I can see clearly now

Ahoy! Rewrite dead ahead!

This week’s installment of The Script Adventurer! featured an interview with the multi-talented Heather Hale.  She’s worked as a writer, a director, a producer and as a consultant, so she definitely knows her stuff. (Mark your calendars – the show re-plays Sunday at 7PM on radioslot.com)

I always like to know what key piece of advice a professional or working writer would offer to the rest of us.  A thought or phrase to jot down on an index card and attach to the wallspace in front of your working area.

Heather named two.

1. Clarity is king.

You may know your story inside and out, but if the person reading it can’t follow it or is confused as to what’s going on, then you’ve got a problem.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve got the most brilliant concept ever.  The plot and story have to be clear so anybody can pick up the script and know exactly what’s going on.

It’s up to the writer to make their story as easy to follow and comprehend as possible, or else the reader/audience will get lost in the story, and not in the good way.

2. The reader is never wrong.

You think your script is perfect. The reader knows better. It’s their job to go over it with a fine-tooth comb and look for flaws.  And unless you’ve attacked that script from every conceivable angle, fixing any potential problem you can think of, they will find them.

The reader really does want to like your script, but if you give them any reason to say no, there’s no reason to be bitter about it.  They know what they’re talking about.  Look at this as an opportunity to make your script better or stronger than it was before.

-Movie of the Moment: Three over three days!  It’s been a long time since I’ve done that, and two were actually in theatres. Wow!

THE HUNGER GAMES (2012). I read the book last month, so it was pretty fresh in my mind. I liked it, although it could have been a little shorter. I can appreciate a strong female protagonist, and it’s easy to see why Katniss has caught on.  She’s tough and doesn’t give up.  Congrats to Jennifer Lawrence for doing a solid job in the lead.

I also really enjoyed Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman, the blue-coiffed TV personality with perfect teeth. A great accomplishment in casting.

My only complaint – Katniss doesn’t always drive the action forward. She’s more reactive than active in some scenes.

-THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETY (2010). Another animated gem from Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, based on the classic books THE BORROWERS.  A recurring theme in a lot of their films is the main character’s coming of age. And this one is no exception. If it weren’t for 3 of the characters being 3 inches tall, this could easily pass as a stage production. Good for all ages.

-RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2011). Smart and well-written. Easy to see why this was a surprise hit last summer. Especially fun if you’re familiar with the original films. K made an interesting point in that you’re rooting for the apes to win, which would mean the eventual downfall of humanity.  Count me in the camp of those who think Andy Serkis should have gotten some kind of recognition for his mocap work as Caesar.

Yet another burst of inspiration

I don’t know how other writers do it, but when I start a story, I come up with the basic plot and see what theme works with it.

When I started LUCY, I didn’t have one.  I worked on the story, but couldn’t figure out a strong-enough theme.

I settled on one I thought worked.  At the time, it seemed okay.  But it didn’t fit.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but going off to V’s hockey tournament two weeks ago was exactly the break I needed.  It’s remarkable what a few days of watching 8-year-olds skate their hearts out can do to one’s creative batteries.

So when I sat back down to work on the outline, something was different.

Not only was I able to get through a creative block, but on a whim, I changed my one-word theme.  And it really clicked.

Boy, did it.

Even better, it works with a lot of the scenes I already had.

So today I wanted to see if I could keep the creativity flowing for the second half of the first half of Act Two.  I worked on expanding the ideas I came up with yesterday.  In each scene, I would ask “what’s the worst that can happen, and will it ask the central question of the story?”  That helped a lot.

Right now, I’m in the middle of a necessary sequence, and hopefully tomorrow can get to the end of it.  Working the midday shift has a better chance of yielding success.

If I can keep up this kind of progress, I’m hoping to be done with an outline I like by the end of February.  Later than I originally hoped, but the point is: IT WILL BE DONE!

And then the real fun begins.

