Fan Film Writer's Primer

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

  1. Bixby

    Bixby Captain Captain

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  2. Maurice

    Maurice Fact Trekker Premium Member

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    I know of this book but have not read it. What did you find most illuminating?

    I plan to read The Godfather Notebook (LINK) next.
     
  3. Bixby

    Bixby Captain Captain

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    There is quite a bit of shameless gossiping so if you can`t stand that you should probably avoid this book...However some of it can be useful if you wish to become a working and paid screenwriter, a successful one, which means that just like for actors there is still a game to play. Eszterhaus took it a bit to an extreme but he explained how you need to not be a doormat when it comes to your writing because lord knows some producers will wipe their feet on you...
    That and also I found fascinating the behind-the scenes and the thought process as he wrote a few of his successful scripts. How he went from a totally bland and forgettable script title and on the spur of the moment just as he was about to mail it to his agent he suddenly changed it to a two-word bit spoken by one character, and now that title- Jagged Edge- is now a part of film history...
    It`s really not any one thing specifically in the book that still keeps me re-reading it after so many years, but really many aspects most people will never really consider. Frankly, his blowhard attitude I could do without on a personal basis, but he did convince me to fight for my scripts and to not cave in to idiotic demands by know-nothing producers
     
  4. Maurice

    Maurice Fact Trekker Premium Member

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    How much trouble do I go to in order to help you fledgling and fanfilm writers?

    Why, I go right to the top and consult with Dorothy Fontana, who teaches screenwriting at AFI! The sacrifices I make for you! ;)
    [​IMG]
    That was at lunch yesterday. @Harvey , Dorothy, and moi.
     
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  5. Maurice

    Maurice Fact Trekker Premium Member

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    One of the earliest topics I got into in this Primer was the subject of Three Act Structure. As per...

    As we discussed examples of what was or wasn't an example of Three Act @Mark 2000 mentioned Raiders of the Lost Ark, which I concurred with as per the post below...

    I recently ran into this post on Aristotle and Three Act Structure (link) and it provides a more nuanced example of how Beginning, Middle, End works at various levels in this form than what you usually run into. As a bonus, it too uses Raiders as an illustration. I think it's a pretty concise breakdown of the Three Act subject with some simple and easy-to-understand examples. Finally, it addresses the subject of Sequences within a film narrative, something I've never really addressed in this thread.

    And speaking of this thread, given how the fanfilm scene and activity in this forum has wilted due to the endless travails of the ongoing Axanarrative and the folding up of all the major Trek fanfilm productions, I suspect this topic is not really being read by or useful to many people these days. So this might be my concluding post here.
     
  6. rabid bat

    rabid bat Rear Admiral Moderator

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    Dang. I, for one, will miss these. They're fascinating, and they kinda help with writing, too. Gives me some ideas about how fast to introduce certain elements. Of course the structure and media are different, but it's still the ever-popular start, midpoint, veer off to a complication, then dénouement.
     
  7. USS Jack Riley

    USS Jack Riley Captain Captain

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    Seconded. I have earned so much from your guidance Maurice!
     
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  8. Maurice

    Maurice Fact Trekker Premium Member

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    Well, okay, if there are people still interested I'll keep adding stuff here, but it would be nice if people would say something when they find any of this useful, because it's difficult to motive yourself to post if the response is crickets. :)
     
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  9. rabid bat

    rabid bat Rear Admiral Moderator

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    Completely understandable.

    Here's a question (because this baffles me at work, actually, when I work with the visual artist). Deciding on a color scheme and a look and feel -- how is that done? How is it even started? Blade Runner looks one way, Star Wars another, The Fifth Element another, etc. All of these come under the general umbrella of science fiction although they do have rather different story lines.

    I'm also aware that artistic changes may be made for the sake of budget or because special effects aren't good enough, or even whether an actor is available on such and such a date.

    But how (if you know) are ideas for the look of the stones in The Fifth Element brought about? How and why does Star Wars seem so damned robe-heavy when it comes to costumes? I don't know; maybe these aren't things that can be answered easily and/or definitively. And maybe the stones look the way they do so they would be semi-recognizable to an audience, and the robes are everywhere in order to suggest at different body shapes without having to put actors in fat suits. Or maybe it's all just cheaper.

    I hope this question is coherent, and thanks!
     
  10. Maurice

    Maurice Fact Trekker Premium Member

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    That's a little more the subject of the Fan Filmmaker Primer, because the writer rarely has much to do with the look of the film. In a modern "selling script" you might suggest a general feel or look if anything, but rarely be specific. The look of the film is mostly a mix of the work of the art director, cinematographer and costume designer, working with the director. Someone like Ridley Scott might be much more involved in these than another director. Rarely is the art director also the costume designer, because in Hollywood a lot of this is demarcated by unions and guilds, but for sci-fi films there's sometimes more overlap of roles. ILM did a lot of prototypes for things like Vader that were technically the purview of costume designer John Mollo. Danilo Donati did both for Flash Gordon, and went rather crazy designing and having stuff built that the script didn't call for.

