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SCRIPT FRENZY 2012 - Day 30 + 1

Well, crap.


Now that May 1st is here, Script Frenzy 2012 is officially over. And I haven’t finished the first draft of my HORROR MOVIE screenplay. What else is new?

All this means is, I didn’t finish in time for my self-imposed deadline.

That doesn’t mean I’ll stop writing, I’m just going to keep writing past the deadline. Ultimately, I’m supposed to be directing this movie (next summer, theoretically), and I can’t do anything until the script’s done, so I just have to keep whacking away at it.

A good friend of mine e-mailed last night to ask how my progress on the script was and since I gave her a much more detailed answer than I expected, I’m going to be uncharacteristically efficient and use that answer for some of my post here.

I've written almost half a dozen scenes already, although, curiously, they're all sort of disconnected. I'm basing my new draft on the original 32 pg. synopsis/treatment that my collaborator, Carter, wrote, although his version was more consistently gross (in a special effects sort of way) and also had more low-brow comedy. Having said that, I'm following his basic plot semi-faithfully, at least to a certain degree. But, we've also discussed an additional theme/(genre?) to explore and that needs a lot more work in plot specifics. I have the basic intentions of that plot-line in my head, but I haven't totally figured out the specifics of what those intentions will translate to in terms of action and plot.

So, I've done a bunch of writing, but in actual screenplay terms, it might be only 20-25%. I'm trying to wrestle out my "treatment" or plotline and once I have that done, I’ll expand that into actual pages of script.

I've been doing a lot of character exploration and "character improv" in my head to sort of figure out their personal histories and motivations throughout the film, which I'm sure sounds like, what-- bogus? Confusing?

Well, I seem to have success discovering more about what my characters are all about when I get them into a discussion and I push them to say what they're really thinking and what they really want.

But, such a discussion(s) is too straightforward (and longwinded) to keep as their actual dialogue. So, it looks like my personal “writing process” is comprised of several steps: write a lot of dialogue, learn more about my themes and characters through these discussions they have and then, THEN, when I have THOSE objectives attained, work on the screenplay proper, meaning: start whittling it down to (hopefully) a reasonable length.

It might sound laborious, but I think it's important foundational work, at least for me.

If I actually feel like I know my characters better and also feel great empathy for them (and I sometimes do), then I don't mind taking the time.

So, uh, there.

I can't really say how many actual pages I have written because I haven't really written anything in the proper format. Right now, I'm worried about having a monster-sized screenplay (at least for my first draft) because I do occasionally write a lot of dialogue.

Theoretically, in a properly formatted screenplay, each page of script translates to roughly one minute of screen time. So, my ultimate goal is to write a script that's around 90-120 pages long. But for the horror genre, a supposedly “disposable” entertainment piece, you probably want to keep it more around 90-100 (maybe even closer to 90, unless every minute is astoundingly awesome AND indispensable). I'm thinking my very first finished draft will be 150 pages and, jeez, hopefully not much more. I could be completely wrong, meaning: maybe it will go longer!

I'm secretly hoping it won't be more than 150 pgs., because then I'm worried about how tough the editing process will be, in terms of cutting dialogue and action out that I like. But, I'm envisioning that once I have all my basic ducks in a row with the first draft, I can play better with my various elements because they’re actually there, you know? Plus, it’ll be a process of not only cutting stuff but also combining elements perhaps more efficiently as I re-write.

So, I'm not extraordinarily worried. Yet.

One step at a time.

What I DO have to do is be more freaking diligent with my actual DAILY writing routine, that's all! Grrr!

Meanwhile, on a related note, a couple weeks ago, the 6th annual Buffalo Niagara Film Festival (BNFF) was going on in town and I made a point of attending more events than I’ve done in the past. One of the events I attended was a Free Screenplay Seminar with Alyn Darnay, who’s based in Florida. There weren’t a lot of people who attended his seminar, maybe 10? Not much more, I don’t think.

Darnay had a book he was selling, The Script, “a breakthrough guide to scriptwriting,” and his book was the basis for his seminar.

He was very energetic and at times very passionate as he discussed concepts from his book about screenwriting, Because of the compressed time, I think he was jumping around a bit and sort of rather freewheeling in his teaching approach. Also, because there were so few people in attendance, he eschewed using the large movie screen (for power points or whatever he had initially planned to use) and was instead utilizing a laptop screen instead, which ultimately proved impractical for all of us to really see anything the few times he tried to use the screen to show us anything, so he was mostly using the laptop as a tool for himself to flip through topics he wanted to discuss.

The one thing he talked about that I thought sounded useful and I’m trying to do now is writing a treatment first for my screenplay. He actually talked about working hard on getting a very solid treatment so that you know exactly what you wanted to achieve and how you were going to get there and then using that knowledge to write your screenplay. That makes some sense to me, so that’s why I’m trying that approach.

He also said some things that made no sense at all to me, and I don’t know if it was because I disagreed with him or he just explained his ideas poorly.

One thing he said flat out was that “everyone lies.”

That’s it. Well, no. Actually, his full axiom is “Everybody lies, but that’s ok because nobody listens.”

Your character should always lie, they never tell the truth. Possibly the protagonist might tell the truth, but essentially, they are all liars.

In my head, I couldn’t do anything with that, primarily because this was a universal pronouncement regarding ALL characters. It made me think of William Goldman’s story of Alfred Hitchcock working with screenwriter Ernest Lehman on NORTH BY NORTHWEST and Hitch had the idea of the villains trapping their hero in a room and trying to kill him with a tornado, and Lehman looked at him, and said, “Uh, no, I can’t do anything with that.” This was years before the popular “WTF?” so one could assume that an equivalent expression was going through Lehman’s head when he heard this idea.

