The Old Man and the Tree – Part 2

fallen tree

*If you missed part 1, start here!

“You’ve got to be goddamn kidding me,” He said.

Harker was in disbelief that the neighbor’s kid had brought along four others, all around his age. They were all worthless when it came to removing a tree the size of the one on Harker’s lawn.

“What do you kids want? I don’t have any Nintendos.”

The children looked at one another with confusion.

“We want to help you,” said Jhonny, who had returned with his friends. Jhonny wore black rubber boots that ran all the way past his knees. They were adult sized.

“Help me?” Said Harker, with a haughty laugh. “No thanks. I’d rather get rid of this tree on my own.”

“But you can’t,” said Jhonny. “It’s too big for one person.”

Harker’s eye caught hold of Gerri-anne as she walked by with her three dogs. She walked her three dogs every morning and always donned a white tennis jacket.

“Hello Harker, how are you?” she said with a wave.

“Good Gerri-anne, how are you?” said Harker.

She smirked and continued on her way.

He had met Gerri-anne a few years earlier, shortly after her husband had passed away. He was a son-of-a bitch and left her with nothing, spoiled their kids everything. Her kids never visited or called, he had heard. Still, Gerri-anne always kept in shape and managed to smile. Her lawn was a mess though, but that wasn’t really her fault.

Harker shook his head, then returned to Jhonny. “Well you’re too small to do any good,” said Harker. “This job requires men.”

“We’re men,” said Jhonny.

“Oh yeah?” said Harker. “Saw that trunk for me.”

Harker dropped the saw on the lawn and laughed.

“Let’s go Jhonny,” said the little boy with the blue cap, named Fred. “This guy’s a dick.”

The children turned around and started walking away as Harker laughed. Jhonny began walking with them, then stopped abrubtly. He returned and grabbed the saw, than began sawing.

“What the hell are you doing!” yelled Harker. He jumped and grabbed the saw away from Jhonny. “Don’t you see the edge on this thing? It’s too sharp and dangerous for you.”

“But you said-”

“Don’t put words in my mouth, son! Why don’t you go on with your friends and play paddleball or something?”

“Jhonny, c’mon!” said Fred. “He doesn’t want our help, he said it himself.”

“I’m staying,” responded Jhonny.

Jeremy, the biggest of the kids, wrapped his hands around his mouth and hollered: “Stop trying to replace your dad, Jhonny! He’s dead, and this guy’s more of a grandpa, anyway!”

The other children erupted with laughter as Jhonny gazed down at his rubber boots. He itched his eye and started walking away.

“Good luck,” he muttered to Harker, without bothering to face him.

Harker scratched the back of his head.

To be continued…

  • Thomas M. Watt
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The Old Man and the Tree – Part 1

fallen tree

Harker glared out his window at the fallen tree. It hadn’t moved for the past twenty years, then last night it had just decided to keel over. Now he had to clean it up.

Harker tugged a boot on with one hand on the kitchen chair.

“Stupid goddamn tree,” he muttered. “Why you were planted is beyond me.”

It took him thirty minutes to get his boots on. Harker threw on his fleece, than stared out the window again. He checked the cell phone that cost him an arm and a leg, than sighed and tossed it at his recliner.

Harker took with him a shovel and a wheelbarrel. He smeared the humid moisture from his forehead and groaned. He nudged the dead tree with his shovel.

“How the hell am I supposed to get rid of you… stupid goddamn tree.”

Harker turned around and headed for his backyard.

“Mister!” called someone.

Harker turned around. It was a little boy with a sharp smile and a stick of chalk.

“What?” Harker said.

“Want some help moving your tree?”

“From who?” Harker stuck his hand above his eyes like it were a visor, then squinted as he searched the street from one side to the other.

“Well… Me.”

Harker shook his head and turned around. He carried on toward his backyard muttering to himself. The child had no business trying to look courteous here. This tree was a serious problem, and the last thing Harker needed was some dumb kid making the job even more difficult.

