Month: June 2014

How and Why I Became a Scriptshadow Convert

carson

The man, the myth, the legend.

Scriptshadow is, bar-none, one of the best sites on the craft of screenwriting I have ever seen. Period. I know in damn near every entry I mention something Carson said over there, and I would imagine that to some, it sounds like a whole lot of ass-kissing. And you’d be right. However, as I’ve stated previously, it’s not something I do blindly.

I reserve the act of admiration and ass-kissery for those who deserve it. I believe in praising the people who not only display good work, but who can also show their work. My criteria is simple: the work in question must be of some interest to me, they can state their issues that plague that work, but must also show or suggest ways to counteract those issues, and most importantly, any time they can show their work by providing one or more examples of their solutions being put to use in various situations that can be easily found and scrutinized.

These are people who prove themselves knowledgeable of a craft and can teach you something about it whilst at the same time, be able to come up with new ideas stemming from open dialogues and discussions. Besides a multitude of film directors are people such as my friend Brett who knows more than I ever will about all things audio-related, Marketing guru Martin Atkins and Carson Reeves of Scriptshadow. Every time I listen to what they have to say or they answer a question I may have, it’s like a classroom that I actually enjoy being in. I learn so much in so little time, it’s insane. Side note — many times I’ll come away thinking, “HOW could I not think of that before? It’s so obvious?!” What these people offer is a fresh and experienced pair of eyes that should never be taken for granted.

I came across Scriptshadow not long after completing the first draft of “While This Offer Lasts” when I was looking for some websites that offered script reading services. This was one such site and the Amateur Offerings looked quite interesting, so I sent an email with the requested information. The notice said to do it a couple times in order to get a better chance, so that’s what I did. I resubmitted a few times. Only by doing a site search did I find out that it actually HAD been one of the featured candidates. (He picks the five best loglines from a few thousand each week, uploads those, then his readers download them and vote for which one was the best, which he will then review publicly.) I felt a little bad for bombarding him after the fact, so if you read this, sorry, Carson. 🙂

The reception it got was less than what I was hoping for (what writer doesn’t expect people to fawn over their work?) but it was nice to get some form of actual feedback. A bit was quite helpful, (namely axing the first two pages, which was for the most part an infomercial) and one person was curious as to whether or not I had experience in the law. (I don’t) I wish I had known how to sign up for the comments service so I could respond to them, but alas. It didn’t get the majority vote, but if I had to guess the tally, I would guess I came in second. Or maybe that’s just pride talking.

Months later I went to re-read the questions for how to improve the script, and it was then that I started to explore the site. I found some solid articles and they gave me some ideas for how to improve. I would check back periodically, as I would devote most of my time to working on a couple scripts, and the quality of the knowledge gained was consistent.

After the completion of my second big script (the re-write for “While This Offer Lasts,” written in eight days, btw), I found myself back on the site, submitting the previously completed first draft of “Soldiers of Fortune.” I started scanning some articles, and one of which contained the first “Aha” moment. It was this article in which Carson was discussing how some amateur writers will cheat the page count by using a tighter leading (space between horizontal lines) and thusly make the read feel way longer.

At this point in time, I was writing scripts in the free word processor Open Office using a template of my own creation based off of measurements gotten from various books and websites. I had a trial version of Final Draft and so I copied, pasted and corrected the text from the Open Office version into Final Draft to check for myself, and sure enough, the length was off. It was consistent with Final Draft’s tightest leading (60 lines per page). I re-formatted to the Carson-recommended Regular setting, leaving the previously 113 pages at a now staggering 133 pages. Spec scripts are at most 120 pages, so yikes.

