Sunday, September 9, 2012

Waiting and Working

A few things on the go that I wanted to share. Plus my latest writing revelation. (I think it's a biggie)

My sci-fi script, GAME OF THE GODS, is in the semis of the Nicholl Fellowship. I'm still in shock. They are down to 129 scripts of nearly 7200 entrants. Now they tell me 4 Academy members read my script. And my name goes on a list that gets sent to around 200 agents/producers/managers, etc for becoming a semi-finalist.

My comedy script, 10 INTERVIEWS, is in the semi-finals of the Page Awards. I have no idea how that happened. 

A fantastic manager has contacted me (unsolicited?!) and requested to read GAME OF THE GODS. He didn't say anything about Nicholl, but why else?

I'm waiting to hear back from a producer in Vegas about my script set in Vegas. He seems lovely, and liked my script enough to pass it onto his director to see if there's interest. On his request, I've sent him a new outline based on some comments he made, and thoughts I had. I've basically changed more than half the script. But it will be so much better. I'm grateful to him, even if he passes.

So, yeah. F*ck me. Patience is key.

But I love having a few things on the go. That means I'm not pinning all my hopes on one thing. I think it's important for my moral. I've entered many more contests, and contacted more producers, and had other rejections, but the more I do, and the more I put my scripts out there, the more of a chance I have. Fingers, pies, many.

While my "business side" waits, my writing side is working away. I have the usual long list calling me. First is to get some of my sci-fi concepts in line. Then the rewrite of the Vegas script, and finally, I have a new sci-fi (a space cowgirl flick) that I'm dying to get at.

But I've also been thinking a lot about emotional content. I have come to the conclusion that I haven't been infusing enough emotional content into my scripts. I'm plot driven. So it takes me a lot of drafts to get the emotion into the script. But it's the emotional content that makes someone fall in love with a story and a character. So I've been reading some books on Method Acting. That's right. Because the theory (from what I can tell) about Method Acting, is that you don't play the part, you are the part. That way you aren't acting, you're feeling. It's intuitive. You can't hide from the emotions of the character, because they are your emotions. And this has made me ask myself, when I'm writing, do I simply watch the story unfold, or do I live the story as it's being told? I can put myself in my character's shoes, but it's more of an empathetic stance, than a completely personal stance. And I think there's a world of difference in that. So, while writing my next script I'm going to engage in the exercises a Method Actor does, and find shoes that my character would wear, and literally walk in them. Yup. I'm going to actually wear their shoes while I write. Of course, as a writer writing all the parts, instead of an actor acting one part, that's a lot of shoes. But it might work. Or I might go mad. But I think it's going to be worth a shot! I'm excited. Method Writing. WTFN?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Life Lessons

Tomorrow night I am giving my 8th speech in my Toastmasters Group. Three more speeches to be deemed a "competent communicator". Woot. I love my group, and have gone from thinking I will throw up before a speech, to enjoying the experience and having fun with it. I hope this will translate into pitching scripts, which was my reason for going. I couldn't have gotten worse. And the fact that I'm not obsessing, feeling ill, or getting nervous ticks indicates I've come a long way baby.

In any case, my speech tomorrow night is about storytelling, and what life lessons it's taught me, so I thought I'd post it, as I've been slack with the posts, and what the hell, I'm a lazy ass and this is already written.

I have been learning how to write screenplays for a while now,  through books, university courses, online courses, seminars, coaches, consultants, managers, agents, website and webinars. For the most part, from what I can see, there’s a definitive way to tell a good story.

You have a beginning, something happens, there's trouble, it goes from bad to worse, then completely horribly wrong, there's a choice, fight back, a crisis, win/lose something (often both), a resolution.

That’s pretty much how most stories go. Give or take.

But a good story isn’t just structure. And here’s where storytelling gets interesting. The art of good storytelling is in engaging the audience. Somehow, they have to connect to the story. Become emotionally invested.

