Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Editing Your Movie Treatment

Sometimes it's what you don't say that says it all.

This is one of those lessons I am still trying to get the hang of myself, both in writing and in life and in my writing life.

I'm open-hearted and a blabber.  These two qualities rarely, if ever, pay off.

But, I will save you the "open mouth insert foot" story that I just experienced today and move right on to writing tips.

So, here's what I have to say about saying too much.  Don't.  Especially when writing a movie treatment let the action speak for itself.

What I found in my own treatment writing is that often I write the response to a line of necessary dialogue with a completely unnecessary answer.  Or I sometimes follow a description of action with a line of explanation about that action.

For example, if I just described the scene where the wife leaves her husband including really spicy dialogue that shows that she's given more than she ever thought she had to give, I do NOT need to add a line saying anything remotely about her physically leaving or her mental state.  It's in the scene.  They are done.  She's out.  Move on to the next beat.

We tend to do these extra and unnecessary bits because after writing two pages scenes, we just don't trust the short paragraphs of a treatment.

But adding explanations just slows your story down to a boring (I'm not going to buy you) crawl.

Instead, make sure the action and dialogue speak for themselves and leave the reader to fill in the blanks on their own.  Trust that they will draw the conclusion that you intended them to and don't explain.   That's the trick to getting someone really hooked.  You let them use their own imagination in the carefully constructed open spaces you leave by not over-writing.

If something is unclear - then work harder to make the action and dialogue clear.  Again, explaining poor writing just makes the poor writing longer.

Try this trick.  After you've finished your first draft of a treatment read the last line of each paragraph.  I bet you find some cuts that you won't even miss once they are gone.

Happy writing!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Writing Tools: Beat Sheets, Tone Guides and Alcoholic Beverages

I've got to be straight with you - I am working on the most challenging project of my whole career.  But this is the week I'm going to bring it over the finish line.

It isn't fun.   It will be, as soon as I start noting any kind of progress, but at the moment, I'm just dog-paddling in the quicksand.

I have what feels like 45,000 notes on something that is "very close."   I'm in that writer's quandary of "fix everything" but "don't change what's working."

And low and behold, after 21 screenplays and countless treatments and pitches... I am turning back to my arsenal of tools to get me through.

I assembled all the notes into one document.  I used scissors and tape to cut and paste them onto my treatment.  I rearranged the order, I cut huge passages and then transferred it all back to a master copy on the computer.

Before I can continue onwards and upwards, I need to go back to the tools I started with at the beginning.  I need to create some character bios.   Really after 15 or so drafts?  Yes.  Because I didn't take my time with this step at the beginning.  I thought I could just do "good enough" and move on, but eventually short cuts slip you up and here I am, being tripped when it hurts the most, over the pit of glass shards.  Now or never time.

I actually like to draw my characters.  I am not a good artist.  My drawings - to be blunt aren't up to a three year old's standards, but for some reason drawing my character brings that person into the part of the brain I need them to be in if I am to know who they are.

It's one of the "I don't know why this works" tools, but trial and error have taught me it does.  And right now I need to go deeper with my characters.

Secondly, I need to restructure.

I am as surprised as you are.  My ducks are in the right order - but their spacing isn't right.

Let me explain.  The third act was not won, deserved or in fact dramatic- and this turns out, is because I was stretching 2nd act action throughout the entire story.  

So yes, b was before c.  And M was two spaces before O - but I was ending the story on O instead of going the distance, taking the characters all the way down to the bottom and then building them back up.  I am third-act-less at this moment.  Which feels like going to the supermarket in nothing but sandals and a t-shirt.  (Not that I've done that, but you can imagine.)  I want to hurry up and get some pants on.

So, it's time to bring out the:  Story Grid.   I'm going to plug in my beats and see what's missing.

I'm also going to compare my script to my two tonal guides (other films that remind me of the project) and see if I can glean any inspiration there....

And if all that fails, I've got a nice Chardonnay chilling in the fridge.

Happy Writing!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Day Two of a Painful Rewrite

I am standing so close to the finish line I can practically snort the chalk.

There's got to be a saying about the last yard being the longest, but I'm too fried to think of it.  I'm too fried to think of anything - and summer has arrived.

If you've followed this blog since I started it last July -And So It Begins (Day One of the Blog) you know how I feel about summer.

To encapsulate:  Summer sucks for writers.  WearEver Hi-Back Deluxe Steel Backpack Chair (Blue)Callaway Golf Men's RAZR X Irons, Set of 8 (Right-Handed, Steel Shaft Steel Shaft, Steel Uniflex, 4-AW)Margaritaville DM1000 Frozen Concoction MakerThere are no beach chairs, no golf, no frozen margaritas at noon for a Writer For Hire.  No, there's just the taunt of unending sunshine making my computer screen hard to see and sweat pooling under my boobs.

