Interview: Writer's groups...

Here's an article from BackStage.com that I think you'll find interesting. I was one of a handful of writers interviewed for the piece. Oddly enough, I kinda forgot about the interview (which was done a couple months ago) until someone alerted me to it earlier today. But I'm glad they did cuz I think there's some good stuff there for anyone thinking of starting or joining a writer's group.

http://www.backstage.com/bso/news_reviews/features/feature_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1003644278

Always room for improvement...

I wrote a horror script a few years back. Well, more than a few. More like seven. In the last few years I’ve optioned this script a number of times. At one point, the script was oh-so-close to selling and going into pre-production. The script was under option with yet another producer until just two months ago. That’s when I decided to give the script a read-through (it’s been a while since I’d read it) and see where I could make some improvements. A tweak here, a tweak there...just clean it up a bit before I start sending it back into the world. Now, you might be asking, “If you’ve been getting such a positive response from the script, why mess with it?” Sure, I’ve had my fair share of producers rave about the script. They love it for its creepy mood and, as with all my scripts, its succinct, page-turning style. But still, there’s always room for a bit of improvement in any script. So I sat down with the script last week, red pen in hand, and got to work. Believe me, a significant amount of time away from a script is a very good thing. I guess I’ve become a better writer in seven years (I’d hope so!) because I found a few things that really made me cringe. When all was said and done, I had laid down a decent amount of red ink. No, I didn’t find anything significant to change. The story worked just fine and the characters were well-defined, but I did find some awkward lines of dialogue and some slightly unwieldy descriptive passages. (If you can cut 27 words down to 22 words, do it.) I also found a story point or two that I could bolster and clarify. By the time I was done with the revision, my script was even better than before. Good thing too, cuz I already have a producer interested in giving it a read.

Directing on paper...

People occasionally write to me and ask how they can get away with depicting a close up of something without actually writing the words CLOSE UP in the script. I always respond with an adequate answer. But I recently found a great quote from writer/director James Mangold (3:10 to Yuma, Walk the Line) that sums up this particular dilemma pretty darn well. Here’s what Mr. Mangold had to say:

“You don’t have to say, ‘Extreme close up on Cally as she cries.' All you have to write is, ‘A tear runs down Cally’s cheek’, and from that line alone, you feel that the writer is describing a close-up. It’s a close-up because you can’t see a tear on a cheek from far way. What you’re subtly describing is a shot, a specific camera set-up. If you’re describing someone’s eyes, then it isn’t a wide shot. If you’re describing clouds, it ain’t a close-up. This way you may subtly persuade the director to shoot the scene in your style. You can do this instead of filling the script with tech-talk and no one will accuse you of directing on paper. "

Thanks, Mr. Mangold, I think that’s a pretty solid explanation of how to write direction into your script without getting overly specific.

Meeting update...

So...my meeting the other day with the producers went well. I arrived a bit early and strolled around the back lot a bit. You know you’re dealing with an on-the-level producer when he actually has a bungalow on a studio lot. Love love love those back lots. Goodness knows I spent quite a bit of time on them during my 5 years working security at Universal and Warners. Anyway, I arrived at the producer’s office right on time. I’m always right on time. Always. The producer, I’ll call him Frank, gave me a quickie tour of the rather sprawling office. I also met some of the assistants and got a bottled water. Then I sat and chatted with Frank for a brief time, had some laughs. He told me he absolutely loved my script. I’ll tell ya, he really gushed over the script. It’s nice and flattering, but you gotta take this sort of thing with a grain of salt. Then the other producer showed up. I’ll call her Jenny. She’s the one who hired me to write the script in the first place. So the three of us talked our way through the script a bit. Frank wanted some clarification on a couple of scenes. He made suggestions for some tweaks. Some I agreed with, some I didn’t. But between the three of us, we came up with some good ideas. I’ll do a quick rewrite in the next couple weeks. Once that’s completed, Jenny suggested we do a read-through with some actors. We’ll do this to work out any additional kinks. Once that’s done, she wants to get the script out to potential investors, actors, and directors. When our meeting wrapped, Frank and Jenny were very excited about this project. I’m excited, too. What can I say – it’s a nifty script. With the right people on board, it could be a nifty little flick. I’ll keep ya posted.

Recent stuff...

So I have this thriller that I was hired to write. The producer loves what I did. (Ugh, there’s that word again: love.) She sent the script out to another producer, hoping to get him involved on the money side of things. He read the script and thinks it’s fantastic. He does, however, have some concerns about a few scenes. Thankfully, it’s nothing major. Anyway, the three of us have a sit-down meeting this coming week. We’ll discuss potential tweaks and changes. We’ll also determine a game-plan for getting this script into production. So keep your fingers crossed, folks. No really, cross ‘em. Now.

I'll keep ya posted.

ACTION SCENES!!

Several days ago I completed a critique on an action script. While the story itself wasn’t too bad, the overall execution of the action sequences read more like a story written by Jane Austen. Nothing wrong with Jane Austen, but I’m not so sure you’d want her writing the next big action flick. I mean, if she were alive. Whatever.

