Fan Film Writer's Primer

Discussion in 'Fan Productions' started by Maurice, May 2, 2011.

  1. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    re ensemble casts.

    I was hired a while back to rewrite a feature film which is an ensemble piece. It's got eight major characters, all of whom are equally important to the plot (it's s heist movie with a team of six thieves versus a detective and his client). What I settled on was basically four threads.

    Main plot: figure out what unique element each character brought to the story (their skill) and then figure out how it impacted the main plot (the heist), and then...

    Subplot A: create a dramatic conflict between the two characters who have a past relationship to the MacGuffin, which creates tension between them but buttresses the main plot (adds significance to the heist attempt)

    Subplot B: create tension between the thieves and explore their reasons for being involved in the heist, again supporting the main plot by their conflicts being a "complication"

    Subplot C: made one character a wildcard in order to add a chaos element into the story which none of the other main characters were aware of, but which could subvert all the other plots.

    Or, in a more general sense, something like:
    1. Figure out what the main plot is (goal)
    2. Figure out what the theme is (what does the story mean)
    3. Figure out what each character has at stake (what do they want, and what are they willing to get it, and what is the line they won't cross)
    4. Figure out which characters have conflicting needs, especially if they're on the same side, because that's where you'll find the drama
    5. Hold up the main theme and figure out how you can use the character conflicts to support, explore or counterpoint it.
     
    Last edited: May 20, 2014
  2. RCAM

    RCAM Commander Red Shirt

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    Thanks so much for the response; I really appreciate your taking the time.

    In a sense, I guess the piece I'm writing is really one conflict, with intertwining subplots about how all of these people are experiencing and simultaneously addressing it. So, what you provided there is a helpful framework that I'll keep in mind as I'm giving the idea form.

    (I also realize I neglected to thank everyone else who's contributed to this thread. I read the whole thing, so I'm grateful to everyone for their efforts and perspective.)
     
  3. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    SCRIPTWRITING STANDARDS TIP

    The Prelap: Dialog which overlaps a scene change

    Ever wonder just how you're supposed to indicate when dialog is supposed to start before a cut? You know, like when you hear dialog starting over the end of one scene and after the cut is revealed to be part of the next one?

    That's what's known as a "prelap", and refers to something which overLAPs the PREvious scene.

    You do it like this:

    ...or...

    Examples from the pilot script for the series The Bridge.
     
  4. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    SCRIPTWRITING STANDARDS TIP

    Script Pages Per Minute

    This comes up now and again when talking to fan filmmakers, so I thought it was worth mentioning here.

    If you are using an industry-standard script format for film or a TV drama, each page is considered to have an approximate length. (Sitcoms use a very different format, and thus are not discussed here.)
    Feature = 1 minute per page
    Film = 45 seconds per page
    Why the difference? Well, typically TV shows are more dialogue heavy and less "cinematic", thus action as seen on screen occurs faster. Not always the case, but it's the rule of thumb.

    This is why scripts for TNG tended to be between 58 and 60 pages to produce episodes of a length of 43 minutes (minus titles and commercials).
     
  5. doubleohfive

    doubleohfive Fleet Admiral

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    It's also important to note that page length matters in other ways.

    One of the reasons the industry standard font is usually a Courier-based typeface is because every letter is the same width. This may seem entirely trivial, but it can add up when it comes to pages and revisions.

    Generally speaking, a single script page can be broken into eight sections, based on the length of the scenes printed on the page in question. How large or small these eight sections then are in relation to each other, on the page, and in relation to the eight divisions on other corresponding previous or following pages, can dictate how much of a scene will be able to be shot in a given day. I'm a little fuzzy on the details, but this is basically the jist of it. I have more specific notes at home I can share on this if there's any interest.

    This is, if I recall correctly, applicable both to film and television. And Maurice is right - formatting on sitcoms is completely different. Carter Bays and Craig Thomas' pilot script (second draft) for How I Met Your Mother was 56 pages long! For a 22 minute show! Meanwhile, Jenji Kohan's writer's first draft of the pilot for Netflix's Orange Is The New Black was 65 pages long, for a ~42 minute episode. Likewise, Bays, Thomas, and Emily Spivey's writer's first draft for the pilot of How I Met Your Dad was 48 pages long, and very clearly mimicked the format of its predecessor.

    Certainly HIMYM and HIMYD are problematic examples as these shows and their format necessitated multiple setups, scenes, flashbacks, and other gags that most other sitcoms do not employ, but the point remains - sitcom scripts are a totally different beast.
     
