Returning to the White Pages

I’ve been largely absent from this blog this year. That’s in large part due to my interest in music. I’ve really enjoyed learning more about music theory, production and sound design. After completing “Doctor with the Red Houseware,” I needed some time before I felt ready to tackle another project.

I have a terrible habit of overthinking details. This results in the phenomenon of “Analysis leads to paralysis”. I’ve flirted with several premises I would like to develop but have yet to take the plunge and commit to any of them. There are a few main reasons for this – but the greatest pitfall has been the almighty dollar.

I feel filmmaking is somewhat unique to other branches of entertainment. If you are a great musician, comedian, actor, or even writer, your number one asset is yourself, your number 2 asset is exposure. The creation of a film has much less to do with talent, ability, and skills, and much more to do with budget. You can create an outstanding film with less, sure, and you can use your problem-solving skills to tackle obstacles that pose a risk to production. But at the end of the day, you’re going to need money if you intend to create a film that can rub shoulders with major box office productions. You will want the best camera, best sound, best effects, and most famous actors you can afford.

Acquiring that money is the obvious challenge, but of course there are unlimited strategies to accomplish that. From watching interviews with other filmmakers online, I’ve arrived at a variety of potentially successful avenues. The common thread for soliciting investments, however, tends to involve having a product worth selling – so obviously you must begin with a completed script.

As any writer knows, each project requires an overwhelming amount of time, effort, and anguish to complete. The major salt on the wound for writers is finding a single reader is even more of a challenge.

Part of the joy I’ve experienced in filmmaking has been the knowledge that I would produce and shoot the scripts that I wrote. As I begin work on a new feature length script I can’t help but confront the obvious – I am going to need external financing to complete a 110-130 page story.

I have developed several daily habits that require 30 minutes or less. I find that the more I limit my time the better I manage it. I’m actively considering ways in which I could post a new video to youtube each day. I feel that developing a fanbase could help me reach my goal in more ways than one. I also fear, however, that I will be tempted to devote more time to each video.

Another habit I am considering implementing has to do with knocking on doors. By routinely networking with other producers, distributors, and production companies, I can greatly improve my odds of having an ear open for me when my story is ready to pitch. I can begin to immerse myself in the business of filmmaking rather than hiding in the fantasy of it all.

I would like to return to the idea of crowdfunding the film. Of course, before I can launch a kickstarter campaign I will need to have the script completed and a sizzle reel shot. The sizzle reel is something I can take care of without any hefty investments. This would include a single location with legitimate actors that provides the overall tone and promise of the story I would like to tell.

Just wanted to share some thoughts today. I hope to do so again tomorrow.

Script Drafting: Importance of Revisions

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:

The Group Scene

The Group Scene/The Dinner Scene/Friends at a table. They each are a variation of the same thing:

4-5 main characters gather at a table and share in a discussion.

Simple, right? Not for a writer. It’s not the complexity of maintaining each character, nor is it the task of inventing an interesting dialogue. The difficulty lies in moving the plot along, building tension, and producing a character change.

Episode 5 currently runs 27 pages (which will translate to roughly 27 minutes). Out of those pages, 19 of them involve a group discussion that takes place at a table. My goal is to condense those 27 pages to 8 and incorporate a riveting midpoint at page 4.

What makes the group discussion unique is that people don’t generally sit around and think up ways to murder each other, as much as we all want to see that. There is not a natural clock with imminent danger when your characters are sitting down and sharing information. And my main character isn’t much of an actionable detective if the other characters he’s sitting with are freely offering up there own personal backgrounds and clues.

One of the best ways to orchestrate a group scene is to implement a relationship triangle. Person A likes B, but B likes C, and C likes A. The more you can entangle the relationships to affect one another the more intrigue you generate. But because my story is not a drama nor a romance, I have to find a way to introduce more tension, higher stakes, and hard-turning plot points – especially since the meat of the episode takes place in a seated arrangement.

Allow me to do some thinking out loud for a moment. I’ll create a dynamic similar to my own and see what areas of conflict and tension we can artificially introduce.

