Cryptic: Too Many Characters

Posted Sunday, February 22, 2009, 11:58 AM

As I begin my first draft of my new screenplay, I have come across an unexpected development that is really quite a thorny problem.

I have a treatment, which is a five page outline of the complete story, and it works reasonably well as a simple breakdown. Undoubtedly, as the writing develops, and new drafts are written, changes will occur, some major, some minor. For the first draft, however, all I need to do is follow the treatment as written, because if I start to bugger about with it now, and make big changes, it will threaten to divert from my intended path and come to a different conclusion, which will potentially confuse me, and possibly derail the whole film.

But as I wrote the first sequence, I included a character, a person for one of the leads to talk to as he enters the story, someone who wasn't in my (very loosely written) treatment. And the problem is I really like this guy. I have managed to write him as a really interesting character, who I can see would be fun to bring along on the adventure.

This is an issue I find surprising. I don't usually look at my writing as anything other than a way to tell a story. I can't look at it objectively, I tend to know what I'm good at, or feel comfortable at doing, and what level I am capable of achieving. It's weird for me to look at the writing and realise I've just created something really good, beyond what I had planned. He originated through necessity, but by giving him a particular personality, and placing him against the main character in just the right hierarchy, it made him much more fun than I had expected.

So I'm torn. Do I follow the treatment and abandon this new character after page ten, like I'm supposed to? Or do I take risks, and bring this character along on the journey, introducing new dynamics that I haven't accounted for in my original plot?

After some wrestling with the issue, I have decided I will follow the treatment. But as things develop, I will keep an eye out for an opportunity, take note of it, and I may weave the character in during the next draft.

Cryptic: The Screenplay

Posted Friday, February 20, 2009, 12:39 AM

Having completed one feature length screenplay to my satisfaction and enjoying the act of writing it very much, I have begun a new script, starting today, in the hope that I might do it more often, and also the hope that it wasn't a one-off fluke.

It's called Cryptic, and it is an adventure movie, with traps and puzzles and chases and good guys and bad guys and epic locations and exotic lands and ancient cultures.

So far I have completed the synopsis. This is so I have some structure to follow as I write, and so I don't forget anything as I go. It's a remarkably useful aspect to writing, as it's easier to keep in mind where it's going, and therefore whenever I get stuck I am armed with information on how things need to go, which is where I need to get the ideas that fill in the blanks.

My biggest strengths in writing are dialogue, and filling in the gaps between major scenes. I'm really good at keeping the story moving along. And that's key to making a good movie - you don't want people sitting around talking about nothing, each scene needs to move along. This can be as simple as travelling to a new location, or as complicated as explaining exposition in a creative way so it doesn't sound artificial (really difficult).

I don't like films that are not paced in this way. Writers who tend to be all about character, and ignore any semblance of plot, are the worst. This is why I don't like Kevin Smith. His films have about five minutes of plot, and two hours of irritating socially inadequate nerds ranting about Star Wars. Horrible crappy nonsense, and yet unfeasibly popular amongst geeks who seem to tolerate anything that has mention of Star Wars in it.

Anyway, what this means is a genre like adventure movies, which are all about going from place to place, exciting action sequences one after the other, and a lot about characters who are willing to take risks and leap into dangers, should be within my capabilities.

But there is a problem. This is a genre that is becoming increasingly more common, and therefore is often done badly. This in itself makes it a challenge, and I don't pretend I have the magic for this kind of film. I'm not as confident with this genre as I am with mediaeval fantasy. Though I've seen a lot of adventure movies, the idea is to switch off and enjoy the ride, which I do, and therefore they aren't something I've thought about much past the superficial. This may mean either that I completely miss the nuances that go towards making it a good example of the genre, and so will make a very superficial script, or it may mean that, as I haven't over-analysed things, I won't get too bogged down in details that don't really matter, and should create something relatively fresh.

One thing I have decided is to have no supernatural elements in the story. I think that's part of what makes the idea unique, so I shall stick with it to the end. But it is easy to see how that might be a good way to spice it up. The biggest of these epics these days tend to have huge armies of CGI warriors erupting out of the sand, which makes for exciting spectacle, but you risk losing your connection with the characters. It's a fine balancing act that you have to keep in order to make a movie fun, within budget, but also fresh and new. The National Treasure movies are great and don't have masses of CGI armies. The Librarian movies are low budget but try to squeeze in supernatural elements at every stage of the story. The Mummy movies are all about dazzling imagery, but not so great at a coherent story. And the Indiana Jones movies are strong on every level, unless George Lucas starts listening to his kids for inspiration, in which case they rapidly turn to crap.

I learned so much when writing my last (first) screenplay, there's a good chance this one will be written faster, because I will avoid a lot of the first-timer mistakes. But having said that, I can't be complacent. Check and double check. Improve at every draft. Don't finish until I'm completely satisfied it's the best it can be.

The first one may have been a fluke. Perhaps I'm not cut out for screenwriting. If so, this will be the real test for me. Can I push myself to write something as good as, or better than, my first? And can I make it a good example of the genre?

Should be fun to find out.

Horizon: The Future

Posted Sunday, February 8, 2009, 10:34 PM

I started this short film because I saw others around me making their films, and it looked like a fun creative exercise. I had been afraid to take this step in the past because I'm so bad at making decisions, organising things, and being in charge, so I came up with a story idea that would hopefully have minimal organisation and be a relatively simple production.

Well, for a start, that idea didn't exactly work out the way I intended.

And now the film is in a bit of a crisis state, and it's not a very nice feeling to have things slip out of my tenuous control.

The main location for the film, that we agreed on months ago and had permission to use, was suddenly yanked from under our feet when they found out it was going to be on a weekend, when they have minimal staff on. Only weeks before shooting was meant to start, they told us "No".

I am being evicted from my apartment, right smack dab in the middle, of my pre-production, of a global economic crisis, and of an apartment rental shortage.

The main prop being built, the jet fighter cockpit, has gotten off to a late start, and though there were lots of promises that it would be completed on schedule, I had my doubts, so ideally it needed extra time.

Therefore, to deal with all of those issues, we have postponed the shooting dates. The originals of 21st and 22nd of February have been moved to the 21st and 22nd of March.

Though I came away from this meeting feeling a little bit more enthusiastic than when I went in, I'm still not very confident about the whole thing. This isn't my element, I feel out of place and I hate the lack of control I have. And this is probably how it goes for all productions. While some people deal with those situations better than others, I am not one of those.

So I think this will be the only film that I make all on my own. In the future I will happily work alongside others on their films, pre- and post-prod, but as for being the top dog for an entire production, I don't see it happening again.


Posted Tuesday, February 3, 2009, 4:26 PM

We just had the hottest and longest heatwave in Melbourne's recorded history, with three days of over 43°C temperatures, and overnight lows of over 27°C.

It sucked.

I couldn't really concentrate on anything for any length of time, I couldn't sit still, I was sweating and overheating. Because my apartment doesn't have air conditioning, all I had were my electric fans, but they just pushed hot air around so didn't do that much. So because my head was completely full of cotton wool for the whole week, I just spent it doing nothing much beyond finding new ways to cool myself down.

So it's a bit crap that I have to find a new place to live, that I was told we've been denied permission to use the main location we'd sourced for my short film, and that I wanted to write a treatment for a new script, but couldn't sit down long enough to concentrate.

Big stupid waste of a week.