worthy sentence to counter-act the paralyzing whiteness of the page. As if the screen will reject anything less, ejecting your words right off the monitor because they’re too weak to cling to the mighty mighty page.
Not true. Just type. Just start typing. You’ll see. They stick.
It’s called priming the pump. And it doesn’t necessarily need to have anything to do with your story or script. Just get out words on paper. Describe your favorite meal. Or imagine you’re on a battleship at sea, what do you see, see? Pause a movie on a scene and describe in detail the moment. Conduct a fake interview with your favorite movie character. Or one of your own film characters. In a pinch, write a haiku.
Remember this saying?
“Happiness is like a butterfly. The more you chase it, the more it eludes you. But if you sit quietly and turn your attention to other things, it will come and softly light upon your shoulder.”
Creativity, however is not a butterfly. Creativity is a milk cow. Bring it in from the pasture, put it in a stall, get your stool and bucket, warm up your hands and start squeezing. When the milk stops flowing, you’re done. Go away and come back later? More milk has magically built up again.
Now, I’m no farmer. Milk a cow at 4:30 in the morning? Those things would be dancing around the yard with their legs crossed about to erupt like Mount St. Bordon before I got to them at 10:30a. But thanks to Google, I feel like I’ve learned some things today. For example, do you know the first rule of milking a cow? Well the first unstated rule is actually to make sure you can distinguish between a cow and a bull. Otherwise, AWK-ward. But the second first rule of milking a cow? Milk at the same time daily.
The cow will begin to anticipate and produce on a schedule. You may say that your creative cow doesn’t respond well to a schedule. Yes it does. Oh yes it does. As much as we don’t like the discipline of a regular schedule, our creative cow actually performs better if it’s on a routine. Some of the best and most prolific writers I know have the discipline of writing everyday at a specific time.
So stop waiting for creativity to come land softly on your shoulder and go out, grab that cow, and bring it home to milk it. Milk it regular, milk it systematically, milk it gently. If you’ve never been kicked in the head by a creative cow, it hurts. Trust me.
Let’s write a movie!
There’s a huge reservoir of creativity in the heavenlies just waiting to be tapped into.
You’re in L.A. running an errand. You’re downtown in one of the big buildings, possibly to deliver your darling beloved script to a Reader who is a friend of a friend of an aunt’s second cousin twice removed. You step into the elevator to ride up to the top. The door’s about to close when you hear, “Hold the elevator!” So you do.
Low and behold, who should step into your world all of a sudden but J.J. Abrams. Or Tom Hanks or Jerry Bruckheimer or Brian Grazer or The Ralph Winter. (Those are all big-time Hollywood Producers whose names you should at least recognize, btdubs…and if it’s The Ralph Winter, well he actually, physically glows like Xanadu so you have to shield your eyes a bit).
Anyway, you hold the elevator, they step inside very grateful. As they wrap up their phone call, you hear them complaining about the “same old tired, worn out stories” from the same “tired, worn out studio hacks” and how they wish they could find a darling little script to Produce. After they hang up, they notice the script you’re clutching in your sweaty palms. Then the second miracle happens.
“What’s your script about?” they ask, turning toward you, generally interested.
Based on the speed of the elevator and frequency of the stops. You realize you’ve got less than 60 seconds. 60 seconds to communicate your darling beloved to a perfect stranger. 60 seconds to win them over.
This is called the elevator pitch. And every writer should have one for their script. If someone asks what your story is about, you should be able to push the play button on your iBrain and spew 60 seconds of verbally interesting wonderfulness that gives a very clear picture of your story and makes the person want to know more.
If you’ve finished your script before you have a decent elevator pitch, then you’re writing backwards. Because every script begins with a pitch that we call a Logline. A Logline is 2 or 3 sentences long or less and answers 3 vital pieces of information.
1. Who is your main character?
2. What is the problem they face?
3. What are the dramatic stakes?
Interestingly enough, these three things you HAVE to know before you start writing your script. More on that later, but these are the 3 story anchors. For example, try this on for size:
A boy bonds with an extraterrestrial who’s been stranded on earth; the boy defies the adults to help the alien contact his mothership so he can go home.
That’s the logline for E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. It’s also kinda the logline for Super 8, but I digress. Let’s look again at our questions:
1. Who is the main character? A boy (Elliot)
2. What is the problem they face? Found an alien that can’t get home, hunted by Adults
3. What are the dramatic stakes? Get the Alien home before the Adults close in
Loglines are a screenwriter’s necessity. They’re a great exercise and they keep you narratively nimble. It’s a good idea to jot 2 or 3 of them down every day. As a class exercise, I would always have my students come up with 20 or 30 loglines.
It’s an interesting exercise because most of us can rattle off 8 to 10 ideas that we’ve been thinking of for years. But you get past 10 and you start having to dig deeper. Past 20 and you’re straining brain muscles you haven’t strained in YEARS.
Back to the students, what I also found was that the first 5 or 10 loglines were just lame rehashes of whatever top 10 films were in the box office at the time. They were all about Vampires, Gangsters, Superheros, Serial Killers, Zombies…every single writing cliche you could find. But the further down the list I got, the more personal and interesting their stories became.
Professionals talk about cranking out 100 loglines just to get to maybe one decent one. As you look over your loglines, you may find that a couple of them have similar themes and on their own, they may only represent half a good idea, but by combining two of your loglines, you come up with a really good story idea.
Now that we’ve gotten through our first week of Screenwriting in August, I think it’s time for your first quiz. It’s a logline quiz. Identify the following films by their loglines. No cheating, keep your eyes on your own paper, and no Googling! (Answers to follow tomorrow!)
POPULAR LOG LINES QUIZ
__________In 1984, the USSR’s best submarine captain in their newest sub violates orders and heads for the USA. Is he trying to defect, or to start a war?
__________Bob Munro and his dysfunctional family rent an RV for a road trip to the Colorado Rockies, where they ultimately have to contend with a bizarre community of campers
__________A group of Earth children help a stranded alien botanist return home.
__________Two men who keep an eye on aliens in New York City must try to save the world after the aliens threaten to blow it up.
__________A best man stays on as a houseguest with the newlyweds, much to the couple’s annoyance.
__________The cross-country adventures of two good-hearted but incredibly stupid friends
__________An ambitious ex-con and his ten accomplices plan to rob three Las Vegas casinos simultaneously.
__________A workaholic architect finds a universal remote that allows him to fast-forward and rewind to different parts of his life. Complications arise when the remote starts to overrule his choices.
__________A dysfunctional family determined to get their young daughter into the finals of a beauty pageant take a cross-country trip in their VW bus.
__________When a regular guy dumps a superhero because of her neediness, she uses her powers to make his life a living hell,
__________Berated all his life by those around him, a Friar follows his dream and dons a mask to moonlight as a “Luchador” (wrestler)
__________On New Year’s Eve, a luxury ocean liner capsizes after being swamped by a rogue wave. The survivors are left to fight for survival as they attempt to escape the sinking ship.
Answers are HERE.