Fan Film Writer's Primer

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

  1. CorporalCaptain

    CorporalCaptain Admiral Admiral

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    No, I agree with you here.

    However, in Spock's case, I think it fit the trope of him speaking in mathematical jargon or something akin to "computerese" all the time. In Palmer's case, not so much. "No, sir," would have been more appropriate in her case.
     
  2. mos6507

    mos6507 Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    I think the best way to learn about the theory of scriptwriting is to just dive in and read some books.

    A while back I read three in a row, and they were really helpful to me. I'm not saying that I'm now an awesome writer, but I think I have a deeper understanding of how to go about it where before I was running on mostly intuition and my half-forgotten memories of film-school.

    The three books I read, and fully recommend are:

    Essentials of Screenwriting by Richard Walter
    Save the Cat by Blake Snyder
    Story by Robert McKee

    --------------------------------------

    There has been a lot of talk about structure here, and to me, it's character that is more important than structure. You must present characters that the audience will care about and identify with. If you can't do that, it's game over. I think the STORY book by McKee covers character the best, as it ventures a lot into psychological components. I don't want to quote these books endlessly, even though I have dog-eared them. You really should read them.

    I think a lot of the fan productions got started for reasons that are totally different from a budding screenwriter or producer. They were started more of the natural extension of cosplaying at conventions. They were not done because the people involved had a compelling story they wanted to tell. It was about role-playing and paying respect to Trek, and I think that is creatively limited.

    If you have a good story to tell, what setting you place it in is meaningless. If you watch some of the TOS episodes, the premise of Trek is pushed and pulled in the most unusual directions. By the time we got to the TNG-era shows I think the leeway collapsed down to a very narrow trench, and it helped kill the franchise.

    I know some will disagree but to me what constitutes a good story more than anything else isn't blazing action, it's characters that I care about who are put in tough situations and who do the right thing.

    Here is how this has often played out in Trek...

    Think about City on the Edge of Forever. Kirk is asked to choose between himself (true love) and the greater good of the fate of the timeline. He has to make a tragic sacrifice. That is thematically the same as Spock sacrificing himself to save the ship in Wrath of Khan. And then Kirk and company repay Spock by sacrificing the Enterprise itself (and at the time, they thought their careers) to save him. Or what about Decker sacrificing himself to merge with V'Ger? What about when Elizabeth Dehner (played by Sally Kellerman) is convinced by Kirk to turn back to the good side and attack Gary Mitchell? (That scene of redemption is not that different from Vader zapping the Emperor in Return of the Jedi)

    So to me, it's not structure that matters most, it's characters, the dilemmas they get thrown into, and the choices they're forced to make that define them.

    Even Galaxy Quest had good character motivation. It wasn't just a cheap excuse to sling jokes at Trek. The moral of Galaxy Quest was that anybody can be a hero if they just believe they can do it. The aliens believed that the cast of Galaxy Quest were heroes, and the situation forced them into acting as if they were heroes until they discovered they could "fake it 'til they make it". It's actually a very uplifting story despite the jokes about Sigourney Weaver's push-up bra. The frame around it, even whether it's a comedy or a straight drama, rated G, PG, or R, is not as important as the power of the underlying message.

    What middyseafort was saying about Everything's a Remix is also true. Every sort of traditional Trek tale has already been told. You have to tell it a different way or somehow bend the rules. I did not like how JJ Abrams did this in the 2009 film, but I understand the motivation to try.

    Just as Khan mashed up Horatio Hornblower and TMP mashed up 2001, I decided to mash-up Revenge of the Nerds and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, among other things. Maybe I'll be the only one who likes my pickles-and-ice-cream mixture, but at least I'm trying to do something original.