Movie of the Moment: THE LOSERS, which I completely forgot was based on a DC/Vertigo comic.  Overall, it was a lot of fun with some really predictable moments (I saw the smoldering teddy bear a mile away).  It definitely had some good parts, but sometimes the cheese got a little overwhelming.  Glad I didn’t pay to see it.  My biggest complaint: Jason Patric as the bad guy. Either he was really playing up the camp or the only one not taking it seriously.

Since V is on her Miyazaki kick right now, tonight’s feature was MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO.  I’d seen it a long time ago, but couldn’t really remember anything about it.

It’s yet another charmer, full of warm-fuzzy moments.  Watch it with your kids.   And explain to them that, yes, Japanese families take baths together.

Lastly, it really too much to ask for Netflix to be a little more vigilant about scratched-up discs?  We missed about 12 minutes out of the whole thing because it would freeze, and then jump ahead.

V still loved it.

Cowboys and soldiers are MY kind of crap

Through some miracle unbeknownst to me, my Adobe reader at work was up and running, so I was able to read through Patrick Sweeney’s GHOST TRAIN.  Due to time constraints, I got halfway through, then finished it at home.  I want to read it again because I’ve got some questions that a second read may answer.  Comments will be posted Monday.

In the meantime…

K is out of town for the week, so while it may mean the usual readjusting of child care and a slightly different menu (my dishes tend to run simpler when it’s just me and V), it also means I tear through the stuff I put on Netflix I know she won’t watch.

Which usually means westerns, WWII flicks and cheesy recent releases.  Not so much of the first two categories this week, but some of the stuff I’ll be watching over the next few days includes: GI JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA (which looks really, really stupid, but I can’t help myself), THE LOSERS (mixed reviews), and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (I read the book, but don’t have any desire to see the upcoming American remake).

I regret not being able to do much with LUCY this weekend, but this whole parenting thing is quite time-consuming.

Speaking of which, V got HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON for Hanukkah.  She loved it when we saw it in the theatres, but I think I’m more interested in watching it again than she is.  Which is okay.

She’s really into Miyazaki films lately.  HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE. KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE.  She wants to see MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO.  Tonight’s feature is CASTLE IN THE SKY.  I saw it when she was really little, but don’t mind having it in the house again.

I don’t know which is more fun to watch.  The movies or her reaction to watching them.

Someday she may even want to watch STEAMBOY, which is just wicked cool.  It was made by Katsuhiro Otomo, the same guy who did AKIRA.  While AKIRA is cool to look at, the story just gets too confusing.  At least for me.

What’s playing at your place?

My work is cut out for me

Due to heavy rainfall on Christmas Day, this poor little Jewish traffic reporter was swamped with work (no pun intended) on Saturday, so I got absolutely nothing done on the outline.

Sunday was sunny and much quieter, so I was able to do a little bit.

My plan was to keep moving forward today while doing afternoon drive (check it out! I’m on NPR! Well, the local affiliate anyway).  But I also felt bad about having downloaded those script from the Black List and not read any, so I checked out THE 13th MAN, a WW2-era thriller about an Army comic book nerd who helps crack a case regarding Nazi agents on American soil.  All music to my ears.

Wow.  This thing is just amazing.  Incredibly well-written.  A genuine page-turner.  Phenomenal story-telling.  My only two gripes: keeping track of some of the G-men characters, and a clever plot twist at the end.  While I did like the twist, and realize it does help hold the rest of the story together, would it all work if that whole subplot didn’t exist?  Maybe.  But I’m not the writer, so I can’t really say.

I’d give it a definite 9 out of 10.  Maybe 9.5.  I only hope the other 10 scripts I’ve got lined up are as entertaining.

One of the things screenwriters always hear is to not just write your own script, but read others.  It’s one thing to read the script for a film that’s been made, or an old favorite.  But reading an unproduced script that is actually circulating around Hollywood, or maybe won some competition(s) really helps open your eyes and shows you what works, while also showing how you could improve your own.

