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A query letter
Monday, May 21, 2012

This letter was one of a kind. Unfortunately this approach is now taken. All we have to do is find our own unique way of getting the right attention.

Take the rough with the smooth
Friday, May 18, 2012



To be bold is not the same as bragging.

I am bold – or try to be – to keep my confidence from failing. Just like an athlete talks about her chances to win.

Bragging is something else. At least in my world. Bragging is to remind my reader every entry about my third place award, preferably in terms like I had won an Oscar. And I am pretty sure of I don’t do that.

Of course I have confidence that fails me from time to time. Of course I have moments when I ask myself if I’m a fool spending my energy on writing movie scripts. Or writing at all for that matter.

Then I remind myself what I love with script writing, the reason why I keep trying and trying. It’s the sublime and delicate balance of words: The powerful shortness of an action line; the attitude in a honed dialog. The quest for the everlasting, perfect word.

A movie script is like a one-hundred and ten pages long haiku poem where every word is weighted and angled and considered.

I can’t say I am a master of these quests. The point of the fun is for it to be a quest. If I someday, by some dreadful reason, would consider me a master with nothing more to learn, I would quit.

What I dare say is that I can write a movie script fitting the needs of the commissioner (if I like the story). I dare say that I can do this pretty well too.

Does this make me appear like a bragging master? Gee, I hope not. If I were a musician should I not claim I could play?

Someday I’ll have a project that fails me too, even if I started with the best intentions. Just because I’ve been lucky so far does not mean I think the world is roses and I got angel wings. I’m just one of those who happen to love script writing, and want to do it for the rest of my life, and take the rough with the smooth.

The Action Line – How to write descriptive text in a movie script - part 2
Wednesday, May 16, 2012


(Part 1)

Tempo

One of the reasons for an action line to be brief is the tempo.

The script does not only tell a story, it also sets the pace of a scene and a situation. There is a general rule that one page of script should match one minute of film. This is of course just an estimation, but you can’t escape from the fact that the way you write, sets the pace.

If you write: “She jogs down the path. An arm appears behind a tree and grabs her. She screams as she pulled off the path” in one single paragraph it is fast paced happening. Just a few seconds really.

With a new paragraph after each full stop, we get a slower pace. In this case we will actually have time to see what happens.

Don’t be afraid to have white on the page. This is not a novel. It is okay to have a paragraph with one short sentence. In a movie script it is a matter of pace.

So let us experiment a little with “She jogs down the path” (“she” in question is a known character).

She jogs down the path.

A single short sentence in a paragraph of its own.

Some might think it is too lonely and adds information. Maybe it turns out something like:

She jogs down the path through the forest. It is early spring and the birds sing high and clear high above.

This might be perfect. Or not. It depends on the tempo of the scene and the information you want to tell.

What will happen to this line is a quick view of our jogging woman, and then the focus will move to the birds and other things indicating springtime. If that is what you intended, then you have succeeded.

If you want to keep focus on the woman, you should give her some time in view and end the paragraph after “path”. “Forest” should be stated in the slugline. If you want to add some idyllic scenery to the image, state in the next paragraph something like “she watches a bird fly as she approaches”. Then you keep focus on your character, and still let us see the birds, and – mind you – keeping a tempo that should be viewable if it were a film.

Scott Myers on Rating to Target Your Screenplay
Sunday, May 13, 2012

Go into the story by Scott Myers had once again published one of those uplifting articles pointing out the value of putting the story first, and market second.

This article is about writing a script for PG-13 or R.

Scott writes:
"You have to balance two key criteria when determining what rating to be mindful of when you write a script: (1) Be smart. (2) Tell the story you want to tell."

He then continues:
"If the story you want to tell has characters who drop a lot of F-bombs, or for that matter engage in graphic sex, violence, and drug use, just accept the fact you are writing an R-rated movie. The other option is to end up with a watered-down movie."

He has some beautiful examples which rated the movie which they were in as R. In the same time he points out what would have happened if they were chipped and polished to fig PG-13.

