Monday, June 28, 2010

Confused? Me too ...

In my highly honed state of procrastination I've been reading blogs and tweets about the so-called "do's and don'ts of screenwriting" ... and following the advice to read lots of scripts. But guess what - there's a disconnect here somewhere. I was reading a script last night of a big budget film about to be released - an early draft I suspect as the trailer had scenes that only vaguely resemble what I read - and it's full of don'ts. WE see and WE hear. Slug lines that went from 'Dawn' to 'Morning' to 'Day'. Description of someone's brand and make of car whereas every other single car was just that - CAR. I've read other (produced) scripts with unfilmable character descriptions and emotions or thoughts, of specific music cues, of cut to's up the wazoo. Good scripts too ... for the most part.

You query this and the answer inevitably is - "don't try this at home kids, they're professionals". So what, they did everything textbook perfect until they got their big break THEN decided to be sloppy?

Or maybe they're good storytellers with a great premise and the (sometimes) fanatical commentary on format and 'rules' is missing that one very salient point - it's the execution of the story that is paramount.

Yes, I understand the vagaries of readers and things that may "pull them out of the story" and "you want to put your best foot forward". I just find it amusing is all that the reality of what gets 'through' these threshold guardians is sometimes very different.

Talk to me of structure and character, not so much the formating rules du jour.

Or am I wrong not to pay heed to the rules committee?

ps I'm not really procrastinating, more so thinking which, as many of you will know, is perhaps the hardest part of writing ("look mum, no hands!") ...

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Real Australian Drama

Often the knock on Australian films is they shy away from conflict and therefore true drama. You know the ones - a bunch of quirky characters in a desperate search for a story (and third act). What we saw last night and during today is drama at its finest. An incumbent Prime Minister ousted in a bloodless coup so swift, so brutal and so efficient as to put most Aussie movies to shame. Intrigue, machinations, raw emotion, political back-stabbing and history in the making. Some random thoughts:

How wonderful to see the robustness of a great democracy where this sort of leadership change involves only the rhetoric of violence (coup, plotters, back-stabbing etc) instead of actual violence.

The rise of social media in not only breaking but setting the agenda for events. Tweets (and reported text messages) by journalists and politicians seemed way ahead of the more traditional media outlets and fueled the speculation that led to a full blown leadership challenge.

The knock on effect as a diverse range of people started commenting on events during the day. People who have not previously exhibited any interest in domestic politics.

Lastly, unfortunately, the fixation on ephemera such as the colour of the incoming Prime Minister's hair, the fact she is unmarried. That she is an atheist. As if those are the most important qualities for a leader.

It has been a fascinating and exhilarating 24 hours. Now for the Third Act - the looming election. It promises to be a corker!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Important Things

Thoroughly enjoyed the cast and crew screening of Kanowna tonight. The film is great and everyone involved has done a fantastic job. But what struck me most was the family aspect of the night and how important that is. I arrived at the same time as Chris (the director-writer) and his family. While he went off to ensure everything was ready for the screening I accompanied his wife Michelle, mother and delightful 1 year old daughter Mathilda to the nearby fish pub. Mathilda wowed the crowd with impromptu dancing and peek-a-boo. The producer's father was at the cinema but I didn't realise this until later. One of the main actors was there with his wife and young daughter.

All the people who support and put up with the vagaries of those of us who pursue the artistic endeavour known as film-making. Who finally get to see the result of all the meetings and workshops and funding submissions and drafts and shoots and hours of editing and post production. Why it's so important to us. They understand, even if but a little, and forgive us the hours, the inevitable drama, the struggle. And most importantly keep on supporting us for the next time ... and the time after that if we're so lucky.

It's those small moments - the laughter of a 1 year old, the good natured ribbing by childhood friends, the proud smile of a loved one - that make it all worthwhile.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Only in Hollywood?

Tomorrow night sees the cast and crew screening of the short film Kanowna. I'm very much looking forward to the screening but it brings back painful memories of the premiere I was denied.

Yes, I've read Goldman and currently re-reading Hollywood Animal by Joe Eszterhas so I have a fair idea of the torment screenwriters experience in the film-making capital of the world. But surely not in the idyllic little backwater of Perth?

Not so fast.

I wrote a short film script a few years ago. About 9 drafts over the better part of a year.

It was funded by the local state agency. To the tune of $60,000.

The week after that happy news the director turned in his draft.

The only similarity to my script - the one that had been funded ... the one I had spent hours of meetings and rewrites trying to glean the director's vision - was the first name of the protagonist.

The director refused to direct my script - the one that had been funded.

At a meeting in a crowded pub with the two leads, the male actor expressed reservations to me about his character's voiceover in the script ... that I did not write. The voiceover was about masturbation.

