Fan Film Writer's Primer

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

  1. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Premium Member

    Oct 17, 2005
    Walking distance from Starfleet HQ
    Yep. Garrovick is anything but reluctant. He's usually ready to dive right in, sometimes a little foolishly. :)
    Ryan Thomas Riddle likes this.
  2. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Premium Member

    Oct 17, 2005
    Walking distance from Starfleet HQ
    Well, at a glance you have a sorta Seth thing going on. ;)
  3. USS Intrepid

    USS Intrepid Commodore Commodore

    Nov 15, 1999
    Dundee, Scotland, UK
    I’ll take it! I can do childish humour.
    Bixby likes this.
  4. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Premium Member

    Oct 17, 2005
    Walking distance from Starfleet HQ

    One thing you see a lot in the fanfilm scene is a sense that criticism should be waived or if given should always be constructive. During production it's very easy to be overly protective of your work, but you cannot be precious.

    I was hired some time ago to rewrite a feature film script, and told it needed to be no longer than the conventional 120 pages (1 minute per page) length, which was tough to do since the previous script ran closer to 140 pages when properly formatted. I got it down to 117. But at some point the (then) director wanted to try to get the film down closer to 90 minutes, so he went through the script and started making cuts or wrote notes suggesting cuts and changes. When asked to review his proposed changes I did a script compare in Final Draft and wrote the following email. I try to always think of what's best for the project, not my ego, so I only listed concerns that I felt actually would damage the film or which would domino into other problems the director hadn't perhaps taken into consideration.

    Note that the very first thing I did was open with the good. That's actually a great way to open any critique because it shows you are being fair and not about to pull a hatchet job. That said, I don't spend a lot of time talking about the good because I know the director and producer well enough to know that they don't need attaboys for all the good changes, so I simply acknowledge that, in essence, if I don't call it out, consider it a good change.

    So here's the email. I've had to [REDACT] a few things here that are internal to the production, like specific names of actors they were negotiating with, etc.

    I think many of the trims are fine. I think some of the shortened scenes might play better and move the story along nicely. As such, I'm not going to address all the changes I like or which are fine, but I'm going to point out any issues I see with some of the proposed cuts and changes.

    As I've said many times, heist films are like a Jenga game: pull the wrong brick and it falls down. So I'm going to list what issues are caused by some of the proposed changes. Some are simply FYIs on the order if "if you change X you also need to change Y" and other address what the changes might do to theme, character, etc.


    Cuts his intro. A note on 18 mentions intro-ing Claudia and Muller there, but let's not lose an ENTRANCE for Jaspar.

    Elimination of this scene removes the setup of the pneumatic tube, which plays in the heist. As a result, in 54 Jaspar walks in carrying a capsule and we'll have no idea what this thing is. This is really basic screenwriting: set up everything used in the story early so that they don't come out of left field at the climax. So either the setup has to be restored, or the action with the tube has to be cut from the heist.

    62–63 FIRST DATE
    Omission cuts the bulk of Jaspar and Claudia's first date, thus removing the only scene where they discuss living in their respective father's shadows. As I've said in the past, romance only really works in film if WE fall in love with the characters, so I'd advise caution in trimming "make cute" stuff just to move the story along.

    65–77 AXA
    Cuts the entire AXA Ms. Senki sequence. This is no big loss, as it's the closest thing to a leftover from the script before I rewrote it, BUT as it's the only place [ACTOR NAME REDACTED]'s character appears, if you still want her in the film, whatever replaces it will need to feature a character for her.

    Here omitted with a note about setting up stamp value elsewhere, but eliminates entire reveal of Claudia to the team and Jack to the audience. This still has to happen somehow. Furthermore, it takes away a big chunk of Jack's one big scene and half his personality.

    Eliminates the entire heist setup, and removes Peter's big scene—and if you want to feature Peter more for [ACTOR NAME REDACTED], cutting a scene like this might be counterproductive—where he demonstrates how a safecracker dissects a problem. It also eliminates the scene where the team begins to come together AS a team.

    I would also be concerned that without seeing the team figure out the approach of using [REDACTED] the audience will not be "in" on the caper.

    Eliminates Stephen's only substantial scene and will potentially leave the audience in the dark as to why Maria is moving so slowly to avoid the motion sensors in the heist proper. If it's cut and the big planning scene is cut none of this action is going to make sense in 171, 175 etc., so that would have to revised.

    137 MAGNETS
    Scene is OMITTED but a piece of it is floating above. Ergo, the scene should not be omitted, just parts of it cut.

    NOTE the cut section is the setup for erasing the security tapes. If this is cut (it's fine to do so, but the law will be able to see their faces afterwards, cuz every museum has security cameras) the related action of erasing the tapes must therefore be cut in 195 since it makes no sense otherwise.

    This cuts Peter's sharing the story of the charm bracelet "MAGIC" with Maria, and their big moment of connection. PROCEED WITH CAUTION!

    ALSO, potentially of concern, it cuts the moment where the thieves become a "family". I leave it to Dexter to decide how important this is to his vision of the film.

    Cuts the "next adventure" ending, and Jack's punchline. Not a big loss and possibly a less frustrating cap than seeing them go for the treasure but not get it. Probably fine.


    The following paragraph was cut, but it's a meaningless cut that affects nothing about the length of the scene but robs the production people of details about the SET. The omitted text (below) should be restored:

    FOLLOWING THEM INTO AND THROUGH the loft. It’s full of electronic devices, computers, machinery and blueprints. Poster sized images of FIVE different [REDACTED] hang on one wall, each with a unique area circled in red.
    Maybe it's just me, but Peter's new "button" line doesn't sound American to my ear:

    In there like swimwear.​
    Now omits entirely the revelation that the attempt to steal Jaspar's stamp in the car chase must be an inside job because somehow the thief knew about the stamp being moved early. Not a big deal, but it takes a little piece of mystery away which pays off when we later find out [REDACTED].

    Scene now ends with Klaus telling Jaspar something we already know, which is to end the scene with a dull thud.

    Previously it ended with the Rubick's Cube robot solving a puzzle to emphasize that Klaus was out to solve the attempted theft. It's fine to lose this, but the scene NEEDS a button, which it now lacks.

    Cuts the whole business of Klaus pacing on the desk and how he annoys Jaspar. While cuts of this sort certainly shortens the script, they do so at the risk of reducing scenes to being merely expository instead of being any fun. It might also rob the roles of personality which may or may not have attracted the actors to the roles in the first place.

    This scene has been cut to the point that it's perfunctory. No personality for either Holtz of Lucien, and no menace. It's been gutted and has no personality.

    An attempt is made here to cover for the eliminated scenes 62–63 above by starting with Claudia saying "Tonight has been wonderful." But that's very TV: telling not showing. For this romance to work we need to SEE these to two connecting, not tell us they are.

    Again, the scene is perfunctory and just exists to let Claudia know Neil's been "made" minus any romance or drama.

    If 106 (THE LOFT AND THE REVEAL OF [REDACTED]) is omitted as above, then Jack no longer has an entrance. He's just there. This would have to be corrected.


    83 An error which originated with me: there's no scene 83, OMITTED or otherwise.

    Jaspar's assistant in Germany. This comes out of nowhere, and I'd planned to address it by having this woman leaving as Jaspar arrives in Capetown or something like that. It might behoove us to come up with another way for Jaspar to get the info than for a sudden cut to Berlin.


    As per my previous email, I advise caution re script length. Shorter is better, but care should be taken to make sure we a) don't gut the character moments or make the action hard to follow and b) don't risk a film which is too short, if it's an up-tempo film.
    As I hope is apparent, every note here is a practical storytelling concern, and I'm never saying "you can't do that" but I am suggesting the potential repercussions of the changes so that the producer can make educated decisions as to if all the suggested changes are worth doing, or to at least be aware of the consequences should they go ahead with them.

    And that's about as constructive as you can get.
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2017
  5. jespah

    jespah Rear Admiral Moderator

    Jun 21, 2011
    Boston, the Gateway to the Galaxy
    This is important for writing as well. Saying, "I loved it." or "It stinks." -- neither of those help the writer (although the first is nice to hear).

    Here are some constructive bits:
    • The pacing is off -- too slow can mean there's too much unnecessary detail or a scene can be cut. Too fast can mean the writer is glossing over the details and needs to get those across better.
    • I couldn't really tell two of the characters apart
    • This is a glaring factual error -- and then specify it, e. g. Boston is in Massachusetts and not California.
    • I think the scene as you've written it is physically impossible to do -- this can happen with sex scenes, where people are talking in a restaurant and then suddenly they're horizontal at home. You don't have to show every single moment of getting from point A to point Z, but the jump cut can be jarring - may be different for films.
    • The parts don't add up to the ending/the ending isn't satisfying -- if the story is about a horse race, then the ending is usually the end of the race or the jockey's retirement, or the horse stumbles and is shot, or the cup is awarded or something like that, although variations can and do exist. But if the horse race story ends with a Martian invasion, readers will understandably think: WTF? at the end of it.
    • It's telling not showing -- give a specific example - you can say Susan was nervous or Susan's palms were sweating and she kept looking at her watch. Sometimes a quick scene can be told, but if a character or a scene is important, then description works better.
    • You set something up and there was no payoff -- this is related to the criticism about an ending not working. Or as the playwright Chekhov said, "If in Act I you have a pistol hanging on the wall, then it must fire in the last act." If you keep telling me Susan is nervous, then either her nerves betray her at some later date and make it impossible for her to do something, or she loses an opportunity, or she overcomes her nerves. If you have beaten me over the head with that, then it had better have been worth something.
  6. Sir Rhosis

    Sir Rhosis Commodore Commodore

    Nov 17, 2001
    Cincinnati, OH
    Informative and helpful, as always, Maurice. Most of your concerns were very basic. Was this a first-time director with zero story sense? And what is the status of the project? I'll admit that other than TOPKAPI, I rarely find heist films interesting, but I'm always open-minded.

    Sir Rhosis
  7. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Premium Member

    Oct 17, 2005
    Walking distance from Starfleet HQ
    Yes'm! Exactamundo. Great points. Please, chime in more often!

    Not a first time director. In fact he has a Scottish BAFTA for one of his shorts. This was a WIP (work in progress), hence the reason there were notes saying "replace with" or what not. Caper/heist films are very intricately plotted, and if you're not the author it's very easy to change a detail which you don't realize is connected to something else. I'm sure the director was aware or much of this or at least some of this, but my job was to make sure the Executive Producer could see if this was going in a direction that could damage the script. As he said to me, "These actors signed on to this script, so we can't change it too radically or they might drop out."

    The current status of the project is that is just got picked up by a new production company and they're doing some recasting and want to beef up one part for an actor they want to feature. I redacted the names because some of those actors have since changed or are being negotiated with.

    TOPKAPI is a great film. I immersed myself in heist films—both old and new—when hired for this project. One I really liked was Bob le Flambeur (1956), which was remade as The Good Thief (2002), but the original is better, and I'd recommend it.
    Sir Rhosis likes this.
  8. jespah

    jespah Rear Admiral Moderator

    Jun 21, 2011
    Boston, the Gateway to the Galaxy
    Oh, thanks! All I really know from movies is what I've seen (mainly). I liked The Hot Rock but I suspect that was more because (a) it was Redford and (b ) the Afghanistan Banana Stand bit is great.
  9. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Premium Member

    Oct 17, 2005
    Walking distance from Starfleet HQ
    As per the prior post (see quoted message), there's an art to giving useful feedback, and a deft touch required to keep the recipients open to what you're going to say. Here's a few methods I find work.

    Lead with the Good
    As in the previous post, if you take the time to say what you like it softens the blow when you detail what you don't like.

    Don't Be Vague
    I once got the feedback "there's something wrong in the 2nd half of the script," to which I thought "Can you be any less specific?"

    If you can't articulate just what is bothering you, read through it again and see if you can suss it out. Broad or vague feedback is bad because it's both frustrating and forces the screenwriter to try to guess what is bothering you, and they might try a fix which doesn't actually address what your vague note was about.

    If you just can't figure out specifically what's bothering you, try to at least articulate where it happens and what you feel ("after this scene I find I'm not so keen on the story any more for some reason")
    • Articulate Why Something Is An Issue
    • Identify When the Issue Pops Up
    • Admit When It's Possibly Just An Issue of Taste

    Categorize Your Notes
    When marking up a script—which I typically do by annotating a PDF of it—what I do is use color-coded highlights to indicate the kind of feedback. For instance, here's how I described the markup to the author of one script:

    purple: love it, don't touch it
    blue: comments on military nomenclature and SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures)
    green: comments on specific dialogs and character action
    yellow: general notes on script format, typos, etc.
    pink: flags potential inconsistencies re procedures, e.g. caller/phone throughout

    strikeouts: word/lines I think you can safely lose

    In some cases my comments are questions, like "Where’s the OOD? Why is she calling this? Was she given the Conn? Is no one on the bridge?" on page 27. These are not necessarily mistakes, just things that pop into my head and I think may also occur to viewers, and which you may want to think about and decide if you want to address.​

    Almost anyone's first reaction to a bunch of notes is to clench, and to be defensive, but when you see that the notes range from "love it" through "typos" and on to other specific kinds of feedback, it's easier to swallow because right away you see it's not a bunch of "this sucks" comments, but a lot of the issues are easy fixes.
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2017
  10. Ryan Thomas Riddle

    Ryan Thomas Riddle Vice Admiral Admiral

    Dec 26, 2003
    The Bay Area
    Those notes seem awfully familiar... :P
  11. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Premium Member

    Oct 17, 2005
    Walking distance from Starfleet HQ
    Yes, but they make a good example of the approach. :)
    Ryan Thomas Riddle likes this.
  12. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Premium Member

    Oct 17, 2005
    Walking distance from Starfleet HQ
    A quick observation about the dangers of writing for something you are a fan of, in this instance, Peter Anghelides, a longtime fan of Blake's 7 on writing scripts for the Big Finish audio dramas of that series.
    Emphasis mine, because he's so so right.

    That quote from this interview (LINK).
  13. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Premium Member

    Oct 17, 2005
    Walking distance from Starfleet HQ

    9 minutes on Paddy Chayefsky's script for Network (1976) and how he solved the problems of making the characters represent the forces at play in his allegory, notably how he used the romance to that end.