Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Should I write for free?

Storyboard image by Désirée Nordlund

There is no real reason why you or anybody else should write a script for free.

The exception is if the production is done without a penny spent on anything or anybody, and no money earned on the project. Like if you do something together with friends or a good cause.

If a producer requests a script without any compensation in the form of money, you should say no.

In the big picture, the salary for the rest of the screenwriters will go down if people accept doing things for free. In the long run, it will affect you too.

In the small picture, either your script is worth some money, or it is not worth producing.

As I see it, there are two compensations that I accept: payment when I deliver the script, or a deal about a possible future income – a risk that I might be willing to take, it’s like writing on speculation.

But anything else: no, I don’t work for only my name in my credits.


Without interest in paying for the very basics of a good movie, the result isn’t likely to be anything worth the trouble either. Then why would I want to have my name connected with the result?

Then, as I said, if I work for free, someone else gets problem to get paid for his or her work. And one day, that someone will be me.

It costs money to make a movie, long or short. Everybody involved need to do a good job, but the ownership of the final movie belongs to the producer. The fate of the movie is in the hands of the producer. Any income lands in the producer’s pockets. Why would anybody work for free?

Image by Désirée Nordlund.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Short films by Rozalya Dimitrova

I want to share a few short movies with you. They are made by they young and talented Bulgarian director Rozalya Dimitrova. I was very impressed by her work. And I feel very honored because I'm currently working on a short script assignment from her.

parAvan feat. culture beat from parAvan on Vimeo.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Storyboard image by scriptwriter Désirée Nordlund

You might wonder why my latest blog entries are illustrated with my own drawings. Storyboard exercises to be exact.

Well, there are two reasons for this.

One reason is that I spend a lot of time to find the right image in places like Wikimedia Commons and then adapt it in size and style; time that tend to be longer and longer, since it seems I have used my favorites.

The other reason is I need the exercise. I like to draw, and I know I can draw, but am out of practice. And I’ve never had any confidence in drawing humans and faces.

So I combine two pleasures in one and use my own images as illustrations. They are no master pieces, but they’ll have to do. I prefer to spend my time drawing and develop my skills rather than searching among classic paintings for a suitable image.

Image by Désirée Nordlund.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

To live on the side of a mountain

Storyboard exercise by Désirée Nordlund
My dreams / goals:
  • To sell a feature script of mine.
  • To make a living of my writing. Should be possible if I sell a feature a year. But on the other hand – what happens if I don’t manage that one year? Ohh, that’s scary.
  • To get an assignment to write a script for a James Bond movie
  • To write and sell an adaption of “Prince of Foxes” by Samuel Shellabarger. This is a book I read as a young teenager and have loved ever since. I made a script of it once just for practice many years ago and it had potential to become something stunning.

Now, look at the list, and then consider the need not to live for some future goal, because “it is the sides of the mountain that sustain life, not the top” as Robert Pirsig expressed himself. I hope I will be able to carpe diem anyway. It feels like balancing on an edge. It is okay to have goals and dreams, but you should still live in a way that you enjoy every day. The two philosophies kind of crashes into each other, don’t you think? If I enjoy every day in full, does this not mean that I am content and do not long for something else? If I work hard to reach a goal, does this not mean that I miss catching the joy of every day? I could go insane to plan for how I will enjoy my 70th birthday the most and have as few regrets as possible. Because that is what all these philosophies end up to, isn’t it? You don’t want to look back on your life and wonder what happened.

Image by Désirée Nordlund.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Complex characters - is it good or bad?

Storyboard by Désirée Nordlund

A modern action movie of today includes a hero with emotions. Maybe even a villain that is not portrayed as an altogether evil person. This mostly results in darker movies.

An excellent example of this is Batman Forever v.s. Batman Begins. Batman Forever has very little character depth; good guys are good guys and villains will remain villains forever. While in Batman Begins (and the Dark Knight) makes the hero a complex character, explains his background and his “superpowers”; although the Joker likely will remain the bad guy, Two-Face got quite a journey from the hero’s successor to a vengeful killer.

My husband and I do not agree if this is the right way to do a movie. He says that emotional characters today is as much cliche as a car chase always breaks at least one window, or muscles instead of emotions in movies from the beginning of the 90th. He says the darker movies are far less joyful than the light-hearted, guilt- and thought free earlier movies.

I think that characters with depth and darker themes still can result in a joyful movie. I don’t need to laugh all the way through it, but the dialog can still be snappy and with humor, and the ending can still be one of hope. I can’t understand how someone seriously wants to watch a macho, mindless Rambo.

