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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, January 31, 2006

Changing Done Deal

I am sad to announce that today, during my daily perusal of the Done Deal board on Script Sales, I came upon the following announcement:

Over the next couple of weeks we will be making some substantial changes to the Done Deal website. We'll be moving various content over to our sister site, Done Deal Pro, in an effort to consolidate all of our info under one banner. Running both sites over this past year has been a challenge. Our time is becoming more limited, and we want to make sure we offer the best information we can -- as successfully as possible -- in one place.

Exactly how will this affect our current Done Deal visitors? First, we will soon discontinue running Done Deal at the ScriptSales.com address. We'll be moving certain sections (the links page, Hollywhooped, the Examples section, our interviews, etc.) over to Done Deal Pro, where they will be offered for free, along with the free contest listings and Job Board already there.

In addition, our Done Deal message board will be moved over to replace the current Done Deal Pro forums. We will keep our message board free for everyone to continue to enjoy.

The rest of the data on Done Deal Pro will be for subscribers only.

So basically, one of my favorite free screenwriting resources on the web will be going pay. Of course, I am not complaining about their decision; I'm sure it takes a tremendous amount of effort and time to keep a generally up to date listing of script, book, and pitch sales. So they are certainly entitled to be compensated for it. And who knows? I may shell out the $24 a year they will be asking (though I'll have to compare it to the prices of competing services).

What I am doing is lamenting the loss of this free service, warranted as that loss of "free-ness" may be. Anyone know of any other similar free resources out there? HollywoodLitSales seems to be way out of date on their database (or maybe I'm just not following it clearly). Anyone got others they like?

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Monday, January 30, 2006

Q & A: Reading

As promised, here's the first of two Q & A posts I have to write. Dan's question(s):

Hope you're well. I was wondering, how easy is it for you to take in an entire screenplay in one readthrough? Presumably that's a skill that has to be mastered in your job, but is it the writer's responsibility to make a screenplay 'absorbable' in one sitting?

Second, a question about subplots. Most films have them, but do you have any tips on avoiding the 'this happens and then that happens and then..." syndrome (i.e. episodic instead of causal writing).
Let's take these one thing at a time. First of all, I am well, thanks! At least in comparison to the last few days! ;-)

But regarding your first question about writing an "absorbable" script, I'm not sure I 100% get your question. What I mean is this. I (and I presume nearly every other script reader in Hollywood) virtually never read a script twice (for work, that is, not for pleasure). So it is hard for me to say if I would get more from it the second time around.

That being said, I think that most scripts I read I am able to get the salient points from on my single readthrough. I definitely need to get the entire plot, since I have to summarize the whole thing. I get the dialogue, characters, pacing, etc, because those are things that one should get on the initial read. The same way that a viewer will get these things the first time they watch the film.

Do I think I get every single subtlety and detail? No, I'm sure I don't. At least not every time. But I think those are things that people don't necessarily get on their first viewing of the film either. I'd like to think that (since I have a trained eye, read more scripts than most people see movies, and have developed an expertise in this field) I see more of this than casual viewers will see on that viewing, but still I'm sure I don't catch it all.

However, it is infrequent, if ever, that a script should rely so heavily on those subtleties that by missing them I may misjudge the value of the property. Much more likely is that I'll see a very good script, and simply not realize how good it really is. Make sense?

So is it something you should worry about? Making a script absorbable in one sitting? I'd say no. First of all, you should focus much more on the other technical elements, and if you get them all into top shape (a script that fires on all cylinders), everything else will fall into place. Secondly, I'm not even sure if there is a way to ensure that your screenplay will be more absorbable in a single sitting. So basically, I'd not worry much about it.

Now, regarding your second question, I think you somewhat answer it yourself when you mention "causal writing." What prevents a screenplay from having an "episodic" feel is when there is something pushing the story along from scene to scene. If you have a strong dramatic throughline, you shouldn't have much problem with a film feeling episodic.

By the way, I'm not sure I see why episodic writing would be any greater danger in a film with subplots than without. Subplots should not simply be secondary storylines. (I'm not much of a TV guy, but I think that a so-called "B-story" in a TV episode may be somewhat different than a subplot in a film, since I believe they may be less connected to the "A-story," so I'm not referring to those.) The best subplots are tied closely to the main storyline in two ways. They should explore the same thematic material from a different angle, first off. Furthermore, in better films they will intertwine and play off of, or affect, the progression of the main storyline as well. In other words, the subplots and main plot should almost converse with each other throughout the screenplay.

Bottom line? Remember that there is a reason they are called subplots and not secondary plots.

Thanks for the questions, and hope that helps!

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Sunday, January 29, 2006


And by catsup, I of course really mean ketchup, which is just my oh-so-clever way of saying catch-up. Which, of course, is what this post is designed to do for you. And me. Or whatever. Basically, I just wanted to do a brief post to catch you up on things.

