The Home Stretch

I have been plugging away at “The Marionette” for some time now.  It is my first experience writing a script for hire as opposed to writing one purely on spec.  It has been a difficult struggle for me internally.  It’s a bit like the difference of cooking a dinner for yourself and your spouse and cooking a Thanksgiving dinner for 20 guests.  There are a lot more parties involved and a lot more opinions to satisfy.

When entering the world of my own spec script I can do anything I want, create any character I want, and situation I want.  I have full creative control and the only stipulations are the ones I set forth myself.  When working on a script for hire there are specification, stipulations, and other ideas floating around that are not mine, and that I cannot change.  This can be a challenge for any writer, but thankfully, I love challenges. This may be why I can truly say that this has been a both a rewarding and a productive experience.

I am finally in the home stretch of the first draft of “The Marionette” and will soon be finished.  After that, a quick polish and it’s off to the producers to get their input on the script that they own.  They finally get to see what they are buying; a nerve-racking experience for all involved.  I feel confident that I’ve been able to create a world that everyone will be happy with but I’m still keeping my fingers crossed, just  in case.  😉

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Young Adult

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!  I know I enjoyed my night of ringing it in (maybe a bit too much), I hope you enjoyed yours!

Freshly recovered from the hectic holiday period (and the New Year celebration) I thought I would hop into theatres and see a promising looking movie “Young Adult”, starring: Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson and Elizabeth Reaser, and written by Diablo Cody. There was a good amount of buzz and it actually looked like the movie could live up to it. Boy was I disappointed.

Young Adult Poster
Young Adult Poster

All I can say about this movie (without giving too much away) is that I really feel like it wasn’t a story worth telling.  The acting was great, the directing, casting, etc… etc.. etc… all superb.  The fatal flaw in the movie was hands down the writing.  This is an example of a script that hit all of the formulaic plot points, had solid dialogue, a unique voice for every character, and did some very unexpected things… but just fell short of a being a good movie.  You can have all the proper ingredients, but if the recipe is bunk, so too will be the stew.

I will stop short of going on a tangent, and announcing that I felt ripped off (oops, well to late for the later now, I suppose)… but  I will say this:  not only do characters need arcs but so do stories; especially when portraying unlikeable, unsympathetic, and ultimately sociopathic main characters like Mavis Gary, played by Charlize Theron.  The story started where it ended, and so did the main character’s journey.  The proof is in the pudding: just because an ending is unexpected doesn’t mean that makes it good.

I don’t want to slam another writer, but I really feel like Diablo Cody should have gone back to the drawing board on this one.  In fact, I feel like that for all of her films, including Juno, which I felt was awesomely overrated.  Cody has a lot of talent, and that is obvious, but I always get the feeling her work is undercooked.  Maybe if it had been worked on a bit more this script would not have been so disapointing.

Over all I can’t say I recommend seeing this movie.. I should have seen “Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol” instead.

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The Blacklist

The Blacklist came out this week and is, as always, an interesting read.  If you really want to have your finger on the pulse of what “they” are reading, liking, and ultimately producing, then the Blacklist is the ultimate read for any film industry professional.

What I am most happy to see on the list is not one, or two, but THREE zombie related flicks. “Maggie” is zombie movie about a girl coming to terms with her eventual zombification. “Bethlehem” is about human survivors that seek protection from vampires in a zombie infested world, and “Subject Zero” puts a new spin on a Frankenstein-like tale with a grieving father and his quest to bring his dead son back to life.

Not only am I excited to see each of these movies, when they are finally completed,  but I’m also excited because this news bodes well for me: the gatekeepers have not yet rolled up the drawbridge on this genre.

Another thing that shines a light in my direction is that two of the three seemed to be (at least from their loglines) character-driven scripts that deal with larger issues non-zombie issues.  Since THE ELEVENTH PLAGUE is most defiantly character-driven (but still action packed!) and delves into much darker places then a simple zombie apocalypse, I think the chances are good for me that someone will like my script… if I can get them to read it.

