When all else fails, go to DIE HARD – or – Thank you, John McClane

An action film done right

Unusually busy this week, including initial prepping for a potentially huge project, so not much progress on the rewrite front.  I also feel like I’ve been ignoring LUCY, so I brought the trusty notepad to last night’s hockey practice in an effort to see what I could come up with.

I’m up to around the page 75 mark, and need to get to the end of Act Two.  The action and stakes have to be ramped up, and just about everything in that part of the initial outline wasn’t going to work.  Simply put, I’m starting over.  Sometimes that can be good and inspirational, but looking at that blank page didn’t help.

My good guys need to reconnect with the bad guys. The situation has to be progressively harder for them, with the title character driving things forward.  But how to make this happen?  Ding! The light bulb appears.  Pick ’em off, one by one, leading to the showdown in Act Three! That’s it! Wooo! And what better an example of this than DIE HARD?

*Side note – you gotta admit it’s incredibly cool that DIE HARD is now considered a Christmas classic, right up there with A CHRISTMAS STORY and IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE.  No holiday season should be without watching it.

While there have been numerous copies, some done right, some not, this is a great blueprint to follow for a solidly-constructed action story.  Hard to find any big flaws in it.

For an entertaining analysis/review, click here.

Now that I have an idea of how to move ahead, I can work out the details of how to break up each sequence into 2-3 scenes per scenario, all of which will lead into the “all is lost” moment at the end of Act Two.  I still have a few gaps to fill, but confidence is running high.

Gotta tell ya – feels pretty good to overcome a seemingly insurmountable obstacle.

Stop thinking and write!

proof that a script is like a blueprint; everything has to fit perfectly

A very interesting thing happened during the first scene of the rewrite of the second half of DREAMSHIP.  I got about halfway through when I realized my hero was just sitting there, doing nothing.  And that ain’t right!  He’s supposed to be the one driving the action, pushing the story ahead.  Fortunately, it’s easily fixed.  But it got me thinking.

Since finishing the first half rewrite, I’m more careful going into each scene.  You could even call it overthinking. Does this scene advance the story, theme and character? (A cardinal but often-ignored rule for screenwriting)  Does it follow the one before it and lead to the one after it?  If I take it out, will it impact the rest of the story?  I also realize taking the time to analyze each scene with such intense scrutiny will slow me down.  The feeling of getting stuff done will vanish.

In some ways, just storming ahead seems like a great way to go.  But then there’s the whole issue of going back and fixing things.  But if I apply the proverbial fine-tooth comb, then it won’t be fun.  And will take longer than I’d like.

I think rather than move ahead on pages, I’ll go through the outline and edit accordingly, thereby saving valuable time during the page-writing period as well as trimming some fat from the story.

-I’ve read some of the scripts from the 2011 Black List. So far, not too impressive.  I liked the 2010 selections much better.

-Movie of the Moment – 9 (2009). A really interesting animated film that came and went from theaters pretty quickly.  I can see why.  Set in a post-apocalyptic world, a band of foot-high dolls struggles to survive.  This is probably not the best way to describe it, but it’s all I can think of.

While the story is a little unusual, I thought it was a great take on the genre.  Really clever use of the animation and each doll had a distinct personality and appearance that made it easy to distinguish one from another.

My only complaints:  a slightly confusing resolution to the main conflict, and a lot of back-and-forth in terms of moving the story forward.  I think the main character said “We have to go  back!” at least twice.  It’s never explained how the dolls function, but in the end doesn’t really matter.

I didn’t realize this was based on a ten-minute short, which was included on the DVD, but I didn’t get a chance to watch it.  Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov were among the producers, and it’s easy to see the influence of each.

A mini-saga in editing

A little bubbly for a little milestone

In only a little less than four hours, I managed to complete a pretty strong rewrite of the first half of DREAMSHIP.  Even better, I was able to cut enough to take it from 62 pages to 55, which is much more acceptable.

Being able to really trim the fat not only helps the script flow better, but also improves your writing.  The more you can say with fewer words, the better.

It was surprisingly easier than expected to manipulate the scenes to get the most out of them.  Maybe it was drastically cutting whatever wasn’t needed, or finding a way to cut a scene by half, or combining two scenes into one.  No matter what was needed, I did it.  This included cutting a line I absolutely loved, but it had to go.  Besides, I can always use it later.

I especially liked getting rid of a drawn-out sequence that was too similar to something earlier in the story and reworking it so it was shorter, different and made my protagonist be more active and help drive the action.  Good things all.

But that’s enough high self-praise. Time to move on to the second half.  If I can be as strategic in the initial writing phase as I  am in the later editing, AND I can do a healthy output of pages per day/week, then this thing will be ready to go sooner than anticipated.

No complaints.

-I haven’t been able to read many scripts lately, especially those from the Black List.  For the most part, I’ve been underwhelmed by a lot of this year’s selections, and ScriptShadow has been covering a lot of them.  I’ll go over the list again and see if anything catches my eye.  Any suggestions?

Behold the all-powerful red pencil of doom!

All part of the process...

Exaggerate?  Me?

Well, maybe a little.

I’ve been editing a hard copy of the first half of DREAMSHIP, and it’s so much easier than doing it on the laptop. Actually seeing what’s being cut, changed or moved around makes a really big difference.

And as predicted, at least one scene was completely cut, another was drastically shortened (necessarily so), and a majority have been tweaked in some manner.  And I’m only up to page 24.

Sometimes while I’m out on a run, even though I’m listening to podcasts, I’ll still go over the story in my head.  It’s actually quite helpful. I came up with the solution to two small subplot problems, but now need to figure out how to work them in in an effective, organic manner.

Fun stuff, believe you me.

Movie of the Moment – TANK GIRL (1995). Imagine a mega-hyperactive 5-year-old dressed in a punk rock thrift store wardrobe and armed with souped-up military hardware, then set it in the desert. That’s this movie.  I think it was part of the mid-90s “let’s snatch up a semi-obscure comic book property and turn it into a movie!” mindset.

I’ve never read the comic, but this felt like they were trying too hard.  It wasn’t a slog to get through, but it wasn’t fun either.

Less really IS more

This scene consists of TWO short, spot-on lines of dialogue

It’s always recommended that when you finish a script, you should put it in a drawer and not look at it again for at least two weeks. That way you can look at it with fresh eyes.

That’s what happened with the LUCY outline. Since I’ve been so pre-occupied with the DREAMSHIP rewrite, I haven’t looked at it since around Halloween.

I thought I had to get to a certain plot point in Act Two, but I’d forgotten I already had. A pleasant surprise, and it just needs a little tweaking.  Nice.

Then I read the rest of Act Two.


What was I thinking?  Way too overwritten.  It drags, taking forever to get to where I want/need it to be.  A lot of unnecessary scenes.  And worst of all – my protagonist isn’t driving the action.

Strictly amateur hour.

I now see this as a challenge and opportunity to not only make some major fixes in this section of the story, but to do a massive overhaul in terms of editing and trimming the whole thing down.  If I can cut something and it doesn’t impact the story, then it shouldn’t have been in there in the first place.

This will also have to happen with DREAMSHIP. My midpoint’s on page 60, and that’s around 5-10 pages too many.

Time to get creative and kill some darlings.