Thursday, January 31, 2008

Screenwriting Meditations

[Excerpts from 3 books I’ve been reading.]

First, I’ve been looking for a way to work this quote into an article. No luck, so here it is. This can be found in the introduction to
The Story of Film by Mark Cousins:

“The measure of an artist’s originality, put in its simplest terms, is the extent to which his selective emphasis deviates from the conventional norm and establishes new standards of relevance. All great innovations which inaugurate a new era, movement or school, consist in sudden shifts of a previously neglected aspect of experience, some blacked out range of the existential spectrum. The decisive turning points in the history of every art form… uncover what has already been there; they are ‘revolutionary’, that is destructive and constructive, they compel us to revalue our values and impose new sets of rules on the eternal game.” – Arthur Koestler


This wonderful paragraph derives from David Bordwell’s latest book, Poetics of Cinema, and it’s a great reminder to consider seriously how and when we filter information to the audience:

“Two characters are talking to one another on the telephone. The filmmaker faces a number of choices for rendering this event. First, we can see both characters exchanging dialogue, perhaps via crosscutting, split screen, or some other technique. As a result, following the turn taking of the dialogue, we hear the entire conversation. Alternatively the filmmaker can, throughout the conversation, show us just one of the pair. But that offers a further choice: Shall we hear what the offscreen speaker says, or not? If we hear the speaker but see only the listener, we can observe the reaction to the lines. Instead, the filmmaker might eliminate the sound of the speaker’s dialogue, so that we don’t get access to what’s coming through the earpiece. In this case we see the speaker’s reaction, but we have to imagine what’s being said that provokes it. In sum, each choice narrates the phone call in a different way, doling out different information for different purposes. In a comedy, we might want to see both characters speak their lines and react to each other. In a mystery, it might serve the scene’s purpose to omit one side of the conversation, so we don’t know who the speaker is, or whether the speaker is sincere, or why the listener reacts as she or he does. All of the presentational tactics I’ve mentioned – crosscutting, split screen, eliminating a sound stream, presenting the sound coming into the receiver – are stylistic choices, but they’re inevitably narrational choices as well. They shape what information we get and how we get it.”


And finally, this comes from the book Defining Moments in Movies. (1000 defining moments, in fact. Great book.)

Key Scene – The invitation to and release from temptation
Chloe in the Afternoon

“Very early in Chloe in the Afternoon, we know that Frédéric (Verley), a personable if at times quietly anxious married man, can be seduced into buying a shirt by an attractive female sales clerk. Can he also be seduced into something more serious, like an extra-marital affair with the provocative, unattached Chloé (Zouzou)? In that question lies the suspense, which recalls Alfred Hitchcock, of the last of Rohmer’s “Six Moral Tales.” The dénouement of this highly sophisticated, always absorbing drama finds Chloé asking Frédéric to towel off her naked body, which he does in a tasteful, yet highly erotic shot in which we see his face from behind her. Ready to capitulate to his desire, he begins to pull his turtleneck over his head but sees his face in the mirror, in a reminder of a moment with his family – wife (Francoise Verley), daughter, and newborn son – and resists temptation, leaving to run down a winding flight of stairs in a masterly overhead shot, the clattering sound of his footsteps expressing both his panic and release from it, in the only truly great homage to Vertigo (1958). It is the moment that affirms that cinematic suspense has less to do with genres and situations than with how the style and form of a film are approached, and with tension and release – the release here returning Frédéric to his wife and a single-take final scene in which Rohmer’s trademark irony is suffused with a profound melancholy.” - Blake Lucas

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

MM’s “Love” Script

Well, I’m proud to announce that there’s a new screenplay on TriggerStreet, the result of a collaborative effort of 20 writers!

I thought it might be fun to try a screenplay experiment that would be a series of shorts along the lines of
Paris, Je T’aime. I’d give writers 6 pages each to write anything they’d want to write about love. They’d send the pages to me, and I’d put it all together into one screenplay. To my great surprise 20 writers volunteered! Actually, there were more than that, but I had to cut it off at 20 to keep the page count down. I don’t believe so many writers have ever come together for one screenplay.

After about a week and a half of intense labor, we got it done! You can find it
here and download it for free (membership to TriggerStreet is required, but it's free). It’s titled simply – Love. In it, you’ll find a great short by Miriam Paschal, who has done all those movie breakdowns, and also Pat who’s participated in all of the studies we’ve done here. There’s a superb short by fellow blogger Joshua James, as well as Ger, who placed second in the latest Final Draft contest. He wrote a hilarious short called “Dude, Wherefore Art Thou?” Mickey Lee’s in it, who I’ve written about before. David Muhlfelder, who you may recall gave us a review for the Senator’s Wife, wrote a hilarious short called “Colonoscopy: A Love Story.” Bob Thielke, who wrote the completely visual screenplay, put together a beautiful, almost wordless short called “Joedy Girl.” There’s also “Digging Greta Garbo,” by Ted Frothingham. And there’s a short by me, titled, “Love Inc.”

This isn’t for sale, just a writing exercise for fun. There was actually so much excitement about this project, that 20 different writers will be doing another script just like this in a couple of weeks, except the topic will be about “hate.” That should be really interesting.

Anyway, check it out. It’s a lot of fun.

-MM

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Screenwriting News & Links! 1/27/08

video

Above is a new episode of Dana Brunetti’s TriggerStreet TV, which covers industry news, trends, and topics. They’re very informative, particularly this episode about the 300 writers going “financial core.” Dana Brunetti, as many of you know, is the founder of TriggerStreet and producer of four films coming out this year, including 21 with Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, and Jim Sturgess.

