Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Best Note

 I've gotten a lot of great notes in my life as a screenwriter, but I can still remember the best one because I think of it every time I write. I got it from The Unknown Screenwriter. So thank you, Unk. I hope you're okay with me giving you some credit here.

I had this zombie script about a family traveling across post-zombopocalypse America (This was before the current zombie explosion) and there was this scene where my female lead was stuck in a drug store with zombies coming after her.

In my original draft the zombies come at her and she doesn't blink. She grabs a broom and swings it around, taking out zombies left and right until she has a pile of bodies at her feet and runs away.

Unk pointed out that it's far more interesting to watch her fail, to get backed into a corner so bad we had no idea who she'd get out of it. And he was 100% right.

I rewrote the scene so that this time, she has no weapon. She grabs whatever she can use from the store shelves and throws them at the zombies, but they keep coming and coming until she ends up against the freezer section, keeping them at bay with a glass door.

The next person who read the script said that was their favorite scene because they seriously thought she was about to die.

And that's when I realized how to write.

From that point on, in every script, I made sure to have at least one scene where our protagonist is good and truly fucked. They're a badass, sure, but that doesn't mean they're invincible. It's tough to root for someone who will always win no matter what the odds. It's a lot more fun to worry they're not going to make it.

And that's the best note I ever got.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


My script hit the tracking boards yesterday. So that was pretty cool.

Here's the It's On The Grid posting. The description on other boards has listed it as a romcom in the style of "Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" which is just awesome because I think Guy Ritchie is the bee's knees.

They got the title is wrong. The title of my script is not "How Did My Wedding Dress Get This Fucking Dirty"

The title of my script is "How My Wedding Dress Got This Fucking Dirty"

It's not a question, it's a statement. A question implies a confused protagonist, taken on an adventure out of her control. More comedy than action.

A statement implies certainty - a protagonist who now needs to explain how all this went down - more action with the comedy.

So the title matters, especially to my mom. She does not approve of the cuss word in my title.

But I'm still excited to be out there.

Now we wait.

In the meantime, if you have any questions I can answer, ask away. I need something to pass the time.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

No you (Lost) Girls

I made another Lost Girl fan video. This one is about Bo and Kenzi.

This is the best show ever, you guys. Ever. Making videos about it is fun.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Watching the kids in action

Last year I gave my students an assignment to write short film scripts as their final project. It went so well that this year I decided to expand it. Not only are they writing scripts, but they're filming them.

It's the greatest thing I've ever done, and I wish I'd thought of this years ago. The kids are really getting into it.

I'm going to focus on one group in particular. All names are fake.

So Julie has told me numerous times that she wants to be a director some day, and she definitely has the personality for it. She's bossy, opinionated, but well liked. Right now I'm watching her sit on a table, surrounded by her groupmates, as she lists the changes they will be making to the script after I gave them notes.

Annie, the script writer, is off in the corner, waiting to be told what changes to make.

Dariah, who was supposed to be the co-director, is so obviously the producer. She came to me for the notes on the script, she's planning all the locations, and when Julie got off topic, Dariah reminded everyone to focus on the material. She's taking money from the group to pay for props they want to use. (I do not require them to spend money, but they really want to.) And she has an assistant.

Kris, who is the star of this particular horror film, wanders around the room, occasionally cracking jokes, checking his cell phone, not able to focus on anything for more than five minutes.

The rest of the kids chime in with suggestions on how their characters should die.

Whitney, the DP, only cares about where they want her to put the camera.

I gave them notes to make the characters more developed because in their first draft people just go to a party and die and don't really exist outside that event, so now they're discussing how they can expand their scenes to create more conflict between the characters.

It's beautiful to watch.

Monday, May 21, 2012

My take on the whole Disciple Program thing

Last week The Disciple Program sold to Universal for big bucks and with Mark Wahlberg attached to star. And the arguing began.

For those of you who have not been obsessing over this particular development, let me 'splain:

A while back, aspiring screenwriter Tyler Marceca entered the Industry Insider Screenwriting Contest, in which he was given a vague logline (After waking to find his wife dead in their backyard, a man conducts his own investigation, and uncovers the hidden life of a woman he thought he knew) with which to write the beginning of a screenplay. The top writers were then given guidance from professionals to build an entire screenplay from those initial pages. Tyler won and developed a script called The Disciple Program.