That was how Dotty used to be. She’d always try to help Harker with his do-it-yourself projects, but would only ruin them. If he was toying with his engine, she’d beg him for a peek. The second he let her have a look, she’d break something. He’d turn, find a wrench in her hand, then ask her what the hell she was doing. And for some dumb reason her response would always trick him into laughing and forget all about the trouble she always caused.

But that was Dotty, and Dotty was dead. Now Harker was blessed enough to take on his do-it-yourself projects with nobody to hold him up. That was the biggest difference he’d noticed with his age. Ever since the kids moved out of state and Dotty passed away, Harker finally had time to do the things he wanted to do, uninterrupted.

Harker realized he’d been standing in his backyard with his hands on his hips for an easy five minutes.

“What the hell am I looking for?” He said to himself.

Harker spotted a saw. “You,” he said as he pointed at it. Harker strode over, picked it up in practically no time at all, then started on his return trip to the front yard.

When he reached it, he couldn’t believe his eyes.

“You’ve got to be goddamn kidding me,” he said.

…To be continued

  • Thomas M. Watt

 

 

TrackingB Screenplay Contest

 

trackingB

I’m determined to finally get some exposure for my work. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve decided to begin looking for representation. According to one article, TrackingB holds a great contest annually that frequently results in representation for it’s winners. The panel of judges is impressive:

THE INDUSTRY PANEL

Berry Welsh – SVP, Production & Development – Tribeca Film
Megan Spanjian – VP, Scripted Television – The Weinstein Company
Peter Dealbert – Lit Manager – Pacific View Management
Melissa Darman – TV Lit Agent – Verve
Dustin Davis – Director, Current Series – ABC Network
Brad Petrigala – Lit Manager – Brillstein Entertainment Partners
Ryan Andolina – Development Executive – Amazon Studios
Amanda Krentzman – Director of Development – The Jackal Group
Jillian Apfelbaum – VP – Imperative Entertainment
Ryan Cunningham – Lit Manager – Madhouse Entertainment
Chris Mills – Lit Manager – Magnet Management
Justin Killion – Producer – Cool Guys & Nerds/1st look deal at ITV
Mike Goldberg – TV Lit Agent – APA
A.B. Fischer – Lit Manager – The Shuman Co.
Josh Goldenberg – Lit Manager – Kaplan/Perrone
Erin Betz – Coordinator, Drama Development – ABC Network                                                           Josh Adler – Lit Manager – Circle of Confusion

They will host a feature length script contest later this year, but currently are accepting entries for their television pilot competition. I’m going to enter Just Leasing and Cheaters Prosper once I feel they are ready. I encourage any of you to enter the contest as well – let me know if you do, that way we can hold one another accountable. The final date for entries is March 26th, and the winners will be announced around July of this year.

*Final Cut Pro is the industry standard for screenwriting, but I use a templateSCRIPT TEMPLATE (with instructions). If you’re new to screenwriting, feel free to download my screenwriting template here.

  • – Thomas M. Watt                 

Storytelling Essentials: Deep 3rd Person Perspective

*This was originally posted over a year ago. I will have a brand new sketch posted tomorrow at 7:00 AM PST tomorrow. See you then!

STORYTELLING ESSENTIALS: DEEP THIRD PERSON PERSPECTIVE

So you’ve decided to write fiction, but have no idea what perspective to use. You love the way “Hunger Games” reads in first person, and wish to emulate it, but are uncertain how to describe situations and events that might be beyond your main characters current level of intellect. You decide to move to third person, but a short ways in realize that your story lacks emotion – and every time you try to broadcast the feelings of your protagonist, they come directly out-the-mouth through dialogue. Not very effective, seeing as how everyday people don’t commonly say, “I’m really scared right now.” And if they did, they’d be a pretty wimpy hero (Sorry, just saying).

I prefer deep 3rd person perspective. It’s sort of a hybrid of 1st and 3rd person that has become increasingly common in recent years. Here’s what it looks like –

* * *

George walked over to the wobbly wooden table, sat down, then stared at his now-cold cup of coffee. Since he’d first set that mug down, so much had changed…

George took a sip. He needed to think. He needed to be awake, no matter how much he needed to sleep. George groaned, ran his fingers through his oily, slick-backed hair, then crossed his arms and hunched over the table top. What could he do? Where should he start?