I've been ill the last few days (since Wednesday night), and let's just leave it at that, without the details. But that has precluded me from doing, well, much of anything really. Been really exhausted. But I think/hope/pray that I'm basically over it now. And thus, I hope to start posting more regularly again sometime later today (though I'm heading out to a BBQ now).

I have a few emails Q&A's to post here, and those will probably come first. I also hope to soon get to the long-overdue and much needed cleaning/updating of my blogroll, so look for that, hopefully, by the end of the week.

For those who wonder, things are generally status quo with that job I interviewed for. No word yet, but still in the running.

And no real progress on Hell on Wheels, since I've been ill. Again, this week, hopefully. I think I need to really set some big goals for this week, to get my butt in gear.

Okay, so that's that. Now back to blog silence until later. I'm off to the charred flesh. MMmmmm. :-)

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

DVD Review: Million Dollar Screenwriting

This review is long overdue. Back in November, at the Expo, Chris Soth was kind enough to give me a copy of his 4-DVD set, Million Dollar Screenwriting: The Mini-Movie Method. I watched the whole 4:40 set over the next week, but never got around to posting a review until now. Sorry Chris!

Now truth be told, if I didn't like it, I wouldn't be telling you. Chris is a nice guy, and I wouldn't want to publicize that it was bad. But I also wouldn't lie to you. I'd just have not posted anything at all. So you can trust my comments here!

The set is actually a taped and edited version of one of his seminars, and packs a lot of info into the 4 plus hours. Let's talk first about the content.

This was my first introduction to the 8-sequence technique (or 8 mini-movies, as Chris calls them). I'd heard about it, but hadn't read or seen anything about it yet. And I'll be honest. It ain't as groundbreaking as I expected it to be. In reality, it is not much different than 3-act structure meets Hero's journey, with a healthy dose of pacing thrown in. That isn't, however, to say that it is bunk or anything. I think the method can be helpful both to those who are a bit more experienced, as well as more beginner types. I'm just saying that it isn't as original a concept as I expected. But why does it need to be? If it works for you, use it.

That being said, let's look at the DVD itself. As I understand it, this has been condensed down from a longer, two-day seminar that Chris gives. On the one hand, I thought that this was more than comprehensive enough -- what would be inserted in the rest of the seminar? But then I thought more about it, and I know that one of the things that is left off the DVD is looking at examples from actual films, scanning them via the Mini-Movie Method. I can see how this might be an extremely helpful aspect.

Learning something in abstract is never as effective as seeing it in concrete terms. Among other things that I do, I teach LSAT and GMAT prep courses. And its funny. When I took my LSATs (didn't end up going to law school though I got in and was offered a partial scholarship, and don't regret the decision not to go in the least), I did not take a course. I studied on my own, thinking that all a course offered was enforcement of the studying, and I knew I would be able to study on my own. Now that I teach it, however, I see that I didn't get the techniques as much as I would have if I had taken a class. I could have done even better than I did when I just prepped on my own. (Not that it mattered in the long run anyway!)

The point is, you just learn things better when they are taught to you, and when you have a good instructor who can illustrate points in different ways. So is Chris' full seminar worth it? I don't know, but I'd bet it is better than simply watching the DVDs, as comprehensive as they are. So keep that in mind.

To me the best, and also perhaps the most potentially worrisome, of the 4 DVDs is disc III, in which Chris applies the techniques of the Mini-Movie Method to 10 common genres. I found this interesting because it showed a fresh side to the 8-sequence structure, allowing us to see a bit of diversity within the paradigm. At the same time, I can see less experienced individuals following this as too formulaic a method. Of course, this is the major criticism of any work on screenplay structure, going all the way back to good old Syd Field. So this isn't a major concern, though with the added detail, it goes further than Field, for example, did.

Bottom line, I think this DVD set is good, interesting, and enlightening. Might not be good for absolute beginners, but generally a good technique to at least familiarize yourself with. And this is a good DVD set to learn it from.

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Monday, January 23, 2006

Drive-In Memories

In reading and following the various responses to my meme (or questionnaire, for those of you who object to the term), I found it interesting that there were a few common responses. Probably the most obvious was listing Stephen King as a favorite author. I never realized truly how many people love him so much that they'd list him among their top three responses. More predictably, Star Wars was among the most common films listed as "earliest film-related memory."

But one common response, specifically, made me jealous, and got me thinking about another memory I wanted to share, since I find it amusing. A number of people, not much different in age from myself, had early memories of going to a drive-in to watch a movie (typically with parents). I have never been to one, and always wished I had. (On a side note, I think there is a drive-in somewhere around LA now, isn't there? Let me know if anyone wants to make a night of it sometime.)

Still, though I never attended a film at a drive-in, I still have an early drive-in memory. When I was about 3 or 4 years old, my family moved to Livingston, NJ. Our house was on a hill, and if you walked up to the top of the block, you were even higher on the hill, from which you could see into the distance for at least a few miles.