How does a storyteller do that? I've narrowed it down to three things.

ONE. Characters. You love them, hate them, they make you laugh or cry. And here’s the catch. The best characters have flaws. They are not perfect. We don’t find perfect characters interesting or endearing. What we find engaging in characters are their flaws more than their virtues.

For example:
Captain Jack Sparrow. He is a bit nasty, and a drunk. But we love him.
Indiana Jones. He’s a thief. Grave robber. Cocky. And he can’t hang onto anything he steels.
Batman. He’s out for revenge. He’s emotionally unstable.

TWO. Villains. We love good villains. Really bad, scare the pants off you, terrifying evil people. Because we love to see them defeated. The bader the better. The stronger they are, the more we want them taken down. The harder it seems for the good guy to win, the sweeter their victory will be.

For Example:
Jaws. That shark is terrifying. Who didn't cheer when that sucker blew up?
Hannibal Lecter. He’s a frickin' nightmare. And a starling has to take him down.
Darth Vadar. He is not just the baddest ass villain, he's your father. Say no more.

THREE. Relationships. We love to watch how characters relate to each other in a story. We want them to have someone to share a revelation with. Or a moment of glory, or the aftermath of victory. Love. Friendships. Rivalry. We can connect to characters based on the relationships in their lives.

For example:
Obviously the romantic comedies like Pretty Woman. And buddy movies like Men In Black, or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. But take an action movie.
Die Hard. If his wife wasn’t in the building, and we weren’t already hoping they would get back together, it wouldn’t have mattered as much if he won.
The Hunger Games. It’s a sci fi action adventure. But the thing that kept me hooked through the story is who will she end up with? And I loved her because of her unconditional love and sacrifice for her sister.

So, to recap…

1. Being perfect is over rated. It’s boring, and no one will find you interesting.

2. Getting something good is sweeter with sacrifice and hardship. We like to earn our glory. We find it more satisfying to work for it than to have it handed to us.

3. Ultimately, what matters the most to us, are the people in our lives. Without someone to share the ups and downs with, the hardships and the glory, life can be a bit shallow.

Storytelling has taught me to embrace my flaws, welcome my challenges, and enjoy the people in my life. These are the key ingredients to my own good story.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Almightly Logline

 Logline: A sentence that gets your script read, or more heartbreakingly, not read.

I shudder when I have to write one. I am constantly re-thinking them when I do. And I’m never, and I mean NEVER happy with them, even after the 50th rewrite of that one, short, simple little line.

Because this one simple line has to sum up a gigantic volume of time, effort, passion and polish. This one line might encompass a year of your blood, sweat and tears. (Oh come on, admit it. You’ve have too cried over your stories.) 

And regardless of if you do well in a contest (which is truly great, I’m not saying it isn’t) or if your writing group thinks you have a sure fire hit (which is also incredibly rewarding, no doubt about it), or if you know in the pit of your gut, in that one place that never ever lies, that this is a damn good script…

It doesn’t mean jack if you can’t get it read by that Influential Group of agents/managers/producers who can get real traction for your script.

And they only read it if the logline grabs em. 

Just to be clear. I’m not talking about a writer whose name is what gets a script read. So, for example, if Terry Rossio & Ted Elliott have a script, their logline could suck ass, and everyone would be climbing over themselves to read their script anyway. Maybe they don’t even have to write loglines anymore (why should they?!) but I’m talking about Ms. No-Name-Writer here, with “please-read-my-script” tattooed on her forehead. The thing that will get my script read is a good logline.  

Is that fair? Damn straight it is. Because the flip side to this is, I often only see a movie if the tagline grabs me via advertising. And that’s a whole completed movie that potentially took years, and tons of people, and lots of money, and I bet their fair share of tears, to make. And I can judge all that work by one line in two seconds and sum it up with “Nah sounds boring.” And I move onto the next movie in the list. I do this. I sometimes even judge a whole body of work on just the title alone! I do. I bet you do too.