    The other thing the screenplay books emphasize is that whatever you write has to come from you. If you try to run away from yourself, it will come across as false. Imitation is false because it's not of yourself. A remix can be of yourself because it's the way you piece the collage together that makes it greater than the sum of its parts. I have gotten a lot of criticism, some of it constructive, and some of it not so constructive, about what I'm doing, and yet I've reached this point where I feel that my approach is already very finely tuned to my own sensibilities, capabilities, and the bounding box of my chosen toolset.

    It's true that people become too close to their own work and so they worship every frame, and you can't close yourself off to criticism. But I also think you can't please all the people all of the time, and Trek fans can be merciless.

    If I feel I make something where I can sit back and watch the final cut and really root for the protagonist and hiss at the antagonists, then I've succeeded. I need that long build up and then the fist-pumping moment where the character, who has his or her back up against the wall, can either do what's expedient, or do what's right, and they do the right thing.

    I think that's why of all the fan trek I've seen, I like Aurora the best, even though the pacing is slow. The technobabble in the middle of it about alternate reality was not the heart of the story. It's a story of a woman trying to move beyond a traumatic incident in her life and reconnect with her family. When people really get engaged with a story, it's at this innermost level, and the rest of it becomes almost inconsequential.

    Maybe that's not how every successful story has to be, but that's the sort of story I like watching and the ones I want to tell.
     
  3. Admiral Buzzkill

    Admiral Buzzkill Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    Yeah, and if one watches a few fan films one sees why.

    OTOH, mainstream commercial film writing now is completely structure - and there only seems to be one. Character actions are driven by what needs to happen at (more or less) the ten minute mark, the thirty minute mark...
     
  4. Linnear

    Linnear Lieutenant Commander

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    Doc John (John Muenchrath, McCoy in Phase II) and I went to the Robert McKee seminar and it was AWESOME. I had read his book, but the four day immersion is just fantastic. It really prepared me to write the "Axanar" script. Of course, then having Doc John and Dave Galanter to help was even more important. Dave has written 5 Star Trek novels and has helped so much.

    Alec
     
  5. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    I write a lot about structure because it helps gives a shape, whereas many amateur productions flop around because they have no narrative spine or sense. There's more to it than that, obviously, but it's something sadly lacking in most fanfilms.

    People in fanfilms talk a lot about character, but few of them that appear are very compelling. So many fanfilms have the characters reacting to the events instead of driving the action, which makes them uncompelling as characters no matter how much dramatic backstory they're given. Who they are isn't interesting. How their character compels them to act or fail to act is what makes them interesting.
     
  6. Ryan Thomas Riddle

    Ryan Thomas Riddle Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Good to have another voice in the mix. Been awhile since i've written on this thread, but I've been occupied with my professional pursuits of late. Glad to see the conversation continue.

    I want to riff here and talk a bit about character as well. Fanfilms, as Maurice points out, give a lot of lip service about character, but rarely show us compelling characters that, as mos6507 puts it, make us care. They opt for the easy way out when it comes to characters, by giving us traits, likes and dislikes, and family issues in lieu of actual characterization. They shovel us, once again as Maurice points out, with background. There are no real motivations.

    The TREK example I like to use when talking about compelling characters is the difference between TOS and TNG. In TOS, we knew who the characters were, what drives them and the lengths they would go to get what they want, and how they resolved problems often strife against each other, creating dramatic conflict. In the seven years and four movies of TNG, we only learned the what of the characters, never really learning what they wanted (other than Data) and what they would sacrifice to get it. Instead, we learned traits, such as Riker playing the trembone and Troi's orgasmic fetish for chocolate. Sure Riker wanted a ship of his own, but that was lip service as he never really did anything to get it himself.

    Moreover, family issues, such as the Peter Kirk-James Kirk relationship in PHASE II or the upcoming daddy issues-centric STARSHIP FARRAGUT, doesn't always equate to real characterization. Or real drama for that matter.(And LOST overplayed that hand a lot.)

    More often than not, it's a cheat, as JMS points out in the BABYLON 5 scriptbooks (vol. 1, pg. 19, precisely):

    And JMS would know. He used that ploy a lot: Ivanova and her dying father, Sheridan and his dead wife.

