Posts Tagged ‘screenwriting’

Lost dog vs lost dog vs lost Jean Barker

July 30, 2011

I opened an old wound recently. Idiotically. Just bumped it against life and there it was, bleeding out all over again… that’s too romantic, really. It’s more like a cyst that had to be drained. Nothing even a hot vampire would want to suck on.

Now… I got love, and milk, and a roof over my head, and four walls made of genuine California mould-board imported from China. So I have no right to complain. But old hurts of the heart came back to haunt me. Tried everything that usually works. Running. Swimming. Sex. Talking. Hugs. Even, half-heartedly, drinking. But nothing made it go away for very long.

And then I came back to something someone once said to me (I may have been paying them to listen to me whine at the time): Sometimes you just have to feel what you feel until you’re done.

So I got on my bike to go print out some work, no longer caring if I was happy or not, and boom: there on a lamp post was an idea for a short film.

Awesome. Thank you, Life.

It’s called “Tale of Two Puppies”, and it’s about two kids from different neighborhoods that are just across the street from each other who meet when they compete over a lamp post with their very different LOST PUPPY posters.

Gonna be a winner. Anyone have a kid for me? I may want to make this in South Africa as an independent study over SA summer / US Winter Vac.

Funny, True or False: Soundbites from a WGF screenwriting masterclass

July 2, 2011

What makes a great writer? Who knows. But I’m working on finding out, or finding that in me.

When I applied to film schools in the USA I decided where to apply based on the following three criteria, in this order of important. 1. were they still accepting applications for fall 2010 2. were they considered to be one of the top 10 film schools offering a film-making MFA? 3. Were they anywhere near LA? 1. ruled out NYU, Columbia, USC, UCLA and a number of other top 10 schools. And that’s how I wound up at Chapman: the new kid on the film school block.

Writers are the nerdiest in an industry of nerds. Okay, some of the stars are "cool" kids. A few directors scrub up okay. But the rest of us are kinda nerdy. It was a massive relief when the well-lubricated post-event mixer was held in the library, because it's the one place where you can legitimately stare at the bookshelves at a party instead of "networking". Although I am proud to say I was networked by two guys, one of whom might actually be a real writer.

I spend less time in LA than I imagined I would. My school is really good, and with professors like Anna Waterhouse, Toni Spiridakis, James Dutcher, Jeff Phillips and Paul Wolansky, I’m learning a lot, fast. But I did make it out there Saturday 25th for a Writer’s Guild Foundation day-workshop comprising masterclasses and panels and featuring a bunch of great working screenwriters/directors/producers, in order of appearance:  Nicholas Meyer (Elegy, Star Trek VI),  John August (Big Fish, The Nines, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, Charlie’s Angels), Ted Elliott (Pirates of the Carribean and a crapload of other stuff), Derek Haas (3:10 to Yuma, Wanted and others), John Lee Hancock (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, the Blind Side), Leslie Dixon (Overboard, Mrs. Doubtfire, Pay it Forward, Limitless and many more) and Elizabeth Hunter (Charmed, The L-Word, E.R.). Talent managers and producers JP Evans, Lawrence Mark, and Marc Platt joined the final panel.

Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of any of them except John August. That’s normal. “Famous Screenwriter” is a contradiction in terms. And since so much was said and I am short of time, I’m just going to collect my favorite and funniest quotes of the day. If you want to learn more, read the book. What book? Whatever book.

On Drama and Audiences: “It’s a question and answer between you and the audience.” In the book, the ending can be sad and subtle. “In the movie, you have to blow up the bridge”. “Audiences may be stupid, but they’re never wrong.” – Meyer. “If you give the audience a sense of trust in the structure, they’ll work with you to tease out the story – they will look for the cause and effect, they’ll stay interested [as a result of their expectations].” – Ted Elliott.

On Mel Gibson: His movies are all ‘Hamlet without the doubts’ When watching Braveheart: “Nobody making this movie is taking this story seriously.” They’re just “remaking Sparticus with all the elements put through a blender, meaning reduced to bumper stickers.” – Meyer.