Not that far away, I believe in the next town over (East Hanover), there was a drive-in on Route 10. Years later it became a place you brought your cars to get them inspected, but for many years it was operational as a drive-in movie theater. And as "luck" would have it, the screen faced towards my home and that hill.

Now clearly it was too distant an object to ever make out any details on the screen whatsoever. But still, against the dark of the night sky, a movie playing on that screen certainly stood out and you could sense some kind of movement.

We lived in that house until I was 12 1/2, so I'm not sure when this memory comes from, but I'd guess it came closer to the end of my time there. I'd guess when I was about 11 or so. But I have distinct memories of climbing the hill to the top of the block and sitting down on the sidewalk to watch that drive-in movie screen. Of course, in my pubescent (or soon-to-be-pubescent) mind, I convinced myself of the impossible. Not only could I see the movie screen, but I was certain those were boobs (as I probably referred to them then) from an illicit (to me) R-rated movie. I'd already seen some issues of Playboy by then (the first memorably featuring shots of Bo Derek taken from 10), but it wasn't until some years later, as a babysitter, that I got to see my first R-rated movie (albeit on cable TV). So this was a silly thrill.

Maybe it is memories like this that add to the dedication one feels to the entire world of movies. This added magic and mystique. I don't have stories to tell like this about too many other media (ok, I've got a lot of music-related memories and stories, but the music business is way too scummy for me, but that's a post for a different time). Regardless, it is an entertaining memory for me. Anyone have similar memories of their own?

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Friday, January 20, 2006

Subtext: Sex

One thing we writer types like to talk about is the need to write dialogue with subtext, instead of the opposite: on-the-nose dialogue.

One of my favorite definitions of subtext (can't remember who said it, so go ahead and chime in on this) had something to do with a guy telling a girl he likes her shoes, but really meaning, "will you sleep with me?"

Still, I think visual scenes can also effectively feature subtext. And staying with the shoes = sex thing, I'd like to highlight two scenes that effectively delivered sex on a somewhat subtextual level (both times played for laughs, of course).

First, the absolute classic. A somewhat forgotten, but absolutely wonderful period romantic comedy is 1963's Tom Jones. Written by John Osborne, based on Henry Fielding's novel, and directed by Tony Richardson, it won Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Director, and Music Score Oscars.

In one of the most famous and hilarious scenes from the film, Tom finds himself at a country inn, dining with a bawdy wench (I've always loved that phrase, along with "brazen strumpet"), ample bosom straining against her overgarment (let's see what this post does for my Google searches). He is no stranger to sex, and many would see it as his sole driving force in the film. (Others might see it as the primary driving force in the world overall, but that's not a discussion for here and now!) They sit opposite each other, with the table between them piled high with a feast of epic proportions.

And then they begin to eat. The scene proceeds with them taking turns biting into different foods, making seductive eyes and facial expressions, and generally playing off each other in a dance of culinary debauchery. All they do is eat, but there is so much more there, and it is an absolute riot. I Googled to try to find some of the stills, but was unsuccessful. And I used to have a published version of the script that included a series of stills showing the progression of the scene, and let me tell you... The pictures themselves were hilarious and descriptive enough.

If you haven't seen the film, I highly recommend it.

The second scene is less successful, but still funny, I think. In 2004's "existential detective comedy" I Heart Huckabees, written by David O. Russell & Jeff Baena, directed by Russell, there is a scene about 2/3 of the way into the film between Jason Schwartzman and Isabelle Huppert. Having danced around their lust for each other, they finally begin a scene of consummation via dirty sex.

No, I mean that literally. For a few minutes, we watch as they playfully and comedically rub dirt on each other, push each other into puddles of mud, and the like. Effective and funny stuff that makes very clear what is "really" going on. Unfortunately, I think they shortchanged the scene's cleverness by ending with a more literal act of sex, taking what was solid and funny subtext and pushing it in our faces. Still, the earlier part of the scene works well on its own terms.

Perhaps the reason that sex plays so well in subtext is that it is something that remains somewhat taboo to discuss in our society, so in a sense it remains subtextual in typical conversations. Regardless, the same methods can be played out with other subtextual messages as well. See where the methods take you!

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Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Not as in lowering one's expectations. Settling as in, I'm getting settled in to my new place. I hope to be back blogging regularly soon.

Haven't paid for internet here, but am getting access wirelessly pretty regularly from a neighbor. :-) Save myself a little dough each month. With the savings there and on cable (shared an expensive package with my old roommate, and have none here), it helps to make up for some of the added rent. And got some good deals on cheap or free furniture (since my old room was furnished and this one wasn't).

