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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, May 29, 2006

Brief X-Men 3 Review

I saw X-Men: The Last Stand last night. I'm sure many of you have seen it already, and many others have probably written on it. So I'll just make a few brief comments.

Minor Spoiler Warning

So, I liked the film, but not as much as either of the first two. For me, what made the first two such great films, and among the best superhero movies ever made, in my opinion, was their blend of excellent action, eye-popping but artfully executed special effects, and complex characterization.

In particular, that last ingredient raised the first two films above standard superhero fare. Without that, they would have remained above average, due to their supremacy in the first two ingredients. But it was the characterization which made them transcend the genre.

This third installment falls short on that front, as I see it. While still full of intriguing characters, and some pleasing character reversals and surprises, this film seems to keep its characters at arm's length, where the first two really dug into them. In particular, I felt that Jean's transformation was too cartoonish overall, as was Wolverine's relationship with her. And since this is so central to the film overall, the film suffers for its failure.

In short, I actually blame this on too much action. Every time the film had the chance to delve a bit into the characters, it quickly dropped these scenes and cut to another action sequence. And even those action sequences didn't always work as well as they could have. In particular, the final battle on Alcatraz coul have been much stronger. When Magneto sends his "pawns" out, I'd have loved to see just a few more hints of some of their distinct powers. Instead, it is just a wave of people running and being cut down by Wolverine and the like. The only one you actually see is the guy whose arms keep growing back as soon as Wolverine cuts them off. (Though the Indiana Jones type win in that bit is funny.)

I'm not familiar enough with the work of either Simon Kinberg, Zak Penn, or David Hayter to judge if the differences are unique to their respective work, but I think at least in part the directors are largely responsible. I think this is largely the difference between the Bryan Singer mindset, and that of Brett Ratner. Ratner is all about the action, and Singer has always brought at least a bit of characterization to all of his films. I'm not a massive Singer fan, but I do respect much of his work. Ironically, Superman Returns doesn't really interest me much, while this X-Men film did.

Still, overall I must say I thoroughly enjoyed X3. I thought it introduced a few more cool mutants. Some of the new mutants not only had fun powers, but were played by actors who were well-cast and interesting to look at. And the effects were still top-notch. So as I said, it remains a superlative example of the genre. Just not as good as the first two.

And by the way, for those of you who haven't already heard, there is a little scene after the credits that is worth sticking around for. And if you already saw the movie, and didn't see that scene, you're welcome to email and I'll tell you what you missed!

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Saturday, May 27, 2006

1st Anniversary Recap

A summation and recap of some of my many more substantial posts of the past year. Think of it as a 1-year index. I've tried to cull them, and categorize.

Movie, Screenplay, and FFFJ reviews
On Batman Begins
Screenplay Review: The Island
Screenplay Review: Pretty Persuasion
Pretty Persuasion Update
Screenplay Review: The Constant Gardener
New Feature: FFFJ (Mondo Beyondo)
FFFJ: Prison Song
Screenplay Review: Prime
FFFJ: Fanboys
FFFJ: The Watch
FFFJ: Venus Kincaid
Rewatching Platoon
Screenplay Review: Aeon Flux
Very Late on 50 First Dates
Movie Review: Narnia
On Rewatching Unforgiven
Movie Review: Hostel
FFFJ: Push
Movies That Rock
Screenplay Review: Brick
Brief Brick Follow-up
Screenplay Review: The Hills Have Eyes
Movie Review: V for Vendetta

Hell on Wheels
Collaborating in a collaborative medium
Slight Change of Plans
"Rolling" On
Anything New Under the Sun?
Sunday is for Research
A Night in Hell
Taking my Solo
Medium-term Goals

On Format
On Format, continued
On Titles
On Character Names
The Enneagram (Part 1 - Intro)
The Enneagram (Part 2 - Complexities)
The Enneagram (Part 3 - How to Use It)
The Enneagram (Part 4 - How to Use It, cont'd)
The Enneagram (Part 5 - Subtypes)
Theme vs. Premise
On Flexibility
Speaking Without Talking
Show and Tell
Show Don't Tell Revisited
Q&A: Common Genre Flaws
Q&A: Writing the "Unshootable"
More on Unshootables
Q & A Times Three, Internationally
Subtext: Sex
Q & A: Act Breaks
Good vs. Great?
Adverbially Speaking
Trust the Reader (and yourself)
Profanity, Done Right
What Matters Most