On the power of movies: “A movie can make you care passionately about something you never knew existed before.” Like sheep drovers in Australia (The Sundowners).- Meyer.

On the power of movies: "A movie can make you care passionately about something you never knew existed before." Like sheep drovers in Australia (The Sundowners).- Meyer. Of course, you probably couldn't get this made now. "Sales departments have taken over deciding what movies to make. Stories have become slashed up into demographic pie wedges."

On using Narrators: As Billy Wilder pointed out, Narrators allow you to avoid ‘overstructuring’ and also they make room for satire. – Meyer

Structure is when stuff happens.” – August

On Adaptating books for screen: Nicholas Meyer memorises / rewrites the book by typing up a long summary and thus making the story his own.

Two things people write that nobody should be allowed to write: “He has a smile that doesn’t quite meet his eyes.” “She’s pretty, but doesn’t know it.”  – A sort of chaotic agreement between the Elliott, Haas, Hancock panelists.

On Screen directions: “They take me out of a script. I’m enjoying it and then suddenly I’m thinking ‘It’s 98 degrees and where’s craft services.'” – Hancock.

Writing is… “developing ideas you’re not going to use. Writers block is not ‘not enough ideas’, it’s ‘too many ideas that you can’t decide between’.”

Biggest Mistakes: “Avoiding conflict by failing to speak up when I saw things going wrong on set.” – Meyer

On “Predictability: It’s good for boyfriends. It’s bad for action heroes.” – August

When it comes to writing action and description “Specify the minimum” – Meyer.

What a producer wants is “Something that’s the best version of what it ‘wants’ to be. – Dixon

On the fast pace of today’s films: “In the old days it happened like this. Character says: ‘I’m gonna go to Paris.’ They buy a ticket. They get on the plane. They fly. They arrive. They go to their hotel. They have a shower. Then they go to Paris. Now they say ‘I’m gonna go to Pa–‘ and the next thing they’re in Paris being chased by somebody.” – August.

Getting it made depends on passing the Saturday Night Test. Do you want to go watch “A dying Animal” or “Elegy”? Elegy, right. Same story, different emphasis. “Maybe you can convince them to take a flier, but there are only x number of Friday nights, only a certain number of movies that are going to get made.” – Meyer

“Whenever I’ve violated the ‘would I buy a ticket’ rule, it’s been a disaster.” – Leslie Dixon

On  getting your Passion Project made: “Wait for someone to become a star. Hang onto it. There will be new names, next year.” – Leslie Dixon

What about film school‘s screenwriting rules? “They’ll tell you ‘don’t write the stuff a director can’t film’. I say screw that. I might write a whole paragraph about what the character’s feeling.” – Haas

The game is played like so:A story is a con-game and a writer is a con-man. And not because I have enormous confidence, but because I can instill it in you, and make you listen to what I say. You’re the only expert on your own story.” – Elliot 

Creative methods vary: “There are two basic creative methods.” Mozart, who just played billiards and wrote in his head and ‘copied it out’ and Beethoven, who edited a lot. – Meyer

On overcoming ‘writer’s block’. “You start off with nothing but every possibility.” Fey space in math’s. “Each time you make a decision you eliminate every other possible decision. Make the decision you consciously think will NEVER get you to the next point in the story. How do I get from B to C? I’m doing 7.pi.” – Elliott

On rejecting the Hollywood Formula: “It’s like trying to fake a hard-on. It just doesn’t work.” – Meyer.

On writing, pure and simple: “You have to believe in what you do. I’m not writing to satisfy the expectations of 60 million people i’ve never met.” – Meyer.

On why ‘pure and simple’ is a pipe dream. “The idea of writing for yourself is a statement of fear. I don’t know about the rest of you but I love the Monty Python scetch that is about a joke that is so funny that everybody who reads it, dies. I want people to understand what I write in exactly the way I intend. I am writing for everybody. The danger in Hollywood is when someone says ‘write something you don’t believe will be good’.” – Elliott

On Actors: “50% of your dialogue won’t make it. An actor will say: “You know that big speech I have about the labor unions in America? I can do that with a look.” – Meyer “Every Actor has one question they want to know the answer to about your film. ‘The director… is s/he crazy. Are we going to have to pull the boat over the mountain?'” – Meyer.

