Wednesday, December 03, 2008

What's this? Oh.... a blog.

Well, it's been a while, but with very good reason. The TV pilot was handed off to my partner, who still hasn't contributed to this blog or done any work on the pilot. My attention then went to scripts 1 and 2, both feature length. One is a caper/drama, the other a sci-fi drama. 99% of the last month was spent on script #1, where as 1 day was spent on #2. Why? 'Cause that's all the time I could afford in order to meet the Dec 1 deadline at Blue Cat. Blue Cat is a great way to get some feedback on your screenplay. While not as in depth as say, Coverage Ink, they're not as expensive and provide enough feedback to let you know if you're on the right track and even offer suggestions on how to strengthen the weak points. The other reason why I spent more time on the caper, less on the scifi, was because the caper needed more work, and I already had notes on how I wanted to revise it. The scifi script is something I've been working on for some time and I still need more time away from it (another month will do).

So now it's time for me to get some reading done, and take it easy for the month of December. And I plan to start messing around with script #3, which I haven't worked on in 2 or 3 years. I figure it's a page 1 rewrite and will use the next month to jot down ideas and outline whenever I feel like it. Then the work will begin in January. John August has a good post on how long it should take to write a script. After the learning process I took with writing the caper drama in a screenwriting class, I've found 12 weeks works for me. And that's with my measly 2-3 hours a night, 5 nights a week routine. Now if someone paid me to write so I could quit my job....

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Kind of Writing that Pisses Me Off

Shortcuts, for one.

Now, let’s say you have a goal for your character(s). Let’s say they fight to achieve this goal and finally win. Let’s say this is a television show. Let’s say they fight for this goal for a good chunk of the first season. Let’s say we even get reminded of that goal and subsequent victory later in the season, maybe even in the second season.

DO NOT make it all pointless in the first episode of season 3. Don’t. That’s bad. And the writers of Heroes should know better.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008


Well, since that last entry, I got the chicken pox and did nothing. So here I am, trying to get back into the groove. Again. Here goes....

“Walt! Walt!”

That seemed to be regular dialogue for Michael throughout most of seasons 1 and 2 of “Lost.” Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing because it crystallized Michael’s story; the struggles of a single father who had fatherhood thrust upon him when Walt’s mother died. (Quickly followed by crashing on an island overrun by psychotic cave-people posers and physics-defying smoke)

Scenes between Walt and Michael furthered Michael’s story, and to a lesser degree, Walt’s. But it was the scenes between Walt and John Locke that really hinted at what many hoped to be an incredible future story arc (journey) for Walt. It remains to be seen if fans will get to see that journey. I for one am no longer sure we will and sometimes believe that there WAS a story there, but was later shelved as priorities in the writer’s room changed.

Events in season 1 (and season 2 thanks to Miss Clue) suggested a big Walt story. “He’s special,” they said. From learning how to play backgammon to throwing knives, conjuring dead birds and (foreseeing?) polar bears, it was clear that something was “up” with Walt. But when did it start? When did we, the audience, get our first “Walt’s arc story beat?”

If I had access to my season 1 DVDs, I’d tell you.

I can say with complete... okay, almost complete certainty, that we didn’t get it in the pilot. Or did we? It certainly doesn’t seem like we did. So now, my dear nonexistent readers, I come to the point. (finally) When writing an ensemble, one that has…say… strong serial elements[1], how many character arcs do you set up in the first half of a two hour pilot?

The Secret TV Pilot
“A bunch of people struggle to maintain and protect their way of life. When it’s threatened and it seems all is lost, they go on the run to start over someplace new and safe.”

That’s a non specific concept for the TV show I’m writing with Mark and no, we wouldn’t/don’t pitch it that way.

The characters we focus on, the ones that lead the audience into this new world, have an arc that is set up in “Pilot – Part 1.” The characters grow and develop and are not static within the confines of that one 50 odd page script. Two of them, brothers who couldn’t be more different, have a kid brother they both care about. We call him…. Richard, and he’s our Walt.

When Mark and I were first brainstorming on this show over frosty pints,[2] we decided these two brothers needed… something. Something in common. Something they both care about. We discussed giving them a younger brother and after bouncing around story ideas and seeing just what we could do with this new character, Richard was born. (7 pounds, 3 ounces) But in our notes, Richard was merely described as a “wide eyed kid.” I think this MIGHT be where we went wrong, ‘cause you see, there’s something bothering me about Richard in “Pilot – Part 1.” Over the course of that script, Richard supplies some exposition (and we actually like how that scene plays out) and manages to get kidnapped at the end. But none of that, as far as we know, really sets up his character arc. And now that I think about it, I know it doesn’t. As writers, we’re not going to write this character as the kid who’s traumatized for a season or two by the kidnapping. The show isn’t about the kidnapping. The event will certainly inform the character, but nothing more. So my problem is Richard comes across as a tool. He’s just there to give these two brothers something they both care about because that makes them (especially the bad brother) nice guys the audience could like.

