Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Heart and passion

Well, no, I haven’t been writing much lately.

I’ve worked with two ideas for movie scripts, but one faded and on the other I couldn’t get rid of Daniel Craig’s face.

The first was based on the characters from my left behind project "To Be" in a new suit, but I couldn’t really put my heart into the story. It was never fun and inspiring to work with.

The second story was where my heart was, but I saw James Bond behind the corner in every scene, and somehow I found this very annoying. And I couldn’t really figure out how my main character worked either. It never became more than scene snippets without any fittings. And when I saw my female main character break loose in a passionate dance with the terrorist leader I just. . . sighed. This story is apparently not yet ripe in my mind.

What is really calling to me right now is "Sunlight". The setup is completely missing. I need to add about ten pages at the very beginning. Somehow, I’ve missed that maybe the strange world and its habitants and daily living should be introduced. It’s now, when I’ve been away from the script awhile, that I see this flaw.

Another place where I’ve put much of my creative mind lately is the work on the graphic novel based on my script The Recreators. Not only is it very inspiring to see my work in new light, it is also a great feeling to see my drawing skills improve. Robert Vollrath does the artwork, but I help out with transferring my vision of the world in drawing backgrounds and sketching layout of pages.

When you write a script the general rule is never to write anything that isn’t important. And there are so many details that aren’t significant for the story, but need to be visualised the moment it is filmed – or in this case turned into a graphic novel. I’m so lucky to get the opportunity to be part of creating this world.

I’ve been writing movie scripts for long that the details not needed are hardly even in my internal movie in my mind any longer. I’ve a basic idea what kind of clothes they wear, but when asked I realize that my image is as vague as the description in the script. It is a challenge to act as costume maker, prop maker and location scout. A completely different thing than writing the script, that’s for sure.

But, back to my writing.

I’ll put the two feature ideas in the folder for future projects and rewrite Sunlight.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The unlimited joy of a bargain box

The biggest store for hobby material is also the one far most uninspiring. I search for things I need in their catalogue, goes to the store with a list and. . . I can’t find what I’m looking for. Why? Because they have sorted everything in groups based on for what it is needed - in their world. The problem is that I will not use, for example, the pipe cleaners to make flowers, or what ever they intended. I have my own use in mind. And see the pipe cleaners boxed into one use only is depressing to the spirit.

So I prefer to buy on mail order. It does not limit my mind.

And the best of things to order (along with the things planned) is a bargain box.

If I by any chance should think about what I got for my money in solid material, I just count the tubes of glue in all the all-included-kit-bags. It is glue worth the money I paid for the box. And I can always use glue.

With the bargain box, I get a little of everything: A piece of gray wool, strings and ribbons in different colors and types, pearls and beads in small quantities. Perfect for me. And perfect to fill the kitchen table with when you want to be creative with your kids.

No one tells me what to do with the material now. The scrap booking papers are folded into boxes, and the wool will become a cape to a Christmas character of my own.

This last box I opened I really thought that the Gods must love me. I found a bag with big, colourful, wooden beads; something I know my youngest son will love.

Of course, there are things I will never, ever use. Like I’m not much for porcelain birds, so the couple of unpainted, cute-looking birds in ceramic material will soon be out of the house. Probably along with ceramic toad in natural size. (If I don’t paint it as a poisonous frog and puts it among my berries, in the garden, to scare the birds away – I wonder if that might work?)

But I would be surprised if everything in the box would be used. And honestly, I think it is beside the point. Isn’t just the creative emotions and the itch in the fingers to start working on something worth every penny? And besides, I did get glue for the money, didn’t I?

Ira Glass about creativity

Close your eyes and listen to these wise and encouraging words.

And also read this wonderful letter from Pixar animator Austin Madison to all creative people in the World.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The lifespan of Super8

I missed a call when I left my phone on my desk. I looked at the number: unknown to me. I’m not much for calling up into the unknown saying “Hi, someone on this side called me just a few minutes ago.” I checked the number on the Internet and my chin dropped: The last name was a famous one (think Max von Sydow). That does not mean anything, of course. I have had a completely unknown colleague, who had the same unusual last name as a famous television profile.

I Googled the name and the plot thickened, because this guy was famous and worked for my country’s biggest television companies.

What the. . .???