I apologize for newbies to my blog.  Please go back and read the "how to write a screenplay" posts of the Fall.  I'm usually quite perky.  Really.  But some projects, simply put, could make a bitter creep out of Snow White.  I'd like to see you whistle while you work on this one, lady.

I'm going to have to start listening to my "rain meditation" podcast while I work and it's not even June 21.   Because I must  FINISH THIS REWRITE.

Okay, so here's my plan, as always with writing - I must take the first step first.

1)  I made a duplicate copy of my treatment and placed today's date on the top.

2) I then made all the cuts suggested by the producer.

3)  I'm now printing out all of the notes I typed up from our multi-nation conference calls made while I was supposedly on vacation.

4) Next I'm going to sit down with scissors and tape and literally piece together the notes where they belong in the treatment.

5) Hopefully, during this process ideas will start spilling forth.  If not, I'll walk, I'll take bathes and most importantly I'll keep coming back to my notes document until the answers do come.

It just takes one little crack, one small gap through which I can wiggle my little finger and then pry open a space big enough to crawl through to the other side.

Sometimes you've simply got to go forth with faith - it will come.  It will.

I'll keep you posted....  In the meantime, happy writing.  (And by that, I mean - just write, you'll feel happy when you're finished.)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Back To Work

Weight gained while chained to computer frantically trying to finish assignment before starting vacation:  6 lbs.

Weight gained while enjoying said vacation:  4 lb

So here I am back at my desk, sitting on my more squishy than normal ass, facing a bigger mountain of work than ever before.

And I've hit a challenge.  A big one.

A week before my big family vacation (the first one I've taken since my honeymoon ten years ago), I was happy.  I was very close to meeting my producer's expectations.  I only needed to put a few finishing touches on the treatment before we closed the deal and I had nearly a week to get ready for my vacation.  No problem.

However, four days before the vacation I receive the worst possible news.

The producer HATES it.

I have somehow managed to go from "in the ballpark" to nearly losing the game.  And, because we both thought we were so close, he's already pitched it to the money people who are financing this little beauty, and so now he needs me to fix it fast.


My empty suitcases and my to-do list for the trip are unattended while I try to fix what I actually believed to be perfect.  My manager and I get on the phone and go through beat-by-beat of this story, reigning in where I might have gone wrong.

Again, this is a situation where I'm trying to write to an idea in a producer's head.  Easier said than done.

I turn it in, leaving myself about two hours to pack for three weeks of traveling with a toddler.  Yeah, that's not stressful.  If you were wondering.

Somehow, I manage to throw everything in the case just as the car arrives to pick us up.  I am on my fifth day without sleep and looking forward to the red-eye where I hope to get some shut-eye.

But did I get any shut-eye?  No.  Because the flight to Boston has an air-conditioning problem and instead of getting some much needed rest, I felt like I spent the next five hours in a European public bathhouse (that's where the locals who don't believe in deodorant go to sweat it out for cheap.)

So the vacation was great.  Restful?  No.  Restorative?  No!  But, fun and fabulous you bet!  I even met an old friend who runs a very large international production company at a party and pitched a project to do together later in the year.  Hurrah!

Two days into Munich beergardens, I get an email from the producer saying "We're back in the game."


The bad part was that he still needed more changes and needed them done quickly.  From that point on, dodging his ever changing shooting schedule, we tried to connect on the phone nearly every morning.

That looked like this:  Me getting up at 5 AM after a late night in Munich, or Paris or London waiting for said call, only to be told a few minutes before the rest of my family woke up ready to hit another day of drinking and eating our way across Western Europe that the call would have to be made the next day.

Swill wine or lift a stein and repeat.  Family well rested and relaxed.  Writer For Hire - has officially replaced blood in veins with a combination of Espresso, Latte Machiatto and English Breakfast Tea.

The producer and I finally reconnected the day before I returned to the States.  

The notes were so enormous and I was so exhausted that it has taken me a week to work up the nerve to brave facing the computer.

Seriously, like ten pages of very detailed notes.  Some of which I have to admit I don't even understand.  I'm in uncharted waters.

The little shit that lives inside my front temporal lobe keeps taunting me, "You're just not ready for the A-list.  You're not ready for the big leagues.  This is an Academy Award nominated producer, who are you kidding?"

But, then thankfully, I remember the four movies I watched on my return flight from Europe.  Any one of which I honestly feel I could have written and potentially even improved.

More over, this man, this big-time producer believes I can do it.  Those were his last words to me, "I believe you can do this."  He's excited.

So, after a week of unpacking and organizing, of answering e-mails and catching up on bills, I am finally ready to jump back into the frying pan.

All I can do is the best I can do.  It will either be enough or it won't.  Either way I'll be a more experienced writer as a result.

Sounds awfully well adjusted doesn't it?

I'm attempting to meditate, exercise and not drink as much.  This attempt is corresponding with the biggest challenge of my career.  So naturally what I really want to do is consume my weight of Salt & Vinegar Potato Chips and pints of well-crafted Pale Ales.

I'll keep you posted....