I want more for/from my characters.

I started writing this blog entry as a means of working my way through a dilemma. Writing is making decisions. Do we take all those scenes with Richard in the first part of the pilot and tweak them to set up some grand character arc and hint at the journey to come? Or will that merely be distraction and confuse the audience?

Well, hopefully this blogging thing has helped me again.

The Pilot is setup for the series.

Richard’s journey could only happen AFTER the events of the pilot (bunch of people going on the run). It could only happen after his ordinary world is interrupted and changed forever. Yes, he gets kidnapped, but he’s not the main character. I’ll come back to the kidnapping in a bit.

A character’s introduction is his first beat.

Firefly: Mal at the height of the war with the Alliance. Lost: Jack racing to save people. Sawyer being a jackass. (And being alone, smoking, reading the letter). In “Heroes,” Claire is introduced hurting herself because she can regenerate, but doesn’t know what to make of it. But Hiro is trying to stop a clock, and when he does, he gets excited and tells his buddy, Ando, all about it. He wants that kind of power because he wants to be a hero.

So, in writing this entry, I’m leaning towards NOT making Richard a busy-body to set up stuff the audience won’t care about yet. You see (if you had eyes, but don’t since you don’t exist, dear reader), our notes said “wide-eyed-kid” and that’s exactly what we wrote. Richard is static. The first step is making his introduction a little more interesting.

Getting kidnapped is a big deal; it’s obviously bad news for him. But it FEELS like it’s worse for his brothers, the people who care about him. One reason for that is they’re the main characters in the pilot, they’re the ones we’re invested in. I’m thinking Mark[3] and I just need a subtle change in Richard, one that’s brought about by the events of the pilot BEFORE he gets kidnapped. When this group decides to go on the run, we need to see how that affects him. We need to feel it. And if we can nudge him into a slightly negative headspace right before he gets kidnapped, we’ll feel for him too. Then, I’m hoping, he won’t feel so static.

[1] Mark and I want to write a serial. The first time I pitched our pilot at a pitchfest, the people I met with told me nobody wants serials anymore. They also said there’s no market for Sci-Fi. This was back in summer of 2006. Because of that experience, and because I’m a wimp, I say stupid things like “strong serial elements.”

[2] I’ve since switched to bottles. I drink slow and beer gets flat by the time I’m two thirds through a pint.

[3] I’m also thinking I gotta give Mark another nudge to start contributing to this blog. Otherwise I’ll REALLY come across as a lunatic talking about non existent readers and writers.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Trying to get the groove back.

Been off for the last couple of weeks. Off the day job, and pretty much off from the writing thing. The time off was GREAT. Saw a couple of friends get married, took a ton of pictures at the stag and wedding, and hung out with a couple of friends from out of town. So after such a memorable pair of weeks, I gotta now figure out how to shift back into work mode. And by work, I mean writing.

Well, the focus is still screenwriting. The TV pilot and screenplay #1. So the other day I watched Miami Vice (the movie). Next up is season 1 of Heroes, which I haven't seen in over a year. After that, I'll probably re-watch Season 4 of Lost (I'd watch every season but my dvds have been loaned out to friends and family.) The tricky thing, I guess, is finding the right inspiration and then eventually admitting that it's all bullshit. Man-up. Sit down and write.

One thing that helps is the little victories. A week after I received notification from the Nicholl Fellowship stating my screenplay did NOT make it to the quarter finals, I received another letter from them. The same one. I didn't make it. Not once, but twice in the same competition.

That must be a record.

But.... then I looked down at the bottom of the letter. Underneath Mr. Beal's signature was a little handwritten note: "Close - in the top 10%"

Wicked. Wicked cool.

I know that I'm not the only person to get that. I know it wasn't a "personal" note. But the point is that was a victory for me. Especially considering that this particular screenplay has been a curse. I wanted to know if I was on the right track with my revisions. And now I know thanks to Greg Beal.

I'll take that little victory the way I took positive feedback from friends on mere ideas. Anything positive to fuel my "improbability drive." Anything to help me sit, and stare down that blank page.

