No personal blog crapola.
Just one guy's quest to unlock the mysterious art of storytelling on screen.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Fat Man And The Trolley Car

Playing What if? is what writers do. Well, fiction writers. For factual writers the game is more along the lines of Why that?

Daniel Sokol at BBC News explores the philosophical angle of the What if? exercise.

A runaway trolley car is hurtling down a track where it will kill five people. You are standing on a bridge above the track and, aware of the imminent disaster, you decide to jump on the track to block the trolley car. Although you will die, the five people will be saved.

Just before your leap, you realise that you are too light to stop the trolley. Next to you, a fat man is standing on the very edge of the bridge. He would certainly block the trolley, although he would undoubtedly die from the impact. A small nudge and he would fall right onto the track below. No one would ever know. Should you push him?

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Blocking Writer's Block

Writer's Block. No such thing.

It's a misnomer, IMO. Nothing is 'blocking' you from writing, except maybe if last week you had a falling out with the WGA and this week you woke up with your hands encased in a block of concrete. Then the phrase takes on a new and alarmingly accurate meaning.

I believe there are really only two reasons you're not writing when you know you should be writing:

  1. You cannot focus

    This is a legitimate reason and a common one: you can't write because you cannot narrow your focus enough to get 'in the zone' for writing. It could be disruptive noise from outside your room. It could be a physical problem, like headache or illness, constantly interrupting you with discomfort or pain.

    Or, it could be a mental problem. We all have our extended periods of ups and downs due to what's going on in our lives. There's not a lot you can do about the downs except wait them out, doing whatever you can to ensure they pass as quickly as possible. It's hard to write during those emotional troughs. On the other hand, some people use writing as an escape and a tool to get through those low times.

    Solution
    If you can't focus because of external distractions or internal physical or mental issues, don't beat yourself up over it. Wait it out. And don't punish yourself for not writing. Try scaling back your expectations during these times. Do some writing that doesn't require intense focus or your full attention. Take the opportunity to do more research, play with your plotline, tinker with yesterday's writing pages, and so on. That way you're getting something useful done and your time in the chair doesn't feel wasted.

    If it's an emotional issue preventing you from focussing -- for example, you just broke up with your partner after a long relationship -- consider using your feelings somewhere in your story. Can you add these thoughts and feelings to an existing scene or a character? Word of caution here: you need to commit to honesty if you go this route. And who knows. Writing through it might give you new insight into your own issues, as well as making your screenplay or novel more potent.
  2. You have no idea where you are going

    Oh, brother. My money is on this one as the major reason writers lose their flow.

    Assuming you've ruled out No. 1 as the source of your block, IMO the only thing left is that you didn't sufficiently map out your story before you started writing. Hey, but you don't want to crank out a cookie-cutter story, right? And that's what you'll get if you stifle your creativity by plotting everything from start to finish, right? Just imagine all the cool directions your story might follow by writing as you go, RIGHT?

    Ah, yes. You're THAT sort of screenwriter. The one who collects a bunch of ideas and sits down to write a first draft. As Bart Simpson might say, "Want a cool story, eh? No problemo. Put Nosferatu, Mighty Mouse, and Mr Spock together in a locked cage and the ending practically writes itself, man!" You're also the type of screenwriter who doesn't believe in writing a treatment first.

    Solution: Too easy. Before you write anything more, figure out where you are going! At a minimum, that means know your ending! So you already know your ending but you're still blocked? Then stop and find your story mid-point! Still blocked? Just keep breaking the large units into smaller ones. What you are doing here is finding and placing the stepping stones that lead you from the beginning of your story to the end. It doesn't matter if you don't lay down every single stone before you write a first draft. By knowing your ending before you start you always know where the path leads eventually.
Knowing this, kiss goodbye to "writer's block". What you are experiencing is, in the case of No. 1, a temporary writing delay out of your control; and in the case of No. 2, a temporary writing delay while you complete the story map you should have constructed before you began. In both cases, no harm no foul. You'll be back writing in no time.

Here are two articles from other writers offering different perspectives on the topic: Blast Your Writing Blocks by Angela Booth, and 7 Secrets For Beating Writer's Block by Shaun Fawcett. Both articles used by permission.


Blast Your Writing Blocks

by Angela Booth

Copyright © 2003 by Angela Booth

How many words do you write a day? Some novelists manage 2,000 words a day or even more, but most writers feel they've done a good job if they can turn out 500 to 1,000 words.

If you're writing zero words a day, you're blocked. Writers get blocked because they're anxious, or because they don’t have enough information.

Dealing with anxiety

Anxiety can show up in various forms, either physical, mental, or emotional. You may feel tired, or have a head-ache. You may decide that you're bored with what you're writing, or so depressed you can't think. Or maybe you convince yourself that you're just too busy (the lawn needs mowing, and you should spend time with the kids). You'll do your writing tomorrow.

The anxiety block is hard to manage because you often don’t realize that it is a block. You have terrific reasons for not writing. No one would expect you to write with a migraine, would they? And you really do need to mow the lawn.

The only way I've found to manage this block is to be tough on myself. I set myself a daily word target, usually 1,000. I may not reach that target, but before I go to bed, I MUST write 500 words. Every day.

Paradoxically, I've found that even when I'm not in the mood to write, or when I have a headache that would fell an ox, I feel better when I've written my 500 words. I often go on to write the full 1,000.

The most pernicious anxiety block occurs when you're convinced your writing is worthless. This block may happen as a result of chaos in some other area of your life: perhaps with relationships, or illness, or finances.

Handling this block takes careful management. First, try to see that it's a block, which has happened because of the stress you're under. Your writing is fine --- you've just lost perspective. If you can convince yourself of this, it's a major achievement.

Try to write anyway, even if you feel your writing is trash. If you can't, take a break from writing without feeling guilty. Relax, exercise, eat well, and indulge in a few movies, or a favourite hobby.

If this block lasts for more than a month or two, visit a therapist. There's no shame in this, and seeing someone can save you endless months of frustration.

Eliminating the "no info" block

You can also get blocked because you don’t have enough information. You're trying to write the final draft, instead of tackling the writing process draft by draft.

Here's a handy way to prevent the "no info" block by taking your writing through clearly defined stages:

A. First draft: your thinking draft. In this draft, you write whatever you like. You're aiming for quantity here, rather than quality.

B. Your second draft. Your first draft has shown you what you want to say. In this draft, you have a crack at saying it.

C. Your clean-up draft. Your final draft. You've said what you want to say, now you get a chance to say it better. You clean up the redundancies and spice it up.

In practice, stage B may have several additional drafts, as many as you need: B1, B2, and more.

The easiest way to kill the no-info block for good is to allow yourself to write badly. Every day. This is because writing is hard when you try to think and write at the same time. Allow yourself to think on paper for as many drafts as you need. Then write the final draft with confidence.

Writing cycles

This isn't a block, it's a process. Everything happens in cycles, even your writing. Sometimes your writing catches fire. You're inspired. At other times, writing is like wading through quicksand, and it takes you forever to write 200 words.

Accept this. When you're in the low part of the cycle, aim lower. If your target was 1,000 words a day, make it 200. Or even 50.

Blocks are a part of the writer's life. Use the above tools to write your way out of them. As incredible as it may seem when you're in the middle of a block, the day will dawn when your block is not even a memory, and you can confidently say: "There's no such thing as writer's block!"

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Digital-e: For writers and creatives.
Ebooks, free ezinesFree Articles, Creatives Club.
Love to write?
Turn your talent into a business!
http://www.digital-e.biz/

Writer, author and journalist Angela Booth has been writing successfully for print and online venues for 25 years. She also writes for business. On her Web site http://www.digital-e.biz/ she conducts workshops and courses for writers.


7 Secrets For Beating Writer's Block

by Shaun Fawcett

Most people can easily identify with the dreaded "writer's block". It is a well-known phenomenon that just about everyone has faced at one point in their lives.

I used to suffer from writer's block, big time! Thus, I know through personal anguish and suffering, that it is definitely not a pleasant experience.

Especially when the due date for one's project or paper is getting closer by the day, and the boss asks you "how's that project going" every time you don't manage to avoid him/her when you're sneaking down the corridor.

WRITER'S BLOCK IS FEAR-BASED

Writer's block is a fear-based feeling. For whatever reason, many of us have this incredible fear of committing ourselves in writing whenever we are faced with a blank page or computer screen.

Fear no longer! I'm here to tell you that writer's block can be beaten!

Just realizing that writer's block is really an irrational fear that keeps us from putting pen to paper is half the battle. It's actually a fear of the unknown, often coupled with a fear of failure.

We secretly wonder just what exactly is going to come out of this pen/keyboard, and when it does, will we be revealing some kind of incompetent idiot who doesn't know what they're talking about?