    Family issues can lead to good drama, conflicts between the wants of those family members, but fan films punt on this, giving us melodrama and soap opera cliche in lieu of real conflict. Or it's packed in needless exposition or background.

    As Maurice said:


    The choices that they make, the way they go about overcoming obstacles and resolve the problem they face, is what makes them compelling. Not the backstory of what drives them. Batman isn't interesting because of his parents murder driving him. What makes him compelling is how he ACTS because of it to solve the problems in his stories.

    The choices characters make often clash with the choices of other characters, which creates real drama, not melodrama.
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2012
  7. Admiral Buzzkill

    Admiral Buzzkill Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    Well, Bats' back story does make him somewhat more interesting, but only because he's already behaving in a peculiar and interesting way. I mean, isn't the question that inevitably comes to mind after watching him for a while "why the fuck does he do this?" ;)

    I remember Burton explaining his casting of Keaton as Batman with a remark something like "of all the actors I saw, Michael was the only one I could imagine dressing up like a bat and sneaking out in the middle of the night." :lol:
     
  8. JarodRussell

    JarodRussell Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Most fan films or stories seem to be obsessed with world building and details and minutiae instead of focussing on what's truly important. I just read a comment in the other thread I did about filmmaking, where I said that I think the space battle in TWOK is more effectively dramatically than the battle in Nemesis, but the other guy said that's bullshit because the battle in Nemesis has more tactics.

    There's a big difference between making a story, a character, a scene work and only filling it up with details and backstory.
     
  9. CorporalCaptain

    CorporalCaptain Admiral Admiral

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    Well, that works for Batshit-Crazy Man. :guffaw:
     
  10. Captain Atkin

    Captain Atkin Captain Captain

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    I don't think that the battle in Nemesis was bad at all. It just wasn't as memorable as the battle between Kirk and Khan (for a number of reasons). In Nemesis, we see the Enterprise going to battle against this giant ship that outguns her 10 to 1, and then we see two more Romulan ships (cannon fodder) join in the battle to help Picard out just in the nick of time. There is a lot of stuff happening on screen at the same time, which takes away some of the focus from the principal characters.

    With Kirk VS Khan, it is two evenly matched ships going to battle with each other, in a deadly game of cat and mouse. It is more of a game of chess between two players, that the audience has an emotional connection too. Although the tactics shown in Nemesis are interesting, The Wrath of Khan wins hands down in terms of dramatic storytelling.
     
  11. Linnear

    Linnear Lieutenant Commander

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    jarod:

    You obviously TOTALLY missed the point, which Captain Atkin hit on the head. I was saying your bad mouthing the Nemesis battle was total BS. The ST II: TWOK battle is clearly a better cinematic experience. But the Nemesis battle is tactically very good.

    I love how people read what they want. No one will say ST II: TWOK is anything bit the best Star Trek film ever. But, what would that battle be WITHOUT the Mutara Nebula? Nemesis does an amazing amount with tactics without any celestial gimmicks.

    Alec
     
  12. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    One need only glance at the various Is TWOK overrated? threads here to see the lie of that statement.

    The battle in Nemesis isn't as good as the one in TWOK, not because of tactics or nebulas, but because one is the action culmination of the plot and the other is just there to be there.
     
  13. Linnear

    Linnear Lieutenant Commander

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    Still the worst casting decision of the last 25 years. That would have been good rational to give Keaton the lead in a movie about cosplay.

    But the actor also had to have the needed physicality, which Keaton simply did not have. He just wasn't believable in that role.

    As far as what else has been said here, I agree, character is essential. The Star Wars prequels are the perfect example. All story, no character. We don't give a damn about those people.

    So much good reading on this thread!

    Alec
     
  14. CorporalCaptain

    CorporalCaptain Admiral Admiral

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    That's probably why the film tanked at the box office.
     
  15. Admiral Buzzkill

    Admiral Buzzkill Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    The Keaton casting worked very well, certainly better than the more conventional casting of the two guys who followed him. The evidence is the tremendous success of Burton's Batman films, which radically changed the approach the studios take to this day to superhero fare and paved the road for currently popular stuff as diverse as the recent Nolan trilogy and the X-Men movies.

    Movie audiences believed Keaton as Batman just fine. Some devoted Batman fans may not have; meh.

    Pretty much.
     
  16. captainkirk

    captainkirk Commander Red Shirt

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    On the subject of characters, one thing I've noticed in some fan films is that they add tons of characters. This makes things harder for everyone. It's hard for the audience to keep track of everyone. It's hard for the writers to come up with things for everyone to do in a story. It's hard to find costumes for everyone. But perhaps worst of all, all the characters wind up boring.
    It would be far better to have just a few characters that are interesting than a lot of boring ones that don't fill any role.
    The only fan film I've seen to handle large casts well is Intrepid. By giving most characters some brief moment of action, or a funny line, they become memorable. When someone's biggest role in an episode is to say "Shields at 47%!" you forget about them.
     
  17. Linnear

    Linnear Lieutenant Commander

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    I have to agree here. That is important. Sometimes I look at my script and am thinking of casting, and I really DON'T have that many main roles. Here is a quick list of characters we have in "Axanar".

    FEDERATION

    Garth
    Tanaka, XO
    Wagner, Tactical Officer (female)
    Korax, Intel. Officer (female)

    KLINGONS

    Commander
    XO


    That is who the focus is on. That is who has the bulk of the dialogue. Now there are both secondary characters (Admiral, Chief Engineer, Pilot, Fleet Ops Officer), who we don't develop much. And there are characters we only see in one act, like Klingon ship captains (who probably die!) or red shirts (who in "Axanar" are ass kicking spec ops). But you don't get vested in them. And the canon characters you know, Soval or Sarek, Rabau, don't need much development. Except for April, who is we get who we want, will be an instant fan favorite.

    So, we have basically have 6 characters (4 protagonists, 2 antagonists) who over 75 minutes or so you will come to know and hopefully love. Character development is really important and probably what gets the most attention in editing (by the talented Dave Galanter). In fact, the development of Garth was the first note I got from Marco Palmieri, the former Star Trek editor for Pocket Books, who reviewed the treatment.

    I am also a very open writer. Yeah, it is my script ( I will force Dave to take a co-writing credit), but I take 90% of Dave's edits and put them in. 10% we probably discuss and make some adjustment but usually because Dave missed what i was getting at (which means I probably wasn't clear). Dave is just so damn good.

    Well, that is my 2 cents.

    Alec
     
  18. DaveGalanter

    DaveGalanter Writer/Ape Red Shirt

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    You're too kind, my friend. And Marco is the best--I loved working with him and hope to do so again.

    And no, you won't get me to take a co-writing credit. :-p This is your story. I'm editing and suggesting and doing what I can to be a good sounding board. But this is your story, and your baby, and I'm enjoying seeing it all come together. We got to see about five seconds of Garth in the original series--the real Garth--and we got to see a couple more minutes in "Going Boldly" the Phase II vignette. There's a very good character there and I think when people see it, they'll understand why Kirk respected and admired him.
     
  19. doubleohfive

    doubleohfive Fleet Admiral

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    Forgive the bump.

    In the spirit of keeping the Fan Film Production Primer thread going, I found this article on writing to be worth sharing. This Scene Sucks: 15 Screenwriting Mistakes to Avoid

    Let's be honest - we've all made 'em; hopefully this guide will help avoid them in the future.
     
  20. Ryan Thomas Riddle

    Ryan Thomas Riddle Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Awesome! Although, the mistakes mentioned don't really address the content, the wants of each character in the scene. Though what it mentions is pretty legit. Want to jump in here and post more lengthy tips again, but my work as an editor is preoccupying my time now. :)