Friday, April 27, 2012

Nerdist Writers Panel

Have you discovered this, yet? Nerdist Writers Panel is hosted by Chris Hartwick and offers up podcasts with professional writers. Translation = they know more than us.

The most recent addition to the page is Podcast #36 recorded on March 25, 2012 with Bill Lawrence (creator, Scrubs and Cougar Town), Ken Levine (Mash, Cheers, Wings, Fraser, The Simpsons), and Richard Hatem (Grimm, Secret Circle).

You can also get tickets to attend live podcasts. July 20th is in Houston and July 21st in Dallas. Either one looks good to me!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

What Your Characters Want

You're safe. No Spice Girls references ahead.

Instead of feeling like I had found a golden ticket when I ran across this gem at Script about creating characters that actors will want to play, a writing fog lifted and I realized that this was something I already knew, something I had heard before, and something that shines a harsh light on the wrinkles in my writing complexion.

I hate wrinkles.

The Script article challenges writers to know their characters beyond the adjectives we use to describe them and suggests that characteristics do not define character because characters are, themselves, an action verb. While the analogy doesn't work for me (adjectives describe nouns, not verbs), the point being made does. Characters are not a handful of descriptions.  Those are characteristics. Who characters are is demonstrated by what they want more than anything --- at that particular moment.

In this Wordplay column, Situation-Based Writing, Terry Rossio explains it this way, "Circumstances come from the world and impose onto characters from the outside, so to speak. Character wants come from inside the characters and push out at the world." He also says that once you know a character's "want", the situation exists. Be sure you read the entire column because he first discusses creating situations and how situation relates to character by being (1) immediate - somebody wants something or will be forced to want something right now and (2) imperative - somebody wants something badly.

Unknown Screenwriter once advised me to know the basic wants of each character before I ever put my fingers on the keyboard so their behavior in their circumstances will be consistent and logical, regardless of the situation. See what he did there? He, too, tied situation to character.

Our screenplays should reveal character by the characters' pursuits of what they want. In this way, there is no need to ever create a scene for the sole purpose of establishing character. Furthermore, in every single scene, somebody should want something.

So I ask you --  do you know in every scene what every character wants?

Reading through my Nicholl submission (just a few more days before the deadline), I am not only looking for typographical errors but I am also checking each scene to see if I've made it clear to the audience what my characters want. I know what my characters want but will a reader?

I hate wrinkles.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Destiny's Merry Pranks

Weirdest spring ever.

In "All About Eve", Margo Channing refers to running out of gas as one of destiny's merry pranks. She has no idea that the reason she's missing a curtain call is because her friend drained the gas tank to teach her a lesson in humility. My little town has suffered a bizarre series of misfortunes and every time I receive another blow of bad news, that line is the one I hear and Margo Channing's image, swaddled in her fur and puffing on a cigarette, is the one I see.

Yup, my little town has been the butt of many of destiny's merry little pranks.

What's that you say? Mrs. Cunningham crashed her Buick into the Piggly Wiggly and landed in the deli? One of destiny's merry pranks.

I only wish the blows had been that funny. Oh, and that we had a Piggly Wiggly since neither my Brookshires or Walmart carries fresh spinach. Plus, it's fun to say Piggly Wiggly.

Say it with me.

Piggly Wiggly.

Piggly Wiggly.

Piggly Wiggly.

Now, wasn't that fun? No? Well, you didn't say out loud, did you?

Okay, actually the first gigantic prank played on my town WAS kind of funny. A pipe broke in the ceiling at the high school and flooded the building for hours and hours and hours before it was noticed. The school sat in three feet of water and the district incurred millions of dollars in building and equipment damage. That part wasn't funny but the videos of the high school seniors on their second spring break are genius -- music videos, message videos, art projects, photo journals -- loads of fun. These kids made great use of their free time while other grades had to attend classes in the gymnasium and makeshift classrooms because it was the week of STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness) tests. 

Next prank, a tornado. Not just ONE tornado but TWO. An FE3 tornado that wiped out multitudes of homes, hit the OTHER high school and took out an elementary school (I think the school district has a target on its back), and its baby brother tornado that simultaneously hit our downtown area. Seriously. Two tornadoes at the same time. One small town. Ouch.