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The Query Letter Burden

Writing a query letter can be a daunting task.  One that I don’t relish one bit.  After all of the blood sweat and tears that have gone into the writing of my scripts you would think that a 3-4 paragraph letter would be a piece of cake; but I often find the query harder then the scripts themselves.

For me writing a script is an enjoyable outlet, a creative process funnelled into a structure.  I feel like the architect of a great skyscraper when working on a script.  When working on my query letter, I feel like the contractor hired to paint the offices in the skyscraper, after it has been built.  No offence to these hardworking contractors, but a great architect is not necessarily a great painter.

Writing a query letter encompasses a completely different set of skills then writing a script. Unless you have written many before (and had success) it can be down right impossible to know how to craft a coherent, to the point, and interest grabbing letter.  I personally never know exactly what information to include or what information to exclude.  Sure there are countless numbers of websites offering help, much of it contradicting, and almost all of it focused on format.

So how do I jump this query letter hurdle?  Why, a query letter service of course!  I have found a trusted source that will craft a custom query letter for me.  What a life saver!   There is nothing like the feeling of the query letter burden being lifted from my shoulders.  For a fee, I receive back a letter written by someone immersed in the industry, that has seen hundreds if not thousands of query letters themselves and written numbers as well.

Of course I would never just send out a query letter crafted by someone else because as talented as that person may be, they still have never met me, and quite possibly never read my scripts either.  I am however, able to use this letter as the foundation of the house I am about to renovate.

Hallelujah!

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Delving into Character Development (Part 4)

(Continued from Delving into Character Development – Part 3)

A big theme in the movie is that those chosen to be Green Lanterns must be without fear. When Hal is chosen by the ring it is because he has no fear, or so we assume, but at no point do we think that maybe he is truly afraid. Hal continues to act exactly the same, even when he is kidnapped by the ring and brought to another planet to meet aliens and learn about his powers.

After a brief training session where other characters complain that Hal is a human we reach that weak plot point where Hal gives up. After a short and not particularly powerful speech by a monster of some sort about Hal not having enough will,SS Hal agrees. What the hell? There has been no buildup and this really comes out of nowhere. Next Hal does not even bother to hide his secret he blurts out that he is afraid but continues to act exactly the same. I can’t tell a difference, can you? I’m sure you can’t, because this movie really sucks (but don’t worry, if you’re confused the other characters will tell you that he is different now).

Fast-forward to the end (don’t worry you’re not missing anything) and good old Hal must save the world (because we all secretly knew he was stronger then the rest of the well trained 3,000 or so other Green Lanterns) from the biggest enemy the universe has ever faced. Oh yes, and somewhere in there is the weakest love storyline I’ve seen in a long time, but I digress. Hal soldiers exactly on the same as before and saves the world (and the girl). While other characters remark that Hal “has changed” I can’t see it. He seems to me to be exactly the same boring character that we stared with. I will never get the time back in my life that I spent watching this stupid movie. Arg.

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Delving into Character Development (Part 3)

(Continued from Delving into Character Development – Part 3)

The Green Lantern is a great example of how to not develop your character (among it’s many other flaws). This movie is also that quintessential warning about too many cooks. Here we have 4 writers and zero substance. There is so little character development in fact that it is hard to care at all about the characters.

Hal Jordan is the hero of our story. An adrenaline junky with a chip on his shoulder; he is a hard living, irresponsible, fighter jet pilot working for a company that is contracted by the government. What should have been an exciting ride delving into the deep seated insecurities of Hal (much like Magneto of X-Men his parent was killed in front of him) and the paralyzing fear he hides with bravado we are instead faced with a boring family vacation in a car with no air-conditioning.

To start with, the way we learn about the death of Hal’s father is Hal’s freak-out while flying his plane that almost kills him and destroys the multimillion-dollar machine. My question while watching this scene is why is he freaking out all of a sudden? Is this a normal occurrence while he flies? Given this mans personality, and his nearly fatal car ride to work a few minutes earlier I can only assume that Hal is the type of guy with a death wish. Therefore I proposition that his plane tumbling groundwards is not only a regular occurrence, but nothing that should bring about the buried memories about his fathers tragic, plane related death. This is just a small example of how the rest of the movie will go. Oh boy.

