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Old November 26 2013, 02:01 AM   #144
Fleet Admiral
Location: Hollywood, CA
Re: Fan Film Writer's Primer

Another great article/list, this time from the auteur du jour, Joss Whedon but from back in 2009:

Joss Whedon's Top 10 Writing Tips

Joss Whedon said:

Actually finishing it is what I’m gonna put in as step one. You may laugh at this, but it’s true. I have so many friends who have written two-thirds of a screenplay, and then re-written it for about three years. Finishing a screenplay is first of all truly difficult, and secondly really liberating. Even if it’s not perfect, even if you know you’re gonna have to go back into it, type to the end. You have to have a little closure.
Obviously, this is something many fan films struggle with on a producing level but it's important to remember that there are probably many more scripts that have been started that never quite got to "The End."

Structure means knowing where you’re going; making sure you don’t meander about. Some great films have been made by meandering people, like Terrence Malick and Robert Altman, but it’s not as well done today and I don’t recommend it. I’m a structure nut. I actually make charts. Where are the jokes? The thrills? The romance? Who knows what, and when? You need these things to happen at the right times, and that’s what you build your structure around: the way you want your audience to feel. Charts, graphs, coloured pens, anything that means you don’t go in blind is useful.
This. Now, some fan films aren't following the traditional film screenplay format but rather the old five act structure for television. It still applies. What are your act-outs? What's your tease? It matters!

This really should be number one. Even if you’re writing a Die Hard rip-off, have something to say about Die Hard rip-offs. The number of movies that are not about what they purport to be about is staggering. It’s rare, especially in genres, to find a movie with an idea and not just, ‘This’ll lead to many fine set-pieces’. The Island evolves into a car-chase movie, and the moments of joy are when they have clone moments and you say, ‘What does it feel like to be those guys?’
This is arguably the most important item on this list when considered in the context of STAR TREK fan films, based on a series prided on its ability to tell allegorical stories about our lives today by telling stories set in the far future. Give us some meat to feast on. What's the "bottom" of your story?

Everybody has a perspective. Everybody in your scene, including the thug flanking your bad guy, has a reason. They have their own voice, their own identity, their own history. If anyone speaks in such a way that they’re just setting up the next person’s lines, then you don’t get dialogue: you get soundbites. Not everybody has to be funny; not everybody has to be cute; not everybody has to be delightful, and not everybody has to speak, but if you don’t know who everybody is and why they’re there, why they’re feeling what they’re feeling and why they’re doing what they’re doing, then you’re in trouble.
I'll point out Star Trek: The Section 31 Files (which I love) as being especially guilty of this. Too often the character of Takila Mak has the witty one-liner or saves the day with some brilliant solution. He was simultaneously the Mary Sue and the Wesley Crusher of that show. At the same time, the real moments of brilliance with the character came when he wasn't doing those things but instead reflecting on his life or trying to solve whatever problem he found himself in. So, don't sacrifice those moments of humanity for the sake of a great punchline or action scene. Give your characters opinions.

Perfect example: In "The Defector," Worf refuses to donate blood to the dying Romulan. You keep thinking he'll come around, but he just doesn't. Because Worf hates the Romulans. It may not be what we'd do, but it's what Worf does. And we can disagree with his decision but it makes him all the more complex as a character that he stuck to his guns.

In the fan films, there's a lovely interaction that came about between Shelby (Risha Denney) and Hunter (Nick Cook) when Star Trek: Hidden Frontier and Star Trek: Intrepid crossed over with each other. The two had a playful, friendly relationship and you believed it. Shelby is always going to be tormenting and teasing Hunter. Certainly a big part of that is the lovely performances by Denney and Cook but it also adds further depth to their characters. These aren't just cookie-cutter Starfleet captains who bend the rules when they have to and fire the phasers and say "Make it so," these were people.

Here’s one trick that I learned early on. If something isn’t working, if you have a story that you’ve built and it’s blocked and you can’t figure it out, take your favourite scene, or your very best idea or set-piece, and cut it. It’s brutal, but sometimes inevitable. That thing may find its way back in, but cutting it is usually an enormously freeing exercise.
Or, worst case scenario, save it for another story. I've worked in writer's offices on three network shows so far and one of the things each office had in common was that there was always a board, off to the side labeled "Saved Scenes." And these saved scenes were things that had been written already and cut, or were just random blurbs thrown out in the writer's room during a break session and filed away for (possible) future use. A good example would be Troi and Worf's relationship on TNG, which the writers hinted at as far back as season five. Whether they knew it was going to go there that early on is irrelevant; the point is the idea was there and they could feed it as they saw fit.