He winced his eyes closed, then gulped. The fact that he’d lost had yet to sink in. It was a terrible thought, but the fact that her murderer was still out there gave him something to keep his mind off her gruesome death. The way she looked, half naked, burn marks everywhere, and that thing she had on her face. What was that? Was it even human??

George shuddered then smeared his face. He took another big gulp of coffee, then smeared the brown from his sun-worn lips. He stood up so fast he knocked the mug down to the floor, bringing it to shatter.

He caught himself just short of swearing, then grabbed the chair backing with the tightly closed fold of his hand.

“Barbara,” He said with his eyes closed, then sniffed. “Who did it. For the love of God, show me something. Tell me who murdered you.”

After a short wait in dead silence, George let out a muffled whine, then scrunched his eyelids together.

A creak.

George’s eyes shot open. He slowly raised his gaze, and looked in the direction of the ominous sound. It had come from just above the mantle piece, right where he kept the picture from the fishing contest. The one Barbara always begged him to take down.

George remembered that picture fondly, almost able to smile even now from it. He’d caught the biggest fish in the water that day, won the contest and everything. He never understood why Barbara refused to smile when their photo was taken. He never understood why she always hated that photograph.

The creak sounded again. Same spot.

“Barbara?” Said George. The grin left him. He walked with a kind of slanted focus, keeping half-an eye on the picture. As he crept closet to it he felt his heart begin to beat a little faster.

“Are you… trying to tell me something?”

A thump. The sounds were coming from straight above, up in the attic. George didn’t think much of it – He was too rusty to even consider climbing the ladder to check it out.

George stopped by the picture. He placed his hand over the corner of the frame.

“Oh my God.”

He fell back a step, tripped, then crashed onto the short living room desk. He shut his eyes and pressed his hand to his heart. That man. That man in the picture Barbara had always asked him about. Jim was his name.

George gulped. A quick race of noises came from the attic – like footsteps.

After George won the fishing contest that day, he’d never seen Jim again – until this day. At the crime scene. Why the hell was Jim there, anyway?

George’s eyes flew open. He remembered something else – Jim asked where he was living at nowadays. And George had given him his exact address.

There was another thump from above. George had to get up, but he needed Barbara to help him…

* * *

Okay, so a lot of deep third person perspective in there, but you know what other story telling element was frequently employed? If you tuned in to my post a few days ago, you may have guessed it already – suspense. Once again, suspense is information withheld. Every time you found yourself asking, “Who? What? Why?” That was thanks to suspense, and is an effective tool to keep your readers reading. If you want to be a diligent student of the craft, you’d be wise to find and circle those sentences on your own, that practice employing them in your own scenes. When writing suspense, the questions are more important than the answers. In other words, your mind doesn’t compel you to keep reading because of how awesome the thing on Barbara’s dead face was – it compels you to keep reading because you don’t know what it was, but want to.

Deep third person perspective is merely a blending of plain, straight-forward depiction of events, persons, and things, with the inner thoughts and feelings of the protagonist. To better display the difference in perspectives, let me show you how the opening to this scene would have looked had I written it in third person limited:

George sat down at the wobbly talbe. He rested his hands on it, then let out a short winded breath. He balled his hand into a fist, then uttered a soft moan.

“Barbara… I can’t believe I’ve lost you.”

There was a creak. George raised his eyes to check it out.

The reason you now feel alienated from George, rather than involved with him, is because every description is entirely physical. The voice is that of the author, rather than George’s own, and the scene is akin to what you would see if observing, rather than partaking in. Here is how it may have read in first person:

I sat down in the chair and looked at my cup of coffee. It was cold by now. I couldn’t believe all the events that had transpired since the time I’d first brewed that cup. I couldn’t believe I’d lost Barbara. I couldn’t believe how she’d been killed; the way her body looked.