All of the plotting notes I’d used were now useless. (Syd Fields‘ Inciting Incident on page 10 was now shifted to like page 12, etc.) With this new information, all was no longer right with the world. Plots would have to be remapped and stories re-thought. It was a nightmare. Then, I started checking out OTHER articles, so I wouldn’t have to re-think everything after completing the latest draft. This was REALLY when my world started to crumble…

I started checking out his Ten Tips From… series of articles, where he will show you ten screenwriting tips you can learn from dozens of movies. This was when I really took notice of how much I truly didn’t know about screenwriting. (Like how brilliant the use of the bowling alley was in “The Big Lebowski”) The big one for me was the tip about Mini Sluglines in his article on “GoodFellas.” This was something my dad had brought up when reading the “Soldiers of Fortune” script; the Scene Headings really confused him. He wasn’t sure if the action was jumping around, or it was all taking place in the same area. This tip was the biggest factor in my trafficking of this site.

I instantly sent Carson an email telling him to take “Soldiers” OUT of the running for Amateur Offerings, since I knew I could improve it. Then, I started to dig deeper into the site’s resources. There is so much information there if you know how to look. What’s especially great is that when he reviews scripts, there’s still an example in the review or a tip at the end that will be of some use to you. Like there was one article where he reviewed “Fahrenheit 541” by Frank Darabont, and he mentions how Frank used the sounds a machine made to be more descriptive while using less space on the page. That kind of information is invaluable, and I love this site for it.

I had even started going through the site archives to make sure I knew ALL the tips I could to improve my writing. I went through every article of 2009. Needless to say, my Firefox bookmarks were stacking up. I then went through all those bookmarked articles and copied all the tips I dubbed useful into a document. Unfortunately, not long after was when my main hard drive started dying. A lot of really useful scripts, bookmarks and documents are temporarily lost. I won’t attempt a transfer, since I don’t have a large enough drive to transfer all the data to. (Purposely unemployed to delve deeper into the craft of screenwriting) So, now I have to go back and re-read them. And that’s okay, because I get to re-experience all those articles. I’m stoked!

In the past, I’ve recommended Carson’s book. I still tell anyone with any interest in screenwriting to buy it. If they’re skeptical, I point them to the site. Anything that will help out a screenwriter to improve themselves. The best part is, the site is unlike most books that say, “Do this, or else…” With the site, it’s all “Try doing it this way for this reason. And look, it worked here and here’s why.”

When I talked about people being able to site their sources for their information, this was what I was talking about. The people that are able to do this are far more likely to be taken seriously as experts of their craft.

It’s now impossible for another tips to slide by me, since I’ve now subscribed to the site and I now receive an email to the latest article. This may sound like overkill, but when a site has proven time and time again to be such a valuable resource, believe me, you don’t want to be left out.

Also, thanks to Carson’s tips from various movies, I’m now seeing them in a totally different light. Hell, it’s thanks to him I’m able to see the tips in the movies I watch, allowing me to, in turn, share them with you guys. This site is literally the class that keeps on teaching.

So thanks, Carson, for all your hard work and dedication to the craft. I learn something useful each and every time I visit. Keep it up!

Until next time, Movie Buffs!

25 Screenwriting Tips from “Joyride”

These tips are not concrete in any fashion. They are merelyJoyride 01
suggestions based upon a closer look at various films and examining why they do or don’t work. So there’s no confusion, I include myself in the audience these tips are compiled for. Let’s see what today’s title has to offer us…

This just goes to show that once you’re tuned into what makes a good story, you can’t turn it off. Case in point, last night. It’s 2 AM, I’m bushed after getting only two hours of sleep the night before. I pop in “Joyride,” because, hey, J.J. Abrams co-wrote it and I hadn’t seen it in forever or possibly in its entirety.

So I’m watching it, and we get to what screenwriting aficionados refer to as the Inciting Incident. In this case, Rusty Nail coming to see Candy Cane. Like I said, it’s been years since I’ve seen this flick. It was on TV, and I didn’t remember much except for Buffalo Bill from “Silence of the Lambs” being the voice on the radio. (That has to make it 100x creepier for anyone who could recognize the voice) Anyway, this scene– Holy Shit. It was awesome. Everything I love about a thriller: suspense, not being able to see the incident/having your imagination run wild on you. Directly after this scene, I grabbed one of my trusty notecards and scribbled down what I loved about this scene. Then I continued to watch the flick.