Now even student screenwriters can tell you one of the cardinal rules of character development is to show, not tell. Show your audience that your character is secretly shaking in his boots and don’t tell us. Green Lantern does a good job at telling us everything. While in the beginning they did a good job at showing us that Hal is irresponsible and does not value his own life (and possibly the lives of those around him) they only tell us that this is because he is secretly afraid, and this comes out during as a weak plot point just thrown in there to push the story along.

(on to part 4)

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Delving into Character Development (Part 2)

CONTINUED FROM (Delving into character development – part 1)

Magneto grows from a loner of hardened emotions and deeply seated hurt to a man of responsibility with friends that he cares about. With the help of his best friend, Charles Xavier, he is even able to access some of the happy memories of his childhood and begin to heal the wounds of his past. Of course, what always makes a character like this is the fact that he is so like us, and just like us, although life is getting better, he can’t fully let go of his past and be happy. Magneto feels he must still avenge his mother’s death and despite it being a danger to his life, and the lives of those around him, he pursues this goal.

What I find most fun about the character arc of Magneto is the unexpected twist in the end (forget you read the comic books as a kid and just pretend you’re surprised like I did!) When if comes to the final showdown between Magneto and his arch nemesis you would expect Magneto to ultimately vanquish his foe and a happy ending should ensue. Instead, Magneto physically vanquishes his foe, but not before that very foe slashes wide open all of the old wounds that had just started to heal. This is just too much for Magneto and he falls over the ledge into the dark side. What’s even more fun about this is that this fall was foreshadowed throughout movie as discussion between Magneto and other characters grazed Magneto’s feelings about humans and their dangers to mutants.

In a final blow to Magneto we learn the truth behind the reason that Professor X is in a wheelchair. There we have it, the fully formed character of the very dangerous arch villain Magneto. What a great character. Although I have not given the movie justice, you get the idea. Of course there we other just as well developed characters in this movie, and the overall storyline was wonderful, but we only have time here to discuss one character from each movie. On to the (ack, barf, barf gag) Green Lantern.

(on to part 3!)

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Delving into Character Development (Part 1)

The other day I was flipping channels and came across X-Men Origins: Wolverine, released in 2009. It got me thinking about the most recent X-Men movie; X-Men: First Class and the topic of character development.

Today I would like to write a bit about character development in movies and use X-Men: First Class as an example of good character development. I will juxtaposition this example with a movie that came out around the same time, a movie that was awful all around, including the character development department: Green Lantern.

I must warn you SPOLIER ALERT, if you have not seen these movies don’t read any further.

Now also, a fair warning, this is a subject that gets me fired up and I go into detail to support my argument here, so this post will actually span several posts, just to keep the reading manageable. I will try to break up the posts at the most organic breaking points, but no promises.

Let us continue:

To me character development is one of my favorite things about movies. When it is done well it can make a mediocre story line better and a good storyline great. On the other side of the coin weak or badly done character development can ruin even the greatest story line. In X-Men: First class I found the character development that I so crave. In the Green Lantern I found character development so abysmal that a friend sitting next to me fell asleep in the theatre. Lets delve into both.

First, X-Men: First Class. I was worried going into this movie, given the history of X-Men movies and the fact there are 4 writers credited on this movie in addition to 2 people credited with story. This, I thought, would be the classic “too many cooks in the kitchen” scenario that so often happens with studio movies. How wrong I was. I was plesently surprised and find myself looking forward to the next X-Men.

My favorite character in X-Men: First Class was Magneto. This character is the shining example of how to craft a character arc. Right off the bat the writer ensures that we are emotionally invested to the character. We see a young Magneto ripped away from his family during the horrors of World War Two. Trapped in a concentration camp, his mother is murdered in front of him so that his mutant powers can be harnessed and used as a weapon. When we see Magneto again as an adult we understand his mission in life (to kill the man that killed his mother) and we empathize with this situation.

(more to come!)

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