a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Breaking My Story

So I've fallen off the writing wagon again.

I strung together about 10 straight days of at least an hour a day, but then life swarmed in and knocked me off track.

Now I'm trying to scramble back on, Indiana Jones style.

The problem is that I'm working on a new script, that I have a rough idea of the story of; it's a fairly high-concept buddy comedy. I know where it starts, I know where it winds up, I know stuff that happens along the way.

Not enough stuff, though.

And therein lies the problem. Because I've always been a writer who too-often wrote by the seat of his pants. Who just never worked out enough of the story beforehand.

Which works, if you have a zillion hours to give to writing, as I did in my single days.

My Nicholl semi-finalist script was written in the most time-consuming way possible. Literally, I wrote draft after draft, throwing out things that weren't working, and bending the story in a new direction, and then another one, and then another one.

The draft I wound up with is a solid script, but it took at least 20 full drafts, and I left endless excised sequences littered on the side of the road.

It's not the most time-effective way to write. At all.

My second-favorite script I actually wrote as a serialized treatment/story first, sending chunks to a friend in e-mails, so that when I finally typed it up the first draft was much, much closer to where it needed to be.

Since then I've tried to be outline guy, but the irony with my screenwriting group is that it doesn't really facilitate this. Because I need to come up with 25 pages every month or so, even if I'm in outlining phase.

So I knocked out a first act of this buddy comedy, and everyone loved it. The problem is that I really don't have solid concrete sequences for acts two and three, just basic ideas.

I hadn't really "broken" the story. And it really needs to be broken.

So that's what I'm working on now, just trying to figure out the basics. Who my characters are, what they want, how they are pursuing this need, what their flaws are, what their arc is, what their journey is, what conflicts they face along the way.

Figuring out how the story best serves this -- and how all this will best serve the story.

You know, basic ingredient stuff. In theory, it's much easier to figure out now than when I've written 40 pages that are ultimately not going to work.

The problem is that I write best when I'm actually in a scene, writing. That's when my mind comes up with great stuff, just being in the moment.

What I need to do is translate that to when I'm just sitting there with a pad of paper, beating out the plot.

It's one of my admitted flaws as a writer. Not taking the time to just sit down, pre-writing, and ask the important questions about my screenplay and what its basic story elements are.

So that's where I am now, a process that is cluttered by the fact that in 13 days I need to bring in another 25 pages. It'll probably be the first 25 again, reworked and hopefully setting up a story that has been worked out a lot more than it is now.

But that's writing.


Last weekend, KUNG FU PANDA made an impressive $60.2 million. YOU DON'T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN also did well, making $38.5 million.

I like Adam Sandler, though I wish he'd make better movies, though clearly there's no real economic reason to.

SEX AND THE CITY came back to Earth, dropping 62.8% in its second week, though its opening was the biggest for a romantic comedy ever, and it crossed the $100 million line yesterday, on day 11.

It'll be interesting to see how Hollywood tries to recapture this female audience (surprise! it exists!) in the future. A lot may depend on how THE WOMEN does this fall.


At 11:29 AM, Blogger marcoguarda said...

The script of DUMB AND DUMBER.

Picking it up, and reading it, I find it's so simple in its structure, though, it gives us many insights of these two fellows.

Basically, the story is about:

A) Something happens, and the two guys decide to leave for Aspen.

B) The travel to Aspen.

C) Arrival at Aspen and showdown.


A1) Meeting Mary.
A2) Lloyd getting the briefcase with the money for the ransom.
A3) Both getting fired.
A4) Leaving for Aspen to bring the briefcase to Mary (right as the bad guys get near).

B) The travel to Aspen is simply a list of places and peoples:

From the truck driver to the FBI girl to the bad guys chasing them, finding them, until Mentalino gets killed. They almost end into the police, but Lloyd drives the car south again. Then, on the verge of financial collapse, they discover that the briefcase is full of money.

C1) Arrival at Aspen.
C2) Finding Mary.
C3) Joining the Snow Howl Society.
C4) Meeting Andre.
C5) Falling both in love with Mary.
C6) A day on the snow.
C7) The declaration of love to Mary.
C8) Andre closes on them.
C9) FBI girl intercepts Harry and gives him the pistol.
C10) Andre dies. Final.

[I summarized roughly. Maybe some points are placed differently than in the movie.]

In brief:

A) The story starts, and develops to the first decision.

B) [See below]

C) They arrive at Aspen, and somewhat Harry and Lloyd are able to stop the bad guys.

The B point is simply a list - in my opinion - but it is so well written, that it goes like a breeze. I think its secret is a lot about details:

- "Sea Bass" has almost nothing to do with the story, except for he is a truck driver. He haunts Lloyd and Harry really as the shark in JAWS. The story gets ridiculously tragic, as Lloyd reads on the toilet about the appointment note. And it is all the more funny as Harry is at the same time peacefully talking with the FBI girl under cover, before the gas station blows up.

- The relationship between the two develops until they almost separate, but it is really funny. These people are really friends.

The entire movie is filled with intelligent "stupid" finds that at times have to do very little with the core of the story (bring the briefcase to Mary).

But in this movie they are the story.

- The "fallen" head of the bird.
- The "worm factory".
- The hearse. [though in the movie it is a scooter?]
- The bottles of beer filled with urine.
- The toilet that does not flush.
- When Lloyd "Christmas" thinks about he and Mary married, he wonders how "Mary Christmas" would sound.

The script is just riddled with inventions and funny and sad things, but still, its structure is very plain, and simple.


That were just some thoughts.

At 5:33 PM, Blogger E.C. Henry said...

Scott, I'm glad to hear you discuss your writing style. I write best "in the momment" too. It's just to get there takes some doing (brainstorm, index cards, outline)

I'm JUST starting to really get into that romantic comedy, my favorite genre to write in. Doing previous rewrites on that supernatural western thriller, really derailled some earlier March/April momentum. BUT that's all part of being a writer, the ups and downs. Slow times, and times when you can't write fast enough. Sometimes when life crowds in, you have to elbow distactions away. Like tonight. Do I write or watch Lakers-Celtics?

(Comprimise: write till 8, then watch the 4th quarter, when HOPEFULLY things are good)

Anyway, can't wait to show you the new rom-com. VERY pleased with the Belemany (the wrong guy) I've got in it. Currently working on refining the plot, punching up the humor, and getting it down to 120 pages. Started off at 185, 1st draft, got it down to 130 right now...

Wish you the best with your buddy comedy, Scott. Hopefully it'll turn out to be something very special.

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

At 10:11 AM, Blogger Emily Blake said...

I'm really really crossing my fingers and hoping that Hollywood now wants to try action movies with female protagonists again.

At 12:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're overthinking it. Let your first, fly-by-the-seat draft be your outline. You're sounding a little like McKee or Field with your sequence shit and it's really not healthy.

Screenwriting is making shit up. Hammer out the shape then chisel out the details.

At 2:06 PM, Blogger The Scribe said...

I work best the other way around. Come up with a character, decide which aspect of the character I want to challenge, create an antagonist who challenges it, and ta-daa, here's the emotional climax of the story.

Generate setting & action climax to highlight the emotion. Make a list of things you're going to need to seed in earlier to make the climax work.

Arrange those elements in a sequence which will give you a beginning and middle (since you've written the climax).

Then you can get down to exploring the characters within that framework, confident that the story-craft is there.

Of course, when (not if) the characters surprise you, you may have to do a rework of the story-craft. But it's a lot easier to do that when the skeleton of the story is in place - IMO.


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