Bob attends a dinner with 4 new people. He was not invited but lied his way into the group. After being welcomed in, the group leader repeatedly challenges Bob to prove his allegiance to the group by taking a shot every time he speaks out of turn. Bob is trying to identify which group member stole his cat.

We see the obstacle – acceptance – and know the objective – information.

Now imagine that out of those 4 new people, Theo is the leader. Theo governs the group with an iron fist – one that Bree feels is too tight. Geronimo – the funny guy in the group – has a secret crush on Bree. When Bob joins the group, Geronimo worries that she will like Bob instead. Kazinski, on the other hand, is obedient to Theo. He believes that Theo’s adherence to group formalities unifies them and makes him deserving of being in charge.

There lives have become more intertwined and more unique. Though this may be hard to follow, it provides a writer with varying character motivations. These motivations will drive each character’s unique reaction to different events.

But we need character actions – what can Bob do to drive the story forward, and what obstacles may he find in his path?

The obvious one is for Bob to be reprimanded each time he speaks out of turn.

What interesting events can follow this? What areas do we have to tighten the conflict and elevate the tension?

Perhaps Bree repeatedly encourages Bob to not respect Theo’s wishes. Perhaps Bob realizes that the only way his cat will come up in the conversation is if he initiates it.

That does add a sprinkle of the conflict and tension, but not a whole lot. Now let’s imagine that each time Bob speaks the group becomes more convinced that he has another purpose for being there. Once this piece of psychological danger is introduced we find a true obstacle to Bob’s objective.

Maybe one of the group members secretly discovers the reason that Bob is there before the others – and tries to notify them covertly. You would be wise to let the viewers in on this secret first to create more suspense.

The tension can escalate by dangling the truth right in front of Bob. How can we put Bob’s cat on the table for him to grab while preventing him from doing so? However we do it, I think this should be the midpoint.

I think Bob should find out that his cat is more happy with its new owner. That creates an internal conflict by allowing Bob to feel guilty and doubt the ethics of his quest – until at the ending when he reunites with his cat he learns he was intentionally mislead.

One way we can place the cat right on the table would be by producing a picture of the animal from an unspecified source. Maybe everyone in the group starts chatting about it and sharing inside information. Maybe they call the cat dumb and insult it in order to instigate Bob into exposing his true intentions.

What action can Bob take to definitively know which group member stole his cat? Once convinced of who its owner might be, Bob may use the individuals want/need to his advantage. Bob can also use blunt force trauma as a method to get a confession. Or he can trick one of his new “friends” into spilling the beans by dangling his own truth – his reason for being there – right in front of them.

Perhaps Bob informs the group that he had deceived them about his intentions within the group. He can say that he purchases missing cats in order to resell them to their original owner. When he tells them that he is offering $500 with no questions asked for the cat in the picture, he finally gets one of them to fess up to their crime. After that he must choose how to punish the individual and still receive the feline for a climactic ending.

So this is the group scene. Nothing about it is inherently interesting, but it is a high-frequency event in most stories. You should never write a scene that does not incorporate multiple story elements just because it “sounds real.” You should always introduce dialogue and actions that divide your group while also gluing them closer together.

I will be tinkering with my own group scene today and just by writing this I have found some new ideas. I think it is a fun challenge anytime you beef up a scene that you have already written. Hopefully this has provided you with your own ideas for how you would like your own group scene to evolve.

Master – 1.2

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Click here to start from the beginning

I pull the pen from my pocket, then scribble my name on his Starbucks cup, right under his own.

“Say, Mr. Gordon… Can I ask you something?”

“Go for it.”

“You clean pools now, right? Like for a living?”

I blink slow, then return to him with a smile. “I’ll clean your pool for a fee, if that’s what you’re asking.”

Punk laughs.

“No, no… it’s just, you know you could have been big time, right? If you would have just played one more season, you would have gone top three rounds. I mean, why did you stop playing?”

