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Villians Are People Too

Every story needs an antagonist, and every writer needs to learn how to write them well. This is no easy task, as the point of the hero’s journey is usually to uphold your view of the world, and the antagonist – it should go without out saying – threatens that world view. Back in the day, you could just write good guy/bad guy scenarios where the lines between good and evil were clearly defined, and good always prevailed, but let’s face it: people are bored with that! No, no. What today’s audiences want, and frankly, what we as writers want too, is for movies to be living testaments to the human experience. Let’s take a lesson from the Impressionist painters and realize that black and white do not exist in nature: only shades of grey. Let us think then, if this is our pallet, what can we paint with it?

If our audiences are bored with good prevails over evil, then let’s begin with these two concepts. Good. Not that tricky. That’s what makes this dreary, drab, dull place called Earth seem tolerable. Evil. Also not that tricky. It is that which makes this glorious, euphoric, orgasmic place called Earth seem dreary, drab, and dull in the first place. Now how to take those things and turn them into unique and engaging characters?

It’s actually not that difficult. All you have to do in order to get into the mind of your antagonist is remember that there is no such thing as evil; rather that there is a dangerous propensity within the human mind for rationalizing even the most inhumane and illogical thoughts. Be it from he- said-she-said, to Nazi’s killing Jews, life is simply absurd.

Just like this is absurd. Funny only because that cat is harmless. I will point out to that the cat’s stash is just part of his nature. While environment and circumstances to play a huge role in shaping real people & fictional characters, NEVER FORGET that “born this way” is a real thing. The nervous system, taste buds, other senses, brain chemistry, genetic coding, pheromones…all that plays a huge part in making a person who they are.

So yeah, life is absurd, but there is some order amid all the chaos. Realize it. Recognize it. Write about it. The more sense you try to make out of your characters, the better, especially when it comes to your antagonists. In some respects, they should be more fleshed out that your antagonists since they come into the story on the losing side. “The losing side of what?” you might ask. Popular opinion, that’s what. That includes your audience’s opinion and your own. The problem then boils down to an issue of respect, and before you set pen to paper in the effort to describe them you must ask yourself, “Do I respect this character?” And to that effect, “Are they a force to be reckoned with?” The two are mutually exclusive: for your antagonist to be a worthy opponent, he or she must be powerful, and the concept of power – as we all know – is relative to our own weaknesses. As the documentors of these living testaments to the human experience that we call films, we need to ask ourselves these questions.

There will be times in your life of writing when the character that’s screaming their story in your ear is the type of person whose ideological beliefs differ from yours, and whose moral compass points in a direction you’ve never even heard of, or that you have, at least, tried to steer clear of. Take heart, for the question you should be asking yourself is not, “Should I write this character?” but rather, “How should I tell their story?” Villainous, devious, malcontent; these have been the cornerstones of some of cinema’s greatest protagonists since D.W. Griffith (not so much a nice guy himself) paved the way for gangster films with “The Musketeers of Pig Alley.” And it’s only natural. There is no light without the darkness after all, right?


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Feeling Blue? Top 10 Writing Exercises To Cheer You Up!

Nobody knows better than us crazy writers that the lows are just as necessary as the highs, but that doesn’t mean we like these darker, more tumultuous times any better. So what do we do about it? We write, duh!

Or we sit around smoking cigarettes and talking shit about other people until we feel better.

Bottom line, it’s now time to take out your old-fashioned pen and paper, or open up your newfangled Word document, and git on down to it!

10. You are like Luke Skywalker. Write three different opening paragraphs to your autobiography, trying out very different styles.

9. Write the lyrics of a catchy jingle for a plumbing service.

8. You are a superhero. What are your powers, and how do you use them?

7. Write an X-rated Disney scenario.

6. Drink a beer. Write about the taste.

5. Write a bathroom wall limerick.

4. Create an imaginary friend (human or not).

3. Write about your life among the pirates.

2. Write a poem about a tomato.

1. Go ahead. Write about that time you peed your pants.

Happy writing, and happier times ahead!


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Becoming Memorable: Top 10 Things to Talk About in an Interview

Ever find yourself at a loss for words in an interview? If you’re a writer, this is an especially embarrassing occurrence as we are supposed to be great communicators. The following are a few tips on how to carry an organic conversation appropriate for the interview setting. As you read each suggestion, remember that the film business is all about connections, and making connections is all about being open and honest. The simplest way to go about presenting yourself in a way that will attract others, and entice them to connect with you is to learn the art of conversation. Just think “topics.” Start with where you grew up, where you went to school, what you studied, your hobbies, etc. etc. These are great icebreakers for a first conversation. If the conversation goes well, say with a producer or an agent, and they ask you more about yourself, do yourself a favor and tell an anecdote or two. As a writer you should have a few dozen anecdotes readily available in your mind’s back pocket. Here’s a list of the Top 10 Interview Anecdote Topics.

10. Tell ’em one thing that you have done or accomplished that most people haven’t. Have several accomplishments in mind, and pick the one you feel most appropriate to share based on context.

For example, if I were interviewing for a writing job geared towards women’s issues, I might take that opportunity to mention that I overcame anorexia and other eating disorders when I was a teenager. Furthermore, I’d give an example of how those experiences affected certain subject matter found in my writing. It may sound too personal for an interview, but trust me, it’s better to come off as flawed but interesting, than perfect but boring.

9. Tell ’em something about yourself that might surprise them (in a good way).

For example, I might segue away from eating disorders into a lighter topic by telling a joke in the guise of a little secret. “Shhh, don’t tell anyone,  but, I wear socks with sandals!” I don’t actually do that, and in all likelihood  I’d end up revealing that I’m a huge Trekkie just because I seem to always find a way to relate whatever I’m talking about to Start Trek. No lie.

8. Tell ’em the story about how you got into writing in the first place.

In my case, I would tell them about the life changing thought I had upon completion of my very first screenplay, which was, “I could do this every day for the rest of my life.” It was revolutionary. And it stuck. Luckily, I had a brilliant mentor, Fred Strype (pictured above), who guided me toward finding my voice, as well as helping me hone my art and my craft. I still hear him standing over my shoulder as I stare off into space, my mind a blank canvass. He says, “Cut the shit and do the thing!” and I jump into action.

7. Tell ’em one thing you’ll bring to the table that other cannot or will not.

You’re probably looking at this photo thinking, “what anecdote could Holly be about to tell?” It’s this: brand yourself! Okay, that’s not a story, but it’s a good image to start with. Let’s break it down. First of all, I’m a smart, ambitious, and talented woman. But I’m also really nice, a bit kooky, but most importantly, very nurturing (see the little panda baby? I like panda babies). It’s good to use descriptive words, but even better to paint a picture of how you are to work with (what you like, dislike, experience you’ve had in the past, hopes and dreams for your future, and what you consider the ideal work scenario to be). If you can give specific examples of times when you have displayed those qualities, now is the time to speak up about it.

6. Tell ’em what the most satisfying compliment you ever received was.

Now is a great time to direct the conversation back to how great you are as a person in general (like questions 1 and 2), but with a greater emphasis on your humility. How can a a compliment that someone else gave you show humility? Well, do you think Ayn Rand (whom I’m actually kind of a fan of) cared about compliments? No, and the point is that you’re showing that you value the opinions of others. What was the best compliment I ever got? It was when the most brilliant, talented and ambitious person that I know called and asked for my advice. Priceless.

5. Tell ’em one specific passion that drives you.

Chipping away at what’s between me and the Truth. ‘Nuff said.

4. Tell ’em one way in which you distinguish yourself in the marketplace.

You all know how much I love Jennifer Lawrence, and this is in part because she knows what she’s doing when it comes to positioning herself in the marketplace as a serious actress looking for longevity of career. Think of ways in which you are going to brand yourself. Remember to walk and talk the part.

3. Tell ’em about your experience – slash – credibility; what you’ve done and with whom.

If the conversation has gone on this long, you’re more than likely at the level of intimacy where you can name drop without coming off like a total twat. But still – proceed with caution, and do not try to ride on another person’s fame or glory. As always you should stick to things you are proud of and really worked hard for. This shows potential financiers that you, well, work hard, but also that you’ve been paying your dues. They like to see that in the biz. In my case, I interned 40 hours a week at Reeling: Chicago’s 30th Lesbian & Gay International Film Festival last summer. There I worked with Brenda Webb, a truly delightful woman who I would love to have the opportunity to work with again, as well as the other staff at Chicago Filmmakers. What I mainly did was curate the short film program, which was basically the best job ever. Watch movies all day, pick the best ones, color-coordinate my notes, and group like things together? Love it.  (Notice here that I stay positive throughout the conversation and NEVER EVER say anything negative about anyone else. EVER.)

2. Tell ’em how you think someone who really admired you would introduce you to a stranger at a networking event.

Remember that this is you as a writer, not as a person, but try to use descriptive words that apply to the "you" in both senses. If you're unsure of how people admire think of you, try asking said people, or pulling from letters of recommendation.

