Friday, March 30, 2012

The strive for PG-13

John August has written an article about the need to get PG-13 rating on your movie.

John August writes:
“From personal experience, one of the worst things that can happen to your movie is to cut it down to a safer rating after you’ve shot it. It’s not just losing the F-words. It’s losing the moments that called for the F-words. If when writing the script you knew you could only say it once and in a non-sexual context, you would write scenes in a way that didn’t demand it.”

There are figures telling us that producers make most money out of PG-13 movies. So there is need to fit it into this template, if it is close enough to begin with.

So what does PG-13 mean?

PG-13 is one of Motion Picture Association of America film rating ranks. It appeared the first time 1984 and means “Parents Strongly Cautioned, Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13”.

If Wikipedia is to be trusted, what is important for the rating is language, drugs and sex. Not a word about violence.

If sexual words are used, they must not be used (or little used) in a sexual meaning, and not too often.

If there is a reference to drugs the movie can never get the PG-rating (allowing younger children). Something Whale Rider experienced, where marijuana is used briefly and not in a positive way and where a child stand up to the grown-up and says it is not good for them. But it existed – PG-13. Just as an example Whale Rider was rated 7 in Sweden, meaning it is from 7-years-old.

From Wikipedia about the Swedish rating:
“Violence is seen as far more socially disruptive than consensual sexual acts, nudity or strong language, which is generally looked at more liberally than violence. This can have the effect that some PG or PG-13 rated films in USA are being rated "15 years" in Sweden for violence, while some films getting an R in USA for containing profanity or depictions of sexuality are rated at 7 or 11 years, or even for all audiences. (For example, The King's Speech was allowed for all audiences in Sweden and R-rated in the United States for profanity).”

From May 2007 smoking of cigarettes is also considered in the rating.

This page says about PG-13:
“These films may contain sex references, up to four uses of explicit language, drug innuendo, strong crude/suggestive humor, mature/political themes, moderately long horror moments and/or moderate action violence. There are usually no restrictions on non-sexual nudity. However, extreme bloodshed is rarely present.”

MPAA states:
“There may be depictions of violence in a PG-13 movie, but generally not both realistic and extreme or persistent violence. A motion picture's single use of one of the harsher sexually-derived words, though only as an expletive, initially requires at least a PG-13 rating. More than one such expletive requires an R rating, as must even one of those words used in a sexual context."

And about the “feared” higher R-rating MPAA states:
“An R-rated motion picture may include adult themes, adult activity, hard language, intense or persistent violence, sexually-oriented nudity, drug abuse or other elements, so that parents are counseled to take this rating very seriously.”

When John August states that it is better to leave the f-words out to begin with, I can’t but agree. If foul language is there it should be there for a reason. As for everything else, for that matter.

Then comes the interesting thing about it: should I write to fit PG-13? Well, I guess it depends. I suppose a potential buyer is more interested if it is not something obviously R-rated, if PG-13 is what they strive for.

If a story could be told without curses, sex and violence, it should because there is no need to add things that doesn’t serve the story. But to polish the language, be prudent and hit each other with cotton swabs in a story where imprecates, nudity and weapons should have been better means to tell the story, then it comes as confusing as when the scene in Robin Hood where the hand is cut off was removed to get the movie 11-rated in Sweden – no one understood what was going on.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Celtx in the Cloud

The latest version of Celtx has a free "cloud" function. They used to have a pay-service where you could store and - if you wanted to - share your script. Now this service is free and included in what so popular is called a Cloud.

One of the great advantages with Celtx in my opinion is the possibility to embed all your project files into the Celtx file. I have my mindmaps, my SuperNotecard-file, my notes, my links, older versions, everything, in one file. I love it.

So it was with a certain frustration I realized that I could only access the actual script from within the editor in the Cloud. I think I should be able to access all files embedded; Not that they should be able to be opened, but downloadable.

The editor in the Cloud was also a disappointment.

But, there is another side of the coin: it is free, and all I need to do is open the file in the Cloud in my locally installed Celtx desktop application and all works as I'm used to. I don't need to transport a SD-card around, risking to loose it, any longer. All I need to do, on any computer with Celtx installed, is to open the program and select the file from the Cloud.

After using this for awhile I just love it. It is very handy to have the files so easy accessible.

