Just a little break

Ever have one of those days where you want to sit down and be a creative dynamo, but just can’t muster the energy?

That’s how I felt yesterday. I was done with work, the weekend right there in front of me, but the drive to do some work on the rewrite just wasn’t there.

I’m sure if I were a working screenwriter, I would have forced myself to work. But after a long week and a day of running around, I just ran out of gas.

Fortunately, it was a short-lived feeling and I’m raring to dive in this coming week. Doing the midday traffic shift will also help.

-Movie of the Moment: THE PROJECTIONIST, recommended by Mark Evanier. A clever film from 1971 starring Chuck McCann as a projectionist in a Times Square theatre prone to imagining a fantasy life in silent black and white, partly composed of a huge assortment of older film clips, including CASABLANCA, GUNGA DIN and some FLASH GORDON. Again, all of these without sound.

According to the pre-showing interview on TCM, the director got all of these clips without any hassle over the rights because he knew just about everybody at most of the studios, so he could pick and choose what he needed from his pals. Nice.

There isn’t really much of a plot for the present-day stuff; mostly him working (including Rodney Dangerfield in his film debut as the grouchy theatre manager and the villain in the fantasy segments), and walking around NYC. Actually, watching him navigate the crowds, cafes and shops is a little sad. McCann comes across as lonely but never pathetic.

The fantasy sequences are where it really comes alive, revolving around the quest to recover a secret death ray formula, a scientist and his beautiful daughter, and numerous fights featuring 3 Stooges-like sound effects.

I suspect this would appeal more to film aficionados than your average filmgoer. I enjoyed it, especially McCann’s dead-on impressions, but don’t feel the need to see it again.

From one grind to another

Yeah. Something like that.

And I’m back. My script rewrite is now in the past tense.

Maybe not an out-and-out rewrite per se, but taking a script and reformatting it into script form.  My instructions were to work my magic on the action lines and leave the dialogue alone. Mea culpa – I tinkered with some of that too.

I’ll start off by saying the idea behind the story was good, and there were faint glimmers of potential, but I had lots of problems with the execution.  I don’t know if this was a first draft, but it sure looked and read like one.

-Huge blocks of text in both the wide margins and the dialogue.

-Starting a scene in one room, then having it go to one, two or more locations, without starting a new scene

-Not giving the reader any idea who the main character is, nor establishing what was at stake, if anything.

-Characters who disappear for long stretches of time.

-Tons of unnecessary and unfilmable details.

-Story details that come out of nowhere based on nothing the reader has already read.

-Dialogue that’s pure exposition.  Sometimes repeated several times in several different scenes.

-Scenes without any conflict, or at least nothing to move the story forward, that drag on and on.

-Characters saying each other’s names over and over and over again in each scene.

-Using the same verbs and adjectives throughout the whole thing.

The whole time I was working on this, there were quite a lot of times I couldn’t help but roll my eyes in disbelief.  But the main point is: I’m done with it.

The Nicholl deadline is next week.  No way am I going to make it.  I figure I can work on the DREAMSHIP rewrite, then pump out a first draft of LUCY.

Movie of the Moment: MAN OF THE CENTURY.  A fun, small independent film from ’99 about a man who lives in then-modern NYC as if it were the 1920s. I’d heard about it when it was originally released, which was for about a week in the arthouse circuit.  If you get a kick out of the early days of talkies, or at least the dialogue, then you’ll enjoy this.  Only complaint – they never explain why the guy is like this.

Turns out the star and director also wrote it.  They must have spent a lot of time researching the slang and catchphrases of the day, because they’re prevalent throughout the whole thing.

I was also impressed with how they had about eight different storylines each tie up nice and clean in the last five minutes.

I’d love to know how they got Frank Gorshin involved.  I thought he was in it for a cameo, but he was one of the subplots.

-I got to read a phenomenal action script yesterday.  It was fast-moving, exciting and just a blast to read.  It’s what I hope LUCY can be like.

Gag in effect

And not the funny kind.

I’ve been out of circulation for the past few days because I’ve been slaving away on reformatting a Word document into an actual script.  I finished a day ahead of schedule, so now I’m waiting to hear back from this person to see if they want any more changes.

I’m forcing myself to refrain from making any comments about the original material until everything is completely over and done with.

And that hasn’t been easy.

Yay for me

I finally heard back from the person needing help rewriting their script.  Yep.  I gots me a writin’ project.  Technically, a rewrite, but work’s work.

I’m still having trouble with the directive to fix what needs fixing in the wide margins and leaving the dialogue alone. I’m also to leave in certain descriptions so they serve as a reminder of what the scene is supposed to look like.

But you’re the director! Shouldn’t you already know that?  I try to keep the descriptions as condensed as possible.

Oh well. Nothing else to do but forge ahead.  Based on what I’ve read so far, I’m steeling myself against the strong possibility of working on a poorly-written script.  At least before I get my hands on it.

After I filled out my part of the agreement and sent it back, I realized this is the same person I dealt with last fall who was looking for someone to write a 120-page Bollywood script.  That crashed and burned for me before I even got started. Wonder if it eventually worked out?

-Didn’t realize it’s been a while since the last Movie of the Moment. Nothing so far – been too busy, but hopefully soon.

-V wants to see THOR, but it’s PG-13.  I have no problem taking her, but K says it may be rated that because some parts may be too intense, especially for V.  V says she wouldn’t be scared, but when somebody whimpers and buries her face against your chest during her very first glimpse of Godzilla popping his head over the Japanese countryside, it kind of makes you re-evaluate the situation.

I think I’d make a good hyphen

The under-appreciated Preston Sturges

I heard back from the person looking for help with their script. They’ve made two shorts and now want to expand into something a bit longer.

They sent 6 pages for me to work on the wide margin material with the instruction to leave the dialogue alone.

Suffice to say, there was a lot I could take out with no impact whatsoever and the editor in me couldn’t help but work on some of the dialogue.

What was surprising was the large amount of Screenwriting 101 mistakes: Telling the reader how somebody feels. Capitalizing a character’s name almost every time they appear in a scene. Repetitive and on-the-nose dialogue.

I have no idea how much formal training this person has had, or even if they went to film school, but this is the second director I’ve dealt with who is woefully misinformed about how to write a script. Shouldn’t that be necessary anyway?

For example, there was way too much information in the set-up for each scene.  I don’t need to know in extensive detail how exquisitely beautiful this summer day in the countryside is. One sentence will suffice.

Years ago, I attended a few seminars by Richard Walter of UCLA’s Screenwriting Department.  Among his many gems of wisdom was “Write as if ink cost $1000 an ounce.”  Every writer should post that above their workspace and consult it daily.  The more white on the page, the better.

The more I look at scripts written by directors (and there are some good ones out there), I can’t help but wonder “Could I do that?” Granted, I don’t know the first thing about setting up a shot, or what the proper lighting should be in a particular setting, but sometimes when I’m watching a ‘major motion picture’ and I get bored with how the story’s developing, I start paying attention to what the camera’s doing. Did they film this scene from this angle, and then from a different one, and then put them together in editing?  How did they manage that shot?

Once I’m able to get things going with the writing, I wonder if anybody will ask “So would you want to eventually direct?” Right now, no.

But down the road? Maybe.