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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    Time to revivify or at least reanimate this hibernating topic thread.

    Given some recent discussions about new fanfilm series trying to get off the ground, what’s come up again and again is that just about every fanfilm production I’ve ever seen suffers from issues that can be traced right back to the screenplay.

    It’s the cheapest thing to fix, as its raw material is the writer’s imagination and skill, however, it’s not easy to do well at all, as most fanfilm stories amply illustrate.

    For the past year I’ve been busy working on a TV pilot script I’m hoping to sell (yes, I know the odds against!) and it’s gotta be one of the most difficult things I’ve ever written because I’m not just writing one story, I’m writing a story that needs to hint at what the series would be. But in the process of writing this I kept running into a wall in the A-story of the script. It was never working for me. Last week I sat down and started analyzing it, and I realized what was bugging me. And it’s the same thing that is at the heart of what’s wrong with most fanfilm scripts, namely: I didn’t properly set up the story’s problem so that the protagonist could/would have to make a difficult decision in order to resolve it.

    So, in hopes that this might help some of you fanfilm writers, I’m going to share my notes on what I call…

    The PROBLEM of THE Problem

    See next post!
     
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2011
  2. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    The PROBLEM of THE Problem

    Dramatic stories are about solving a Problem, but it's easy to get this wrong.

    The problem with most fanfilm scripts is that the characters are REACTIVE and not ACTIVE. They are not propelling the story by making decisions; they are reacting to the complication of the moment. That’s passive, not active.

    In my script, the Problem was set up in the right place, but the Protagonist made a Decision about what to do to resolve it almost right away. The Second Act Complications ended up being complications of the implementation of that Decision rather than complications of the actual Problem. This is what I’m calling a “False Complication” as it appears to do what the Second Act Requires without actually doing it.

    If the Protagonist isn’t forced to make a difficult Decision at the cusp of the Third Act the end result is dramatically inert. If the Decision was made 30 pages ago, all we’re witnessing is a procedural on how the decision was implemented.

    In other words, we’re not on an emotional journey with rising stakes and rising tension, we’re just watching the Protagonist dodging roadblocks.

    Does that make sense? I can see this could get confusing.

    A lot of scripts—even ones that get on TV and into movies—fall prey to this “False Complication” situation. It’s not inherently “wrong”, but neither is it as dramatically satisfying. You want the audience to be on a journey with your Protagonist, and feel their struggles and the difficulty of the decisions they have to make.

    * * *

    So, to solve The PROBLEM of THE Problem in my script, I went back to fundamentals and decided that the Problem absolutely had to be something that required a very difficult Decision on the Protagonist’s part, a Decision he shouldn’t eagerly undertake, and which had serious possible repercussions for himself.

    As a model I went back to some Westerns, including Clint Eastwood’s film Unforgiven, but as I write this I realize that for the purposes of this forum, there’s a perfect example for this within Star Trek. In fact, it’s the pilot that sold the show: Where No Man Has Gone Before. Let's look at that episode through the lens of what I've described above:

    You see? The Problem of the safety of the ship can only be solved by the sacrifice of something else, and the Protagonist must make a terrible decision backed up by action on a seemingly impossible-to-achieve goal.

    Discuss. :)
     
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2011
  3. Bixby

    Bixby Captain Captain

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    Elisabeth Dehner's name is the one missing in this phrase.

    I agree with a lot of what you wrote, and it's true that Hollywood blockbusters tend to shy away from this simple story technique, resulting in too many films never surpassing their by-the-numbers scripting.

    For instance, two recent movies that I really wanted to like, Green Lantern and Captain America, suffer exactly the problem you describe. Cap's only 'problem' throughout the movie is 'will he get the girl?', or 'will he stop the Skull?'. Despite losing his best friend Bucky, we never get the feeling Cap paid a price, or that he had to overcome a personal price or shortcoming before the end of the movie...

    So despite a healthy budget, capable direction and a recognizable protagonist, Captain America failed to reach beyond a mediocre premise and story execution.

    Green Lantern fares even worse. I saw both films at about the same time, and my memory of GL is even murkier than Cap. Not a good sign...
     
  4. CorporalCaptain

    CorporalCaptain Admiral Admiral

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    I completely disagree about Captain America. For more information on my opinion, my posts are in the thread on that topic.

    In a nutshell, Cap has to make a decision to give up the girl to save America. It was very moving.
     
  5. Admiral Buzzkill

    Admiral Buzzkill Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    I thought Captain America was a wonderful example of what that kind of movie ought to be, on every level. Nothing mediocre about it.
     
  6. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    EDIT: I just saw that you were commenting on what appeared to be a missing word, but was actually just a editing error. That and wasn't supposed to be there.
     
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2011
  7. USS Intrepid

    USS Intrepid Commodore Commodore

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    I agree. I thought Captain America was excellent. Well-written and well-acted.
     
  8. USS Intrepid

    USS Intrepid Commodore Commodore

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    I'm going to go out on a limb here, which is something I don't often do, and say that for all the other shortcomings Intrepid may have, the writing is not one of them. Heavy Lies the Crown, despite the awful audio (amongst other issues) has a pretty solid script that generally follows these rules (IMO of course). :)

    Now this is not to say I think it's a perfect script (I'm not that foolish or deluded - it has more than it's share of problems) and I've written far better since, but as these things (and first efforts) go I think it's pretty decent.
     
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2011
  9. MikeH92467

    MikeH92467 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    I agree completely Nick. Intrepid meets the two tests that are absolutely vital: good scripts and good acting. With those two elements in place, other issues don't stand out nearly as much. By the way, have you considered going back and looping in some of the trouble spots with the audio in the early episodes?
     
  10. USS Intrepid

    USS Intrepid Commodore Commodore

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    Thanks Mike.