What he do advice against is to write an otherwise PG-13 script with that just a little foul language or nudity or graphic violence, which the movie could do without. Don't put it there unless it is needed to tell the story.

The missing action lines
Friday, May 11, 2012



This is part of a scene from the script to The King's Speech by David Seidler, for which he won a well deserved Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

ELIZABETH
Naturally he wishes to be cured. My
husband is required to speak
publicly.

LIONEL
Perhaps he should change jobs.

ELIZABETH
He can’t.

LIONEL
Indentured servitude?

ELIZABETH
Something of that nature.

LIONEL
Well have your hubby pop
by...Tuesday would be good...to
give his personal history and I’ll
make a frank appraisal.

ELIZABETH
I do not have a “hubby”. We don’t
‘pop’. We never talk about our
private lives. You must come to us.

LIONEL
Sorry, Mrs J, my game, my turf, my
rules.

ELIZABETH
And what if my husband were the
Duke of York?

LIONEL
The Duke of York?

ELIZABETH
Yes the Duke of York.

LIONEL
I thought the appointment was for
“Johnson”? Forgive me, your
Royal...?

ELIZABETH
Highness.

LIONEL
Your Royal Highness.

Have you seen the movie? Well, the point that I bring this particular part of the script up is because the lack of action lines. Still, in the film, they don't stand opposite each other talking. Things do happen, but the writer didn't added action that he didn't thought was vital for the story.

After this line
LIONEL
Sorry, Mrs J, my game, my turf, my
rules.
Lionel considers the meeting over and returns inside his office, door still open.

At
LIONEL
The Duke of York?
Lionel returns to the doorway with a confused look on his face. And then as he looks at his visitor with new eyes, he realizes his mistake.

These things I must admit that I would probably have written in the script, if I were the writer. I would have been too afraid that a reader saw the two standing opposite each other talking. This example proves that I don't need to worry. You can actually write a lengthy piece of dialog without action lines that will do splendidly on the movie, if you only dare to let go of your control as a writer.

Of course the scene works without those action lines. There are other ways to do the scene that would have worked too. It probably would have worked even if they did just face each other talking as well.

Now look at the action lines he did add in the beginning of the scene:

Umbrella stand, coat rack, wooden waiting bench: that’s all.

She looks about. The area is devoid of life. Coughs. No
response. Calls imperiously:

ELIZABETH
Hello. Is anyone there?

From behind a door:

MUFFLED VOICE (O.S.)
I’m just in the loo.

Princess Elizabeth is not used to this sort of thing. She’s
further appalled by the loud gurgling of a toilet being
flushed, and startled by the entrance of - LIONEL LOGUE - a
tall, middle-aged man with strong features. His demeanor is
friendly, yet professional.

LIONEL
“Poor and content is rich and rich
enough”

ELIZABETH
I beg your pardon?

LIONEL
Shakespeare. I’m sorry, there’s no
receptionist. I like to keep things
simple. How are you Mrs Johnson?
I’m afraid you’re late.

Offers his hand. She takes it, a little gingerly.

If characters are about to be characters and not just paper dolls, we need to know their reactions to things. This contrast with him on the loo and the princess in the spartan, deserted waiting room is great. We need to see that Lionel far from the knighted doctors that has tried to cure the future King George VI before. And as always in movies: enhance the contrasts as far as possible. And what could be better than someone at the loo in the presence of a royal?

But once this contrast and her reaction to him are settled we don't really need to be reminded. It can be left to the actors and the director.

One other interesting thing. Compare these action lines with these I wrote about here. Here I point out his use of fancy words to enhance the perfection and class. Where are the ornamented words here? This is the world of a common man, a man far from any royal palace. David Seidler knows how to paint with his words.

Example of splendid action lines
Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Speaking of Action Lines I thought I should bring up an example from the script “The King’s Speech” by David Seidler which I consider to be marvelous writing.

