Thursday, September 20, 2007

Tips & Tricks
Daily Blog Tips posted all the entries in the Tips & Tricks Writing Project. My post is included under Health & Fitness ("Get the Body You Always Wanted"). Among all the great information, four entries stood out of the crowd for me. They are:

6 Tips to Generate Outstanding Ideas
Because I agree wholeheartedly!

Thirteen Tips to Help You Resume Your Health & Fitness Program if You Get Off Track
Because I have Gotten Off Track and I need to get back on!

Life Tips Learned from High School Musical
Because that movie has a couple of great production numbers which feature excellent personal development information!

Three Strategies for Surviving Your Short Stay in the Slammer
Because we might not follow those Life Tips from High School Musical!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Showing the Plug and Not the Cable

37 Signals wonders why we show the cable and not the plug. That is, why we focus on what we think we should show, instead of what the other person really needs for us to show. It's a fantastic post, pointing up a flaw of everyday communication, and it made me remember an example I experienced many years ago.

As a graduate assistant for a television production class, I was the one who shot the student video, as guided by the student director, and later stuck all the shots together, as guided by the student editor. These were short productions, less than 5 minutes in length. And most of them involved a character walking through a door.

In just about every shoot, the director wanted a closeup of the actor's hand turning the doorknob. This meant one more setup, and a separate lighting procedure, just to show the grabbing the doorknob, twisting it, and opening the door.

An extra setup, to show us something we do so often we don't even think about it. The extra time it took quickly ate into our short shooting and editing window.

I started advising the directors that they didn't need the closeup doorknob shot, unless the doorknob was covered with peanut butter or slime or wouldn't turn at all because the door was locked (which had to be a part of the script.)

The professor guiding us grad assistants told me to let the students make the mistake and find their errors on their own.

Anyway, the 37 Signals post reminded me of our tendency to show ALL the details in, well, an incredibly detailed fashion, even if those details are so well cemented in our minds that we can move right past them to the good stuff.

And I'm running a level-3 diagnostic on my brain to find out all the myriad times I've done the same thing.
photo from Scott Fisher: Environmental Media Archives - it's the doorknob from Disney's "Alice in Wonderland," I believe.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

13 Tips on How To Write A Screenplay

Even though I've stopped trying to write the Perfect Zombie Movie Screenplay (or any screenplay whatsoever), I'm pretty confident that there are many people out there who harbor the screenwriting dream. The cliche in Hollywood is that everyone drives around with a script in their back pocket. I tend to think that's close to the way it is across the country, if not around the world. For you Hinterland Screenwriters, like myself, the script isn't in your back pocket, it's up there in your head.

But getting it out fraught with dangers, procrastination being one of them. However, the sooner you start committing words to your laptop, the sooner you will feel dumb, foolish, immature, unstable, lonely, jittery, ridiculous, and bipolar. Like every other writer who's ever lived. Onward, then, to the 13 Tips:

1. Get clear on what stage your at.
Are you a total neophyte beginner - the words haven't left your brain yet. Or are you further along - you complain so much to friends after you've seen a movie that they no longer invite you to drinks or dinner afterwards.

2. Realize right up front that you are doing Actual Work and you are Not Getting Paid.

3. Come up with a sellable idea. This is where the term "High Concept" comes in. How can you tell what's High Concept and what's not? Anything these days with Zombies is High Concept. Your coworkers foibles and the boredom of your job are not.

4. Create an awesome villain. And go for an extreme. Villains are either pure and simply people (think Hannibal Lector) or require makeup, costuming and special effects (think HAL, Darth and Sauron.) Even better: if the villain is on the same side as your hero!

5. Remove this thought from your brain and never let it escape your lips: "Somebody in Hollywood will be interested in this because it's in the news." Nothing could be further from the truth. And if Hollywood is interested, chances are they've got scripts already written. By the time you send your's in, the world has changed.

6. Study 3-Act Screenwriting Structure. After you've written your first draft. Nothing keeps a writer from completing a script or other piece of work like the "having to make it perfect the first time through" mindset.

7. Allow yourself to write crap for your first draft. Absolute crap. "So bad your five year old could do light-years better" crap. It's the only way. Sorry, but it is.

8. Resign yourself to actually writing. There is no market for ideas. Ideas attached to incredibly-well-executed scripts, however...