So once I get settled, I can get back to writing my script as well (which I, as usual, have fallen behind on), and hopefully make some serious progress on that. Plus, I have a second interview for a job tomorrow. I won't say much, not wanting to jinx anything. But send some good vibes my way. Could be a really cool thing, and I'm hoping all works out there!

Back to my regular blogging soon. Sit tight! And thanks in advance for sticking around.

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Friday, January 13, 2006

This Month's E-Article

If you liked last month's Part I of my article on scr(i)pt magazine's website, Part II is now up for your reading pleasure!

In this segment of "The Screenwriter's Web" I focus on some websites that are more designed to help you with research for your writing.

Check it out!

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Thursday, January 12, 2006

One Liner

In responding to my meme, Scott the Reader added a request of his own:

I'm not going to tag anyone, because I think the scribosphere is pretty much flooded by this meme at this point. However, I will shoot one back, to those sitting back thinking they are off the hook --


I don't even want context. Just throw the line out, here or in your blog.
Okay, then! Here's mine. Choosing between two (and I haven't searched that hard), but I'll settle on this line from Hell on Wheels. I know you don't want context, but tough. Remember, it is a vampire western set in 1868.

"Them bodies looked like they was part of the Donner Party. And I ain't talkin' 'bout the survivors, neither."

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Mastering My Domain

A while back, I had a friend design a logo for me, for use on a general purpose website:

At the time, I was going to set up a website called FunJoel.com which would have been more of a personal webpage, with some links to screenplay service stuff, as well as some of my photography stuff.

I never set it up. But I still like the logo, for which I came up with the concept. Therefore, I'd like to use it now (though I'll probably colorize and/or texturize it in some way).

I'm planning to set up a website specifically for my screenplay services (where I will probably also host my blog, and move it off of Blogger). I don't think Fun Joel is a good name for that, since it isn't descriptive at all.

So now I'm trying to come up with a good name that is descriptive, and that will also work with that logo. And I'd love to solicit some help from you guys. I'd like to include the words "screenplay" or "script" and possibly the word "services." Based on the logo, I guess it should make some reference to sun, palms, L.A., or summer.

Here's a few ideas I came up with. Let me know what you think of them, and feel free to suggest others of your own. I used the DomainsBot to search for some based on keywords, but didn't do any exhaustive searching there. So feel free to use it. However, I would like to keep it as a .com domain. Anyway, here's a few:

  • CaliSunScreenplays.com (my favorite, I think)
  • SunshineScriptServices.com
  • sunandpalmscreenplays.com

Feel free to think outside the box! I did think of using "sunset," but the problems there are that the sun is too high in the sky in the logo, and the word has some negative connotations ("the end").

So... what do you think?

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Move Nears

I'm going to still try to get a few posts up over the course of the week, but things may be sparse for a bit. My move is on Sunday, and I still have more packing to do, etc. Plus, not sure if I'll have Internet access right away in the new place. We'll see.

So if you don't hear from me too much, please don't go too far away! I'll be back. And hopefully the meme will keep me in the Scribospheric consciousness for a while! ;-)

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006


So, it has been just under 24 hours since I posted my meme. And I thought I'd just check in on it -- the only time I will do so (since memes should take on lives of their own). Still, I thought it would be interesting to see how far it has traveled in 24 hours.

As far as I can see, 28 people have received the call to answer (including myself). 10 have done so already (and if I missed any from the last few minutes, forgive me). I'm seeing some interesting overlaps and responses -- a few people who have done telemarketing (as have I) and a few bartenders or bartender wannabes (I always said I should be one). 2 quotes from Raising Arizona, a few Jaws references already, and many early memories of drive-ins. I never have been to one, but I'll try to post a drive-in themed memory soon.

If you count me as Generation 0, those who I tagged as Gen 1, and their tagees as Gen 2, etc, here's how it all breaks down. 1 responder in Gen 0 (obviously), one Gen 1, two Gen 2, five Gen 3, and one Gen 4, so far. Just to give the shout-outs to respondees and then drop the topic:

Gen 1: Shawna
Gen 2: Dave, Kira
Gen 3: Lawrence, Kristen, William, Ras, Shawn
Gen 4: 101

A special shout out to 101, also, for exploring the mathematics of a spreading meme in his post. Interesting -- check it out.

Finally, I hope others will start more scribocentric memes in the future. This is fun (for me at least).

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Movie Night?

Kira had a nice idea the other day, and since I was apparently the impetus for it, I'd like to shed some light on it, by sending you all there. She's also pushed the ball back (somewhat) into my court in the comments there, so I'll try to take the reins a bit as well.

Let me or Kira know if you're interested, when is good, and what movie you'd want to see. (Kira, I hope you're cool with me sending people back to you also.) Could be something new, something recent, or as I suggested in the comments, something old (like Hitch).