“A BBC NEWS READER, in a tuxedo with carnation boutonniere, is
gargling while a TECHNICIAN holds a porcelain bowl and a
towel at the ready. The man in the tuxedo expectorates
discreetly into the bowl, wipes his mouth fastidiously, and
signals to ANOTHER TECHNICIAN who produces an atomizer. The
Reader opens his mouth, squeezes the rubber bulb, and sprays
his inner throat. Now, he’s ready.”


First of all, consider the whole image this description gives:
He is in tuxedo though he will be on the radio.
There is a ceremony going on.
This is fancy and snobby.

In short, there is this strive for perfection and class. You are expected to meet certain criteria to be here and do what this man is doing. David Seidler sets the environment and the demands for the movie in one single scene. Note also, that this news reader is not a main character. It is not even a character reappearing in the movie.

Then regard the choice of words.

“Carnation boutonniere”. How easy would it not have been to write “pink flower in the buttonhole” instead? But with the help of the sophisticated selection of words, David Seidler helps the reader to paint the picture and the difference between “pink flower in the buttonhole” and “carnation boutonniere”.

“Expectorates” instead of “spits” is also an example of this. Anyone can “spit”, but “expectorate”. . . That is a man of class.

Adding the little detail that the bowl is of porcelain, adds to the picture. Just any bowl could have ruined the impression intended. This had to be a porcelain bowl.

Finally consider the camera directions, so discreetly added: “The Reader opens his mouth, squeezes the rubber bulb, and sprays his inner throat.” It does not say “He sprays into his mouth”. It expressively says we should see him opens his mouth, we should see him squeeze the bulb and we should follow the drops from the spray into his mouth and to the throat.

Of course this serves the accentuation of an ongoing ceremony and the need for perfection.

I’m full of admiration in his way to set the mood and the environment so delicately within such limited amount of words.

Image belongs to Imdb.com

The Action Line – How to write descriptive text in a movie script - part 1
Tuesday, May 8, 2012



Introduction

A movie script contains two things: dialog and text describing what the audience sees and hears. The latter is often referred to as “action lines”.

In a movie script, the descriptive text has to be brief and to the point. There is a common misunderstanding that this means that it should not contain any literary qualities. This is not the case.

A movie script is just a blue print for a movie, but as such, it needs to inspire and paint images in the reader’s mind. There is nothing more devastating for a script than “He walks into the room. He sits down.”

When every word counts you should make them count. Nobody "walks" into a room. Everybody walking into a room has an agenda, a purpose, a need, a goal. Your job is to visualize this in the text; with every word make the characters and the story come alive.


What do you want to tell?

An action line has to be brief.

There are two reasons for this. One is tempo, which I hope I will discuss in a later blog entry. The other is the need to convey an impression of an image, rather than an exact replica.

As a writer, you probably see the scene immensely clear in your mind. You know every piece of furniture in the room, you know the view out of the window, and you probably know if there is a vase or not on the table.

If you were writing a novel, you might find it appealing to tell the reader about all this, since the written text is the only source of information the reader of a book will ever get.

This is, however, not the case when it comes to a movie script. The viewer of a movie will see a moving image and hear sounds complementing it.

The reader of the script is a maker of this movie; or at least a potential one. It is the director’s task to create the moving image and its sound, together with the actors and crew. The writer’s job is to tell a story in a way that brings out the best of everyone working with the movie.

Your job is to tell the story.

In that task is to find those key elements that count. Those are the essential words to put on paper.

In general, color of a shirt, brand of the car and exact time of the day are not these key elements.

What you should focus on, is what kind of impression a room or a person gives, and do so without getting into details.

If you want a home to appear wealthy, listing brands and specific object may very well miss the target. A brand may be expensive, but if the reader does not know about the brand, it does not give the reader the information needed. If you think a room filled with exclusive vases is an insignia of wealth, this might just as well be misinterpreted.

Far better is to describe the home as simply “wealthy” and add one or two more adjective, like “modern”, “clean”, “prominent”, “neglected” or any other word that add vital information to your picture.