    I've wanted to do ADR on our earlier episodes since before we released them, but not everyone's been so keen. That attitude's changed a bit since we've had no choice but to do ADR on The Stone Unturned so I'm hopeful it'll happen eventually.
     
  11. Solarbaby

    Solarbaby Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    I love this thread. Very insightful.

    When I began making Starmada (which is a 3 season serialised 5-8 minutes episodes. 9 eps season 1, 10 season 2 and 14 season 3) I wasn't aware of this formulaic script writing. I assumed a story needs a beginning, middle and end logically.

    Having looked back I see each season as an act. The limitations of the animation studio I used made it necessary to make it in mini episodes. Ideally I would have liked to make 20 minutes parts of 5 episodes per season. However, it has taught me an awful lot about creating cliff hangers- especially ones which seem to have impossible resolutions.

    I feel like I have followed the 3 act plan . Introducing the enemies and main characters in the 1st season. Revealing the mystery and adding complications in season 2.

    In season 3 I do wrap things up- however I feel like with this season the 3 act plan is used again throughout the season. I decided mid season to tell the story in flash back for 3 episodes.

    I don;t know if this has broken the rules but I think it added an extra element and kept the storytelling fresh and unpredictable. I was heavily influenced by 24 during season 2. Does 24 follow the 3 act rules? All I seem to remember is the show just building up more and more tension and mystery- not many revelations until end of season
     
  12. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    I'm going to have to watch that again so I can grade your paper. ;)

    Beginning, middle, end is too simple a metaphor because you can apply to almost anything. A street. A tryst. Whatever.

    I'd say it's more a format than formulaic. It's a structural blueprint that has a lot of wiggle room.

    Cutting up a larger story into "webisodes" doesn't violate the strictures of three-act structure any more than the acts (between commercial breaks) of a TV series do, so you're fine in that regard.

    But I don't want to wander back into Three-Act structure here exclusively. What's important, I think, in my post on The PROBLEM of THE Problem is the nature of making something that's got dramatic build. The Three Act structure is merely the frame on which your hang the Problem, Complications and Decision.


    So, here's a challenge to you writers: try filling in the form I used to analyze Where No Man Has Gone Before with your own script and see if it holds up.
     
  13. USS Intrepid

    USS Intrepid Commodore Commodore

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    Good luck finding something I haven't already banged my head on a table over. :)
     
  14. CorporalCaptain

    CorporalCaptain Admiral Admiral

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    **** POTENTIAL SPOILERS ABOUT STARSHIP INTREPID ****

    My biggest issue with Heavy Lies the Crown and Transitions and Lamentations is that I would expect the Federation to reassess the colonization request after the first attack, before allowing colonization to proceed. In particular, I would expect the Federation to wish to determine first why the Surai are attacking, and whether they already have any legitimate claim to the Charybdis Sector

    I realize that Section 31 is pushing for colonization for some reason, which could explain the Federation position, but why hasn't this incongruity occurred to the colonists and the crew of the Intrepid? Maybe I missed something, too, and perhaps these questions will be addressed in future episodes. :)

    Rest assured though, I will be watching. I'm enjoying Intrepid so far. :techman:
     
  15. Solarbaby

    Solarbaby Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Can someone explain how Pulp Fiction works?
     
  16. USS Intrepid

    USS Intrepid Commodore Commodore

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    Thanks. It's always nice to get this sort of positive yet constructive feedback. :)

    My take's always been that the Federation doesn't really have much authority over what the colonists do. They're setting up a colony in neutral space (although in fairness, once the colony's established it's no longer neutral). The Federation can't really tell them what to do, and Starfleet's only along for the ride because the Federation Council feel obligated to protect their citizens. Indeed, the colonists didn't want Starfleet there at all, and were it not for the attacks would have told them to get lost already.

    Also, keep in mind there's only a week or so between the two attacks, so it's possible the Federation may not have acted yet. I would imagine they could try and remove the colony, though the colonists themselves may delay that by legal challenge. I'd also imagine the Federation Council might be more cautious about such things in the wake of the situation with the Cardassian DMZ. Of course, they should also be more cautious about far flung colonys given the Cestus III incident. Honest answer? It's probably not as well thought out as it should be. :)

    If I had to do it over again I'd make different decisions myself.

    Talking of which, the whole Section 31 aspect was really poorly considered, and in hindsight I wouldn't have included it at all. The colony/aliens story was interesting enough to stand without all that conspiracy babble, and it's by far the weakest and most fannish aspect of the story.
     
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2011
  17. CorporalCaptain

    CorporalCaptain Admiral Admiral

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    Thanks, Nick.
     
  18. Admiral Buzzkill

    Admiral Buzzkill Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    My observation (and, honestly, my bias) is that Section 31 is never a good idea. That said, it didn't bother me here.
     
  19. USS Intrepid

    USS Intrepid Commodore Commodore

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    You're very welcome. I love talking about this stuff. :)

    I'd agree with the first comment. But thanks anyway, Dennis, you're always far too kind. :)

    Honestly, the only reason we used Section 31 at all is that I was trying to pay homage to all the fan productions around at the time, and wanted to sneak in a cameo for Eric Busby's Section 31 characters. There really wasn't any other reason for it, and in hindsight I wish I'd done it without adding the conspiracy subplot. It was just utterly extraneous and really adds nothing particularly important to the plot that couldn't have been addressed in other ways. I can't wait to move past it.

    Completely unrelated, but I was really proud of the homage to Phase II (or New Voyages as they still were back then). It's also one of the nicer scenes in the entire thing, IMO.
     
  20. Admiral Buzzkill

    Admiral Buzzkill Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    Nick , you know I haven't a kind bone in my body - I'm (once) a director. What you do on Intrepid is why I was anxious to have you on Polaris.
     

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