While he was already gaining some traction with his contest win, Tyler submitted this script to Carson Reeves at the Scriptshadow blog for notes. Carson loved the script and generated a lot of buzz for it, and Tyler was signed by WME and Anonymous Content. On Friday, The Disciple Program sold with a director and actor attached. And Tyler is on his way.

I don't know Tyler personally. These are just the facts as I have gleaned them.

This whole series of events has generated some rather aggressive discussion among the screenwriting populace. There are those who are in a kerfuffle over whether or not Carson is responsible for Tyler's success. Carson helped in a big way, no doubt, but let's get one thing straight: Tyler is responsible for Tyler's success.

No matter what you think of the script (I think it was great with pacing and an easy read because I have an English teacher's vocabulary skills, but a bit predictable), you have to respect Tyler's devotion to the craft here. He entered a contest where the prize wasn't money so much as it was hard work under a mentor's supervision. But he didn't stop there. He knew he could do more with the script, so he sought out more help in the form of notes from Carson.

I have my issues with paying for notes. Namely, there are very few screenplay consultants who are worth the price. I can name four, although I personally have never paid for a note in my life. For some people, though, paid notes are a very useful tool. See This Post by the Bitter Script Reader for really good advice on the subject.

Anyway, Tyler worked on this script, and then worked on it, and worked on it again. That much is obvious from his story. And when he hooked up with WME, they gave him notes and he worked on it again. He could have rested on his contest-winning laurels and imagined himself a perfect writer with nothing left to learn, but he didn't.

Honestly, all this fighting people are doing over whether or not Scriptshadow helped Tyler out or not, over whether or not the script is truly amazing, it doesn't matter. That's not the moral of this story. The moral of this story is, this guy worked his ass off to make this the best script he could possibly write, and now he's a professional screenwriter.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Stay classy, kids

I've noticed a trend with the kids ever since Myspace and then Twitter and Facebook came along: less filtering, more blurting. They think every thought they have is worthy of sharing, and as you can imagine, it drives me batty.

I have a regular saying in my classroom: "Just because you have a thought, does not mean it has to come out of your mouth." I say it so often they'll say it with me and nod, agreeing, promising to stay quiet, and then five seconds later they're sharing at top volume whatever thought popped into their addled brains regardless of the instructions I'm in the middle of giving.

The kids don't feel like stuff is private anymore. Everybody's innermost thoughts are just out there where we can all see them, and every thought they have is worth sharing.

Okay I know what you're thinking. "You're one to talk, Sharey McSharington," but the stuff I overshare is awesome. You should hear some of the crap these kids say and then repeat thirty thousand times if it gets a single laugh. It's terrible. The same damn jokes over and over, jokes that weren't funny the first time.

Most of the time when they're funny it's not on purpose.

Anyway, that's not why I started this post.

With all this social media out there and free sharing and lack of privacy, people seem to have lost their sense of etiquette.

Just because it says someone is your "friend" on Facebook does not make them your actual friend. Because you follow someone on Twitter does not make them someone you pal around with. If that were true, I'd be in a hot tub right now with Kris Holden-Reid, getting it on.

In case you haven't been following my TV star crush progression, Kris Holden-Reid is the new Jensen Ackles. But I digress once again.

My point is this: These people have business hours and business email addresses. Facebook is for personal time. Twitter is for spewing out random thoughts to anyone who will listen. It is not for you to use in pestering people.

You wouldn't go up to an agent you've never met before at a party, tag him on the shoulder and say "Read my script" would you? Okay, if you would, punch yourself because you're an asshole.

Querying through Facebook is considered by most agents and managers to be a really tasteless act. They also don't seem to enjoy you sending loglines via Twitter. There may be exceptions, but not many. And while we're at it, I discovered through personal experience that they get overly upset when you email them your query letter on a Sunday.

So here's a public service message to anyone who doesn't have boundaries - make some. If your logline is good someone will request it through the proper channels. Have some class. Just because you see this person online does not make them your friend.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Screenwriter code switching

There's this term we use in education - one of those jargony terms I don't know if people use in other industries - "Code Switching." Code switching is the ability to turn your brain from one mode like test-taking brain to creative brain, or academic classroom brain to lunchtime fuckaround brain. John Cleese talks a bit about something similar in this video on creativity somebody linked on Done Deal. It's a pretty good speech, but I am too lazy to look it up right now so you're just going to have to Google.

