Sunday, February 28, 2010

Confidence & Confidants

Confidence and confidants - if you have a bad French accent they probably sound exactly the same. For a writer though they are inextricably linked.

Confidence in my writing has been at an all time high. I have finally found an expanded group of people whose opinion and feedback I value and trust. No, not mum, Uncle Merv and the cute girl at the corner deli who wants to be an actress. No, not people who nod and exclaim "great" at the merest of chicken scratchings. People serious about the craft of screenwriting who know what they're talking about. People who will push me to help me become a better writer.

Previously I would be flummoxed by various 'gurus' at the state funding agency and other local writers who all talked in some strange language I failed to comprehend. I always thought it was a shortfall on my part. An inkling that this was an incorrect assumption came with a 90 minute consultation with Mike Bullen (Cold Feet) last year. It has been reinforced lately by excellent meetings on my feature script with targeted individuals.

But confidence is a funny thing. I've been doing rewrites based on the various feedback and a strange thought crossed my mind today - what if I make it worse?! The consensus is that the script is in pretty good shape hence my willingness to enter it into various competitions and awards. Now I want to make it great. That's actually a scary proposition.

The good news is the structure is sound so it's more subtle character work and bolstering story logic (ie the rules of the world). However, I went to great lengths to avoid swathes of exposition but now I am faced with the task of including a little more 'explanation' given the nature of the narrative and genre (supernatural thriller).

THAT scares the hell out of me - how to do it ('it' being the dreaded 'E' word) without being clunky. There have been dreadful expository scenes in past versions (eventually clubbed to death like a Canadian seal hunt). Let's call them the "As you know" scenes where characters inexplicably recite information for the audience's benefit only. You know the ones:

"As you know, I recently returned from Africa where I used my expert skills as a big game hunter to not only bag the world's most elusive rogue man-eating lion but also exposed a deadly ring of poachers with ties to the Russian Mafia who are plotting to ..."

Yada yada yada, death, kill me now, please stop, oh dear. Beautifully parodied by, amongst others, Tom Stoppard in The Real Inspector Hound.

Stephen King talks about the "ideal reader" in his book On Writing. I would suggest, as a screenwriter, your task is to find as many and as varied of those people as possible - who you trust, who you respect, who you know will give you brutally honest and constructive feedback. Let them help you become a better writer. Argue, debate, defend, brainstorm, discuss ... but most of all listen.

Find the right people and it's truly amazing for your confidence ...

Monday, February 22, 2010

The real difference between fiction and reality

Today I discovered there has been a dead man, but for a wall, less than 3 metres away from me for probably the better part of a week. He was a new tenant who moved into the unit next door two weekends ago. With the design of the units our bedrooms are back to back. Never saw him. Never heard him. Never knew him. I had rung the owners yesterday and contacted the agent today - the outside light had been on all week, a radio or tv playing, the car hadn't moved ... and there was a package on the doorstep that was emitting an increasingly foul odour and covered with flies.

Except today I learnt it wasn't the package. The real estate agents couldn't get into the unit and the cops had to break in through a window as the door was blocked. The odour was him. Dead. In the bedroom. Apparently having taken his own life. The cops didn't say how, didn't confirm anything but the male officer who went in came out looking white and even with a mask the smell in there must have been terrible.

I find this, despite not knowing anything about the person who nobody had seen, all very unsettling. Clearly he had rented the unit with but one purpose. As the police put up their tape indicating, in effect, a crime scene, the gaggle of owners, tenants and agents talked downstairs. A social worker arrived with a support group person(?) and there were whispers that the man, who I'm told was in his 40s, had suicidal tendencies. His brother later arrived, a rabbi.

Intellectually, I know there is nothing I could have done - maybe ring the agent or even the police myself sooner - that would have changed the outcome. And I know absolutely nothing about this person. But it still feels really weird.

All the more so because, while they've removed the body, they've opened all the windows and the smell is truly awful. For some reason like fish left out in the sun. So I sit in my unit with everything shut because that pungent smell of death is physically nauseating and, in and of itself, an unsettling reminder. Hopefully it will dissipate soon.