I've not yet tried it, but it is possible to invite others to read or edit a script and give comments. As far as I have seen the comments are for the whole script, so it might not be that much difference from sending a pdf and get notes in return. On the other hand you can work more directly, shorten the time from rewrite to read. I'll test this function when I have the first draft of The Power of Bitterness ready.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Exposing conflict in movie scripts

I'm watching a movie were a man of 25 and a woman of 40 fall in love.

There are some interesting aspects about this movie, and the most fascinating one is that they never state what the problem is. Two people fall in love, they have a sexual relation, they move together; All natural parts of life.

It's like the people making the movie presumes that we all think that fifteen years between a man and a woman is too much; Almost like we ought to know that this is something preposterous and cause of a scandal.

There are few things that you take for granted, that the rest of the world take for granted. You can expect that most people object to murder, but you make a huge mistake if you think that all people see the conflict in a relationship with a fifteen years difference in age.

I don't say that such relationship is uncomplicated. And I don't say that you can't base a story on one of your ideas about what works and what doesn't.

But you have to show it. That is what this professional, big studio made movie has missed. They just presumed that it was so obvious that the relationship was controversial that they missed to expose the conflict.

I'm close to forty. I think men of twenty-five are childish and naive. The woman in this movie does not express anything like this. And the man in question displays very little of it. The only thing is that he reads Harry Potter, which I found quite funny in this situation, because both I and my soon seventy-year-old mom read Harry Potter too. If that is an expression of youth it missed its target.

People surrounding them could have expressed it more clearly that they saw the age as a problem. Now it's kind of vague, more like funny remarks that she fucked the babysitter.

Her former husband turns up in old and grey-looking in trench-coat to contrast the younger man's more relaxed style, but to me, it only made it obvious why she wanted the other man, not because of age, but because of style and attitude.

If you have something that in your mind should cause a conflict, make sure that we understand this conflict. Don't just presume that we understand. Make someone express their opinion, vocalize the problem. Show the struggle. The conflict is the engine of the story. I hardly think you can put it in too much view.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The sight of spring flowers and a writer's mind

When I walked home with my kids today, it crossed my mind that it was kind of odd that I move my mind to such strange worlds when I write.

Yes, I know, it is called imagination and is something all writers are graciously provided with, but still it feels kind of unfair to leave the best of worlds to write about something else entirely.

Yet, in some ways, it is not something else entirely. I write stories which I believe transfer values that in my opinion would do some decent in this world. Yet my worlds are populated by killers, thieves and egoists and all kinds of negative emotions flutter around; All to pinpoint that “right” emotion and behavior which will save the world - you need all that bad and difficult to show the "path".

I looked at the kids running ahead, finding a new path over boulders and under bushes, and thought that they are so far from these worlds of mine that anyone can be.

When does the human mind find all these negative emotions and use them against other people?

No, I can’t think that way. Because the stories I write, represent the real world as much as Sleeping Beauty does. We want to hear other stories than those we have around us. I also think that we want to be guided in what is right and wrong, even if it is obvious that kindness works better than wickedness.

What kind of worlds do my kids travel to when they play?

My guess – and my hope – is that it is a world supremely far from the tough Bond-alike hardcore world their mom travels to, where she tries to squeeze in her gentle and caring character into an assassin that is likely Bond’s next target (which happens to be a problem every time they meet, because somehow this steel hard assassin becomes sensitive as soon as she opens her mouth).

It is odd that there are such contrasts between my real life and the worlds I create. You should know that today my kids tremendously gently stroked the petals of the spring flowers and said they were sweet.

Monday, March 26, 2012


The production of my script "Awareness" ("Medvetande" in Swedish) is in pre production. The title has been changed to "Sleep".

You can read a little bit more about the project here on Filmbasen.

It is a story about a mother of two, who has nightmares that get worse every night. Every time it is the same: She wakes up in an hospital, alone without a family - they have never existed. And the hospital feels so real.

I wrote this on commission and I remember I had to remind myself that the main character was not me. It is so easy when you fit the description of the main character so well - except that I don't have nightmares.

I'm so excited about what Jessica Liander will do with the script.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Wisdoms from the movies

U Aung Ko: We are taught that suffering is one promise that life always keeps. So that when happiness comes we know it is a gift, and it is ours only for a brief time. 

From Beyond Rangoon

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Two for a swan

I’ve been thinking about taking on a new brain developing task. No, I’m not talking in terms of any mind blowing, ingenious things; just something to keep the brain from getting too superannuated.

I’m lousy at remembering numbers. And the older I become, the more my brain settles for the fact that it can’t under any circumstances remember anything including figures. Frustrating indeed.