Remember that this is you as a writer, not as a person, but try to use descriptive words that apply to the “you” in both senses. If you’re unsure of how people admire think of you, try asking said people, or pulling from letters of recommendation. In the case of moi, it has been said I am “fearless,” have a “distinctive writer’s voice” and that my “ability at presenting the details of life while characterizing the broader themes of the human condition reminds one of that ability in the writing of F.S. Fitzgerald.” Nice. It had also been said, by an entirely different person, that my writing “seems at first to fluctuate between the wacky and the excruciatingly lowbrow…” – just wait, it gets better – but “…her excruciatingly lowbrow is always artfully commenting on how the ordinary can have such a powerful over us.” Ergo, I’m like sugar water that tastes like red, and a vintage ruby engagement ring coexisting interestingly together. Or something.

1. Tell ’em who you’re going to thank most of all when you win your first Oscar.

Yous guys will def get a shout out, but moms gets the biggest.

Yous guys will def get a shout out, but ain’t no’ne getten more’n Mom. (Oh what? You didn’t know I’m from Jersey? Cape May, hun.)

There’s no denying it. If you get through all these topic points and you’ve still got their interest, you’re probably a shoo-in. If I were you, I would copy these prompts and jot down a sentence or two for each one, or key words and phrases to help you come up with and remember your anecdotes, or “talking points” as we like to say in the parlance of our times.

Happy connection making!


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Top 10 Things Not to Do While Having Trouble Writing

10. Do not read this blog.

Whuuut? That’s right. It’s only more procrastination. But on the other hand…read it anyway.

9. Do not take your hands off your writing utensil.

Hey, now! There’s a toddler present. And that is not what I meant by writing utensil. …Though that would be impressive.

8. Do not think about where your writing is going.

Look at me writing all these postcards at the last minute. You think I thought about what I was writing? …Well, yeah, I did. But I’m obsessive and never stop thinking about my writing, no matter what the form.

7. Do not pass Go. Go directly to Jail.

By which I mean, now is the time to sit and reflect. Think about what you are doing and where your story is going. I know this contradicts #9., but just trust me on this. Pull up your handy structure map, and fill it in with the main plot points for your protagonist’s journey.

6. Do not ignore my effing instructions! Print out this structure map and fill it in with your major plot points. Seriously. If you can do that, move onto drawing up an outline, and from there your scenes. But if you cannot fill in the blanks, stare at this map until you figure out the route your story must take.

Print me.

5. Do not waste your time. Use it to your advantage.

Because these are the days of our lives. …Vomit.

4. Do not forget your art.

Remember that your art and your voice are simply dictated by your perspective on the world. Write things as you see them and you will never trip up.

3. Do not forget your craft.

Remember that screenwriting is born out of the ancient oral tradition of telling campfire stories. To hook cavemen into sitting down quietly and listening to you yabber on for an hour requires great skill, and a certain amount of calculation. That is your craft. The logic element. Think of the contents you want to put in your basket as your art, and the basket as your craft. It is what holds everything together.

And is best done in the buff.

2. Do not forget yourself.

Now is maybe a good time to journal. Reflect on your day, your week, your overall existence and experience with the human condition…that sort of thing.

Wise are you, Sage One.

1. Do not Google yourself.

Seriously? Not even close.


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MFA Showcase A Success

This past Friday, Northwestern’s MFA Writing for the Screen + Stage department held it’s annual showcase, featuring the work of the year’s graduating MFAs. Each of the 12 members of the cohort were allotted 10 minutes for a table read done by professional actors and directors from around the Chicago area. The talent was undeniable, the show a pleasure to behold, and the entire evening a delight. In addition to watching the highly entertaining and thought provoking work of these amazingly talented burgeoning writers, the night featured some guest stars including…

Julia Louis Dreyfus. (That’s right, it’s Elaine!)

Brad Hall. JLD’s husband and producer on such shows as SNL, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Frasier.

(By the way, both Julia Louis Dreyfus and her husband Brad Hall are alumni of Northwestern. Feels so good to wear purple sometimes.)

We were also graced with the presence of…

Amanda Watkins, the Director of Development at the Araca Group in NYC.

And last but certainly not least…

Kia Corthron, playwright, and Academy Award Winning TV writer for The Wire.

I’m truly counting my blessings right now as I look back on what unfolded but a few days ago. For the first time, all the hard work my cohort and I have been putting into building our portfolios really felt like it paid off. Not only did these notable people watch a play by little old us, but they actually seemed to enjoy it! I must, at this point, give many thanks to David Kersnar from Lookingglass Theater for directing my scene, as well as to Leah Karpel, JJ Phillips, Stone Pinckney, and Mandy Walsh for their spot-on acting in my atypical little story.

In case you are interested, here is the link to my Showcase submission. It is the hook scene from my play Lucky Penny –> Press Here.  If you are interested in reading the full script, please contact me by email at hollywould.ink@gmail.com.


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Northwestern MFA Showcase

Tonight I have the honor of hearing my work read along side that of my 11 distinguished colleagues in the Northwestern MFA in Writing for the Screen + Stage Showcase. We are the graduating class of 2012…

Writer’s Bios

(in alphabetical order)

Chris Bowen

Chris Bowen graduated from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film Studies and Creative Writing. While there, he received the UNCW Blank Slate Productions Best Cinematography and Achievement in Filmmaking awards.  He was also producer/writer/director of The Roaming Reporters, a bimonthly public access show for Student Body Television, and SIDES, a live, weekly sitcom for the stage.  Chris has received numerous honors for his short films including Best Comedy for Off the Wall and Best Film for Mime Unit at the One Take Film Festival, both of which he wrote and directed.  This past summer, he was a development intern at Lionsgate in Los Angeles.

David Crawford

Prior to entering the Writing for Screen + Stage program at Northwestern, David Crawford served as an academic advisor, where he worked with underrepresented student groups He is a recipient of the Regina Taylor: State(s) of America production grant for Cy.cle, a film he wrote, directed and co-produced. David also interned at Syfy in the unscripted department.

Neal Dandade

Neal Dandade has lived in Chicago since 2006. He has trained and performed at the Annoyance, Second City, and iO theaters. He was also a member of Stir Friday Night, Chicago’s Premier Asian American comedy group. He is currently an understudy for the Second City National Touring Company and an MFA candidate in the Writing for Screen and Stage program at Northwestern University. In Summer 2011, Neal was a writing intern at The Daily Show and the Colbert Report as part of Comedy Central’s Summer School Internship.

Erin Hays

Erin Hays holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in theater studies and psychology from Yale University and is a 2012 MFA Candidate from Northwestern University’s Writing for the Screen + Stage program. In 2011, her short play, CRUDE, was produced as a part of the Regina Taylor Project at Northwestern, and in 2012, her play, LOST AND FOUND, was a semifinalist at the O’Neill Playwrights Conference. She is a member of the Dramatists Guild of America.

Allyssa Hynes

Jersey girl Allyssa is the founder of the HynesSight Players, which performs adapted Shakespearean comedies for children. Since Allyssa jumped right into grad school after getting a BA in Psychology and Theatre Studies at Montclair State University, she is frightened of entering the so called “real world.” Allyssa is an aspiring TV writer.

Ethan Kass

Ethan Kass is a Chicago-based playwright and graduate of Northwestern’s MFA Writing for the Screen & Stage program. His play Square Peg, Round Hole was a 2012 semi-finalist at the Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference, and his most current work, Fat., will be workshopped at American Theater Company this summer.

Jenni Lamb

Jenni Lamb is an MFA candidate at Northwestern University in Writing for the Screen and Stage. Jenni came to this program after being an actor and improviser in Chicago for over 10 years. In 2006, her play Memento Polonia was “Highly Recommended” by the Chicago Reader. She has had readings of 10-minute plays at Chicago Dramatists, and was a semi-finalist for the 2012 O’Neill Playwrights Conference.

Holly O’Brien

Holly O’Brien holds a Bachelor’s in Liberal Arts from Sarah Lawrence College, and is currently an MFA candidate in the MFA Writing for the Screen & Stage program at Northwestern University. This past summer, Holly interned at Chicago Filmmakers where she curated the short film program for Reeling: The 30th Gay & Lesbian International Film Festival. Holly plans to release a self-published anthology of her screenplays in January of 2013. To learn more about Holly O’Brien, and read samples of her work please visit hollywouldink.com.

 Dan Ochwat

Dan Ochwat worked as an editor and reporter for 10 years before enrolling in the Writing for Screen & Stage program. “Adrift” is his first stab at a monologue play. He is happily married, despite what
you might think after the play. Dan concentrates on feature-film writing, namely small American stories that range from cyberbullying to cuddling. Dan placed as a quarterfinalist for the Nicholl Fellowship. He has written and directed short films, and appeared in festivals you’ve never heard of. Upon graduation, he plans on forcing his 1-year-old son into modeling.

Milta Ortiz

Milta Ortiz is a playwright with an MFA from Northwestern’s Writing for the Screen and Stage program. Milta’s play, Fleeing Blue won the 2012 Wichita State University Playwriting award and will be produced in their upcoming season. Her play, Last of the Lilac Roses is a 2012 finalist at Repertorio Español’s Nuestra’s Voces play contest. She was a member of American Theater Company’s 2012 Chicago Chronicle playwriting team. She received grants from City of Oakland Cultural Arts and Zellerbach Family Foundation to write and perform original work and co-founded HyPE theater troupe and Las Manas Tres Spoken Word troupe.

