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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.

Monday, September 19, 2005

A Night in Hell

I got Michael Lee's next batch of pages for Hell on Wheels on Wednesday night. This took us about half way through Act II. One interesting thing was an idea MLee came up with to make a certain action sequence more exciting. It was in Act I, but I think we'll end up finding a middle ground between the two versions of that scene (my original, and his altered) for the scene in Act I, and use it as a set-up for the scene that will lead us into the climax at the end of Act III.

So I read through his rewrites on my pages, then went through his new pages, writing in some thoughts and alterations, etc. Then we got together last night (Saturday) to discuss where things stood -- hence the "Night in Hell." It was a great learning experience and hopefully relatively productive. We discussed a lot of things, both minor and major.

For example, I noticed he and I had a few unique writing quirks, which was fun to discuss and work through. For example, though I'm not a total stickler for format, I do hate to see too many things CAPPED in the action element. For me, all I capitalize is the initial character intro (for speaking characters only), sound effects (but not "practical" sound, e.g. a scream), and camera movements (which I keep to a bare minimum, though I might write something such as "we GLIDE over the train tracks"). It reminded me of this post and the ensuing discussion in the comments, over at The Artful Writer.

In addition to our specific formatting quirks, we also had slightly different ways of writing dialogue and the like. Largely this stemmed from our disparate backgrounds -- MLee has been a writer/director while I am a pro script reader. This led to some interesting discussion, but overall I think we worked stuff out and learned some things about our thought processes.

So what did we figure out? Well, firstly, we realized that though we had done a pretty detailed outline, it still made sense to depart from it at times. We discussed one thing we hadn't thought about previously: which scene to use as our "mid-point" scene. Finding the most logical one suggested some shifting of what we already had planned or written. More importantly, we realized that an entire scene (or short sequence) we had in the outline was really unnecessary. Originally we had included it for one primary purpose (showing the gelling of the team of vampire fighters), but we subsequently realized that another scene served that purpose equally well, which allowed us to drop the second scene.

Some other points we discussed... One of the things we have been working on building up for some time now is (main character) Zane's motivation. While there was something there all along, I felt that it wasn't strong enough. It's something we've been working on. Michael came up with one idea, and I wasn't convinced I liked it, though I couldn't figure out if that was because of the motivating element itself, or just the way it was presented. But then we discussed finding a more personal way of expressing the same motivation, and I warmed to it somewhat. So I'm going to try to incorporate that a bit in my rewriting. I'm also trying to keep it to the Enneagram type we decided fit Zane's personality.

Another point I raised was something I've been talking about all along: making sure that both the Western and the Vampire elements are equally strong. I don't want this to just be a vampire story in a Western setting. I hate gimmicks, and while by its nature any genre hybrid will be somewhat gimmicky, it can transcend that if it truly melds the two. So I posed the following question to Michael Lee. If we removed the vampire element (and hypothetically changed it into some other western element like Indians or something), would the story be strong as a pure western? I posed it this way because I felt we definitely had some strong vampire elements, and I wanted to confirm that the western part was its equal.

He pointed out something that I hadn't consciously picked up, but I think it is correct. Our story structure almost works like a swinging pendulum. The first act primarily works to set up a unique western world, and subtly introduce some vamp stuff, so it is primarily on the western side of things. Then the first half of Act II swings us back the other way, towards more of the vampire stuff. The second half of the act swings back more towards western, but definitely begins to meld the two, as if they are colliding. And then Act III is truly an intertwining and collision of the two halves. And on the question of the western aspect itself, we are definitely creating a fresh world, and exposing an aspect of the old West that has not been really shown on screen before. But at the same time, we're certainly grounding it in the familiar conventions of the genre.

MLee similarly eased my anxiety over a few other elements that I wasn't sure if we handled in the best way possible. He explained why he thought they worked as we had them, and it seemed to make sense. So that's a good thing, and I guess it highlights one of the benefits to a collaboration! The bottom line is that while I'm not 100% convinced we'll hit our marks in this first draft, I do feel more confident that we're heading in the right direction with this.

So what's next? I'm going to aim to have my revision and the fresh pages done to get to Michael Lee by the end of next week (sometime on the weekend of October 1st). Though of course the trip to NYC could interfere (I do not own a laptop, which kind of sucks, but what can you do?), but hopefully I'll be able to stay on track (pun intended). My first step will be to revise and shorten the pages we have, and possibly also work in a few minor elements that we're going to need to push ahead due to the dropped scene. Then I will aim to write us through the end of Act II. We're moving along, and it's pretty exciting!

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Anonymous Norm said...

I love that you're tracking your progress on this cross-genre piece, Fun Joel.

I'm actually working on something very similar, and while I haven't sat right down and said, "No genre conventions!" my script is really neither of its two parts, which is the other way to make sure you're not writing one genre over the other, I guess.

I have made sure that the elements the two genres bring to the story are essential to the theme and the plot, so it isn't just a gimmick. But you really can't remove one or the other from my story and have it survive.

I hope it works.

Anyway, its great to see your perspective on this, and if you wanna compare notes sometime, let me know.

3:18 AM  
Blogger Scott the Reader said...

Joel, you didn't fly Jet Blue, did you?

10:26 PM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Hey Scott --

Thanks for asking. I actually got a call from a friend of mine yesterday asking the same thing. No, thankfully I flew Song out of LAX, though I was originally thinking about taking Jet Blue out of Burbank. Saved my butt, thank God. So I'm here in lovely NYC now, safe and sound, having fun, and drinking as much as possible!

To all of you, I will try to post SOMETHING tomorrow, if possible. So it won't be a whole week without another post!


10:57 PM  
Blogger Derek Rydall said...

I was just blog surfing and thought yours has some pretty cool screenwriting stuff!

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It's also the only place on the planet where writers and non-writers can learn how to become script consultants making up to 6-Figures a year.

Check it out.

1:35 AM  
Blogger Derek Rydall said...

Sorry, my post came out strange with the html code (which I'm new at)...

If you're interested, check out my site, where we have the highest quality information and services on SCRIPT CONSULTING, SCRIPT ANALYSIS, and SCRIPT COVERAGE.

Hope this works better.

Come and check it out if you get time :-)

1:37 AM  
Blogger Scott the Reader said...

Script Consultant Institute? Yikes.

That's all we need, more overpriced analysts without enough real-life reading experience.

5:09 AM  
Blogger Kid Sis said...

Hi Joel! I just read your script consultant page and saw you have an MA from New School...me, too! 2001!!!!! See, another reason to meet you in person.

7:09 AM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

You know, I'm debating deleting Derek's comments here, as I do with most spam. But for some reason I've decided not to. Suffice it to say that I do not, in any way, endorse his program(s). I also am not saying thy are bogus or anything. I know nothing about them. Caveat emptor. 'nuff said.

10:13 AM  
Blogger Derek Rydall said...

Hey Scott -- and Joel --

Derek Rydall here, the guy who seems to have stirred up a bit of a ruckus on a few blogs, talking about Script Consultant training. I certainly didn't mean to ruffle any feathers...and I wasn't 'spamming' you, Joel.

I left a rather long-winded response on Johnaugust.com if you want to check it out (under the 'reader' comments section), and also a small one on Scott's blog.

I also have a book coming out next month that might clear up some things. This is not a shameless plug, I just want to make sure people know what I'm talking about. It's called, "I Could've Written a Better Movie than that! How to Make 6-Figures as a script consultant -- even if you're not a screenwriter."

I know the subtitle part might piss off or scare us screenwriters. But actually, most script consultants at the top are not screenwriters. Linda Seger, Michael Hauge, Chris Vogler. Even Robert McKee, Syd Field, and many other 'gurus' haven't written a script in decades -- or at least sold one.

That's not a slight on them at all. They're actually all very talented and have a lot to offer.

But there is another niche of consultants growing, and that is the Expert Script Consultant. Those who have an expertise, like legal, medical, military, political, historical, law enforcement, etc -- and can help us scribes get the facts right.

Think about how many spec scripts are churned out for CSI, Alias, 24, West Wing, Commander & Chief, Law & Order, etc...and how many of them could read so much better if they had someone who knows something about that world take a look at them.

Know what I mean?

And I know alot of folks out there are wanting to be script consultants -- or already are trying it -- and they aren't qualified. In fact, a considerable majority of consultants, readers, and development execs don't really know how to read a script, analyze it, and give constructive feedback that doesn't make the writer want to slit his wrists with his script pages!

So I figure, why not provide some training! Every little bit helps. Teach people how to read, analyze, give feedback, etc. My intention is that the whole quality of script reading/developing will be raised -- and thus, the quality of writing and filmmaking.

Ambitious, I know.

Anyway, I wrote a whole lot more about it on the JohnAugust.com blog. It sorta hit a button, so I went off a bit. Apologies all around.

Feel free to send me any comments, suggestions, hate mail, etc...


I really do appreciate you folks creating these forums to dialogue.

Good luck and much success in all your screenwriting endeavors!

6:26 AM  

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