Sunday, December 19, 2010

Inspiration at last!

After copious discouraging words in many different blogs, articles and interviews today, I finally came across the site I should have spent all my time in. It's not a new site to me, but I find the navigation on this site a bit confusing for my linear mind. Anyway, I persevered, and came across this article written by a humble, good humored and very successful screenwriter. I pinky swear, it's true. He's all these things.

He's my new hero. Dan Petrie, Jr. Along with Terry Rossio and John August.

Writers who are gracious. Who suggest and encourage, but in no way dictate or assume. I think there are two kinds of successful writers. The kind that enjoy the elitism of success and try to make it as hard for others to join in the fun as possible. And the kind that feel like the more the merrier, come on to the party. Sort of like high school.

My point is, that there will always be the people who are not particularly inspirational (a big shocker to me was Aaron Sorkin... NOT inspirational) and the ones who are. Just like there will always be advice you take, and the rest you bin. Some people eat raw fish for God's sake. And say I'm crazy when I dunk a fry into some ice cream. The trick is to try it all, read it all, listen and learn, and then figure out what's going stick to your ribs and go with that. There's as many different ways to sell a script as there are people who've done it.

The main thing is to keep writing, and keep the faith.

Don't tell me what I can't do.

When I was in art school many moons ago, we would get guest speakers in to tell us all about the real world. And they all, without exception, would tell us of the hardships of being a commercial artist, the low wages, the menial jobs, the arduous and uncertain road to success. They told us not to get our hopes up, and not to expect too much, certainly for the first five years, if we make it that far.

What assholes. I would get a rising fury grow inside me as they discouraged and depressed my classmates. As soon as they left, I would make my way around to each and every one of those sad little faces and tell them not to listen to a word! That just because the speaker is bitter, jaded and unsuccessful, doesn't mean this will be what happens to my talented and bright fellow students. I heard years later that only 10% or some equally pitiful number of students ever made it in the arts. And these kids were a talented bunch, let me tell you. I shouldn't have even been in the course, but I think they took pity on me after I begged to be allowed in.

It always stuck with me, that outrage of a stranger telling me what I can't do. For the record, they were dead wrong too.

This week I've been reading a lot of articles online. I seem to have gravitated to a particular theme. Do you have to be living in LA to be a successful Hollywood screenwriter? The more I read, the more of a sick feeling I got in the pit of my stomach. Most (all?) of them said an unequivocal and resounding yes. Forget it if you don't live there. If you can't take a meeting at any time, and schmooze the exec at the corner Starbucks, you'll never make it. (I'm getting a tee-shirt printed that says "I'm a writer, not a schmoozer.")

The first thing I don't quite understand, is how do they think people who aren't Americans can live in LA in the first place? You need a work visa. And as a Canadian who worked in the states for 7 years, I can tell you this is not as easy as it sounds. It's hard and expensive to get a work visa there. Maybe they aren't even considering that someone who isn't from the US could become a Hollywood screenwriter.

The second thing I don't get is why many of these industry people look down their noses at the online services that are available now to market your scripts. Why? I've found them to be pretty freakin awesome, thanks. I've made contacts and gotten my scripts read through online services.

And then I get that fury building up inside me. The same one I felt in art school. I'm hearing them try to tell me that I have to work as a reader for a studio, or fetch coffee for an exec to learn the ropes and get my foot in the door, and then maybe one day, if I kiss enough ass, then I might meet someone who knows someone that might get my script sold. If I'm lucky and if I last that long.

Who are these people? These nay sayers. "I did it this way, so that's how you have to do it." Or what, I say? I'm learning a lot about how other people have made it, and I'm getting a lot of good tips and I'm formulating a plan, and maybe one day I will move to LA again.

But I still hate it when people tell me what I can't do. It just makes me want to prove them wrong.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Lucky Star Diner

I am shining up the 1st draft of my next script. I am pleased as punch it's almost done. It's a low budget comedy. It makes me laugh just to think that I wrote a comedy. It wasn't the original intention.

It's all due to the online comedy class I took from the Screenwriter's U. It was a fabulous class, and it changed my low budget thriller to a comedy in 10 days. I highly recommend any of this guy's classes. His name is Hal, and although is personal involvement in the classes is nil, the material he gives you is gold. in case you're interested. The class is intense, and time consuming, but pretty freakin awesome.