9. Make a list of all the movies you know that don't start with a bang. Then ignore this list, and start your screenplay with a bang.

10. Google "Screenwriting Mistakes"
and Don't Make Them.

11. Write great dialogue. Stuff that sounds real, dilineates character, advances story, engages viewers, inspires actors, and is economical yet not at all terse. If you find you can't write dialogue, then listen to everyone who's around you. 24/7/365. Write down what they're saying. If you're not getting stares, angry looks, or outright threats to stop, you aren't doing it enough. If you still can't write great dialogue, find someone who can.

12. Fully believe that you can come up with a script that is better than most movies you've ever seen. Just about anyone can. The prevailing view among scriptreaders in Hollywood is that most scripts in their "To Be Read On Saturday Night" pile are awful. And they are, because they're trying to be like all the other scripts in Hollywood that actually go into production. So while anyone can write a better script, Hollywood is set up to always say "No." Which leaves the Hinterland Screenwriter between the horns, dilemma-wise.

13. Consider writing a play. You'll improve your dialogue craft immensely. Chances are you'll get a play produced easier, or you'll find actors who will do readings for you so you can hear how your writing plays out loud. And if you're really lucky, you'll see your work onstage, that will be enough, and you won't have to begin writing a screenplay because your dreams have been fulfilled.
Why 13 Tips? Because writing a screenplay that actually gets optioned, sold or produced is 99% luck and 1% hard work, dedication, talent, craft, and passion. So I concede to bad luck right up front. You might think it's the other way around, 1% luck and all, but that's because you're seeing things from the hinterlands, where it can seem pretty roomy. It took me awhile to fully realize how the percentages shake out, so I don't fault anyone for their world view. There was no way I could understand it without some experience myself. The good thing is that it takes very little experience to facilitate dawn on your awareness. And yes, that picture's from Adaptation, a great movie to watch if you're wondering what writing is like.

Monday, September 17, 2007

10 Sure-Fire Procrastination Tactics

Let's face it: most of us are no good at procrastinating. We need that extra push from behind to get into procrastination's time-munching groove. We'd much rather re-caulk the bathtub, make those five extra sales calls, or revamp our resumes. But with a bit of practice, and the proper mindset, we can claim procrastination for ourselves, once-and-for-all. Here are some tips and tricks which I've collected from years of watching those around me fiddle their time away:

1. Play Tetris.
For free. This game can go on forever, but since most of us fail at level three, we'll spend hours going back and forth from level one. You can tell people "it improves my hand-eye coordination," which is the excuse everyone uses.

2. Practice Six Degrees of Wikipediation
. Begin by pulling up a big Wikipedia entry - something like "the Holy Roman Empire." Each time you reach a hyperlinked word, click on it and start reading the new page. If you're using Firefox, left click on the word, to keep it from opening a new tab. Try to avoid dead-ends, and see how far you've gone in an hour.

3. Check tomorrow's weather. Turn on The Weather Channel - just for a minute - just to see what tomorrow's going to be like. You'll turn off the TV right after. Promise.

4. Go for coffee. Or tea. Or french fries. At a cafe. Preferably one with lots of people walking by, where you're likely to run into someone you know.

5. Workout.
This is a perfect activity, as it can double as Something That Is Good For You. And it always takes extra time to pack your gym bag, start up the car, drive to the gym, change your clothes, warm up, lift weights, take a couple minutes down time between each set, cool down, shower, dress, get into the car and drive back (home, preferably.)

6. Compile a list.
It can be a list of just about anything. All the conferences you've been to - with the ones you've presented at in bold. Places you plan to visit. What you would do with a million dollars. All the things you need to fix in your condo or home. Jobs you'd rather be doing than the one your doing now. Ideas you have for screenplays (come on, you know you've got them.) Services you pay for that you really don't need (like Netflix.) Sometimes one of these lists can actually be useful.

7. Buy office supplies. Pens run out. Paperclips get lost. Staples get... stapled. Paper gets wadded up and tossed into the trash. Office supplies always need replenishing.

8. Order books.
From Amazon. Topic: Managing Your Life. When they arrive, read them. Take notes on them. Stick the notes in a folder, then go to bed.

9. Google your name. Just to make sure your identity hasn't been stolen. You probably haven't done this is six months or so.

10. Read blogs. No explanation needed.