Monthly Archives: March 2017

Using my Magnum voice

One of the problems with writing a film script is the length of time it takes to write/produce versus the length of time it takes to read/watch.*

A script of 110 pages may take an hour/hour and a half to read# but it probably took the best part of a year to write from spark of conception to final draft. Sometimes longer. I have a script due to go into production which began life in 2009 or maybe even 2008. The first six months was an intense period of rewriting and thrashing things out. Everything since then has been periodic rewrites to accommodate various cast members as they get attached or to please an array of investors/producers/whims as they appear and disappear.

Coming back to a script after a couple of years of not thinking about it is an enlightening and terrifying experience.

“Why did I think that was a good idea?”

After that long away from the page the script needs a thorough rereading before altering just to get a sense of how the new material will impact the old.

That seems fairly obvious, but what’s perhaps less obvious is the gap between writing FADE IN: and FADE OUT. on the first draft. That might be a few weeks or it might be a few months,~ either way it can sometimes be tricky to keep in mind what the characters are thinking and feeling at any given point. Even at the note card/treatment stage, when I’m finding my way through the story, I sometimes find characters doing things which don’t feel real given what just happened before. This can often lead to feedback such as:

“Hang on, they’ve just discovered the whole world’s under threat from this alien thingy and they’ve only got 24 hours to find a cure … so he pops off to buy some new shoes and she decides now’s the time to learn Greek?”

Written down like that it’s plainly nonsensical … but I won’t have experienced it in one short sentence. I’ll have had the various scenes on note cards and reshuffled them late in the day. Or cut and paste scenes from different parts of the script because they were in (a different) wrong place. Or inserted them in the second or third draft at the behest of the client because we’re getting development money from Clarks and … well, Greece I suppose.

Those scenes may have been written years apart and taken days to write, it’s only when they’re read in sequence do they seem stupid.

One way to combat this is to read through what I’ve written to date before beginning the day’s work … which is fine on page 20 but a ball ache on page 80. So a method I find myself applying more and more is what I like to call The Magnum Voice+.

You remember the bit, probably immediately following an ad break in America but often seemingly random in the UK-reduced-ad-version, when Magnum would narrate what’s just happened and how his little voice is feeling about it?

I do that.

Often whilst wearing my Magnum costume.

Sometimes I write it down, sometimes I just say it in my head, but in essence all I do is imagine the character narrating what’s been happening and how they feel.

“As soon as I found out the world was ending I decided to … “

Well, not learn Greek. Probably. Not unless the cure to the world-ending thing is written in Greek somewhere and even then it’s probably better to just go find a Greek to translate it for you.

“When I first heard the world was ending I was a bit upset … but then I remembered the money I owed in library fines and cheered up a bit. Feeling better, I decided to buy those shoes I’ve always wanted using a credit card because … eh, fuck it. Why not?”

Oh. I guess the shoe buying thing does make sense.

I find the Magnum Voice is particularly good at keeping track of emotions. It’s nice to remind myself of the shit I’ve been putting the character through because, whereas to me 30 pages ago was three weeks back, to the character it was only three hours ago. They’re probably still upset at that baboon eating their sister in front of them. Probably still quite a touchy subject and too soon for them to go to a fancy dress party dressed as a bonobo. And if they absolutely have to dress up then maybe having a little weep about it first would feel appropriate?

It’s not a universally useful tool, but then what tool is? Personally I like having a range of tools to fall back on and the Magnum Voice is one of my current favourites.

I can’t think of a snappy way to end this post, but I feel it’s gone on long enough … so here’s the Magnum soundtrack to fill your ears with awesomeness:


* I imagine novels have a similar problem, although having no experience in that realm I think I’ll just keep my fool mouth shut.

# I used to read a lot faster, bordering on speed reading … until I realised I was never doing a script justice. A script should be read at the speed you’d watch it so you appreciate the emotion properly. Or that’s what I think anyway.

~ Occasionally it’s been a few days … but that’s rarely a good idea and even rarer as necessary as the producer insists it is.

+ I know Magnum wasn’t the first show to do it, but to my mind it’s the most successful version of it. You may like to think of this as The Gold Monkey Voice or The Philip Marlowe Voice … knock yourself out.

Categories: My Way, Things I've Learnt Recently | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

2017 Shore Scripts Screenwriting Competitions

I’ve been asked to bring this to your attention:

Shore’s Feature, Short Script and TV Pilot contests offer you the opportunity to get your script read by the most respected industry Judges drawn from around the world; including 37 Oscar, Golden Globe, Emmy & Bafta winners, and 79 Prod Comps, Agents, and Managers.

With prizes including meetups in Hollywood with producers and agents, cash prizes, script consultancy and software, this year’s competition offers an unparalleled opportunity for new screenwriters to launch their careers.

Further details on submissions, deadlines, and more can be found at http://www.shorescripts.com/

Which I have now done. Feel free to go about your day.

Categories: Opportunity, Someone Else's Way | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Emotions first

 

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I have a nasty tendency when I’m plotting out a script to get too focused on the events. I work out what the beginning and end scenes are and then split the story into quarters, give each quarter a rough title and then start fleshing each quarter out with scenes.

The problem with this approach is it can sometimes leave me with cool sequences I’m very attached to which look great … but don’t really service the character’s journey. Because that’s what a film is: the protagonist’s journey, following along as they learn their most important, life changing lesson.

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No matter how big or blockbuster-y the film is, I want that emotional core. I want it to the story of one person learning and changing and growing (or dying and failing, that works too) … and I want that journey to be integral to the story. I don’t want the story to happen and then the character to suddenly change at the last moment or to change independently of the events. I want the events to alter her worldview, to shape and change how she feels until she’s forced to make a difficult transition which is the only way to meet the challenges of the film.

I don’t care if it’s a superhero film or a small-scale drama. Whatever the story-flesh is, I want it wrapped around a solid emotional-skeleton.

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The problem is, when I start with the flesh I end up with too many arms or not enough legs or a weird lumpy bit in the middle of the stomach which is soooooo cool … but has nothing to do with the main character’s turmoil at all.

So maybe, just maybe, the answer is to start with the emotions first?

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Maybe the way forward is to write down who she is at the beginning, who she has to be at the end and then divide the film up into segments which represent the emotional steps on that journey?

Maybe if I give each step a relevant name, let’s say I’m using the five stages of grief or something, then I know the sequences need to represent denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance*.

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Only when I know what the steps have to mean should I then work out what they actually are. I can construct the physical events of the story around those steps. So it’s not “She has to get the key to unlock the thing!” but “She needs to realise not all people are untrustworthy” and then figure out which bit of action best represents it. That way the emotional change is smooth, it happens gradually and every scene adds to the whole. Every scene can still be funny or cool or thrilling or whatever … but they have meaning, they contribute to the film instead of being diversions.

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Films tend to get written the other way round. Certainly whenever I get a rewrite job it’s usually because the original writer didn’t have (or couldn’t convey) a clear emotional journey, resulting in a script which has good bits in it … but none of those bits add up to anything satisfying. It’s really, really hard grafting an emotional skeleton on afterwards because, obviously, skeletons are meant to be on the inside, baked into the core of the story.

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It also means there’ll inevitably be that conversation with the client where they have a specific scene they’re in love with which has nothing to do with the story they’re trying to tell but looks sooooooo cool. Trying to persuade people they don’t need the thing they love most is never easy, but often the best options are cut it or tell a different story, one where that scene makes sense.

This is often most clear in action films, in the difference between a good action film where every fight scene and set piece changes the protagonist in some way and a bad one where shit just blows up for no reason.

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On the other hand, we all have favourite films where nothing makes any sense and the fact it’s just shit blowing up for no reason is what makes the film so great. So perhaps this emotion-first approach isn’t always needed?

Or maybe those films we love would be even better if there was some point to them?

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Maybe they’re good not because of the script (blasphemy – everything comes from the script!) but despite the script? Maybe it’s a mediocre script which has been acted, directed, edited, lit, dressed and scored well?

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I don’t know. I just know that for me starting with the emotional journey makes the script a lot less painful to write than starting with the physical one.


* You may be of the opinion that these five stages are bullshit. I may be of the opinion you’re right, I may not. Doesn’t matter.

Categories: My Way, Things I've Learnt Recently | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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