On the other hand, if we have done the proper preparation, our rational mind knows that we can do it just like we did it all of those other times before.

Unfortunately, fear often wins the day when it comes to writing.

As I stated above, I suffered from writer's block for many years and it was not the most enjoyable of experiences.

THE 7 SECRETS

Fortunately, somewhere along the way I did manage to develop a few tricks to overcome writers block. Some are obvious, others are not.

Here are my personal hard-earned secrets for overcoming writer's block:

1. Don't Write Too Soon

Before trying to write, it is important to prepare mentally for a few hours or days (depending on the size of the task) by mulling the writing project over in the back of your mind. (Just as athletes don't like to peak too soon, writers shouldn't write too soon either!).

2. Do The Preparation

Read over whatever background material you have so that it is fresh in your mind. I read through all background material carefully marking important points with a yellow hi-liter and then review it all before I start to write.

3. Develop A Simple Outline

Before sitting down to write, put together a simple point form list of all of the key points you want to cover, and then organize them in the order in which you are going to cover them. (I know, I know... your Grade 6 teacher told you the same thing... but it actually does work).

4. Keep research Documents Close By

When you sit down to write, make sure that all of your key background materials are spread out close at hand. This will allow you to quickly refer to them without interrupting the writing flow once you get going. I keep as many of the source documents as possible wide open, and within eyesight for quick and easy reference.

5. Just Start Writing

Yes, that's exactly what you do. Once you have prepared mentally and done your homework you are ready to write, even if your writer's block is saying "no". Just start writing any old thing that comes to mind. Go with the natural flow. In no time at all you will get into a rhythm, and the words will just keep on flowing.

6. Don't Worry About The First Draft

Once the words start to flow, don't worry about making it perfect the first time. Remember, it's your first draft. You will be able to revise it later. The critical thing at the outset is to write those thoughts down as your mind dictates them to you.

7. Work From An Example

Get an actual sample of the type of document that you need to write. It could be something that you wrote previously, or it could be something from an old working file, or a clipping from a magazine article, or a sales brochure you picked up. As long as it is the same type of document that you are writing. Whatever it is, just post it up in your line-of-sight while you are working. You'll be amazed at how it helps the words and ideas flow. The main thing is to have an example to act as a sort of visual template.

In my experience this last one is the ultimate secret for overcoming writer's block.

To help with this, be on the lookout for good examples of writing that you may see in newspapers and magazinesHealth Fitness Articles, and clip out the useful ones for future reference.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shaun Fawcett is webmaster of writinghelp-central.com and author of the new eBook "Instant Home Writing Kit". His FREE e-mail COURSE "Tips and Tricks For Writing Success", offers valuable tips on home/business writing. Sign-up for FREE at: http://www.instanthomewritingkit.com/free-course.html

The End Of Cinema?

Increasingly, audiences are staying away from cinemas. There are many reasons for this, but you can point to one issue as the cinema killer: viewing choice.

With the shrinking window between a film's cinema release and its DVD release, and affordability of home cinemas, it comes down to this: is the film worth seeing in the cinema or are you happy to wait a few months to watch it at home?

Let's weigh up the risks and costs:

  • Watch at home
    1. You decide when the movie starts
    2. You decide if you want to sit through ads before the movie
    3. You decide if you want to watch it quietly alone or raucously with a bunch of friends
    4. You decide how loud you want the audio
    5. You decide the price and type of snacks you purchase to accompany the movie; or you can decide nobody eats during the movie
    6. You can ask the audience to switch off their mobile phones
    7. You can decide the movie is not so hot, stop it, and return later to watch the rest of it

  • Watch at the cinema
    1. You risk people talking, chewing, slurping loudly, mobile phones ringing, etc.
    2. You risk morons in the audience otherwise ruining the film-going experience
    3. You risk poor projection
    4. You risk poor sound quality
    5. You pay for gas to drive to the cinema and perhaps pay a parking fee
    6. You pay inflated prices for unhealthy snacks
    7. You pay inflated prices for a movie ticket -- I can buy a movie on secondhand DVD from a rental store for the same price (or less) as seeing it once at a multiplex cinema
That's just off the top of my head. I'm sure you can think of many things I left off the list.

I'm not anti-cinema, but I do believe the experience has diminished continuously since the eighties. Most heinous to me is the decline of the true cinema projectionist and the rise of the multiplex staffer who serves at the candybar, sells tickets, cleans the cinemas, and -- oh, yes -- runs the film at the appointed time.

So what can make a person want to visit a cinema instead of waiting to see the movie at home?
  • It's a social event
    Most people enjoy dressing up a little and heading out with friends. Maybe grab something to eat beforehand, or go for coffee after. It's a reason to get out of the house.
  • It's the big-screen experience
    A 50-inch plasma TV is still no match for that big cinema screen. Unless the film is projected out of focus, has splice marks, and the screen has grey splotches where a cup of Coca-Cola splatted against it and they never bothered to pay for proper cleaning.
  • It's a communal event
    I almost lumped this one with It's a social event, but it's not quite the same thing. There's something primal about hundreds of people gathering in a dark, cavernous room, all silent and focussed on the same object (the screen) for hours. When a movie works, and that movie reaches deep into our common humanity, the audience becomes a single entity for a time. We react as one -- we jump at the horrors on screen, choke up as we watch the characters suffer, laugh at the funny stuff, and punch the air when the hero saves the day. In short, the cinema group experience strips away our differences and reminds us that, when you get right down to it, we all share the same emotions and needs. But that's just for movies that work. And when they work, staying at home is simply not an option. For those of my generation, can you imagine not having seen the original Star Wars on the big screen? Do you honestly believe the opening scene would've filled you with the same jaw-dropping sense of awe when watching it on your plasma TV?
This last item touches upon something we're hearing more and more: I don't go to cinemas any more because the movies suck!

Do movies today suck more than movies of ten years ago? That's a personal judgement. For me, I don't get that frisson down the spine that I regularly felt when watching movies during the Eighties. Perhaps it's because I'm older now. But perhaps not. Maybe it's true that films don't connect like they used to, and that's why people are staying away from cinemas. Perhaps the film industry's big players have lost the plot... literally.

I hope this site contributes in some small way to helping you, the budding screenwriter, figure out how to connect deeply with your audience.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Of All The Screenplays In All The World ...

Chris Farlekas discusses the WGA's list of the 101 greatest screenplays of all-time and some of their authors, e.g. heyday scribes Koch and Mankiewicz.

Of Koch and Casablanca:

As he wrote, he didn't know which man Ingrid Bergman would end up with. He felt it needed to be Paul Henreid, her husband and a great resistance leader against the Nazis. The studio was pressuring for the more conventional leading-man-gets-leading-lady resolution. Koch told me if he'd lost the fight, he believed the movie "might still have been an entertaining melodrama, but certainly not the classic it became."

Screenwriting & Screenwriters – beyond Syd Field (Guest Post)

Reprinted with permission.

by Kal Bishop

Without denigrating the work and contribution of Syd Field to the art of screenwriting, it is about time many screenwriters moved on.

Syd Field gave us the plot point - a clearer definition of what was previously known as the “twist” - as well as other concepts such as the “pinch” and midpoint. His work is still a valuable start point for screenwriters.

Syd Field’s midpoint analysis moved us towards four-act structure, which is well established in many cultures, whereas western culture still tends to dwell on three acts.

It seems as though Syd Field had some issues with the mid-point, one of them being that the inclusion of the mid point and consequently four act structure does not fit well with all stories – his attempt at preciseness resulted in a consequential lack of broadness and hence greater critical analysis as a template.

Hollywood has implicitly accepted four act structure – most movies now have a high point midway – usually a catastrophic event for the protagonist. Resistance to four-act structure is probably a result of our theatrical heritage.

But moving light years ahead in terms of structure is the Hero’s Journey.

Ironically, Campbell published Hero with a Thousand Faces before Syd Field published his work. Vogler wrote an easy to read update in 1992 (The Writer’s Journey). The Hero’s journey is a well established anthropological analysis of stories across cultures.

Depending on the interpretation, there were 17, 18 or 19 stages to the Hero’s Journey. But a modern, detailed analysis reveals at least 106.

There is some rejection of the Hero’s Journey as a universal template primarily because the archetypes (Mentor, Shape Shifter, Threshold Guardians etc) refer to the Quest, Fable, Fantastic et al genres. However, this is a misunderstanding as a metaphoric and symbolic interpretation leads to such classics as Midnight Cowboy and Get Carter, the original Michael Caine classic.

Ultimately, the Hero’s Journey is a much more sophisticated study of Story Structure than Syd Field’s analysis – and story structure is the most fundamental and critical of the skills that screenwriters need to possess.

