Re: Fan Film Writer's Primer
I just posted the following in the STAR TREK PHASE II "Kitumba" sneak peek
thread, and thought it would be the perfect illustration of looking for missed opportunities in scripts, and how a strong Story Editor
can help ferret out these things in scripts.
We posted the opening teaser for "Kitumba" (until we capriciously remove it again):
While it's good to see that this episode doesn't open with yet another space battle as the hook, there's not enough dramatic tension to reel the audience in. Which isn't just a flaw with this teaser but also a huge flaw in John Meredyth Lucas' writer's work draft (not the same as a story draft) of the Part One script.
Lucas' script suffers from a prolonged dialogue exchange in the transporter room that lasts nearly 15 pages! Mostly, the scene is one extended exposition drop. In fact, Lucas' script doesn't open with the standard teaser open and just jumps right into act one.
So I can see where the PHASE II folks had a difficult time trying to truncate the material into a hook that would snare the audience's attention. I have to applaud them their effort. That being said, they missed an opportunity to create a much more dynamic and exciting teaser that would leave the audience guessing all the way to the reveal of Ksia.
A friend and I, both of us having read Lucas' Part One script, were taking about what would've made it much more dynamic. We came up keeping the ruse of a medical emergency that was in Lucas' script. Rather than dissecting both the original script opening and PHASE II's teaser, I thought I would post what we came up with as an example of creating a more tense, dramatic opening that doesn't need a captain's log or a transporter room filled with too many characters.
Note: BBS code doesn't easily allow for the precise translation of proper script format. I have done my best to approximate what you would find in say Final Draft.
Star Trek: Phase II
EXT. SPACE — ENTERPRISE (VFX)
as the great starship hurtles by, its speed enormous, closing in on an older STAR FLEET MEDICAL FRIGATE.
as the two ships met, neither one slowing its pace. CAMERA PUSHES in as we …
HARD CUT TO:
INT. ENTERPRISE — CORRIDOR — TIGHT ANGLE
as McCOY rushes down the hall in a MEDICAL PROTECTIVE SUIT, helmet in his hands. OVER THIS:
UHURA'S COM VOICE (filtered)
This is the bridge. Clear all corridors on decks 6 and 7, sections 12 to 17. Sick Bay, stand by with radiation gear.
tracking McCoy, putting on his helmet, as he nears the doors to the TRANSPORTER ROOM, which snap open and a STAR FLEET DOCTOR (female) in the same protective suit as McCoy rushes out. Her helmet firmly in place. Two orderlies, also in protective gear, push a COFFIN-LIKE STASIS BOX, big enough to hold a man, with ANTIGRAV HANDLES.
They all don't stop and continue hurriedly down the corridor.
CLOSE — McCOY and the DOCTOR
Is the isolation ward ready, Dr. McCoy?
As per your specifications. But it's a damned fool that risks a high-warp beam over … doctor?
No time for formalities. You sure everything's set … full isolation? This means only you, your top nurse, and the Captain may be allowed in that section.
I get the seriousness of the patient's condition and the risk of contamination. But even with these precautions, it'll be a struggle to keep him alive long enough to get him home.
That's why we need a starship. The Salk's a good ship, but she's not as fast as the Enterprise.
With that they reach a TURBO-LIFT … as the doors open, they all begin to pile in. The orderlies carefully lifting the stasis box without effort so that it fits into the lift. As the doors close, we hear …
UHURA'S COM VOICE (filtered)
Repeat. This is the bridge. Clear all corridors on decks 6 and 7, sections 12 to 17 … Clear all corridors on decks 6 and 7, sections 12 to 17.
Off Uhura's voice, we go to ...
EXT. SPACE — ENTERPRISE AND SALK (VFX)
Transition shot, showing the two ships still speeding through space ...
INT. ENTERPRISE — CORRIDOR
ANGLE — FAVORING TURBO-LIFT DOORS
as they snap open and KIRK bolts out, shoving through a throng of crewmen clearing out the corridor.
Make a hole! Coming through!
The crew parts like the Red Sea as Kirk turns the corner …
ANOTHER ANGLE — CORRIDOR — OUTSIDE ISOLATION WARD
Kirk running through a cleared section. He comes to a stop before the closed doors of the isolation ward. An orderly (one of the two that carried the stasis box) at the door, holding a protective suit in his hands.
