Fan Film Writer's Primer

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

  1. Maurice

    Maurice Fact Trekker Premium Member

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2005
    Location:
    One ferry ride from Starfleet HQ
    This is what we call the "voice" of the character in screenwriting. Verbal tics like distinct word choice and speech patterns help this a lot. One character I wrote is a preacher's daughter and African American and thus uses a fair amount of repetition when making a point, driving it home. Another is fond of short, declaratory statements. A third is an brilliant engineer but a stoner who, although articulate, tends to spiral in on a point rather than go straight from A to B.

    When I did some spec TNG scripts back around 89–90 I was told by a couple of people that they could tell whose lines were whose just because I'd captured their "voice'. If I took a line written for Picard and gave it to Riker I had to rewrite it, since the characters don't speak the same way.
     
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2019
    lurok, Ryan Thomas Riddle and jespah like this.
  2. Maurice

    Maurice Fact Trekker Premium Member

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2005
    Location:
    One ferry ride from Starfleet HQ
    So, following up on this post, I thought I'd show you how the scene evolved after that first stab. First is ]what the bit I posted previously became, with bold text to show what changed. I've put a few italicized notes inline as to what motivated some of the changes.


    A KNOCK on the door. STEPHEN (21), an adorable nerd who always wears vintage computer tee shirts, opens it.
    This was slightly revised to start with the knock. Before it just started with the door opening. This way it gives more editing options because you'd film him walking to the door instead of just opening it.

    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.​

    Peter smiles mischievously, follows. Stephen closes the door.​

    Neil strolls confidently for a table loaded with bottles, 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 cheap beer, then drops it on the table where Neil has to reach for it.

    PETER​
    So, kid, who’re you? Matter of
    fact...who’re they?

    The first pass was "Who're these cats?" which was the tone I wanted but not very modern sounding. This version of the line avoids quickly-dated slang for something equally direct but more conversational.

    FOLLOWING PETER to REVEAL Lucien sprawled on a sofa like a cat, and Maria, under a hat and behind dark glasses, standing aside, tense as a wound spring. As Peter passes Maria he puts the open beer in her open hand. He winks. She frowns.

    STEPHEN​
    I can’t believe I’m getting to meet
    all of you! I’m Stephen B--

    This line changed to make it clear Stephen knows who they are, establish his youthful enthusiasm, and let him get his first name out for the sake of the audience.

    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)​
    Chivalry is dead. What about what I
    want?​

    I cut the "It's the 21st Century" because we all know what century it is.

    And suddenly finds in his hands the drinks Maria was given. He shrugs, happily alternates drinking each: he’s not proud.

    MARIA​
    Look, I don’t care who you are or
    why you’re here--

    PETER​
    (plops down in a chair)​
    C’mon sister. 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 dumb as he looks.

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

    That's where we left off. What happens next is...

    AS A GIANT SCREEN FLASHES ON. It displays Hanson via video chat from Jack’s Study on Mauritius.

    HANSON​
    Well, now that we’re all getting
    along so splendidly, shall we get
    down to business?

    NEIL​
    Precisely which business, Hanson?
    These?​

    Neil--standing right behind Lucien--takes the London stamp from a coat pocket and waves it, then firmly stuffs it back into the pocket. Lucien sees this, puts down his drinks.​

    This is setup for the next bit of business. It lets Lucien know where Neil has his stamp, thus...

    NEIL (CONT’D)​
    Or the stamp from Berlin you didn’t
    get? How’d that happen?

    HANSON​
    Let’s authenticate the former while
    we discuss the latter. Stephen?​

    Parallel action beats sequential, hence "Let’s authenticate the former while we discuss the latter." To move the scene along quickly I wanted to get the thieves' work checked out without stopping to do it. Thus I am setting up to keep "business" going and keep the scene from becoming people standing around talking.

    Stephen moves closer, eagerly gesturing “gimme”. Peter unzips an inside-pocket of his leather jacket and produces his stamp. Maria reluctantly takes hers from her stylish handbag. They hand them over.

    Neil reaches for his, then does a double take when he can’t find the stamp! He checks all his other pockets, flustered.

    Lucien casually hands over the Louvre stamp. Then makes a show of showing his empty palms, does a bit of legerdemain and, voila, Neil’s Blue Mauritius is in his hands.