For me, Christian Bale’s Batman and Daniel Craig’s James Bond are two examples of great characters. (Which of course is thanks to the screenwriters as well)

The human nature is complex – except for my husband’s maybe, since he can’t recognize himself in the heros of today (still love him, though) – and I think the more we understand that a human being is complex and the world is not in black and white, the more we can accept each other and create a better world. Maybe it is too much to say that Bond and Batman works for a better world, but, in the long run, I think they do.

I have heard so many people who say that movies do not affect them, that they can separate fantasy from reality. Sure, absolutely. But then how come that so many think that you can hit someone in the head and kick in the stomach without doing actual harm? How come that Saddam Hussein and Nicolae Ceauşescu are expressed as evil persons, when they in fact were a human beings just like everybody else? I think few people don’t know that a movie is not for real, but what they see still remains as some form of reality, even if the stories and characters don’t.

Why not work for understanding between humans and acknowledge that we are complex?

I can't help but wondering what my husband will think about my story Kim if it one day should be produced.

Image by Désirée Nordlund

Filmography links and data courtesy of The Internet Movie Database.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Transforming text to images

Story board by Désirée Nordlund

I find it rather fascinating that though I see the movie in my head I cannot put it into pictures. I can write what I see, but I would not have a clue how to compose the image. Sure I have some basic knowledge about how to do it and why, but like in the picture above, I have no idea this would be the best choice.

How to create the best impact? Should she stand with the back to the camera? Or from the side? Or should she stand on the other side, with us seeing her through the water?

I know what emotional impact I would like, but to create that impact with images in maybe thirty seconds based only on an actress watching a fountain – no, that is not where I have my strength.

Image belongs to Désirée Nordlund

ISFO Screenwriting competition: the Winners

As I have written before I was one of the judges at ISFO International Screenwriting competition and they have now presented the winners:

1. "Hit and Run" by Melanie Pennant
2. "This Weather" by Adam Hughes

I've read both of them and of the scripts I have read in this competition these where the two standing out. I wish them both good luck in their screenwriting careers and if you are a producer looking for a short script, you should take a look at these two. You can read them here.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Short film: Three

This is a short film based on a script by a fellow screenwriter Neil Baker which I though was quite funny.

THREE from Darren S Cook on Vimeo.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Rewrite to fit a budget - Every word costs money in the end

I have someone interested in Kim, if I can rewrite it to fit a smaller budget. No promises made, but as it is now, he likes the script, but it will cost him too much to produce. He has expressed interest to read a rewritten version. There is a crashed car and a house burning down, so, yes, I admit I wasn’t thinking about the future budget at the time I wrote it.

I think the best I can do right now is to rewrite it and see if I can make it fit the budget limits.

I’ve begun to read it through with my newfound money-eyes turned on. There are scenes that can be moved to existing locations instead of new. One scene by a computer could be remade so a Smartphone is used, saving both locations and actors. There is a scene that I just love, but one of the two actors only appears here and the location is never used again; it will go down the drain.

They make a trip to a place, which I describe in fascinating detail – in the early versions I even specified the location - but could actually be any view with a sunset. I have been there, of course, and watched the sunset there and simply loved the place, but there is nothing but accepting that those memories may have inspired the scene, but, all they do is watching the sunset.

It is raining. Why? To make the entrance to the cabin quicker? Down the drain.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Scene snippets and how my projects begin

All my feature film projects have begun with a scene snippet. All but one: my romantic comedy with the working title To Be; that one was a result of a desire to write in a specific genre.

A scene snippet is an intense, extraordinarily scene that comes to me. I don’t know where it comes from, but it fills me up and I almost live in it. The best way to move on is to write the scene down.

A few years ago I continued to write and used that snippet scene as a first scene of a feature script. I don’t know how many projects I have ruined that way. Now I know that those snippets are the middle or third act scenes. I also need to figure out how the characters came to be in that scene and who they are, before I start writing on it as a feature script.

As I work on the script, the scene snippet fades. I don’t even remember what the snippet was for Kim, but that’s okay. It is dangerous to get too much in love with a particular scene. In the end that scene might not fit and keeping it just because it was the emotional starting point for me, ruins the script.

When it comes to my romantic comedy To Be there was no scene snippet, as I said. I wanted to write something in the genre and started from there. I wonder if that makes a difference for my passion and interest in writing on the story. Right now that one is a secondary project, because I didn’t feel inspired. What I have written is not a bad start. There is certainly nothing wrong, except for my lack of interest.

