Fan Film Writer's Primer

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

  1. Professor Zoom

    Professor Zoom Admiral Admiral

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    I'm gonna be a little contrarian. I don't think dialogue has to sound "real" to be real and true to the characters and the world in which they live in.

    I think about Shakespeare or even Mamet. Obviously, no one talks like Shakespeare--they didn't at the time, like, who the fuck speaks in iambic pentameter? And very few people speak like Mamet rights. But the characters they created are real and whole, with clear motivations and desires, and are actively pursuing those.

    But, to be an agreeable sort, @Maurice and Tony Gilroy are right, it's about knowing people, it's about being an observer of real people, but, they can still be in unreal situations--I'm a made up creature walking to Mount Doom singing silly songs to get rid of a ring--but still feel real and whole.

    I feel like, if there's an emotional core with a full world then dialogue can sound "unreal" and still be real. If that makes sense.
     
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  2. Maurice

    Maurice Fact Trekker Premium Member

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    Most dialog is not how people actually speak, of course. It's much more concise and less tangental with far fewer ums and the like. Perhaps my post conflates two things here—the sound of dialog and human understanding—but I think the latter informs the former. If you don't understand what drives people then you can't write convincing dialog for them which frequently leads to those "pernicious banalities" I mentioned.
     
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  3. Professor Zoom

    Professor Zoom Admiral Admiral

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    Absolutely agree. I was pushing gently against "how people" talk idea as that might create the idea that one should absolutely recreate how people talk. That's what Mamet was doing in his own unique way... but, then, people misunderstood and starting copying his style. Like Tarantino... there's a particular sound and cadence to his work--as well as subject--that feels like how people talk, but... really... no one really talks like Tarantino.

    It's verisimilitude that needs to be created within the world of the piece.
     
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  4. Maurice

    Maurice Fact Trekker Premium Member

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    "Why... why it's Mister—" "Spock!" is not at all how real people talk. It's like something you'd see in a bad Edwardian novel. What actors taught me is that people often attempt to mask their actual emotions to maintain control of a situation or conversation, as in "Play the opposite emotion".

    Much of fanfilm writing is 100% exposed surface emotions, which often read as "emo" teenager angst. And I think some of this may come from the fanfilm makers' influences largely being genre fiction, which is oft-stilted and a poor model for realistic portrayal of human behavior.
     
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  5. Bixby

    Bixby Captain Captain

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    Just look at 1940s black-and-white movies, especially screwball comedies and classics like the Maltese Falcon. A lot of their dialogue is quotable and memorable, but the actors deliver it at a machine gun pace, and never pause when the other actor has finished.
    That said, yes there are movies with very natural situations and dialogue and they often become Oscar contenders. But it`s the ''You lookin' at me?''s and ''say hello to my little friend!''s that get repeated decades later. Someone mentioned David Mamet earlier, his dialogue is far from realistic sometimes but it is so zesty that you wish you could speak like this all the time...
     
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  6. Maurice

    Maurice Fact Trekker Premium Member

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    The Difference Between a Story and a Sketch

    Over the years I've discussed the distinction between a sketch/"vignette" and a story as regards fanfilms. I ran across the following on screenwriter/playwrite Ken Levine's blog and—while he's discussing plays—I think it's a solid summation of the difference, comedy or not:

    What is it that differentiates one of your ten minute plays from a comedy sketch? I am presuming that there are differences, I just cannot make the leap of logic to determine what they might be.

    Comedy sketches tend to have funny premises and then as many jokes as they can get to service that premise.

    A ten-minute play has a real beginning, middle, and end. Just like a good short story. A character will have to make a big decision, an event will cause change, there will be some revelation, etc. Storytelling drives a ten-minute play, not jokes.
    —Ken Levine, Hollywood and Levine blog

    You could paraphrase it like so:

    What is it that differentiates a short film from a sketch/vignette? I am presuming that there are differences, I just cannot make the leap of logic to determine what they might be.

