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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, February 13, 2006

It's the Little Things That Matter

I often mention the importance of details in screenwriting. The little things add specificity to a script, making it seem more genuine, and less a fictional product of the writer's mind. So one of our jobs, as screenwriters, is to be attuned to the little details we come across, filing them away for use in the future.

We may not know exactly how they will come into future play. Perhaps they'll find their way into our screenplays unaltered, or we may choose to find the truthful humanity at the core of these moments and alter them appropriately.

A few minutes ago I witnessed one of these kind of images. It was an "only in LA" type moment, and I thought you might like to hear it, as an example of what I mean.

I was sitting outside my apartment building, smoking a nice cigar, and reading a script. I'd just finished talking to some of my friends back East (I always get a kick out of the way everyone in LA refers to it as "back" East, even if they never lived there, but that's a conversation for a different time), gloating, as is my duty, about how I was sitting in 80-something degree sunshine, wearing shorts and sandals, while they were buried under record snowfall. The truth is, I only do it because it makes me fell better about not being with my old friends, but it is still a fun activity. In actuality, though, I love those massive snowstorms back East, and have wonderful memories of a massive snowstorm from about 8 years ago. I happily recall walking down the middle of Broadway in broad daylight. And when I say the middle of Broadway, I mean the middle. Not a car on the road. A rarity in New York City. I even remember seeing the odd juxtaposition of a man cross-country skiing down the street!

But back to today. So I'm sitting there, enjoying the weather and the script (somewhat surprisingly). Now, as I'm sure you all know, LA is the focal point of American car culture. The fact that I oddly buck the trend and am automotively challenged (read carless) in this city does not mean that I'm unaware of the whole car thing that surrounds me. So this nice, hunter green Lexus coupe pulls up in front of my building. Not the most expensive car I see on a regular basis, and it was a few years old. But still a nice car nonetheless. And certainly a lot more expensive a vehicle than I could afford (the real reason I don't have a car here -- I lack the bread). So of course it attracts my attention a bit.

Now be aware that I don't live in a real fancy part of town. I mean, it's definitely nice enough, but not one of those ultra-toney parts of LA. So I look up for a minute at the Lexus parked by the curb, and who do you think gets out? No, not some famous movie star, nor suited lawyer/business type.

It was a neatly, but modestly dressed Asian man delivering food to one of my neighbors! When I lived in Manhattan, I saw lots of food being delivered; take-out food and NYC life are nearly synonymous. You can't walk down the streets of The City without spotting myriad delivery guys on old bicycles dodging cars and pedestrians. And the menus-under-the-apartment-door phenomenon is one of the more annoying aspects of city life. Here in LA, food delivery is also a big part of life, though perhaps not quite as prevalent. But when it does happen, you'll see the delivery people typically driving around in beat up old Toyotas, dented vans, or rusty pick-ups.

But here I was faced with something incongruous, and it put a real smile on my face. I made no judgments, and asked no serious questions (internally or verbally). I just enjoyed the odd sight, and filed it away. Perhaps sometime something like this might sneak its way into the background of a script I write. Or just the essence of this peculiar juxtaposition will come through in another way.

Pay attention to the peculiar things you see, or hear people say. Some people keep a file of such things. I haven't updated it in a while, but I have a file of "copped dialogue," and though I have yet to insert any of it into a script, I may go over it from time to time, and/or eventually pull some of it into a future screenplay. But if nothing else, it reminds me that no human is as simple as we typically conceive them to be when we first create our characters.

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Blogger taZ said...

Deep thoughts, indeed...

I use to keep a record with things like that, to write in a script. Depending on what it is, it might enter the background or be the main story. All it takes is some fantasy.

4:11 AM  
Blogger deepstructure said...

this sounds like one of those "just because it's true doesn't mean it's beliveable" moments. :) i've so far never used a real moment in a script, although my friends and i often say "i've got to put that in a script!" but i just watched the 'everybody loves raymond' cast on 'inside the actors studio' and it sounds like 90% of their material came from their real lives - sometimes verbatim!

10:39 AM  
Blogger s.warren said...

About seven or eight years back, when I was in college, I had a friend that worked at a local pizza joint. The owner of the place was incredibly well off, but still came into the shop on a regular basis because he enjoyed talking to the help and making a few pizzas here and there. Anyway when he made the trip in, he always drove a BMW. If he weren't going anywhere and was just hanging around the place, he'd let the employees use it for delivery. It's something I've kept in mind, but never have had a chance to use.

6:06 PM  
Blogger Rock said...

That's brilliant. haha! An LA moment indeed. Though, you do recall the cabby that worked the UES in NYC and drove the NEW Mercedes, right? I always thought that was crazy, until I heard his story.

11:37 PM  
Blogger MaryAn Batchellor said...

That's a great title for my the little book in my purse I scribble notes in when I hear something interesting.... "copped dialogue".

5:52 PM  
Blogger Alicia said...

I love those moments. I also wish that I was better about putting them in a notebook. I suppose the real gems are committed to memory, but I am certainly going to lose that someday. But I'd probably lose the notebook, too.

As for the snow... Your wonderful memories probably didn't involve too much shoveling, huh? I'm in Danbury, CT, an hour and a half up on the Metro North line, and we got 24". It may be a few years before my husband, who shoveled thrice on Sunday, has fond memories. BUT THE KIDS AND THE DOG LOVED IT!

10:56 PM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Alicia --

One of my greatest joys when I moved from NJ into NYC was not ever having to shovel again!

3:36 AM  

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