And ya, so…

A South African filmmaker wrote an article (for some reason, filmcontact failed to award him a byline, so I have no idea who he is!) assessing the state of the South African film industry, and saying we need better writers and directors in South Africa. I guess this is good news for me. Presuming  I’m “better”, that is. I suspect I’m learning to be. *update: Story by Ronnie Apteker, a South African producer. Thanks Nadia for that info.

LA: How is this is not as good as it gets?

March 3, 2011

I drove to LA for a meeting yesterday morning. I felt like a real screenwriter. You know, driving to LA with a pitch to meet a director in a coffeeshop. On too little sleep. Let’s just say it – it felt real and unreal.

I feel a rising excitement as I get closer to LA, as the grafitti and wall art gets more sophisticated, as the drivers get ruder and the smog gets thicker.

The thrill is still not quite gone.

And sure, it might not work out (thought the meeting went well) but I’m just enjoying this. This is the time when, even if I’m consumed by panic, there’s still time to dream. Everything could still be perfect. And LA is a wonderful place to dream because in LA, a dreamer is never alone, although not every dreamer can afford the coffee.

"I promise you are not just a waitress" - a poster stuck to an electricity box opposite a french bistro staffed by suspiciously attractive waitrons who are probably, actually, actors.

I sat next to two old guys. They were discussing something one of them had written. On the left, two women gave each other notes on a screenplay. A few tables down, two Americans had an intelligent political discussion about Libya. Then went back to discussing a movie they’d like to make. Dreams, dreams, dreams, everywhere here.

If I’ve learned anything in the last four years is that nothing – no matter how wonderful or how terrible – is impossible. I could… find love? Maybe when I’m not looking for it, cause like, I need it like I need a hole in the head. Another hole in the head. It’s possible.

My fellow-blogger Dorothy Black ( collects pictures of "random hearts". Here's one I photographed. Spotted on the floor of a coffeeshop in Vermont Ave., Hollywood.

Or I could wind up a struggling screenwriter, working somewhere, writing something, living in a small but beautiful apartment in an area with really good fish tacos within walking distance.

I could live here. I'm a single.

Or they might send me home to South Africa, where I could… write that movie nobody here ever sees. Or that movie that wins a foreign movie Oscar. Same thing really – except then South Africans won’t watch it either.

Or... they say the sky's the limit. What was once in that building that's now leased as storage? Who's the latest porno superstar at Adultcon? And where are all these cars going to? What new building is that orange cement mixing truck mixing cement for?

I guess I hung around for a while. I bought three different colors of nail laquer so that I could paint all my nails different colours. Then I left. And on the way, I passed this writing on the wall: THIS IS NOT AS GOOD AS IT GETS.

Right now, just being near this alleyway leading to a dumpster excites me.

The Road to Hollywood Greatness is Paved with… post-it notes

January 26, 2011

I’m writing a screenplay themed “hell is other people” (thanks Jean-Paul Satre, you knew your shit) and having an awesome time doing it. I can’t tell you what it’s about yet because well, fuck me if I know at this stage. But I have that amazing feeling that there’s Something There.

Terrible, terrible things are happening in this story so far. I decided to set it in the 90s.

Got these hardcovers second-hand at my favourite book store - Bookman on Tustin. Other reference material includes Wiki, of course, and well, Jesus Camp - the doccie.

Tomorrow, I write the first 30 pages in rough. Right now, I’m going to hang with a friend. Cause not all other people are hell. In fact, Satre didn’t mean it that way at all. Read Huis Clos if you don’t believe me.

No idea is new, but we can’t stop telling our stories anyway. I, for one, have no control over it.

36 hours in LA, my way

October 12, 2010

Welcome to LA - a breath of fresh air. This is really what it looks like - at least to my cell phone camera.

