Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Eyes of a Closer

So far, in my season of rewrites, we've looked at contrived conflict and problems with sidekicks. But instead of relying solely on myself and a few screenwriting pals to figure out problem areas in my work, I've also decided to take a look at my screenplay through the eyes of a closer.

Creative Screenwriting had an article about screenwriting top guns who rewrite green lit scripts that need to be tweaked. Closers basically ride in on white horses, identify problems, clean up, and then ride out with big fat checks in their boots. Don Roos is the Wyatt Earp of closers so who better to tap into for rewrite points?

Careful to never use the term "script doctor", Don Roos told CS that the diagnoses are always the same:

* dialogue which doesn't sound overheard
* characters who aren't specific - seem taken from other films
* main characters without edges - uncomplicated & too likeable
* absence of specificity & texture to scenes, characters and dialogue

Good list.

So the first three are pretty much no brainers and while we amateurs are guilty of overlooking these kinds of flaws, I'm somewhat surprised that professionals don't grind their teeth to the roots when they read forced dialogue.

Still, this is my list as I review my Nicholl Fellowship entry for the umpteenth time but I wish Roos had elaborated a little on the fourth one. The specificity part I understand. It's the absence of texture to scenes and characters and dialogue that has me scratching my head. I've read a lot of guru books but for some reason this term, texture, isn't making a screenwriting love connection in my cerebellum.

A little help?


The Colonel said...

One heard a good writing tip once -and one which one intends to use - When writing dialogue, take away the character names and if the dialogue of each character is not distinctive to that character and sounds like it can be spoken by any other character, then it's time to rewrite! Sorry no puns today, quite a sensible point this time!

Unk said...


It sounds like what he's saying is that your characters aren't larger than life... They have no reason for being. They aren't good at anything in particular. Are they quintessential characters? What makes them that way?

Same goes with the scenes... What's the point of each scene? Is it ABSOLUTELY CLEAR? Are there actions and dialogue that could make them less ambiguous?

Is there ENOUGH drama, conflict, and tension in each scene?

When a character gets what he or she wants too easily in a scene, there's almost no reason to read any further... No reason for either character to be in the scene.

Do your characters HAVE A PLAN? Is it clear to us? Have you made sure that at least by Act 2, your characters are working their plan?

Or... Are they just reacting?

One of the things I like to point out to screenwriters are characters with 3 goals.

THREE? What the heck am I talkin' about?

1) The OUTER goal: That tangible thing that your Protagonist desparately wants to achieve.

2) The INNER goal: The transformational character arc that your Protagonist goes through and achieves by the end of the story.

3) The LIFE goal: Where does your Protagonist see him or herself in 10 years? 20 years? 50 years?

The transformational arc (character arc) within your story should be one of the hundreds of stepping stones leading toward the LIFE GOAL.

Ah... The LIFE GOAL?

You betchya. Are your character's LIFE GOALS clear to us by the end of the script?

Life goals are damn near invisible but to give your characters texture and dimension, give them authentic life goals that the outer and inner goals will ultimately lead them too.

In other words, when the screenplay is over -- IT AIN'T OVER. We should be able to walk away and completely understand what your Protagonist and other main characters are headed AFTER we close the script.


oneslackmartian said...

Now you got a corpse in a car, minus a head, in a garage. Take me to it.

The Wolf

(after Unk's comment, I didn't have anything to say except a light, smart@$$ comment. I'm following Unk's advice as well!)

oneslackmartian said...

I'm such a doofus. The Wolf wasn't a closer. He was a CLEANER!

I'm going to retreat to my cave.

Anonymous said...

I suppose that if the Nicholl entries dwindled to let's say 50, it would make the odds better for something. However, if every script in the competition absolutely sucks, it doesn't matter how low the odds are. Sure, if you're the only entry you win, but you really only get your name in the list of "winners", and you get the money...which really isn't enough to help you along, believe me my Nicholl winning friends are not rolling in it, and only one has been greenlighted so far, but for three scripts. If your script sucks and you win, Hollywood will somehow know it sucks and it ain't gon' get made. I mean I had a script get to some guy at Blue Circle (or feck, is it Gold Circle? Who cares they make shite movies), and I thought 'oh blimey, this is great, because I don't have to "win" anything to get it there' (I just had to meet a woman in a health club), but it didn't get made or even read past the first page (I don't know for certain, but having read it subsequently, I would have struggled to the third sentence and tossed it in the gasburner). So, this was a script that was hand delivered over lunch (I was there too) with a mutual friend's "blessing" and it either got laughed at or pissed on. So, even the aforementioned craphole company has enough sense to see that it was written by a complete moron. And finally two years later I had gained enough sense and depravity to do my own thing and sell some scripts, sans a "competition". And another thing, maybe you won in the meantime, since you wrote this, but a very high percentage of screenwriters actually live in LA. Of the three that I know who've won the Nicholl, only one lives in LA and guess how many of those have even an inkling of a career...tada...ONE (and it's two years since she has had any meetings, and four years since a script sale, one option in that time). It's a sad fact of screenwriting.

MaryAn Batchellor said...

Grats for the insight.