(Away From Her should’ve been nominated instead of Juno.)

Thanks, guys. Great to meet you, Ian.

Plus, in case you guys missed it, we recently had a bruising no-holds-barred slugfest-royale over “we see” in screenplays
right here.

-MM

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New Screenplays:

Pink Floyd The Wall - May 8th, 1981 unspecified draft script by Roger Waters. And this is just as unusual as you would expect in a Pink Floyd screenplay. It’s part screenplay, part storyboard…

Conspiracy Theory - September 12, 1996 unspecified draft script by Brian Helgeland.

(Thanks so
SimplyScripts.)

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Epstein’s Important Post about Revised First Drafts
“You turn in your draft. The producer gives you notes. You turn in a revised draft. From time to time, a producer will assert that the second draft you turned in is a ‘revised first draft,’ not a second draft. Your producer may truly believe himself. But his belief, not inconsequentially, means he doesn't owe you a second draft payment.”

Billy Mernit & The Obligatory Movie
“The Obligatory Movie announces itself on the script-reading frontlines when you start seeing a whole lot of specs that are more or less variations on the same concept and story -- a phenomenon that occurs more often than you might think, in the belly of the industry beast. In this case, over a period of two or three years, as studio story analyst and screenwriting instructor, I read half a dozen screenplays that had the same title: Always a Bridesmaid. No plagiarism or imitation involved -- each of the six was simply a disparate writer's take on That Movie.”

Unk’s 7 Vids of Screenwriters Talking about the Craft

Mike Le’s hilarious
Truth in Cinema.


TriggerStreet for Comics?
Have you guys heard about
Zuda Comics? It’s a new website created by DC Comics where people can submit their own comics and others can read 'em and vote on 'em. (Thanks to my close friend and brilliant writer Wired Puppy for the link!)

Bill Martel on Symbols
“…In RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK we have that headpiece on the staff with directions on where to place the staff on the map and how long the staff should be... but on the opposite side of the headpiece are more directions that *change* the length of the staff - and that only changes everything. Things like that make the story seem alive and unpredictable. When we come to a fork in the story road and the character makes a choice - if it's the wrong choice, that makes the story seem unpredictable... it also makes the story seem exciting, because the hero now must scramble to get back on course. But there is only one direction in NATIONAL TREASURE 2 - only one way the story can go. That makes it seem prectable and dull.”

Laura Deerfield on Movie Character Careers
“I've noticed that there are certain professions or callings that are over-represented in film. For example - there are far more architects in the movies, as a percentage, than there are in real life…”

Director Zack Snyder has posted the two storyboards viewed below for his 2009 tent pole, Watchmen, on the film’s official website.

Elver:
Violent movies decrease crime, football increases crime

Mark Achtenberg on Carol Reed
“Reed's next film was 1949's blockbuster 'The Third Man'. Starring Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten, 'The Third Man' was based on an original screenplay by Graham Greene (not an adaptation). Like the previous film, 'The Third Man' was a mystery, this time set in the rubble of post war Vienna. The plot involves Holly Martins (Cotten) arriving in Vienna to visit his old friend Harry Lime (Welles) only to be informed that Lime had been killed after being struck by a car. Frustrated by the police's lack of interest in the mysterious circumstances of his friends death, Holly resolves to find the killer(s) and get justice for Harry. Again, the location photography by Krasker is sublime (won the Academy award that year for b&w cinematography). The film is driven by the unforgettable score by Anton Karas, the characters and performances are outstanding and the story is poignant and surprising. The visual style is dynamic and employs canted angles and superior compositions. Over the years many have suggested that Welles played a large role in the direction of the film but if you look at 'Odd Man Out' and 'The Fallen Idol' you realize that this is simply nonsense. Reed was a fully developed artist and while Welles' contribution to the film is great, it was in his performance and not his direction that you can feel his effect (Greene did note that Welles' famous cuckoo clock speech was written by Welles).”

Thanks to Tim for sharing A Softer World
“Check out
A Softer World for short little works of art that are also short stories. Very interesting. And also good to study in terms of packing a story AND a character into a minute space.” 1 examples below...


Interview with Chuck Palahniuk
“You know, I like the way it works. At first I was nervous because I thought it would be too much like Fight Club. Because Fight Club had a lot of voice over establishing things in the first act. But in a way you are moving from the abstract of language to the very litteralness of movement. Because language is what books do very well and movement is what movies does very well. So in a way having voice over in the begining almost works as a missing link between books and movies, and helps become what it is in the end - a movie. I think it works better that way. Actually, I kind of cringe in the third act of Fight Club when the voice over comes back, and I wish it hadn’t done that.”


The Ultimate Book On Screenwriting…From 1916?
And yes, such a book does exist and was written by a certain Capt. Leslie T. Peacocke.

Persepolis writer puts her life on the screen
“Marjane Satrapi is sick of herself. With four graphic novels in her popular Persepolis series, she's thrown open the gate to her life story. Those stories informed the new feature film Persepolis, one of the most imaginative movies, animated or otherwise, released in years. And with the movie earning an Academy Award nomination and opening wider — including in Houston — today, she's having to talk almost continuously about Persepolis' protagonist: Marjane Satrapi.”