At subsequent meetings with the director and script editor (assigned by the funding agency) it was clear this was all going to end in tears. I think I said as much. The producer asked me not to go to any more meetings.

The producer and director had previously worked together on commercials for a television network. The producer had approached me to write the script because she wanted the director to concentrate on directing.

The script grew out of a workshop scene the director had conceived. In hindsight, my first mistake as the short was based on a moment between two characters not an organic story. I tried to capture the spirit of that moment as I couldn't make it fly in a larger narrative no matter what I desperately conjured.

I think I wrote a bloody good script. It was funded. It was never made.

Even the title was changed.

I was paid in full from the budgeted writer's fee ... out of the $60,000 my work had garnered.

I declined a screenwriting credit. I, in all good conscience, whether the final film was good or bad, could not accept a credit for something I did not write. The character's first name wasn't even my idea.

It took the better part of a year and threats by the state agency to pull the funding before the director made his film from a script they finally accepted. That wasn't the one that had been funded.

I was invited to the premiere.

The director gave a nice speech at the start. He didn't even mention me.

The producer did for which I was grateful.

I hated the movie because he tried to make that moment work and it made no sense.

I am probably biased.

I had a "Thanks to" credit at the end of the film. After 9 drafts, one year, and a successful funding application and interview.

I am really happy for Chris and Michael that they will get to see their film on the big screen tomorrow night. The way they conceived and made it.

I wish I'd had that moment.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

This little script went to market

Interesting script meeting on the weekend. The latest draft had been delivered after the 8 week online rewrite course with very good notes from the US instructor. Feedback closer to home raised the issue of marketing. It is a complex story with a female protagonist and a Chinese based mythology that informs the supernatural aspects. A tough sell in the Australian marketplace? Perhaps. Are all the elements there for a commercial film? I would have thought so. Are we targeting the right marketplace? Not so sure.

What I do know is that I've had nowhere near enough detailed feedback yet before even contemplating making changes to the script. So now I wait on notes from the producers, director and selected readers.

What made the meeting interesting was that the discussion was around potential script changes based purely on marketing issues. Perhaps a little late in the process but valid nevertheless. The decision I will have to make, depending on the consensus, is how much to change especially if asked to "dumb down" certainly elements. Marketing versus integrity of the story.

Could be an interesting battle...

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Just the script, write?

In the pleasant fog of my creative youth (aka when I didn't know squat about anything), I thought you wrote a script, you sold a script, you kicked back, did the chat show circuit (okay, it was a particularly thick fog) and famous people (aka people you read about in the news) would come flocking for your next creative masterpiece, cheque books in hand.

I kind of have the gist of point 1.

Letterman still hasn't called.

The Gulfstream still hasn't arrived.

Oh, yeah, and that bank balance thing ... ahem.

What I discovered is that there are several sub clauses to point 1 - the writing of the script.

My feature "The Red Bride" which is now is some sort of reasonable shape has the following material associated to the script:

*Three line logline (yeah, I don't what that is either)
*One page synopsis
Beat sheet
Scene Breakdown
40 page treatment
Character breakdowns/back stories
*Writer's notes
and, of course, several drafts of the script.

The ones I have asterisked are usually required in various combinations for funding applications in this country. Sometimes ALL of them. The sneaking suspicion is that one line, three line and one page descriptions are an elaborate ruse to avoid reading the script!

My favourite is the writer's notes. "Tell us, Richard, all the things you forgot to fix in this draft that if you'd actually known were an issue you would have fixed ... in, um, this draft".

You end up inventing problems just to fill out a page which, for mine, is counter-productive. I would much rather have constructive notes from objective readers that I can assess and use. Truth is, after intensive work on the script, when I'm done I can't see it, have to put it down, have to let it go a while. In that state I'm probably the last person who can offer informed opinion!

The recent online course reinforced the usefulness of the beat sheet as a tool in rewriting. First task was to update the original beat sheet with all the changes that had taken place over subsequent drafts. Made identifying potential structural land mines that much easier.

Treatments, as I understand it, are a requirement for any paid gig in the US. I wrote one for The Red Bride (then known as Seventh Moon) as: I was adapting another writer's short feature (about 50 pages) to feature length; and to demonstrate to the in situ producing team and director that I had a clear vision for the project. In fact, there's two entirely separate versions after the director and I went walkabout for a year on a creative tangent that radically changed the story. Funny how things come full circle.

The problem with all this, of course, is unlike our US brethren, Aussie writers are not likely to get paid for writing these "short form" documents. I doubt I would write a treatment again unless I was paid, preferring beat sheets and even a scene breakdown in order to clarify my attack on the story before getting to scripted pages.

But is has opened my eyes to the plethora of 'tools' available and that writing a script comes with several 'optional extras' and the mandatory material for funding agencies. One day I'll have to compare word count from script to supporting documents. I think the ratio might surprise!