Ok, so I already wrote about what a dork I am, and how the cast of Glee wouldn’t let me play triangle for them if I tried (I’m that not-smooth, folks). That was the first part of my first real day in Hollywood, LA. And by the end of this first part, where I left you last, I was signed up to go do a pitch the next afternoon. I had also agreed about a week back to check out a band called Abney Park – a Steam Punk band from Seattle, USA, with a friend who I’ll call Wrestler – not his real name, but if you see him, you’ll see why it fits.

How do you spend a day in LA? Well you get as high as you can. The Observatory is a good start. See what I did there? I know. I suck.

The little white dot on the hillside in the top right is the HOLLYWOOD sign, which really needs straightening out... but I was more interested in this sign. I think it's great that you can't smoke in the nature reserve - at all. But of course, it's not enforced. Smokers are always desperate enough to chance it, and a couple puffed away nearby.

The Observatory is like a combination of Signal Hill, Lion’s Head, and an observatory and a museum. It’s quite literally the first place I’ve been to in America where I didn’t have to pay to park or to walk around. It’s really incredible looking down over this huge city, with its yellowing smog, and seeing at least 20 aeroplanes and helicopters in the sky at any time. It’s like some kind of post apocolyptic sci-fi scene.

Kwah kwah kwah kwah kwah kwah... they're everywhere, so much that I hardly hear them anymore.

Then back to West Hollywood. Which is pretty much my perfect place to live, except that it’s not on the beach. There’s plenty happening on Hollywood and Sunset Blvds all the time. There’s everything from great Thai food restaurants to no-tel motels with water beds and adult movies services signboarded, to LIVE NUDE GIRL bars, to restaurants with Rat Pack Credentials, to Amoeba records… one of the last stores of its kind, with the record industry paying the ultimate price for its stubbornness on digital.

A guy playing shoegazer music for tips broke my heart and got my dollar. This restaurant is the first American restaurant that I've been to in a week that doesn't have Halloween decorations up. The Christmas decorations are still up here, though. Either that, or they're extremely early.

Welcome to the museum… There’s a joke going around that Capitol Records, that LA landmark and tower of song, has downsized to one floor, and now rents the rest to internet companies. Ok, I lie. I just made that up. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it were true. The bit about downsizing to one floor is true though.

Mommy, you dresses you funny.

Speaking of the past… Steam Punk. I can’t say that by the time 10.45pm came and I was still standing in line, I still thought it would be worth it. I was exhausted after 14 hours on my feet. I was stressed about pitching the next day at the Screenwriting Expo. I still had to drive home from LA. And the people in the line outside Bar Sinister reminded me a bit of the old days of Cape Town at Playground, or The Rift. I was never that into black clothing. Had I really come all the way from Cape Town to LA, only to find myself surrounded by obese people dressed up as suicidal chambermaids? Crowds of Hipsters walked past on their way to a cooler club, shouting out mocking comments to the line of goth types snaking around the block at Bar Sinister.

Things got marginally spicier though, when Wrestler went to get a light for his cigarette and asked a BDSM couple higher in the queue.
“Sure,” says Dom-guy. “But you have to spank her.”
Wrestler laughs and reaches for the lighter.
“No, seriously,” says Dom-guy, while Ms Sub waits patiently in position.
Well, smokers… you’ve all seen them looking through the ashtrays at the end of a party… they’ll do anything. And plus, the girl had a cute ass. I know because saw it in detail later when Wrestler gave me a tour of the club, including the upstairs BDSM playroom, where she was bent over a chair with her hands intricately bound in stockings behind her back, and two men taking turns gently teasing her with a leather whip. Wrestler recognised her without being able to see her face.


Abney Park. They're lovely.

Now I was loving the old fashioned club with it’s high ceilings and ornate interior, like a Mad Men set. And Abney Park (from Seattle) weren’t much like the crowd. They’re fun, funny, don’t take themselves seriously. But know their shit musially – listening to them I realised which trend inspired Madness’ latest album, which is possibly their best ever. And Abney Park’s lead singers are undeniably sexy. To see what steam punk clothes really look like – cause most of the crowd wasn’t wearing them on Saturday – check out the less hot but better-lit shmodel version here. Steam punk is like technology for luddite discoverer party people. It’s like Cowboy meets Columbus. It’s really pretty cool.