The next pranks? Too painful to even call pranks. They were tragedies. Tragedy after tragedy after tragedy. A motorcycle accident. A four wheeler accident. A teenage suicide. People we know. People we loved. People who mattered to the community. Loss of life in the most horrible ways.

I know. Loss of life happens. Accidents happen. Crime happens. Tornadoes happen. (but in Hartford, Hereford and Hampshire, hurricanes hardly ever happen) This is the world we live in. But I don't like it.

Perhaps one of the things that makes writing so attractive to writers is that we have absolute control over destiny's merry pranks. We are the creators and the manipulators of our own universes and destiny plays no merry pranks lest we author them. Fate has no power over us. Karma is our slave.

It's therapeutic, don't you think?

As for destiny's merry pranks played on my little town, I blame myself. I should never have started watching "Murder, She Wrote" on Netflex streaming video.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Around the World in Screenplays

Check out this map of Nicholl applicants that shows how many entries have been submitted from which parts of the world so far. Fascinating. Of course, it is no big surprise that California has the most screenplays sent in from any area but at the time of this post, there are six from Thailand and eleven from Ireland. How cool is that? They've come from India, Iran, France, Brazil and Argentina. Get crackin', Wyoming and Arkansas! Right now you have big fat zeros and you look like slackers!

Friday, April 06, 2012

A Thousand Words

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the Tuesday outbreak of tornadoes in North Texas has generated more words than stars in the heavens. These beasts (14 at last count by the National Weather Service) have been photographed and filmed more than any other tornadoes recorded thanks to accessible technology. That's good news for the geeks that study these things and for the rest us due to the resulting science that forecasts weather events (must resist "Twister" reference here). While I understand storm chasers and filmmakers taking calculated risks to get a shot of the monster, I shudder watching video of people hanging off their fences as an FE3 with 160 mph winds is coming at them and tossing tractor trailers around like tinker toys.

Two tornadoes hit my little town. A small one (if you can call a tornado small) hit our historic downtown area but the behemoth that tore across Forney, Texas landed on the north side and took out 95 homes, hit the high school, damaged an elementary school, and brushed the Walmart right next to the Chili's restaurant where everyone was standing outside taking pictures.

I'd like to spend about three paragraphs on my faith in the enduring human spirit and the compassion and decency demonstrated across the metroplex and in my little town as it rallied the moment the winds moved on to destroy the next town. but you will think you've heard it all before and just skim over it. So, I won't. Instead, I will just say that I am so thankful -- so very very thankful -- that I live where I do, tornadoes and all.

But this post is about photos and words.

It's common practice now to manipulate a photo and add a caption or post a cartoon and circulate it on a social network to show how just or unjust a cause is or criticize somebody's beliefs. One line. One caption. Not that many words. But, the image behind that punchline is designed to provoke a response - humor, anger, indignation, etc. A photo with a single word or caption is a powerful thing - funny, derogatory, thoughtful, whatever. Isn't that the same premise we use in screenwriting? We create a visual image (minus the photo or cartoon) in our screenwriting and use as few words as possible to make our funny, derogatory, or thoughtful point?

Somebody once told me to think in pictures while I'm screenwriting and then take a series of snapshots to try to tell my story without using words. As I look through the hundreds of photos of the tornado damage, I don't even need to go to YouTube and watch the videos. I have, of course, because there are images of the funnel forming, some of the debris turning the base of the tornado black, the funnel changing from a point to a cylinder, and other fascinating moving pictures that science will benefit from. Each video is gold.

But---- the still photos, like the one above, those are the images that shout at me.

As a writer, I wonder where I need to draw the line between getting a good shot and running for my life. Maybe it depends on how much you have to say and whether you think you can say it without the image. I really really don't know. I was standing in my back yard with my video camera as the beast went by.

Monday, April 02, 2012

And We Have a Winner

Not quite. But at least I do know which screenplay I shall devote the next 29 days, 8 hours, 31 minutes and 42 seconds to. You know what I mean. Yes you do. Rewriting and polishing for the Nicholl. Well, now it's 25 seconds. 23. 22. 21. You get the idea. I have one major character arrival issue and several minor cleanup things that I'm undecided about but my biggest problem is proofreading. My screenplay is littered with typos and I have blinders on. When I quit sweating the small stuff and concentrated on story, I didn't intend to forget the small stuff altogether.