Thursday, October 28, 2010

How good or bad is my script?

The day before yesterday my script was worthy an Oscar.

Yesterday it turned into shadows and dust.

It is rather tiresome to have a writing-mind that flip-flops like this and can’t take a stand somewhere in between.

Because, hello, that is likely the truth.

My script is not worthy an Oscar. At least not until I’ve got the third act in one piece.

Yet it is more than shadows and dust. Of that I’m certain.

I started to do a general, critical overview of the script yesterday and from being a Holy Grail the cup turned unpolished, from that to dirty and finally became a used coffee cup in paper, crumbled.

Why do I have to be so dramatic, like there is no hope?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The main character's arc

Arc of main character

I’ve finally came to a vital conclusion about The Beautymaker.

Although I had this grand idea about what to do with the third act I soon found my inspiration leaving me on an express train.


I became more and more frustrated. And found more and more excuses not to write.

But when I expressed my chafe to my husband I realized by talking about it what was wrong: The story had already ended.

My main character’s arc had reached its end, but I continued to write on the story – that was no longer there.

I should talk to someone about my stories more often.

Now that I know the source of the problems I know how to handle it.

I don’t know what the story will be like right now, but I know where to start. And I start right now.

Monday, October 25, 2010

I need a breather

It doesn’t happen to me very often, but lately I wonder where time went by.

I’m fully aware of my priorities and accept that things take longer time simply because I actively choose to do other things first. But what if there never is time for other things than the most basic?

Family, job, writing; that’s my priority list. Sure, I wouldn’t mind if job and writing were the same, but now it isn’t. And I’m a fool if I don’t do my job as I should. So it must come before writing.

And I have time to write.

But then I don’t have time for much else.

I have a beautiful blue skirt waiting to be finished; I’ve several meters of other wonderful cloth to be sewn into nice clothes; I’ve got a garden and a once-inch-scale dollhouse; just waiting for time, which I use for writing – hopefully, sadly I find myself excusing myself not writing too often, browsing the Internet.

Personally I think I’m a damn good writer with great prospects.

And right now I just want to do other things than writing. Anything but writing. Doing a Gustavian wallpaper for the dollhouse maybe, or finish the exterior for a start. Write letters long neglected.

But I want to finish this script. This great script that will win the contests and take me to the stars.

But hey, even if it is great, it doesn’t do anything by itself. Once finished I still have to work to get it around, getting it read.

Sometime pretty soon I’ll need a breather. I need to get the inspiration back. When I feel I’m looking for excuses not to write more often than writing, it’s time to catch the breath.

It's just that I'm scared to blink. Maybe an opportunity runs by in the meantime.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Show, don't tell

Show, don't tell

I read a beginner’s short script some days ago that stuck me as a great example of how not to use the visual media of a movie.

Simplified it was a dishevelled, bear-drinking man telling his life’s misery to his mother on the phone and then he hung himself.

As I see it, two major mistakes were made in this setup: one, the story began too late; two we are told the story, not shown.

Think about what we see. We see a miserable man talking on the phone and then committing suicide. Just look at the images now; do you understand the story? The visual media is not used. This is a story told, not shown.

Then we look at what is said. Alright, he had had a tough time, lost his work, wife leaving, refused to see his daughter, nasty stuff able to break any man.

But if an unknown man started talking to you about all his bad luck in life, would you feel for him? Would you believe him? Would you give him some cheery advice? Would you help him, find him a job, pull a lawyer out of the sleeve and give him a new life? Would you think he’s just whiny?

That is the situation we are facing here. An unknown man comes up and talks about all his bad luck in life.

For us to care we need to feel for him. If you are like me, who think most things can be solved with a positive attitude, you need to see him as a strong character first and then follow his breakdown to understand that this is not just something you cure with a smile.

We also need to feel some attachment on a personal level. We need to recognize ourselves in his story. Few of us are on the bottom level where this story started. If you start with a “normal, healthy fellow” more people can see themselves in the character. That he then breaks down – this the normal, healthy fellow, just like me – is just a part of our recognization because we feel he could be me, anybody, falling out of luck in life.

That the main character tells us what he has been through, works just as likely that you would take a complete stranger complaining about life’s unfairness under your wing, trusting him completely and solve all his financial- and domestic problems in life.

Photo by Barry from London
Used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
Image edited by the writer.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Review: Avatar

I’ve finally caught up with the rest of the world and seen Avatar. Not in 3D though. That experience is still yet to achieve.

I simply love what you can do with a computer and a great deal of skill and additional technology. I think it is fantastic that we can travel to other worlds existing only in someone’s mind.

But this stunning World aside, what do we got?

A classic story.

This does not mean that it is bad. It strikes primal tones within us, and the theme is as important as ever. The story is not the problem.

What I think is really disappointing is the poor work done with the characters. A classic story does not mean that the characters must be cliché and stereotype.

All the characters were the same throughout the entire story, except for a small shift in the main character. They had a label each and it was either black or white.