Yesterday, I jokingly wrote about how I "kill people" as a writer. Today makes me realise how wide the gulf is between fiction and reality.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Confessions of a Screenwriter

I admit it. The evidence is incontrovertible. I am a serial killer. It's not like I wasn't fond of Natalie - I was. But my producer HATED her. She had to die. The coroner ruled it death by backspace. Erased from the script forever.

Then there was Leigh. I tried to save him. Tried to damn well make him the hero. But his time was short. Not even a sex change and enrollment in the script witness protection programme could forestall the inevitable. R.I.P. Leigh - we hardly knew thee.

I mean, I even wiped out an entire tribe. Sure they were Triad members and quite possibly ghosts but their existence is but a shredded memory.

The bodies keep piling up, my keyboard a weapon of mass destruction. I don't know if I can stop the carnage. Stop the character genocide.

Truth is, I love the power. The fate of millions ... or if an Australian script, three people and a dog. Who lives, who dies, who talks, who experiences a life changing experience in the name of an artificial arc to satisfy codified expectations of ...

Sorry, sometimes I fly into these homicidal rages where two dimensional devices posing as characters are hunted down and terminated with ruthless efficiency. Where three parts become one and those not chosen are quietly consigned to the graveyard of my imagination.

Don't hate me for it. It's my job. For I am a screenwriter and I kill people for a living ...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Script X's & O's

To quote Leo McGarry, "Listen up - our ground game isn't working. We're gonna put the ball in the air. If we're gonna walk into walls, I want us running into 'em full speed."

Yep, it's time to line up in the shotgun and matriculate the ball down the field (ps congratulations Drew Breeeeeeeees and the New Orleans Saints).

In other words, I'm taking the script out for a stroll. First up, next stage of the Warnock Award then Scriptapalooza, Final Draft's Big Break and the AWG Monte Miller Award all due in the first week of March. I'd add the Nicholl Fellowship except the script is technically an adaptation and therefore not eligible.

Have had excellent notes/feedback from a couple of highly respected sources as well as my Forgeworks colleagues. Now it's time to take another pass before the closely clumped deadline dates. So I'll be making myself scarce to concentrate on the rewrite.

Note to self - remember to do an American dialogue (dialog) pass for the US submissions ... which will kill me. I LOVE the letter U and despise the Z ("Zed's dead, baby. Zed's dead") but them's the breaks.

Back to Leo and the sporting analogy - the walls of self doubt and complacency have to come tumbling down ...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Another Rant - Writers as Sport

The more I think about it, the more this really bugs me. The Bitter Script Reader is asking for people to submit what they know to be a bad script so that he can publicly eviscerate the writer for a little sport and notoriety. The only comeback being an interview so that poor Joe Schmuck can plead he is a changed writer, "really I am ... honest!"

Except the only thing anybody will ever remember is, "Joe Schmuck, wasn't he that guy who wrote that goddamn awful script that was torn apart on the web. Yeah, think we'll pass on him."

The whole idea shows a stunning lack of respect for writers, especially those who may not know any better. Why would you ever knowingly put something out there that is bad? Especially when the nature of the review will guarantee it spreads like wildfire throughout the net?

So, no thanks. I won't send you a crappy script so you can have a little sport at my expense ... that's what family and non-film friends are for!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Joy of Deadlines

I don't consider myself to be a particularly disciplined writer. I don't understand people who write set hours every single day. I have terrible writing habits. The depth and breadth of my procrastination is staggering. Yet I have plenty of material in 'various stages of disrepair' as I usually describe it. When I'm "in the zone" time has no meaning. When I'm not, my creativity is usually diverted into exploring new ways not to be creative.

It was explained to me once the difference between a novelist and a dramatist is that novelists have this deep, burning passion to write whereas dramatists have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the keyboard. In my case that is definitely true. And what helps is a good old fashioned deadline.

Luckily, several are upcoming which will sharpen my appetite to write and get my poor addled brain into gear - two US based screenwriting competitions and the AWG Monte Miller Award all due in early March. As well as submission of the script if i'm shortlisted for the local Warnock Award. The added incentive is registration fees so if I'm going to spend money submitting I better make damn sure the script is in the best possible shape.