Blarneyman rants about the new Bond title
“Or Quantum of Solace as its been officially announced. What a shitty, silly title. By that token I'd much prefer any one of these alternates…”

8 Minutes of Diablo Cody on Letterman

David Bordwell on Cloverfield
“Next, overall structure. The Cloverfield tape conforms to the overarching principles that Kristin outlines in Storytelling in the New Hollywood and that I restated in The Way Hollywood Tells It. (Another example can be found
here.) A 72-minute film won’t have four large-scale parts, most likely two or three. As a first approximation, I think that Cloverfield breaks into…”


Zach Campbell on Still Life
“If I open glibly, snarkily, it's only because Still Life is the kind of film whose brilliance may need a bit of polemical cynicism in order to counterbalance what is surely a temptation for some (1) to read the film in purely impressionistic-melodramatic terms. Because as a story about people searching (for...) it is a fairly affecting film. But it is only when the human interest is understood within its wider contexts specifically--not as the dramatic heart of a social message but as micro-developments within a macro-narrative--that I think Still Life emerges as one of the very richest and most important "festival films" of recent years that I've had the fortune of seeing.”

How I Set the Butterfly Free
“When I first read The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, the idea that it could be adapted to the screen never crossed my mind. Recently, at a question-and-answer session in Hollywood, the audience were, I thought, rather shocked to learn that I didn’t read books to see whether or not they could be turned into films. When I added that I read books simply for pleasure, the response was a murmur of bewilderment. I may be doing them an injustice but I think not. In Hollywood, I suspect in much of the United States, many people read only to discover if the subjects will make movies.”

"Various critics I respect wandered out into the near-zero cold after the Eccles Center premiere of The Merry Gentleman complaining about [Michael] Keaton's technical limitations as a filmmaker, so I can only presume they exist," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "But I felt tremendously grateful for the stillness and quietness of Keaton's picture, its ominous, anonymous American atmospherics and its reticent refusal to open its characters and story to us beyond a certain point, especially considering it's a movie about - wait for it - a suicidal hit man!"

A Chat with 'Untraceable' Screenwriter Allison Burnett
“They had written a script that was around for a long time, called Streaming Evil. It had many big names attached, but it never took off. And then Lakeshore came to me. At first I was supposed to work on Marsh's character [Jennifer Marsh, played by Diane Lane], do some character work and some dialogue work. Then I pitched them some ideas, and they began writing and I pitched them some more stuff. In their version, the killer really had no reason to kill people on the internet, and there was a randomness to it. It was a hideous carnival atmosphere. What I brought to it was, the more who watched, the faster the person dies. There was an MO to the killer: why he does it. We were going to go into arbitration over screen credits, but in the end we decided to be friends. I felt very good about that.”

Star projects underwhelm Sundance

“The third round of the Book Review's
Reading Room series is up and percolating," announces the New York Times' Dwight Garner. For the next two weeks, the Book Review's Steve Coates will lead a panel discussing Walker Percy's odd, winsome 1962 novel The Moviegoer. "I personally would propose these three words, which are certainly at the driving heart of my own practice: richness, intensity and gesture." Adrian Martin in a terrific interview that originally ran in the Slovenian magazine Ekran nearly a year ago and appearing in English now, thanks to the interviewer, interviewee and Girish. (Thanks to GreenCine Daily.)

Garth Brooks – Screenwriter?
“Garth tells the Los Angeles Times that he'll return to screenwriting in the next few months, and hints that a movie based on Garth's alter-ego, Chris Gaines, is not out of the question.”

Screenwriters talk Giallo and L.A. Gothic
““We never dreamed that Dario Argento would read our script, let alone like it enough to want to direct it,” Keller continues. “It still hasn’t completely sunk in. Dario Argento likes us! How cool is that? And the cast so far is awesome. The fact that it is moving so fast has our heads spinning. And as if working with one of our idols isn’t enough, we have another genre master attached to direct our screenplay L.A. GOTHIC: the one and only Dr. John Carpenter! We managed to sign a deal with producers Josh Kesselman and Danny Sherman of Principal Entertainment on Halloween Day—just hours before the WGA strike.” The L.A. GOTHIC synopsis passed along by Keller describes the project as “five interwoven stories of high-octane horror centering on a vengeful ex-priest’s efforts to protect his teenage daughter from the supernatural evils of LA’s dark side.””

Noir City 6 has the usual spread of special guests, rare titles, and newly struck prints across ten nights of double-features,” writes Max Goldberg at SF360. “Plenty of notable tidbits for the hardcore, in other words, and for everyone else a chance at the kind of immersion long underlying noir appreciation.” Michael Guillen launches his coverage with an interview with Alan K Rode, a frequent contributor to Film Monthly and The Big Chat who can also be heard in more than a few DVD commentaries. Rode's new book is Charles McGraw: Biography of a Film Noir Tough Guy, a book that James Ellroy as "A spellbinding account of the great noir heavy … and a must-have addition to all film-noir libraries. Deft biography and overall wild tale."

Interview with "A Mighty Heart" Screenwriter John Orloff
“…And that script eventually got you your big break with Tom Hanks -- pretty decent guy to start out with, no?
JO: Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, yes! The most important thing that happened out of the Shakespeare script was that Tom's company was among the readers. They liked it, and I met with Tom about another project, but every time I sat down with him I would ask if he had hired writers on Band of Brothers. I'm a huge World War II buff, and I think I eventually just wore him down. He finally asked me to write a script, and I wrote one episode. He was very happy with it and asked me to write another. So, that was my first paying gig.”

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On the Contest Circuit:

Gimme Credit Announces Cycle VI Short Script Winners

CinemaSpoke seeks screenplays
Cinema St. Louis is accepting submissions for its CinemaSpoke Screenwriting Competition, a chance for aspiring writer to get their work read by professional judges. The five best scripts get a staged recitation by local actors, and the winning entry is submitted to a Hollywood agent. Deadline for submissions is Feb. 29. The five finalists will be announced April 3. The contest is free and open to the public, as are the once-monthly recitations, which will be held at the Centene Center for the Arts, 3547 Olive Street, from April through September. For more information, contact Cinema St. Louis at 314-289-4150 or visit its website at cinemastlouis.org.