My wife knows, I know, everybody who knows me knows. The decision I made to end my football career and drop out of college was the hardest decision I ever had to make.

“Sometimes life throws things our way that force us to make tough decisions.”

I still grin when I say it, because the love that fills my life now far surpasses the darkness that overpowered me in my ‘star-power’ days.

“I know,” begins the kid. “But why did she make you leave the game?”

“I left on my own. Ever had sex, kid?”

My wife chuckles behind me.

“I’m not a fuckin’ virgin, dude.”

“Then you already know. Sometimes when you have sex, babies pop out.”

“Why didn’t you make her abort it?”

CLICK HERE FOR 2.1!

-Thomas M. Watt

Donald and Thurma – Part 2

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If you haven’t read part 1, start here.

Donald and Freddy sat at a back table, a beer to each of them.

“Who you keep staring at?” said Freddy.

Donald shook his head. “Nobody, forget it.”

“Don’t be a pussy. Who is it?”

“The girl I ran into at the door. She seemed nice.”

“We want bad bitches, not basic bitches. Where she at?”

Freddy poked his head up like an ostrich, prompting Amanda and Thurma to stop looking in Donald’s direction.

“The blonde or brunette?” said Freddy.

“God, you have to be so obvious?”

Freddy smacked Donald on the forearm. “You have to be such a bitch? Blonde one’s hotter, go for her.”

“No. I like the brunette,” said Donald, glancing at Thurma after he said it.

“Makes sense, you don’t have enough confidence to take down a tiger like that blonde. Girl got a dumper.”

“Tiger? Dumper? What?”

“Are you gonna go over there or just sit here and talk about going over there?” said Freddy.

Donald scratched the back of his head, then crossed his arms and sunk into the table. He took a sip of his drink.

“Let me finish my beer first. That way I have a reason to-”

Before he could finish his sentence, Freddy knocked the glass mug off the table. It shattered and the blue moon washed away.

“What the hell?” said Donald.

“Oh shit, looks like you need another drink! Now get your ass over there and talk to her.”

Donald bit his lips, checked out Thurma again, then stood up.

“Fine.”

“And remember-”

“What?”

“Be an asshole. Else you’ll be stuck in the friend zone again.”

Donald sighed. “Got it,” he said, then started over to the bar.

  • * *

“Oh, he’s coming,” said Amanda, nudging her friend.

“Which one? The douche or the one who maybe lifeguards during rainy days in autumn?” said Thurma.

Amanda’s head bobbed back. “That was a pretty specific description.”

“Just tell me!”

“The tall one with the good-boy hair.”

“God no. Shit. I don’t want to do this. Come with me to the bathroom,” Thurma said, then stood up from her bar stool.

Amanda grabbed the bottom of her skirt and whipped it up.

“Stop!” Said Thurma, snapping back into her seat.

“Haha. You’re going through with this. Remember – demand respect.”

“By being a bitch?”

“Yep.”

“Oh shit. God dammit. Got it.”

The two went quiet, and Donald took the seat beside Thurma.

  • * *

Donald turned to Thurma, and the two met eyes. Neither smiled, and both instantly looked straight ahead.

“Waddup,” said Donald.

“Who are you talking to?”

Donald looked at her. “Oh. Didn’t notice you there. You’re so short.”

Thurma raised her eyebrows, then turned to Amanda. Amanda pushed her so hard Thurma’s barstool rocked and sent her colliding into Donald.

Donald caught her in his arms. “Be careful! You okay…  idiot?”

“Yeah, I – What?”

“What.”

Thurma pursed her lips together. “You’re not good enough for me. Bye.”

“Oh. Ok,” said Donald. He began looking around for Freddy, but his friend had disappeared from their table.

“Who are you looking for?” said Thurma, hands to her hips. “And why are you still here?” She brushed one of her curly brown locks back behind her ear, then stood with her hands at her hips.

“More… bitches,” said Donald.

“You’re looking for more bitches?”

“Yea. Badder ones. You’re a basic… be-yotch.”

“We prefer the to be called females.”