General Screenwriting and Movies
How Important is Originality?
Can You Teach Screenwriting?
Slipping Into Something More Comfortable
The Extroverted Writer
Choosing a Medium, Well Done
Q & A: Who Wears Short Shorts?
Q & A: Location Details
On Test Marketing
Write What You Like?
It's the Little Things That Matter
Another "Only in LA" Moment
The Good and The Bad

Script Reading and Common Writing Errors
On Script Reading
On Script Reading, Part II (What I've Learned)
On Second Thought, Who Needs Script Readers?
For God's Sake...
Overly Common Screenplay Speling Error
Oh, Cooommmme Ooonnn!
Another Common Error
Q & A: Reading
Taking Mistakes to a New Level
Smells Fishy
Well Here's a New One
Good Bad Ugly
Chiming In on The Debate

Scribosphere, Memes, and Seminars
The Exploding Scribosphere
Who You Be?
Who U B 2?
Hands Across the Scribosphere
A Few More
For Your Reading Pleasure
Getting a Move On
Scribosphere Group Script
Expo Wrap-Up (Part I)
Expo Wrap-Up (Part II)
Expo Wrap-Up (Part III)
Showcase - Brief Follow-Up
Scriptwriters Showcase Recap
Answering the Challenge
The Scribosphere Meme Begins
One Liner
The "First Ten Verbs" Meme

Miscellaneous (but still good)
Free Movies!
Holiday Gifts for Screenwriters (Part I - Top 10)
Holiday Gifts for Screenwriters (Part II - Story and Character)
Holiday Gifts for Screenwriters (Part III - Greats, Genres, and Odds & Ends)
Drive-In Memories
Hot Chicks Aren't Funny
The Future or Nothing New?

107 of the 238 posts. So at least it is less than half! :-)

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Friday, May 26, 2006

And Now... 238!

Remaining on the numerical theme of the day, who wants to take a guess at 238? Nope, 24 does not go in evenly. It is not the number of pages in the most recent script I read (thank God!). I'll give you a hint.

I started this blog on May 25, 2005. Yep, that's how many posts I've made (not including this one and the one that I had to delete because of some apparently confidential information that was released before it was for public consumption) in the past year!

I didn't want to let the day pass without marking my 1-year blog anniversary, so I'm getting this post out quickly now, just under the wire by about an hour. However, I intend to do a more thorough post marking the occasion within the next few days. So there's something to hopefully look forward to. I'm also going to review The Proposition, which I got to see this afternoon.

But I am running out now, so let me just say thanks so much for reading, for coming back, for sending people here, etc. I really feel like we've built quite a community, and I know when I started, there were many fewer members of the Scribosphere. Hell, it wasn't even named back then. I'm proud to be a member of this community, and of what we've achieved, and I look forward to seeing it grow even further. Here's to bigger and better things for all of us.


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Thursday, May 25, 2006

336 Hours

That's how many hours there are in a fortnight. Two weeks. Fourteen days. Breaking it down further, you get 20,160 minutes, which is 1,209,600 seconds.

And in that span of time, there are those who will be challenging you (should you choose to accept said challenge) to write a complete screenplay. Yep. One whole script from start to finish, written in just 1,209,600 seconds. This is the charge of the 14 Day Screenplay.

It was started as the screenwriters' response to NaNoWriMo -- National Novel Writing Month. And the next 14 Day Screenplay challenge is set to begin June 3rd and run through the 17th. I will not be participating this time around (I would rather focus more energy on the projects I have going), but I'll say that I support this effort wholeheartedly. I previously wrote a D2DVD-type horror script in just 15 days (and that included a brush-up revision, so it was really completed in 13 or 14 days), and I think it is both a wonderful challenge, a good exercise, and a fun way to get another completed first draft quickly under your belt. I encourage you all to at least consider participating.

So, to that end, I'd like to offer some advice, based on my previous experiences.

1. Planning is everything
I hate the Vicki King model from her (in my opinion) horrendous book about knocking out a script in 21 days by following your heart. I read her book before I embarked on my task and found it to be a sure way of guaranteeing that people will be able to write a lot of garbage in 21 days that will have no chance of ever selling or bringing in audiences. And though this did not exclusively have to do with a lack of planning (I do believe she might have had some outlining in there somewhere), I still felt this was the appropriate place to address the book.