The scene I wrote before with a hit-man and his mark is a scene snippet, but not the first with those characters. The three of them met before, and I actually know what she did to end up as a mark. So far I don’t know what will happen afterwards, and I don’t know what happened before they met for the first time. Or in between for that matter. But I do know, that I might have a new feature script going on. Time will tell if and when this becomes an official project.

If there is an “if” and when its time for a “when” I’ll keep the low budget in mind. I will honestly try to do the story with as small means as possible, without inflicting the story.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Testing Grammarly

I’m testing an Internet service called Grammarly. You copy-paste your text into a box and then presses a button to analyze it. The final result is presented as specific suggestions as well as a bar graded from zero to hundred, going from red to green.

There are options for what kind of style you have on the text. If “business” is selected “I’m” is marked out and suggested being changed to “I am”, but not so on the “casual” setting.

What I’ve found most useful were the suggestions made for changing words like “very” and "good" to something more colorful and distinct.

I’ve also become highly aware that you can’t rely on Grammarly to take care of my sloppy texts. I skip words sometimes – almost impossible for a computer to detect. The comma suggestions are of course based on grammatical rules and calculated based on how my sentence is likely built, but in most cases I have not agreed. Maybe I’m wrong, but at least I feel comfortable with where I have placed my commas.

Its suggestions for general synonyms are better not touched at all. How even a computer can think that the word “character” could be replaced by “bottle” goes beyond me. Many people surely would like a word like “wish” to be synonym with “choose” but, unfortunately, that is not the case.

This service costs money. Not a vast amount, but still, I must decide if I should pay or not.

During these days, I have tested almost every single text I’ve written in English. If nothing else, I must say that the service gives me comfort. I still need to double check my texts, but it’s like someone else having had a peek at it too before published, and it is good to hold mommy in her hand when crossing a street.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The hit-man and the mark - a meeting

Actor Jason Miller, Photo by Paul Campbell, Used with courtesy of Jason Miller

In the after effects of my Bond emotions, I began to think about a scene with a hit-man and his mark.

In all such scenes I can remember, the mark has done their best to fight back, physically or verbally. It is just when there is no other option than getting killed that the mark, maybe, somewhat, settles with his or her fate.

But what if the mark has a gun too, and could have the option of make a try and shoot the hit-man, but doesn’t, because this person believes in her heart that killing is wrong and she can’t justify killing somebody else to save herself?

So you have a hit-man facing a mark that drops her gun and more or less says “go ahead and kill me”. What kind of emotional impact would this have on the hit-man, a professional hit-man, like Bond, or Leon, or Robert Rath in the Assassins?

Now, the interesting thing is that all three mentioned above are expressed as heroes, in one way or another. We get emotionally connected to these characters. So, of course, in a movie, such a kill wouldn’t take place – then we have lost any possible hero.

But never the less, it’s not likely that Bond lowers his gun and says “oh, sod off, I can’t kill you now” and goes home.

This is how I wrote the scene:

"A" walks into the room. "B" awaits her, sitting in a chair by the wall, gun in hand.

Their eyes meet.

I can't say I want to die.

"A" brings out a gun from the back of her jeans, very slowly.

But you won't have any problems with me.

She throws the gun down on the floor towards "B".

If somebody is going to die, I don't
want it to be me doing the killing.

She grabs the back of a chair, holding tight, looking the other way.

Just be quick about it, will you.

"B" raises the gun.

A's eyes see something.

No, C! NO!

"B" spins around, ducking for the baseball bat being swung at him. "A" leaps in between them, facing her brother.

No, C!

Are you insane? He was going to kill you.

And you, if you don't get out of here.

I won't just stand here and let him kill you.

"C" points with the bat only to find he is pointing to an empty space. "B" is no longer there. He is gone.

You may ask why she carries a gun if she isn’t interested in killing. You can threat with a gun – quite useless in this case; you can shoot in a leg or an arm – also pointless in this case. If she thinks that someone wants her life she may very well have a gun as an attempt to save herself, without killing. But if she wants to save her life in this scene, waving with a gun will do no good.

My thoughts about the scene:

I find it interesting how little that is written about the hit-man. There are two major points here: they get eye contact, which means they communicate, and he does aim his gun at her. What ever emotions he shows or doesn’t show are not important for the scene to work.