“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”. There is no way I’d see that movie. And there are other people who are dying to see it. All based on the title alone. Nevermind a logline. Which btw, if you’re interested is: “Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, discovers vampires are planning to take over the United States. He makes it his mission to eliminate them.” Anyway… Seth Grahame-Smith wrote it, and he’s on the hot list now. He wrote Dark Shadows. So I’m obviously talking smack. Vamp Hunter is probably going to rule the box office. But it will rule it without my $15.

So I don’t BLAME the Influential Group for judging my script on a logline. I get it. It’s how it works. It just makes me so super-hyper-aware of how important that damn unforgiving logline is. 

Before I started marketing my scripts, I knew I had to write one; I saved it for the end (procrastinated), categorized it under “cursed marketing” and didn’t really give it much weight. WRONG. I couldn’t have been more misguided.

Now, with a bit of marketing experience under my belt, and seeing what scripts of mine get requested, and which ones don’t (despite being a finalist in Page) I see that the logline is KING. So much so that I can’t afford to think of it as a royal pain-in-the-ass anymore. In fact, I have to start thinking of the logline as something that's not only used to get someone to read my script. I have to start thinking of it as a development tool for my story.

It will show me if my main character is worth writing a story about. It will tell me if the conflict is big enough and if the stakes are high enough. But most importantly… it will tell me if my story has heart. It will show me if it’s a movie I would want to see or if I would pass over it in a listing of 15 other movies with “Nah sounds boring”. It would make it perfectly clear to me, what is it about this story that I simply have to tell it? It will sell me on my story.

I’m finding it interesting to go through IMDB and my cinema guides, and read the loglines of movies that have been made. Some of the loglines seriously suck. And some of those movies are good too, and the logline doesn’t do it justice. Which just confirms that loglines are freakin’ hard! But when I come across a good logline, it sticks out. It makes me smile. I nod my head. Yeah… I’d see that. You know the idea has heart. Even if the resulting movie was terrible, that script got read!

Obviously, getting a request to read a script is just step one, but without passing step one… you’re still at step one. And a logline does not determine if the script is good. But it will determine if the concept is good. And maybe even more importantly, it will show if the story has that special something that everyone looks for, but no one can define. In the age of ADD, I call it AAK (An Attention Keeper).

So, that’s my weekend task. I am going to re-examine 2 of my loglines, and see why they are not getting script requests. I sense a few rewrites in my near future once I figure out the problem with The Almighty Logline.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

My latest revelation

OK, so you probably already know this. And I guess I did too on some level, because it just makes sense. But it's finally hit me what is the main thing I yearn for in a story, the thing that keeps propelling me through pages, or screen time. The thing that makes me love a movie or book.

This came to me in a variety of ways, all accumulating to my big revelation.

First, were the managers. Several managers liked the logline of one of my scripts enough to request I send it to them. The feedback I got was positive, it was a solid script, well written, well crafted, yadda yadda... but bottom line was they didn't fall in love with it enough to campaign for it.

Then, after several friends recommended I read "The Hunger Games" I picked up the first one, and devoured them straight through till the end of the 3rd book.

And finally, I read this article that a friend emailed out. It's about a producer named Lindsay Doran, and what she thinks makes a movie joyful. She talks about a bunch of things, but there was one point in particular that she made that stood out to me.

Here it is. Here's my big revelation.

The two things that hook me in a story, that make me turn the page as fast as I can to see what will happen, are:

1) If I fall in love the main character.
2) To see what will happen with his/her relationships.

It's not to see how they'll get out of jail, or get rich, or learn a secret, or save a city. Nor is it to see if the bomb goes off, or the bad guys die, or the mystery is solved. I mean, I care about those things. They have to be good. Put me on a roller coaster. Make me tense and scared. But that's not what makes me fall in love with a story.

It's the people. And who they care about. And what's going to happen to them.