Regardless, in my experience, the best way for you to truly succeed in getting this script written in 14 days is to plan as much as possible in advance. At the time, the outline I used for that script was one of my more detailed to date. Not just a scene-by-scene outline, but even a rough page breakdown. Since then, I've gone further in outlining on my next script. But the reason it is so important on a 14-day screenplay is that you have lost/removed the luxury of time, and thus you can't afford to explore or think about different possibilities. If you do, you won't have time to complete the entire thing in the allotted time.

Which also brings me to my next tip.

2. Don't edit as you write
This is true always in screenwriting, but particularly true in a 14-day script. One of the easy and most dangerous ways to procrastinate is by editing and tweaking what you've already written. This is because while we're doing it, we can convince ourselves that we aren't wasting time. We're actually "improving" the script. Of course, all we're really doing is avoiding completion.

Thus, for a 14-day screenplay you have to take this to the extreme. The goal is not to have a perfect script at the end of those 2 weeks, and in fact, it would be shocking if you did. Remember that all you're really trying to do is complete a solid first draft. Nothing else. The reason this ties into the last point is that by sticking to your outline, you might actually find that you structure things poorly. Unless this is a truly simple fix, you should still, in my opinion, stick with your plan, and just make note of the proposed changes for your revision.

3. Make sure you have enough time
When I did my quick script, I specifically chose a period of time in which I knew my other work would be slow. Thus I was able to dedicate a solid block of time each day to the screenplay. And to knock out a rough first draft, it doesn't even take that long. Of those 360 hours (15 days)? I'd estimate that I actually worked under 50 of them. Now mind you, this was a very rough draft of a relatively mindless screenplay (though I did aim to bring some quality into it). Depending on the type of script you're trying to write, the complexity of the story, and the type of writer you are, you might require significantly more time (or perhaps even less). But ultimately you need to figure out how much time you can afford to dedicate, protect it, and determine if that is enough to accomplish your task.

4. Odds and ends
A few other tips that are worth throwing out there, though they really apply in general to ways to avoid procrastination and more effectively use your time (now if I could only follow my own advice). I love the well-known tip of finishing your writing session in mid scene, or even in mid sentence. It really works as a way to motivate you to get back to it the next session, and to kick-start your thought process when you do return.

Disconnect the Internet. Don't check email or allow your email program to notify you that you've received mail. Then you'll be tempted to check it. Turn off IM. Put an old-fashioned, physical, bound dictionary and thesaurus next to you, so you aren't tempted to check dictionary.com as you write. On a related note, you can uninstall all the games from your computer. If FreeCell beckons, you may be tempted to play it instead of writing. Similarly, don't blog. Either stop blogging for the two weeks, or only do it at times of the day that won't interfere with your writing time.

Recognize the plateaus your brain experiences. You will lose focus. You will not be able to work straight through certain periods. That's okay. It is normal. Allow yourself to step out for fresh air, but make sure you come back. Set a reminder alarm if you have to. Another good technique is to shift between two tasks that need to get done. So that when your mind is resting from writing, for example, you actively work on researching some things you needed to look up. That way, since your mind is occupied with a different kind of task, it is better able to move off the plateau. Then, when you've had enough with the second task, you shift right back into the first, recharged.

All of these tips are actually good for anyone writing anytime. Not just for a 14-day script. But they are brought into sharp relief when you take on such a challenging task. I wish you all luck during those 20,000+ minutes, and keep us posted!

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Monday, May 22, 2006

A Reminder

I hope to get a new "real" post out later today, but until then, I just wanted to remind any interested readers that my special sale prices on screenplay services will be in effect just through the end of the month. So get in touch if you're looking for script coverage!

On a completely different note, I'm thinking about going to see The Proposition later this week. Anyone see it? What'd you think? I've heard good things so far.

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

What Matters Most

Some nameless person in the comments to my last post asked:

I share many of your thoughts regarding the Business vs. Art aspect, but let me ask you, as a reader do you view material the same way, meaning do you ever think to yourself "maybe this isn't the best story, writing, etc. but you are in some way able to see a film that you think would make money -- do you recommend on this basis or do the other factors cause you to pass?

I responded that typically the opposite is more common. It is more likely I'll read something that is well-written but is unlikely to succeed commercially, rather than something that is poorly written but still seems likely to prove commercially viable.

I'd like to talk about this a bit more, and specifically about those rare times when a poorly written script still might be worth buying. It is no secret that ProdCos will not infrequently option scripts that are not perfect. There is a very good reason that the department in charge of acquiring scripts is called the "Development" department. So I wanted to talk a bit more about these flawed screenplays that still get picked up.