Jessy Lauren Smith

Jessy Lauren Smith is a playwright and screenwriter whose work has been produced in Chicago, Boston, and Colorado. She has been a semi-finalist for the Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference and The Juilliard School’s Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program, and a finalist for the Heideman Award. Jessy’s other full-length plays include Famished, a dark comedy about hunger strikers, and Robostracized, a children’s musical about a robot who wants to be an ostrich.

Jen Spyra

Jen Spyra is a playwright and screenwriter with a BA in English from Barnard College of Columbia University and an MFA in Writing for the Screen and Stage from Northwestern. Her humor writing has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Daily News, McSweeney’s, and elsewhere. She was a semifinalist in the 2012 Eugene O’Neill National Playwright’s conference for her play Guts, and her comedy pilot Titans was nominated for a 2012 Humanitas Prize. Her original musical comedy Ripper was produced at The Annoyance Theater this past fall and was Reader Recommended and a Timeout Critic’s Pick. She spent the past summer as a Script intern on Conan and returned to work on an offsite Conan production in New York, and will be working on Conan’s upcoming shows in Chicago this June.

 


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Tips for Rewriting Your Screenplay

Does this look familiar?

Congratulations! You're balls deep in the writing process!

So you’ve just finished a draft, or you’re getting near to that anyway, and you’re starting to think about rewrites. Before going back to the beginning and trying to fix every little problem over and over again ad nauseum, here are some tips to help guide you through this next phase in the writing process.

Tip #1

Finish your draft!

Be fearless.

My writing mentor, Fred Strype, used to say, “At some point you need to just cut the shit, and do the thing.” Inspiring stuff, right? I mean, nobody is going to read your script unless it is complete. And nobody wants to read what you, the writer, are dissatisfied with, so why not just allow yourself to write a shitty first draft, take some time off, then come back to it with a fresh perspective?

Tip #2

Stick it in a drawer.

Don't worry if your drawers aren't as cool as these Leman ones.

Putting your work down for a while is essential to the rewriting process, because you need time for your thoughts to marinate, and for your draft to stand a lone as a completed project. That’s the old. You’re focus now is on the new. The what will be. And if you’re anything like me, you won’t be able to stop thinking about it, even while the pages are tucked neatly away in a drawer.

Here’s how to think about it while you’re trying not to think about it: if character, structure, and theme are your foundation elements, you should have those in place. That’s awesome. Pat yourself on the back. That done, focus on laying “pipe” (expository information) next. How will you get out the information across in interesting and cinematic ways? Once you lay your pipe you can put up the walls. Those are your individual scenes. Paint and decor is imagery and dialogue.

Tip #3

Put a bow on it.

Treat your screenplay to something pretty.

Once I finish a first draft I make a few extra copies and send them (via snail mail – yes, the old fashioned way) to some of my closest and most trusted friends. These are people who value and respect my work, but still able to see the flaws in it and offer constructive criticism. I try to do this as soon as I finish because it usually takes a while for people, even those who love you, to make time in their busy lives to read your fledgling script.

Waiting and being patient with them is good practice for when you start sending your screenplays out to agents, managers, and production companies. Even if someone says they’ll read it as a favor, don’t expect that favor to happen on your time. That’s okay. Remember, these people aren’t going to fix your screenplay for you. And the only thing you should be concerned with is producing a piece of work that you are proud of and satisfied with.

Tip #4

Work it out.

That's what she said.

Writing should be an Olympic sport for all the stamina, and mental gymnastics it requires. Writers often find themselves hitting the wall somewhere in the rewriting process. One way to avoid this is to know exactly what your doing. Run the route several times in your mind before sitting down to bang it all out.

Here are questions you should have pretty concrete and concise answers to before starting a new draft. This list is borrowed from John Truby, and is the one I use to help sort out general character, structure, and thematic elements. I like it because it mixes Act Structure with Mythological Structure.

Try printing out this page and answering each question as economically as possible. The more you can crystalize your story idea down to it’s very essence, the better off you’ll be when trying to work out the specific cinematic elements that will help you weave all your thoughts and intentions together. I suggest focusing on the questions you have a more difficult time answering, but don’t let those minor road blockages stand in the way of making changes you know need to be made.

REWRITE CHECKLIST

(from John Truby)

The End: self-revelation

What does the hero learn about himself/herself at the end of the story?

What beliefs are challenged during the course of the story?

How is the hero wrong about himself/herself at the beginning?

The Ghost

What is the event in the past still haunting the hero?

The Predicament

What is the difficulty that the hero finds himself/herself in at the beginning of the story?

What are the weaknesses of the hero?

The Need

What is the psychological need of the hero?

What must the hero fulfill to have a better life?

The Inciting Event

What event from the outside forces the hero to take action?

The Desire

What particular goal does the hero have in the story?

What motivates the hero?

What are the stakes?

What values are at stake?

The Ally (-ies)

Who is helping the hero reach his/her goal?

How is the ally helping the hero overcome the opponent?

Is there a false ally working “under cover” for the opponent?

The Opponent

How is the opponent blocking the hero from reaching his/her goal?

Does the opponent want the same thing as the hero?

How does the opponent attack the greatest weakness of the hero?

What values come in conflict between the opponent and the hero?

The First Revelation

What information forces the hero to decide on a new course of action?

What adjustments of desire and motivation are involved?

The Plan

What is the set of guidelines that the hero will use to reach the goal?

How and why does the plan go wrong?

How is the plan altered during the course of the story?

The Opponent’s Plan

What plan will the opponent use to prevent the hero to reach his/her own goal?

What is the main counter-attack?

How and why does the plan go wrong?

How is the plan altered during the course of the story?

The Drive

What are the specific actions that the hero takes to defeat the opponent?

How do the actions of the hero change when the conflict intensifies?

Does the hero take immoral action to defeat the opponent?

Does the ally attack the hero on the issue of “immoral action”?

The Apparent Defeat

Is there a moment when the hero feels he/she has lost to the opponent?

In what way is that a devastating experience to the hero?

How does the second revelation prevent the hero from giving up the goal?

The Second Revelation

What information restores belief that the goal can still be reached?

What decision does the hero take because of that new information?

In what way does the hero become obsessed to reach the goal?

Does this obsession mean a continued moral decline?

How does the motivation change?

The Audience Rvelation

Does the audience learn something that the hero is unaware of?

Is there an “ally” working for the opposition?

The Third Revelation

What important information makes the hero equipped for the final battle?

What decision does the hero make because of that new information?

Why is this a “point of no return.”

“Visit to Death”

How does a feeling of morality motivate the hero to enter the final battle?

How is the pressure on the hero reaching its peak?

The Battle

What values are the conflicting characters representing and fighting about?

In what ways are the opposing characters similar?

In what ways are they different?

The Self-revelation

How does the life-shattering experience of the battle change the hero?

What does the hero learn about the world?

What does the hero learn about himself/herself?

What does the hero learn about what it is to be human?

What does the hero learn about how to behave towards others?

What does the hero learn about how to live “the rest of his/her life”?

Happy rewriting!


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11:11 Make a Wish!

Everyone should dream and dream big. Here’s my list of Top 10 11:11 Wishes.

(Note: I imagine myself as Jennifer Lawrence in my dreams.)

10. I wish ya’ll would read more of my writing samples. Feel free to print them out and share them with your friends. It isn’t copyright infringement if it’s good publicity for me. If you read my blog you know I’m actually a screenwriter just trying to make her own way in this chaotic mess known as the film industry. I strongly believe that I can cultivate a fan base around my writing before getting an agent and getting produced. If you believe in that to, or maybe just in me, I invite you to take a look at my work.

Jennifer Lawrence reads, even when her peers are training to killer her.

9. I wish my heart would stop aching over a dead and beaten relationship.

This is not Jennifer Lawrence, but wouldn't that be nice.

8. I wish I had that body and didn’t have to do anything for it.

Damn, gurl.

7. I wish feminists would loosen up.

See what I mean. Not even a hint of a smile. Yeah, I know I'm objectifying Jennifer Lawrence for my own personal gain, but I do it with love.

6. I wouldn’t mind having something like this hanging around while I knit scarves, and practice my archery.

5. I wish I could dress up like it was the 40’s.

Three words: winter minx pelt.

4. I wish my old boss will invest several hundred thousand dollars into a small my small business schemes so that I can have a day job doing something I actually enjoy.

I'm going to open my own consignment and resale shop, and from the looks of that outfit, Jennifer Lawrence might shop there if she's ever in Philly. (And I ever get my shop.)

3. I wish to sell my first screenplay within 2 years out of grad school at Northwestern.

I sure won't look that glum about it, though.

2. I wish to win $5,000 a week on a scratch off lottery ticket today.

May luck always be in your favor. Riiight.

1. I wish to win an Oscar while I’m still young and hot.

Yup. Just like that. Except actually win.

What are your Top 10 11:11 Wishes?

Happy writing!