When I’ve been hired as a script doctor, it’s usually because someone else can’t get it through to the next level. It’s true that writers are replaced when executives don’t know what else to do, and that’s terrible, but the fact of the matter is that for most of the screenplays I’ve worked on, I’ve been needed, whether or not I’ve been allowed to do anything good. Often someone’s just got locked, they’ve ossified, they’re so stuck in their heads that they can’t see the people around them. It’s very important to know when to stick to your guns, but it’s also very important to listen to absolutely everybody. The stupidest person in the room might have the best idea.
It's also important to not view your writing as if it's some hallowed sacred text. Nobody gets it right on the first draft, and 100% of the fan films that have been made or are being produced can, very likely, benefit from another edit or rewrite on the script. That's just facts, yo.

You have one goal: to connect with your audience. Therefore, you must track what your audience is feeling at all times. One of the biggest problems I face when watching other people’s movies is I’ll say, ‘This part confuses me’, or whatever, and they’ll say, ‘What I’m intending to say is this’, and they’ll go on about their intentions. None of this has anything to do with my experience as an audience member. Think in terms of what audiences think. They go to the theatre, and they either notice that their butts are numb, or they don’t. If you’re doing your job right, they don’t. People think of studio test screenings as terrible, and that’s because a lot of studios are pretty stupid about it. They panic and re-shoot, or they go, ‘Gee, Brazil can’t have an unhappy ending,’ and that’s the horror story. But it can make a lot of sense.
There's a great story in Hollywood about how a famous producer judged how good the film he was watching by how soon he needed to get up to go to the bathroom. In other words, don't be boring! Keep our attention. I've criticized Phase II's "Blood and Fire, Part II" because a large part of it is just Kirk and crew talking with Kargh on the viewscreen as various bits of melodrama unfold during that space call. After a certain point, it just became me wanting to reach through my screen and yell at the characters "Alright, we get it! Next scene, please!" Likewise, Starship Exeter came to be with the conceit that the production would be completed using as many practical effects as possible and with methods as close to those of 1960s television had at its disposal. Phase II aims to produce new episodes but dresses their films up with all the bells and whistles of what a TV show that would have been broadcast on a Saturday night in 1967 would have (the NBC and Desilu tags, the "you're watching this in living color!" bumper, etc.). The point is, know who you're writing for. It doesn't mean you can't do new things but the people watching are going to expect a certain product when it comes to something as specialized as a fan film. Make sure to honor that expectation.

Write the movie as much as you can. If something is lush and extensive, you can describe it glowingly; if something isn’t that important, just get past it tersely. Let the read feel like the movie; it does a lot of the work for you, for the director, and for the executives who go, ‘What will this be like when we put it on its feet?’
At the same time, don't overdo it. We don't need Kirk's life history expounded in a slug line describing his drawing his phaser on a hostile planet. The Shane Black school of screenwriting is fun to read but it's not necessarily applicable to everything. Again though, the same rule that applies to podcasting applies here: DON'T BE BORING!

Having given the advice about listening, I have to give the opposite advice, because ultimately the best work comes when somebody’s fucked the system; done the unexpected and let their own personal voice into the machine that is moviemaking. Choose your battles. You wouldn’t get Paul Thomas Anderson, or Wes Anderson, or any of these guys if all moviemaking was completely cookie-cutter. But the process drives you in that direction; it’s a homogenising process, and you have to fight that a bit. There was a point while we were making Firefly when I asked the network not to pick it up: they’d started talking about a different show.
This could also go back, quite powerfully, I think, to the earlier point about having something to say. And there are absolutely those in the fan film community who could stand to hear the words "Choose your battles" a few more times till it sinks in.

The first penny I ever earned, I saved. Then I made sure that I never had to take a job just because I needed to. I still needed jobs of course, but I was able to take ones that I loved. When I say that includes Waterworld, people scratch their heads, but it’s a wonderful idea for a movie. Anything can be good. Even Last Action Hero could’ve been good. There’s an idea somewhere in almost any movie: if you can find something that you love, then you can do it. If you can’t, it doesn’t matter how skillful you are: that’s called whoring.”
Not really applicable in the fan film community as most fan films are labors of love for their creators, so this one doesn't really apply directly but its worth knowing/remembering nonetheless. .
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