The Na’vi people were good, the humans bad; the general obstinate to utter stupidity.

There were no realistic characters anywhere. They had a trait, one trait only, like Cinderella is always sweet and nice and her Stepmom evil and nasty at all times.

We never get to know what makes Jake turns from being a spy to love his new life; or rather why he was a spy in the first place, since it was so obvious that he liked being inside his Avatar.

Then he very cliché-like looses his honour and becomes shunned and despised, a situation where I think brilliant people talk and try to understand the whole picture, instead of acting on pure instinct. Very disrespectful towards the Na'vi characters.

Jake gains his respect back by simply riding a dragon-like creature, and yes, I say simply, because it looked very simple. And by doing this without effort the Na’vi people were treated as simple natives believing in divine omens and placed Jake as a human (at least in mind) above them. He doesn’t prove his worthy by other means than using an old legend, like a trick. If he at least had proven his worthy by being mentally strong, instead of just kind-hearted stubborn.

The value of a life is not – as I recall it – an issue in this movie. It’s about human greed.

The Na’vi who care for all life-forms do not value a human life at all, something that they logically should, since they have predators surely taking some Na’vi lives are still treated with respect.

The issue what Na’vi lives are worth to humans, is hardly an issue either. They have no more value than animals to the humans, and that is that.

As I said it is about human greed.

And this greed has led to the killing of our own Eywa – “mother Earth” – an important message just flying by. What are humans if the soul of our world is dead? Do we have a soul any longer? Any afterlife?

What I want to say is that with a little more developed characters the story would have been so much more fascinating and not so simple-minded.

Wouldn’t it have been much more interesting if the general gained some insight and retreated? At least, I would have been surprised.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Structure of the ending of a story

I’m rewriting “the Beautymaker” at the moment and to my tremendous joy I feel the script is good. Most times I feel disappointed when I return to a script to rewrite the first draft, but this time was not one of those.

Soon I am at the disaster for an ending though.

I know what to do with it. At least I think so. The problem before was that all the troubles were solved too soon and the stakes were not high enough.

I’ve added a financial aspect to the main character’s situation; and since I feel that love is more important than money, he will solve his financial situation first, and get his girlfriend back afterwards (and not because his is rich).

It is also a matter of story. It felt like the story ended when they reunited, but the bag was untied, still open. I have to close all cases, except for their relationship, first, and then he has proven his worthy and won her back.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

To dehumanize villains, part II

As a parent of two kids I watch a great deal of animated movies. We have a whole library with almost every major Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks. They enjoy old Silly Symphony shorts as well as newer things as Up.

When we watched Kung Fu Panda I remembered my blog entry about dehumanize villains. This movie is a perfect example of the trend where we get to understand the villain. And not only do we get to know why he is the way he is, we also find out that it is not entirely his own fault.

This is very far from movies like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White where the villain is just evil without any explanation or effort to make us understand.

Is Tai Lung a less frightening villain than the evil stepmothers or Maleficent in the older movies? I wouldn’t say so; On the contrary. I would rather say that he is more frightening because he could have been any of us, under other circumstances.

And when Tai Lung confronts Shifu and Shifu asks for his forgiveness, the villain too has to make a choice, just like the hero. Of course Tai Lung makes the wrong choice, but he gets the chance. Can you think of a confrontation like this between Cinderella and her stepmother?

Filmography links and data courtesy of The Internet Movie Database.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A cold autumn morning

Speaking of haiku isn’t it an interesting coincidence that Julie Gray announces a haiku contest the day after my blog entry. It is one of those coincidences that simply doesn’t happen in movies but do all the time in real life.

This morning was chilly. I walked with my kids to preschool and we stopped to admire the sunrise - kids debating if the clouds were colored red or orange, with their mother’s aid settling for red-orange – and I thought about these wonderful moments in life, watching the beauty of a sunrise.

That cold autumn morning with its stunning colors would be perfect for a haiku.

How does one transfer this wonderful feeling at this very moment into seventeen syllables? How do I make you understand the image and my emotion in barely a take of breath?

Maybe haiku will be my new exercise? I’ve missed those challenges.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Monday, October 11, 2010

The splendor in short descriptions

I’ve read my first draft of “The Beautymaker” all the way through, making notes along the way.

I’ve considered some of the ideas expressed by Richard Walter and tried to think in those terms when reading. Like no “. . .” and remove anything that doesn’t make the scene fall if deleted.

The interesting thing about removing unnecessary descriptions is what is left. No lengthy novels here, no sir. And with these short statements about what is happening, I’m supposed to show my splendor as a writer. Yeehaa!

Yes, I was ironic. But yet no, I wasn’t.

What I mean is, when I wrote an essay at school the result was judged by other criteria than it is now. A novel or short story can take its time, if it serves a purpose. A movie script cannot.