Lindsay Doran said that “Audiences don’t care about an accomplishment unless it’s shared with someone else. What makes an audience happy is not the moment of victory but the moment afterwards when the winners shares that victory with someone they love.”

What was it about The Hunger Games, that I had to see what happened? Sure the games were horrible and graphic, and the distopian future was engaging and the premise and the story line, and all that was fast paced and interesting. But the one question that kept popping into my mind, the one that I had to find out the answer to, was... who would she end up with? I fell in love with the main character, and I loved the people she loved and I had to know who she would end up with from this romantic triangle she was caught in. And the scenes where this was touched on, the emotional moments she had with the two prospects, were the ones I savoured.

Maybe I would have been embarrased to admit that before, so I never really recognized it. Does a wonderful sci fi tale really all come down to trashy romance? Yes. It does. Those are the juicy bits. Of course, the story has to be good, and engaging and that needs to move forward, uping the stakes and so on. But the thread that gives a the heart a tug, the emotional yeaning, the thing that makes us fall in love with the story, are the relationships.

Lindsay Doran also said when the hero realizes the relationship is more important than the achievement, that makes us happy.  But also, this doesn't mean that it has to end all peaches and cream. A movie can end with the lovers not getting to be together. Look at Casablanca. He gives up his own love for her to be happy, and he finds another relationship that will be meaningful for him. But it's still about the relationships. That's what we want to know about. It's not about what kind of man will Rick turn into. It's who will be in his life? Who matters to him? Will his relationships come to a satisfactoy conclusion?

Harry Potter. Would we have cared so much about this boy if he didn't have friends he loved to share his adventures with? If it was just Harry against the world, alone, fighting for good, I doubt it. 

I thought of the managers. One said "I didn't fall in love with it enough to campaign for it." And I now know why. I had no one, not really, for her to share her conquest with. It was hers and hers alone. The relationships in my story were secondary to the plot and action. I got it backwards. What we love the most, are the relationships. The connection between people. Whatever causes emotions. Love, hate, jelousy, fear, passion, shared joy. These moments are made between people. These moments are the ones that makes us love the story.

Thanks to The Hunger Games, I also realized that for me, I must love the main character, in order to really care about his/her relationships. I can like a story where I don't love the main character, but I won't love it. What makes me love a main character? When they love someone else more than themselves, or if they are kind to someone when no one else was, or the relationship they have with another person, even if it's in need of repair. What makes me love them is how they relate to other people (or sometimes animals).

And then I thought of all the books I've loved the most, the movies where I would hold my breath and then cry the hardest, were all because I loved the main character, and I became invested in the relationships in their life. Some of the greatest moments in movies are that moment when the relationship is resolved, or a success is shared. Or a loss of a relationship is felt.

For example:
"Sense and Sensibility" - when Edward tells Elinor that he's not married, and all her reserve shatters into sobs of relief and joy. (this still makes me cry!)

"When Harry Met Sally" - it's New Years Eve and Harry give his speech to Sally, ending with "When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible."

"Dangerous Beauty" - when she's at trial, and the love of her life, a man who was more concerned with his status than their relationship, stands up in front of everyone to defend her, causing a chain reaction of all the men who secretly loved her, and who's lives she touched, to defend her.

"Blade Runner" - The scene on top of the roof in the rain when Roy says to Decker "All those moments will be lost, like tears in the rain." It's the moment that Decker sees Roy as human. Their relationship changes in that moment just before Roy dies.

Sure I have favorite moments that have nothing to do with relationships, but it's the relationships that make me fall in love with the story in general, and how the main character relates to others is what makes me fall in love with them.

I am rewriting my sci fi story now. I am focusing on the relationships in her life, as she goes through her journey. Focusing on the people she loves, and her difficulties with them. I'm excited. This is the stuff that moves me. And I'd somehow neglected this most crucial part of storytelling.

Onward and upward.