I won't blink. And eventually, I'll jot down a thing or two.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Doh ver. 1.2

Wednesday night, I had a good talk about the tv pilot with Mark, my writing partner (and hopefully future contributor to this blog). So in a way... some work got done on it (don't forget; Bailey has scars, Miranda doesn't). But it feels like I slacked off since I was planning on going to a coffee shop to do a pass or two on a scene. You see, everything was going according to plan, then "work" got in the way. I left late. Mark called and asked if I wanted to meet up for a beer.


Sure, I could use a beer. Initially, I turned him down. Got work to do. But then I saw my plan go out the window. (the plan was complicated, relying on the TTC [uh...] and the ability to leave work on time [yeah, right]) So what ended up happening was the usual shits and giggles, some brainstorming, followed by the requisite "We're geniuses. This is G-O-L-D."

Uh-huh. Then of course, I end up feeling like crap the next morning. And guilty. Guilty hangover.

The interesting thing was our conversation about character. The pilot is an ensemble and we had slightly differing opinions on who you could call the main character. Actually, we agreed on which character is becoming numero uno, but it's not who we originally intended to be the protagonist, our Jack Sheppherd. Our Malcom Reynalds. Our Bugs Bunny.

Now, this is not a bad thing. Characters are coming to life, taking over the story and all that other crap writers say when they're buzzing from a creative burst. The only thing that concerns me is that - at least as far as the way I write - this is a sign that the former main character has been somewhat neglected. I mean, this is an ensemble, but imagine if the crew behind LOST were developing their stories and designing their characters... and Locke suddenly became Bernard. Or Dr. Artz.

So, while I agree that our new protag will fill that role nicely and won't change that, at some point me and Mark are gonna have to put some serious thought into this other, neglected character. 'Cause when characters come to life, it's awesome. Until they knock on your door with a chip on their shoulder and slap you around for neglecting them.
Either that, or they start a band.
A grunge band.
A whiny grunge band.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Progress ver. 1

From about 12:30am until 2am this morning, I finally got some work done on the tv pilot. One scene. One scene, rewritten about three times. And then I couldn't sleep until about, oh... 4:30am. Tricky thing was there were a lot of characters in the scene, and the show is an ensemble. Everyone's trying to put there two cents in and I realized it came down to the pov of the one character who's the most emotionally invested in the situation. And if his pov or motivation clashes with say... his son, then perfect. Conflict. Drama. Just add water. (ok, there's a little more involved that that.)

In other news, someone is getting married soon and their stag is this weekend. Paintball and Pubs. How much fun is that? Lots. I'll be bringing the camera (my new Canon Rebel XSI) but am a little irked that my trial copy of Lightroom 2 keeps crashing my laptop. What gives?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Still no work done on the tv pilot. Aggravating. Todays distractions
shouldn't put me behind but, man... what a frustrating day. I don't
think a "retail environment" is good for creative energy. But it does
help out in the character development area. Especially if your
characters are all asses.

Not enough Espresso

This is not a drug. It's motivation in a tiny cup and today, it just wasn't enough.

Having a very slow start. I'm usually out the door at this point, but not today. I did my usual web-trolling and there's not a lot of interesting stuff going on in film, literature, or music. Though at some point I'm gonna have to look up the Chris Cornell/Timbaland album. Hey, I'm curious.

Haven't gotten any work done, but soon I'll be combing through the TV pilot. If all goes well, the latest draft will be done by the end of the month and uploaded to Inktip. And if I'm really smart, I'll come up with a plan for this here blog. Or rather, a direction.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Why now?

Why now? Why start a blog - or, reboot a blog - now? It's been two years since I touched "Rantaro's Case Journal" and since I "parked" TWIP. So, why now?

I have no answer.

6 years of writing, but the last two (or has it been three?) have been mostly focused on screenwriting. Or rather, screen-re-writing. What a pain in the arse. There's been a desire, a need, to write in prose. I've been wanting to get back to some short stories and in my musings (or frustrations) the notion of maintaining a blog has come up. So why not? But I need a plan.

Over the next little while, I'll tinker with this "template." I'll also try to get some friends on here. We'll link to stories that interest us, probably film or literature related. Music too. Oh, and photography. Maybe some politics? Travel? HANG ON, you say. That's a bit much, you say. Well, it's TWIP. The Weekly Insanity Press. (monthly....KIDDING)

The only thing you can rely on here is unreliability and inconsistency. We'll make it work. I'll make it work. And now, I find myself in need of another coffee. So I'm going to get one, and maybe even pitch this to a friend. Hopefully he'll jump on board.