If we continue with the example about the home, you could begin with telling it is a home, and then consider, for the story to work, what are the minimum of information needed. What kind of story will it become if the home is bohemian? Will it be another story? Or maybe it doesn’t matter if it is bohemian or conservative? This can be hard to do, because it is not always easy to look beyond your very own image of the movie.

Always keep in mind that your image doesn’t necessarily represent the best way to tell the story either. By question your own ideas you can find those core elements needed to transfer what you want to tell.

Maybe you see a character as a male hippie in pink jeans and blue shirt and bow-tie smoking a pipe. Ask yourself why for every part of the character, even his sex. Change a man into a woman and see if that works, change the hippie to a prince and so on. If the story still works, you have not found the core elements.

The story you want to tell doesn’t work for any characters any place with any props. There are certain things you need to tell about the characters and places used. Your challenge is to find those essentials.

(Part 2)

Promoting your brand
Friday, May 4, 2012

This is an excellent article about how to promote your brand as a screenwriter.

As I read I kept thinking about what I've been doing and do to promote myself.

I've never been a friend of Twitter. My blog entries ends up there, but I can't say that I'm an active user. I guess in a way that I should be, but my password has been hacked so many times, spreading spam in my name, so I don't feel very comfortable with the media. And it is just overwhelmingly much in there.

Except for this blog, I don't have a website of my own. I've been thinking about it. And since my work with the Recreators, it does not seem like an impossible thing to do any longer. I just have to figure out what and why. And a website need to be maintained and updated too. I'll ponder this a bit more before doing something about it.

On the other hand, he encouraging writers to have a blog. And this I have and use regularly. Could use more though, it is just a matter of time.

Business card? Check. I'll got those. Maybe not his idea of simple and elegant, but they are certainly not clogged.

LinkedIn? Check. Member there as well.

Professional Facebook page? Check again. Should update it more frequently though.

Networking websites? Oh, yeah. Check, check and check. Stage32 seem to be one of the better of them. But there are more of them out there. Remember that you can't just sit and wait for things to happen on these sites. You are part of the community, and it is rarely active unless you are.

Not so bad. It's just to Google my name to see if it works. And the result is pretty good, I think.

Living in a dream
Thursday, May 3, 2012




I had an argument the other day on a Swedish movie maker forum (filmcafe.se). One that turned out rather nasty.

It started with a simple discussion about the paid member ship offered. I had been a paying member but quit since I didn’t experienced I got anything for my money. The site wasn’t simply targeted for screenwriters. I said so and listed what I missed. With a friendly and constructive attitude intended.

Then this guy, let’s call him T, popped up and linked to three articles he had written for the site that he thought would be within my interest – a little like “you said there were no articles for you, but look, they exist”.

One was about how to write a movie script, one about marketing your movie and one about negotiation concerning compensation.

I said that I had read his article about writing and it was good, but it was two years old and if I pay for a service I want something more than one interesting article every other year.

Then I added that I thought that marketing of a movie was a different thing than marketing a script. The customers and the material are completely different.

And this was the beginning of the volcano’s eruption.

I got an answer about the need to adjust the scripts to the market, writing in genres that sell – bla, bla, bla. Things I didn’t agree much about. I prefer to write about things which affect me – he didn’t, since it then, in his opinion (which is in his world is the almighty truth is seems), turned into “art house” instead of something marketable. This was ping-ponged back and forth between us. All the time he had a very lecturing attitude towards me. I respected his opinion, but I told him I disagreed. I never said “you are wrong”, I said “I disagree with you”. He said bluntly “you are wrong”. That is not a respectful conversation in my opinion.

Then he got stuck on the fact that I wrote that I don’t read much books about screenwriting these days, since they often aim at a novice writer (he had recommended me to read two fundamental books – with the attitude that I was a novice). He returned to the same books over and over indeed. I said I also re-read some favorites from time to time, but that they only repeated what I already was supposed to know, not pushing my writing forwards. I wanted to read something which added new things.