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Strike-Related:

URGENT! Talks Status Report: Optimism

Lionsgate signs as WGA talks go on
Indie producer, Marvel make interim deals

That Shitty DGA Deal Is At Least A Start...

WGA drops reality demands

Marvel makes a deal with the WGA

WGA STRIKE UPDATE: WGA Starts Fund to Help Idled Crews

John Wells On The DGA Deal
Good God - distributor's gross? Are you kidding me? Ugh… Down with the distribs!

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And finally…



Here you can watch the entire 29-minute, BAFTA Film Award nominated, British model animation
Peter and The Wolf written and directed by Suzie Templeton. I loved every second of it.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Top Ten Format Mistakes

Hey guys,

I should clarify that this is from one of my recent
TriggerStreet script reviews, and thus, it's the top ten mistakes one specific writer made in his unproduced spec. (And this is not to embarrass him, either. He's a good writer with a promising future.) But my biggest pet peeve in the world is a sloppy spec. For God's sake, a writer should know how to write and a screenplay ought to look like a damn screenplay. You may not have anything good to say in the story, but at least have the decency to make your script look polished.

Anyway, hope you enjoy it.

-MM
(aka - "Format Nazi")

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10) "WE SEE" & "WE HEAR"
This is one of the biggest amateur mistakes anyone can make, that is, to write endlessly in the action lines "we see" or "we hear" or "we look." Obviously, "we see," "we hear," and "we look" - IT'S A MOVIE. You might say, "well, I've seen this done by the pros." That doesn't make it right. That doesn't justify your doing it, and that doesn't mean we can all rationalize a lowering of standards in screenwriting. Even as Mystery Man, I interact heavily with a few pro readers from the U.K. and the U.S., as well as two college professors in screenwriting - DON'T DO THIS. Everyone groans and quietly talks trash about the author when the writing is this sloppy. We have to surpass the pros on every level with our screenplays in order to break in. And that process begins with spotless specs with perfect format & grammar.

9) FADE IN OVER BLACK?
PAGE ONE: How does one "FADE IN:" "OVER BLACK"? When would we know the FADE IN: has occurred if all we're looking at is blackness? You should start with "ON BLACK," then "SUPER:" (not "SUPER IN/OUT:") and after the super'd words, which should be in quotations, then write "FADE IN:" which should be flushed to the left.

8) CONFUSING CHARACTER INTRODUCTIONS
You do realize that when you first introduce a character, the name should be in caps, right? There are a few cases where you didn't do that, like Onesto's Mother or the Man in the White Suit (both on page 17) or the two reporters on page 41 (who they have lines of dialogue). And then there were other cases where you repeatedly put the same character names in caps, like Leland on page 81 and 86 after you've already introduced him on page 3 or Amelia Granger whom you put in caps again on page 30 after you already introduced her on page 14. And then there was the bit with the "Scandinavian Woman" and "Son" that started on the bottom of page 3. I'm still not sure how many characters were in that scene. You have Scandinavian Woman and Son next to a car at the Botanical Gardens with a clamp over the wheel. Okay, fine. The woman addresses an "August" in her dialogue, a bag hits the ground, a "stranger, dressed from head to toe in black, opens the bag and takes out bolt cutters," the mother "nods her approval," and then you introduce MAC MEAD, who picks up the bag and winks at the mother; she smiles back, blushing." I had to read it ten times before I decided that there were only 3 people in this scene, the mother, the son, and Mac, although what Mac was doing and why he did it and how it's essential to the story didn't seem important. But don't write "stranger" before a proper character introduction, because that'll make people think there are more characters in a scene than there really are. Introduce Mac Mead in the "stranger" paragraph.

7) IGOR, IGOR, IGOR
It annoys me when, in the action lines, a character's name begins every single sentence. "Igor does this." "Igor does that." "Igor goes here." It's amateurish writing. It means you don't have enough confidence in the reader to understand that you're still talking about Igor if you just write "he." Believe me, we'll get it. Just say "Igor" once and then write "he" thereafter.

6) SUBTITLES
Briefly, the handling of foreign languages and subtitles was, well, disastrous. I'm not even going to explain the variety of ways you can handle foreign languages in screenplays. Unfortunately, none of those techniques were on display here. I'll suggest this - parentheticals are probably best for this story.

5) CAMERA DIRECTIONS
The following we do not do: "THE FOLLOWING TAKES PLACE IN ONE FLUID, CONTINOUS MOTION -". That, my friend, is called a camera direction, and we don't write them - not in the U.K., not in the U.S., not in Tibet, China, or BFE. Get rid of all your transitions, too. Some transitions are okay if they are truly essential, but I never saw any reason for any of the ones you used. You also had a lot of swooping and flying, such as, "We are skimming the surface of the Tigris River. As we swoop up we fly towards a bridge." Just describe the location and imply camera directions. In other words, describe the river, the bridge, etc, and imply that we're skimming and flying but don't say it. Also, don't mention "pulling back" or "the frame."

4) HEADINGS THAT MAKE YOU CRINGE
Here were a couple of my favorites: "EXT./INT. HIGHWAY/THE VAN/THE TRUCK - DAY" and "INT. EXT. BAGHDAD STREETS/VEHICLES/FACES". Don't do that. Here's another one: "INT/EXT. BUILDING, SECOND FLOOR" How can you have INT./EXT. for a BUILDING? Did you notice that you have "EXT./INT." for the highway, "INT. EXT." for the Baghdad Streets, and "INT/EXT." for the building? Look, "INT./EXT." needs to have two periods and a slash and that kind of heading is usually reserved for automobiles. Headings need to be simple: "INT. LOCATION - DAY". No commas, no slashes, no "faces," just ONE LOCATION. If you're doing a chase sequence, all you need is one heading and a bunch of secondary headings. You might want to look at Mickey Lee's "Operation: Atomic Blitz" as a reference. You also do not write "EARLY MORNING" or "LATE AFTERNOON" in your headings. Scenes are shot for "DAY" or for "NIGHT". Period. Although you can also write "SAME" or "LATER" or "CONTINUOUS" or "FLASHBACK" or some variation. You had many headings without time switches at the end, too. I'd suggest you always have time switches at the end of every heading to avoid any possible confusion. While it was great to see that you knew to use the Secondary Headings, you were inconsistent with them. Make sure you're consistent with when, where, and how you use them.

3) NOT-SO-GREAT EDITING
No one has ever really written about this (and I'm not sure how well I can articulate it), but this script is full of what I'd call "bad editing." It's where a set of scenes feels jarring, confusing, disjointed, and erratic, because there wasn't a lot of care into leading the mind's eye of the readers to ensure that we are all following a specific train of thought in order to reach certain payoffs. I've resisted saying this for years because it sounds so cliched but I believe this to be true - there is a musical quality to screenwriting. You either hear the music or you don't. Because you have to be able to follow along in the story just as you can following along to a tune and there are many forms of music, but you cannot have a bunch of jarring, confusing, disjointed, and erratic chords in your songs. And thus, we have bad editing. At one point, like in one short sequence from page 9-10, we had these quick, jarring cuts that suddenly took us from Paris to some guy standing over an abyss in Alaska and jumping to a sudden cut in New York. Each sequence of events must have a beginning, middle, and end before cutting back to another sequence, UNLESS one sequence directly AFFECTS another sequence. Otherwise, it's too confusing. Robert McKee went so far as to say that each scene must have a beginning, middle, and end. I don't necessarily agree, because scenes can be part of a sequence that has a beginning, middle, and end.

2) UNFILMMABLES
My notes below are filled with complaints about unfilmmables, which were EVERYWHERE. Here are some favorites: "Where the Buddha, which was taller than the Statue of Liberty, had once stood, there is now only a blasted heap of stone." How is that filmmable? You have to write in the action lines ONLY what we see on the screen. "He didn't back down in Afghanistan and he's sure not gonna back down now." "Double sixes were the only way Mac could win." You cannot write explanations like these in the action lines. These things should be obvious to the story, and if it wouldn't be obvious to the reader, it's not going to be obvious to the audience, and you'll have to re-work this scene so you wouldn't HAVE to write an explanation in the action lines. Here's another one, page 53: if we're just looking at missiles, how are we supposed to know that it has an "internal gyroroscope-based guidance systems?" Let me say again - You have to write in the action lines ONLY what we see on the screen. Also avoid incidental actions, author's intrusions, and questions to the reader.

1) SO FUNNY, I HAVE TO SHARE IT
This comes to us from page 27:


Leland spins around and sorts through mail on the counter. He picks up a postcard.

POSTCARD
Get the whiskey ready. Bad smelling
offer too tempting to pass up came
my way. Use some floss if you don’t
hear from me in two weeks.

Leland turns over the postcard...

Ladies and Gentlemen, it's the world's first TALKING POSTCARD! YEAH, BABY! Let's give it up for our friend who wrote a character line and dialogue to create the talking postcard.

Hehehe...

That's called an INSERT.

Dude, if I was in a professional reading position, I would've put the script down on page 27. You're not impressing anyone with your lack of knowledge about the craft. I'd suggest you buy Dave Trottier's
Screenwriter's Bible and study it as if your life depended on it. This book represents industry standards. Everyone in the biz follows it, and it's recommended by the WGA. They may not be able to handle contract negotiations very well, but they recommend good books.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Heath Ledger, 1979 - 2008

Terribly heartbreaking news about Heath, wasn’t it? I liked what Emerson wrote: “Not only did he bring iconic life and nuance to the existential loneliness of Ennis Del Mar, a taciturn but complex (and conflicted) character, but for such mature work to spring from the teen-idol star of 10 Things I Hate About You and A Knight's Tale was... well, revelatory itself -- the astonishing revelation of a suddenly, fully developed actor who, in the superficial juvenile parts he'd played previously, had given little indication he was capable of such impressive depth and clarity. Ledger emerged as if from a cocoon, gleaming with promise and flexing his wings.” (Same could be said of many writers we know.)

His friends said, “
We saw it coming.” The Daily Mail, which isn’t exactly a bastion of integrity, wrote, “Heath was shattered by his split from Michelle… He became a recluse. He barely slept he was dealing with terrible mood swings.” Sometimes the best of actors and, indeed, the best of writers can also be the most troubled people you’ll ever know. And I’ve known quite a few. On one level, writing and acting is a reflection of the artists involved, and on another level, the writing and acting doesn’t even remotely reflect them in any real, honest way. You just never know. What happens in front of the camera and what you see in the media is hardly ever a reflection of reality.