Radiation suit …
As the orderly hands it to Kirk, the doors part …
That won't be necessary, Captain. Come in, please.
Kirk waits a BEAT. Then, leaves the suit with the orderly and enters the …
INT. ENTERPRISE — ISOLATION WARD
(Redress of Sick Bay set) The stasis box is in the middle of the room with McCoy bent over taking readings with his tricorder. He shoots up from what he's doing as the doors shut behind Kirk.
(to the doctor)
Not necessary?! Are you mad?
Jim, you're putting your life in danger.
CLOSE — DOCTOR
(starts removing helmet)
He's not. Open it.
With her helmet off, we can finally see that the Doctor is in her forties, strikingly attractive without being pretty. Kirk recognizes her immediately.
ANGLE — FAVORING KIRK AND McCOY
(to the Doctor)
Good to see you again, "doctor".
Do it, Bones.
Jim, the radiation … we open that thing and we're all at risk.
The "doctor" knows what she's doing. Do it.
With a heavy sigh, McCoy does as Kirk orders. He fiddles with a panel at the foot of the box, and it begins to pop open. We hear a HISS and see a release of GAS.
CAMERA PANS alongside the box as the lid lifts open, like a coffin lid, slowly revealing a figure in some sort of military uniform that we can't fully make out, but is somewhat familiar. However, we can see that he is fully armed.
As the lid fully opens, the figure sits up, revealing a KLINGON smiling ruefully. And with that we …
END OF TEASER
18 words of script description came from Lucas. The rest is mostly based on the set up that Lucas had in his script, which I thought was a wonderful opportunity to create an opening that moved and kept the audience guessing with not one but two reveals at the end. A mysterious "doctor" and a Klingon that would have the audience guessing, "who are they?" and "why are they on the ENTERPRISE?"
Also, having the McCoy and Kirk rushing through the corridor gives movement to the teaser, keeps things in motion. It also matches the ships racing to meet each other then keeping pace with one another.
While I know that PHASE II has a limited corridor set, they've done some good camera work to make it seem like they have endless corridors, such as in "Blood and Fire" and WEaT. So I think they'd be up for the challenge of shooting a scene with characters rushing through the corridors.
Act one would then open with a brief Captain's Log explaining the Enterprise speeding near the Klingon Boarder, start as we left off in the teaser with the "doctor" being introduced as Admiral Li (from Lucas' original). Keep the scene limited to Kirk, Li, Ksia and McCoy at the top of act one. I'd probably trim the dialogue as well to keep the pace, but still give the viewer enough information that war is imminent, and that the ship has to take a risky mission deep to Qo'noS (or the Sacred Planet as in the original script).
This way everything is more cloak and dagger than the PHASE II teaser where Kirk, Spock and McCoy discuss the "urgent, cryptic orders have mysterious diverted the ENTERPRISE" in the corridor, then walk into an exposition scene in the transporter room before the reveal of Ksia beaming aboard.
One thing that I've noticed in fan films is that a lot of the scripts could be made better with another script pass, looking for missed opportunities. This is just one example.
A strong Story Editor
should be able to spot these opportunities and better shape the nuances of dramatic storytelling in a script. Watching some fan films, I get the sense that there's a rush to get something out that not enough time, as has been discussed in this thread before, has been spent on fine tuning the stories being told.
PHASE II has worked with some amazing writer — David Gerrold, D.C. Fontana, Jon Povill — but there's a sense from their episodes that the production isn't challenging these writers to better obvious flaws in their scripts, where characters are more reactive than active, or opportunities to create more dynamic and energetic scenes instead of characters standing around talking to one another or merely watching something unfold on the viewscreen (looking at you "Blood and Fire").
Now I don't mean to pick solely on PHASE II, which does provide a somewhat entertaining simulacrum. This is something I've seen in other fan films, such as STARSHIP FARRAGUT and HIDDEN FRONTIER. Those series have also had stories where there was plenty of opportunity to up the the dramatic ante, giving more dynamic and energetic scenes.
Thinking through scenes, asking questions, such as "what is needed here?" and "what information does the audience need or doesn't need?", can further help spot these missed opportunities. But it's always good to have a Story Editor whose job isn't necessarily to write scripts, but to either rewrite them and challenge the writers to better them.
Last edited by Ryan Thomas Riddle; March 24 2012 at 10:56 PM.