Let me begin by stating that there is nothing better than a script that is excellent (and by this I mean both a unique, commercial idea and solid technical execution). But still, since many of the optioned scripts don't fully meet these criteria, let's examine what else it takes to sell a spec in Hollywood.

First, I'd like to point you to a post from last week by relatively new Scribosphere blogger Screenwriting Guy. He has a blog called "I Am Trying to Make You Laugh," and posted on a related topic, HERE. I think he does a great job of distilling the core of what makes a Great Movie Idea. Go read it -- I'll wait.

Back? Okay. So as I read that post, it reminded me of my most recent article for scr(i)pt magazine (not out yet), and how he's covered half of the puzzle. I'm not going to spell everything out (since I do that in the article), but I will say this: there are two aspects that are most important in selling any spec screenplay. Concept and Story. It is rare that anyone in development will read a script that has a bad story and concept but has such inventive dialogue or vivid characters that they'll decide to buy it anyway. However, if a writer displays lower quality technical skills, but still has come up with a solid story built around an inventive and commercially appealing concept, the necessary rewrites become more appealing and feasible.

It is much easier to rewrite for details than to rewrite for the big picture. That's why these kinds of scripts still sell sometimes. Think of a just adequately written script that has a great premise and story as an extended version of a pitch, because that is essentially what it is, with a few added elements. But it is typically easier to sell a spec than a pitch, especially for an unproven screenwriter. Thus, you'll be better served writing a spec with a great idea and story, than trying to sell the same material as a pitch. And while you ideally want to have a great script in all aspects (especially if your goal is be a working writer, rather than just to make money off your idea), you still need to focus on getting those two aspects right before anything else. Without a good idea and a well-structured story, you will have an almost impossible time selling your script.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Chiming In on The Debate

My last post, in response to Joshua's question, led to a debate between Joshua and Devin. You can follow the comments and understand the issues involved. I was going to just respond in the comments, but I realized that my response had a bit more to add that I felt was worth bringing it up to the forefront.

Firstly I'll say that, though not 100% the case, my opinions lie closer to Devin's here. I, of course, respect you and your opinions, Joshua. I just primarily disagree. Let me explain.

When we say "this is a business" in relation to the movie industry that is not being used as an excuse for not making movies out of some well-written scripts. It is the actual reason for not making them. It is not that movies are an art second and a business first. It is that they are a business period. Art doesn't much enter the equation. Sure, good art will sometimes equal good box office, but it often will not as well. (I am of course referring to large budget studio type pics, not indie arthouse fare, which is vastly different.) There are plenty of well-written screenplays that could not possibly make money and thus would be bad business.

True, there is no sure thing, but D-people (and I should add that I am a D-person, in a sense, albeit a lower level, and freelance one) are not concerned with making art. It is not what they are being paid to do, so to claim that they aren't doing their job when they overlook such art is an invalid claim. They are looking for their best chance at profitability. Now of course, many D-people will be wrong at their choices in this regard as well. But that remains their primary goal in evaluating a screenplay. And more importantly, remember that many of those failures actually started as good scripts and were ruined along the way. I've said it before and I'll say it again:

There are many ways to make a bad movie out of a good script, but it is very diffcult to make a good movie out of a bad screenplay.

I will also disagree, Joshua, with your statement that "any film that makes a hundred million is a commercial movie, regardless of the subject matter." I believe I understand the context in which you said it (Brokeback Mountain), but I still must disagree. You can have a $100 million commercial bomb, and you can have a $1 million tremendous success.

A commercial movie, simply put, is one that turns a profit.

And this is what I referred to when I said that "there are plenty of well-written screenplays that could not possibly make money and thus would be bad business." I've read well-written screenplays that, due to subject matter or style would be unlikely to pull in over $10 million, for example. Now $10 million is not peanuts. Hell, I'd like to have 1/10 of 1% of that in my pocket right now! But films are an expensive medium. So if that $10 million grossing film was made for $1-5 million, after the marketing and print costs it would still likely turn a profit. But what about the ones that will gross that amount, but would cost $10 million to make, or those that would cost $30 million? Those are films that no matter how artful they are, should not be made in the mainstream Hollywood system.