    NEIL​
    (snatches the stamp)​
    Sneaky little frog.​

    Stephen grabs it, turns to a large, centralized SMART DESK and places the four stamps into a SCANNER at one end, Images of both sides of each pop up on the desk’s interactive top. He scrutinizes each stamp, drawing circles around different details on each. During this...

    HANSON​
    The unforeseen early transfer of
    that last Blue Mauritius, shall we
    say, threw a spanner in the works.

    PETER​
    Yeah. So who’s the superstar that
    dropped that ball?

    HANSON​
    All that concerns us is that final stamp
    and who will get it.

    NEIL​
    “Who will get it”? Hanson, please.​

    The next thing after this was tricky, and my first pass showed me what I did not want to do: namely have a lengthy conversation where the four thieves made the case for themselves. By this point in the script we've seen each of them perform their individual speciality, so having them state that would be redundant. Never say anything twice. So my writing partner suggested having them attack each other instead of crowing about their own abilities. I wanted something rapid-fire, so he suggested a sort of round-robin that goes like this.

    A. Thief disses another thief
    B. Thief not attacked chimes in in-agreement, thus drawing fire from the one who was attacked
    C. Thief dissed counter-attacks by dissing the thief who chimed in​

    In practice it works like this...
    1. Maria disses Neil
    2. Peter chimes in about Neil
    3. Neil returns fire by attacking Peter
    4. Maria chimes in about Peter
    5. Peter returns fire by dissing Maria
    6. Neil chimes in about Maria
    If this pattern continued I'd be right back at 1. Maria disses Neil. Ergo it's time to break out of the pattern. We kept Lucien out of the argument so he could be the reset button. Ergo, he halts the loop by dissing EVERYONE...

    LUCIEN​
    C’est des conneries! Some United
    Nations you’ve put together here,
    Hanson. You know none of these
    fools have the skills to do this.
    (quickly; indicates self)​
    And neither does poor, poor, Lucien.*
    Don’t you see, he needs--

    MARIA, PETER, NEAL
    (all realizing; shit)​
    All of us.​

    * I wrote this line this way because we've gotten the other thieves names in previous scenes but not Lucien's so he introduces himself by admitting he's one of them: a "fool".

    The older version of this scene was more expositional with the characters being told what they needed to do. This version is all about setting up and playing character conflicts. Not only is this more interesting than dry exposition, it serves the characters better because it shows them jumping to conclusions before they figure it out.

    Mind you, this kind of character conflict can be easy to do badly. A lot of beginning writers think "conflict" is high-school level banter with characters just sniping at one another. Witty or wanna-be-witty one-liners often don't service characters well other than to make them look like jerks. You want the "banter" to be driven by something other than the need to get in a zinger. In this scene the characters begin jockeying for position when they assume only one of them is going to be picked for this new job, ergo their sharp remarks are all pointedly directed and motivated by that need, so that drives what and whom they attack and when.

    ---------

    What I hope these examples illustrate is how complicated even writing a simple scene can be and how much structure can be applied to keep it moving along.
     
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2019
    USS Intrepid likes this.
  3. Matthew Raymond

    Matthew Raymond Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Oct 24, 2016
    I'd like to hear more about this, actually. How do you put in editing options without overpadding the script?
    Too bad these forums don't have a special "fountain" tag:
    Code:
    [fountain]
    NEIL
    (snatches the stamp)
    Sneaky little frog.
    [/fountain]
     
  4. Maurice

    Maurice Fact Trekker Premium Member

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2005
    Location:
    One ferry ride from Starfleet HQ
    As per the example, in this instance I chose to include an entrance and/or exit to be filmed. The way I wrote the above they could start with the knock and the guy going to answer to the door or they could cut right to the door opening. It basically adds no length to the script but suggests a bit of coverage that might save some grief in post.

    No entiendo "fuente". What do you mean, "fountain"?
     
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2019
  5. Matthew Raymond

    Matthew Raymond Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Oct 24, 2016
    Fountain is a plain text markup language for screenwriting. There are various tools that can import the format and/or convert it into a properly formatted script. Not having to format everything manually saves a huge amount of time. I write my scripts using Fountain, then render them as PDF files using a Web-based tool called Afterwriting.

