Made a short yesterday that people seem to enjoy. It got upvoted a lot on a subreddit and I actually got over a hundred views without having to blast it everywhere. Small victory, but I’ll take what I can get. Here it is for anyone interested:
I made a video about screenplay revisions and how each draft better prepares a filmmaker for production. It took me longer than I’d prefer but I’m happy I finished it. I really wanted to trash it but felt it was important to post regardless of my internal shame and regret. Check it out below if you’d like:
1 year ago I wrote 3 feature lengths script with the intention of having them produced. They were made for low budget companies and redrafted multiple times. Through this experience I learned just how difficult it was to get a script read as a new-comer. Put yourself in the shoes of any agent or producer who receives thousands of scripts each year. You’re only going to read the best of the best.
So I took a leap of economic ignorance and decided to begin producing my own short films. At least this way I could see my stories play out before an audience. That is the ultimate goal as a writer, after-all – inspiring others through stories. With a 5 minute video you’ll get the opportunity, with a 120 page screenplay you’ll catch little more than dust.
The lessons began on the first episode of Mountain Cult, and continue on today. I can say undoubtedly that filming your own stories will make you a better writer. Here is what I’ve learned:
- Treat every line, word and syllable with razor-sharp scrutiny. You may grow weary of glossing over it in the beginning, but you will have no idea how significant your dialogue choices are until you begin production. 4 drafts is nothing! Let’s take a scene where one character is lying on the ground and the other character approaches. Let’s give the character lying down something ordinary to say like “You look lost, mate.”
- The first take is a wide shot. Here is where you realize you’ve made the character Australian even though he’s German and armed with a Samurai sword.
- The second take is a shot over the approaching character’s shoulder followed by a shot over his shoulder. He’s now said the stupid line 3 times on film.
- After you have your over the shoulder shots, you realize he’s not in frame early on because you’re using a tripod and set the frame up for when he’s standing. You adjust the tripod and film his lying down with a downward angle, followed by an over-the-wrist shot with him lying down. Now you have heard the unnecessary word “mate” 5 times.
- You have all 5 shots for the scene done. You look at your slate and realize you’ve taken 30 takes already, since shots hardly ever require only one take.
- You get to the editing room and begin what you anticipate will be an easy job, only to discover each moment you have on film will be viewed, scrubbed over, and edited 5 times longer. If you film is 5 minutes, anticipate 2 hours worth of footage. If you have 2 hours worth of footage, anticipate 20 hours of editing. You will have heard your German Samurai call the approaching stranger “mate” upwards of 1,000 times.
2. Emotional movements everywhere
I have a tendency when writing to feel the momentum of the words each character is spewing out. They go on a verbal rampage, tearing into another character mercilessly until there is nothing left to destroy. I love writing this way, but it doesn’t always play out on scene as good as it feels. Your writing will be much more dynamic by using action to compel twists and turns. Here are two examples:
Sally tells Henry she would like a divorce. Henry tells Sally to give it a rest and grab him a beer. Sally grows even more angry, grabs his beer, and throws it at him.
Does it make sense? Yes. Is it true to life? Yes. Does it reel you into the story? Not really. Why? Because everything went as we expected it to. Here’s a different version of the same sequence:
Sally tells Henry she wants a divorce. Henry sighs and goes to the fridge. Sally tells Henry his alcoholism is the reason she wants a divorce. Henry opens the fridge but Sally slams shut on his fingers. Henry leaves and Sally opens the door to find a half-eaten cake with frosting that reads “I love you and I’m sorry.” Sally tears up, chases Henry outside, and finds him sitting in his convertible with his new girlfriend, who is eating a slice of the cake. Sally proceeds to stab them both to death.
3. Write what you can film
This 3rd lesson will be tested for me in approximately 1 week, when I attempt to reshoot the climatic sequence – one that involves a gun shot & a stabbing.
I absolutely despise handheld shots. That makes filming even the most inconsequential physical movements extraordinarily difficult for me, because everything is done on a tripod.
When I filmed episode 1 of Mountain Cult, there is was a line my character delivered as he released the hiker from his shackles then opened the lock to the gated door and made entry. I literally had to turn 2 keys then let myself in. How could this possibly be difficult, you ask?
The following scene involved my character interrogating the kidnapped hiker inside of the cell. For that scene to carry any weight at all, I needed to have a gun aimed at him in a threatening manner.
So now my character had to retrieve a gun (which had yet to be shown), unlock his shackles, and open the padlock. I realized I needed to time it right. I decided I would swoop up the gun off camera, return and release the shackles, then the padlock, then open the gate and enter. I practiced until I could do these things relatively quickly, but it still wound up taking about 10 seconds. Let me tell you something – try to find a movie where a character takes 10 seconds to do a basic human action such as pouring milk on cereal, cooking with the microwave, or vacuuming a room. They do not exist because only a sloth could pay attention to something mundane for that amount of time.
So to film this basic sequence, I had to adjust the tripod for a shot of me retreiving the gun, zoom in on the padlock for a shot I could cut to, and learn how to smoothly unshackle the cuffs by flicking a safety release without it being apparent on camera. I needed to do all that all while delivering the line.
