Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Tangible Goal

I am struggling with a screenplay.

It's an interesting situation. I was originally asked to write a short screenplay but it wound up being forty pages long --- too long for a short and too short for a feature. The director-producer and I were really happy with it and, after letting it stew for a few months, we decided to expand it into a feature.

Easy, right? Wrong. I was once in contact with a director whose film I had just given a bad review. I worked up my nerve and told him that it seemed like he had taken a five minute short and tried to expand it into a feature. He told me that he had taken a five minute short and tried to expand it into a feature.

Short films can play by their own rules and, among those rules is not necessarily adhering to the rules of structure that most feature length films tend to follow.

So, it's been a challenge to take this screenplay that was structured one way and rewrite it so that it is structured another way --- without changing the story.

I e-mailed the director last night:
I am really throwing up bricks when it comes to fixing the story. If you have any ideas, feel free to run them by me.
Here are some issues to consider---
_____ needs some flaws, a shortcoming that we recognize when we see him for the first time.

The end of the film should reflect the beginning of the film ie. in the beginning of "The King's Speech" he second in line to the throne, not expected to ever be kind and is afraid to give a speech because of his stuttering. At the end of the film he has become king, overcome his stutter and now has the confidence to give a speech to his subjects.

Brian has to have a tangible goal, something that he is trying to achieve --- not just the respect of his parents. He might or might not get that goal and get something more important in the end but there has to be this thing that he is chasing --- ie. Peter Parker in "Spiderman." He's chasing after Mary-Jane and, in the end, realizes that his destiny as a hero is more important than his personal life.

He got back to me:
I actually think we already have his tangible goal. I think his tangible goal is respect....

Sure, we all want respect but, in terms of plot points, act breaks and character arc it still wasn't working for me so I put the question to my screenwriter's group on Facebook:

QUESTION: is respect a valid goal for the protagonist? My director says "yes" but I think the character needs a more tangible goal. Think "Rocky" in which the protagonist wants respect but he has the title bout to shoot for, the thing that will earn him respect. Any thoughts?

And I got some responses:

Yes, David. You need to make this goal more tangible, respect has to be symbolized by something specific, otherwise, how do we know that it is achieved?

and also:

Yes, you're right. Rocky had an inner goal and an outer goal. Outer goal was to win the title, the inner goal was to gain respect. What is the outer goal your protagonist is after? In Tootsie, Dustin Hoffman's outer need is to become a working actor so he can earn enough money to direct his friends play . His inner need is to become less selfish and in so doing, become a better man.

I shared those responses with the director and he responded:

I agree with both responses, but I feel like we already have that in the script and they are both the same thing. His inner goal is to be taken seriously, his outer goal is to ____ that doesn’t require him to ____, to be appreciated for his ability and not _____.

To me those goal are pretty clear. As the writer, I wouldn’t focus on changing those goal, I’d focus on making more a distinction about those goal.

Once again, I am reminded of the loneliness of the writer, how it really is all on me but I am encouraged to know that I can always reach out and get help when I need it.

The goal: finish the screenplay.
The obstacle: the plot doesn't fit into the structure.
The solution: realize that even, though I am the only writer on this project, I don't have to do it alone.

So, I finished a screenplay today, turned it and, tomorrow, I get back to work on the second draft of the screenplay mentioned above.

I think I can do it.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Hollywood Creative Directory

A former student of mine messaged me the other day and wanted to know if I think that the Hollywood Creative Directory is a scam.

No, it's not a scam, it's pretty legit and I think I even bought the hard copy way back in the day. What it is, however, is just a list of people and places you can contact with no guarantee of ever getting a response. I have heard stories (legends?) of writers getting their script to the "right person" via the HCD but they are far and few between.

While on the subject of "back in the day", back during the indie film boom of the late 80's-early 90's, I really studied the "path to success" that many films/filmmakers had taken -- Spike Lee (won the student Academy Award with his grad. school thesis film, opened some doors, not many but he raised the $175,000 to make "She's Gotta..."), Steven Soderbergh (nominated for a Grammy for a music video, which opened the doors that led to "Sex, Lies & Videotape") and so on, many stories like that, filmmakers who seem to come out of nowhere but really do have some industry credibility behind them. Of course, things are a lot different today.

The (rocky, hard to follow) path that I have been taking has been something like "put yourself 'out there' as a screenwriter, write anything for anyone for anything, even nothing, hope that it gets made, distributed, successful and brings you some industry attention."

So, I have a couple of original screenplays sitting around and I scour the classified ads (craigslist Philly, NYC and L.A.; to see if anyone is looking for anything resembling something that I have. Just last week, I answered an ad and they got back to me, interested in an almost 20 year old screenplay.

I think I have given up on sending things out to companies unless I know that they are looking for something --- that what I have is what they are looking for. Also, most of my work these days is "for hire", someone asking me to write a screenplay about XYZ for them. I haven't written an original feature length screenplay based on my own idea since 2005 -- not that I haven't wanted to.

That's not to say that I do not contribute to the story on most of the screenplays that I get asked to write. Much of the time, a producer and/or director will give me a shopping list of elements that they want to see in their film ---
"it has to have a sequence in China, organized crime and a chase with a helicopter."
"it's an Indian guy and an American woman, they're both living lies, caught up in intrigue, on the run from people but the emphasis is on the relationship, not the specifics of what they are on the run from -- an action film with only a little action."
"it takes place in Austin, Texas in 1987"

--- and then, I take it from there.

I know that I'm not in Hollywood but maybe I should be in the Hollywood Creative Directory.