A common occurrence in THE 13TH MAN is that the hero not only repeatedly finds himself in a conflict, that conflict keeps building, and then builds some more, and then even more.  It keeps getting worse, and he has to keep changing how he tackles the problem.  He doesn’t always come out on top, because that would be boring.  But each conflict he survives helps lead into the next one, or maybe has the big payoff thirty, fifty or seventy-five pages later.

I’d love to know how long it took Enio Rigolin from start to finish.  It only got 9 mentions on The Black List, which is a shame.  Then again, I really like this sort of thing, so I’m biased.

Hopefully I’ll be able to support this argument after reading a few more of the Black List scripts, but if Hollywood made more smart, well-written films out of these scripts, the industry would be so much better off.  Treat your audience like intelligent adults!  You’d be surprised how rewarding it can be.  Once they get a taste of it, they’ll want more.  At least I would.

One last thing.  If I were in charge of casting for THE 13TH MAN, the first name crossed off my list for the lead would be Shia LaBeouf.  He may look like the ideal nerdy soldier, but I still have issues with him as the son of Indiana Jones.

Besides, they should have used Frank Darabont’s script for that one in the first place, but that’s another post.

Movie of the Moment: KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE. My first exposure to Miyazaki from way back, and now it’s part of our family library. Utterly charming and just plain fun to watch for grown-ups and kids; the American cast does a good job, but sometimes the original Japanese with subtitles is equally enjoyable.  Most important: V loves it, which is quite reassuring.

My suggestion: If the European element appeals to you, I highly suggest STEAMBOY, Otomo’s underrated follow-up to AKIRA.

If only I could bottle this…

I’m feeling pretty positive about things.  I’ve missed feeling this way.  Hopefully, it will last.  And even better, I can apply it to when I sit my lazy ass down and write.

About that…

I didn’t get a whole lot of writing done today.  Let’s be honest.  I got none done.  But I was thinking about it a lot.  And that does count for something.

I also started a new level of job search.  It was nice.  I don’t know what kind of chances I have, but it’s still exciting on a few levels.

Part of this involves becoming a part of LinkedIn, which seems like Facebook for working folks.  A lot more business-oriented material and not much personal.  Which I guess makes it more like a Bizarro Facebook.  Which would be a cool name for it, but I suppose not very professional.

There are a lot of people on it I wouldn’t have expected, such as people in the film industry.  Cool.

One of them, as discovered by K last night, is the former entertainment attorney I knew a few years ago in LA.  The last I heard from him he had left his law practice to teach (I think).  But apparently he now lists himself as a writing consultant.  Hmm.  How did that come about?

I joined a group for screenwriters and radio people.  I’m curious to see what develops out of those.

But getting back to the writing…

In theory, I’ve got time tomorrow to not only work on the job stuff, but also to finally crack down and work on a script.  Or at least pages.

As much as I’d like to finish BABY LIKES JAZZ, part of me wants to move on and start something new.  There’s the monster script, the mystery-comedy.  Both sound like they would be fun to write.  BABY almost sounds…tedious.

But it would seem almost foolish to stop, especially after having spent so much time on it.  I think my challenge is to make it fun to write.  It’s a comedy, for crying out loud!  Which leads to another challenge:  make it funny.  Which is hard.

It’s very important to me to get back into a groove of writing on a daily basis.  I feel like I’m really close to making some kind of breakthrough, and even getting a little writing done each day will help.  I suspect it will also be good for my self-confidence.

And I can use as much of that as I can get.

Movie of the Moment:  I watched HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE with V yesterday.  I’m always up to watch Miyazaki.  V, of course, was not interested at first, but within 5 minutes was completely hooked.  As I suspected.  Even better, there wasn’t much to explain to her.  That really is part of the charm of his work – each story is so universal that it doesn’t matter that it’s so influenced by Japanese culture.

We’ve talked about getting KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE and watching it in Japanese.  While I don’t know how effective that will be, it’s still fun to do.

And although she’d probably enjoy STEAMBOY, I think AKIRA is a little too much.

Make that a lot too much.