All of this being said, it is mostly irrelevant. What I had originally responded holds true. I don't believe there is that much good-to-great writing that is not being overlooked. I believe that the discrepancy between the percentage of quality plays (10% by Joshua's reckoning) and quality screenplays (1% by my reckoning) may be attributable to other factors. Check my first response in the comments to the previous post for some of those possible explanations. I honestly don't believe there is much high-quality material being overlooked (and by high-quality, I mean commercially viable as well as well-written).

Most importantly, it doesn't really matter to us if there is. We can do nothing about it. All we can do is our level best to write something that doesn't get overlooked, and actually sells. And though you mentioned, Joshua, the meeting between writers and D-people in which the D-people couldn't give you any idea of what would make a script more likely to sell, I can tell you what most of the "good-to-great" scripts that I have read have in common.

  • An at least moderately unique concept, though not necessarily a ground-breaking one
  • A cohesive, unified, and strongly stated voice
  • A budget that was in line with what would make the film profitable in terms of its likely box-office draw

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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Good Bad Ugly

In the comments to my last post, Joshua asked:

How many great scripts have you read, over the years? Just curious.

This is a variation on one of the questions I am most frequently asked about my work. "Does everything you read suck?" Or, "How bad is most of what you read?"

So let me begin with this. I would say that about 10% of what I read is total shite. Maybe 1% is really good to great. And everything else is somewhere in the middle.

Now mind you, first of all, that the bulk of the scripts that get to me have at least theoretically already passed through one filter: the agents. (I say "the bulk" because there are always scripts that come into a company "Submitted by Author" via a personal contact.) Were I reading scripts for an agent, I suspect that the percentage of garbage would be significantly higher. Still, I'm amazed how much crap gets through even after this vetting process.

Let me also discuss the other end -- the really good to great. This does not necessarily mean that the script is great art that will win an Academy Award. It just means it is great for this company. Typically it will be exactly the type of film that matches the company's brand, and is in a budget range they aim for.

I should also add that a number of the really good or great scripts that I've read came in to me as writing samples, rather than straight submissions, and may have already been picked up for production elsewhere. An example of this would be Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I was very impressed with this script when I read it, and Kaufman's name was actually blacked out on the cover page, so I had no idea who it was written by. That was an Oscar caliber script (and it rightly won that year), but another excellent screenplay I read that was far from Oscar worthy was How High? Now, I will say that that script was one of the funniest scripts I've ever read. The movie itself was kind of funny, but I definitely feel it paled in comparison to the screenplay. Largely I blame Method and Red for hamming it up too much. Regardless, the script was great, for what it was.

So, yeah, maybe 1% is in that top category. Of the 89% in the middle, some of those projects might get optioned or made, if the execs feel they are worth the requisite development. But it is rare that I will get on the phone with my boss and say, "Don't wait for the coverage -- read this now."

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Friday, May 12, 2006

Well Here's a New One

I opened up a screenplay this morning to cover. It began with a full page "Note to Readers." This was already quite a no-no, especially as it added little, and what it did add should have been somehow incoporated into the script. Remember:

If we can't see it or hear it, it isn't there!

Anyway, that was an inauspicious start to the script, but I read it anyway, and noticed that it was on a similar topic to a script I had covered back in March for the same company. "Well that's odd," I thought to myself. "Topic must have gotten hot all of a sudden." In truth, this is not all that uncommon. For no discernable reason, it is pretty frequently that I'll get two or three script around the same time that are on similar topics. Still, it was notable that this seemed to be another script on this same subject.

Then I began to read the script, proper. Less than a quarter page in I realized this wasn't similar to the script I covered a few months back. It was the script I read then! I wasn't in front of my computer, and the title was different, so I wasn't sure, but a quick call into the office confirmed my suspicions. Fell through the cracks because, as I said, it had a different title, so the database didn't notice.

Now, the first thought was that someone was being sneaky and pulling a fast one. However, though the scripts were submitted pretty close to each other, the draft dates were 2 1/2 years apart, they were each submitted by different people, and they were each submitted to different execs. So as I told the company, I don't think anyone was "trying to pull a fast one" here. Rather I gave them the benefit of the doubt, and suggested it was probably just a case of the right hand not talking to the left. Still, funny and surprising!

By the way, I skimmed through it, since it was a different draft, to make sure it wasn't a vastly improved version of the same script. In those two-and-a-half years between drafts, the script didn't change very much. There were a few tweaks to dialogue, action, description, and character, but none of which improved the script enough. There was one significant structural change which excised an entire sequence. This was actually a very positive development, and I had even commented on the weakness of that portion of the prior draft (so I suppose other people felt the same problem). But that too was not enough to counteract the problems that were fundametal to the script.