I’m more knowledged about troubled writers than I am actors. We know that the poets, Robert Lowell, Delmore Schwartz, Randall Jarrell and Theodore Roethke were all diagnosed as manic-depressive. John Berryman, Sylvia Plath, and Anne Sexton committed suicide. Sylvia Plath, in particular, breaks my heart to this day. Of the famous writers, Philip K. Dick comes to mind, of course. Anne Rice suffered from severe depression due to a long-term illness and the death of her husband. And there’s Hemingway and Fitzgerald, naturally. In a letter to Fitzgerald, Hemingway wrote, “Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to hurt like hell before you can write seriously.” Do you really have to be in pain to write well? I don’t know. There’s an interesting article here about creativity and the troubled mind. Personally, I think we have to at least keep in check the usual elements that can lead to or worsen an already existing depression - isolation, introspection, lack of physical exercise, irregular hours, less than perfect diet, and lack of exposure to sunlight (sounds strange but it’s true). For me, I have problems with being overly-obsessed about writing and the craft and research on any project I may be working on. The research on my last script nearly killed me, although it wasn't on the scale of Kubrick and Napoleon, but I know I could go that far if I’m not careful.
How about you?

Heath’s death can still be a force of good to many other artists who need a wake-up call and that includes writers. I had a friend tell me recently, “I’m glad you’re doing this project because I’ve been down lately.” I told him, “I started this because I've been down a bit, too. And if there’s anything you want to talk about, I’m always here for you.” That’s what we have to do, isn’t it? As a screenwriting community? We’re not competitors. We’re fellow-travelers, people of like-minded faiths, and we have to watch each other's backs, right?

-MM

Monday, January 21, 2008

Screenwriting News & Links! 1/21/08

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Well, it took a bit of tinkering, but we’ve got a system now! I will be posting within these Screenwriting News articles episodes of Dana Brunetti’s TriggerStreet TV, which covers industry news, trends, and topics. Dana, as many of you know, is the founder of TriggerStreet and producer of four films coming out this year, including 21 with Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, and Jim Sturgess.

We’ve been having a lot of fun here. We had Miriam’s big article on the
Shower Scenes of Brian De Palma, a scene analysis from There Will Be Blood, and a big blog talk with the Unknown Screenwriter about 2007 and the screenwriting community (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4).

Thanks again, Unk. So great to talk to you.

-MM

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New Screenplays:


Panther - 1995 unspecified draft script by Melvin Van Peebles.

Below - November 6, 2000 blue revised script by Darren Aronofsky & Lucas Sussman with revisions by David Twohy.

Cliffhanger - March 30, 1992 First Draft, 2nd Revision script by Michael France, revision by Terry Hayes

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Our hearts are with you, Roger, and those involved in this
sad tragedy. Here’s an eye-witness’s account. Terribly, terribly sad.

On the flipside, here’s an article about hope. An
Iranian News website has an article about screenwriting: Aristotle's Seven Golden Rules Of Story Telling. It’s contributing author is Jan Janroy, who I think lives in New York, and who is also the writer & director of a film called David & Layla. Jan wrote, “‘The most essential thing for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof, shit detector. This is the writer's radar.’ Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway said he re-wrote the ending of his 'For Whom The Bell Tolls' thirty-eight times until he was content. Within its genre, are the characters and their stories credible? Is the ending believable? Is the ending satisfying?” She also has another article called Why Write? Ya know, this is a great example of what Unk and I were discussing in our Blog Talk. We live in an age where people should no longer have to pay to learn about screenwriting. Take the knowledge and the art into places that can’t afford Robert McKee seminars and help them create art for themselves to better their lives.


Congrats to my friend Dennis Cozzalio…
…whose blog, SERGIO LEONE AND THE INFIELD FLY RULE, has been nominated as “Best Entertainment Blog” for the 2008 Blogger's Choice Awards! Yeah, baby! In an e-mail, he wrote, “While I would NEVER advocate indiscriminate ballot stuffing, I will encourage to you to visit their website at www.bloggerschoiceawards.com and vote for SLIFR if you enjoy the blog and the work that I do there. When you visit the site, click on "Best Entertainment Blog," go down to the bottom of the page and click on the [number 2. That's where you'll find SLIFR as of Sunday evening at 8:00 p.m. -MM]”

David Bordwell on Scene Transitions in Classical Cinema
Just sensational. A must read. “As a storytelling device, the hook affects both narrative design and stylistic patterning. Studying it helps us grasp some basic mechanics of classical storytelling. Just as important, these devices display tacit knowledge and decisions on the part of filmmakers, who adapt traditions to the needs at hand. And filmmakers’ tacit knowledge corresponds to that of audiences, the skills you and I exercise unawares. We can follow the corrugations of sound/ image organization because we know about the world outside cinema, we know how conventions reshape that world, and we’re alert for narrative and audiovisual organization. Analyzing how movies are put together helps us understand how we experience them.”

“Stuttering John” wrote a screenplay
“Most people know John Melendez from his voice, either as “Stuttering John” on Howard Stern’s show or the announcer for Jay Leno. Now Melendez is going to have his time in the sun: National Lampoon will distribute his film One, Two, Many, according to Variety. Melendez wrote, produced and stars in One, Two, Many, about a man on a quest to find the girl of his dreams. The movie is set to open in theatres on April 10, even when many of National Lampoon’s projects go straight to video these days.”