    Because the format is mostly just plain text, if you keep your scripts in source control, it makes it easy to use annotation (known by Git users as "blame") to see who wrote what part of the script. It also makes finding different script pretty easy using standard diffing tools.
     
  6. jespah

    jespah Rear Admiral Moderator

    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2011
    Location:
    Boston, the Gateway to the Galaxy
    Hey, thanks (#learnsomethingneweveryday)
     
  7. Maurice

    Maurice Fact Trekker Premium Member

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2005
    Location:
    One ferry ride from Starfleet HQ
    Interesting. But no one I know who writes uses this. Industry standard is Final Draft, for better or for worse, so that's what I'm required to use.
     
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2019
    lurok and Professor Zoom like this.
  8. USS Jack Riley

    USS Jack Riley Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Sep 19, 2005
    Location:
    Cubicle Hell
    Legitimate question, as I don't understand the difference. Why does the program used matter, so long as the end reult looks the same? Is it not the difference between a paper written with WordPerfect as opposed to Word? They both look the same and no one would know the difference if looking at the printed page.
     
  9. Matthew Raymond

    Matthew Raymond Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Oct 24, 2016
    And I don't dispute this at all. Trelby, one of the few open-source alternatives I could find, is lacking in features, glitchy and unmaintained. Final Draft is basically the Microsoft Office of screenwriting, and there is no LibreOffice-like competitor to give it a run for it's money.

    That said, keep in mind that the thread is "Fan Film Writer's Primer". What exactly does Final Draft offer writers of fan films specifically that Fountain (and the tools that support it) can't that would justify paying $250? If the point is to write a 15-minute amateur script to be filmed by, and acted by, amateurs in a single weekend, then using Fountain markup in a text editor is far more than adequate, while Final Draft is massive overkill with a hefty price tag.

    The thing is, they don't even have to be mutually exclusive. There are tools to convert Fountain documents to the Final Draft FDX format. Furthermore, Final Draft supports the import of plain-text documents, which Fountain basically is, so you can import a Fountain document directly and it would need only minimal revision in most circumstances. (You can also convert FDX files to Fountain using Highland, but that requires a Mac, which I don't have.)

    So yes, if you want to be an industry professional, I would encourage you to get Final Draft. There's a 30-day trial, as I recall. Get it. Learn it. However, for small productions outside an industrial setting, it's completely unnecessary for all but a select set of edge cases.
    In a professional setting, there are things like script versioning, keeping track of props, scenes, et cetera in the script, keeping track of sounds for foley, automatic script registry, and other features that a layperson wouldn't think of but you would absolutely need if you were producing a major film or television show. Final Draft even has its own specialized version of the Courier font so that a certain amount of content fits on a single page. It's a serious tool for a specific type of work environment.

    It's kinda like how some companies use specific features of Word or Excel that make it next to impossible for them to move to other office suites, and then they require everyone they do business with to used those programs too. If you're starting a small media company that internally produces content for YouTube, you can probably get away with using something else, but if you're a writer working for an established media company, forget about using anything but Final Draft.
     
  10. Maurice

    Maurice Fact Trekker Premium Member

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2005
    Location:
    One ferry ride from Starfleet HQ
    Because ultimately the productions will probably want the script in Final Draft format, not a PDF. And there are a bunch of features in the program (Scriptnotes, beat boards, etc.) that may or may not survive format conversion if the other software doesn't support all those features. If 005 were not long-gone he could explain it, as he worked in the writing dept. at ABC Studios.
     
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2019
  11. Maurice

    Maurice Fact Trekker Premium Member

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2005
    Location:
    One ferry ride from Starfleet HQ
    Are you seriously telling me, of all people, to keep in mind what this primer is about? FFS... why do I even bother? :D

    I merely commented that no one I know uses the fountain thing you mentioned. I said what I use and why, and also added "for better or for worse".

    In both primers I have steered away from discussing specific software knowing that not everyone has the same tools.


    There was some discussion in a thread in this forum years ago between Patty Wright and I about if a Hollywood standard script format was actually the best solution for fan films, especially for amateur productions with amateur actors. We discussed whether or not the LOD (level of detail) in a standard script was too low and not specific enough for such things. A potential fallout of adding more detail is that the standard method of calculating runtime based on the script might cease to be meaningful, which could be a problem today with 15-minute runtimes.

    You mention converters, but the problem with converters is whether Program A has features not supported by Program B, when you file convert what happens to that data? When you export from B back to A does all that data vanish? If so, it's not a viable solution if important features don't cross-over. If not, then you have to either all go to the same software solution or forbid people using Program A from using some of its features.

    BTW, you're confusing some features between Final Draft and things like Chimpanzee or Gorilla Scheduler, in which you can attach props to costumes and costumes to characters and locations and things like that necessary for production. Final Draft is really just about scriptwriting, outlines, beat sheets, character arcs, script notes and the like.
     
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2019
  12. USS Jack Riley

    USS Jack Riley Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Sep 19, 2005
    Location:
    Cubicle Hell
    Got it. Makes sense. I didn't realize it offered extra features (prop tracking, etc.). Thanks guys!
     
  13. Matthew Raymond

    Matthew Raymond Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Oct 24, 2016
    My understanding of why you limit detail in a script is so that you don't step on the creative toes of the director and actors and allow them the room they need to develop the stories and characters as they see fit. They are, after all, considered "above the line" for a reason. Is the idea that amateurs wouldn't necessarily know how to creatively add that kind of detail, and would therefore benefit from additional instruction from the writer?

    Would changes in LOD make things like fan films far less sensitive to the tool chain they're using, given that standard pacing is less relevant?
    That is a valid concern, although I think it's less significant going from an open source tool chain to a commercial, professional one rather than the other way around. (And, I admit, the tools for migrating from Final Draft to Fountain largely aren't there.)
    Yeah, you're probably right, I'm getting the tools confused because I lack experience with them. How do tools like Chimpanzee and Gorilla Scheduler fit into the Final Draft tool chain? Or are they competitors in some way?
     
  14. Maurice

    Maurice Fact Trekker Premium Member

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2005
    Location:
    One ferry ride from Starfleet HQ
    Actually, the lowered LOD (level of detail) evolved once the studio system collapsed and scripts went from "shooting scripts" to "selling scripts", and the idea was to make them attractive reads in order to get people excited for the project. As such a pro script has to walk this fine line between blueprint and sales sheet...not an easy thing to do, really. You look at a TOS script and basically it's chock full of camera direction. You look at a TNG script and a lot of that had gone away. Sometimes the level of specificity in the script goes up after it's been purchased and rewrites commence. However, the rule of thumb that has evolved is for the writer to tell the story and not to tell the director and cinematographer where to put and move the camera, and not to tell the actors how to perform.

    And older style script might contain all the stuff I've crossed out below.

    TIGHT ON THE DOOR.

    A KNOCK. STEPHEN (21), an adorable nerd who always wears vintage computer tee shirts, opens it.

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

    STEPHEN​
    (waves for Peter to enter)
    Peter. Hi. Come in!​
    DOLLY BACK SLIGHTLY TO SEE

    Peter gets cut off by Neil, entering like he owns the place.

    NEIL​
    Interesting neighborhood.
    (a glare at Peter)​
    If a little low rent.
    Peter smiles mischievously, follows. Stephen closes the door and turns to follow.

    PANNING WITH PETER AS HE FOLLOWS NEIL ACROSS THE ROOM

    THE LOFT is crammed full of gear, low- and high-tech. There are racks of computer equipment, cutting tools, 3P printers, laser cutters, abseiling gear, saws, picks and more. Everything you need to break into a museum, a computer network, or Fort Knox.

    Neil strolls confidently for a table loaded with bottles, making show of picking a fine wine.

    TWO SHOT

    Peter, right on his heels, finds the corkscrew, feigns offering it to Neil... psych! uses the end of it to open a bottle of cheap beer, then drops it on the table where Neil has to reach for it.

    FOLLOWING PETER AROUND TO PART OF THE ROOM WE'VE NOT SEEN YET

    PETER​
    (casually)
    So, kid, who’re you? Matter of fact...who’re they?​
     
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2019
    Matthew Raymond likes this.
  15. Maurice

    Maurice Fact Trekker Premium Member

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2005
    Location:
    One ferry ride from Starfleet HQ
    As per my reply, Final Draft doesn't do that. See below.

    Scheduling tools have been entirely separate packages and I've not delved into the most recent updates of them to see how much interoperability may or may not have been added.

    When I used them the way it worked is you would go into your screenwriting software (EDIT: or a tool like the free Final Draft Tagger application) and tell it to export a .SEX (yes, really) file, which is a version of the script that turns the formatting into tags a scheduling tool can use. That tool then sorts out lists of locations, characters appearing in those locations, etc. Then you can go through and add stuff, like non-speaking characters, extras, props, costumes, etc. You can also tag words in the script as those things. You can then create chains. For a Polaris greenscreen shoot I created a dependency chain so that when engineer Suarez was in the Main Control location the software knew he would be in his usual costume, and that he would have certain props attached. It also knew to include X background players whenever in that location. When on the planet he had an additional prop (toolkit) that would automatically get attached to him.

    Once all this is done you can export reports for each department (wardrobe, makeup, etc.) that tells them what props, costumes, type of hair & makeup, and set dressing appears in what scene without them having to tease that out of the script themselves.
     
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2019
  16. Matthew Raymond

    Matthew Raymond Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Oct 24, 2016
    I've been looking into Gorilla Scheduling a bit. They allow importing .HTML (for Celtx), .SEX and .FDX files. You can export from Final Draft into .SEX if you run into a problem importing your .FDX file, but it's more involved, and some of your data won't be imported. (HTML is the format with the least support.) So, if you can export your script to any of these formats, you should be able to import it into Gorilla. Obviously, how much data you can import will depend on which format you choose and how well your exporting application supports it.
     
  17. Maurice

    Maurice Fact Trekker Premium Member

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2005
    Location:
    One ferry ride from Starfleet HQ
    Final Draft 11 can write out .sex files, but for older versions of FD you have to use the free Final Draft Tagger application. I had forgotten this step and will edit my message above.
     
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2019
  18. Matthew Raymond

    Matthew Raymond Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Oct 24, 2016
    @Maurice, what would you say is missing from most screenwriters and schedulers that needs to be there? Any features you'd want added?
     
    jespah likes this.
  19. Maurice

    Maurice Fact Trekker Premium Member

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2005
    Location:
    One ferry ride from Starfleet HQ
    Oh geez, I dunno. I haven't used Gorilla in years, but back when I did there were certain things you could NOT undo, and it was often easier to just dump out and then reload the .SEX file and start over. I don't recall exactly what that was.

    As to features I'd like to see in screenwriting software:
    1. "Hide for sell". I would LOVE it if the program would allow you to hide text for a particular version of the document. There are details of a set or a costume which I would like to be able to make disappear for a "selling script" that I could/would unhide for a sold script. I've written a script which has a lot of technical details necessary for set dressing but which would be speed-bumps for people assessing the script for purchase, and keeping track of these things so you can re-insert them when needed is an extra and error-prone step when simply being able to flag text as "hide for sell" would solve the problem.

    As to the software that's out there, Final Draft's (at least v10, I haven't updated to v11 yet) most maddening issues to me are:
    1. You can embed scriptnotes, and you can print a report of said scriptnotes, but you can't output a PDF of the script with markers for said scriptnotes (as you would endnotes in a Word doc). You literally have to have the software to see exactly what the notes are pointing to.
    2. The dual dialog feature (which means dialog which is presented side-by-side so the actors know it overlaps) is so ineptly implemented that you:
      • Actually cannot edit the dialog while it's in dual dialog format. You have to revert the dual dialog back to normal format, edit it, when switch it back to dual.
      • Find it unnecessarily difficult to format text for dual dialog and then balks at these adjustments as formatting issues. Just try to recreate a page of overlapping dialog from Lost and see how maddening it gets!
    3. It doesn't correctly convert Mac linefeeds into the PC type it uses, so pasting text created on a Mac in Text Edit or what have you becomes a painful exercise in reformatting. A simple automatic-replace character function would solve this and save hassle.
    4. There's insufficient widow/orphan protection and the Format Assistant won't point these out to you.
    5. As software for screenwriting, which employs a lot of ellipses (...) it's rather stupid in the way it handles them.
     
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2019
    lurok and jespah like this.
  20. BeatleJWOL

    BeatleJWOL Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 21, 2012
    Location:
    Winston-Salem, NC
    Not sure how useful this is in fan film terms, but there's a great Vanity Fair video with Marvel screenwriters Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus talking about the process of screenwriting, from outline to functional first draft to finished product.



    They also mention a book by screenwriter Syd Field,
    Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting as a great reference.