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Monday, January 09, 2006

The Scribosphere Meme Begins

I don't know about the rest of you, but the Scribosphere does not include all the blogs I read. I have a number of other blogs that I check on a regular basis, and/or keep on RSS feeds. One of the things that I always feel left out of, however, is when my friends on those blogs pass around memes.

For those who are unfamiliar, and without going into the origins of the term (you can read that link if you like), in terms of the blogosphere, memes are essentially lists of questions that someone posts on their blog, with their own answers. Then they will "tag" some others, and those people will repost the meme on their blogs with their own answers. It is a fun little game of sorts, and also can give us a bit of a window onto the bloggers' personalities.

But I rarely get tagged, since most people know that I keep my blog exclusively screenwriting/film-centric. Occasionally I have been tagged, and responded to those memes in the comments sections of the blogs where I was tagged. Still, I feel a bit left out of the fun (and what could be worse for someone nicknamed Fun Joel, right?).

So I decided to take matters into my own hands, and create a meme specifically designed for the Scribosphere. Sure, it can go outside of it too, but it is meant for us -- FuBu for the screenwriting bloggers! I know we had Red Right Hand's One-Page Challenge, and that was a meme of sorts. But this will be a more "traditional" blogosphere meme. So I'll post it and respond, then tag a few people. Hopefully they will respond as well, and then tag others.

So, here goes:

ONE (1) earliest film-related memory:
The first movie I ever remember seeing in the theater was a Disney movie about a football placekicking mule, Gus. If that was, in fact, the first movie I saw in the theaters, it would have made me 5-years old at the time. If I'm not mistaken, my parents took me to see it at a theater in Verona or Montclair, New Jersey, not far from my home town of Livingston. (And Mom or Dad, if you read this, can you confirm any of this for me?)

TWO (2) favorite lines from movies:
Not necessarily my two absolute faves, but two that are among my faves.
"Blutarsky, zero-point-zero." - Animal House
"You're gonna need a bigger boat." - Jaws

THREE (3) jobs you'd do if you could not work in the "biz":

FOUR (4) jobs you actually have held outside the industry:
Construction laborer
Private chauffeur
GMAT/LSAT teacher & tutor
Medical/psych research subject (I was the "control" group, okay?!)

THREE (3) book authors I like:
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
John Steinbeck
Brian Michael Bendis

TWO (2) movies you'd like to remake or properties you'd like to adapt:
The Unseen Hand (four-part comic series by Terry Laban, Ilya, and Andy Parks) -- I only read the first two parts, but it seemed like a good movie premise when I read it about 10 years ago)
Eddie and the Cruisers -- but I have a completely different take on it, so it isn't really a remake, more just using the core concept as a launching point

ONE (1) screenwriter you think is underrated:
Woody Allen. Now hear me out for a second. Everyone recognizes him as a director, but many people forget that he has written almost every film he's ever directed, plus a few for other people. Not that he gets no recognition for this, but significantly less than he deserves, in my opinion. He releases a movie every year (on average), and has been doing so for over 30 years. Sure, some of them suck, but the bulk are at least good, and many are great. It's time he's recognized for his writing as well.

THREE (3) people I'm tagging to answer this meme next:
Warren, Shawna, and Chris.

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Q & A Times Three, Internationally

Time to answer a few reader questions (though I've done some direct responding to some of them already via email).

First a question from David Baltazar, who writes from over "on the continent." David asks:

Dear Joel,

Do you think an agent or a producer would even bother to read a query letter from some guy who lives in Portugal?
Not a question I know that much about, to be honest. But the bottom line as far as I can see it is, sure, why not? Every agent or producer is looking for one thing -- a great script. And it could easily come from Portugal as well.

However, I'd say there are still things you can/should do to improve your chances anyway. Firstly, maybe it is worth investing in an L.A.-based mailbox, so that you can avoid the potential of them being immediately turned off by the foreign address. You can probably do this relatively cheaply, and might be able to get the mail forwarded. I'd recommend contacting Maziar at Digital Express. He's a good guy, and always trying to work with screenwriters. (By the way, he also has very inexpensive script copying/printing costs.) You can tell him I sent you -- Joel who he met at Expo, and who writes for scr(i)pt mag.

The other thing I'd suggest is to make very clear that you can and will be willing to come to L.A. to meet, if they are interested. It goes without saying that you should not only make this clear, but also actually be willing to do so! If not, there will be little chance of you selling a script to a producer, or gaining representation.

Okay, keeping up the international theme, the next question comes from a Canadian -- Allen M.

I got a question for you...It seems from what I've read and seen that it's debatable as to whether I should write "Bob is swimming" or "Bob swims." Is there a convention I should stick with?
Most certainly, yes there is. In almost all cases, not only in screenwriting, active language is preferable to passive language. For example, I should have just written something like "active language kicks passive language's butt." As a good rule of thumb, try to avoid forms of the verb "to be" -- no "is," "are," or certainly "is being." Yes, there are times when you might choose to highlight a state of passivity, but more often than not, stronger writing makes a greater impression.