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Emotion Fueled Writing

Following up with my You Feel Me? post, I think you’ll understand me when I tell you that I am currently sublimating like it’s my job. Some things in my personal life are really…dramatic. And sometimes those things make me angry. I’d like to think, as a pacifist, that I could come up with something more productive than stewing, but sometimes I witness or experience something so unnerving that I ball my fists up and mutter like I’m stricken with Turrets. It looks something like this…

Waaaah! Mother shit, mother cunt, mother fucker asshole dickwad shit eatin' --

I am lucky to be an artist, as I have many creative ways of expressing my, well, less attractive emotions in a productive way. Sometimes I even come up with something beautiful while trying to sort through the chaos. Example: I made this drawing of a baby elephant by scratching the hell out of a black board.

See. Cute, right?

Just because the result is nice and quaint doesn’t mean the process was. I was fuming. Raving to my friends. Trying to come up with my next move. How to best this person who so royally stepped outside the lines of acceptable behavior. “Cunt” kept slipping out of my mouth.

"That's what she said."

Anyway, back to the real point of this post which is to focus of ways to turn negative emotion into positive energy. I’m not here to give you the Top 10 Things To Do When You’re Mad But Don’t Wanna Be, I’m simply saying that we, people as a whole, need to step back from anger, or at least try to channel it into something productive. I’m not some hippie dippy granola eater here, I’m saying this to you as a philosopher whose motto is “it is what it is.” You can’t fight reality, and when you look at the reality it actually seems silly to try to fight it. As Sarah Lawrence Professor Michael Davis put it:

“Descartes is in general most famous as the founder of modern philosophy and in particular as the author of the sentence, “I think; therefore I am.”  Yet, this, his Archimedean fixed point for moving the world, is initially formulated in a negative way.  Descartes cannot deny that he thinks, because even doubting that he thinks is a form of thinking, but that means that our first awareness of ourselves is as doubting (my emphasis), as fundamentally incomplete and imperfect creatures.  Modern science is the edifice built on this foundation, its goal, ‘to render us like masters and possessors of nature.’  Cartesian science, then, must be a response to this awareness of fundamental imperfection, as an attempt of an essentially incomplete creature to render itself whole.  The goal…is autonomy.

            “The desire for autonomy is at the heart of what it means to be human, and yet the desire for autonomy is not autonomy.  It is perhaps a hatred of being ruled.  The obstacle for any project to attain autonomy is that on the one hand no assistance can be received from without…On the other hand, to attain [it] from within means to be [so] already.  For that reason Nietzsche saw the problem, as how one becomes what one is.

            “To become more than you are means necessarily to turn on yourself.  The obstacle to any willing is always what is already present, the given.  When we turn our wills on ourselves what is given with apparent finality is our past.  We are what we are largely because of what we have been.  As it seems impossible to change what we have been, it seems impossible to control what we are (my emphasis).   Autonomy is therefore limited by the past, and so by time, the nature of which is to pass.  Even a turning against the past, attempting to annihilate it, is a sign of dependence on it.  We become enslaved by what we hate. “

Don’t be that guy enslaved by hate.

It's not sexy like Jennifer Lawrence, not sexy at all.

Anyway, what I really mean to say is next time you’re angry pick up a pen instead of raising your voice.

Happy (if, albeit, sometimes frustrated) writing!


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You Feel Me?

If you haven’t noticed already, being a screenwriter, or professional writer of any kind means always having homework. It never ends. The thinking. The scheming, daydreaming, plotting, twisting, turning. Like Charlie Chaplin said, “Ninety percent of writing is thinking, just thinking.”

"The other 10 percent is part stimulants, part scribble scribble."

Toss in a Hitler mustache and some eyeliner…trailing off, trailing off. Which brings me to my point. While it is true that so much of writing requires one to live in their head, it is also true that to be a good writer requires an awareness of and occassional abandonment to the moment. Yup, it’s about being in the “now.”

With that in mind, let’s talk about a good exercise to do anytime, but especially over the weekend. All you have to do is scan this list (see below)  of common psychological states that people often feel but don’t know the word for, and pick one that interests you. Take a notebook with you and jot down every time you have an incling of this feeling. Doing so will give you the freedom to experience the emotion in the moment without trying to remember exactly what it was. Hopefully you forget that you even wrote it down or felt it as you continue to go from one moment to the next as you enjoy your weekend. Come Sunday morning, try to write a page describing every detail associated with your latest experience(s) with your chosen emotion. When it struck, what it felt like, where you were, what it smelled like, whatever.

Once you’ve given yourself time to process that, go back over the list and try to find the opposite emotion. Congratulations. You now know what a hypothetical protagonist’s high and low points are. Cool how that works right?

"Cool."

Happy writing!

1. Dysphoria
Often used to describe depression in psychological disorders, dysphoria is general state of sadness that includes restlessness, lack of energy, anxiety, and vague irritation. It is the opposite of euphoria, and is different from typical sadness because it often includes a kind of jumpiness and some anger. You have probably experienced it when coming down from a stimulant like chocolate, coffee, or something stronger. Or you may have felt it in response to a distressing situation, extreme boredom, or depression.

2. Enthrallment
Psychology professor W. Gerrod Parrott has broken down human emotions into subcategories, which themselves have their own subcategories. Most of the emotions he identifies, like joy and anger, are pretty recognizable. But one subset of joy, “enthrallment,” you may not have heard of before. Unlike the perkier subcategories of joy like cheerfulness, zest, and relief, enthrallment is a state of intense rapture. It is not the same as love or lust. You might experience it when you see an incredible spectacle — a concert, a movie, a rocket taking off — that captures all your attention and elevates your mood to tremendous heights.

3. Normopathy
Psychiatric theorist Christopher Bollas invented the idea of normopathy to describe people who are so focused on blending in and conforming to social norms that it becomes a kind of mania. A person who is normotic is often unhealthily fixated on having no personality at all, and only doing exactly what is expected by society. Extreme normopathy is punctuated by breaks from the norm, where normotic person cracks under the pressure of conforming and becomes violent or does something very dangerous. Many people experience mild normopathy at different times in their lives, especially when trying to fit into a new social situation, or when trying to hide behaviors they believe other people would condemn.

4. Abjection
There are a few ways to define abjection, but French philosopher Julia Kristeva (literally) wrote the book on what it means to experience abjection. She suggests that every human goes through a period of abjection as tiny children when we first realize that our bodies are separate from our parents’ bodies — this sense of separation causes a feeling of extreme horror we carry with us throughout our lives. That feeling of abjection gets re-activated when we experience events that, however briefly, cause us to question the boundaries of our sense of self. Often, abjection is what you are feeling when you witness or experience something so horrific that it causes you to throw up. A classic example is seeing a corpse, but abjection can also be caused by seeing shit or open wounds. These visions all remind us, at some level, that our selfhood is contained in what Star Trek aliens would call “ugly bags of mostly water.” The only thing separating you from being a dead body is . . . almost nothing. When you feel the full weight of that sentence, or are confronted by its reality in the form of a corpse, your nausea is abjection.

5. Sublimation
If you’ve ever taken a class where you learned about Sigmund Freud’s theories about sex, you probably have heard of sublimation. Freud believed that human emotions were sort of like a steam engine, and sexual desire was the steam. If you blocked the steam from coming out of one valve, pressure would build up and force it out of another. Sublimation is the process of redirecting your steamy desires from having naughty sex, to doing something socially productive like writing an article about psychology or fixing the lawnmower or developing a software program. If you’ve ever gotten your frustrations out by building something, or gotten a weirdly intense pleasure from creating an art project, you’re sublimating. Other psychiatrists have refined the idea of sublimation, however. Following French theorist Jacques Lacan, they say that sublimation doesn’t have to mean converting sexual desire into another activity like building a house. It could just mean transferring sexual desire from one object to another — moving your affections from your boyfriend to your neighbor, for example.

6. Repetition compulsion
Ah, Freud. You gave us so many new feelings and psychological states to explore! The repetition compulsion is a bit more complicated than Freud’s famous definition — “the desire to return to an earlier state of things.” On the surface, a repetition compulsion is something you experience fairly often. It’s the urge to do something again and again. Maybe you feel compelled to always order the same thing at your favorite restaurant, or always take the same route home, even though there are other yummy foods and other easy ways to get home. Maybe your repetition compulsion is a bit more sinister, and you always feel the urge to date people who treat you like crap, over and over, even though you know in advance it will turn out badly (just like the last ten times). Freud was fascinated by this sinister side of the repetition compulsion, which is why he ultimately decided that the cause of our urge to repeat was directly linked to what he called “the death drive,” or the urge to cease existing. After all, he reasoned, the ultimate “earlier state of things” is a state of non-existence before we were born. With each repetition, we act out our desire to go back to a pre-living state. Maybe that’s why so many people have the urge to repeat actions that are destructive, or unproductive.