One of the drawbacks of first person is you must remain in character at all times. Your descriptions, your insights, even your suspense – everything is coming straight from the mind of your protagonist. She is the writer, not you.

Deep third person perspective may sound confusing, but after some practice you’ll get the hang of it. Of course, deep third person is my preference, and every author is different. Some even prefer second person:

You see George sit in the chair. You can tell he’s nervous by the way he stares at his coffee. You watch his hands tremble.

Blows, doesn’t it? Yeah, don’t ever write in second person.

 Hope this helps!

– Thomas M. Watt

– Script Analyst for SpecScout.com

– Author of A New Kingdom

Analyzing East of Eden – 1/17

EastOfEden

It’s been a while since I talked about writing, as my mind has been more consumed with film production. I took a few minutes today to read a brief excerpt from East of Eden, by John Steinbeck, and analyze it. I think this is a great practice because it helps me understand the techniques great dramatists employ in order to have the most emotional impact on viewers. Here is the excerpt, followed by my thoughts:

***

Ethel tried to keep her fingers from grabbing at the money. [Kate] fanned the bills like a poker hand – four tens. Her mouth began to work with emotion.

Ethel said, “I kind of hoped you’d see your way to let me take more than forty bucks.”

“What do you mean?”

“Didn’t you get my letter?”

“What letter?”

“Oh!” said Ethel. “Well, maybe it got lost in the mail. They don’t take no care of things. Anyways, I thought you might look after me. I don’t feel good hardly ever. Got a kind of weight dragging my guts down.” She sighed and then she spoke so rapidly that Kate knew it had been rehearsed.

“Well, maybe you remember how I’ve got like second sight,” Ethel began. “Always predicting things that come true. Always dreaming stuff and it come out. Fella says I should go in the business. Says I’m a natural medium. You remember that?”

“No,” said Kate. “I don’t.”

“Don’t? Well, maybe you never noticed. All the others did. I told ’em lots of things and they come true.”

“What are you trying to say?”

“I had this-here dream. I remember when it was because it was the same night Faye died.” Her eyes flicked  up at Kate’s cold face. She continued doggedly, “It rained that night, and it was raining in my dream – anyways, it was wet. Well, in my dream I seen you come out the kitchen door. It wasn’t pitch-dark – moon was coming through a little. nd the dream thing was you. You went out to the back of the lot and stooped over. I couldn’t see what you done. Then you come creeping back.”

“Next thing I knew – why, Faye was dead.” She paused and waited for some comment from Kate, but Kate’s face was expressionless.

Ethel waited until she was sure Kate would not speak. “Well, like I said, I always believed in my dreams. It’s funny, there wasn’t nothing out there except some smashed medicine bottles and a little rubber tit from an eye-dropper.”

Kate said lazily, “So you took them to a doctor. What did he say had been in the bottles?”

“Oh, I didn’t do nothing like that.”

“You should have,” said Kate.

“I don’t want to see nobody get in trouble. I’ve had enough trouble myself. I put that broke glass in an envelope and stuck it away.”

Kate said softly, “And so you are coming to me for advice?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I’ll tell you what I think,” said Kate. “I think you’re a worn-out old whore and you’ve been beaten over the head too many times.”

“Don’t you start saying I’m nuts-” Ethel began.

“No, maybe you’re not, but you’re tired and you’re sick. I told you I never let  friend down. You can come back here. You can’t work but you can help around, clean and give the cook a hand. You’ll have a bed and you’ll get your meals. How would tht be? And a little spending money.”

Ethel stirred uneasily. “No, ma’am.” She said. “I don’t think I want to – sleep here. I don’t carry that envelope around. I left it with a friend.”

“What did you have in mind?”

“Well, I thought if you could see your way to let me have a hundred dollars a month, why, I could make out and maybe get my health back.”

“You said you lived at the Southern Pacific Hotel?”

“Yes, ma’am – and my room is right up the hall from the desk. The night clerk’s a friend of mine. He don’t never sleep when he’s on duty. Nice fella.”

Kate said, “Don’t wet your pants, Ethel. All you’ve got to worry about is how much does the ‘nice fell’ cost. Now wait a minute.” She counted six more ten-dollar bills from the drawer in front of her and held them out.

“Will it come the first of the month or do I have to come here for it?”

“I’ll send it to you,” said Kate. “And, Ethel,” she continued quietly, “I still think you ought to have those bottles analyzed.”

Ethel clutched the money tightly in her hand. She was bubbling over with triumph and good feeling.

***

*Let me preface my analysis by confessing I have not read this novel in its entirety. Nevertheless, I’d like to share my insights and you can correct me in the comment section if I’m wrong.

This scene is great in so many ways. It is really a mini-story, and clearly demonstrates Steinbeck’s dominance as one of the greatest writers of all time. I remember when I first started studying writing, I read somewhere that Steinbeck preferred to use one syllable words. I had always thought his style of writing made him a legend, but now that I have a better understanding of some of the more abstract writing concepts, I can see his ability to play with the emotions of readers is what makes his pen so devastating.

Right from the start, we can see that Ethel is desperate for money, so clearly this is her objective. But it is not enough for her to simply accept the original offering, and that is what makes her courageous here – she wants every nickel she can squeeze out of Kate.

Kate, on the other hand, begins the scene by desiring Ethel get out of her hair. After Ethel all-but threatens to turn in evidence that could potentially put her behind bars, Ethel changes her tune and her new motivation becomes doing whatever it takes to keep Ethel quiet.

What I like most about this scene is how Ethel goes about manipulating Kate to fork over more dough. She never explicitly states that she knows Kate is responsible for the death of Faye, but she implies it through a most devious way – by slyly feigning to have psychic abilities, and almost comedic-ally stating she had a dream where she witnessed Kate’s crime.

Once Kate gets the hint, Ethel has her over a barrel – and knows it. After a brief outburst of her true anger at the situation, Kate presents Ethel with a much more generous offer than the original forty bucks. But this still isn’t good enough for Ethel(rising tension!). Ethel requests a hundred dollars on the first of every month, then has the audacity to requests that it be delivered, so she does not have to go out of her way to retrieve it.

I believe that Kate threatens Ethel when she tells her that her biggest concern should be how much the night clerk, who “never sleeps”, costs. She appears to be implying that she could always pay him enough money to look the other way while Kate has somebody eliminate Ethel.

This scene features two foes with clashing objectives. Their dialogue, at the surface, appears to remain cordial – but the truth is always written in the subtext. This is one area of writing I need to improve upon. I have a bad habit of allowing characters to state their objectives outright, and go about getting their way through direct and obvious threats. This is fine for characters who maneuver through life this way, but it is so much more fun and engaging when characters behave in ways that force viewers to read between the lines in order to keep up with their motives and ploys.

I hope these insights have helped you in some way. I already know these realizations will benefit me in my own writing. See you tomorrow at 7:00 am PST.

  • Thomas M. Watt
  • Steinbeck, John. East of Eden. New York: Penguin Books, 1952. Print.

Updates – 1/16

Snapchat-2076654764955396101[1]

What the Hell did I run over?

Not too many productive writing developments yesterday. I do have quite a story from my date, however – I got the 1st flat tire of my life, and wasn’t able to change it using only the parts that came with my truck. It was incredibly embarrassing, but I was fortunate enough to have the assistance of AAA to help me out. Much later we went to the beach and stumbled upon a group of people sitting on a bench in the dark who were dressed in black robes. I don’t know, that was wack, and I just had to get it off my chest. Death eaters?

I am interviewing for a firefighter reserve position in a couple of weeks. This is significant because I will have to cut my hair and shave my face – which means serious continuity errors for Cheaters Prosper. I initially sought to resolve this problem by laying out a schedule that would allow for the entire film to be finished within two weeks. My older brother pointed out to me that a haircut signifies an emotional change in a character, and helped me realize that I could film the final climatic scene with a different style (the major scene takes place on the last day of the film’s story, after all).

There is one other scene left for me to act in that takes place on the second day of the film, and a haircut would be problematic for that. The only alternative I can imagine would be to rewrite the scene so that I communicate with Jax over the phone, but I’d much prefer to avoid doing that.

I’m hoping to shoot a handful of scenes this Sunday. I’m planning on using my friend Dan for the majority of the remaining scenes, as my older brother is simply to busy to request more of his time. I will have my brother film the important, interior scenes we still have to shoot.

It’s time for me to get some shut-eye. I will have a better post for you tomorrow.

  • Thomas M. Watt

 

The Big “L” – 1/12

loser

I don’t know that I’ve ever felt more distraught during the writing of a post. I don’t know that I’ve ever sat down and written feeling so helplessly frustrated.

Yesterday was a failure. An enormous failure. A huge, whopping, capital “L”.

The day began great, with big plans and lofty ambitions. Everything was set and ready, the props were in order, and I even purchased a knock-off “selfie-stick” to help with coverage(Just Leasing was to be filmed on my phone camera, you see).

A few hours into filming, I locked my phone into place on a cheap tripod that is built for such a purpose. The mount simultaneously pressed and held 3 buttons on the side of my phone that led to a full system reset. Not only did I lose all my contacts and settings, but the footage was immediately washed.

It gets worse.

We came close to shooting the scenes over, but doubt entered the minds of the actors, perhaps with good reason – there was an arguably noticeable error in logic for a crucial scene, and tinkering with it affects the rest of the episode.

A long enough discussion led to an inevitable decision to postpone filming until a later date. We broke for lunch at a local taco shop. I brought in my laptop to show Jordan and Catrina, who are also involved in Cheaters Prosper, some of the scenes.

I store the footage on an external, 3 terabyte hard drive that attaches to my computer by a USB chord. When I finally found a particular scene I wanted to show, the external hard drive fell off the table and smacked a metal piece beside my seat, breaking it instantly. I am no longer able to access the hard drive, and it makes a clicking sound when I plug it in.

I can’t tell you how upset I am. I can’t even pinpoint what I am most upset about. The good news is, even if the data from my brand new $139 hard drive is irretrievable, we will only have lost about 5 pages of film, as my brother and friend still have saved copies of the remaining footage.

I don’t believe in blind persistence. I don’t believe in trying to make something work that cannot, nor do I believe in trying to do something you are incapable of doing. I do not like to waste time. I do not like to lose.

But when I deem a pursuit worthy of fighting for, I fucking fight.

So what is the lesson learned today? What is the meaning of all this?

The lesson is simple. Today was a shitty day. Bad things happened. For Spiritual reasons? For failing to be more conscious of sensitive equipment? For no reason?

You will never learn by focusing the factors that led to failure. If you want to be a critic, a hater, or another captain hindsight, go ahead and focus on the aspects of things that influence demise. But in order to find success, you must keep your eyes the actions that breed it.

Verizon saves texts message conversations in cloud storage, and I was able to retrieve the phone numbers of every person I’ve conversed with over the last 90 days. That is sufficient to store the numbers of every person whom I consider an essential part of my life.

There are specialists who have the technology to retrieve data from damaged hard drives. For an external one such as my own, the customer must pay a pretty penny ($500 is a good estimate). Perhaps the company that manufactured my hard drive may be able to help me for a nominal fee.

Or, we could always re-shoot. The actors have their lines down pat, and the only difficulty would be getting the actors to do the 4-5 hour shoot all over again. It would move faster than before thanks to having gone through it once already.

I guess my point is this – you can’t just fold once things go wrong. You can’t allow harsh critiques of your work to convince you’re not cut out for writing. When things go wrong, you must seek out ways to fix them. Errors happen, and they’re part of any game.

I’m afraid to take my next step forward, but in the walk of life the only other option is to retreat. I’m not going to retreat, and I’m not going to stop. I’m going to run until I reach that Goddamn finish line, and if I have to crawl by the time I get there, so be it.

  • Thomas M. Watt