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.

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