It simply wasn’t possible that this guy tried to call me for something movie script related. It simply wasn’t.
The phone rang again with the mysterious number.

I took the call and in less than fifteen seconds I knew what it was about.

My dad filmed a lot in Super8 his youth and continued with this until I was ten or something when the VHS system invaded and he quit filming. All these films my dad and I donated to a national film archive many years ago when they requested “ordinary family films” to complement the archive with daily life of a Swede.
The guy calling was working on a documentary of a painter that had his peak in 1950-1960 in Gothenburg. And among my dad’s films he had found a few sequences with views from the city from that period, which he would like to use in his documentary.

That is pretty amazing. Honestly, how many of you think that your family home videos would ever be interesting for someone outside the family? Sure, I donated the films, but they were the ones wanting to archive our daily life – not I thinking it would come to any use. And we got a DVD of the films – a great treat since we didn’t have a working projector any longer. Of course both my dad and I agreed to let him have the material.

I'll really enjoy watching this documentary when it is aired.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Show Me the Funny! - Will I be funny?

A book I’ve been asked to review on my blog arrived on the mail yesterday.

When I was contacted with the proposal to review “Show Me the Funny!” I figured that that was a book that I really need, because I’m lousy at humor. Some even state that I don’t have humor, but I know how to laugh, so that can’t be entirely true. And just because there are two episodes of “Fawlty Towers” that make me grit my teeth instead of getting the fun, I can’t be a completely hopeless case, can I?

But the fact is that I don’t write gags and sketches. It happens that I succeed with one or two funny lines or situations, but I don’t intentionally decide: “I want to write something hilarious.”

Maybe this book can give me a push to help me find some new sides of my writing.

Stay tuned and a review will appear. But have some patience. It is over three hundred pages long.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A word about Sweden's political history

I was at a celebration of one of my husband’s relatives. Among the social activities, there was a quiz. And in it a question which prime minister that ruled when the guy we was celebrated was born. Since he was a little more than twenty years older than me, it was too close in history for me to have a clue.
That I didn’t know it was Tage Erlander made the man sitting next to me at the dinner very upset:
"He built Sweden" he expressed with a voice indicating awe, and hostility towards me for not showing his idol enough respect.
"I know who he is" I replied. "That does not mean I know the years of his terms." Kind of sheepish reply. Thank God, my father-in-law entered the conversation and discussed the Social Democracy party’s great politics over the years. And I was off the hook.
I don’t care what a political party did for my country sixty years ago. If they want my vote, they need to show some credentials I care for that are closer in time.
Maria Wetterstrand, former top politician within the Green Party said that Social Democracy had over 50% of the Swedish votes for one term. Everything since then has been a temporary dip in their eyes, and just until recently they looked upon themselves as a party of obvious power, no matter how few votes they got. She has a point there.
Tage Erlander had the power in Sweden for 23 years; from 1946 to 1969. That makes him the longest ruling, democratically elected, head of government in the World. He is the father of "the Swedish model" (also referred to as "the Nordic model") with a strong public sector ensuring free health care for everybody and social security for the less fortunate.
In the name of solidarity and the ambition for everybody to have the same options in life, people with money were (and still are) taxed extra.
Now, I think free health care is a good thing. I like free education for everybody and that private schools are not allowed to take any fee. I like the idea that children should have a fair chance to become what they want, not thinking about social groups. But the funny thing is when it comes to political parties there is not a single party (we have eight of them in the government at the moment) that wants to change this. They have different ideas how they should be financed, and how much it should cost, but there is no real reason anylonger to vote for Social Democracy to keep the basic idea.
This statement would probably make the man I spoke to at the party, even more upset.
The socialistic ruling in the past has had some interesting side effects. Some people can’t understand that a private company selling children’s extra health insurances doesn’t do charity and want to insure a sick child. By law, you have to ensure you car to secure that second party in an accident is not left without money. If you are a driver considered as a risk, you have to pay a higher fee. When it comes to sick children the companies simply don’t want to have them as clients. Then the public and the populist politician call for a change in the law.
We have gained a habit that the government is there to care for us. If I’m sick, I’m allowed to be sick, and still manage pretty well without any demands or deadlines. If I lose my work, my expenses will be paid for until I’ve found another job. I don’t need to bother about my own fate. The government is there to take care of me like a mother.
Ouch. That kind of thinking stinks. Sure, I’m willing to pay extra tax to give people that can’t work a decent life. It’s not about the System, it’s about the Swedish attitude. To let somebody else take care of your life.
For me, this is Social Democracy: A world with a government supporting with one kind of school and one kind of healthcare, like just because we should have the same options means that we are all alike. And if someone by any change should think differently, make sure this someone is socially ground to oblivion, as soon as possible, preferably in preschool, by making sure that differences are not tolerated.
My guess is that someone voting for Social Democracy based on credits from the 60th would not understand my point of view.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Stereotypic women in movie scripts