I claimed I had professional experience of screenwriting. He claimed that I wasn’t entitled to call myself a screenwriter since I had not sold at least one feature script. He hadn’t found my name on Imdb or the Swedish movie database, so I could not be professional; even less since I didn’t earn my full income on it.

He very rudely wrote that he couldn’t figure out why I was on the site – or any other site for that matter – since I wasn’t interested in learning anything about screenwriting. I was living in a dream, rather than reality, he said, since I thought myself as a pro in what I was doing although I obviously had only sold scripts to minuscule producers.

There are a few interesting things in this conversation.

I sell movie scripts, but in his opinion I should only sell to those who can produce and distribute the movie to a wide audience and get my name in in Imdb? Hasn’t most people begun their career by selling to minor companies? No bigger company gives a writing assignment to someone without credits. Credit from a minor company is still credit. But I should not call myself a pro until I get this big, fat order from Disney? Maybe so, but, Disney will not likely buy my work if I label myself “amateur”.

In the United States you call yourself “award winning” the very moment you can. In Sweden you might do this if you had won a prestigious price someone heard of. I’m award winning, and call myself so. This does not mean I think I’ve won – or even is worthy of – an Oscar.

Another interesting thing in this conversation is that he presumes my lack of interest in everything concerning screenwriting because I said I don’t read many books on the subject these days; adding, on the negative side, my unwillingness to pay to have access to one interesting article on the site. He probably thought I was cocksure, and if so, he was right, because I am. In my opinion you don’t get anywhere by diminish yourself, as Swedes often do. And I don’t think it adds to the positive side to diminish others, like he so gladly did with me.

He came to such fascinating conclusions about me and my writing that I wondered who of us that was living in a dream.

Not only did he say bad things about me. He also patronized my clients, indirectly; clients who also frequent the site, and know me. I wonder what they say about his attitude.

One funny thing about it is the image I got of him. I could not help it, but I saw Byron from 3:10 to Yuma in front of me, when Ben Wade asks him if he ever read any book except the Bible, and Byron replies “No need”.

In loving memory
Wednesday, May 2, 2012


My grandma died today.

It was not unexpected. Her decay had been going for years, brain and body slowly doing into a permanent dysfunction. A few months ago she began to stay in her bed all day, sleeping most of the time. Then she fell out of her bed. The assistance called for an ambulance to take her to hospital because she had pains. And there she remained for a little less as a month before she died, as a comatose, without dignity; the last thing she wanted.

We don’t have euthanasia in Sweden, and I deeply wish we had.

Yes, she could have stopped eating on her own and shortened her life by herself. That is common, though no statistics are made; just an active respect for their wish. It is however a rather slow process to die that way, even if you are old and fragile. My grandma kept eating; little, yes, but enough to keep the machinery running. Maybe she could not stand the idea of going hungry. Maybe she thought that it was not her decision to make.

At the hospital she sometimes was present enough to express she was hungry and ask for food. They have no right to deny her and no rights to suppress her hunger by medication, since this would be an active action to help her die.

My grandma cried because she was still alive and all they could do at the hospital was to give her morphine for her pains and turn her over every sixth hour to prevent bedsore.

To do anything else would be considered as murder in the eyes of the Swedish law.

I remember a sad story with two parents and a newborn child with severe brain damage in respirator. When all hope was lost they decided to shut down the respirator. They sat with their child in their arms for hours and hours listening to the little baby’s fight to breathe, before she finally passed away. Afterwards the doctor was charged for murder because a too high dose of some medicine was found in the girl’s body; a dose that would have killed her. She was freed, because it could not be proven that the test made was adequate nor that the she had given the baby an injection with it. Not because shortening a dying baby’s life with a few hours could be considered an act of mercy, and not a crime.

There is no dignity in dying. There never is. It is the total and final loss of all control. But you can make the best of it. And you can make it bearable for those around. After all, they are the ones who have to live with the memory.

Grandma, I love you. I remember your voice reading me bedtime stories when I stayed at your place over the night. That is the memory I want to keep in my heart forever.

Photo belongs to the writer