Other theorists, such as McKee in Story are not as structure orientated, but their input when debating structure, is also indicative to it’s importance. For example, McKee rightly states that the screenwriting process should involve a step-outline, treatment and then a words-on-paper first draft.

The thing that held us back was this idea that a template had to be broad, which made sense if that template had to explain many stories. But a conceptual leap is the understanding that detailed templates, which may not each explain large numbers of stories, when taken together, can be more useful tools.

Further, whereas Syd Field’s analysis left the screenwriter with yawning gaps - the need to fill 30 and 60 pages – detailed templates overcome this problem.

Whereas Syd Field had difficulty with four acts, we are now playing with story structures with potentially 150 acts. This is the natural result of analysing sequences as opposed to acts.

It is like comparing today’s scientific analyses to Middle Aged analyses using Fire, Water, Earth and Air.

In conclusion, it is time screenwriters moved beyond Syd Field.

A detailed Hero’s Journey analysis and related story structure templates can be found at http://www.managing-creativity.com/

You can also receive a regular, free newsletter by entering your email address at this site.

Kal Bishop, MBA

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kal Bishop is a management consultant based in London, UK. He has consulted in the visual media and software industries and for clients such as Toshiba and Transport for London. He has led Improv, creativity and innovation workshops, exhibited artwork in San Francisco, Los Angeles and London and written a number of screenplays. He is a passionate traveller. He can be reached on http://www.managing-creativity.com/
Source: Articles Factory

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Screenwriting With Impact (Guest Post)

Reprinted with permission.

by: Don Bledsoe

The screenplay you've pounded out on your trusty word processor is finished at last! Before the reader even looks at the title of your script, it must pass the "rifle test." The rifle test tells a professional in seconds whether the script is professionally written or not. Is the screenplay in the right format? Does it look like it was written by a professional screenwriter? Is the script vertical?

The Rifle Test

Hollywood screenwriters know that a reader, agent or producer can tell instantly by fanning the pages back to front if your script is professionally written and in the proper format. Your script will not even get a read at an agency or get studio coverage if it doesn't look right. The typical development executive reads 35-50 scripts a week on their own time, away from the office. After reading hundreds and hundreds of scripts, they can see at a glance if it looks right. If it's not right, it's dumped. It's that simple. If you use a good screenwriting program, then this is an area you won't have to worry about. If you don't have one, at least follow the rules. They're relatively simple. They're also hard and fast and not meant to be deviated from, so don't "improve" upon the formula, just use it. You can get the layout details at ScriptNurse.com for free.

Before you get the screenplay down on paper, watch out for "speed bumps" that are practically guaranteed to stop the reader in his tracks. Remember, there are only TWO TOOLS to work with in writing a screenplay:

  • ACTION: a description of what is seen on the screen visually
  • DIALOGUE: what the characters say
Here are some rules and do's and don'ts for writing your screenplay with impact:

Action Description Tips

Don't direct or act: Directors don't like to be told how to shoot a scene. Besides, a good director might do it better than you suggest in the script. Actors don't like to be told how to act, so don't tell them how to play the scene in your script. By using techniques to make your script more "vertical" you can lead the director and the reader where you want them to go. Break up paragraphs into smaller ones so that each paragraph implies a shot. "we see" or "we hear" sounds like you're directing, so don't use them. Instead, the the technique of making your script "vertical" to accomplish the same thing.

Kill the camera: Remove all references to camera movement and angles. If you have to do it more than once or twice in an entire script, there's something wrong with the way you're writing it. Eliminate any "we see" or "we hear" references because "we" don't see or hear. Write the visual action the audience will see on the screen or the words the actors say. The simplicity of screenwriting is what makes it so hard to do. Use the "vertical" technique to lead the reader through the shots.

The verb "is" implies a state of being that cannot be photographed. Only visual action can be put on the screen. Any reference to whom "is thinking," "knows about," "wants to be," or "looks like" needs to be rewritten. Action description doesn't have to be perfect English. This isn't a novel. It DOES have to be colorful, descriptive and visual so the reader can "see" in their heads what you want seen on-screen.

Use strong language and avoid passive voice writing: "Fred is running around crazily" is weak compared to "Fred runs, flailing his arms frantically." Look for any descriptions that talk about "is" or "being." That's weak writing. Make it colorful! Use simple, colorful, visual words. Don't convert verbs into nouns as in the example above. The verb is "runs" -- keep it a verb and you'll have stronger, present tense writing.

Eliminate CUT TO: in your script. It's already implied when you show a new scene heading anyway.

Character Development

If they're good, make them very good. If they're bad, make them really bad. This makes your characters easier to identify with and clearer in the mind of the script reader. We all want to know who to root for and who to despise. Don't make it hard to figure out. It can always be "dumbed down" later.

Write backstories for your characters. Create their past lives and family history. Note their quirks, habits (good and bad), flaws, compulsions, fears, phobias and dark secrets. List things that scare them in the night. Write down every skeleton in their closet. Include parents and siblings, if appropriate. Write down traits others might see as good, redeeming and to be admired. What makes them likeable? What makes others immediately not like them? These all work together to help you understand your characters. It makes them come alive. Creating a past lets you create a future in your screenplay that's real and plausible. Having this understanding leads to you knowing that a character would or wouldn't "do that" or "say that." For example, everyone knows that Indiana Jones has a phobia about snakes that gives him pause. Since he's bigger than life, he faces his fear, but because he has a common phobia, we can all identify with him easily.

Try "casting" your script with a dream cast. Cast each principal role with the biggest name you can think of who is perfect for the part. See that $20 Million Star as the character you're writing. Get their photos and stick them up on a wall with their character name above the photo. When you've got Jack Nicholson speaking your lines, you find out very quickly the kinds of things he simply could not do or would not say.

Real vs. Reel Dialogue

There's real dialogue and "reel" dialogue. If you want real dialogue, just go outside, where there's plenty of it. Reel dialogue in film is different. It's terse and more direct without being "in your face" or "on the nose." Here's where reading good, quality scripts can really help you. If you need help with dialogue, I recommend getting a great dialogue tool called Great Dialogue (www.greatdialogue.com).

Rule of Thumb: In a properly formatted script, if there are more than five lines of dialogue under a character name, it's starting to become a speech. Too many speeches and your script becomes too "talky."

Strike every "well," "now," "listen," "oh," etc. that you find in your dialogue. Actors put those in where it's natural to do so and they only make a script harder to read.

Delete the "pleasantries" and "chit-chat" from scenes. You're just wasting time, boring the reader and keeping them from your story.

Act it out: say the lines out loud as you write them. It's amazing how much this helps.

Let's Start Hacking

It's time to get rid of the weak, passive and pointless from your script. Start by making a backup copy of the script before you get out the hacksaw and start chopping everything to pieces.

Your story might be too long, wanders aimlessly, or lacks impact. Let's thin it out without gutting it. Do this:
  1. Strike every "well," "now," "listen," "oh," etc. that you find in your dialogue. Get to the subject at hand and cut to the chase. Cut out the unnecessary clutter in what your characters say. You can always put it back in if the producer wants it. Actors hate to be told how to act and producers hate reading about that, too.
  2. Look for parentheticals (instructions to the actor in parentheses in the dialogue). Hack them out. Use them ONLY when there's no other way to indicate that a particular line is directed to a specific character out of several in the same scene or if it cannot be done by carefully selecting the words for a character. Parentheticals are speed bumps in a script. Avoid them entirely if possible.
  3. See just how terse you can make the dialogue. Terseness helps to create impact and makes characters seem more forceful and decisive in a drama and funnier in a comedy. When it gets to the point where you're feeling a little uncomfortable with the directness, it's probably about right.
  4. Review the action descriptions. Any "is" or "being" description needs to be re-written to give it impact. Strike references to ANYTHING not seen on the screen, like reminding the reader that "so-and-so was the same guy who..." -- you get the idea. If it can't be seen: HACK IT OUT! Think in master scenes. It's okay to write the interior and exterior scenes at one location as one scene. Use a separate action description paragraph to signal a separate shot without explicitly saying so, to let the reader know we went outside, if you started with INT. BAR - NIGHT. It's a LOT easier to read that way.
  5. Find every instance of a simple word and give it more impact. Get simple, colorful language in your descriptions. Cars don't just "pull up at the curb." They also gasp, lurch, grind, shudder, gurgle, clatter and expire at the curb. Get a good thesaurus or use the one built into your screenwriting or word processing program. The point is -- use it! Also, eliminate big words not commonly used in everyday speech unless it's part of a character's persona.
By now, you should have thinned things out a LOT. Good. You're down to meat and potatoes, if you're lucky. Your script should be more visual, carry more impact and possess tight, crisp dialogue. Now set it aside for at least a week, preferably two. When you come back in one or two weeks, start again and repeat the process. You're done when you run out of things to hack out.