7. Repressive desublimation
Political theorist Herbert Marcuse was a big fan of Freud and lived through the social upheavals of the 1960s. He wanted to explain how societies could go through periods of social liberation, like the countercultures and revolutions of the mid-twentieth century, and yet still remain under the (often strict) control of governments and corporations. How could the U.S. have gone through all those protests in the 60s but never actually overthrown the government? The answer, he decided, was a peculiar emotional state known as “repressive desublimation.” Remember, Freud said sublimation is when you route your sexual energies into something non-sexual. But Marcuse lived during a time when people were very much routing their sexual energies into sex — it was the sexual liberation era, when free love reigned. People were desublimating. And yet they continued to be repressed by many other social strictures, coming from corporate life, the military, and the government. Marcuse suggested that desublimation can actually help to solidify repression. It acts as an escape valve for our desires so that we don’t attempt to liberate ourselves from other social restrictions. A good example of repressive desublimation is the intense partying that takes place in college. Often, people in college do a lot of drinking, drugging and hooking up — while at the same time studying very hard and trying to get ready for jobs. Instead of questioning why we have to pay tons of money to engage in rote learning and get corporate jobs, we just obey the rules and have crazy drunken sex every weekend. Repressive desublimation!

8. Aporia
You know that feeling of crazy emptiness you get when you realize that something you believed isn’t actually true? And then things feel even more weird when you realize that actually, the thing you believed might be true and might not — and you’ll never really know? That’s aporia. The term comes from ancient Greek, but is also beloved of post-structuralist theorists like Jacques Derrida and Gayatri Spivak. The reason modern theorists love the idea of aporia is that it helps to describe the feeling people have in a world of information overload, where you are often bombarded with contradictory messages that seem equally true.

9. Compersion
We’ve gotten into some pretty philosophical territory, so now it’s time to return to some good, old-fashioned internet memes. The word compersion was popularized by people in online communites devoted to polyamory and open relationships, in order to describe the opposite of feeling jealous when your partner dates somebody else. Though a monogamous person would feel jealous seeing their partner kiss another person, a non-monogamous person could feel compersion, a sense of joy in seeing their partner happy with another person. But monogamous people can feel compersion, too, if we extend the definition out to mean any situation where you feel the opposite of jealous. If a friend wins an award you hoped to win, you can still feel compersion (though you might be a little jealous too).

10. Group feelings
Some psychologists argue that there are some feelings we can only have as members of a group — these are called intergroup and intragroup feelings. Often you notice them when they are in contradiction with your personal feelings. For example, many people feel intergroup pride and guilt for things that their countries have done, even if they weren’t born when their countries did those things. Though you did not fight in a war, and are therefore not personally responsible for what happened, you share in an intergroup feeling of pride or guilt. Group feelings often cause painful contradictions. A person may have an intragroup feeling (from one group to another) that homosexuality is morally wrong. But that person may personally have homosexual feelings. Likewise, a person may have an intragroup feeling that certain races or religions are inferior to those of their group. And yet they may personally know very honorable, good people from those races and religions whom they consider friends. A group feeling can only come about through membership in a group, and isn’t something that you would ever have on your own. But that doesn’t mean group feelings are any less powerful than personal ones.

*written by Annalee Newitz for io9.


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So You Do Want to Be on the Black List: Cornering the Market

I was pondering the whole to be or not to be on the Black List issue, when I had an epiphany. A plan really. One that I think anyone who is seriously interested in being a writer and wants to make a name for herself can do. It’s a simple idea really. Be a triple threat.

Like this cat this is doing yoga, giving itself a bath, and flashing us a look at his goods all at the same time.

Here’s the plan. First, write a YA novel, then get it published, then write the screenplay while you wait for the book to rise to the top of the best sellers list, and finally sell the rights to your book and your screenplay.  This plan is even better if you write a series of YA book, because Hollywood loves a good franchise. Of course all of this will feel so neat and tidy while your in the process, but give yourself, say, 5 years for this plan to come fully into fruition, maybe 10, and you’re outlook will be much brighter.  If you are so inclined to go down this path, as I am, I suggest you sit down tonight and jot down some ideas. As you do, try to keep in mind that you will be translating your own story from one medium into another. Think about what elements of your idea are cinematic and which parts will be better served by the novel. If you do take on this project, make sure you have a true and firm grasp on the major themes, character arcs, and the essential plot points of your story.  If you are lucky enough to get your book published and establish a fan base, those fans are going to hold you to your word. It’s just a fact. Audiences always compare the book and the movie. So fucking pre-empt them. Take responsibility for it. And be happy that you did. If nothing else, you’ll have two strong pieces for your portfolio and will have exercised writing muscles like you wouldn’t believe.

I mean how cool would it have been if Suzanne Collins had written the screenplay for The Hunger Games?

Now at this point your head is probably reeling with swirling thoughts and exploding synapses ‘cause you’re like, “Shhhhh-ugar, how did I not think of this before!” And all these ideas are swarming forward calling out to you, “Write me! Write me!” But before your itchy hands reach for that pen let’s address the fact that I said this plan requires one to be a triple threat, and thus far we’ve only addressed two of the three routs of attack. The last one is simply to really really think about how you want to brand your writing style, your story, and you as a motha’ fuckin’ writing machine.

No, not that kind of writing machine.

Branding yourself and your work is perhaps one of the most important factors to consider when taking on a project of such size. It won’t work if it’s sloppy and all over the place and you don’t really know what you’re doing or why. So, that said, take a moment and think to yourself, “What kind of writer do I want to be? What are the characters that I want to be associated with? What do I want to say to the world above all else?” If you can answer those questions you’ll be off to a bangin’ start. But if you’re itching to write right now, then do it, and worry about this component later. You can always talk about it with Random House.

Anyway, that’s what I’m gonna do to corner the market. And also have a lot of fun along the way.

Happy writing!

No, it’s not 1955, and I’m not talking about that whole terrible calling artists communists thing. The Black List I’m referring to is the one out in Hollywood that people actually want to get on. It’s the list of the years so-called “best” scripts, that have, as of yet, not been produced. Over 300 studio execs read and vote on these scripts so it’s pretty big deal to be one of the few scripts selected.

I recently downloaded a shit-ton of said scripts from MEDIA FIRE (if you’re interested in doing the same, I highly suggest you jump on this link now, as it will be taken down soon), and, as a writer trying to break her way into the bizz, I have mixed feelings about the quality of work that I read. To be frank, I was not impressed by the 3 scripts I read last night (which shall remain nameless). They were okay. Certainly polished, and well-written to an extent. Extremely marketable, for sure. And definitely in keeping with the same kind of dreck that Hollywood has been pooping out for years. So I’m feeling like I’m at an impass. On the one hand, I can write better than these folks (yes, yes, I can, and no, that’s not just ego talking), which is good for me. But on the other hand, I can’t write commercially viable Hollywood dreck (no, no I cannot, and yes, that is ego talking), so that’s bad for moi.

I’d like to open this topic up to the floor, and get your opinions on it. Do you feel that as a screenwriter you have more responsibility to your voice, and your artistic inclinations, or do you feel that the writer simply services the need for entertainment in society? Is it better to be unique and distinct as a writer, or do you feel that to get ahead you need to adopt the same blah blah blah, happily-ever-after tune that Hollywood has been singing since it’s conception?

I reality, there are no right or wring answers to these questions. It all depends on the kind of writer you want to be, and your strategy for breaking into the business. On the bright side, there are some crazy stories as to how people got their movies made, and no one script follows the same path as another. We ask ourselves these questions in an attempt to control the machine, but in reality, we are always at the mercy of fate and luck. My advice? Work hard, keep your ear to the ground, and follow your intuition.


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A Midnight Snack

Here’s one thing that I’ve learned after nearly 10 years of writing. Sometimes you get the best writing done when you’re doing something else. Like walking. Perhaps gardening. Maybe sky-diving. Or, as in my case today, painting. Ya’ll feast your eyes on my latest endeavors into acrylics, while I go edit the next 20 pages of my screenplay.

 

Blue Night in the Forest of Pink Flowers 6 x 6

 

Pink Flowers at Sunset 6 x 12

 

Purple Night Landscape 6 x 6

Nom, nom, nom.

Happy “writing”!


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A Morning Friendly Writing Exercise

This is a very fun and easy exercise that I stole from Neal Dandade that I think is great to do when your mind is still subjected to your subconscious nonsense. Takes approximately 5 minutes, and is great to do over a cup of coffee while you think about the crossword puzzle.  Grab a pen and paper (this exercise is better to do free hand), and try really really hard not to think too much about your answers. Just go with the fucking flow.

First, jot down 3 lists numbered 1 -10.

That done, name the first list of 10 “characters.” That done, write down anything from “nuns” to “squirrels” to “presidents” to “Martin Luther King, Jr.”.

That done, move onto the second list, with you should name “locations.” Name any ten locations, e.g. “‘an aircraft carrier,” “the moon,” or “Domino’s Pizza”).

Lastly with the lists, go down to the third list and name it “activities.” As with the previous two lists, write down any activity. Could be anything from “write a novel,” to “play tennis,” to “use the toilet.”

After you generate the lists, go back and start paring items from each list. Notice that any item in list one can be combined with an item from the other two lists to generate an idea for a scene/short film (“nuns” on “an aircraft carrier” “playing tennis” or “Martin Luther King, Jr.” at “Dominos Pizza” “writing a novel”). I should emphasize here the fact that you can get great ideas by tapping the subconscious, which means not thinking too hard about things and “letting” the mind spill out good fodder.

Good work. Now look at this cute shit.

This baby rat sleeping with a teddy bear.

