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Fun Joel's Screenwriting Blog


-- On Screenwriting and Related Topics

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Location: Los Angeles, CA

I moved from NYC to LA in October, 2003. And though I still think NYC is the greatest city in the world, I'm truly loving life here in the City of Angels. I'm a writer, reader, and occasional picture-taker.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005


It's too bad I'm not a Libra!

Lately, I've found my thoughts turning more and more towards a pursuit of balance. I've already mentioned that my new part time job threw my writing schedule into flux and caused me to try to find the right balance between the (unrelated to film) job, my freelance (related to film) work, and my own writing. I'm getting closer, but still working on it.

I'm sure I could benefit from more balance in my diet as well. And thankfully I'm seeing a very slow rise in my bank account's balance.

But the main balance that is at the forefront of my thoughts right now is an imbalance that is negatively affecting my writing. I've gotten somewhat back on track with the writing of Hell on Wheels, but it is still progressing slower than I'd like. And I think a big part of this is because of it's particular (sub)genre. As you may recall, it is a vampire western. Not a simple vampire flick, nor a straight ahead western. It's a film that requires balance between those two halves. I don't just want it to be a vampire film that happens to be set in the American West of the 1860s. Michael Lee and I designed an intricate plot that is directly tied to the era and locale in which it is set. I want both halves to be equally strong and appealing.

See, when you work in a hybrid of genres, or specifically in a hybrid genre (such as Romantic Comedy), there is really no reason to use the hybrid unless they each contribute equally. We've all heard how anyone aspiring to write a salable RomCom must make sure that it is both very romantic, and very funny. That whole balance thing again.

Okay, so the reason this is giving me problems right now is that while I want Hell on Wheels to have equally strong western and vampire elements, and I feel the outline did achieve that goal, my writing is not. While I've never written a vampire film before, I have written horror, and am pretty familiar with the vampire genre. What I have not done before is ever write anything set in a period other than the present. And though I've certainly watched my share of such films, I'm also no expert on them. Thus, while I have a decent handle on the conventions of the western genre, I find myself at a loss every time I'm dealing with any specific detail of life in the old west.

I've done quite a bit of research, but not necessarily enough on the details of life in that time. And I'm a semi-obsessive researcher. I find myself wondering what kind of money they used. Was it only coins, or did they use paper money? What did they carry such money in? A little pouch? Or was there some kind of wallet or purse? And such things are not merely irrelevant details. They all come into play while I'm writing, and I find myself stopping, or at least slowing, because I feel that without these aspects, my script is losing its balance between the genres. I feel my vamp elements grow more prominent due to a more realistic and detailed feel to them.

I try to push through them, and tell myself this is just a brain-dump draft that I can fix later. But I'm still having a hard time truly believing that. I feel like I'm just not prepared enough. Not really ready to be writing this. Am I just using this as a procrastinatory tool? Do I just need to watch a few solid westerns and pay attention to the details? Or do I really need to do more research before I go on? What is the right balance between these approaches?

In the meantime, I'm just trying to crash my way through, like the Aries ram I am.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

does it have to be Vampires per se? Going in we have a preconceived notion of what a vampire is and acts, but what about 'vampire-like' creatures, allowing you lattitude in their actions, which will surprise us?

3:58 PM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

The problem is not with the vampires, though you're right that it doesn't always have to be (I want it to be, in this case, and it makes sense to me). The problem is with the other half of the hybrid -- the Western stuff. Any questions I have with that stuff makes me hesitate.

4:46 PM  
Blogger Shawna said...

I would use generic terms to describe the details that you don't have exactly.

My first spec (which I still haven't gotten around to putting through another draft) was set in the 1860's in an Alaska gold mining community. Obviously, it required research to capture the details of life during that time. Not only that, part of the first act of my script was set in CHINA. Talk about not having a clue about a time/place!

What I did was use generic placeholders -- 'money' rather than 'coins' or 'paper'. Those details can be added later. The critical component is to continue to move forward with your writing. You can't let yourself be stopped wondering what the bar looked like.

Now, doing some research during writing is probably called for. Just don't let it stop your momentum.

6:34 PM  
Blogger The Awful Writer said...

Are you going for authentic western details, or fictional western details? If History Channel is any guide, the west was not really as interesting as the books and movies make it to be. Mostly just dirt and hard living.

9:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey Shawna, great tip..I tend to bust my pants bells (insert favorite euphamism for balls) researching to death something, when I could have just put in some generics and kept writing... thanks sweetie

11:52 PM  
Blogger Matt Reynolds said...

I feel your pain. I'm writing a contemporary screenplay set in Ireland and although I'm from the UK (England to be exact) I've never set foot in Ireland. Nothing as full on as a Western though.

I'm a fine one for giving advice that I rarely follow myself -- but from what I've read it's important to spend the time on research before you start writing. But if you find you have the story worked out, well then, just write it and worry about the details later.

Personally, I think research is luxury of the paid writer. When you're working on a spec it can be time consuming doing exhaustive research. It's definite weakness of mine, which is why I try to pick characters, settings, periods that are familiar to me and drawn from my own experience.

1:05 AM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Thanks for all the comments and tips, everybody!

Shawna -- I do just that pretty frequently as well. What I'm talking about here is more about the way I feel when I'm writing. When I come across the details that I'm not so sure of, I put in the place marker, but I still feel like I have less of a grasp on what I'm writing. So it's an emotional thing.

Awful -- I think what I'm going for is typical Western film material, but on the more realistic side of them. My film concept is based somewhat on fact (obviously, somewhat, due to the vampire content), so I'm aiming for style but against a realistic setting. Does that make sense?

Matt -- I love research actually, and did quite a bit before I got started on this script. I don't believe it is only a luxury for paid writers. It takes time, but little money, and thus is an absolutely necessary part of any screenplay. But I guess the research I did was more about the background, and less on some fo the details. Or alternatively, maybe I just didn't do enough to get all these details.

Anyway, I guess I'll need to find my balance between pressing ahead with the writing (and using placeholders), and researching more at the same time.

6:18 AM  
Blogger The Awful Writer said...

Hey I like that placeholder idea. I'm the sort that would stop everything to figure out a minute and relatively unimportant detail, and thus lose momentum. I'm going start using placeholders.

7:19 AM  

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