Now I think I’ve found a way to prove it wrong.

I have a fair memory for images. It is not photographic, but yet decent.

I will find one image per number zero to nine that I can associate with each form of the figure. One specific image per number. All as different in color and style as I can get.

Then I’ll use my memory for moving images and stories and create a movie with those images forming the number I need to remember.

I have tried different memory techniques before but given up too soon. This time I’ll take it on as a serious task that will take its time to get a hold of properly.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Formatting and spelling in a script

I read a lot of scripts. Most of them is from aspiring screenwriters. One common opinion among these writers is that it is the story that counts, not the formatting and certainly not the spelling.

Well, after scanning through my feedback to these aspiring writers I can say nothing but “wrapping does count”.

If I get a script with unorthodox formatting, I point it out. If there is a lot of typos and grammatical errors, I point them out. If they are too many, I never get as far as focusing on the story.

It’s not that I don’t read the story; it’s just the simple fact that too many things draw their attention from the plot.

Grammar and spelling, it is just a matter of annoyance building up for each typo. It’s a feeling of neglect from the writer, like the writer didn’t care for his or her work. I know some have a hard time with their spelling and you will say that this irritation is mostly unfair, because your lack of correct spelling does not mean that you can’t tell a story. It’s true you can tell a good story, and still spell like donkey, but, unfortunately, it only means that you’ll get it hard to get your work proof read. I wish I could say to anyone dyslectic that it is okay to leave me a script with spelling errors, but it isn’t.

Then there is formatting. It is surprising how much it matters. It is not just a matter of one page - one minute, because that is after all mostly interesting when you are about to plan for shooting. It is a matter of quick read. A familiar pattern is easy to read. I know what a dialog looks like; I only read with my subconscious the name of the character talking. The headlines are just the same; they form a known pattern, which makes detailed reading unnecessary.

A script written in the writer’s own idea of formatting is hard to read. This may sound insane, but that’s the way it is. A correctly formatted script is a much quicker – and still accurate – reading than one that is not.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Exposing character through actions

Right now I’m working on the second act’s first part of my feature “The Power of Bitterness”.

I get so amazed every time what a little planning could do to make the writing flow.

I have each scene planned. When I begin writing a scene, I take a peek at my planning. All I need to know to write the scene is where it starts and where it should end, and if there is anything special I should expose or conceal.

I can focus on this particular scene and make the best of it. The story is already there.

Like a scene I’m writing right now, I know that my main character gets trapped and leaves as a prisoner. I have notes about the basic idea how she gets trapped too, mostly to have something that I know will work for me to build on when I get there.

Now the work with the characters for this scene begins. How to expose the characters involved? What do I want to tell about them?

There are three characters in this scene. Lets call them Anna, Maria and Stan, just to give them names for this example.

Anna is the main character. Maria is her companion but not her friend. Stan is hunting Anna.

With the help of Maria, Stan gets the chance to take Anna by surprise.

Now what does he do? Does he knock her down, making sure she can’t do any resistance? Does he overpower her by threat of violence – like “hands up” or “freeze”?

There are two things to consider here: what kind of character do I want Stan to be, and how do I want the relationship between Stan and Anna to continue? (So, yes, I need to know a little what lies ahead too.)

If he knocks her down he is effective, goes for safety of the mission, but does not really care about Anna (or other people in the line of his work, for that matter).

If he goes for “hands up”, he takes a greater risk, but shows respect towards his opponent.

If Anna needs to show him trust and respect further away in the story, it will get more complicated if Stan knocked her down, instead of confronting her.

On the other hand if Anna will use him and have no need for him as any form of friend, it will get complex if Stan showed her a great deal of good values towards her.

In this case, Anna and Stan must find trust in each other, and I don’t want to expose Stan as a coward without care for people, so I went for “hands up”.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - the Swedish and the American versions

I’ve finally seen both the Swedish and the American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

They were both good, in their own ways. A combo of the two would have been best, I think.

From here on there will be spoilers.

One advantage Swedish movie in general has is the lack of decent productions leads to quite a set of talented and experienced actors in a fairly big production. They even squeezed in Per Oscarsson – one of Sweden’s absolute elite – for ten seconds as a man in coma.

A major difference is Sweden’s lack of need to focus on one character and rather tell about a situation. This is something completely unthinkable in American movies. In the American version they chose to focus on Mikael Blomkvist, Daniel Craig’s character, which had the disadvantage (in my opinion) to leave Lisbeth Salander as someone with far less initiatives than in the Swedish version.