    Vignettes and sketches tend to have a premises and then business around that premise.

    A short film has a real beginning, middle, and end. Just like a good short story. A character will have to make a big decision, an event will cause change, there will be some revelation, etc. Storytelling drives a short, not business.

     
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2019
  7. Ryan Thomas Riddle

    Ryan Thomas Riddle Writer and occasional starship commander Premium Member

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    This reminds me of one of my favorite Kids in the Hall sketch, "What is a Sketch?" Love that they were both meta and Brechtian in their comedic approach.

     
  8. Maurice

    Maurice Fact Trekker Premium Member

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    That's pretty good, and it illustrates that there's really no "story" just a premise being played out.
     
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  9. Professor Zoom

    Professor Zoom Admiral Admiral

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    Points to Team Riddle for using Brechtian.
     
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  10. Maurice

    Maurice Fact Trekker Premium Member

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    Whups! Posted in the wrong place. I copied this post over to the Fan Filmmakers Primer here (LINK). Apologies for the mislocation!

    Mea culpa!
     
    Last edited: Oct 30, 2019
  11. USS Jack Riley

    USS Jack Riley Captain Captain

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    This is why I like reading your posts here Maurice. You don't just explain how it should be done. You explain WHY it should be done, which makes it usable in more than just that one setup. Thanks for keeping this going!
     
  12. Maurice

    Maurice Fact Trekker Premium Member

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    BTW, I just updated my writing samples on my website and the final version of the scene I wrote "live" here in this thread (as per the quote) is part of the sample I chose from this screenplay. You can see the final result at this link (scenes 53 & 54 of the script).
     
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2020
  13. Maurice

    Maurice Fact Trekker Premium Member

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    CAN A FANFILM WRITER MAKE THE LEAP TO PRO WRITING?

    The following isn't about fanfilms per se, but about what some fans aspire to. As we've seen with several produced and promised-but-never-delivered fanfilms, some see or delude themselves into thinking they can turn one small step for a fan to one giant leap into the big leagues.

    In that vein, @Bixby suggested I repost this here (with some revising to make the broader point) from another thread where a wanna-be show creator asked how an unknown writer with no experience or formal training could get a script into the hands of a pro TV producer.

    GUINAN*​
    You don't.​
    *"Q Who"

    Mostly because you have to have actually written to get read. And any of the first scripts you write are probably not going to be salable. My first scripts weren't.

    ¿Why so? As with anything, a beginner doesn't know what they don't know, and can't be expected to, because they are just that: beginners. As such, of course they're starting from a position of almost total ignorance. And that's not a put-down. What else could they be?

    Honestly, I think people look at screenplays and show bibles and think, "that's not so hard", because all they can see is the end result, but the words on the pages are just the tip of the iceberg. Most of what's making the script work is below the surface, invisible unless you know what to look for and how. Sans experience a beginner simply cannot see most of what's going on down there in the depths of structure and themes. An experienced screenwriter can watch a finished film and see the narrative clockwork ticking away in the background.

    So if you've written a lot and learned the craft you might have a chance if you pitch a script to an existing series, but you'll likely have to get an agent, and your scripts have to be good enough to get over than first hurdle. You might even be able to pitch to a Star Trek show.

    But CBS isn't going to look at your Star Trek series pitch. So let go of that dream right now. Lots of people, some with some with industry cred, have tried it and gotten nowhere. If you've never sold a script, let alone have a body of work that speaks to your ability there's no way your idea for Star Trek Whathaveyou is going to be considered, whatever its merits.

    ¿Why?

    The way Hollywood works the "creator" of a show is a profit-participant, and buying a concept from an outsider means giving away a chunk of the pie to someone else. And said creator is going to be expected to be mightily involved in the writing process of episodes, and if you have no credits or experience, you're an unproven entity and too high a risk to take a chance on.