“Oh ok. I’m looking for more females.”

“You sound like a moron.”

“Ok,” said Donald. Both opened their mouths to speak at the same time, then stopped when they thought the other person would. Neither said anything, and both looked away.

“You’re kind of a b,” said Donald.

“A b?” said Thurma, before pressing her tongue into her teeth. “What’s that b stand for, eh?”

“I said ‘B’, not ‘A’.”

They both smiled and laughed.

Something gave Donald a sudden jolt forward, and his momentum sent him shoving Thurma into Amanda. Both girls spilled their drinks all over their dresses, then stared at Donald with shark jaws.

Wide-eyed, Donald slowly turned around to see who had shoved him.

“Waddup bitches, see you’ve met my friend. Huge cock, case you were wondering.  Name’s Freddy,” said Freddy, as he extended his hand out for the girls to shake.

To be continued…

– Thomas M. Watt

Conflict: Damien Vs. Ronnie McDee – Round 2

CONFLICT: DAMIEN VS. RONNIE MCDEE ROUND 2

Greetings everyone. Let’s pick back up where we left off yesterday. If you weren’t here, we talked about the importance the role of conflict has in maintaining the interest of your readers. If you’d didn’t read the previous lesson, you’d be wise to go back and take a look, that way you’ll be sure not to miss anything.

Yesterday we wrote three versions of the same scene. In the first, Damien casually left his office building and greeted his wife outside. In the second, we added a ticking clock, which in this instance was (literally enough) a time-bomb. In the third scene we added Ronnie McDee, a sinister clown who was meant to be Damien’s ultimate antagonist, but wound up making everyone feel dumber for ever considering any of my advice by behaving like a cartoon goofball (and I don’t know that there is any higher insult to a full grown man then to consider his comedic fodder goofy).

So we’ll add conflict to what we already have, and observe how the scene improves.

level 1 – an objective (get to his wife)

level 2 – a ticking clock (time bomb)

level 3 – a nemesis (Ronnie McDee)

Level 4 – Let’s get a real nemesis. Someone we’re actually afraid of. So where do we find an antagonist worth fearing? It’s not about we. It’s about Damien. What’s his greatest fear? What are his short comings in life? Ah, you see what I’m getting at?

Adding an internal conflict to this scene. From here on out, Damien is no longer the blank faced cubicle worker, he’s about to become a someone. Let’s cut the shit and get to the scene already.

* * *

Damien watched the circular lights flash as he descended floor after floor in the elevator shaft. He knew the bomb was going to go off in a matter of minutes. He knew his wife would die if he didn’t get to her in time. And he knew the only person he ever prayed to be struck dead was waiting for him at the bottom floor. There was a battle ahead, no doubt. But Damien was having trouble focusing on what lay ahead of him. He was to busy trying to suppress what was supposed to be behind.

The memory felt like it had been branded to his brain.

This wouldn’t be the first time Damien found himself face-to-face with Onaldo. And both encounters involved a woman of his dreams. Only the last time, Damien lost her.

He remembered her light hair, her dark eyes, and the way she kissed his cheek. Every day since her death, Damien felt the burden of his failure. His wife always told him he’d never moved on – and in fact, Damien never did. She was not the type of girl you forgot about.

The elevator reached the bottom floor and the shiny silver doors rolled open. Standing twenty feet away from him was Ronaldo, wearing his typical yellow jumpsuit and red suspenders.

“Good afternoon, sir. Can I interest you in a McBlurry today?” Ronaldo raised a frag grenade in his right hand. “Or perhaps a big and tasty?” He unzipped his orange pants, whipped out his white-and-red member, then began helicoptering it around in a circle by the swing of his hips.

“You’re a sick fuck,” said Damien.

He stepped out of the elevator and clenched both fist so tight his knuckles cracked. He did his best to hide his nervousness, but couldn’t hide his subtle gulp from Ronaldo. The clown caught everything.

“Ah! Now I remember. What was it I served you a few years back?”

“Don’t.”

“I think I know.”