A different rat, a full grown Dumbo rat who stole the bear. And is shit-eatin’-grin happy about it.

This panda’s butt.

And, of course, a baby chipmunk.


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Designing Dialogue

So you don’t want your dialogue to just sound like blah blah blah. You want it to be as rich, engaging, and true to form as possible. A good approach to dialogue throughout the writing process is to remember that it directly correlates to character. And as we all know by now, character is story. Dialogue is not story, though, just to clarify, but it does enrich the way you tell it. Just think, even now I am exercising this muscle as I talk as if to you. How did I decide on this laid back approach to academics? That’s just the way I am. And it will be easy for you to know how your characters would speak to you or anyone else once you have a firm grasp on who they are. If you’ve done your Character Detective Work you might be ahead of the pack on this next exercise, but you can always write up a quick character bio for any new character as well. When thinking about how your characters speak, and also the type of information that would go into their bio it is helpful to keep these factors that determine/defines how people speak in mind:

(in no particular order)

  • region of origin
  • class
  • age
  • gender
  • education
  • political leanings
  • state of mind
  • who talking to*
  • where they are talking (setting/environment)*
  • ethnicity
  • time period
  • self-image
  • what they want (motivations)*
  • if they are on any substances
  • occupation

The ones with asterisks are, of course, perhaps the most important to keep in mind.

Okay, cool. Moving on. Once we know how are characters speak we have to give them something to talk about. On the most basic level, language is about communicating information. In screenwriting we refer to the information needed to understand the story as exposition. Here’s an example of how exposition works in a screenplay. Read the following scene, then write down at least 10 things you learned about these characters.

Note: this excerpt is from an early and scrapped draft of one of my screenplays. You’ll surely notice that it’s not very good, but that can be explained with one word: pipe. Early drafts tend to be “pipey” when a writer is unsure of what is the most relevant information to present and the most clean and concise way to present it. That’s fine. Figuring all that stuff out is what drafting is for.

Okay, so for your homework, pick a script any script. Read the first 10 pages, and jot down 10 things you learned about these characters from the dialogue. Just the dialogue. Take note of how the information was presented (humorously? in a heated moment? off-hand? etc.), how it fit the scene, and how the characters react to the information. Your homework assignment is to write 5 – 10 pages of heavy exposition without it being clunky or obvious that that is what you’re doing. This might be the most difficult thing you do all year.

Happy writing!


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Who knew people like babies?

If you like babies, this post is for you. I was thinking today how Hollywood loves babies and families.

And Disney loves dead moms.

Uh…what? Moving on. Kids are a great market. They’re fun to write for, and they enjoy pretty much everything that you do. And don’t worry. Crying is natural.

Seriously? Cute.

Who wouldn’t want to write for that? And it gets better. Writing for babies and small children is fun and easy because they like simple things with interesting visuals. Screenwriting at its basic fundamentals.

I watched this YouTube video “Who’s Your Favorite?” and thought, what a lovely example of a short film. I know that’s not what it was meant to be, probably, but it actually has a nice arc, a fun premise that is explored, complicated, and resolved (though not really to Daddy’s liking), and it left me with that satisfied feeling I get when I watch something that has a beginning, middle, and end. I love that this is set up as an interrogation (just from the one BUM! from the opening of every Law & Order episode ever made), and it’s of a baby about which one of her parents is the favorite. So simple it’s genius.

 


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A Class You Can Do By Yourself – Week 1

As promised, class has begun. Sit down, take out pen and paper, play some music if you like, and follow along.

Screenwriting is an art and a craft that takes practice and diligence to perfect. This process will not be easy, but I hope it’s fun. It’s certainly fun for me. If you’re still on the fence about doing this class, know that all you have to produce over the next 8 weeks is an 8-10 page screenplay. Okay. Let’s start while the momentum is still hot.

Exercise 1

Getting Into The Groove

First, write down 1 – 3 of your favorite movies (or TV shows if you have trouble thinking of films). Save this in mind; we will be doing some more exercises with this list later. Next, write down 1 – 3 adjectives describing each film and why you like it. e.g. characters are engaging, world is beautiful, score is moving. Now, look for similarities between the films you chose. Take note of how and why these films speak to you, and what they are saying as far as a message or a moral goes.

Taking notice of what you are already familiar with and know you like to watch can help guide you in the direction of the story you should write. Maybe the story hasn’t come to you yet, but maybe you’re honing in on a genre, or the overall thing (for lack of a better term) that you want to say with your piece.

Exercise 2

Watch A Movie

Watch Lunch Date by clicking in the title. Refer back to How To Watch A Movie And Write At The Same Time as you watch, and think about each question thoughtfully in regards to this Academy Award winning short film.

By now, you should be in full on movie zone. A good place to be if movies are what you’re trying to write. Notice how using the How To Watch a Movie… guide makes you a more active watcher? Notice the specific vocabulary terms for working in this craft? Good.

Exercise 3

Read.

Read these handouts on premise and synopsis, and loglines.

Notice how a story can be told is as much or as little detail as time and space allows. Once you have your screenplay idea in mind try thinking about telling it in several different ways. This will help you crystallize your screenplay idea down to it’s small, workable essence.

Exercise 4

Write.

Write a premise for one of the films/shows on your list.

Notice how a premise is essentially comprised of an engaging character in a world filled with conflict. 

Exercise 5

Read some more.

Read this handout out on formatting. Make sure you have some screenwriting software (either Final Draft or Celtx), and that you familiarize yourself with it.

If you’re only going to play by one rule in Hollywood, make sure it’s this one. If it looks like a screenplay, you can get away with breaking a lot of rules in the narrative.

Exercise 6

Loosen up.

This writing exercise consists of making four lists as fast as you can can (speed is important to emphasize that you shouldn’t think too hard about what you’re putting in the lists).

Write down the numbers 1 -10. Title this list “Characters.” Write down anything from ‘nuns’ to ‘squirrels’ to ‘presidents’ to ‘Martin Luther King, Jr.’ We just want the people part of a noun.

The second list from 1 – 10 is  “locations,” e.g. ‘an aircraft carrier,’ ‘the moon,’ ‘Dominos Pizza’.Now we’re onto places.

The third list from 1-  10 is activities, such as ‘write a novel,’ ‘play tennis,’ ‘knit’. Here we are looking for actions/verbs.

The fourth list from 1 – 10 is things that someone could be doing an activity with.

Great. Once you have finished making your lists, combined with any one item from each of the lists to generate an idea for a scene/short film, a la ‘nuns on an aircraft carrier playing tennis with a mallet,’ or Martin Luther King, Jr. at Dominos Pizza writing a novel with a toy car.’

Notice how you can get great ideas by tapping the subconscious, which means not thinking too hard about things and “letting” the mind spill out good fodder.

And that’s it!

Great job this week!


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What I Didn’t Know About Novel Writing (until about an hour ago)

Normally, in screenwriting the gurus say that story begins with character or possibly structure, but what I learned today in my nifty fiction workshop is that novels begin with setting, and that location begets character not the other way around. Whodduh thunk it? Now, in the land of common sense this might seem to be obvious. You can’t have a person existing in a vacuum, and thus it would be a logical assumption to make that they have to have ground under their feet before you can plunk them down and set them off running on their journey. But somehow I missed that.

Oops.

On the bright side, my background as both a screenwriter and a visual artist puts me in a good position to come up with proper settings for characters as fast as you can say…

Cracker Jack.

So, I’m working on my first novel, and surprise surprise, I’m basing it on an idea that was originally for a screenplay. The thing is, I know all the secondary locations, but not where the meat of the story will be set. Worse still is that all I can think about is this 7 ft. mixed media installation that I did a few years back during my undergrad days at Sarah Lawrence. It looked like this…

Yeah, get a load of that one.

The most interesting thing about this piece, which you can’t see from here, is that in the very far right corner, right where the tunnel meets the plaster outcropping is a faint but distinct silhouette of a man in a tuxedo offering a woman in a Victorian bustle a rose. Well, that, and that this piece came to represent what my brain must look like when I’m suffering writer’s block. As I was telling a friend earlier this evening, I’m not sure how or when it was that I began to conflate the issue of true love with my work as an artist, but there it is. Plain as day for all to see.

Okay, okay, in typical Holly fashion this may all seem very tangential, but I actually have a point to make. I think. The point being that the novel I’m writing is about Cupid, the god of Love, and a young female demi-god who is coming in with the aim to restructure Love as it have been done through the ages (very much an “Up In the Air” knock-off). So what I’m thinking is… do Cupid and the demi-god need to spend the majority of their journey in a desolate limbo place like my brain on writer’s block? Obvi, they spend some time on Olympus, and some time on Earth, but as far as each one of them going through a self-as-artist self-discovery journey, do they need to be in a place that only exists within the human soul? Because, if the story is about Love, where else could it be set without it being about love in, say, New York City, or Bangladesh? This story is not about Love in a place, it’s about Love within the human condition. So that makes sense.

But. But. Okay, so there’s this fantastical place that may or may not exist within ourselves. The next task is how do I ground that in sights and sounds and smells and tastes and PLACES that are familiar to us all? This is where I ask ya’ll for your help. If you have an inner-life what does it look like? Or does it not matter? Should I just write what my inner-life looks like and assume that people will be able to relate because anyone who would pick up a copy of my book will have a rich inner-life and can just imagine what it would be like for them?