Steam Punk is punk for luddite inventors, so this lightbox is meant to be powered without batteries - body heat or friction or something. Other toys included spyglasses. Actually it all fitted in nicely with the Camera Obscura I saw at the observatory earlier.

Anyhow, then I drove home. A long, long way it seemed, at night. And after a quick nap I was in my car again and cruising back LA way. I gathered myself. I felt like I might faint or sweat myself to death. I got in line. Kept moving. I pitched to my first production company.

It was an amazing feeling. A total rush. Terrifying. Actually, a bit like a mixture between a fairground ride and a slaughterhouse tour, a casino and speed dating. Pitching a screenplay at Golden Pitchfest works like this:

1. First, you take a number. Well actually you pay to take a number. $15 at the Screenwriting Expo, more if you buy off a scalper, nothing if it’s an all included festival
2. Then you move into room one, where they stun you show you the layout of your final destination, so you can figure out which processing area table to head to once you go in.
3. In room two, you sit on the chair labeled with your table number. I think this is in case the production company person is done early and wants to come fetch you. Or to stop the screenwriters fighting over seats? Weird… we’re way too nerdy for that shit. From there, you can hear the DING as the pitch time begins, the frantic buzz of voices pitching, and the DONG! as everyone gets up and leaves. You’re next.
4. You scramble for your table, with five minutes to tell your story. You try get it done in 2 minutes, to leave time for questions/excuses. If they hate it, they just say “thanks”. If they like it or pity you, they ask for a 1-page printed summary from you. If they really like it, they actually call you, or promise to.
5. When your time is up, you get out of there. Because another screenwriter is already standing by the table, grinning maniacly at the poor dude(tte) who’s about to be subjected to the burden of dashing another poor nerd’s hopes and dreams.

So, in a nutshell, aaaahsome.

After the first taste, I was hooked. I literally stood at the table like an addicted gambler, counting out my last cash dollars to buy another two tickets. II wanted to win, I was sure I would win, if I could stay in the game a little bit longer.

The score? I got two “can I keep the one-page” responses, and one “parents won’t let their kids watch this, so not for us, but I love it”. I headed home to catch up on my assignments for the week, another big fear squirming in agony as it breathed its last panicky gasp of deathbreath. Bye-bye, sucker!

Tortoises and humans: 5 unavoidable simularities

October 4, 2010

Yes, I am researching tortoises. I happen to really love tortoises. I love them so much I’m starring a tortoise as the main character in a short film I’m trying to write.

Why did the tortoise cross the road? This question needs to be answered to make the story work. After some feedback from fellow-student Donte D. Murray, I'm searching for a reason, but my script's working (and probably final) title is To Get To The Other Side.

ONE Male tortoises generally court female tortoises whenever the opportunity presents itself.
So if two tortoises of opposite genders run into each other somewhere in the middle of the Arizona dessert, the male might say something like “Fancy running into you here!” Even though he can’t run and it’s not clear where they are.

TWO Female tortoises have longer toenails.

They haven’t figured out how to paint them yet, so tourists are encouraged to stop en route on road trips, capture female tortoises, and help them out. They prefer blue but pink will do. No.

THREE Tortoises are creatures of habit.
So if you build a road where they happen to live, they simply cross it every day while going about their business. They’ll stick to their bad habits even when they are life threatening, but are not yet known to smoke cigarettes or inject heroin.

FOUR They got baby-mamas too
After the male tortoise has impregnated the female tortoise, she does all the work of having eggs, hatching them and so on. Then she might find another male and make more eggs. Then he will waddle off into the sunset… etc.

FIVE Sex is difficult to determine until the tortoise is about 7 inches.
Haw haw haw.

The only very important difference between most human males and tortoise males seems to be that tortoises are vegetarian and don’t drink.

Other things Tortoises do that you may not expect include: 1. pee on you if they’re scared 2. re-absorb their own urine if they’re thirsty 3. sneeze. 4. Wash and bathe 5. Communicate with whales! (just kidding).

I bet you feel enriched by this knowledge. I know I do.