With one or two sentences – pretty short ones – I have to tell what’s going on in a particular scene. Because it is so fast the viewer of the image can tell what’s going on. A screenwriter cannot spend more paper on description than it takes for the audience to grasp the situation on the screen.

But these one or two sentences have to shine with skill, something that would seem like a huge contradiction.

But it is not.

Think of a haiku poem. It’s a Japanese form of poetry, rules a bit loosened up in its English form, but the idea is to paint an image with three short phrases.

After the storm
A boy wiping the sky
From the tables

- Darko Plazanin, Yugoslavia

It can be done. And there I find the challenge, and the fun, with writing screenplays.

Friday, October 8, 2010

For a briefest of time

When I feel I have a tough time at work I visit my blogs. My own blogs. Because then I, for a moment, visit another world. A world where I’m allowed to dream and be creative.

For a briefest of time I am a fulltime screenwriter.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

General update

Second draft of "Mord i Malmö" is ready to be sent to the commissioner. At last. I almost wish I had had a real deadline; they seem to make me more creative since it forces solutions to appear.

The first rough cut of "Bordet närmast fönstret" is done. See here for some stills. They look fabulous to me. It is just amazing how well they look just as I imagined.

"Walking the Graveyard" is a bit of a mystery. Or maybe I'm just so eager to see the result and feels it takes soooo long. Last news is that is just the final stage left and it is under process. You can see a little here, at Jerry's demo real. The first part is from "Walking the Graveyard". I never get tiered of watching it.

Now I'll spend a day or two on "The Death of Old Tommy" enhancing his joy for taking care of people with a scene in the beginning.

Then I'll get back to "The Beautymaker".

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Richard Walter answers a few questions for me

Richard Walter, the writer of "Essentials of Screenwriting" reviewed earlier has been very kind and answered a few questions of mine:

Désirée asks:
You encourage writers to let go and leave the scripts in the hands of directors and actors. How can a screenwriter judge if they will wreck it or make a brilliant movie out of it? Is there a way to make such judgment? Should a screenwriter care about it, or just be happy with the money and the credits?

Richard answers:
While it’s true actors and directors may wreck good scripts, the likelihood is that they’ll make the movie even better than the writer imagined it could be. The trick is not merely to tolerate their creative involvement with the movie but to encourage it. Screenwriting and filmmaking are not adversarial enterprises.

I am from another culture and I wonder if you have any suggestions for foreign writers, like me, about how to absorb what is necessary to write a movie for the American market, favorably Hollywood ?

There are two, and only two, kind of movies. They are not ‘foreign’ or ‘international’ pictures on one hand and American pictures on the other but good pictures and bad pictures. The former engage and entertain and at the same time posit profound insights into the nature of the human condition. The latter are boring. Good films transcend markets and regions and cultures and speak to all of humanity. Rashomon, as an example, the classic Japanese film set in Samurai Japan, speaks not only to Japanese audiences but world audience, especially relative to the issue of truth and perception.

When you write about dialog you mention a few things that actors don’t like or care about, like directives how the dialog should be said. How about actions and descriptions? What should a screenwriter include to help an actor? And what should be left out?

What should be left in is anything that, if left out, would cause the scene or the movie to crumble. If you can take something out and it doesn’t make much of a difference, then it wasn’t needed in the first place. What should be left in is only that which is fundamental, essential. Avoid gestures, suggestions regarding inflection and intonation. Shakespeare wrote perhaps thirty six plays without instructions relative to the way lines should be spoken. It all derives from story.

Thank you, Richard, for your time and your willingness to share your experiences.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Writing irony

I just wanted to pass along a good article about writing irony and great dialog as well.

"Writing Ironic Screenplay Scenes" by Hal Croasmun.

A scene taken from one of my favorite movies as well.

Monday, October 4, 2010

To dehumanize villains

One time there were big riots in my home town. It had to do with a big EU top meeting gathering a lot of political active youths and a high ranked police officer who crushed the good relations the local police force has built up with these youths.

The TV showed how one of these kids were shot by the police (no, he didn’t die as many foreign news channels reported).

In the aftermaths Swedish reporters and media dehumanized the police force. They were not displayed as individual characters; frightened and in front of an angry mob. But the mob as showed in media consisted of individuals.

To not risk that we – the audience, the common people – will get feelings for the “wrong” cause, the enemy is dehumanized; one of the oldest tricks in history.

This counts for movies as well. So many movies have been made with a villain not really human; a villain that is just evil and who don’t get a chance to explain him/herself.

But that has changed.

I would say that the number of movies where we get a chance to understand and feel for the bad guy has increased over the last ten years.

This trend gives me hope for mankind.

I think it is by mutual understanding we can move forwards as humans. This does not mean accepting what an individual does, but respecting his right to his emotions and feelings, his right to be.

My hope is that my writings will follow this trend and in some little way will help us make a better world for us all.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Short movie "Stop" by Hampus Lager

I just found a little short film on a Swedish film forum that hit my heart. Enjoy.

Stopp from Hampus Lager on Vimeo.