Once my 1st draft is all shiny, I'll submit it to my two favorite competitions. The Page Awards, and Blue Cat, and see how it fares. Fingers crossed.

Oh, here's the logline in case you're interested...

When a successful Vegas businessman loses everything except a run down old burger joint to his bitter ex-wife, he finds out just how much can change in one crazy night at the Lucky Star Diner.

Write on!

Friday, August 27, 2010

5 more scripts

When the idea of screenwriting took proper hold of me, maybe a decade ago, I thought... right. I'll write 6 scripts. Then maybe I'll know a thing of two about writing. Then maybe I can go forth into the world with my 6 scripts, and say... If you don't like that one, then how about this one? Or maybe this one...

Currently, all tallied up, I have 4 more scripts to go. And one major rewrite on one of the ones I have written. So basically, I have one script. ONE script that I can present without an overwhelming sense of anxiety and shame.

What the hell have I been doing for 10 years?

Other than working and socializing and welding and doing heaps of other things other than writing!! That said, I have spent the past year as a writer for hire for Producer Joe in LA, which has been a blast, and with any luck and the grace of God, will turn into a real live screen credit and cold hard cash.

So, then what the hell have I been doing for the 9 years before that!!

This has come to my attention because some people have asked to read one of my scripts. The one. The only. I am screwed if they say "What else have you written?" Bubkis doesn't sound good. But it's the horrific truth. If the ball starts rolling, it's not going to roll far.

I need to get offa my ass. Big time. And I feel that now is the time. I have studied screenwriting up the jing jang, analyzed, evaluated, read, practiced, blogged, joined groups, and talked about screenwriting until the cows have come home, been butchered, the steaks have been cooked, digested and pooped out the other side. I'm sure there are a million things left to learn. But this phase is done.

My friend, Producer Joe, told me that I have ten good screenwriting years left in me, and if I haven't made it by then, no one will want me because I'll be too old and so will my stories. He also told me I should be writing 10 scripts a year. And that I should be writing full time. (I guess the 10 scripts a year would indicate full time.)

And all I can say is....

AUGH!!!!!!!!!!!! Augh.

I am toying with the idea of taking 3 months off, and writing 3 scripts. A script a month. It's doable (don't tell me what I can't do!). I have three outlines done. Mostly. More or less. A good solid month on each, and I would be that much closer to my 6 script goal. The question is when is it ever appropriate to take 3 months off work?

Today I spent the day at a workshop listening to the incredibly kind, giving and clever Christopher Vogler. He wrote the hugely popular "The Hero's Journey". It was an amazing day full of insights and gems. The last one being "Trust the Path."

So, I will trust the path. I trust that I will complete my 6 scripts. I might not have the details worked out, but somehow, someway, they will be done before end of next year. It's a mystery. And it's kind of exciting.

As always, encouragement is gratefully accepted. (I believe that you can never encourage a writer enough! We are generally a pit of exposed nerves, that only a kind word about our craft can protect.)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The thrill of a thriller.

I have a new writing contract. Yippie. It's to write a low budget action/thriller. Which is wicked cool, except I realized that I wasn't really sure how to do that. I work in big budget visual effects. It seems to be the modern day way of creating those thrilling moments in a big budget movie. Or is it? Do they just provide the moments, but not the constant undercurrent of suspense? There's been a lot of proof of big effects in wretched movies. I asked myself what exactly makes a thriller thrilling? I came up short.

So I did some research. Watched some flicks. Read some blogs (I want to be like John August when I grow up!), articles (William Noble has some great things to say about thrilling dialogue) and scripts of action/thrillers (Bourne, The Godfather, The Game). What I discovered was illuminating for me. It will change how I write not just thrillers, but everything.

First let me say, that although the 70's and 80's were jam-packed with action/thrillers, it seems to me that these don't quite hold up to the modern day thriller anymore. I know I know... sacrilege! Everyone has a few faves from that time that they swear are still awesome. And I'm happy for you. BUT the fact is, that the pacing just isn't what we've come to accept in this fast cutting, insane onslaught of the senses that modern movies have become. We just aren't held in suspense as easily or as slowly as we used to be. Well, I'm not. They bore me. I'm sorry. They do.

So let it be noted that although I'm sure the oldies used the same tricks to have us sitting on the edge of our seats back then, they weren't the ones that helped me come up with this list. (I am not including horror. There's a big difference between horror and thriller. I don't do horror.)