The feature story I’m working on has a female hero. This is hardly any surprise since I tend to have a woman in the leading role. It is, however, fascinating how hard it is to move away from stereotypic thinking.
My lead has brains. I wanted to move away from the un-social, shy and partly aggressive girl I had in my mind. I found it pretty stereotype. Yet, I ended up in another stereotype: the strong, independent woman. Suddenly I saw Lara Croft. Smart or not, that image of a woman has also become stereotype.
I don’t want her to be overly sexy, but I don’t want her ugly and with glasses. How hard can it be to make her like any everyday woman? There are everyday men on movies. Why aren’t there any fairly decent-looking women in jogging shoes?
And most importantly: Why is it so hard for my brain the create this creature?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Structure of a short script

I must admit that I am surprised that my beat sheet worked so well for a 15 minutes short. The ideas for structure for a feature work just as well for something shorter it seems.
I began with writing down all the turning points, setups, catalysts, midpoints and so on. It looked good, but it always does. I calculated where each point should be in the script and I wondered for myself if I would succeed to place “the question” in the middle of page two; without making it look awkward that is.
As I wrote I took a peek at the page count from time to time and matched it against the beat sheet, and somehow things ended up in the right places. It was just by the end that things started to go fast – a common trait when I write it seems. So I backtracked and let things take their time and not rush through important scenes.
I’ve sent the first draft to the commissioner. I’m looking forward to hear her response.

Death of Old Tommy - among the top 100

The Golden Brad Award announced the top 100 short scripts entered and "The Death of Old Tommy" is still on the list. Next time they will be down on 75. If they keep the speed they have now I should know by the end of November if it is a winner - if it stays on the list, that is.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Laura Strugar-Smith - a script from an actress' point of view

Laura Strugar-Smith

There are many people who will read a script when a movie is about to be made. I’ve found a lot of information about how to write to impress a potential buyer, but very little about how to write a script that will work for everybody else involved.

So I decided to check around in my network and ask them.

The very talented acress Laura Strugar-Smith from Walking the Graveyard was very kind and answered my questions for this blog. She has moved from the USA and lives today in the Czech Republic.

Question: When you as an actress read a script, what do you look for?

Answer: I look for a woman that I connect with. We all have 1000 faces inside us, but we usually only show a few of them in our lives. Sometimes a new face is in a character that I don't normally or ever get to show. I look for the challenge of letting that face out and expressing itself within the script that was written.

Q: What kind of information do you need to create your character?

A: I look for my character's reaction to others around her. Hopefully I will find clues in the dialogue as to how the writer saw the character as they were creating her. Having direct access to the writer is always a plus. It's great to ask questions about where they got the ideas for particular scenes or what was their inspiration: an event, music, emotion....etc.

Q: Is the script the main source for inspiration, or do you create your character from other sources too?
A: I definitely use other sources. I research the location, the time period, the art, the culture. Often I use music. A well developed playlist of the character's mentality is always important. I can play it when the crew is setting lights or yelling about sound. I can keep in my head, in my character and feel the character. It allows me to focus when I'm walking around town thinking about the story and when I'm on set working.
If I know that the story takes place in a certain location, I read the local newspaper to get idea of how that location thinks, how the community acts. If it's a period piece, I study the culture of the time or the religious views, political views. It's also important to know what the news was in those days. What were people talking about? Where were they coming from?

Q: What would you say is the most common mistakes screenwriters do?

A: I think that if a writer is a certain sex, it is often difficult to know how the opposite sex might react to something. I've found this to be a common problem. I even see this in books that I read. It's important to run stories by other eyes I think. I try to make myself available to help with this when I can.

