Fan Film Writer's Primer

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

  1. PattyW

    PattyW Commander Red Shirt

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    I didn't have time to go through all the threads here..... is anyone interested (if it's not here already) in Bob Justman's "original" criteria and notes for judging whether a Trek script actually lives up to what a Trek script needs to be and, thus, is worth producing? ("Original" because I own the original documents with his handwriting on them)
     
  2. CorporalCaptain

    CorporalCaptain Admiral Admiral

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    You betcha!
     
  3. doubleohfive

    doubleohfive Fleet Admiral

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    If you're willing to share, I'm absolutely interested!
     
  4. doubleohfive

    doubleohfive Fleet Admiral

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    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

    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."

    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 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?

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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!

    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.

    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. .
     
  5. MikeH92467

    MikeH92467 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    In regards to fan films I would expand rule number 1 a bit: I would say don't even begin to plan to shoot until you've got a final, polished script. How do you know it's "final" and "polished"? Well, I've got my tongue just a bit in my cheek, but really if you were taking a long car trip on business would you start before you had a route mapped out? You might still have to take detours along the way because of road conditions, weather or mechanical problems, but at least you know where you're trying to end up. Every re-write of the script should reveal previously unforeseen problems either in plot, dialogue and/or character and each of those problems dealt with before shooting starts results in enormous time savers when you start shooting.
    To stretch the point even further, you might compare it to a battle plan. I remember a General once saying that no battle plan survives the first shot. However, he added, that's not the point. You want a plan that's quickly adaptable to realities, that gives you multiple options.
    While I have great respect for the Exeter crew, with the hints Maurice has given out about the problems involved in putting together the missing act IV, I can't help but think there was a fundamental problem with the script and/or planning in the front end that could have been avoided.
    Sure it's hard, but that's why so many fan projects are started and so few are finished. That's also why I'll raise a glass to anyone who can actually get a project released.
     
  6. doubleohfive

    doubleohfive Fleet Admiral

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    I don't know that I agree with your point about the Starship Exeter script. From what I recall there were other, external reasons that had nothing to do with the script that led to the choice they made to mine footage from Act 4 to complete Act 3.

    Regardless, if there's one thing I've learned from my seven years working in Hollywood, it's that half of filmmaking is just problem solving. Working in writer's offices, I learned a ton about writing for TV. At one point, I spent a season working in post production on a show, and was very surprised at how much I learned about writing from that experience, sitting in on edits and mix sessions with our showrunner. You pick up things in those sessions that might never occur to you in your writer's room. Too, you learn how to "write in post" -- what problems you can avoid, and how to fix episodes that might otherwise not work as well on screen as they do on the page.

    A great example: Ron Moore's Battlestar Galactica did an episode called "A Day In The Life" following a typical day for Adama. It happened to also be his wedding anniversary with is (now dead) ex-wife. So on top of the daily routine, the trials and tribulations of being the commander of the ragtag fleet, we also got the inner conversation he was having with himself and his memory of his ex-wife.

    The supplementary podcast commentary that Moore put out is fascinating from a writing perspective because unlike nearly all the other podcasts he recorded for the show, this one was done basically covering his time in the edit room with his editor, and how they wound up piecing the episode together to "make it work," when they realized that as written, it wouldn't track as well on screen as they had thought. I can't recommend Ron Moore's podcasts for BSG enough, and this particular podcast episode for its dual value toward both writing and editing.

    Kirk absolutely got it right in Wrath of Khan -- "We learn by doing."
     
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2013
  7. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    There was nothing much wrong with the script for The Tressaurian Intersection, apart from a few quibbles I have with a few bits of dialog, and the briefing room scene in Act 3. The editorial process became a sticking point in some respects, in ways I may discuss at some point after the show is finished, but not right now.
     
  8. MikeH92467

    MikeH92467 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Well, there certainly was nothing wrong with the script in terms of plot or dialogue. I was referring to unforeseen issues that might have arisen during the shoot, that might have been avoidable. Pure speculation on my part. I'm sure how it got to the point that it did, will make a very interesting story in itself. In the meantime, carry on!
     
  9. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    There are always unforeseen issues. That's why the mantra should always be, "plan everything, come up with contingency plans, and when you've planned everything, keep planning".
     
  10. MikeH92467

    MikeH92467 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    ^^^That's kind of what I was driving at, although my speculation might have been worded better since it could easily be read as a criticism of the Exeter production team, which was certainly not the intention.

    Flipping through Whitfield's "The Making of Star Trek" I am struck by how much goes on behind the scenes in putting out unexpected fires and the incredible talent and skill it takes to get a network show out on a weekly basis. It really shouldn't be surprising that such things can significantly delay or completely de-rail a fan project.
     
  11. doubleohfive

    doubleohfive Fleet Admiral

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    Trust me. It's like that on every show. The problems might not be about crazy visual effects or alien-of-the-week makeup on all of them, but every show, every film has it's roadblocks and problems, which is why I made my earlier comment about filmmaking just being problem-solving most of the time.
     
  12. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    This might be educational or at least interesting for some here:

    [yt]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h5I3Tq9j29c[/yt]​
     
  13. CorporalCaptain

    CorporalCaptain Admiral Admiral

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  14. doubleohfive

    doubleohfive Fleet Admiral

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    That video was excellent. Thanks for sharing, Maurice!
     
  15. USS Intrepid

    USS Intrepid Commodore Commodore

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    I've actually seen Star Trek fan-written scripts using Star Trek fonts.

    Not by me, I hasten to add. :)

    Final Draft makes life so much easier.
     
  16. doubleohfive

    doubleohfive Fleet Admiral

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    :lol: I worked for a production company a few years ago and got a call one day from a very nice kid wanting to submit a script to us. He had to have been a teenager (at least I hope he was) because he'd only written it in pencil and could not email it to us.


    It's funny - when I moved in March, I came across some old papers from when I was a kid. Among them was an old, old script I'd written (and then sent to the DS9 writer's office.)

    I had to have been 14 when I wrote this thing in PFS Window Works! :lol:

    Ugh, even thinking about it now, I marvel at how bad it was but also like to think of it as a measuring rod for how much I've learned and am continuing to learn.
     
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2013
  17. Psion

    Psion Commodore Commodore

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    That was neat, Maurice. Thanks!

    That take-away at the end about the screen-writing format: "if you don't care enough about your movie to format it in the way the industry wants, make it easy to read and free of major typos ... well then no one in the industry will care about your movie, either," resonates because it's very true of many other writing endeavors. Even posts to a simple discussion forum like this!
     
  18. doubleohfive

    doubleohfive Fleet Admiral

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    Truth. Incidentally, it also applies to resumes of all things. (You'd be amazed at the shape some of the ones I see passing through here are in.)
     
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2013
  19. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Screenwriting is HARD, and one good takeaway from that video is that the script should be easy to read and exciting. An excellent story scripted in a purely mechanical and functional manner excites no one. You actually have to be a good writer to make a script a page turner.

    I recently got a nice attaboy from a Producer who said of my screenplay that (paraphrase) "with a script with this many characters I usually have to read it again to get everyone straight, but I always knew who was who," and that "the action scenes were very exciting, clear and easy to visualize," which were really nice to hear since I work hard on those things.
     
  20. doubleohfive

    doubleohfive Fleet Admiral

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