While you think about that, here’s a beautiful video to watch. It’s by William Kentridge, and is a stop-motion video of him erasing and drawing over the same images. Words cannot describe.

Click the link below.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IJ-c4N2njwg

P.S. I swear by next week I will be offering more information rather than asking a bunch of unanswerable questions. In the meantime, enjoy the video.

 


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Top 25 Unsung Christmas Characters of All Time

Since there are already too many blogs about the Top 10 Christmas movies, or Top Whatever Whatever lists that glorify the already famous and well known, I’ve decided to compile a list of the the top 25 average people whose holiday photos place them solidly within the category of “characters.” This list might make you appreciate your own family just a smidge more, so without further ado…

#25. This trio of Christmas hipsters.

#24. Zombie Santa and the little girl that loves him.

#23. This baby that is just overflowing with the Christmas spirit. And vomit.

#22. This kid for doing whatever he did to end up in Christmas lights jail.

#21. This family of Christmas trees. Not for their costumes, but for managing to look happy about wearing them.

#20. This guy's wife, for putting up with him.

#19. This family that thinks they need special glasses to see life in 3D.

#18. This Santa for his unrelenting patience.

#17. The kid in the middle for not being afraid of shrinkage.

#16. This homicidal toddler in a plush velvet track suit.

#15. Dad, for lettin' it all hang out there.

#14. Hunky Santa for managing to keep a straight face.

#13. Mom, for wearing Frederick's of Hollywood in and out of the bedroom.

#12. The kid in the back for having the cajones to ruin a family photo.

#11. The property owner with enough enthusiasm about Jesus to buy and install the sign, but not enough to repair it.

#10. For everything about this picture, but especially the baby goat.

#9. This family for confusing Genesis with the birth of Christ.

#8. This couple for saying, "Baby Jesus, bulldog. Potato, pot-ah-to."

#7. This guy, for convincing the cops to let him keep his hat on for the mug shot.

#6. This woman, for her will to live.

#5. These guys, 'cause I want them to come over to my house and do the same thing.

#4. That cat, for being a trooper.

#3. This guy, for livening up the holidays with his sweet gymnastics skills.

#2. Because who doesn't love a gay Christmas elf?

#1. Because Jesus loves winners!


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How To Turn a Dream into a Screenplay

The woods behind the house illuminated by the porch light.

Last Night: Abridged

Last night, during a house party, a complete stranger came up to me and drilled a hole in the base of my spine. First my knees buckled, then I lost all feeling in the left side of my face. Drool dribbled down my chin as my lips flapped in a pitiful attempt to ask, “What’s happening to me?” It sounded more like, “Wuh appelang oo ee?”  I proceeded to flail around, trying to get any one of the dozens of party goers to help me. They believed me to be drunk and began to murmur about cabs and bad form. I was humiliated and scared, but no one would listen to me because no one could understand me.

I began to shake people. They shook me off. I stumbled around saying something that approximated “hey” and got a lit cigarette shoved in my mouth. I coughed so hard on it that not only did I choke, but I pissed my own pants. At that point, a good and trusted friend led me away from the party and left me standing under a patch of moonlight by the woods. All the while, the pea-sized hole in my back gaped open, mocking me in its dryness, its lack of oozing blood or anything that I could point to as proof that I was hurt. The unknown person who had done the damage stood on the stoop holding up the electric drill, whizzing it to life for the benefit of saying,”Don’t you dare come back.” 

Standing alone in the darkness just beyond the reach of the porch lights, staring back at this person that I didn’t even know but hated to the core of my person, my whole body went numb. My knees threatened to give way, but I managed to hold my ground. Probably just for spite. My feet planted themselves in the freshly dead leaves, and refused to move from that spot, until, one moment after many moments very much like it, I began to move. Step by agonizing step I trudged and wobbled my way back to the party. Back to the lights. The noise. The people. The person. Back to confront my worst fear…

And then I woke up.

Yep, you guessed it. That was a dream. But I’d have been an idiot to preface it with that.  That’s Rule #1, and pretty much the only “rule” when it comes to translating one’s dreams into a dramatically told story. Repeat: do not let us know that the story you’re telling us is a dream either at all, or until the proper moment, which absolutely is not at the beginning. I’ve seen even seasoned writer’s make this mistake, and there’s just no excuse for it. Did you know, for instance, that Frank Darabont had originally written a dream sequence into the 3rd Act of The Shawshank Redemption that was never shot? Old Frank thought it was perhaps his best bit of writing in the entire script (which is saying something, since the script is phenomenally good), but the producers and execs took one look at it and said, “Cut it.” Or something along those lines. As much as I admire Darabont’s writing, I have to agree with the big wigs. The reason that and most other dream sequences don’t work is simply this: when we know it’s a dream, the stakes are so low as to rob us of drama, tension, and conflict. Unless, of course, we’re talking about Nightmare on Elm Street where the consequence of dreaming is death, or Inception where one is invading dreams, and again there is the possibility of fatal injury.

Okay now that you have that rule down let’s look at some helpful hints.

Helpful Hint #1

Pick your poison.

If you’re going to pull more than a moment from your dream, and are in fact trying to create a work of any length, there are a few writing styles that dreams really adapt to well: Expressionism, Surrealism, Magic Realism, and Horror. I would suggest that you take a look at the most inspiring moment from your dream, figure out which style it naturally lends itself to, and after you’ve chosen one of these styles, try to work within that particular “box.”

Having trouble deciding? Here’s a rough breakdown of these styles that might help. Horror, for instance lends itself nicely to nightmares when we, the audience, either don’t realize it’s a dream or, like, in Nightmare on Elm Street there are real stakes to the characters falling asleep. Magic Realism tends to lend itself to dream-like stories full of fantasy and the sort of fantastical imagery that sparks the imagination and doesn’t need to play by the logical rules of the universe. (However, if you’re going to write in that style you do want to force your story into some sort of logical box lest you stray into the territory of Surrealism.) Expressionism is handy because you can get away with a lot of things like writing stereotypical characters (and in a dream, people tend to be like that), plus you have the whole “am I insane or is just this world?” thing going for you. Surrealism is an obvious choice considering that’s what it was made for and the farther you get from logic, the better.  On the subject of logic…

Helpful Hint #2

Put your poison in a glass.

The glass is structure. Like any screenplay, your dream-story must have structure (see previous posts for structure breakdowns). No matter which of these styles you chose to write in, you must establish a sense of order or “logic”(a.k.a the rules of the world), and the writing conventions you’re using in the 1st Act. This is key, otherwise people will feel like you’re cheating, using cheap tricks to get your protagonist in or out of trouble, or that you have tone issues. That’s actually true of any cinematic story, so please do file it away.

Helpful Hint #3

Don't drink your poison.

Dreams, as much as they can be inspiring are death to internalize. Do not, under any circumstances try to analyze your dream. Don’t look up the meaning of your dream on the interwebs, don’t pretend you or your best friend is Freud, and definitely do not try to write your dream exactly as it happened (unless you dream in perfect story form, which I highly doubt, because stories are organized and structured, whereas dreams are free flowing). Instead, think of your dream as a jumping off point. Pick the moments that stand out in your mind, and had the most resonance with your feelings, and build a story around them. Not on them, but around them. If you build the foundation of your story on a moment from a dream, the problem is that people likely won’t get it. Usually there’s a lot of backstory and personal baggage that come along with dreams and help the dreamer get their bearings. Those are lost on outsiders. Remember too that just like any other screenplay, you have to establish and maintain conflict, tension, and dramatic visuals. But the main thing to take away from this hint is that YOU, the writer assigns meaning to the story; the dream does not.

Helpful Hint #4

Stir in the antidote.

The antidote is the same for writing a dream-story as it is for writing any other story. First, figure out who your protagonist is, then what they want (their goal), and their need (the thing they need to learn). This will help keep you track, and make your screenplay read like it should. Without a clear protagonist set on a journey, all the cool visuals you’re working with will corrode all your good intentions down to nothing. Secondly, like in any other screenplay you need a strong inciting incident to get the ball rolling. Thirdly, remember that a story, unlike a dream, has to have a beginning, middle, and and end.

Helpful Hint #5

Give your poison to a friend and tell them it's Kool-Aid.

This last bit goes back to Rule #1. Ask a friend to read your screenplay, but don’t tell them it was based on a dream. If they come back to you and say, “Wow, you have a really active imagination,” then you know you’re on the right track. The last thing you want to do is give credit to your subconscious, because, remember, the dream is just the jumping off point. It’s your diligence, active thinking and plotting that will turn that inspiration into a full fledged screenplay.

And with those 5 simple hints, you’re off and running.

Happy writing!

Holly


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Automatic Writing Exercise

Sometimes the best way to get the creative juices flowing is to write about things you haven’t thought about in a long time, but that are bound to have left some kind of impression on you. The way this works is I give you a prompt, you read it, and after, say, 10 seconds you start writing. Try not to think to hard about what you’re going to write, and definitely don’t delete/edit as you go. What you do want to do is zero your focus in on the little details of these moments. The tastes, the touch, the sounds, smells, and whatever other odd bit of information your subconscious has stored away for the long haul. Ready? Okay, here we go!