Q: From an actress’ point of view, what would you say is often missing?

A: I think women are written too often to be beautiful or perfect or looking for someone to save them. All women have a not so pretty side, a part of them that would not be considered standard for "the fairer sex." This may just be a USA thing though.

Q: And finally, language, how important is the way the script is written?

A: As a native English speaker living in the Czech Republic and teaching English, language is very important. Sometimes idioms or expressions are used that are not an English expression. It's not common, and it doesn't sound right. When I'm working on something where the writer is not native English, they have, in the past allowed me to reword my lines to make it more natural. Of course it's important to not ruin the writer's script. It must remain intact. But I wouldn't write something in any other language, no matter how good I was at it, without first running it by a native speaker. I think it makes a script more professional looking.

Q: Spelling errors and grammar, do they matter?

A: Spelling errors happen and are easily fixable. Grammar errors depend. Many native English speakers use incorrect grammar without knowing it, but this is sometimes what a writer might be going for, especially if they are trying to emulate a particular region or even country. But I know that with English, things like "a/an" and "the" are very important, because they give specific information to the listener. Also, despite our 12 verb tenses, once again, each very tense gives details for a specific timeline and purpose. Once again, running it by a native speaker always makes sure that one's grammar errors are not misunderstood.

I wish Laura all luck with her life in a new country and all future projects.

Previous blog entry on this theme:
Amanda Dawn Harrison

Photo belongs to Laura

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The naming of characters

I think names of characters are important. I think the right name can add dimensions to a character in a subtle way. To give the names some thought, can also prevent the involuntarily use of less suitable names, like a popular Jewish surname on a Nazi, which I succeeded with once.

I like to have as a “rule” that surname should add background, and first name should add a hint of what kind of character it is.

Now here comes my particular little problem on the subject: I know the background and what trait I want to add to my character, but how to find the names to fit?

There are plenty of meaning-of-names-sites out there, but they mostly aim at parents seeking the perfect name for their baby. Most parents have a list of names that they like and want to know what they mean before they select one. They rarely need to search for “the great painter” and find a name that fit this, but that is what I need.

I don’t want to search through Aaliya, Aaren, Aaron, Abbey to find a suitable name. I want to search for “brave” or “manipulating”.

Actually, I have found a site where I can do exactly this: Behind the Name. I really recommend this site. It is a goldmine for screenwriters. It has names from all over the World too.

Maybe the hits on masculine names meaning “brave” in Ancient Egyptian are few (none actually), but on the whole, the number of hits are satisfying.

This site does, however, only host first names.

To find the meaning of a surname, the sites’ target is now genealogists. And they are also based on the idea that you have a name and want to know its history. So far I have not found a site where I can search the other way around; like a search for English upper-class family names.

So I usually pick a random first letter and read about all surnames until I’ve found one with a proper background. Rather tiresome.

If you come across a database with World-wide surnames that can be searched “the other way around”, please let me know.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

All you need is love

I have a friend who has been harassed by a few individuals. They have done their best to destroy her life and all that she values.

She is a blogger. Or rather was.

All her blogs of later years have been anonymous, due to these people’s attacks. Yet, somehow they seem to find her blogs. How they know they have found the right person, I don’t know. Maybe they attack every blog that could belong to her and if it shuts down, they know they got the right one.

And me, my fool, linked to her blog because I liked it. I had no idea that these individuals after all these years still pursued her. I have no idea if my blog was the cause for them finding her. I don’t know them, and I don’t get why they should monitor my blog; but her blog was found, somehow, and she shut it down.

I wonder what makes people think they have the right to harass another human being. Since I don’t believe in the concept of evil people, these individual must believe they have some kind of twisted right to act as they do. As a screenwriter I’m very curious about what this might be, how these people think. And what makes them think it is worth the time? Whatever they experience my friend has done to them (I’m not privy to that story), what makes it worth to continue to hate? What makes it worth ruin their own lives as well? Because that is what you do when you hate.

Image by Plismo
Image edited by the writer

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Maybe the parakeets will sing

Another project yet in its cradle is the hope for getting my short script Courting in production.

The award winning Swedish director and producer Marita Lobler liked the script and asked for a Swedish translation. She has, so to speak, optioned the script. I’ve sent her the translation just days ago, so I have not yet received any feedback.