But, getting back to Alyn Darnay, this concept of “everybody lies” did nothing for me. What does that mean?

I tried to re-phrase what he said as a question to him, “Do you mean the characters don’t know what is the truth, or aren’t self-aware enough to know the truth, so what they say is actually a lie?” And he more or less said, “Doesn’t matter. Whatever. Everybody lies.”

And this became a meaningless axiom for me. It made no sense.

I’m allowing that this may not only be a meaningful and important concept to Darnay when HE writes, and moreover, it may actually be a very successful dynamic when he approaches dialog in his script. It might be something he discovered on his own while working on his own screenplays and he has gotten a lot of mileage out of working with this idea. However, for me, I don’t get it. It’s too broad a statement. Perhaps he just didn’t explain it in a way that it made sense to me.

Coincidentally, I DO have a character in the HORROR MOVIE screenplay who seems to fit exactly what Darnay’s describing. But, I don’t think of her as lying, I think of her as avoiding the truth of her situation because the truth terrifies her.

If this is what he means, then okay. But, having said that, this dynamic doesn’t apply to all the characters in my screenplay. So, really, Darnay’s broad statement of “Everybody lies” needs to be better explained to me to be useful. Otherwise, I would think it works better as a specific detail applying to ONE character.  Yeah, the universality of the axiom is what has me thrown and skeptical.

In hindsight, I’m glad I attended the seminar. You really don’t know what you might learn unless you go to one of these things. Plus, it was free. But, really, I think I’m at the point now where I have enough theoretical knowledge through watching movies and reading other books (namely a lot of the Syd Field books, among others) that I can’t do anything else except WRITE THE DAMN SCREENPLAY and then learn from THAT new experience. Time to go from theory to execution.

And yes, this is me giving myself a little pep talk to get my ass moving.

Oh, before I forget... I also met a couple screenwriters at the seminar, Beth and Marty (but to clarify, they themselves weren't a couple), who had much more writing experience than I—they both had a few finished screenplays under their belt and had also entered them into contests. One or both had flirtations with further development progress, too, I think.

I saw Beth a couple times in my visits to the BNFF. She’s particularly notable, in my mind, for taking an ad out in the BNFF program advertising her screenplay, MOTHERPUCKERS. It was a full page B&W ad and was a great photo. In fact, many people apparently thought it was an ad for a film that was playing at the festival and were wondering when it was showing. 

Alright, I gotta get cracking!




The Last 10 Films I've Seen (so far, seen 30 in 2010)

30. BRUCE CAMPBELL VS. ARMY OF DARKNESS (Director's Cut) --on DVD (1992, w. Sam Raimi and Ivan Raimi; d. Sam Raimi; Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz, Marcus Gilbert, Ian Ambercrombie, Richard Grove, Bridget Fonda)

29. TRICK R' TREAT --on DVD (2008, w/d. Michael Dougherty; Dylan Baker, Anna Paquin, Brian Cox, Lauren Lee Smith, Britt McKillip, Jean-Luc Bilodeau, Alberto Ghisi, Isabelle Deluce, Samm Todd, Tahmoh Penikett, Leslie Bibb)

28. SHE-DEMONS OF THE BLACK SUN --on DVD (2006, Canadian; w. Robbie Ribspreader; d. Sv Bell; Isabelle Stephen, Jan Pivon, Melantha Blackthorne, Costa, Michael Brunet, Suzy Loraine, Kerri Taylor, Marie-Claire Benoit, Penelope Jolicoeur, Ivan Judd, Dan Veilleux)

27. 300 --on DVD (2007, w. Zack Snyder& Kurt Johnstad and Michael B. Gordon (based on graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley); d. Zack Snyder; Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, David Wenham, Dominic West, Rodrigo Santoro)

26. [REC] --on DVD (2007, Spanish; w. Jaume Balaguero, Luis Berdejo, Pacp Plaza; d. Jaume Balaguero, Paco Plaza; Manuela Velasco, Ferran Terraza, Jorge-Yamam Serrano, Pablo Rosso)

25. TRACK OF THE MOON BEAST --on DVD (1976, w.Bill Finger, Charles Sinclair; d. Richard Ashe; Chase Cordell, (Donna) Leigh Drake, Gregorio Sala)

24. RAPE OF THE VAMPIRE (LE VIOL DU VAMPIRE) --on DVD (1968, w/d. Jean Rollin; Solange Pradel, Bernard Letrou, Catherine Deville, Ursule Pauly, Marquis Polho, Louis Horn)

23. SLIME CITY MASSACRE --at the theater (2010, w/d. Greg Lamberson; Jennifer Bihl, Kealan Patrick Burke, Debbie Rochon, Lee Perkins, Robert C. Sabin, Roy Frumkes, Brooke Lewis, Michael O'Hear, John Renna)

22. DEAD GIRL --on DVD (2008, w. Trent Haaga, d. Marcel Sarmiento, Gadi Harel; Shiloh Fernandez, Noah Segan, Candice Accola, Eric Podnar, Jenny Spain)

21. PATHER PANCHALI --on DVD (Indian, 1955, w/d. Satyajit Ray; Karuna Bannerjee, Subir Bannerjee, Uma Das Gupta, Kanu Bannerjee)


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