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2014
  6. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Yep. It's tricky. On a feature script I wrote, the Executive Producer was often asking me to shorten the script to bring it down to 120 pages or less (it was about 126), but I had to point out to him there were a lot of action sequences in which some things that took an 8th of a page on paper would be maybe 4 seconds on screen, which I felt threw the time count if you assumed 1 minute per page for the whole thing.
     
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2014
  7. doubleohfive

    doubleohfive Fleet Admiral

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    Indeed.

    When we put out revisions, often I'll find there are pages that "spill" over after the script has been locked. Depending on how much of a "spill" -- one line of action description, a "END OF ACT/EPISODE" notation, etc. -- I sometimes "cheat" the page in Final Draft.

    Other times, it's less clear what will be acceptable. If the goal is to keep the episode script at 50 pages, there's often room to play with it, given how each act can start on a new page. Other times, you just bite the bullet and let the program create the "A" page and be done with it.

    Either way, the important consideration in each case isn't what will look tidiest on the page itself, but how it will affect everyone down the line from wardrobe to props to set dec to production. They say a script is a blueprint. It literally is, and this is why.
     
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2014
  8. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    SCRIPTWRITING STANDARDS TIP

    Unusual Script Formats

    Most film and TV scripts look something like this:

    Or...

    But the script for 1979's ALIEN (link) takes a very different tack. Rather than action described in paragraphs it's presented in a series of single sentences, single-spaced.

    Without saying "angle on this" or "close on that", it paints a picture of what you see happening. Every action gets a kind of emphasis which is lost in the more typical paragraph form. These short one line narrative punches create a kind of tension on the page that you'd see in the final film.

    Neat, huh?
     
  9. USS Intrepid

    USS Intrepid Commodore Commodore

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    Oh I like that. I've never seen it done like that before (the Alien script). I may have to steal it. :)
     
  10. Potemkin_Prod

    Potemkin_Prod Commodore Commodore

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    I wish more writers would adhere to studio standards. We've received such a weird variety of script formats, most of which David Eversole ends up reformatting into something we can use.

    Using the studio margins, I know how long it's going to take me to film a script, and that's so important to us when we've only got a few available hours to film.

    For Heaven's sake, don't send me a 22 page script in 8pt Trebuchet (and yeah, I encountered this two weeks ago) and tell me it's a short episode. Nope, properly formatted it's around 75 pages. Not something we're interested in, I'm afraid.
     
  11. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Do you have a "submission guidelines" doc or letter?
     
  12. doubleohfive

    doubleohfive Fleet Admiral

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    EDIT: Ninja'd by Maurice.

    Potemkin_Prod: Are you guys using Final Draft to write your scripts?

    If so, you can build a script template in Final Draft 8 and distribute it to your writers to use when they actually write their scripts. That's what we've done on every show I've ever worked on (including my current job). It likely would help to limit the kinds of formatting problems you mention.
     
  13. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Assuming these people will pay for Final Draft :)
     
  14. Potemkin_Prod

    Potemkin_Prod Commodore Commodore

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    Yes: http://www.projectpotemkin.com/index.php?id=15
    And: http://www.projectpotemkin.com/assets/components/series_bible.htm

    No, we're using the current version of word. Setting up studio formatting isn't hard.

    I can do a lot more in terms of costumes, set repair and construction, and props with $250. :) We are the zero budget fan film production.
     
  15. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    If you haven't already, you could save a .DOT template that prospective contributors could use.

    I meant prospective scenarists. :)

    Boy, that software's gotten a LOT more expensive since I first bought it.
     
  16. doubleohfive

    doubleohfive Fleet Admiral

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    Ah well that makes complete sense. I didn't mean to impugn, just pointing out a very useful feature.

    Believe me, when I started writing my own Star Trek scripts for myself back in high school, nobody was prouder than I about how well I was able to mimic script format in PFS Window Works and then later, Microsoft Word. :lol:
     
  17. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    My first script was written on an Olivetti (either a Lexikon or Graphika)... manual typewriter. It had a weird font pitch though.
     
  18. doubleohfive

    doubleohfive Fleet Admiral

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    I bet revisions were a nightmare.
     
  19. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    I was 13. LOL.

    I actually did write a science fiction novel on a typewriter, at least five drafts. 600 pages (double spaced) a pop!
     
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2014
  20. doubleohfive

    doubleohfive Fleet Admiral

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    Color me impressed!

    I had a fan film idea for while that I really liked, set in the TNG era that wound up just being one or tow short stories. I honestly can't say what happened to them though ... I've got some 3/4" disc drives around here somwhere with those old files. Maybe once I get on hiatus I'll unearth them and see if they're worth sharing, if only for nostalgia's sake. :lol: