Thursday, 27 April 2006

I've got a really good idea for a film . . .

Phil commented on that last piece. I forget that people actually read these things. I assumed you were all lazy and illiterate ;)

Yes . . . as Phil says . . . we have taken time to write this screenplay. And it's depressing to think about it.

Sometimes I feel like Marshall in Absolutely Fabulous. Marshall went to Hollywood 20 years ago to develop a screenplay with a studio. People in various episodes ask him how it's going. He usually has an actor attached, or a big producer, or an out-of-work director . . . No doubt Jennifer Saunders has met a few of these people. The industry is teaming with writers working on a screenplay. Until a screenplay becomes a film - it's only a blueprint - not considered an art form in itself. And yet it takes such a long time to write one.

When people ask me what I do - I answer web designer. It's my knee-jerk, "pat" response. It's also less problematic and gets me more $work than if I say, "filmmaker". But saying "web designer" feels like somehow I've lied - like I'm undercover - posing as a normal person.

A boxer called me up the other day (not the dog kind) and told me he had a really good idea for a screenplay. I called his bluff and asked to see the paper version. Really good ideas are two-a-penny.

Anything not on paper is royalty-free.

Legally, if you told a screenwriter (like myself) your really good idea and he wrote it - verbatum . . . it would then become his really good idea. He has legal proof of the idea and you don't. While writing is poorly renumerated, it is considered evidence in a court of law. It's why Production Companies ask you to sign a waiver before you submit your work. They also have really good ideas, but at least their ideas are in development (which means on paper).

"Have you written anything, yet?" I asked him, doubtfully. He stumped me by having a bit of a draft to show me (very unusual) . . . and it wasn't as bad as it could have been!

I had a spare couple of hours, So I did some notes on his screenplay. He was so chuffed, he offered me a couple of boxing lessons . . . I settled for a service testimonial.

So here we both are, working on a screenplay we started in 1994. Call us Marshall.

On the bright side - the story has held our interest for all those years and it has led to many other screenplay ideas. The learning curve alone has catapulted our abilities as writers.

Now that some time has passed between our Arista experience, A Stone Throw and working with Sydney-based script-editor, Duncan Thompson . . . the holes in our script are painfully clear. There are so many really good ideas flying wildly about on those 100 pages that we often lose sight of our main character . . .


I think that if we can rope the story in - and really make it hers - we will, as some have already pointed out, have a masterpiece before us. In the meantime, I have 100 uni assignments to mark before Phil arrives (for writing session 2013466) . . .

If you'll be so kind as to excuse me . . . a pan of 2 minute noodles beckons.

Wednesday, 19 April 2006

Let your screenplay brew

The other day I saw a locally made feature, The Actress. It was really quite good - for what it was. But my heart sinks when I see a well-directed film with huge writing holes. Holes which are easy to fix if you give your screenplay time to brew.

Directors are Stupider Than Writers

It is common knowledge that directors, in the main, are stupider than writers - often led into projects ego first. But even the stupidest director could probably do well with a short course in screenwriting. Because if you can't read a feature film in the first place, how can you direct one?

Sam Mendez and Alan Ball are a case in point. After the success of American Beauty, Alan went on to write the multi Emmy Award winning Six Feet Under. And Sam? Well . . . just have a listen to the audio commentary on Six Feet Under and you can hear what's driving Sam's engine. Interesting that the commentary is credited as Sam Mendez with Alan Ball.

Writing is one way to remain humble. You get lousy pay (if anything) you get to stand in the shadow of an ego-maniacal director and you get ignored at parties. Nobody sleeps with the writer . . . Except in TV . . . Where writers get to be producers.

So. Back to me. I'm (supposedly) both writer and director. However this year, I've spent about 4 days actually directing anything and about 2 weeks writing. So mostly, this year, I've been a university lecturer - or a web developer. Hopefully I'll get a gig on Marx and Venus - but one can't count on such things.

Yesterday, at least, Phil Jeng Kane and I returned to writing our feature screenplay - probably because this week we have no students. It's a Curtin Uni / FTI holiday. We did a little preparation. Coffee, toast, diary entries etc. And then we started analysing our script with a tool shown to us by Claire Dobbin at an Arista workshop.

The Plot Matrix

If you haven't visited your screenplay for a while (in our case nearly a year) then use the plot matrix. In your spreadsheet program, make 5 columns:
  1. Scene number.
  2. What is the scene about?
  3. Whos scene is it?
  4. What is the emotional subtext?
  5. Do we need the scene?
Then read through each scene (aloud) and answer the questions. The final column we chose to colour:
  • red means remove the scene
  • orange means modify it
    • we'd write a note about how we will do that
  • green for leave it pretty much as is
This way, you get a quick visual representation of how your screenplay is. If the last column is all green - then that's teh writers' green light! It means go find a Producer you can trust with all your hard work.

You will end up with a bunch of notes for your next draft and you will know more about your main character/s journey. Plus you will have the feeling that you've just breathed life into something that seemed permanently in a state of suspended animation.

I found our clarity of purpose was very acute. Because after a long time:
  1. We approach an old subject with fresh eyes
  2. Our critical faculties weren't distracted by precious writing.
  3. Any ill-feeling / previous bad dealings we had regarding the project were gone.
  4. We re-discovered the energy we had when we originally started writing it
    1. in our case - all those years ago.
  5. If you're writing with a partner, you're also working on a friendship.
    1. After all - if two people are co-writing the same project over a long period, then there has to be something special about the idea.
In about half a day (5 hours) we got through 20 scenes this way and hope to finish the other 80+ by early next week.

So - my advice is - leave it on the shelf. And if you have another idea - work on that. Do a rough draft. Even if it's crap - a lot of good stuff will bubble to the surface later in your screenplay's life. If you use . . . The Matrix!