I have great hopes she will do something fabulous and funny out of it.

It feels strange, but truly wonderful, that I have no less than three scripts about to be filmed at this very moment.

Photo by J.M.Garg
Photo edited by the writer

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The day of many "Wow"

Painting by Janet Farthing

"Hello, Desiree,
the script is fantastic"

I got this message from Rozalya Dimitrova for whom I have written a script intended for a short movie contest. I'm very pleased. It is always a thrill to hear word as "fantastic" about your script. Especially since one script was down the circular archive along the way. A tip to other writers on assignment: don't think more about budget than you've been asked to do.

I'm also happy to announce that I have got a writing assignment for a short script of 15 pages from Jessica Liander. We came to terms yesterday about what and how much. The idea she presented to me started an explotion of images in my head and I can hardly wait to get started with the structure. There is hope for this great idea to be transfered into a feature in the future, so the short movie will become somewhat of a "pilot" or a "pitch".

Painting by Janet Farthing
Used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
Image edited by the writer

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Mind mapping a short script

Is there anything more pleasing in the world than writing a script from start to finish in one day? Just seven pages, but it is seven extraordinary pages.

I feel splendid. I almost sent it to a contest second after I had exported the pdf. I hold my horses though. I know there is always some spelling error I have missed.

For the first time when it comes to a short script I did a mindmap with the beats before I started. It is quite amazing that the beats that is used for a feature actually works quite well for a short too. Sure, the setup is ten seconds instead of ten minutes, but the model is still applicable.

I’ve walked around most of the day feeling quite bored and tired of most things and forced myself to sit down and write and now I’ve been sitting here for almost five hours. What a medicine!

Friday, September 2, 2011

To express emotions in a movie script

To express emotions in a movie script

When you write a scene, you see the scene clearly in your mind, right? You can hear the characters speak, you can see their gestures, and you can even feel their thoughts.

How to express all this?


I know, you jump in your chair right now and want to yell at me that I’m wrong. Characters have to express emotions, so how can I tell you that you should leave them out?

Well, I didn’t. I said you shouldn’t bring all you see and feel down on paper.

That scene you see in your head will never exist outside your mind. No matter how detailed you describe it, it will never reappear in the final movie. Even if the director and the actors should follow the script to the letter, the actual place won’t match, the weather will be wrong, the grass will not look as you imagined, and that tree formed as a basket ball (that was so crucial for the scene) simply does not exist.

So, let’s face it straight off: you don’t have any control over the final movie.

Even if you did direct it yourself, you would still need to face the reality of budget, actors, locations, camera, and so on.

A script should sparkle the imagination of the readers, not tell them what to do. It's not a manual.

A script full of directions before the production has even started may very well act as a hinder instead of a help. The sooner you realize that your scene will not fall apart and your movie get ruined, if the wide gestures are removed, the dialect changed, and the dialog pronounced otherwise than intended, the better. A professional crew may bring your script to heights you never dreamed of, if you only dare to let go.

But I still need to express what I see in my mind, you might say. And yes, that is of course true. To a certain degree.

Take a character for instance. If you met the character on the street, would your first reaction be that you just met a thirty-five-year-old male wearing jeans that were torn a little? Or would you remember a guy with mangled clothes?

What do we need to know about a character? What impression do you want to convey? And only keep what is essential for the story, mind you. If the brand and the condition of his clothes do not tell us anything noteworthy, skip it. And if you want a character to appear rich, preferably write that he wears exclusive brands rather than specify brands. Even I can get an image based on “exclusive brands”, but will have far less clue if he wears “Prada” or “Levis”.

Yes, you see him in a pair of Levis, but it is hardly of any real importance, is it? Will the scene still hold if he wears a pair of shorts? Will it hold if his clothes are not stated at all, and we just assume he his decently covered with some form of normal clothing?

How about a location then? Of course, it is a good idea to state if it is a bathroom or a ball room, but otherwise I suggest you go for impressions rather than facts about the interior. Don’t fool yourself into believing that only a ball room with red walls will do.

Tell the reader something that sparkles the imagination as short as possible. Express essence of the image that you see in your mind in a well-painted and focused description.

And then, dare to let go.