Interestingly, a script I just read over the weekend began nearly every scene with a passive statement of that sort. I understood that the author was merely trying to set the stage, describing what was taking place as we first see each scene. Still, I felt that in most cases, the descriptions would have been stronger and more evocative if stated actively, and I told the author so. When the active language wouldn't have greatly improved the script, the "action" that she described in passive terms might have been unnecessary to write at all!

Ultimately, you must remember that there is no screenplay element called "description." It is called "action" and thus should describe just that.

Finally, I received a question just earlier today from Dan Hobart (who I believe is in the U.K., rounding out the international Q & A).

I want to pen almost the entire first scene of my script in first person POV - as in, literally seeing things through his eyes. Is this allowable, or am I overstepping the mark by taking charge of the camera? And the other thing is, this will cause me to have to use the dreaded 'we' a lot during this scene.

What are thoughts on this? I only want 'us' to see the protag at the end of the scene.
Let me address the more minor point first, then the main question. Dan refers to using "the dreaded 'we'" but I must say I fall on the opposite side of this minor debate. I have absolutely no problem with using the word "we" in my action descriptions. I actually love it, and use it a decent amount myself. It's what classifies me as a "Readerist" in John August's Screenwriter Classification system. Basically, there are plenty of people who will complain about writers who use the "we" and plenty who won't care, an will even like it. But no reader worth his or her salt will reject a script because you use it, so I'd say not to worry about it, and use it if it works for you.

Now on to your main question, Dan. Can you write the entire first scene as seen through a character's POV. The short answer is yes. The longer answer is, yes, but make sure there is a reason to do it.

Plenty of screenplays feature shots as seen through a certain character's POV, and the listing of such POV in a slugline is perfectly within the realm of accepted screenplay formatting. However, featuring an entire (presumably somewhat extended) scene from one character's perspective will stand out to anyone reading the script. It could potentially pull the reader out of the story, rather than drawing him or her in. So there should be a good reason for setting the scene up in this manner.

If all you're trying to do is set it up so that we only "see the protag at the end of the scene," there are better ways of doing it. For example, a simple note that the character is never seen clearly throughout the scene should be enough. You might even include some appropriate indicators to build the right mood along the way. Talk about a character's face being obscured by shadow. His feet being all that is visible. A dark shadow of indistinguishable shape passing across our field of view.

But, if the reason for the POV is for a more specific reason, go ahead and do it. One of my favorites is from the old Bogart film noir Dark Passage. In it, Bogart plays a man wrongly convicted of murdering his wife. He escapes from prison to prove his innocence, and needs to change his face via plastic surgery so he can solve the crime without being caught. Possibly due to the lack of strong special effects (it was released in 1947), the entire portion of the film before the plastic surgery is seen through Bogie's eyes. It is a very literal POV shot, moving as his head and eyes would move, etc. We see what the character sees and hear Bogart's voice talking, but don't see him until he gets his "new" face -- that of Humphrey Bogart.

Yes, the POV shot here was something of a gimmick, but it was a clever and fun one, and one that had a reason in the story itself. I'd suggest only doing the same if you have a strong reason for doing it as well.

Hope this helps, and keep the questions coming! Just send an email from the link in the sidebar!


Saturday, January 07, 2006

I Have Not Seen Brokeback Mountain

...but I was just thinking that the perfect song for the soundtrack would be Kris Kristofferson's "Me and Bobby McGee."

Yes, I know he wrote it with Bobby as a female, but then Janis more famously transposed it to (the seemingly more logical) male object, so when I hear his (original) version it sounds like a gay cowboy anthem!

And, for the record, I do plan to see the film.

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Friday, January 06, 2006

And Speaking of Thrills

One of the good things (for a cinephile) of living in a major metropolitan area is the presence of Rep Theaters. Here in L.A., The American Cinematheque presents a number of classic (and more obscure) films on the big screen at The Egyptian and Aero theaters throughout the year. I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Pink Floyd's The Wall at the Aero a few months back.

This month, at the Egyptian, American Cinematheque is presenting a great series -- Hitchcockian: The Master & His Disciples. I don't know if I'll catch any, or which ones, but there are some great opportunities to see great movies on the big screen in a classic theater. My top picks to recommend: Vertigo and La Jetee tomorrow night, January 6; Spellbound and High Anxiety this Sunday, 1/8; Rear Window and Body Double on Saturday, 1/14; and Shadow of a Doubt (one of my fave Hitch films) and Shadow of the Cat on Thursday, January 19.

If anyone is interested, let me know and maybe I'll join you!

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Movie Review: Hostel

Who ordered the gore, with a side of tits?

Because that's what you get in Hostel, writer-director-producer Eli Roth's follow up to Cabin Fever.

I saw the film at a Creative Screenwriting advance screening a few weeks back, and even wrote up a review the very next day, but alas I lost it somehow before posting. Don't worry, no spoilers here. Just a few random thoughts.

First off, most importantly, the film is very good if it is the type of film you're looking for. This is one of the sickest, most disgusting movies I've seen in a long time, and that's a good thing for most horror movie fans.

I wouldn't, however, really call this a horror movie. I mean, maybe I'm being nitpicky, but I see a difference between slasher movies, gore movies, and horror movies. I understand that Roth disagrees, as I believe I heard he said that Silence of the Lambs was a horror movie. I disagree, and not just because of the amount of money it cost or made (which was the claim I heard attributed to him). There are different conventions involved.

To me, since through a large part of this film we know what is happening and it becomes a major torture-fest. Then again, I'd admit that this is much closer to horror than Silence is. After all, if Cabin Fever was Roth's Evil Dead, then this film might be seen as his Texas Chainsaw Massacre, though it is a much bigger departure from what I see as a major inspiration, than Cabin Fever was from its.

And the major point of departure is in the film's one truly clever invention, the unknown setting and plot point around which the film has been built (and no, I won't reveal what it is). Roth's film centers on a truly sickening and cleverly inventive conceptual element that adds more depth and resonance on top of the typical torturous gore elements.

What can I say about the writing? Well, one thing I realized is that (no insult intended) in horror/gore/etc., the writer's contributions are much more secondary than in many other genres. This is not to say that the screenplay was weak. Just that it was nothing outstanding in itself. It was the balls-to-the-wall relentless directing, as well as the gore effects that made it work as it did. As far as the writing goes, I think it is just about committing to your script 100%.

What else? I'll say Roth knows his audience well. He takes his time building slowly into the more horrific elements of the script, and I have absolutely no problem with this. But there may be some people who just want to see the blood already. Thus, he ensures he'll keep his audience's attention by soaking the early scenes heavily in nudity, sex, and some ganja smoking (as well as some fratboy type comedy), all elements which may be likely to appeal to his target market. Not that I minded watching it the least bit! ;-)

Lastly, I wanted to point you back to my post on Test Marketing that was inspired by the Q&A with Roth, post screening.

Bottom line? If you dig gore and (quasi-)horror, run out to see Hostel ASAP. This one's a winner, aimed squarely at you as a demographic. If not, run as quickly as possible in the other direction!

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Thursday, January 05, 2006

Shame on Me

Yesterday (and the day before for Docs), the WGA announced nominees for their 2005 screenplay awards. Of the 15 nominated screenplays (5 each for Original Screenplay, Adapted Screenplay, and Documentary Screenplay) I have seen a grand total of... ONE. And I've read the script of one other.

At least I have time to do some catch up between now and when the awards are given out!

The lists:

Original Screenplay
Cinderella Man, (Cliff Hollingsworth and Akiva Goldsman, Story by Hollingsworth
Crash, (Paul Haggis & Bobby Moresco, Story by Haggis)
The 40 Year-Old Virgin, (Judd Apatow & Steve Carell)
Good Night, And Good Luck, (George Clooney & Grant Heslov)
The Squid and The Whale, (Noah Baumbach)

Adapted Screenplay
Brokeback Mountain, (Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana, on short story by Annie Proulx)
Capote, (Dan Futterman, on book by Gerald Clarke)
The Constant Gardener, (Jeffrey Caine, on novel by John le Carré)
A History of Violence, (Josh Olson, on graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke)
Syriana, (Stephen Gaghan, on book "See No Evil" by Robert Baer)

Documentary Screenplay
Cowboy Del Amor, (Michele Ohayon)
Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room, (Alex Gibney, on book by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind)
The Fall of Fujimori, (Ellen Perry & Zack Anderson & Kim Roberts)
March of the Penguins, (Narration by Jordan Roberts, on story by Luc Jacquet, screenplay by Jacquet & Michel Fessler)
Street Fight, (Marshall Curry)

I'm not even going to spend the time searching for all those links! So, you all know the script I read was for The Constant Gardener. And you can probably guess that I'm hoping it doesn't win! Which film have I seen? The darkest horse to win, I think -- The 40 Year-Old Virgin. And not just because of the grammatical error in its title!

I don't generally see that many docs in a year, so I don't feel bad that I haven't seen all of those, though I was definitely interested in seeing both Penguins and Enron. The other three I haven't even heard of. The other films are all ones that I would definitely be willing to see, though there are a few that I'd much rather see than the others (Crash, Brokeback, and Violence), and one or two that I am predisposed to dislike (Syriana).

How many of these have you guys seen and/or read?

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Jon Oscar Stewart

As Joshua put it to me in his email, I've gotten my wish.

At least according to the LA Times (I think the "official" announcement is expected later today).

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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

On Rewatching Unforgiven

This movie log is already paying off! ;-)

In actuality, it did help me organize my thoughts a bit more. Lately, I've been watching a lot of Westerns and Vampire movies, helping to get in the right frame of mind for Hell on Wheels. And so yesterday, I rewatched the excellent Unforgiven (Directed by Clint Eastwood, written by David Webb Peoples) on DVD. I'd probably seen it 2 or 3 times before, but not for a good five years, at least.

I doubt that any of the things I'm about to say are groundbreaking, when it comes to reviewing this film, but I haven't looked back at the old reviews, so I'll mention my opinions here anyway. What struck me most about the film this time around was how strongly the theme really ran through the entire thing. Most people viewed Unforgiven as a sort of "revisionist" Western, and in a sense, I see this as the overall theme.

The Old West was not the place of heroism and adventure that it has been mythologized into. It was a harsh, ugly, cowardly life, and one with many aspects of which we should be shameful.

So one of the most significant tropes (if we can call it that) of the screenplay is the unreliability of the stories people tell. The film opens (following the opening epigraph over Munny burying his wife) with an inciting incident that we see with our own eyes. Mike cuts Delilah's face, but good. We've seen exactly what happened, and yet, at the first retelling (The Kid to Munny) it is already exaggerated:

They cut up her face an' cut her eyes out, cut her ears off an' her tits too.
Munny himself adds to the tale when he tries to hook Ned into joining him:

Cut her eyes out, cut her tits off, cut her fingers off... done everythin' but cut up her cunny, I guess.
So we see the way a Wild West story can get blown out of proportion, in just a short span of time, let alone 150 years.

This thematic element comes back up via W.W. Beauchamp, the writer doing a biography of English Bob. Little Bill "corrects" the details of Bob's story, but as Beauchamp sticks around with Bill, we realize that Bill himself is prone to exaggeration as well. Who knows if his retelling was any more accurate? Beauchamp also admits to a bit of "poetic language" and taking license for the express intent of selling a more racy story. By the end, however, when Beauchamp witnesses when Munny guns down Bill (or at least is present, though in hiding, so even his so-called eyewitness account will be literally hearsay), he tries to get the details from Munny. But Munny isn't interested in telling stories. He represents the ugly truth, scars and all. And it is unknowable via stories and accounts.

And what of that ugly truth? For starters, we subtly learn that the truth about William Munny is in fact darker than the stories. The Kid asks Munny about an event from his past, in Jackson County. The way the kid heard it

[T]here was two deputies up close pointin' rifles at you... had you dead to rights... an' how you pulled out a pistol an' blew them both away to hell... an' only took a scratch yourself.
Munny tells him he doesn't "recollect." But later, on the trail, Ned turns to Munny and tells it how it really was.

I remember how there was three of them deputies you shot... not two.
And Munny just dismisses it.

There's more as well. Other spots where we see the true ugliness of the era. All the killings we see in the film are ugly, rough affairs. First, they shoot at Davey, and break his leg. Then it takes three shots until Munny finally hits him in the gut. Davey lays there slowly bleeding to death, in tremendous pain, and we stay there with him. Then, Mike gets his due, gunned down while he's "in the shitter." And it also takes three shots against an unarmed man caught literally with his pants down.

Finally, we have Munny's final shootout in the saloon/whorehouse. The first man he kills is Skinny, the owner of the joint, and he blows him away with a shotgun. Little Bill points out that Skinny was unarmed, showboating in front of Beauchamp by calling Munny a coward. This of course gives the opportunity for one of the prototypical Clint lines:

He should have armed himself if he was gonna decorate his saloon with the body of my friend.
Then, there is the shootout that ensues, due to the ugly roughness of a misfire by Munny's gun. This leads to four or five other deaths. And though Little Bill has been shot, he still lives. How does he meet his final end? In truly rough and ugly fashion. Blown away from point blank range by a shotgun blast to the face.

Okay, so what do I get from all this? Theme, theme, theme. It is in the dialogue, the stories people tell and the way they tell them. It is in the action -- the way people are killed, most notably. It is in character -- the way Munny has lost a lot of steps, in his gunplay, his eyesight, even riding his horse. He is the dark past, but he is the truth.

While I have some good thematic material in HoW, I've got to find more ways to bring it through, building a more cohesive screenplay overall. I also looked at the screenplay online, as you could see from all of the quotes in here. It helped me get a better idea of the style I might want to use in my action descriptions throughout the film. One thing I noticed was that Peoples never simply referred to such things as a gun. It was always a Navy Colt, or a Starr .44 pistol. It's not a horse, but an Albino mare. It isn't a lantern, but a coal oil lamp. Basically, I'm talking about details.

I guess that's about it for now, but I'm hoping that things like this are what help you develop as a screenwriter. So I encourage you to find films that are top notch and relate in some way to your screenplays. Watch them and study them. Read the scripts, and analyze them. Then think about how you can improve your own writing!

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