(p.s. try not to look ahead to the next prompt, and just focus on one at a time.)

1. Your first kiss.

"Bitch, watchu doin' with my man?"

2. The first time you went swimming.

Rut roh.

3. Where you sat in elementary or high school.

I wish my classroom had looked that cool.

4. Where you were likely to be on a Saturday morning when you were a kid.

I was watching these guys.

5. What you did this past Thursday.

Yup.

6. Write about the person you have the most baggage around right now.

If only all my baggage was this pristine.

7. Write a dialogue between two people: A wants B to do something that B doesn’t want to do.

I dare you to try to get me to cut my hair.

And now you’re on a roll!

When I did this writing exercise it resulted in this cool, existential story about people choosing how they’re going to die before they’re even born. So, you know, that was pretty rad. Hope you come up with some equally surprising and satisfying results!

Happy writing!

Holly


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Which Writer Do You Write Like?

Oh, man, I love these games. So I went to I Write Like.com to get the low down on my writing style, inserted a chapter from my novel (in progress) about Cupid (since it was like the only thing I had that wasn’t in screenplay format, which I thought might throw off the system), and it turns out that I write like…

H.P. Lovecraft!

Not really sure I got that considering he wrote “cosmic horrors”, one of the defining elements of which is the underlying belief that there is no divine presence in the universe, and my whole novel is about how the Greek gods are still running amok creating havoc in the lives of us wee people. But whatevs. I guess my writing fits into the category of “weird fiction.” Personally, though, I think I write more like this guy…

With a glass of wine and a devilish glint in my eye.

Hilariously, when curiosity got the best of me and I submitted part of my screenplay Coming Out, the little doo-dad came back and told me I write like Jane Austen. Now that’s funny. Why? Because I do like to take the piss out of the upper class. Boom. That’s two points for the text analyzer!

They just forgot to mention my keen sense of poolside fashion.

Anywho, as long as they don’t tell me I write like Earnest Hemmingway, I’m cool. Good thing I stay away from such thrilling topics as fishing. Okay, to be fair, he did write a lot about war too, but that’s just one more reason to believe that war is stupid. But enough about him, and back to me.

Huh? Oh, sorry, I spaced out for a second.

What do you guys think? Does my writing remind you more of Austen or Lovecraft?


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Beginnings & Intermedia Text

Say this is all you had to start with…

Press the botton below to watch a very short film.

Trampoline, Trampoline.

And let’s just say for the sake of argument that this is a short film produced in Scotland, with a run time of 13 seconds…What would be wrong with this picture?

There's nothing wrong with this picture, except that it's the wrong picture you should be looking at.

The picture I’m talking about is the abstract one of the elements of storytelling as both an art and a craft. Trampoline, Trampoline is a great as a beginning as much for a short film as the words would make for the great beginning to a poem or short story. The thing most people don’t think about in movies is that it all starts with the words on the page, and that makes it a brother to the prose writing arts.

Is there any lovelier a senstation than your hand moving swiftly across the page?

No. There is not. Because this is what separates us from the animals.

Honestly, kids, I didn’t know where I was going with this post when I began it, and it’s taken on a mind of it’s own, so I’d just like to step back and make a point about “the process.”

I’ve been talking a lot about writer’s block and procrastination recently, and I just want to point out that often times these can both be cured by a simple spark of inspiration. Trampoline, Trampoline set something off in me, and maybe it or something like it will spark something for you too. It doesn’t have to prove HUGE results to be of value. Take me for instance. There is something interesting and metaphysical about writing about writer’s block, especially as I’m experiencing writer’s block.

Yes, I know metaphysics can be a bit of a headache.

I think it’s interesting to think that when you put two things together it makes a third thing. Like staring a fire or writing a blog. Let’s look at how these two things work. Blogs for instance are stories told by blending of images (1st mode of communication) and words (2nd mode of communication) which in turn creates a third way of communicating via the intermedia text. In a nutshell, 1 + 2 = 3. Same goes for fire. combustible material + flash point = fire.

And now that I’ve gone from trampolines to hypothetical math I shall stop this train of thought.

My best,

Holly O’Brien

 

 


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How to Watch a Movie & Write at the Same Time!

I’ve often been caught sitting in my pj’s in the middle of the day, eating a ball of port wine cheddar (sans crackers) while in the midst of a movie marathon.

That's me in my pj's watching TV. ...Riiiiight.

No, it doesn’t look like I’m doing much, but I’m actually writing. How can that be, you ask? Well, every time I watch a film I am actively watching it, analyzing it, critiquing it, figuring out what works, what doesn’t work, and how and why certain screenwriting and cinematic storytelling techniques should succeed or fail. As I do this in regards to what’s on the screen, I am also actively thinking about how my work stands up to these questions. Usually there are holes in what I know about a project I’m working on, as most stories do not come to the writer fully fleshed out and in 100% perfect condition. It is the writer’s job to sit and think about their stories! This should be common sense, but I often find new writers skipping over this fundamental part of the writing process. This might be because they don’t yet know what questions they should be asking about their work. I suggest watching and analyzing tons of the great films that there are out there, and for every one of them, ask yourselves these questions. Once you get into the swing of analyzing and critiquing the work of others, you’ll have the tools necessary to broach your writing projects with a finely tuned “kino” eye.

*Kino eye is a reference to Russian film making, meaning literally, the camera eye (kino – camera).

The Ins & Outs of Screenplay Analysis

Screenplay analysis is like those confusing social dances of the Victorian era; it may take you a while to learn the steps but once you do you'll get a husband. Er...

  • What is the point of story acquisition? This is when you have your first sense of the story, i.e. we have enough information on setting, character and universe to understand what we believe this movie is “about.” Some call this the “hook” or “inciting incident.” It is the moment when all of the elements have first come together in a real story form, and reach a state of critical mass that jump starts the main drama. It usually happens in the first ten to twenty minutes/pages of a feature film/screenplay, and within the first minute of a ten minute/page short/screenplay. This is not formulaic: if an audience cannot grasp a sense of story within the first ten or twenty minutes, they’ll leave the theater and demand they’re money back. Just think how long you’d listen to someone telling a story with no apparent point. You wouldn’t sit still for long of that. Likewise, you can imagine the point of story acquisition as being the thesis statement of a film. It lets us know what we’re in for. So remember, the point of story acquisition is when you first engaged by the elements coming together as a graspable story that gets you hooked.
  •  What are the central conflicts the character(s) face throughout the film? The protagonist in particular? How are these conflicts related to the point of story acquisition? They should all be encompassed in that action/event.
  •  What are the ways the characters and their circumstances are articulated by the filmmakers?
  • What are the main tensions? Tension is the question raised in the mind of the audience, the thing that keeps them in their seats waiting to learn the answer. In this way, every story has the element of suspense.
  •  What is the Major Dramatic Question (MDQ)?
  •  When is the first act turn? This is the point when Act I, the beginning, gives way, and we enter Act II, the middle? These are usually highlighted by a major “sign post” or “turning point,” a noticeable shit in the story. Usually part of the major dramatic question has been answered, and new questions arise out of that. This is akin to first paragraph in the body of an academic essay.
  • When do you get a sense that the major tension is first answered? How is this related to tracking the characters’ wants & needs.
  • What are the major questions/tensions raised at the midpoint of the movie that the film them pursues for the duration. Can you identify what those questions are? Where do you sense the shift from tracking the protagonist’s want to tracking his or her need? Remember, the want of the character is related to his or her goal or objective. It is something tangible that the character both aware of and is actively pursuing. The characters need is more of a psychological or subconscious state that they need to overcome in order to change or have an arc. All characters in the film should have a want and a need, though the one we’re most concerned with is the protagonist’s because these are the points that the story revolves around.
  • How is the Act II tension resolved? How does that propel us into Act III?
  • Can you identify the turning from Act II to Act III, the end; the point in the story where we jump into overdrive on our way to the climax and resolution?
  • What are the Act III conflicts and tensions? Remember that conflict arises when a character’s need/wants/circumstances are unacceptable to the character, who then aims to change his or her situation. Tension is the question as to whether or not the character will be successful in this aim, and achieve his goal. Conflict is the collision of the character on a mission met with resistance, obstacles, and/or complications. Tension is the question of the outcome.
  • Overall, where do you feel a distinct story structure, be it Acts or sequences? Sequences, as opposed to Acts are a series of scenes strung together in a what’s called a scene sequence. In features, they tend to consist of around 9-11 scenes, and around 10 minutes long (therefore you find roughly 9 -12 sequences in a film that’s 90-120 minutes long) that tell a solid chunk of the story. Usually in feature, they interweave the A Story, B Story, C Story and so on. This is terminology mostly used when discussing television writing, but is applicable to screenplays too. However, in film, we usually refer to these other stories within the large whole as subplots.
  • What is the overall effect of the weaving together of the above dramatic elements in terms of the story, and audience understanding/enjoyment of the film?
  • Identify elements of artistry and entertainment within and throughout the story.

Suggested Films to Watch:

ANY MOVIE EVER MADE.