“DON’T!”

“She got a happy meal, didn’t she?”

Damien shook his head as his breath fumed through his nostrils. He heard something beep – no doubt the timebomb, somewhere nearby but hidden.

He winced his eyes closed. The memory was resurfacing. The most painful moments of his life. Her name was Lela.

“What was her name again?”

“You say it I’ll cut out your fucking tongue.”

Ronaldo began tapping his chin with his finger. His eyes rolled up toward the cieling. His painted lips raised in the corners, smiling that sick smirk he always got before he killed someone.

“Ah yes, I remember. It was for your daughter, LELA!”

***

Sorry, but I’m going to have to leave you there, due to time constraints. I’ll try to pick back up here tomorrow, and go into detail about whatever I feel may be of benefit to you. For now, notice all the questions raised throughout the scene. They mostly have to deal with Damien’s fear of returning to his past. (Why is he afraid? What happened between him and Onaldo? Who was this girl? Also, where is the timebomb, and will it blow before Damien gets past the clown?)

Hope this helps!

– Thomas M. Watt

– Script Analyst for SpecScout.com

– Author of A New Kingdom

 

Ticking Clock

STORY ESSENTIALS: THE TICKING CLOCK

The ‘ticking clock’ goes by many names in storytelling. It is a literary device used to add suspense. Suspense, remember, is information withheld. For this particular device, the information withheld is typically whether or not the protagonist will accomplish his objective before a ‘time-bomb’ goes off. Let’s take a look at a short scene that involves a ticking clock, and see if you can figure out what it is.

* * *

Barry sprinted out of the bank, twenty-five thousand dollars cash in his gym bag. He hurried to his rusty grey Camry, turned the lock, swung the door, then crashed inside. He heard the sirens then gulped. Cops were on the way.

Barry searched both pockets for his keys. His cheap, cotton face mask was at a tilt, covering his eyes. He ripped it off to get a better view. Instead of spotting his keys, he caught the red and blue lights flickering in his rear view mirror. He should have been blazing down the highway. Instead he was parked and waiting. A dead duck.

But where were the damn keys? He grabbed two fistfuls of his light, thinning hair.

“This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening!”

His breath was chaotic. His eyes fidgeted from one corner of the car to the other. It was a mess, as always. He reached over and opened the brown gym bag he’d had the banker stuff the green bills into. He tossed the stacks of twenty into the backseat, one after another. Still, no keys.

“Dammit!”

He looked at the mirror again. The cops were close. He was finished, done for – his dream had changed from a beach house in the Bahamas to a nightmare that involved his dropping the soap next to Bubba, who had a tattoo of his mom on one arm and a porn star on the other.

“Where the fu-“

Barry remembered.

He rolled down his outdated, turn-style window, and reached outside. There they were, just on the other side of the door. He’d forgotten to pull them out after unlocking it.

The sirens were blaring now. He took one last fleeting glimpse as he started the engine. The cops screeched to a halt as he turned the key, blew black smoke through his muffler, then pressed the pedal to the medal.

“PULL OVER!”

Too late for that now. Barry was on his way to the Bahamas, and he was going to get there. Some way, some how…

* * *

Did you figure it out? The ‘ticking clock’ in this example is the approaching authorities. The element of suspense, or information withheld, can be summed up best with this question – “Will Barry find his keys in time to start his engine and escape before the cops arrest him?”

Not knowing the answer to that question is what compels you to keep reading. If you read yesterday’s lesson, you also may have noticed the elements of exterior conflict, or obstacles, that got in the way of Barry’s quest.

Barry’s quest – Escape the crime scene; get to the Bahamas

Exterior obstacles – Misplaced keys, approaching authorities

Interior Conflicts – Barry’s inability to keep cool. His state of panic was the reason he was unable to think rationally and locate his keys. Barry must learn to compose himself in high-pressure situations if he is going to succeed in the long run.

Hope this helps!

– Thomas M. Watt

– Script analyst for SpecScout.com

– Author of A New Kingdom