I've made a list of the tricks and tips I've come up with, which I thought I'd post. They are in no particular order. Some are specific for thrillers. Some are obvious for all stories.


Set the tone early, and stick to it. How violent? How evil? How high are the stakes?

Keep the pacing going, tension building; don’t let up. If there’s a reprise in the tension, make it brief, and make the next thing much worse than the last.

Always force the audience to think, “What’s going to happen next.” Make everything point to the grim/tense future that’s ahead. This will create a script that’s a page-turner.

Answer nothing. Keep the audience guessing. Don’t answer any question with a straight answer. Don’t solve any problems or make anything clear. Dialogue should always point to the future or more questions.

Keep things unexpected. Keep the reader on the hook for what’s next.

Hold onto the tension until the last possible minute in every conflict. Even the small ones. Don’t give the audience what they want until the end.

Every relationship or action should have conflict. Villain vs hero, hero vs his own team, hero vs himself. Everything has to be against the hero.

Make the audience think they’re getting what they want, then take it away at the last second.

Always show the hero’s character, specially when he’s being defeated, and he’s losing hope. Know who he is, where his weaknesses are, and exploit them. Hero’s are more endearing when they have a weakness. We will care more about them, and care when they are being hurt where it counts.

Explain any technical details quickly and without any fuss. For example, why there is no communication to the outside world available. Don’t dwell on this. Be brief, and move on. Focus on accepting that this is the case, and we’re on our own.

Keep action descriptions short and punchy. Don’t explain everything. Just enough to get the jist. Keep the action moving. Keep the tension in the flow of the read.

Keep hope alive, despite all odds being against us. If we loose hope, we loose the tension that hope keeps alive. Keep the reason for hope, and the fear of loosing it, pressing. New hope adds tension; crushed hope releases tension. Keep the cycle going.

Be aware of what is motivating the hero, even if he isn’t sure himself. Don’t switch motivations half way through.

Be aware of what’s motivating the audience. It should be the same as what’s motivating the hero. If it’s to save another person, don’t kill them. If it’s revenge, then make sure the audience feels the same need for revenge.

Make sure the pay off is as great for the audience as it is for the hero. If you take away everything the hero cares about, then there’s not much for the audience to be invested in for his success. If it’s only the hero that we care about, then make sure his living is more than just about one person surviving; that it has basic human rights and principles at steak.

Dunk the hero in it. Over and Over. By the end of the script, the hero should hate you for putting him through hell.

Put the Hero in situations that you don’t even know how he’s going to get out of, caught, beaten, lost for dead, then figure out how he escapes. Once he escapes, have him run right into the next impossible situation.

Don’t loose the sense of danger. Always have someone in the shadows. Someone waiting round the corner with a knife. It’s never safe. Keep the state of constant fear.

Make the villain even more despicable than he thought he could be. Make him complex and interesting, although horrific. If the villain isn't worthy of the hero, then you will cheapen your hero, and loose the audience. Put as much (if not more) time and effort into developing the villain than the hero. He will be the catalyst of the suspense. The more you fear and hate him, the more suspense you'll be able to create.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A near miss with a critter in the night

I was almost upon him, the two eyes poking out of the trembling little curled body on the road. If I had of been daydreaming of the leprechauns in the clouds instead of the bugs flying into the headlights of my car, I would now be feeling the pangs of remorse of taking a furry little life. As it is, I swerved, missed the petrified soul, and in my rear view mirror, saw his stubby tail disappear into the night. I killed nothing. Except the bugs. But if I were a bug, and there was a chance at an afterlife, I'd be thinking of that as a favour. Onto the next life, I say.

I digress before I even start.

This is the first time I've felt like writing in months. Months I tell you. I wouldn't call it writer's block. I had lots to say (sadly, this is always the case, much to my fella's remorse). It was more of a lack of inspiration. No mojo. I could say something, but why? Who cares? Not me. Bladdity blah blah.

And then... tonight, I met up with my writing buddies. They get it. They know what I'm talking about. They encourage me anyway, and low and behold, I'm starting to feel a little tingle of mojo in my toes.

And here I am, blogging and can't shut me up. I'm thinking of an outline for a script I've been avoiding. One that I should work on, that in fact is already sort of past due, and I don't even have a main character yet. But I'm starting to think of one, and I'm feeling... good. Yeah. Good.

Thanks guys. You rock.