In truth, it wasn't a terrible script either time. Just not a great one. So I think what we have here, between the half-hearted improvements and the miscommunication re: submissions from different people, is an author who may be lazy about his writing, and who has a bad handle on managing his business. And writing a great script is not all you need to succeed in this business!

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Spring Script Services Special!

In honor of the return to better weather, and the inauguration of my new home, I've decided to reduce my prices on my screenplay consulting services. These script coverage sale prices will remain in effect only through the end of May, so take advantage of them ASAP!

If you have any questions or difficulty placing an order, email me at FunJoel[AT]Earthlink[DOT]net. And it would be best if you emailed me anyway to check on my scheduling.

If you want to learn more about what these services entail, click HERE.

"Studio Style" Coverage -- $125.00 (normally $150)

"Development Notes" Report -- $275.00 (normally $300)

1/2-Hour Phone Consultation -- $50.00 (normally $60)

Both "Studio Style" Coverage and "Development Notes" Reports come with a free 1/2 hour phone follow-up, so those are both excllent deals.

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Monday, May 08, 2006

WWJB: What Would Jesus Blog?

If you've ever wondered the answer to that question, you should definitely check out FOFJ Paul Davidson's new book, The Lost Blogs.

Paul is a hilarious guy who blogs daily comedy at Words For My Enjoyment. He is also a screenwriter (he sold a comedy spec called Grounded to Ascendant Pictures), and previously published Consumer Joe.

The Lost Blogs officially hits stores today. Go buy it! And if you're in Los Angeles, you can hear Pauly do a reading this coming Saturday.

The Lost Blogs Los Angeles Signing
Saturday May 13th @ 7:30pm

Barnes & Noble Booksellers
1201 3rd Street
Santa Monica, CA 90401

You can tell him Fun Joel sent you. But even if you don't, I'm sure he'll sign your copy of the book anyway. So there's probably not much benefit in telling him that after all.

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Friday, May 05, 2006

A Good Writing Story

I thought this past issue of scr(i)pt magazine (Mar/Apr - Silent Hill on the cover) was a particularly good one, with lots of good articles in it. I have not yet read this current issue, but I'm sure Warren's debut article in there will be awesome. But I did want to mention one short story that was in this past issue that I really enjoyed.

Each month, the magazine profiles 2-3 developing writers, who have sold their first scripts to Hollywood. In this issue, one of those writers is Matt de la Peña. In answering the prompt, "Writing Quirks," he related the following:

A successful painter works out of a studio on my block. Like me, he seems to prefer working late at night. And, he works a lot. Just about every night, I end up needing something at the local bodega; and on my way there and back, I peek into his window to see if he's hard at work. At first it was just to entertain myself: "There he is again," I'd say, "hard at work." But, over time I've developed this insane, borderline unhealthy competition with him. If I walk by with a couple slices of pizza and he's working, I'm moved to sprint up my stairs, wolf down my food, and fire up my laptop. I have to outwork him to make it as a writer. Conversely, if I pass his studio on my way to write and his lights are off, I literally pump my fist in the air and shout, "Yes! I've got you now!" Then I scurry up my stairs and get to it. I guess we all do what we have to do to motivate. The strange part is, I don't believe the painter even knows I exist.

I love this story for a number of reasons. First of all, I used to love to look at people's lit up apartments as I passed them at night in New York City. No, not like a peeping Tom or anything! Just a glance to see what interesting things were there (and left visible for the whole city to see, not through curtained windows or anything). So I relate to this story. Second, I love the way he found a way to use the painter as motivation no matter which way he encountered him (working or not, both motivated him). We all need to do this, I think.

Lastly, I love the idea, which he brings home in his last line, about how the painter doesn't even know he exists. This is a concept I've thought a lot about -- the way we affect so many people's lives around us without even thinking about it. We all can have huge impacts on others around us, which is both gratifying and astounding, but also brings a great responsibility with it. We can bring such good to the world around us, even unknowingly, if we act as examples of good. Since the converse is equally true, we must be aware all the time, and hope that we only make a negative impact rarely, if at all.

Anyway, find your own "painter" as a motivating force, and use it in such a way that it motivates no matter what.