The dialog in the American version was better than the Swedish, by far. The Swedish is on the nose and theatrical, telling facts rather than showing character. I loved the American scene where Lisbeth meets Frode, Henric Vagner’s lawer, where he wants to hear her opinion, rather than what is in her report and she says “He's had a long standing sexual relationship with his co-editor of the magazine. Sometimes he performs cunnilingus on her. Not often enough in my opinion.” In the Swedish version she states that she thinks he was set up – pretty lame and tells nothing of her, only telling us, the audience, what we need to know about Mikael Blomkvist.

I liked Rooney Mara’s Lisbeth a little bit more - maybe because of better lines - but I didn’t like that they removed the initiative from her to Mikael. In the Swedish version Lisbeth is the one contacting Mikael, in the American the other way around; and so with many little things.

The story was about the same, but more visible in the American version, with flashbacks. The bad guy was better in the American version. In the Swedish he was a guy who had violent sex and then killed his victims so they didn’t tell the story. In the American version I can’t remember that sex was even on the map – otherwise than he told that he had been forced to have sex with his father. The Swedish version of bad guy hated his sister, while the American one was fond of her.

On the whole I think I would have liked the American dialog, with the Swedish ideas of focus on situation, rather than character and a mix of the versions of the story.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Review: MJÖLK - animated commercial

This is student project and not an official commercial for the milk brand in question. It is made by the talented Rickard Bengtsson.

There are several things I like about this short.

One is his use of Swedish history - vikings - to claim that we've always been drinking milk. It is something solid and natural and pure - Swedes love this.

It is old news that milk make you strong, but one other thing I love about this short is the macho brand he put on drinking milk. He also get the fair lady at the end.

Clever and charming, in my opinion.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Spelling, spelling, spelling

As I've been working a lot with the upcoming graphic novel The Recreators based on my script, with the same name, I realize that it has a grammar and a spelling that sometimes is very peculiar.

It was years since I wrote the script and I haven't checked it for grammar since. Yes, I've polished it some over the years, but it never crossed my mind that its language ought to be on the level that I had at the time. A time where I constantly confused "were" and "where" and forced a "that" into sentences where it should have belonged if I wrote in Swedish.

I've been very lucky to have a reader like Robert who saw the story and not the spelling.

But mind you, readers are allowed to care for the language they see in front of them. It does matter. I grit my teeth when I read that script now.

Page from the Recreators
by Robert A Vollrath

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Writing a synopsis

I read a synopsis on a forum. It went something like: Wife dies in accident, wife becomes vampire, wife bites husband in his sleep, husband needs to kill wife within a week or he will be come a vampire too, husband kills wife.

I blinked. I scrolled down, but there was no more to read. My face must have been one of astonishing amazement.

Where was the conflict?

Without conflict, there is no story.

Of course there is a potential conflict in “husband wants to kill his vampire wife”-thing, but it is not stated. The writer might just as well think it is the most natural thing there is and doesn’t see any conflict in this.

What ever you do when you present an idea, make sure you have a conflict and see that it is properly presented.

A one sentence logline should include the conflict of the story, and so should a synopsis.

The conflict is the engine of the story. Without it the story is as interesting as if I had a cameraman following me on a happy day.

Make sure it is there.

A synopsis should sell your script. A synopsis without a conflict is as selling as an empty box of cereals.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

My Love Story - A short film by Ramz

This movie does not have the Holliwoodish idea of tempo and structure and I think it is too long for the story being told, but hold on, the ending is worth waiting for.

Thank you Praveen for the link.

A Word: Ostrich

A fast-running African flightless bird. Largest living bird. Struthio cemelus. “Ostrige” in Anglo-Norman. “Ostruce” in Old French.

I remember when I learned this word.

I read “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K. Dick, the short novel that was the basis for the movie Blade Runner. In this story almost all animals are extinct and owning an animal is a large sign of status and income. The main character wanted to buy an ostrich.

I hadn’t a clue what an “ostrich” was. Normally when I read words I don’t understand, I figure it out from the context. But this time the word was repeated over and over without me understanding what kind of animal it was.

Most people buy a cat or a dog in today’s world. Maybe a rabbit or a guinea pig. In the novel the main character’s neighbour had a horse, and he himself had owned a sheep.

And now an ostrich. . .

I still remember what I saw for my inner eyes: A pet-store with an ostrich in the display window.

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