Guaranteed to last forever

And it all starts with this guy
Something just a little different and of a somewhat personal nature today.

In the summer of 1982, I went to see Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

With my dad.

At a night-time show (probably the 7:30 one).

As a thunderstorm raged outside (typical south Jersey summer weather conditions).

It was a great night.

All of these elements combined to make what was one of the most memorable times I’ve ever had at the movies. What made it that way? I can’t say specifically, but it just was.

It’s still something I will truly never forget. If I ever get to meet Nicholas Meyer, I’ll make a point of telling him that.

Maybe someday a dad and his son or daughter will go to see a movie I wrote, and that child will experience the same sensation I did: the creation of a memory they cherish for the rest of their life.

(Whether or not they tell me about it in their adult years is beside the point, but I wouldn’t object.)

What writer wouldn’t want to have their work be the basis for something like that?

And now I’m a dad who enjoys going to the movies with my child. Could history repeat itself and we see a movie, and we have a great time, and it’s something she’ll remember for the rest of her life?

So far, it hasn’t happened yet (as far as I know).

But it sure is fun to keep trying.

The silver lining of a bad movie

A definitive shining example (AND a prime candidate for a remake)

Since the screenwriter’s education is ongoing, there’s always something for you to work with or study to get a better grasp and understanding of what constitutes good writing, which can then be applied to your own.

Read scripts. Attend or take part in a table read. Watch movies.

While there are countless examples of exemplary writing and filmmaking to see it done properly and effectively, there are even more examples of crappy writing and lousy filmmaking to see it done poorly and ineffectively.

Nobody starts out with the intention of making a bad movie. What starts out as a great script can easily be messed up along the way to the point that there’s no salvaging it. It happens.

Is watching one waste of time? Not necessarily.

As enjoyable, informative and educational as the good stuff is, the bad stuff is actually just as good, possibly even more so. Because from these cinematic travesties you can learn what not to do with your own scripts. Lessons abound with all the glorious misfires regarding story, characters, and dialogue.

Regrettably, bad acting is a category all by itself and there’s nothing that can be done about it. Do what you can to ignore it (which can border on the impossible, depending on the quality of badness) and focus on the non-tangibles.

It’s especially helpful to work with something from the same genre as your script. See how they did it, then compare it to your own. Can you see why theirs didn’t work? Is it riddled with plotholes you could drive a truck through? Is the dialogue pure on-the-nose? Do the characters come across as unrealistic caricatures?

Look at it as a whole. Does it respect the reader/audience’s intelligence? Is the structure solid? Do you care about what happens to these characters over the course of the story?

Now bring your script into the equation – and be objective! How much of a similarity or difference is there between that story and yours? Did that other material open your eyes to some previously unforeseen flaws and potential problems within your script, so much that it made you realize “this needs work”?

Once you identify these problems, your writer’s mind goes to work, figuring out how to make sure your script doesn’t repeat the mistakes you just read or watched.

It may not be easy to endure having to watch a bad movie just for the educational experience, so just keep reminding yourself “It’s to help me become a better writer”.

Good luck!

Question time! What’s your favorite bad movie? Feel free to list it in the comments.

Shakin’ things up so much it registers on the Richter Scale

richter scale
Brace yourself

I recently took part in a group conversation with some other writers, and naturally, the topic came around to “So what else are you working on?” I always enjoy this sort of thing. So many great ideas out there.

When it was my turn, I mentioned some of what’s been occupying my time, which included the Christmas-themed mystery-comedy.

“A Christmas mystery-comedy? What’s that about?”

I launched into my 30-second elevator pitch. “LA Confidential with an all-elf cast.” The seedy underbelly of the world of Santa’s workshop. Guns. Sassy dames. Tough-talking gangsters. Intrigue. Double-crossings. The whole gin-soaked ball of wax.

While most thought it sounded like a lot of fun, one person looked absolutely horrified.

“Oh no!” they exclaimed. “My kids and I love Christmas. It’s supposed to be sweet and wonderful! I can’t believe you’d want to write something like that.” (All that was missing was them sprawled on a fainting couch, claiming to have the vapors while frantically fanning themselves.)

How could I not want to write this? Sweet and wonderful doesn’t make for good storytelling. I love this kind of story, and think it would make a great script.

This person makes it sound like trying something new is a bad idea because it messes with the comfort of the familiar. Yet one of the most common tenets is “Familiar, but different.” A story you’ve seen before, but told in an entirely new way. It’s what we should all work towards.

Everybody’s looking for something truly original and unique. Why in the world would you want to write something that doesn’t offer up anything new?

Every script you write is a golden opportunity to push your creativity to the limit so you really catch ’em off-guard. You know the story you want to tell, but it’s on you to truly surprise your reader/audience. Take things in an entirely different direction. They may think they know what’s coming, but you know better and look forward to how they’re going to react.

No matter what genre your story falls into, there will be certain expectations that come with it. The challenge of every writer is to not just meet those expectations, but toss them out the window and offer up a totally new and unexpected way of telling that story. Some people may not like it, but it’s most likely they’re in the minority, and therefore not your target audience.

Think about it. What kind of script are you more likely to take notice of and remember? One that goes for new and original, or one that plays it safe with the tried, true and predictable?

I know which one I’d pick, and will be waiting over by the window for your answer.

The good bad of your antagonist

Few better examples than this guy

My original goal for February was to complete the second draft of the low-budget comedy. But as always, things didn’t go as planned.

I’d finished the initial edit, but then got hit with a nasty cold that put me out of commission for about a week, followed by all the activity involved with my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah (where she did a fantastic job), so writing-wise, things came to a screeching halt.

But we’re in a new month, so lots of new opportunities abound. Here’s hoping I can work this script into shape by the 31st.

I’d gotten some very helpful notes on it, the most notable of which was “Your antagonist is too nice. They need to be more at odds with the other characters.”

And they were right. Looking at it with fresh eyes, it’s easy to see how that observation rings true. During that read-through edit, I found at least three places where the character’s badness could definitely be ramped up, and expect more will be found over the course of this rewrite.

Sometimes I’ll even surprise myself by having the antagonist do something unexpected (in terms of behavior, not the story), especially if I personally find it very off-putting. But if it works within the context of the story AND further builds on the difference between them and the protagonist, all the better.

The challenge in writing a solid antagonist is really putting the emphasis on the “antagonize” part. What they want is most likely the opposite of what your protagonist wants, and they are determined to get it – possibly at all costs. To them, they’re the hero of the story, and your protagonist is what’s standing in their way.

I’ve always hated when I read a script and the antagonist is a stereotypical cookie-cutter villain who’s bad for no apparent reason, or because the story requires them to be. Why do they want what they want? I know what the hero wants, but what about them? Just because they’re the antagonist doesn’t mean there’s no story behind who they are.

So the next couple of weeks should be pretty interesting. There’s still a lot of work to do on this, but no doubt one of the high points will be the fun of coming up with ways to make my antagonist even more devious.

Because that’s the kind of character she is.