    As to the process it varies by project. Some directors have a definite look in mind, but most have the artists suggest things, look at a lot of photos or concept drawings, etc., until they see things they like or which suggest an approach. The original Star Wars film isn't heavy on robes per se, just the Tatooine clothing is based on desert garb, which does feature a lot of layers and robes as insulation. You don't see robes in Empire, really, aside from Ghosty Wan Kenobi and Yoda and the hooded Emperor.

    I could get into this more in the other topic.
     
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2019
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  11. USS Jack Riley

    USS Jack Riley Captain Captain

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    I will be better about participating. I tend to lurk, but am happy to ask questions, etc.
     
  12. rabid bat

    rabid bat Rear Admiral Moderator

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    Cool - and this is truly fascinating to me. I imagine there are some ideas which come about due to an understanding of the history of fashion. Like you said, desert garb. If a scene calls for a scary military, then garnering inspiration from intimidating army uniforms of the past seems it would be a necessity.
     
  13. Maurice

    Maurice Fact Trekker Premium Member

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    Yeah, and if you look at the various concepts for the stormtroopers you'll see how they evolve from something more practical looking into what we got, as they smoothed out the junctions of various components.

    One thing a lot of people don't notice in Star Wars is that Vader's helmet is slightly asymmetrical since it was sculpted by hand, and it's actually not all black. A few of the planes and the neck of the helmet are actually a gunmetal-silver color so that the details pop out even in low light. Check out the area under his eye to screen left and the face of his "cheek" on the opposite side, and his neck in this photo (LINK). Once you see it you can never unsee it. :)
     
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2019
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  14. USS Jack Riley

    USS Jack Riley Captain Captain

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    Interesting about Vader's helmet. I had seen differences in the helmet from one episode to the next. For example, the black goes from a more matte look to glossy. The eyes also change - you can almost see through them in ep. 4, but by ep. 5 they are a smoker black. I would never have seen the gunmetal color, though.

    How much is the director's role change in a big budget film vs a smaller budget film (under $50 million) vs an independent film? Also, what if the director is also a producer? I had always assumed the director gets final say (subject to the producer's boundaries), but from what you're saying, it is not quite as clear cut.
     
  15. Maurice

    Maurice Fact Trekker Premium Member

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    Vader's eyepieces in Star Wars were smoked and you can see Prowse's eyes through them in a few shots. By Empire they've made new helmets with different eyepieces (I would not be surprised if there were some black mesh behind them to make the eyes impossible to see).

    Unless you are a big-name director with clout and it's specified in your contract you generally don't get final cut of the film: the producers do. Doesn't matter the budget. It's all negotiated.
     
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  16. USS Jack Riley

    USS Jack Riley Captain Captain

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    Thanks for the insight Maurice!
     
  17. rabid bat

    rabid bat Rear Admiral Moderator

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    We hear (or read, or see) these titles all the time. And while we have kinda, sorta an understanding of them, there's nothing like hearing what they're really like from someone who's there.
     
  18. Maurice

    Maurice Fact Trekker Premium Member

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    As "there" as much as I can be. haha

    So, here's a writer topic:

    How do you write a scene?

    There are probably as many answers to this question as there are prospective writers. Different people find different entry points. Some outline the scene. Some write straight ahead and see where it goes. Others write fragments of action or dialog they know they want and then come back to it later. And many writers use different approaches for different scenes in the same script.

    What I tell a lot of beginning or struggling writers is just to write anything, get some momentum, push your way through what's hanging you up. It can be terrible, but that doesn't matter. You push through it and move on and come back later and revise the stuff that isn't working. "Like that, only good," is something my writing partner and I say all the time, acknowledging that.

    My process has evolved a lot over the years. If nothing is coming out or nothing good is coming out I will shift tacks to break the logjam. I'll try different approaches to get into and break the scene. I've done complicated dialog scenes in a spreadsheet FFS so I could easily experiment with speaker-order just by swapping columns around. Other times when the dialog isn't flowing I just write something like this...

    NEIL​
    Disses Peter by showing off his sophistication

    PETER​
    Tries to one-up Neil by showing him to be
    pretentious
    ...which indicates what I want to happen and lets me sketch out the subtext of the scene and what the lines mean and then try to write actual dialog.

    So today I'm going to try something new here. I'm working on a scene rewrite and I'm going to do it here, "live". Perhaps this will be of interest to some of you.

    Context
    I am rewriting a few scenes for The Blue Mauritus feature screenplay.

    In industry lingo this script is what is called a "selling script", which means it's designed to sell the project to talent and backers. As such it puts more emphasis on the selling points than perhaps the final shooting script would. This is a heist/caper film and stuff like character motivations gets revealed as the onion layers are peeled back. But not everyone understands that, so we had a few notes where someone did not feel invested in the characters in the first half of the script. So, to help "sell" the script to people like that, I am revisiting a few key scenes to put what I call "fishhooks" in: stuff to catch the reader and reel them into the story.

    The largest such scene I am tweaking is the one I call "Team Blue Assembles". This scene as previously written accomplished the following:
    1. Introduced the four thieves to each other (we've met them previously)
    2. Established some conflict amongst them, especially Peter and Neil
    3. Introduced Stephen the young hacker
    4. Established why the thieves have been brought together
      • To deliver the goods they stole on a previous job, and...
      • To be given an offer to team up to go after a riskier target (the titular Blue Mauritius stamp)
    5. Have them decide assess the job before making a decision
    To add the aforementioned fishhooks I must now add the following:
    1. Set up the theme that these four thieves, each from a different country and background, are distrustful of one another due to various prejudices (which they will subsequently overcome)
    2. Better establish their personalities
    3. Hint at their individual motives here to get the reader invested in finding out the whole story
    4. Make it more fun and less expositional
    Oh, and as the script is basically maxed out lengthwise, I need to do all this without adding to the page count.

    To do this requires rewriting the action and dialog to work on multiple levels. For instance, I need to establish that Neil (English) has rather refined tastes and that he thinks Peter (American) is an unsophisticated rube...on sight. I need to show that Neil fancies himself a sophisticate. I need to show that Peter is a bit of an ugly American and hint that he's attracted to Maria. I need to show that Maria (Brazlian) is all business and not a prize for the men to win. I also want to establish that Lucien (French) is used to being bullied and defends himself with cynical comments.

    I set up the Neil-Peter dynamic in the immediately previous scene wherein Neil pulls up at this industrial loft in a luxury car and is cut off from a parking space by Peter on a motorcycle. I'll play off that by doing a reverse on the same action in the scene I'm about to start. Here goes...

    INT. LOFT - DAY

    The door opens and Peter finds himself face-to-face with STEPHEN (21), an adorable nerd who always wears vintage computer company tee shirts.

    PETER​
    Oh, sorry. Must have the wrong place. Is this—

    STEPHEN​
    Peter. Hi. Come in!
    Peter gets cut off by Neil, entering like he owns the place.

    NEIL​
    Interesting neighborhood.
    (Peter)​
    If a little low rent.
    BRIEF LOFT DESCRIPTION HERE. Neil strolls directly for a table featuring spirits, beer and wine, making show of picking a fine wine. Peter, right on his heels, finds the corkscrew, feigns offering it to Neil... psych! uses the end of it to open a bottle of beer, then drops it on the table where Neil has to reach for it.

    PETER​
    So, kid, who're you and who are these cats?
    FOLLOWING PETER to REVEAL Lucien sprawled on a sofa like a cat, and Maria, under a hat and behind dark glasses, standing aside, hiding behind a large cocktail, tense as a wound spring. As Peter passes Maria he puts the open beer in her open hand. He winks. She frowns.

    STEPHEN​
    (eager)​
    I'm Ste--

    MARIA​
    No names! That was my condition.

    NEIL​
    Whatever the lady wants, she gets.
    And Neil puts a glass of the wine in her other hand. He holds his own glass and raises it in a toast. Maria considers the two drinks: which will she choose?

    LUCIEN​
    (gestures open handed)​
    It's the 21st century and chivalry is dead.
    What about what I want?
    And suddenly finds in his hands the drinks Maria was given. He shrugs, happily alternates from one to the other: he's not proud.

    MARIA​
    Look, I don't care who these men are or why
    they're here--

    PETER​
    (plops down in a chair)​
    C'mon sistah. Two plus two. Four Blue Mauritius
    stamps stolen, four of us here.
    Stephen nods, grinning. Maria scowls. Neil turns to her.

    NEIL​
    Not quite as stupid as he looks.

    LUCIEN​
    (makes face at the beer)​
    Let's not rush to judgement.​

    So, as I said I would above, I just wrote that, live in this post. I didn't even look at the old draft. I wanted to take a fresh stab at the scene. By not referencing the previous version I am ensuring that I am writing and not editing. Writing (creating) and editing (revising, correcting) are two different processes, and I advise writers to treat them as such wherever possible. When you're rewriting actually rewrite, all of it. The word flow when you write sentences is different than when you go back and start messing with wording or grammar.

    The result above is rough rough rough, but it's starting to do what I want. Notice how I'm keeping the dialog short and punchy and I'm letting the character's actions tell a lot of the story, i.e.:
    • By having Stephen wear old computer company shirts I am visually indicating he is
      • a computer guy
      • likes "vintage" stuff (which makes it believable he knows a specific 80s song later)
    • Neil indicates his opinion of Peter by commenting on the neighborhood (low rent)
    • Peter counters by messing with Neil by faking him out with the corkscrew
    • Now the alcohol. In the earlier drafts Neil had some wine and that was it. This time I am using wine and beer as visual shorthand for what "class" each character operates from, and...
      • Neil goes for vintage wine
      • Peter grabs a brew, but...he's getting the drink not for himself but for the beautiful lady in the room
      • But Neil one-ups him with the wine
      • Now we are left to wonder: is Maria a beer or a wine drinker? What class is she?
      • But, psych! we don't find out because she's having none of it and passes the drinks off to Lucien, untouched
      • And Lucien, being a bit of a street rat, is indiscriminate and drinks both... he's not passing up an easy score
    Most of this I made up on the fly and then I jumped back to connect the dots as new connections occurred to me.

    For instance, at first it was just Neil and the wine, but then I decided to keep playing the business of Neil cuts off Peter, Peter cuts off Neil, thus added Peter going for the beer. At first I revealed Maria already had a drink which she is hiding behind (I crossed that out) but then I realized it was more interesting to have Lucien and Maria revealed as Peter "finds" them. I also could continue Neil-Peter business by having Peter hand her the beer, then Neil one-up him with the wine. I first thought to have Maria hand the drinks back to them, swapping them, maybe suggesting neither was what they were pretending to be, but then I realized Lucien wasn't doing anything, and I could get a bit of visual comedy out of having her handing the drinks off to him, and then having him not be choosy, and not firmly in either "world" and drink both. This build worked nicely, but Maria had the least fun bit in the whole thing, so the penultimate addition was the moment where she considers both drinks, leaving us to wonder which one she'll drink, before rejecting both outright. Finally, I wanted a zinger from Lucien, and realized he could dis Peter by dissing the beer choice. This got all four characters involved in the business and the action had a "topper" to end it.

    Now that the character tensions are set up, next it's time to reveal why they're there and what the job is.

    Onward and forward. Hope that was helpful to someone.
     
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2019
  19. rabid bat

    rabid bat Rear Admiral Moderator

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    It's kinda similar to how I write story stuff. Give a character a characteristic which gives the reader almost a kind of shorthand. When Jake talks to Ceilidh, he calls her 'my angel' or 'Mrs. Radford' once they marry. But she doesn't use pet names. She's Irish and words like 'tis or 'twas show up in her speech. Devon, her employer, is more sophisticated and uses bigger words. Shannon is a being from another world, so his speech is stilted and he doesn't know a lot of basic things about how the world works. The scene is 1880s Boston (current WIP is Victorian Era scifi) Hence -

    "Mrs. Radford, is that a new hat?"
    "'Tis. Eh, an extravagance which I imagine we can't afford."
    "What, am I not remunerating you sufficiently?"
    "This is puzzling. Are hats a form of currency?"

    I realize this is a super-simple example, but essentially the idea is, with no dialogue tags, you know exactly who's speaking in this little exchange. Of course dialogue tags are important (and in a script they exist by default), but I feel it helps to orient the reader better if the characters have some well-defined quirks or other details.

    If I know a character has hay fever then, unless they take allergy meds (which don't exist in the 1880s, but I do write more present-day and future stuff), they sniffle, rub at their eyes, and might cough or sneeze. A character who prefers the color yellow might wear it more, and might remark upon the beauty of a field of daffodils. A really tall character will stoop when entering a room or dwelling, or leaving it. Etc. etc.

    Quirks help to make the characters come alive.
     
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  20. Matthew Raymond

    Matthew Raymond Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    This kinda reminds me of the Person of Interest episode "If-Then-Else", where the Machine is running the simplified simulation...

    REESE​
    Coolly delivered sadistic warning.

    FUSCO​
    Self-deprecating inquiry into the time necessary to infiltrate system.

    ROOT​
    Funny yet insightful retort.

    FINCH​
    Mildly agitated declaration of mission completion.

    FINCH(CONT.)​
    Gentle exhortation to further action.​

    Strangely enough, I usually end up doing this the other way around. I mostly know what I want the characters to say, but I use general plot outlining in square brackets that I'll replace later when I have a better idea of what I want in that part of the scene. There have been a couple of times where I just ended up deleting the brackets and using the outline text directly as scene description.
     
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