Then look at her. She grabs the back of a chair with a grip that probably makes her knuckles go white, so she is truly scared, she doesn’t want to die, but she is not surprised facing a hit-man in her room, considering she knew what it was all about seeing the gun and by the eye-contact. She knows that what she did – what ever it was - could cause this situation. And she doesn’t believe that killing is right, including her killing in self defence.

Now the brother steps in. She puts herself between them, facing her brother, like she protects her killer from her brother instead of the other way around. But she wants to talk to her brother, getting him out. It’s no use facing the hit-man saying “alright, you’ve got a witness, but don’t kill him, please”.

In the photo: Jason Miller, one of my favourite actors.
Photo by Paul Campbell.
Photo used with courtesy of Jason Miller.
This photo was part of the inspiration for this scene.

Photo edited by the writer.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

James Bond number 24

Sometimes I get so overwhelmed by the desire to write a script for a Bond movie. Yes, I am a devoted fan of James Bond. I must admit I do not fancy Roger Moore or George Lazenby much as the secret agent, and the Sean Connery movies do not hold to standards today, but I love the genre never the less.

No matter current actor, James Bond is a phenomenon. You can watch the early moves and smile, or get cross, by women that are no more than a pair of tits; or select a later year and engulf a still ice-cold Bond who does his job, but yet shows a spectra of emotions, reasons and explanations which was not modern in the days of Sean Connery.

No matter attitude towards women and the emotions of murderous men, the basic stories are, mostly, great. I love the concept of secret agents. They strike a chord in me. It has something to do with the great spectra of emotions that come from living so close to the enemy, and the possibilities in contrasts and moral and honor.

A few embryos to Bond movies have passed their way through my brain over the years. Today another one arrived. For once, I wrote it down. If it can not be a Bond, it can be another agent movie of some sort.

I think it is a brilliant idea they started over with Daniel Craig. It becomes ridiculous when you can not move the story forwards and always need to present a Moneypenny and a fancy sport car with extra equipment. James Bond is still James Bond. At least as long M is there; and, yes, ma'am, she is.

Please, please, let me write Bond number 24.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Writing with confidence

An anonymous commenter pointed out – not without triumph I guess – that I made quite a lot of errors in a previous comment I made about spelling and grammar.

Yes, I am aware of those errors and I am not proud of them. Hopefully I have learned to write my comments in a word processor where I can see and read the text properly. I have no excuses for the sloppy language in that comment.

But just because I think spelling and grammar are vital parts of being a writer, it does not mean that I write perfectly myself. It is my ambition to do so, but I will always, somewhere deliver an unwanted hiccup. I still think I am entitled to say that I think spelling and grammar are necessary.

Of course I get to live with that some do their best to find flaws in my texts when I state the importance of correct written language. Because spelling and grammar are something that can be checked and controlled and measured, which, for instance, great dialog can’t.

Knowing that I have some less friendly spirits reading my texts, in search for those errors that always will appear somewhere, makes me want to try even harder to write better. But I don’t let those spirits have their prestigious war with me as an opponent. I have extremely little prestige. Sure, some errors are embarrassing, and I sure wish that they were never published and that a kind spirit found them first, but an error is an error and I caused it and I will learn from it. If the one finding it feels spiteful, I don’t care.

Confidence without prestige is obviously hugely provoking to some people. I have the confidence to object so someone who states I have a mediocre English, but yet I don’t feel any need to be defensive and “hide” my mistakes by lying that they were intentional to state a point or something. Yes, I made a mistake, but my English is still not mediocre.

The anonymous commenter stated that I got defensive when he/she “provoked” me by claiming I barely mastered my English. I didn’t feel threatened; how could I have been defensive? What I did was saying that if my English was that bad, I know I would have known by the feedbacks from script readers. If you were wearing a blue shirt and someone claimed it was red, would you have been called defensive if you in return claimed it was blue?

Just because I know my English is not mediocre it doesn’t mean I think it is fabulous either. There is something that is called shades, a scale of colors reaching from black to white. My English is somewhere between mediocre and fabulous. I strive to get to fabulous, but I don’t think I will ever have the confidence to say I have reached that far. I hope I won’t because then I will stop learning. If you think you are the best, then there is nothing more to learn. And that would be too boring.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The value of a good screenwriter

For me a scriptwriter and a director are two different professions entirely. A scriptwriter tells a story in text while a director tells the story in images.

In Sweden I see many directors doing their own scripts, often considering the script only to be a story, neglecting the value of a well written text to transfer it. They probably see the finished movie in their heads and just want to write it down with as little extravaganza as possible, not even bother about spelling.