I loved what Ebert wrote about the Honeydripper characters
John Sayles has made 19 films, and none of them are two-character studies. As the writer of his own work, he instinctively embraces the communities in which they take place. He's never met a man who was an island. Everyone connects, and when that includes black and white, rich and poor, young and old, there are lessons to be learned, and his generosity to his characters overflows into affection… As for the sheriff's role: As I suggested, lots of Alabama sheriffs were more racist than he is, which is not a character recommendation, but means that he isn't evil just to pass the time and would rather avoid trouble than work up a sweat. At that time, in that place, he was about the best you could hope for. Within a few more years, the Bull Connors would be run out of town, one man would have one vote, and the music of the African-American South would rule the world. That all had to start somewhere. It didn't start on Saturday night at the Honeydripper, but it didn't stop there, either.”

Loved what Manohla said about Cloverfield characters
“And, so, much like a character from a crummy movie, Rob hears from an estranged lover, Beth (Odette Yustman), who, after the attack, begs for help on her miraculously working cellphone. Against the odds and a crush of fleeing humanity, he tries to rescue her (unbelievably, ludicrously, the others tag along), which is meant to show what a good guy he is. But heroism without a fully realized hero proves as much a dead end as subjective camerawork that’s executed without a discernible subjectivity. Like too many big-studio productions, “Cloverfield” works as a showcase for impressively realistic-looking special effects, a realism that fails to extend to the scurrying humans whose fates are meant to invoke pity and fear but instead inspire yawns and contempt.”


Tim Claque, JJ Abrams, & Mystery
Tim shares a vid in which J.J. Abrams talks about how he looks at his own work - and why he works in the way that he does.

Emerson on the Juno backlash
I loved the reader-submitted question halfway into Jim’s article: “Q: I have been following the debate about the clever dialogue in "Juno" and there are two things I don't understand: (1) Why do people continue to expect every film they see to be a flawless reflection of reality when no film, not even a documentary, could ever accomplish such a feat? Isn’t one of the pleasures of going to the movies in seeing things we don’t usually see in the real world? (2) Why aren't more people refreshed that a film has gone against the grain by creating characters more intelligent than real people, as opposed to the Hollywood norm of creating characters who are considerably dumber and more shallow than real people?” Exactly. Let me just say that the backlash has more to do with Diablo Cody’s over-exposure in the media than it does any lack of talent, a good lesson for many of you guys out there.

Craig on Fringe Characters
“…but it got me thinking about the difference between movies with an inclusive point of view and movies with what one could call an exclusivist perspective. The distinction is tricky, of course: I'm not necessarily talking about a 'populist' sensibility like Spielberg's or James L. Brooks's as opposed to the more divisive appeal of a worldview like that of Kubrick or the Coens. What I mean is a sense that in a world of a particular film there is an acknowledgement, however tacit, that all the characters have lives beyond what we see in the frame. This, too, can be difficult to evaluate. Spielberg, of course, received a heaping of criticism for his depiction of Arabs in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and while a lot of it was probably accurate, I must confess that I still laugh when Indy shoots the swordsman in the marketplace. (My only defense, immaturity aside, is that I think I'm laughing at the undermining of audience expectations of a big action movie fight scene, not at who the character is or what he represents…)”

Mike Le’s “Two in the Pink, One in the…”

Emily Blake talks about Teaching Thursdays
“I got this email just now: ‘Gate 2 at Warner Bros. has come up with a stellar idea: "Teaching Thursdays," where writers of various genres would join us on Thursdays, making themselves available to discuss story, structure and everything in between to aspirings if the aspirings would be willing to come out and pick up a sign…’”

Laura Deerfield on the Death of Science Fiction
“How about something completely original? Take a look at Paprika, a great piece of anime. If you want interesting and unique ideas about the future, anime is a good place to look. Then there's Jathia’s Wager, a fascinating concept that seems to be a sort of choose your own adventure fr the digital age. I am sure there are also original ideas being made cheaply and shown online for free, as fans of SF tend to be drawn to new technologies.”

No Character Arc for the Joker
“Chris Nolan briefly chatted about his villains to the LA Times: ‘Harvey Dent is a tragic figure, and his story is the backbone of this film. The Joker, he sort of cuts through the film -- he's got no story arc, he's just a force of nature tearing through. Heath has given an amazing performance in the role, it's really extraordinary.’”

'Peter Pan' drawing inspired 'The Orphanage' screenwriter
“But screenwriter Sergio G. Sanchez is the one who grew up in Asturias, on the northwestern Atlantic coast of Spain, the location that gives the movie its seaside setting and its gray foreboding. He is the one who imagined a tale of a mother, a former orphan, living in an old orphanage, trying to find her own child who has disappeared amid mysterious goings-on in the place. ‘The spark that ignited everything was a drawing on a 'Peter Pan' book that I read when I was a child,’ Sanchez says. ‘It's that image of a mother, waiting by the window, for her children to come back from Neverland. It's my favorite book, and the final chapter of that is probably the saddest thing I've ever read. So what I wanted to do was tell the story of 'Peter Pan' from the point of view of the mother. That would give us a chance to go into darkest corners that story has to offer.’”

Would you take screenwriting tips from a man with bad Glamour Shots?
"I came across a link today that left me speechless. The link was referencing a free online screenwriting class. I eagerly clicked on the link thinking how it would be a great resource for this site. This is what I saw…"


Bill Martell Interview
"There's two different ways you can find a story. One is through character. When I'm writing a script for myself usually what I'll do is start with a character and then I'll figure out what's the very worst thing that can happen to that person and then my story is that thing happening to them. The other way to do it is when I start with a concept. Usually if I'm going in to pitch to a producer they will want some sort of an interesting idea."