    So, still want to be a screenwriter? Still want to sell a show? Then here's what you have to do:

    1. Write scripts. There's no shortcut here. You have to write and write a lot to get the hang of the form. And don't just write Star Trek, because then you're just copying some set formulas and bring nothing new to the table. Try writing a script outside your chosen genre, because it'll force you to flex different muscles and break bad habits.

    2. Read scripts. Read a lot of scripts, and, seriously, not Star Trek scripts...because the same as 1.

    3. Read up on story and screenplay structure. NoFilmSchool has a lot of articles (example) about stuff like this.

    4. Watch TV and keep your finger on the pulse of the state of the art. No one's now's going to make a show like those tailored for the old direct-to-syndication model like TNG or DS9 unless they're Seth MacFarlane.​
    In short: Pay. Your. Dues.


    Otherwise, you're just a another wanna-be amateur sans the most fundamental basics of the craft expecting to jump to the head of the line. And that would deserve but one reply:

    ADMIRAL CLANCY​
    The sheer fucking hubris.​


    The takeaway: there's no shortcut to being a good screenwriter, whether your ambitions are to write a fanfilm of pro one.
    • To be a writer you have to write. A lot.
    • To be a good screen writer you have to understand how TV and movie scripts work, and not just Star Trek.
    • To be a good writer you have to learn to take punishing comments. You have to be able to give them due consideration and not just gainsay them because they're not what you want to hear.
    And, perhaps the hardest one...
    • To be a good writer you have to eventually know your craft well enough so that you can separate the wheat from the chaff and know when feedback is useful and actionable and when it is ill-advised or just personal taste.
    As a certain chameloid once said.

    MARTIA​
    It takes a lot of effort.​

    Make the effort if you want to write well.
     
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2020
  14. jespah

    jespah Rear Admiral Moderator

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    Question: would you recommend any classes or academic degrees in this area?
     
  15. Bixby

    Bixby Captain Captain

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  16. Ryan Thomas Riddle

    Ryan Thomas Riddle Writer and occasional starship commander Premium Member

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    As someone who has gotten an MFA in Creative Writing, I'd recommend you'd be better off learning on your own by reading books on screenwriting, writing actual scripts, and joining a screenwriter's group of some kind. I'm no longer a proponent of academic creative writing programs no matter the field because of my MFA experience. Everyone's mileage may very.

    Everything that's made me a better writer has come from practical experience and real life. Not my MFA.

    That being said, here's a few things that I've found helpful in developing my screenwriting craft:

    That's my "credits to Navy beans" on the subject.
     
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2020
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  17. Matthew Raymond

    Matthew Raymond Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    I know who that guy is. Who could forget his magnificent sci-fi epic: Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future. It's where I learned the word "lackey".

    In all seriousness, that Google link looks useful.
     
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  18. Professor Zoom

    Professor Zoom Admiral Admiral

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    I'm like @Ryan Thomas Riddle, as an owner of an MFA, I wouldn't recommend any MFA programs...UNLESS they are going to lead to contacts in the industry, otherwise it's a pile of money. The books suggested are good, I would also throw onto the pile The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri.

    But, I disagree regarding classes. I think class can be very useful--given the right teacher. I recommend Corey Mandell. He does online classes as well. (And yes, he wrote Battlefield Earth--it's a great story he tells, now that he's able to tell it.) I loved his approach to structure, I loved his approach to the art of crafting a screenplay.

    Classes I feel are a great way to get motivated, learn from a good teacher without having to invest in an MFA... And they don't take years.
     
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  19. Ryan Thomas Riddle

    Ryan Thomas Riddle Writer and occasional starship commander Premium Member

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    I don’t have an issue with classes. It’s structured academic programs that I take issue with. You’d get more outta a community college, online or extension class than an MFA, as you say is a pile of money.
     
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  20. Professor Zoom

    Professor Zoom Admiral Admiral

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    Agreed.
     
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