As I mentioned a short ways up, I intend to film a sequence next week that involves a gunshot, a stabbing, and a take down. I’ve already built an air-propelled “squib” to produce the fake gun blast. I have fake knifes to simulate stabbing, and I have a blow-up mattress that could assist in any necessary rough-housing. But if I don’t get each little physical movement choreographed to the last detail, the resulting scene will be unwatchable and corny. Even the camera angles will need to be established beforehand for any simulated punches to appear realistic.
That’s all I’ve got for today. I hope this post helps anyone looking to write for film, and I highly encourage you to film your own story if you haven’t before. The process is difficult but exceedingly fun and well worth the effort.
Today we are shooting part 2 of the first episode for my web series. I posted about the first shoot 1 week ago and how much I learned. I’m hoping to have a better experience this time around.
The biggest difference this week should be our focus on story. Instead of just writing a script that seemed interesting than acting it out, I returned to my roots as a writer and put the best script together for the resources I have available.
I’m a big believer in keeping the story simple – give your main character an object of desire that he’s willing to derail his life for. Put many overwhelming obstacles in his path. Whatever lesson he learns to help him overcome those obstacles is your theme, and the attainment of his desired object will be your climax.
For the scene we’re filming today, I changed almost all of the second half of the script. Instead of the incessant back and forth that existed to make the viewer question the sanity of my main character, I’ve given the secondary character an object that will help him in his quest.
Instead of simply handing him this object, the secondary character uses it for leverage to regain his freedom and trick the main character into letting up his guard. I’m especially excited to see how this improvement in story plays out for the camera. I spent the better part of a week editing what we shot last Saturday. It took a lot of effort to clean up unemotional acting and cringeworthy lines.
Another big difference this week is that I’m going to encourage a stronger more emotional performance from my friend. It’s easy to just let him deliver his lines how he pleases – since he is my friend, he is performing for free, and I don’t like being a dick.
But I realize now that’s a huge part of the director’s responsibility. The performance of your actors reflects on your ability to coach them and get the best delivery. I’ve posted the updated script here, for you to check out. When I finish editing the video I’ll post it here as well. Wish me luck, and feel free to point out any critiques you may have. We begin filming at the time of this posting.
This monologue marks the first time I’ve bothered memorizing lines for my acting class. I have to say I’m pleased with the result, but I’ll let you be the judge.
*This monologue is an excerpt from Se7en. The lines are delivered by a character named John Doe, who is played by Kevin Spacey. It is a great horror film and features one of the greatest movie endings of all-time.
- Thomas M. Watt
- Author of Master
In case you were wondering, I’m the guy playing the sleazeball. It’s a scene from Eastbound and Down, where I play Kenny Powers, a former Major League Baseball super-star.
This is from an acting class I enrolled in at a local community college. I thought it would be fun and benefit my writing to take the class. I was right, though I’m not too sure acting is in the cards for me.
Featured alongside me is Ami Wong, a beautiful young actress who made it to the final cut of a major role for a studio sitcom, and my buddy Nick VanAmburg, who’s simply funny as f*ck. I hope you get a good laugh out of this, whether it was at my expense or not. Feel free to roast me in the comment section, but lay off the other(good) actors.
- Thomas M. Watt
I’m busy adding a riveting twist to the ending, one I believe will add a heavy layer of drama to this psychological thriller. Finishing this book is consuming my writing time, and keeping me from posting short stories on here. The final part to Too Perfect Marriage took me six hours to write, but I accept that. One thing I am certain of – rushed writing is cheap writing.
Though there are tricks, techniques, and structures that will greatly enhance your stories, emotion can never be artificial. If you are not feeling the anxiety, disgrace, or enchantment of your characters, neither will your readers. Consequently, it is a waste of time to churn stories out like I’m some sort of machine. What I produce will repel you.
I am on the fence about posting the opening pages of Master. Because it is only a hundred + pages, I must have a definite release date in mind. That way I can give away the right amount prior to making it available. I am reluctant only because posting the pages on here guarantees that the book will be self-published (it is greatly frowned upon by publishers to pick up a book with content already posted on the web).
Mainly because I’m immersed in finalizing Master, I haven’t put much time into taking my gaseous plan and morphing it into something solid. I haven’t queried a single publisher or agent about Master, and have yet to look into the pros/cons of pursuing that avenue. This is the first book I feel would have a chance at getting picked up, in spite of its short length. I’ve queried a terrible book before, and the process is aggravating to say the least – they tell you to wait up to 6 months to hear back, and even if someone requests and loves your full manuscript, it takes roughly a year to get that book into stores. I am, to a fault, an impulsive person.
I hate posting poor content on here, and have no intention of transitioning this blog to a shameless book promotion website. When I do launch into marketing mode, I intend to do so in unique and exciting ways. Nobody wants to buy a product that is crammed down their throats – but they might consider biting into a pitch if it’s delivered with spoonful of humanity.
On a lighter note, check out the clip below for a good laugh. It’s from a movie titled “The Room” that has been voted the worst movie ever made. It’s so godawful there’s been a bestseller written about the making of it, and get this – James Franco is making that story into a movie.
- Thomas M. Watt