John Carpenter Returning to Theaters with L.A. Gothic
His next film, L.A. Gothic, is scheduled to start shooting in March, with a script by Jim Agnew and Sean Keller, who scribed the new Dario Argento movie, Giallo, mentioned yesterday. Here’s the log line via STYD: ‘Five interwoven stories of high-octane horror centering on a vengeful ex-priest’s efforts to protect his teenage daughter from the supernatural evils of L.A.’s dark side.’”

The League Is Disbanded
Due to the strike and a script in need of a rewrite, Warner Bros. has pulled the plug on its planned 2009 superhero flick Justice League.

Brittany Murphy -- Lowered Expectations
“TMZ caught up with the actress at the Sundance Film Festival, as she gushed about just celebrating her 10-month wedding anniversary to screenwriter Simon Monjack. In Hollywood, after 10 months one celebrates an enduring marriage.”

They've Always Loved Films with Chaos
Martin Scorsese and Harvey Keitel have signed on to produce Daphna Kastner's New York drama Chaos.

Mickey Wins Again
Patrick Goldstein grades each studio on their 2007, which is good news if you work at Disney. United Artists? Not so much…

Film Tax Credit Program a Boon to Film Productions
“Governor Edward G. Rendell announced today the film tax credit program is attracting film productions to communities across the commonwealth, including $8.2 million in investments outside of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. ‘Due to the film tax credit program, we have been able to attract productions even to some of the most rural areas of the commonwealth,’ Governor Rendell said. ‘When is the last time McKean County was the location of a $4 million film production? This is an incredible experience and economic opportunity for our communities.’”

For Sundance Invitees, Real Work Is Just Starting
“Glanz, a Greenwich Village resident who was born in Hartford, raised in Westport, and whose family still has a home in Litchfield County, says he has ‘been around the block.’ A previous feature screenplay was on the cusp of being produced before the deal fell apart. ‘I was naive and overly ambitious,’ he says, adding that he lightened up and scaled down his latest project to sell.”

Bone Season Horror Movie Screenplay Script Sale Not WGA - eBay
Now you can buy movie scripts on Ebay. For a cool 500k that is.


Keith Uhlich’s Top Movie Monsters
“Hence this collection of the top 11 such hellions that, in one way or another, continue to haunt this writer's dreams, though don't expect too many obvious choices (no King Kong or Godzilla on this roll call, and even such "well, of courses" as Frankenstein and Count Dracula are herein represented by movies slightly off the beaten path). Scary as the things are that tower over us, crashing through building and brush with sheer, unstoppable girth (several examples of these below), there are also the subdued monsters, those all-too-human creatures who co-exist within our self-same existential space, lulling us into complacency before they strike like venomous cobras. And speaking of venomous cobras...”


The Guardian Questions the Ethics of Collecting Scripts
"Of course, that still leaves the big question - why? Doesn't it ruin the film if you've read the script? Apparently not. 'The attraction is knowing something other people don't,' says Don Boose, webmaster at simplyscripts.com. 'Personally, I enjoy reading scripts as a kind of literature. In many cases, I will actually go out and see the film because the script intrigues me, or I want to see how it's translated on to the big screen. Stepmom was one of those...'"

Screenwriter Ugo Pirro dead at 87
Italian screenwriter Ugo Pirro, who earned an Oscar nom for penning Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, died in Rome at 87.


Shot at stardom
Newspaper interviews Scriptapalooza semifinalist.

Interview with “Fanboys” Screenwriter, Ernie Cline
“SB: As a writer, you have a huge following in, for lack of a better term, the geek community. Or do you prefer nerd? In any case, where did that start and how do you feel about living in that role?
EC: I’m equally comfortable with being called a geek or a nerd. I’m definitely a bit of both. And that comes across in pretty much everything I write. I can’t hide it.”

Forty-Seven Drafts Later
“By signing on the dotted line the day before the beginning of the current writers strike, a pair of novice screenwriters and an AFI Directing Program graduate are about to get their shot.”

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On the Contest Circuit:

Gimme Credit Announces Cycle VI Super Short Winners

All Access Announces Quarterfinalists

Kairos Announces Contest Semifinalists

ASA Announces Nominees for 2007 Discover Award

BlueCat Announces Short Screenplay Lab Semfinalists

Slamdance Horror Announces Semifinalists

Praxis Announces Fall 2007 Winners

Filmmakers.com Announces Contest Winners

Screenwriter Showcase Announces Contest Winner

TWP Announces Contest Winners

MoviePoet.com Announces November Winners

Script Savvy Announces Contest Winner

International Gay Screenplay Contest - 10th Anniversary
The submission deadline for 2008 ONE IN TEN SCREENPLAY CONTEST is September 1, 2008. Entry forms are available online through the contest website: www.OneInTenScreenplayContest.com.

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Strike-Related:


Deal or No Deal
The Directors Guild has agreed on a new, three-year contract with the AMPTP after only six days of negotiations, and now all sides are speculating on what this means for the ongoing WGA strike.

Don't Follow the Leader
The New York Times reports that several WGA members are confused and angered by their leaders' negotiating tactics.

Playing Rough
The L.A. Times reports on the surprising move that four major studios made where they canceled dozens of writer contracts for the current TV season.

Joss Whedon on The WGA Strike

AMPTP AND DGA AGREE TO BEGIN FORMAL CONTRACT NEGOTIATIONS; Apted Says "Within Shouting Distance"

NBC vs Dick Clark Prods Blame Game: Lawyers To Untangle Golden Globes Mess

Pride, prejudice should not get in the way of WGA deal

Studios Accord With Directors May Help Resolve Strike (Update3)

Bill Maher on the WGA Writers Strike

Drew Carey Shells Out For WGA Burgers

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And finally:


New Indy IV & Star Trek photos: