The Family – Trailer Talk

First attempt at a new feature. I take a trailer, strip it to its core elements, and see what’s there. Simple.

The Family

Director: Luc Besson
Starring: Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones
Tagline: Some call it organized crime. Others call it family.

The Pitch

A family escaping from a bigger family (the mob). Exotic locales, Americans living out stereotypes, Deniro getting violent. Explosions!

The Hook

We’ve got Robert Deniro, the Rolling Stones, and hip 70s clothes.

"Laugh it up future, these clothes will always be awesome."

“Laugh it up future, these clothes will always be awesome.”

But that’s not all! We’ve also got italian-ish character actors:

Actual name: Chad Smith

Actual name: Chad Smith

Continue reading →

Writing Tools – Drafts for iOS

Starring 1980s Bruce Willis.

It can’t lose.

The need: To very quickly get an idea out of my head and onto my phone/device.

The problem: Carrying around paper and pen doesn’t always work. It’s an extra thing for my pockets, my handwriting is atrocious, and I’d often forget to transcribe it to digital form later.

The solution: Drafts from Agile Tortoise (a software company, not a ninja turtle).

Why it works: Tap on it and it loads to a fresh document in under a second. No waiting. No selecting “new document”, no navigating to the correct notebook in Evernote, no fumbling around trying to email yourself while your idea floats away, never to be seen again.

Why it’s awesome: It’s more than just quick note-taking. It’s all about shuttling those ideas quickly too. Say you want to send that note as a txt to a friend? No problem, it’s built in. Or as an email to yourself? Easy. Or post it to twitter, Facebook and Google Plus all at the same time? Doable.

This is all possible because Drafts has a ton of built-in actions you can use to get your ideas other places. When you have time, after your idea is safely in digital form, it’s time to sort through things. Just tap the share icon and…

First in the alphabet, first in your hearts.

First in the alphabet, first in your hearts.

With one more tap, I can send it to append an already existing Evernote note, create a new note based on the date/title/whatever, email it to myself, post to twitter, etc. Super convenient. No more copy/pasting (which no one likes to do on a mobile device).

I find it incredibly useful, perhaps you will to. Here’s the iTunes link for your convenience (it’s $2.99). Oh, and just because I’m a nerd, here are the icon alternatives I came up with (because the only thing I don’t like about it so far is the somewhat drab icon). Enjoy.

Mmm, paper textures

Mmm, paper textures

Beverly Hills Cop 1 – Action Sequences

Beverly Hills Cop PosterIf you want to write films, you must read scripts and watch movies. Simple. With that in mind, I sat down to watch Beverly Hills Cop (probably for the 7th or 8th time) for just one purpose. Let’s call it a Single Purpose Viewing (SPV). That purpose? How the action scenes moved the story along.

I’ve read that one of the many cardinal sins of action films is that the action sequences (you know, those things from the trailer that got you to buy a ticket) only exist to show action. They don’t actually advance the plot, develop the characters, or do anything for the story. If you took them out of the film, the story would still make perfect sense.

Since I’m in the process of outlining an action-comedy, I want to do it right. That’s where Eddie Murphy and Beverly Hills Cop fits in.

Our fast talking hero is introduced in the back of a truck full of illegal cigarrettes. He’s a quick talker that doesn’t want to be ripped off. Quickly it transforms into a chase with crashes, an explosion, and cop cars wrecked wrapped around lightpoles. Not exactly what he’d planned.

At the end of the chase, the line: “Foley, we shoulda known it was you.” is uttered. It’s the first time his name is mentioned. Now we know:
1) He’s viewed as a screwup.
2) He takes risks.
3) His schemes get out of hand.
4) He probably has disregard for the rules.
This is all confirmed by the next scene with his boss.

The non-action scenes set things up, establish relationships, make the consequences of the action scenes matter. We see that he and his friend are true pals, so we’re saddened when he gets shot. This scene makes the entire movie happen, so there’s no possibility of it being inconsequential. It is brutal though. The henchman seems like he’ll let him go, only to shoot him in the back of the head. So now we feel, just a little bit more, Foley’s need for justice/revenge.

Foley visits his prime suspect, only to be thrown out of an office window by 6 guys. The absurdity of this happening (as opposed to someone opening the damned door instead) isn’t lost on anyone. Foley immediately comments on it. It also serves to get Foley together with our friends at the Bervely Hills Police Department. Now we have:
1) Added suspicion on the guy who tossed him out.
2) Connections with the local police.

Beverly Hills Cop doesn’t have a great number of major action sequences (the sequel packs them in a bit more). But the ones it does have serves their purpose. The strip joint robbery attempt may seem like a throway scene, but it does many things:
1) Establish that Foley is a good detective, observant.
2) Shows that Foley can be serious when required.
3) Foley is now respected by the Beverly Hills cops, instead of being seen as a fool.
Lessers movies could have done all of these things with dialogue or flashbacks, but the audience would much rather see them come to light with shotguns and bare breasts.

When Foley and his friend are captured (a quick reversal of fortunes), it’s up to Billy, the “nice guy cop” to step up. It gives him the responsibility, him the power. He steps up, showing that he’s grown and isn’t as beholden to the rules & regulations of his world. The student saves the teacher.

The final action sequence culminates in a grand shootout. The other Beverly Hills cops show up, crossing over that line that held them back previously (search warrants, telling the truth, etc.). They’ve overcome a handicap, of sorts, by helping Foley on his quest. It’s an interesting twist in which the protagonist doesn’t grow an awful lot, but his supporting characters come to see the wisdom in his choices instead.

Just to make this post 60% more 80’s, here’s the theme song for your enjoyment.

Lethal Weapon 2 – Script Review

Lethal Weapon 2 by Jeffrey Boam

Unknown Revision Script. April 1989 (with draft pages dating back to December 1988). 121 pages

Lethal Weapon 2The successful followup to the action comedy blockbuster that redefined the genre. Or, for those having trouble remembering all the sequels to movies from the 80s: Mel Gibson fights South Africans and an exploding toilet. See, now you remember.

The script for this film used to be online, but was removed (likely at Warner Bros’ request). So everyone online links back to the same broken page. Not be deterred, I located a physical copy of the script from a friendly library. This had the added benefit of being remarkably close to what we see in the finished film. The scenes are numbered and the sequences underlined (“Opening Chase” for example), so I’m betting this was the shooting script.

I sought out this particular script because 1) it’s a fun movie, 2) it’s a different writer’s take on someone else’s characters (although two other writer’s are credited for the story) and 3) I’m also writing an action comedy. What works? What doesn’t? How do they balance the comedy and the action? Does every action sequence serve a narrative purpose? How do the characters evolve from the previous film in the series? How different is this film while keeping some of the stuff that made it so popular in the first outting? That’s the mindset I went in with.

Read More about Lethal Weapon 2

When you start working on a story, the characters are like finger-puppets, and putting words into their mouths is a bit embarrassing, like you’re sitting at your desk waggling your hands at one another and making them speak in funny, squeaky voices. But once those characters ‘‘catch,’’ they become people, and writing them feels more like you’re recounting something that happened than something you’re making up.

Cory Doctorow

The Matrix – Script Review

The Matrix by Lana & Andy Wachowski

Numbered Shooting Script. 133 pages. Dated March 1998

matrix-posterThe action spectacular that needs no introduction (but let’s give it one anyway, just to be polite). A genre mashup that combines the color-shifted visual stylings of the Wachowskis and the gravity bending action sequences of a great anime. The reluctant hero, the thumping soundtrack, the bullet-time effect; The Matrix redefined action movies as we exited the 20th century. For anyone that wants to write action, reading this was a no-brainer. So, what do we get?

The PDF I read claims to be the shooting script. Comparing it to the final product, I believe it. The dialogue, the action, everything lines up perfectly with the theatrical release. Only one plotline was cut as far as I could tell (which we’ll get to later). Since the Wachowskis were writing AND directing the film, this isn’t a huge surprise. They had a clear vision and it shows on the page.

Right off the bat, the vivid descriptions stand out. Letters on a screen are “shimmering like green electric rivers.”

What green electric rivers might look like.

What green electric rivers might look like.

Read More about The Matrix

Candy Corn Oreos – The Ultimate Review

Candy corn is one of the most polarizing treats in existence. Want proof? You were either intrigued or repulsed after just reading the title of this post. There’s no middle ground. Sides taken, let the candy war begin.

Nowadays every treat has variations, flavors and holiday versions. From Mint Oreos to Caramel Irish Creme to Crystal Pepsi. Everyone likes to try out a twist on the original. That brings us here.

You had me at "Artificially Flavored Flavor Creme".

You had me at “Artificially Flavored Flavor Creme”.

Intrigued by this new abomination, and firmly in the “candy corn good” camp, I decided to conduct an experiment. Gather friends, coworkers, candy and an audio recorder. Compare the candies labeling themselves as candy corn flavored with the real deal. Simple.

Read More About CANDY CANDY CANDY

The New Blacklist

The Blacklist, for the uninitiated, is an annual cultivated list of Hollywood’s most liked screenplays. Industry insiders pick up to 10 scripts making the rounds that they really like, the Black List compiles the ones that get the most mentions and releases a list for everyone to peruse. Some notables you might recognize: Juno, 500 Days of Summer, In Bruges, Slumdog Millionaire, The Hangover.

Monday they revealed their game changer: aspiring screenwriters can submit their screenplays for review. $50 gets you an evaluation (if you get a low score, maybe the script wasn’t as ready as you thought it was). $25 a month gets your script into their database so that industry professionals (who can use the service for free) can search/sort by what they’re trying to make. For example, if someone is an executive for a company that makes low-mid budget crime dramas, they could narrow it down to the highest rated scripts that fit that criteria. Simple.

I’ll admit right now that my scripts are a long way from being ready to be submitted. And that’s ok. I’d rather have a great product that people can enjoy a year from now, then a half-assed one that no one is going to care about (and that will give me a less than stellar reputation). There have been a lot of thoughts online about this new service and what it means and whether it’s worth it (time will tell). Hell there’s even an interview with the Black List creator and an anonymous and bitter puppet. The commentary that caught my attention most was by Amanda over at Aspiring TV Writer:

I have always maintained that the path to being a professional film or TV writer is simple (though not easy): 1. write a great script, and 2. find someone important who likes it – and in my experience, most writers think that #2 is their problem when it’s actually #1.

Essentially, don’t worry about what to do with a script once you’re done, instead think more about if you’re done. Even if I never use the service, it’s helpful having this little reminder that it’s easier to get my script out there than it was just a few days ago. Accepting that the burden is on me to be excellent, not on some nameless executive to finally realize how brilliant I am, is quite a relief.

Music to Write To: Part 2

A few more tracks/albums that I find particularly useful to write to. Check out Part One for some additional recommendations. Enjoy.

Jóhann Jóhannsson – Englabörn

Melancholy electronic is the most apt genre I can fit this into. What other album has a depressed robot voice serenading you? You’ve probably heard at least one of his tracks on the Battle Los Angeles trailer. Beautiful and sad. Definitely not an album for a bright summer’s day.

Two Steps From Hell – Invincible

This album is for those epic scenes. Clashes between titans, blood and guts, triumph and defeat. Heavy on chanting, drums and rising and falling. This album pumps you up, readying you for the fight ahead. Touches of Gladiator and maybe a hint of Batman for good measure. Probably not that useful for dialogue heavy scenes or romantic comedies. Unless your rom-com has battle sequences. In which case, can I read it?

Zoë Keating – One Cello x 16: Natoma

Sometimes it’s just an instrument that pulls you in. The high and sharp tones of a flute. The waver of a trumpet. With Zoe Keating, it’s the cello. The hypnotic strings vibrating across your spine. This is for those contemplative stretches in your fiction. For when your character is on a journey and they don’t quite know where they’ll end up. And maybe, neither do you.

The Dragon & The Spider

I swear not everything I write about has to do with insects. Just this one. And, um, this other one. And possibly this.

The Setup: While exploring the many square feet of my backyard, I nearly run into a spiderweb at eye level. This is a common occurrence. I can be seen, on the regular, walking with my arms flailing about in front of me as I make my way around the property. Dog paddling in the air. It’s dignified.
Just as I spot this particular web and stopped, a dragonfly fails to see it and became entangled. Its wings flap furiously but it is unable to break free. It looked a little bit like this:

Ok, it looked exactly like that.

Dramatic, but I chose to take no sides in this battle of arachnid vs flying insect. After a short consultation with my significant other, I learned that was the wrong choice. So back outside I went to save the less creepy insect from his new role as supper. Hooray!

Upon my return to the scene of the crime the dragonfly was still as frustrated as ever. Don’t worry buddy, the highly advanced human is here to help. Snip. One of the 3 anchors of the web cut. Snip, there goes another. Now it’s just the dragonfly dangling from the top of the garage, just out of reach. I’ll need a longer stick to knock it down. Of course, just as I’m searching the ground, looking for the perfect stick to finish my journey and become Sean, insect savior, something else happens: WE HAVE A NEW CHALLENGER.
The owner of the once effective spider web before me is descending down the remaining thread. Rapidly.
Shit.
I move faster, looking for a stick to cut off that last strand. The dragonfly notices the spider too and tries again to break free. I finally find a small branch on the ground, lift it up and throw it at the tiny target. And miss.

The spider, about the size of a silver dollar, compact hairy and dark, reaches the dragonfly. It does what everyone does when a spider lands on you: it flips its shit. Wings beating at an incredible speed, the dragonfly makes a last ditch effort to avoid being eaten.  The web rocks back and forth. SLAM. The vibrations jostle the spider loose, knocking it to the ground. It lays motionless where it fell. The dragonfly does a small “take that” flap of its wings and relaxes.

Ok, wow. This bug has earned it now. I grab the scrubber from the bbq brush and cut the dragon free. It celebrates its freedom by dropping to the ground like a rock. A foot away from the unmoving body of the spider.
So it seems that having wings covered in spiderwebs doesn’t make for an easy getaway. Unfortunately, I have no idea how to clean a bug’s wings without accidentally snapping them off (and I doubt the dragonfly would voluntarily let me give it a bath). So I go inside for a consult.

Long story even longer, guests arrived, hugs, conversation, yadda yadda. 15 minutes later I go back, fully intent to spritz the dragonfly with a gentle setting from the hose. Because every problem can be solved with high-pressure water. When I go back outside, I don’t hear any wings flapping. In fact, I don’t see the dragonfly anywhere. Curious. I keep looking. I also don’t see the spider (who I had presumed deceased) either. Oh.

So I guess what I’m saying is: Don’t get involved in the affairs of insects. It’s trouble. Hell, maybe the spider learned the errors of its predatory ways, made up with the dragonfly, and they eloped to an island to live in sin (the dragonfly barely above the waves, the spider on his back, his hair blowing in the wind). Or they both went to their corners, called it a day and moved on.
Or a bird came along and ate them both.

First Script – Debrief Part I – Getting Started

The Process

I wrote this script as part of an online course at the local city college. I got to be taught by a professional, on a flexible schedule, with deadlines that forced me to write consistently. Perfect. I realized I needed a kick in the pants to actually take my story somewhere beyond the one paragraph introduction that sat on my computer for years. That’s an important detail: know what you need in order to get something done. Structure, guidance, encouragement, etc. Work within that framework until the momentum takes you from idea to idea, script to script, job to job. Just getting into (and finding) that groove at the start was the hardest part for me. Of course, your mileage may vary.

Here’s the typical flow for an idea to become a beautiful butterfly of a script:
Brainstorm –> Logline –> Summary –> Outline –> Screenplay
This is a combination of my own process over the years (writing nonsense) and tools learned in the screenwriting classes I’ve taken (all 2 of them). I should also point out that I have a degree in Film Studies, so some of the language/structure/flow came more naturally to me than my classmates for these courses.
The only deviation this particular script took was that it started out as a book for the NanoWriMo competition. I didn’t get far (only a few paragraphs really) and that’s where it stayed for years.

Read More about my process