Anyhow, I realized this morning that I have a total code switch going on when I start to work on a screenplay. I suppose we all do, but I was surprised at the way I do it.  All this time and I never realized how super serious I get.

I have been working on a thing with a person, and yesterday I sent a copy of the latest version of a treatment. I got back a list of casual ideas to explore, questions, suggestions, NOT notes. But my brain had switched to screenplay mode, which means everything is a problem to solve. Suddenly I was fucking Sherlock Holmes trying to decipher the Mystery of the Screenplay Notes.

And the guy was like "Hold up, kid. This is just a discussion." And I was like "Oh." And that's when I realized that although I always tried to pretend I could easy in - easy out of screenwriting mode, the truth is I have a very clear mindset when I'm in that mode. I code switch to screenwriting and I'm super focused. My sense of humor is poured into my characters and I am left with none.

To my fiance I've always said "Hey, if you need me while I'm writing it's cool. Just open the door and I'll break off. It's not too tough to get back into it."

What a fucking lie. Last week he went to walk the dogs and called me out of the office to see if I thought the neighborhood smelled like pot. I nearly ripped his head off his body and threw it over the fence. I guess he learned his lesson about that one.

Do you guys do this? Because this has come as a revelation to me.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

B story is the answer

The story always follows the same plot. I write a first draft of a treatment, the beginning is great and the enging is great, often set in stone. I rarely make major changes to either of those from the day I first type them up. But the middle, well, you know. The dreaded Act 2. How do I get from this awesome beginning to the awesome end? It's not easy.

So the first draft of my treatment is always really thin. I throw some placeholder events in, finish it up, then sit back and look at it, dissatisfied but happy to at least be on my way.

After thinking for a couple of days and maybe having someone read it over, I always come to the same conclusion: Needs more B story. I get so caught up on my protagonist's journey that I can't see any other stories in the mix, and then I start thinking about what everybody else is doing while she's not on screen. Sometimes they do interesting things. Usually they're trying to get her. And there it is. While my character is trying to stop the bad guy, she has cops/robbers/aliens/zombies/jealous rivals making her life complicated by trying to stop her from saving the world.

This is almost always the answer - see how many times in this post I used that word, "always" - but I still go through this process each time. When the first draft comes out lacking I'll say to myself, "It needs a B story." But then I stare and stare and can't come up with anything, even though I know full well what the problem is. And then one night while I'm trying to sleep, or while I'm singing in the car, or while I'm louffaing in the shower, I realize what my B story is. And then I'm off to the races.

Monday, May 07, 2012

I made a video

I finished my fan video. I bring you "Bad Boyfriend," a tribute to the character of Dyson on the Showcase/Syfy series Lost Girl.

I was surprised at how all-consuming this became. I will probably make this my new hobby.

Please to enjoy if you like alpha males. Or if you don't.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

I'm learning to edit

At work this week they blocked Blogger. They do that at least once a month, then it will reappear for a while, then disappear again. I honestly think the IT guys are just fucking with me.

But I've also been busy. Not busy writing screenplays, which I am kind of doing but not enough, and not busy grading papers, which I've decided to pretend don't exist anymore, but busy editing a Lost Girl fan video.

I've had editing software and an external hard drive for a couple of years because I was going to learn to edit, but I never could figure out what to edit. I took some videos of my dog running around, but that's not really plot heavy, and after I proved to myself that I'm lukewarm about directing, I didn't really want to shoot anymore short films. So the dream of learning to edit kind of disappeared. I never had it in mind to actually be an editor or anything, I just wanted to learn to do it. But I never really did.

Then after I became obsessed with Lost Girl, I started watching fan videos on Youtube. There are some really good ones. This one is my favorite:

I think this video is amazing, and I envy this person's skills. I decided to nerd out and make one of my own using this as a model. I'm only following one character and using a much simpler song, but I've been at this a week and already have learned quite a bit about using the software. I wish I had thought of this ages ago, because it's much easier to learn to do this when you have two seasons of great shots to pull from and the story has already been told.

So that's what I'm up to. It's fun. Or, it was fun until I realized three days in that I had imported all my files using the wrong aspect ratio and had to start over from scratch. But this is how we learn.