Anyway, the action scenes in the script just didn’t do anything for me. The words were just laying there on the page. They didn’t pop out in a visually exciting manner. That’s a big problem if you’re trying to write anything that’s to be considered thrilling. Oddly enough, a couple days later, I received an e-mail from another writer asking: “How involved should my action sequences be? If I’m writing a fight scene, should I describe every time someone gets hit?”

So, I'll take this as a sign to address this aspect of screenwriting.

But instead of me trying to explain how an action scene should be written, I’m gonna take the lazy way out and simply post a segment of Shane Black’s excellent screenplay The Long Kiss Goodnight. After all, one of the best ways to learn how to write a screenplay is by actually reading professional screenplays. Besides, nobody does it quite like Shane. So, without further ado...


EXT. THE FRONT PORCH – JUST OUTSIDE THE DOOR – NIGHT

THE CAROLERS continue their interesting rendition. Snowflakes fall. All is quiet. All is bright.

Especially bright is the SHOTGUN BARREL pressed to the throat of the lead soprano.

The weapon’s an HE-109. Over and under combo. Shotgun on top. High explosive cannon on bottom.

You’d sing shitty too.

INT. HOUSE – SAME

Samantha walks to the door. Carrying a bowl of festive M&M’s. Just as she gets to the door –

The singing stops.

The sound of FOOTFALLS. Running off into the night.

Samantha frowns, puzzled. OPENS THE DOOR.
The carolers are gone.

MR. BARNES remains. Gun in hand.

Escaped convict. Trained killer.

BARNES:
Evening, Charly. Long time.

He swings the gun. SLAMS the barrel into her.
Glass shatters. M&M’s everywhere.

She gapes at him. Dumbstruck, unable to THINK.
Hurry it up, lady, we need a decision, live or die –

SHE GRABS THE GUN BARREL

Snaps out of it, just like that. Wrenches the gun –
They reel and rock.

ON THE STAIRS

Appears seven-year-old CAITLIN, eyes like saucers:

CAITLIN: Mommy...!

SAMANTHA: GET OUUTTTT!!!!


Sam’s cry is a veritable shriek, as

HAL

Appears, snarling. POUNCES on Barnes –
Succeeds in annoying him.

For his trouble, Hal gets three broken ribs and a trip to the fireplace. Airborne. Comes down, bam!

He catches fire. SCREAMS. Rolls over and over on his broken ribs, as

BARNES

Kicks Samantha in the gut. She collapses onto the stairs. Splinters the banister.

The he sees CAITLIN. Top of the stairs, she’s paralyzed.

SAMANTHA: NO!!!!

Barnes is already moving forward. SPIN-COCKS the shotgun, draws a bead –

Promptly slips on the festive M&M’s. Goes down.
Gun goes off, WHAM--! A flat concussion.

The banister EXPLODES. A storm of wood chips, as

SAMANTHA

Surges up the stairs, toward her daughter –

BARNES. On the ground. Fires, WHAM!

The wall disappears THREE INCHES FROM CAITLIN’S HEAD.

Blown to shreds, you can SEE OUTDOORS.

Samantha doesn’t miss a beat. GRABS her daughter –

FLINGS HER OUTSIDE.

Through the hole in the wall. Takes her by the belt and fucking HURLS her out into space!

EXT. SIDE OF HOUSE – SAME TIME

Two stories up. The kid is ejected, flailing.

Floats in SLOW MOTION. Across a ten foot gap –

INTO THE TREEHOUSE.

Sails head over heels into the place. Hits with a CRASH. Alive and unhurt.

BACK INSIDE THE HOUSE

Samantha didn’t even look. Didn’t need to.

Here comes BARNES. Up the staircase. Reloading.

Samantha launches herself down the stairs.
COLLIDES, head on. Down they go.

Barnes, rolls to his feet. Propels her into the KITCHEN.

INT. KITCHEN - SAME TIME

She hits, WHAM, spray of cat food –
SKIDDING. Across the linoleum.

Slams to a stop. Hard. Cupboard pops open, out comes the IRONING BOARD. Falls into place, SNAP--!

A GUN BLAST disintegrates it. Reveals Sam, cowering behind.

BARNES: I want my eye back, bitch.

Samantha struggles to her feet. Dazed. Barnes abandons the shotgun. Takes the IRON down from its spot on the shelf –

Begins to beat her with it.

Savagely. Methodically.

Samantha takes hit after hit. Head snapping to and fro. Reeling backward...

Still he comes. No mercy. SLAM. To the head.

Bleeding now. Stumbles...Raises her arms pitifully –

Still he hits her. DENTS the iron.

BARNES: Goddamn you. Fight me. What’s wrong with you, fight me!


There's more to the scene, but I think you get the point. Pretty exciting stuff, eh? You bet!

No, I don't expect you to write like Shane Black, but there's no reason why you can't spiff up those action scenes. Just make it interesting, make it visual...give us more than just:

Joe punches Jack and Jack falls on the floor.

Sorry, but that's not how you write a script.

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