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Profanity, Done Right

Writing profanity into a screenplay has many pitfalls. It can become meaningless via overuse. It can become boring due to a lack of imagination. It can indicate lazy writing, or can feel wrong due to being out of character for the speaker.

Hence, when I see it done well, I love it.

I've often mentioned to friends a few of my comic axioms -- things that in my opinion are simply funny. Period. Monkeys, for instance. They're just funny. I'm not saying I'm going to write a movie with monkeys in it (although... nah), but I just think they can't help but be funny. Pet monkeys are even funnier. You know, people have to put diapers on them things?! Get a baby, for God's sake! At least they grow up and learn to take care of themselves. And don't you realize how silly you look with a diaper-wearing yet hairy primate perched on your shoulder or hanging onto your back? Let's not even discuss the way that relates to the old cliche about such animals and the place you've got it latched onto.

Anyway, to get back on track, another axiom I've mentioned is old ladies cursing. I just think that's funny. Or at least I did. I'm learning to revise my list of comic axioms and remove that. It is definitely overplayed, and not quite as funny as it once was. So I guess it wasn't comedically axiomatic after all. But I think the principle behind it remains true. It is funny because it is unexpected.

Well, I just was watching a film in which profanity was used in similar fashion. It was not unexpected because the character wouldn't talk like that (in fact it would be bad writing if the cursing, or "swearing" as some people call it but I never did, were actually out of character). It was unexpected because it was virtually the only time there was any profanity uttered in the whole film. Thus it was hilarious, and worked so wonderfully.

I'm referring to My Best Friend's Wedding. I had never seen it before, but was watching it now as research for the next screenplay I intend to write, whenever I finally finish Hell on Wheels. I always like to think ahead to my next project while I'm still in the midst of one. Anyway, the next one is a wedding themed comedy, not out of line with this film, or even Monster-in-Law, which I also watched recently.

So anyway, if you don't want to read any details of this film, stop reading now. But for those of you who have already seen it, or don't care, I'm referring to the part when George, Julianne's gay best friend, is introduced to Michael, the titular best friend. (Heh heh -- I said titular.) Anyway, Julianne tells Michael that George is actually her fiance, and George is visibly flabbergasted. Julianne covers for him by continuing to ramble at the mouth, and spouts the following line:

He's racing back to New York. He just came in for a few hours to, uh... to uh... fuck me!

The curse word at that point was completely unexpected, and thus truly hilarious. And though I've never been a huge Julia Roberts fan, I actually did gain a lot more respect for her acting in this film. Her facial expressions were fabulous throughout, and the deadpan look she gives Rupert Everett as she utters that word is priceless.

That, my friends, is the right way to do profanity in a screenplay. Well done, Mr. Bass!

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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Arc of the Writer's Arc

I've been following The Writer's Arc fellowship program for a little while now, and am a fan of what they're trying to do. So I had been looking forward to checking their webpage yesterday to get the new Locations, Characters, and Props for Round 1 of the competition for this Fall.

But I went there and found that the start date had been pushed back a month and a half to June 16th. The program for this Fall has also been shortened -- to 10 weeks and $3000. I was curious what had prompted the changes. Had I bothered to poke around the website myself, I would have found an explanation, but instead I sent an email over to Amy Kane, one of the founders of the Arc. She responded promptly (and patiently, considering that the same information was available for me to have found on my own).

Amy and Ami (Vitori, the other founder) are constantly trying to improve the program, and since it is still a relatively new fellowship, they are doing a lot of tweaking. One of the recurring themes in the feedback they received was from people who wanted to workshop and rewrite a completed screenplay, as opposed to those who wanted to start and write one from scratch within the program.

So they decided to try that format for the Fall session of the fellowship. The program will be geared towards taking the scripts from Round 2 submissions, and rework them during the program. Since it would not be an original screenplay written from scratch, they decided that 10 weeks would be more appropriate than 16, and the money was reduced similarly. If it works, they may do one 10-week (rewrite) and one 16-week (new script) program each year. Or maybe they'll return to doing both as 16-weekers. Or some other option.

Sounds good to me! I will likely enter for this format, presumably with Hell on Wheels (now that I'm settled into the new apartment, I hope to buckle down on the writing more), and hope that I can get in and use the program to take the script (and my career) to the next level. The plan of the shorter Fall program (according to the announcement on the website) is also to "assist each Fellow in outling their next idea" so he or she can take the next professional step more easily.

So check back at the Writer's Arc website on June 16th!

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