From my point of view you ought to be able to attract more people to the production, if you have a dazzling script speaking for itself. A script that sparkles the imagination of its reader ought to result in more creative and interesting results from everybody involved.

If the text doesn’t transfer that spark to the crew, something else must, or everybody becomes dependent on the director’s instructions only. It feels to me like a limit-minded way to work.

Scriptwriting is a neglected profession in Sweden. You just have to take a look at our stunning portfolio of movies produced every year to understand that what I say above is probably true.

I see more and more of my kind – people who want to write movie scripts, but have no or little interest in directing and producing – and they all turn their hope to the United States. The place where you can actually get rich on selling a movie script, but more importantly: you can do what you like best without getting questioned.

At first I was bitter over the attitude I met in Sweden, but that is long gone. Now, it is more like a sting of sadness. Sadness about all the talented people completely neglected because what they do is considered useless. No one questions a writer of a novel, but the desire to write directly for film without wanting to make the movie yourself is something strange.

Sometimes I have considered myself being lazy because I’m not interested in producing. The thought of organizing, invest money, guiding a crew and so on gave me fright. But I don’t think it is laziness that makes me appalled. I think that the best way I can tell my story – the movie I see in my head – is by text. I don’t think I could tell the story near as good with a camera. For a director it should be the opposite.

A director’s media to tell a story is images. For me, a screenwriter, the media is written text.

And remember this: the images are what the audience sees when the work is all over and done; before that, all there is to see is the written text. Now tell me: is the script important or or not?

25 years with animation from Pixar

A wonderful odyssey of 25 years of animated movies from Pixar. Sit back and enjoy:

I also recommend the book "The Pixar Touch" by David A. Price.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

One more script is to be shot

Our new founded movie making group as I mentioned before decided yesterday to go for my script. It is a short trailer for a movie that’s never going to be, with a lot of parody.

Unfortunately it seems like I will not be able to take part on the actual set; At least not all of the shooting days. That I suggested the weekend myself makes things worse. But it is the way it is. Either, they can manage without me, or, for one reason or the other, they need to move in time.

It has been a strange mix of thoughts and ideas from different persons. All in all we had no less than four ideas for a script, excluding the first one that was too difficult to shoot. Mine was the most ready and we all wanted to get started.

Let’s see what this turns out to become.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Keep an eye on what you don't tell

What we tell in our stories is important. But sometimes, what we don’t tell says just as much. And maybe something we didn’t intend.

I saw Backdraft the other night. A capable, but daring fireman - Stephen – has a young son with an ex-wife. She left him, and why? Because she had realized that Stephen might die, and she had to think of their child. So she refuses to return to him, even if it is clear that they love each other. He accepts this and leaves and her standpoint is no longer part of the story.

From my point of view, leaving it at that, the storyteller says that she is right, she does care best for their child, by leaving the father.

If he had opposed her, telling her that he is still father of their son and his death will cause him pain no matter if they stay together or not and that she should have thought of that before they got a child, things would have been different.

Those missing lines of protest leaves an air of that she is doing the right thing. And I think she is so very wrong.

But by adding that objection from the father, it doesn’t necessarily leave an air of him being right. If they both state their opinion it is more up to the viewer to decide which one that is right.

So consider what conflicts you leave unattended as well.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Finding the right responses

In Sunlight (my current project) there is a lot of violence. It is violence the serves the story, but I have problems with the two cases of sexual violence: one rape and one attempt. Not in the situation in themselves, but the reactions to them.

In the attempted rape, the man has no clue that the woman doesn’t want to have intercourse and somehow it doesn’t feel very realistic. He is not a guy that takes what he wants. On the contrary he has been denied most things in life and would find a rejection quite normal.

In the case of the rape the whole situation feels very strange. I can’t quite describe it without filling this blog entry with thirty minutes of story, but the man finding her is used to violence and is shocked that she is beaten, but finds it natural that men had had sex with her, and the woman show real response to what’s happened. She is strong in heart, but hey, she is no super-human. Either I need to do a better setup for the reactions, or change the responses.

These two situations I think are the major problems in the story.

I’ve rewritten the ending because it was way too cute for this harsh story, but I’m not completely satisfied yet. It feels a little like the main character gets through two “proves-his worthy” now, and that feels awkward in itself, but then the story ends too quickly as well.

A minor problem, though, because at least I feel I am on the right track here.