Making Your Script Vertical

A reader is looking for any excuse to dump your screenplay on the ever-growing reject pile. One way to do this is to look for the amount of white space that is seen when doing the "rifle test." Vertical scripts have more white space. How do you make a script vertical? Just break up the densely packed paragraphs into two or three sentence paragraphs. There's a side benefit to this approach, too. All of these smaller paragraphs serve to imply the shots that are needed. It's not good to tell a director how to direct, but it's not bad to lead him down the path. You can do this by the way you write the script and by making it vertical.

Conclusion

There you have it: a few approaches, do's and don'ts, exercises and suggestions. I hope you will put the exercises to a test. You might be very surprised at the results. Perhaps there's a better script inside the one you're working on just waiting to get out.

About The Author

Don Bledsoe
Long wanting to be in "the business," Don Bledsoe started young, producing a short film for NBC while still in high school, worked in the Story Department at Paramount Studios at age 19, and later as an actor and makeup artist in film and television in Hollywood. A self-confessed computer geek, he took up screenwriting in the early 90's and founded Script Nurse in 1999.
ScriptNurse@scriptnurse.com

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Screenplay Slug Lines - An Important Element Of Screenwriting (Guest Post)

Reprinted with permission.

by:
Lynne Pembroke

Over the years, I’ve found that new screenwriters frequently have confusions and misunderstandings on the proper way to write slug lines, also known as master scene headings. This article covers the basics of writing industry accepted screenplay slug lines.

Tips On Slug Lines

Scene headings or slug lines, as they are commonly called, are a widely accepted convention of “spec” or “master scene” screenplay form. Over the years, I’ve found that new writers frequently have confusions and misunderstandings on the subject, despite having read a basic book or two on the craft aspects of screenwriting. Hence, the reason for this article.

Every time the “where” or the “when” of your story changes, it’s expected that you’ll reorient the reader as to location and time of day with a new slug line. A slug line is composed of three parts:

  1. INT. or EXT.
    Is it an interior or exterior scene?

  2. WHERE
    The physical location or name of the set where the action of the scene takes place.

  3. TIME OF DAY
    Usually simply DAY or NIGHT.
Examples:

INT. JOE’S BAR AND GRILL – NIGHT
EXT. SANTA MONICA PIER – DAY

Whether a scene is INT or EXT is to some degree relative. In truth, some of your INT scenes may be shot outdoors and some of your EXT scenes shot indoors against a blue screen. For the sake of simplicity and consistency, I recommend that if the action takes place IN something (a building, a car, a spaceship, etc.) label the scene INT. If the scene takes place outdoors, and not in something, label it EXT.

It’s generally considered poor form to use INT/EXT in combination in a slug line. If the action of a scene shifts from INT to EXT, or EXT to INT, write a new slug line. If you find yourself in a situation where you’re inter-cutting rapidly between an INT and an EXT location, chances are you’re usurping the job of the director by writing HOW your story should be filmed rather than simply telling your story in a compelling fashion.

Scene locations should be specific and descriptive. “INT. RESTAURANT”, is a poor slug line in that it’s neither specific enough, nor descriptive enough. Slug line locations such as, "INT. WANG CHOW’S CHINESE JOINT” or, “INT. BIG ED’S GREASY SPOON DINER”, being both descriptive and specific, are far more visual in the impact they have on the reader.

Be consistent in your description of scene locations. Once you’ve labeled a location as JOE’S BAR AND GRILL, it should not mutate into JOE’S RESTAURANT, and then later, THE BAR AND GRILL ON 8TH STREET. After your screenplay is sold, it will be broken down by location and time (day or night) for budget and scheduling purposes. (Obviously, it’s far more efficient to shoot all scenes taking place in the same location at the same time.) Be kind to your readers by labeling scene locations in a consistent manner.

Avoid presenting extraneous information in your slug lines. (EXT. SANTA MONICA PIER – 1912 - POURING RAIN – DAY) Remember that the audience will never see your slug lines. If it’s important, and not self-evident, that it’s pouring rain and the year is 1912, find a way to present that information via action or dialogue in a filmable way.

Keep your slug line extensions simple. Ninety-nine percent of the time, “DAY” or “NIGHT” will suffice. And again I would remind writers that the audience won’t ever see your slug lines. I know of no good reason to indicate action is consecutive by using, “CONTINUOUS” as a slug line extension. If action is “continuous” it should be self-evident.

Are some very good high-priced writers non-conventional in their handling of slug lines? You bet! But keep in mind as a new writer, if you follow the generally accepted conventions of screenplay form and format, you’re far less likely to distract the reader from the tale you seek to tell.

Copyright (c) 2004 Lynne Pembroke and Jim Kalergis, Coverscript.com

Lynne Pembroke and Jim Kalergis
Coverscript.com
URL: http://www.coverscript.com

About The Author

Lynne Pembroke is a published author, poet, screenwriter and owner of Coverscript.com, with over 18 years of experience in screenwriting and screenplay analysis helping individual writers, screenwriting competitions, agents, studios, producers and script consulting companies. Services include screenplay, TV script and treatment analysis, ghostwriting, rewriting and adaptation of novel to screenplay. Jim Kalergis is a working screenwriter. Visit http://www.coverscript.com for details.

pemburger@aol.com

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Learn How to Use Commas Properly (Guest Post)

Intro: In my earlier post, How to be a screenwriter in 3 easy steps!, I point out that to become a competent screenwriter you need to master two important talents: writing and storycrafting. I do not believe they are the same thing. Anyone can learn to write effectively, but that alone won't turn them into an expert storyteller. On the other hand, poor writing skills will always sabotage the work of a good storyteller.

As a writer, you must have a compelling vision and you must commit it to words in a compelling manner. As a screenwriter, you need to write your story so that the words become transparent and all that remains is the experience of your story. Your chances of selling that screen story diminish just a little every time a reader of your screenplay gets jerked back to reality because of poor writing or misspelling.

I knew a writer who produced thousands of pages of manuscript. The problem was, he had a poor grasp of punctuation. A common mistake of his that turned up every few pages was a 'run-on sentence'. That happens when you place a comma where you really need a period, it's a common mistake. (And there's an example for you.) Part of the solution to this grammatical bad habit is to remember: one thought/idea per sentence. The rest of the solution is reading Linda's article about commas...

Reprinted with permission.

----------

Learn How to Use Commas Properly

by Linda Correli

This article features punctuation rules of comma usage, which are indispensable in the process of writing.

The comma is the most frequently used internal mark of punctuation. Of all the marks of punctuation, it has the widest variety of uses.

Using commas with dates, addresses, greetings, names, and large numbers

Commas are used with full dates (month, day, and year) but omitted with partial dates (month and year):

  1. Gas has been first used by the Germans on October 14, 1914, when they fired a prototype of modern tear gas from artillery near Pyres. – Paul Fussel
  2. In June 1985 Beth Henley was working on her fifth play.
Exception: No comma is used to separate parts of a date that begins with the day.
  • The atomic bomb was first dropped on 6 August 1945.
Commas are required between most of the elements in place names and addresses:
  1. Miami, Dade County, Florida
  2. Writing Lab, University of California, Riverside
Exception: # Do not use comma to separate street number from the name of the street:
  • 15 Amsterdam Avenue
# Do not use comma to separate a state from zip code:
  • 5625 Waverly Avenue, La Jolla, California 92037
In complete sentence, a comma must follow the last element of place name, addresses, or dates:
  1. He shot himself twice, once in the chest and then in the head, in a police station in Washington, D.C., with the cops looking on. – Red Smith
  2. July 4, 1776, was the day the Declaration of Independence was signed.
Commas are used to set off the names of someone directly addressed in the sentence:
  • A few years ago, Mr. Taplow, I spoke to you about the possibility of a summer job.
Commas are used after the greeting in a friendly or informal letter, and after the closing of the letter of any kind:
  • Dear Mary,
  • Sincerely,
  • Yours truly,
Commas are used to set off titles or degrees after a person’s name:
  • Barbara Kane, M.D., delivered the commencement address.
Exception: But Jr., Sr. may be written without commas:
  • Sammy Davis Jr. started his singing career at age four.
The comma is used after the last part of a proper name when the last part comes first:
  • Lunt, George D.
Commas are used to mark groups of three digits in large numbers, counting from the right:
  • Antarctica is 5,400,000 square miles of ice-covered land.
Using commas with conjunctions

The comma is used before a conjunction (and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet) linking two independent clauses.
  • Canadians watch America closely, but most Americans know little about Canada.
Exception: Some very brief independent clauses may not require a comma.
  1. We dickered and then we made a deal. – Red Smith
  2. I have seen the future and now I’m tired of it. – Gerald Nachman
If one or both independent clauses have internal punctuation (especially commas), a writer might choose to separate two clauses with a semicolon and a coordinating conjunction so that the reader can easily see the main division of the sentence.
  • Genetically, we are nearly identical to mankind fifty thousand years ago; and some of us delight in the continuity represented by this, while others may be appalled. – Edward Hoagland
Comma alone should be used between two independent clauses (comma splice):

  • “I plan to travel to England”, my friend said happily. “I want to visit Shakespeare’s birthplace.”
When a conjunction adverb joins the independent clauses in a compound sentence, it is preceded by a semicolon:
  • Petra was absent on Friday; consequently, she missed the chemistry test.
The use of a comma to join coordinate clauses is more common in novels, stories, and some types of journalistic writing than it is in serious expository prose. Although it is hard to make general statements here, it is safe to say this practice is the exception, not the rule. The comma is used by most writers to join coordinate clauses in the following situation:

# When the series of sentences takes the form of a climax:
  1. I came, I saw, I conquered.
  2. The leaves are turning to gold, squirrels are fattening, hunting time is near.
# When the statements form an antithesis, or are arranged in the “it was not merely this, it was mainly that” formula:
  1. It was more than an annoyance, it was a pang. – Winston S. Churchill
  2. To allow the Mahdi to enter Khartoum would not merely mean to return the whole of the Sudan to barbarism, it would be a menace to the safety of Egypt herself. – Lyton Strachey
About the author:

Linda Correli is a staff writer of http://www.CustomResearchPapers.us and an author of the popular online tutorial for students "What Teachers Want: Master the Art of Essay Writing in 10 Days", available at http://www.Go2Essay.com. Visit Linda’s web log at http://custom-research-papers.blogspot.com. Source: http://www.articlesfactory.com

The Alternative To Index Cards





TreePad Lite is a free program I've used for many years, and I can't imagine being without it.

If you craft stories, and you have no satisfactory method for managing your projects, you need this program. It is truly free (no nags, ads, malware), it's robust, and it has a long and distinguished history.

So what is it exactly? TreePad is a text editor that organizes your information into a tree structure (hierarchy). There are many bells and whistles, of course, but essentially that's what it does. And it does it very well.

For each of my writing projects I maintain a master treepad file/database containing various branches for things like:
  • Character concordance
  • Plot ideas
  • Research notes and links
  • Story treatment, breakdown, drafts
There are some simple but important features in the program that make it enormously useful. Keyboard shortcuts is one of those. You don't want to stop typing every few seconds to reach for the mouse.

Another is hyperlinks. Although TreePad Lite works with plain text only, you can drop in hyperlinks and activate them with one click. That comes in very handy for linking to files on your local drive or to pages on the Net. For example, for each character in my project file I like to place a link to a picture stored in an images folder on my hard drive. Then, when I'm examining the character information within Treepad, I put the cursor anywhere inside the link text, hit CTRL+H (or click on the 'follow hyperlink' button), and my graphics program opens showing the picture. You can place a hyperlink to any file type and, when activated, Treepad opens the file using the application associated with the file type (e.g. MS Excel for .xls files).

Now, what about index cards?

Writers and storytellers have used the index-card method for a long time. It works like this:
  • Break down your story into its component scenes/units
  • For each scene, write a short identifying header at the top of an index card. You can include more information on the card, and you can be as elaborate as you prefer with colour coding, graphics, etc., but try to keep it simple so you can identify cards quickly at a glance.
  • Fix the cards to a wall, pin-up board, or any other suitable surface. You want to see them all at once and you want to be able to rearrange them quickly and with minimum fuss. Also, you might like to include blank cards anywhere you know there is a missing scene or gap to be filled in the story
  • Order the cards, reorder them, add cards, remove cards — in short, juxtapose the elements of your story until you find something you are happy with
  • Having locked down your story content and format, go write it!
For whatever reason, the option of using index cards like this may not be available to you. So long as you have a PC, TreePad is the next best solution. Use it to create nodes equivalent to index cards. Shuffle the nodes around until you find a compelling story structure. Print it out. Think about it. Go back to TreePad, clone the first timeline, and shuffle some more to make a new version. Print that out and compare it with the first hardcopy. Which is better? Etc.

There is a program called Writer's Blocks that tries to faithfully duplicate the index-card method on the PC, but IMO it's overkill and unnecessary. A 17-inch screen cannot recreate the experience of arranging index cards on an eight-foot-wide corkboard. What you want to do is recreate the process (quickly arranging units of information), not the format (physically moving index cards), and that can be achieved using TreePad or similar hierarchical-notes programs.

[end]

Writing a Child Story: 8 Elements to Consider (Guest Post)

Intro: Paul's article is nominally pitched at writing children's stories, but his advice applies equally to screenwriting and storytelling. Don't let the simplicity of this list fool you. If you pay careful attention to each of these story elements, you will have a crowd pleaser on your hands, no matter what medium you use to tell your story.

Reprinted with permission.

----------

Writing a Child Story: 8 Elements to Consider

by: Paul Arinaga

While writing an entertaining child story is obviously more art than science, most successful child stories pay attention to the following 8 elements.

#1: Theme

A good child story has an underlying theme. The underlying theme of "Peter and the Wolf," for example, is "don't tell lies" or "be honest." The underlying theme of "The Sneetches" by Dr. Seuss is "don't be racist" or "all (Sneetches) are created equal." A theme can be the moral of the story, or an insight or viewpoint that the story conveys. Common themes are courage, love, perseverance, friendship, etc.

As an underlying theme, the theme usually emerges subtly as the story unfolds. A direct statement of the theme usually comes across as preachy and uninteresting. Remember what your high school English teacher used to say: "show, don't tell!"

Also, keep your theme positive and constructive. Your story may be sad, but make sure it's not negative, cynical or depressing!

#2: Plot and Pace

Plot is what happens in a story. Pace is the speed at which the story develops.

Generally, a simple chronological unfolding of events works best for storybooks (no flashbacks or complicated jumping around in time).

The plot usually revolves around a dominant problem or conflict which the main character must resolve. The problem or conflict may be with another character, with circumstances or even internal to the main character (e.g. overcoming their own fears).

The plot usually proceeds through phases: beginning of the conflict, initial success or difficulties, further difficulties or reversals, final resolution or victory, and outcome. As the story progresses through these phases the conflict becomes more intense and increases the dramatic tension, until it the story climaxes and the conflict is resolved.

For the most part, the main character succeeds or fails through his or her own efforts. In fact, it is through this process that the character learns or grows, and this lesson or growth typically conveys the theme.

TIP: Create a thumbnail layout/mockup of your text. This way you'll be able to better judge how your story unfolds and its optimal pacing. For more information please visit: http://www.child-stories-bank.com/writing-child-book.html.

Proper pacing of your story is essential. Too slow and the reader/listener will lose interest, too fast and they won't have time to get excited or they will miss important details. The pace in storybooks should be fairly brisk without "rushing." Avoid lengthy introductions or descriptions of the setting. Start the action immediately from the beginning and bring the story promptly to a close at the end.

Even more so than adults, children appreciate action. So, keep the pace of your story fairly quick by using action and unfolding events. Don't get bogged down in lengthy descriptions or reflections. Again, "show, don't tell!"

#3: Narrative Voice and Point of View

Narrative voice is the viewpoint from which the story is told. Most stories are told either in the "first person" (from the perspective of "I", "I did this") or "third person" (from the perspective of "They", "They did that"). If you choose to write from the first person perspective, you'll need to decide which character is the narrator. Whichever point of view you choose, make sure that you stick with it. Jumping from one point of view to another can be very confusing.

TIP: Study storybooks similar to yours or the books of a publisher you're targeting to see what narrative voice they use.

#4: Characters

Creating interesting characters is as important as developing a solid plot. The more readers can relate to your characters, the more they will like your storybook.

So, how do you make your characters come alive? As with real people, characters come alive when they have real characteristics: personality traits, quirks, physical traits, mannerisms, a certain way of talking, fears, joys, motivations, etc. If you had to describe yourself or your best friend in a few words, what would the salient characteristics be? Try to identify one major character trait and a few minor ones for each character. Write out brief profiles if that helps.

TIP: Apart from describing them, you can also reveal the characteristics of your characters by showing how they respond to situations, or through the way they talk.

An important point is to be consistent. A character should be "true to character" in order to be believable and gain the reader's acceptance.

#5: Setting

Set your story in a place and time that will be interesting and/or familiar.

#6: Style and Tone

Remember your primary audience: children. Write accordingly, using (mostly) short words, short sentences and short paragraphs. Write simply and directly so you don't lose your reader (also, don't forget that a lot of children will only listen to your story as it's read to them; it needs to be easy to listen to and understand like stories have been throughout time).

TIP: Before the written word, stories were transmitted orally. A good story still should "sound" good. So, try reading your story aloud. Does it flow naturally and capture the listener's attention? Are there opportunities to use your voice (tone, loudness, etc.) to make the listener feel like they're there with the characters?

Use direct quotes (e.g. "'Jump!' she said.") instead of indirect quotes (e.g. "She told him to jump.")

What is the tone of your story? Is it an epic story? A funny, wacky story? An adventure story? A scary story?

Make your writing suit the atmosphere or tone that you wish to create.

#7: Dialogue

Read your dialogue out loud to make sure that it doesn't sound stilted or unnatural. Does your character talk the way people would expect him to?

#8: Openings and Closings

You need to hook your reader from the beginning, so start your story with a "bang!". You want people to finish reading your child story feeling satisfied so make sure that the main conflict or problem is resolved, even if the story doesn't have a "happy" ending.

About The Author

Paul Arinaga is founder of the Child Stories Bank (www.child-stories-bank.com). The Child Stories Bank provides FREE original children's stories as well as resources to help writers create and get their stories published, and a directory of child storybook illustrators.

© 2005–06 Paul Arinaga. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Discovering the Great Movie Idea for Your Next Screenplay (Guest Post)

Reprinted with permission.

by Gordy Hoffman


I am lucky. I have no problems coming up with very good ideas for movies. If I never had another idea for the rest of my life, I would not make a sizable dent in the ones I already have. Screenwriters who struggle with coming up with an idea tend to be visibly annoyed when I tell them this. I think I’m comfortable sharing this with others because I know movie ideas really mean nothing and please nobody in and of themselves, so there’s not much to brag about. I guess you can get lucky and sell an idea, but in terms of what’s important, a motion picture screened in front of people, a great idea is simply a member of the orchestra that achieves that vision.

I’m not sure where all the ideas come from, but I can tell you where I was, and by telling you this, perhaps this will help you come up with your idea. First, you should know what you want to write. A feature? For the studios? For yourself to direct? Maybe a low budget script for someone else to direct. Will it be shot on film or digital video? Are you looking for an idea for a short film? Perhaps you have a particular genre in mind.

Parameters are excellent tools for creativity. The irony is restriction spawns wonderfully imaginative ideas. If you can write about anything or anybody, with absolutely no conditions, it becomes harder to settle and find that jewel of an idea. So determine your conditions, every one, and embrace them, because there you will find the frame of your idea. In other words, knowing your movie has to be shot on digital video in four weeks with two Asian women in their thirties at an antiques store will narrow your thinking and concentrate your imaginative power.

Is it necessary to have parameters before we come up with an idea? Of course not. You can always find a very special idea and that idea will determine it’s own boundaries. But if you have needs for your screenplay, determine those needs, and it will help.

So after you have determined the conditions for your screenplay, or if you have not, now you can come up with your idea. What’s a good place to start? The newspaper. Read a thick newspaper. Read through all sections. Read the obituaries. This is our world. Artists look at the world and become moved to express themselves. I read the newspaper anyway, but many times I find something, even one line, which is highly inspiring. By looking through the newspaper with fresh eyes, we become open again to what affects us. I also find the newspaper will confirm instincts I might already have about an idea.

And make sure you read the section you normally never read at breakfast. Trust me.

Okay, you’re reading the newspaper, and you might find something interesting. Documentaries can also be great reservoirs for inspiration. Awesome documentaries abound these days and they often contain imagery, facts, and revelations that may provoke an idea out of left field. Now don’t run out and rent 20 docs and lean into your DVD waiting for the logline to come out of the screen and hit you over the head. Just watch what is interesting and forget about what you need.

Walk where you would normally drive. Take the train to work if you don’t. Get on a public bus, or go rent a car and drive. Spend the day at the airport. Take a different way to work each day for a week. Make a list of ten stores you would never for the life of you visit for any reason at all, go to all ten and browse for 20 minutes each. These disruptions in your environment will open your eyes. You’ll be able to take in more of your world, and it will effect you and make you think.

We’ve run out of ideas because we are bored by what we see. You’re shut down. You don’t need to get on a plane or visit a foreign country to clear your head and help you focus. Your distant planet is down the street, walking distance.

Another inspiring action is to take the day and go to a series of garage sales. The homes, the neighborhoods, the people and the stuff they’re trying to sell you will definitely make you think. There are a million stories in what people pick up and keep as belongings in their lives. Try an estate sale. I have left estate sales feeling as if I knew the personal habits and longings of the recently deceased, simply by the possessions they kept until their death. It’s not difficult to find these sales, they happen every weekend and right close by.

Take up a new sport. Enroll in a language class. Sign up for a course at the Red Cross. I picked up a basketball one day and start playing after many years and I felt like I had a new movie in my head every time I stepped on the court. Getting an education in something new gets us humble and that humility keeps us open to new information and this makes us creative. If we feel like a master, we’ve run out of ideas. As students, we accept there’s more out there, and that attitude will spawn discovery and fresh perspective.

Finally, when I don’t know what I should write about, I ask myself what’s troubling me. If you take a second to pause and get quiet with your heart, you will find you desperately what to say something very important. Let that something speak.

One more thing. Please don’t write about what you know, like they always say. Let somebody else do that, and you, you write what you want.

Article URL:

http://www.bluecatscreenplay.com/About/advice.php

Copyright © 2006 BlueCat Screenplay Competition

About The Author

Winner of the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the Sundance Film Festival for LOVE LIZA , Gordy Hoffman has written and directed three digital shorts for Fox Searchlight. He made his feature directorial debut with his script, A COAT OF SNOW, which world premiered at the 2005 Locarno International Film Festival. He is also the founder of the BlueCat Screenplay Competition. Dedicated to develop and celebrate the undiscovered screenwriter, BlueCat provides written screenplay analysis on every script entered. In addition, Gordy acts as a script consultant for screenwriters, offering personalized feedback on their scripts through his consultation service, www.screenplaynotes.com. For more articles by Gordy on screenwriting, visit www.bluecatscreenplay.com.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Signpost 2: Throw Many Spanners

Plans exist only to go horribly awry.

Want to bore your audience? Have the hero map out a plan and then have the hero execute it flawlessly. Let the yawns commence.

The more that goes wrong for your hero, the more chance of conflict, and the more dramatic your story. Having your hero map out a plan sets up expectations in the audience about what should happen if everything goes to plan. Of course, your job as a storycrafter is to ensure very little goes according to plan. Your secondary task is to figure out how to make things go awry in unexpected and thrilling ways.

Example (from memory): La Femme Nikita. Her boss instructs her, "Once you make the hit, head for the bathroom. You can escape through the window." The assassin makes the hit, flees to the bathroom, yanks open the window — it's bricked up from the outside!

Horror Movie Scripts - 10 Steps To Writing A Horror Screenplay (Guest Post)

Reprinted with permission.

by: Henrik Holmberg


A horror movie has certain rules. If you break too many the audience will be disappointed.

This is a very short, no fluff, blueprint of how to write a horror script.

  1. The Hook. Start with a bang. Step right into a suspense scene. ("Scream" opens with a terrifying sequence with Drew Barrymore on the phone with a killer)

  2. The Flaw. Introduce your hero. Give him a flaw. Before you can put your hero in jeopardy we must care for him. We must want our hero to succeed. So make him human. (In "Signs" Mel Gibson plays a priest who has lost his faith after his wife died)

  3. The Fear. A variant of The Flaw. The hero has a fear. Maybe a fear of heights, or claustrophobia. (In "Jaws" Roy Scheider has a fear of water. At the end he has to conquer his fear by going out onto the ocean to kill the shark)

  4. No Escape. Have your hero at an isolated location where he can't escape the horror. (Like the hotel in "The Shining")

  5. Foreplay. Tease the audience. Make them jump at scenes that appear scary -- but turn out to be completely normal. (Like the cat jumping out of the closet) Give them some more foreplay before bringing in the real monster.

  6. Evil Attacks. A couple of times during the middle of the script show how evil the monster can be -- as it attacks its victims.

  7. Investigation. The hero investigates, and finds out the truth behind the horror.

  8. Showdown. The final confrontation. The hero has to face both his fear and the monster. The hero uses his brain, rather than muscles, to outsmart the monster. (At the end of "The Village" the blind girl tricks the monster to fall into the hole in the ground)

  9. Aftermath. Everything's back to the way it was from the beginning -- but the hero has changed for the better or for the worse. (At the end of "Signs" Mel Gibson puts on his clerical collar again -- he got his faith back)

  10. Evil Lurks. We see evidence that the monster may return somewhere..somehow..in the future..(Almost all "Friday The 13'th"-movies end with Jason showing signs of returning for another sequel)

Now you can start writing your horror screenplay. Good luck!

About The Author

Henrik Holmberg writes horror screenplays for indie filmmakers. Visit his website here http://www.nocashfilm.com.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Film writers discuss the art and craft in "Masterclass"

By Gregory McNamee Sun Apr 9, 9:37 PM ET
[snip]

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Want to make it as a Hollywood screenwriter? Then (1) buy a lot of index cards and fill your walls with exactingly mapped-out plots and characters, (2) don't show anyone your first draft, and (3) don't tell the director where to put the camera.
Plenty of directors, producers and actors might disagree, but most writers quietly believe (or wish) that they are central to the filmmaking enterprise, a sentiment that runs through the interviews Kevin Scott collects in "Screenwriters' Masterclass: Screenwriters Talk About Their Greatest Movies." But more than argue their importance, those interviewees pass along plenty of helpful hints about the writer's work, so that Scott's book lives up to its title.
If you need some motivation, head over to Yahoo and read this article. You'll sigh with relief when reminded that even A-list screenwriters wrestle constantly with the dreaded blank page.

UPDATE, May 2011: original article gone, so repointed link to cached archive.org copy.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Wikipedia snuffs Alien 5 (rumoured movie)

Here is a Wikipedia article that hit the brick wall of 'AFD' ("Wikipedia is not a crystal ball").

It references my Alien 5 blog piece in the External Links section, so I figured I would keep a copy on RageAgainstThePage.

Introduction

The Alien movie franchise began with Ridley Scott's 1979 film of the same name. The franchise hatched three more installments: Aliens (1986), Alien³ (1992), and Alien: Resurrection (1997). In 2004, a cross-over installment Alien vs. Predator landed in cinemas.

Isn't Alien vs. Predator the 5th film in the Alien series?

No, it's not considered part of the core Alien franchise, therefore the tag Alien 5 refers instead to the unproduced fifth film in the canonical Alien movie series. Paul W. S. Anderson, writer and director of Alien vs. Predator, explains:

"What happened to Alien 5 anyway?! Who's doing that?!" he laughs, before adding that he thinks AvP shouldn't be considered the fifth film in the Alien series. "I would hope [it's not looked at that way], because it's a prequel anyway, so it doesn't even take place in the same timeline as the Sigourney Weaver film. You know, when I did AvP, it was very much that I felt like I was making a standalone film that wouldn't interfere with an Alien 5 or a Predator 3, which are both movies that I would like to see." — "Paul Anderson Not on Alien 6", by Scott Collura, Now Playing Magazine, December 7, 2004, retrieved February 23, 2006

Will there be another Alien movie?

Although many years have passed since the last installment in 1997, and despite a downward trend in box-office receipts with each installment, a new Alien movie cannot be ruled out:

  • Studios know that old properties can be revived with the right combination of talent
  • Sigourney Weaver has continued to express interest in another installment
  • Both James Cameron and Ridley Scott said they would consider directing another installment
  • The cross-over film Alien vs. Predator made more than $171 million dollars (USD) worldwide in cinemas, proving that audiences remain interested in the Alien and Predator franchises
  • The time between releasing the sequels was seven, six, and five years respectively (and another seven if you include Alien vs. Predator). So historically, a long interval between film releases has not significantly eroded audience interest. This may be in part due to the multi-media nature of the franchise (movies, comics, games), which helps to keep the Alien iconography afloat in the public consciousness.


20th Century Fox controls the rights to the Alien movie franchise. A fifth film can happen only with Fox's approval, unless they sell the property to another studio (very unlikely for the reasons listed above). At this time there is no indication that Alien 5 is in official development at Fox studios.

Rumours and speculation — cast and crew

At various times since 1997, it seemed that an Alien 5 movie was finally moving forward. Cast or crew member from the earlier films have speculated to the media about a new Alien movie sequel, and the media have pounced on this information as a 'done deal'. Those quotes are collected here.

As stated above, Alien 5 is not in official development at Fox studios. If and when the movie gets an official go-ahead, we'll record that milestone here.

1997

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1998

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1999

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2000

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2001

  • Sigourney Weaver will receive $22 million — a record for an actress — to do a fifth Alien film, Britain's Sunday Express reports. Alien 5 reportedly will be set on Earth for the first time and will be written by Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon. "I've always wanted to do one where we go back to the planet from where the alien originally came or even get to Earth," Weaver told the newspaper. The film would hit theaters in 2004, the 25th anniversary of the original's release. — "Alien Resurrection", tvguide.com, February 5, 2001, retrieved February 18, 2006
  • Sigourney Weaver: "I was interested to read that I was doing a fifth film for a phenomenal amount of money [$22m]. Unfortunately, it wasn't true. At least the sum. And I haven't really talked to Fox about making another." She added that while it was very likely a script for a fifth Alien was "lying around at Fox somewhere", she had not been approached by the film company. — "Sigourney denies Alien 5 role", BBC News, February 21, 2001, retrieved February 16, 2006
  • Sigourney Weaver again denied rumors she's getting $25 million to appear in a fifth Alien movie. "The amount was thrilling," Weaver told TV Guide. "I'm supporting my husband's [Manhattan] theater, so he was thrilled that he was going to be able to sign up for another five-year lease," she joked. "I would have to kill a few people to get that salary." But she said there are no plans for a fifth Alien movie. "As far as I know, there is no truth to any of it. My agents both called me and said, 'This is in the paper,' and I said, 'You've got to be kidding me!' [...] I think if we ever did another Alien, I would prefer that it be on a much smaller, sort of character-driven level," she said. "If I were more enterprising and less lazy, maybe I would come up with something that would be good. I don't feel it is quite finished." She said that a script for a fifth movie does exist. "I have never read it, and I have never asked to read it," she said. "I think 20th Century Fox's plan is to make it Alien vs. Predator, and I would just as soon not be in that, although I am sure I could whip them both." — "Alien 5 Rumors Are False", Sci Fi Wire, March 2001, retrieved February 18, 2006
  • Joss Whedon denied a rumor that he had written the fifth script. "There is not one shred of truth to it. I have no idea where [the rumor] came from. I'll tell you, there was a time when I would have been interested in that, but I am not interested in making somebody else's franchise anymore. Any movie I make will be created by me." — "Alien 5 Rumors Are False", Sci Fi Wire, March 2001, retrieved February 18, 2006
  • Sigourney Weaver says she will meet with Ridley Scott to informally discuss a new Alien movie and 'throw around ideas.' — "Headlines", Dark Horizons, October 1, 2001, retrieved 8 February, 2006
  • A report that 'Fox shot down a supposed final draft script of Alien 5: Invasion.' — "Alien 5, Bye Bye Bye" by edward AT filmjerk DOT com, FilmJerk.com, December 3, 2001, retrieved 8 February, 2006

2002

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2003

  • Sigourney Weaver: "I know that Ridley Scott and I’ve talked a couple of times because people are always coming up to me and saying 'What about Alien 5?' In the current atmosphere where there is so much going on on earth, I can understand people wanting to see an adventure that’s far away and so I, myself, would love to go and see something happening on another planet. You know, out by Mars or something. But we don’t have any definite plans." — "Weaver confirms 'Alien 5' talks", by Thomas Chau (tom AT cinecon DOT com), Cinema Confidential, March 14, 2003, retrieved February 16, 2006
  • Sigourney Weaver: "Ridley and I have talked about it a couple of times. He has some ideas," the actress told the Chicago Sun Times. "If we developed a good script, I'd love to play Ripley again ... The only thing I'm not interested in is going to earth," she said. "I saw that 'Star Trek' movie where they went to earth and... yawn. I think it's more fun to go to a foreign planet." — "Weaver, Scott eye another 'Aliens' film" by JAM!Movies, Canoe Network, April 23, 2003, retrieved February 5, 2006
  • James Cameron: James Cameron was asked on the BBC what he thought about the third Alien movie. After slating it, he revealed that he was ready to rectify this by making Alien 5. Heres the report from DarkHorizons: "Hated it. Simple as that. I hated what they did.... I couldn't stand Alien 3 - how they could just go in there and kill off all these great characters we introduced in aliens, and the correlation between mother and daughter. It stunk, but hopefully I'll get a chance to rectify all that". You mean the talk about him being tied to "Alien 5" is true? "To an extent. yes. We're looking at doing another one. Something similar to what we did with Aliens. A bunch of great characters, and of course Sigourney. I've even discussed the possibility of putting him [Arnold Schwarzenegger] into the Alien movie" — "James Cameron Ready To Make 'Alien 5'", KillerMovies, July 7, 2003, retrieved February 16, 2006
  • Ridley Scott: "Fox and Sigourney Weaver have contacted me, they want to conclude this series with the one who has begun it. [...] But there are not even serious talks. I don't really know what I could do unless I go back to the questions stated in the first episode. Where does the crashed ship on the planet with this mysterious extra-terrestrial come from ? We could wonder wether [sic] massive destruction weapons (which could threaten the Earth) had been used or not. I could be inspired by THE WAR OF THE WORLDS" — PlanetAVP, by Nathan AT planetavp DOT com, October 1, 2003, retrieved February 6, 2006

2004

  • Sigourney Weaver: "What I was saying probably was that Ridley Scott and I had talked about doing one more where we go back to the original planet and see what these creatures came out of, but I think that it would be probably unlikely that a major studio would go for it only because one of the lead characters would be a 55-year-old woman," Weaver said. "I don't think the audience would care at all because I don't think we're as ageist as the business is. So I think that we'd be game ... We're both so busy that I'm not going to sit down and write the whole script. And I didn't rush to see Alien vs. Predator which looked awful to me, like a video game. But I just hope that the alien won, because predator is such a stupid looking creature." But would a studio really resist the opportunity to get Ridley Scott and Sigourney Weaver back together for an Alien movie? "It would have to be Fox because they own it. I think Ridley would have to stamp his foot a few times, but would they do it? I don't know. Maybe they would give us a pretty low budget to do it. The first one, we made for $14 million. Of course, that was the dark ages in 1978, but I don't think it takes a lot of money. You just have to think. I don't know, I'm never out here long enough to call Ridley and say, 'So, what's happening.' But we do feel there's no rush really. The planet will still be there. I just have to be unemployed long enough to come up with a good idea. It's fun. I miss those clothes." — "Sigourney Weaver on Alien Future", Latino Review, page undated (estimated as 2004 because she is on a junket for The Village), retrieved February 5, 2006
  • Sigourney Weaver: "Ridley Scott and I have talked about doing a movie where we'd go back to the original planet and get rid of them once and for all," Weaver said in an interview. "I'm not sure where my allegiances would lie, but that would be the main reason why I'd be curious to go back and sort of see inside of Ripley who would win [...] I'm not very organized, and I'm always pretty busy, so it's not like I'm writing the treatment and sending it to Ridley and saying, 'We've got to do this,'" she said. "I think it's an interesting series, but I'm happy with what we've done. We haven't compromised it. I really did die [in Alien 3] to avoid any contact with Alien vs. Predator. That was why I disappeared after the third one, because I'd heard that was an idea." Asked flat-out if she thinks she portrayed Ripley for the last time in Alien: Resurrection, the fourth and last movie in the series, Weaver paused and then replied, "It doesn't feel complete to me, for some reason." — "Weaver Considers Alien Future", Scifiwire, July 21, 2004, retrieved 18 February, 2006
  • Sigourney Weaver: The actress also said there will probably be a fifth Alien film, but she won't be in it. "I know there's a script, but I haven't read it", she said. "Never say never, but I'm pretty sure this thing is over for me," she added. — "Weaver: Lara Croft is not a heroine", by Daniel Kilkelly, digital spy, September 18, 2004, retrieved February 18, 2006
  • Paul W. S. Anderson: A story broke a few weeks ago which indicated that AvP writer-director Paul W. S. Anderson would be scripting an Alien 6. [...] "That's not a reality," he says. "I've heard that. I've been doing press lately for AvP and a lot of people said that. I don't know where that came from. It's not something I've been approached about." [...] "What happened to Alien 5 anyway?! Who's doing that?!" he laughs, before adding that he thinks AvP shouldn't be considered the fifth film in the Alien series. "I would hope [it's not looked at that way], because it's a prequel anyway, so it doesn't even take place in the same timeline as the Sigourney Weaver film. You know, when I did AvP, it was very much that I felt like I was making a standalone film that wouldn't interfere with an Alien 5 or a Predator 3, which are both movies that I would like to see." When asked what he would like to see from a new Alien picture, the filmmaker has the perfect fanboy answer: "I'd heard that Cameron had his idea for it so I'd like to see that!" — "Paul Anderson Not on Alien 6", by Scott Collura, Now Playing Magazine, December 7, 2004, retrieved February 23, 2006
  • Alec Gillies: "Everything that I'm hearing from the studio suggests that there isn't going to be another Alien movie. And definitely not another Predator movie. They (the franchises) had been declining at the box office steadily, with each film. The box office just tapered off. [...] We get people coming up to us and saying we loved [Alien] Resurrection, or [Alien] number three was my favourite and so on – and who wouldn’t want to see Ridley Scott do another Alien film? But I don’t know what the budget of that movie would be because the reality is, I don’t want to say they’re cult films, but they’re not movies that make a hundred million dollars. But that’s why they’re hoping to get folks like Ridley Scott involved. I’d love to see it. I think there are worlds there to be explored. I think its hard to create the magical that you had with the first one, Cameron did it beautifully by expanding…and the more sequels there are the more parameters are set up. At some point, you have to burst out of them." — "Alec Gillies waxes lyrical on AvP 2", by Clint Morris, Moviehole, December 14, 2004, retrieved February 23, 2006

2005

  • Tom Rothman: Fox money-man Tom Rothman caught up with IESB at the premiere of "Fantastic Four" and decided to wet our under-briefs with news on a potential "Alien 5", with Ridley Scott returning to the helm. "Every time I see Ridley Scott he still talks about Alien so there's always a possibility [of him doing the next one]", he says. "I don't think it's near-term, I think he has a couple of other movies he wants to do first, but we have a deal with Ridley and it's always possible". — "Rothman on a Scott-helmed Alien 5", by Clint Morris, Moviehole, July 8, 2005, retrieved February 16, 2006
  • Ridley Scott: Went in on a casting call for CBS's NUMBERS this week, and to my surprise, Ridley Scott - exec.producer- was there. I got to shake the man's hand after my read (he wasn't involved in casting - not these small parts anyway) and asked him about an online rumor about an Alien 5. So here's the deal, straight from the horse's mouth. "I'd love to - and we're talking", he said. I asked him would it star the originals and he said Sigourney's on-board, and he hopes Lance Henriksen might be interested too. But bottom line "Too early to even speculate...we haven't even finished the script yet". — "ALIEN 5 is Fine by Scott" by News Editor, Cinescape Movies, July 21, 2005, retrieved February 16, 2006

2006

  • James Cameron: "Yeah. Ridley and I talked about doing another ALIEN film and I said to 20th Century Fox that I would develop a 5th ALIEN film. I started working on a story, I was working with another writer and Fox came back to me and said, 'We've got this really good script for ALIEN VS PREDATOR' and I got pretty upset. I said, 'You do that you're going to kill the validity of the franchise in my mind.' Because to me, that was FRANKENSTEIN MEETS WEREWOLF. It was Universal just taking their assets and starting to play them off against each other ... Milking it. So, I stopped work. Then I saw ALIEN VS PREDATOR and it was actually pretty good. (laughs) I think of the 5 ALIEN films, I'd rate it 3rd ... I mean, I felt when I was making ALIENS I think the same thing Ridley was doing with ALIEN, which is... 'I'm going to make you think this is real.' Even though it is completely ridiculous deep space adventure. We were going to make you feel like it's real. It's a question of does the film take itself seriously or not." KRAKEN: "So you still thinking about doing something with it?" JAMES CAMERON: "No." — "Quint interviews James Cameron", Quint AT aintitcool DOT com, Aint It Cool News, February 7, 2006, retrieved February 9, 2006

General rumours and speculation

Alien5.com

Around 1997, it was reported that the domain name www.alien5.com was registered but returning blank content. That address is now returning a 'server not found' error. — "Development Heck, Alien 5" by Coming Attractions, Cinescape, retrieved 7 February, 2006

Ripley's daughter

Much of the speculation over story possibilities for a new Alien movie involves Ripley's daughter, Amanda. Cameron added the character to Alien lore in his film Aliens.

For story purposes, this added much depth to Ripley's character by establishing a daughter who grew old and died while Ripley was lost in space (this scene was not included in the theatrical version but was seen in extended versions on TV, Video and DVD).

In Cameron's 1983 treatment for his film, Amanda Ripley is a seventy-year-old woman living in Oregon. Ripley makes a vid-phone call to her. Cameron writes that the call is 'short and devastating.' Ripley is shocked to see the old woman she remembers as a bright ten year old. Amanda remains bitter toward the mother she thinks abandoned her for a life in space.

In Cameron's final screenplay for the film, dated 1985, Amanda is no longer alive when Ripley is rescued and taken to Gateway Station. Amanda is reported to have died two years earlier of cancer, no children, at the age of sixty-six.

This approximately fifty-five-year period (Earth time), between Ripley departing on the Nostromo and being rescued from drifting in space, seems ripe for continuing the Alien saga. It is likely to be one of several scenarios under consideration if the producers are considering a new Alien movie without Sigourney Weaver.

Prequel

Alien Quadrilogy

External links