To that end, I have notes on my feature from people whose opinions I hold in high regard. This feedback has my confidence at an all time high yet there is much hard work still to be done. Luckily, the structure is in pretty good shape so it's mainly character work and really honing the emotional through line for my protagonist. I say luckily because I don't have the time to do justice to any major surgery which is what would be required if the narrative structure was flawed. To extend the medical analogy, this might be likened more precisely to elective surgery.

Between now and the end of the month I'll be mulling over the feedback and really working the script. So procrastination off and creativity on!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Science Fiction Adaptations

At a recent meeting it was explained to me that the studios won't make original science fiction unless the script is exceptional. The overwhelming preference is for existing material that already has a fan base, be it book, comic, graphic novel etc. Not good news for the notion of resurrecting my original sci fi script! Talk turned to adaptations.

In an ideal world the three properties that I would love to adapt are:

The live action Gerry Anderson series from the early 70's, U.F.O.
E.E. 'Doc' Smith's Lensman series
Timothy Zahn's Conquerors Trilogy

All sorts of problems abound. U.F.O. became Space 1999 and several people have apparently tried to revive it. It's ideal for a Battlestar Galactica style re-imagining.

The Lensman series is a classic space opera style epic and the books would no doubt be in the hands of a studio somewhere.

Not sure abut the Zahn though. Worth looking into further.

But here is my question: What science fiction property would you love to see make it to the big screen (or television series) and why?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Landmark Copyright Decision

In a ruling brought down by the Federal Court of Australia today, Hollywood studios lost a major copyright case against mid-tier Aussie internet service provider, iiNet.

The basis of the lawsuit was iiNet customers use of the internet to illegally download movies.

Excerpt from Justice Cowdroy's ruling:

"The evidence establishes that copyright infringement of the applicants' films is occurring on a large scale, and I infer that such infringements are occurring worldwide. However, such fact does not necessitate or compel, and can never necessitate or compel, a finding of authorisation, merely because it is felt that ‘something must be done' to stop the infringements.

An ISP such as iiNet provides a legitimate communication facility which is neither intended nor designed to infringe copyright. It is only by means of the application of the BitTorrent system that copyright infringements are enabled, although it must be recognised that the BitTorrent system can be used for legitimate purposes as well. iiNet is not responsible if an iiNet user chooses to make use of that system to bring about copyright infringement."

Full details here.

This may have global implications if ISP's are considered not liable for the copyright infringements of their users. The Hollywood studios, which included Universal, Paramount, Warner Bros, Disney and Columbia, had seemingly picked iiNet as it wasn't one of the two big internet providers in Australia (Telstra's BigPond and OptusNet). Now that they have lost the test case it will be very interesting to watch the ripple effect and whether a ruling in Australia has any impact on actions in the US.

Monday, February 1, 2010

A Quick Rant

That's like the third tweet, blog, post in a row today where the first screenwriting "rule" listed is formatting (and grammar) with in depth discussion about font sizes and brads and coloured script covers or not.

Are you all out of your ****ing minds?!

How about, "is my idea strong enough for a movie?" How about, "who is my main character and what is his/her story and how do I best tell it?" How about, "what am I trying to say that might actually engage an audience of paying strangers for two hours?"

Tab indentations and thickness of card stock? Yeah, that's really what I need to be thinking about.

"Hey, I have this GREAT idea for a feature script with this utterly compelling, flawed character who goes on this cool arc by doing [x], [y], and [z] which is like really difficult because of this wicked nemesis and ... what? Oh! Yes, I was going to use a Blue cover ... and Courier 12 point font ... yep, absolutely, I'm measuring the brad lengths now ... pardon? What's my story? ****! I've forgotten ..."

Don't EVER tell me the first rule of screenwriting is ****ing formatting. That's the EASY part. If in doubt go buy Final Draft (shameless plug in the vain hope of free upgrades). Try concentrating on what your damn story is and who your characters are and why anyone should care. THAT is the hard part.

ps apologies if the font, colour, or general composition of this blog post does not meet legislated regulatory standards ...