Then, I had to stop it again and write down something else I liked. And again. And again. And again. Finally, I threw my hands up and said, “Fuck it. I gotta write a set of tips for this.”

I rented this flick because last week, I’d rented “Duel,” the TV movie Spielberg did at the start of his career. It’s a movie I really want to buy, worth the price alone for an interview with Spielberg, telling how he managed to film the whole thing in 12-14 days. (I couldn’t imagine how it was possible) As I watched it, I thought it was similar to “Joyride” and upon further investigation, I saw that, yep, it was written by Spielberg fan J.J. Abrams. He was a fan of “Duel,” and there are several references to it in the film. This just goes to show that great writing can occur in any genre. So let’s take a closer look at this roadrage thriller, shall we?

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!! You’ve been warned.

  1. Establish Characters: (Un-tip) I didn’t make note of this one initially and for good reason. The character of Lewis doesn’t really get a chance to be established early on. We see him on the phone then a couple seconds later, he’s on the road with several dissolves and flash cuts.

    It was all sort of overwhelming. Who is this guy? Why do we care why he has to get his brother out of jail? (I had downloaded the script for this and only glanced at it, but I think there might’ve been a scene that established his personality in a classroom.) We get a sense of his brother fairly quickly, so I was glad about that.

    The main thing is to establish who your characters are as early on as you can. It could be something as simple as picking up a piece of liter on a busy NYC sidewalk, or a guy who runs across rooftops to return a lady’s purse. Whatever you decide, just make sure the reader/viewer can get a sense of who your character is as soon as possible, that way we can get to the story.

  2. Torment Your Audience: When you’re writing a thriller or a horror movie, it’s best to stave off on writing a gory kill. You want to stimulate the audience. This movie is a perfect example of this.

    The setup for this scene is that brothers Lewis and Fuller have duped a trucker calling himself Rusty Nail into going to the motel room of the rude guest staying next door to them. They pretend to be a woman calling herself Candy Cane who wants to meet up with Rusty.

    This is a prank on both of them. Only Rusty doesn’t find this whole situation funny. We are not privy to the confrontation between the two men, as are the guys. They, like us, only hear it. Through the wall, allowing our and their imaginations to go wild.

    They're totally gonna do it.

    They’re totally gonna do it.

    This is one of the best things you can do in a horror movie. Instead of creating some elaborate, “Saw”-style kill, where a viewer might quip, “That’d never happen,” you leave the fine details for the viewer to imagine. In the dark, you can conjure up a thousand things lurking about that you know for a fact don’t exist, but you imagine them anyway, because you can’t see that they’re not there.

    Take “Jaws” for example: we don’t see the shark in full glory for what? Forty five minutes in? (It’s been a while, so I can’t remember exactly) All the anticipation and teasing and buildup lead to such a satisfying moment when we actually see the shark. The unseen is always scarier than what can be seen. Always.

  3. Do the Unexpected: In damn near every horror flick I’ve seen, the people responsible for a crime or tragic event, have never gone to the cops right away and confessed what they did. I’ve never seen that. They always tend to stay quiet about it until the end right before they get killed off. It was unexpected for this genre, so I was thrown… I like when that happens.

    Okay, we confess...

    Okay, we confess…

    There’s actually a real sign of guilt shown by one of the brothers. And the thing is, the guy isn’t even dead. In most thrillers, there’s only a sign of guilt after someone’s been killed off and it usually never seems to be a major impact on that character. Here, again, it was unexpected, and it worked because of that.

  4. Shark Fins: I know, again with “Jaws.” We can imagine that Rusty Nail is a semi truck driver, right? Well I don’t know how intentional it was, but in damn near every exterior scene, there is a semi truck going by. Planned or coincidence, either way, it’s brilliant. Any of those trucks could be him. Any of the fins on the horizons could be the shark. (Remember all the Ghostface masks in the beginning of “Scream 2”?)

  5. The Idiot: A staple of the horror genre, they are sure to screw something up for no reason. In this case, when Rusty Nail gives them the chance to apologize, Fuller tells him where to go. This may seem like an out-of-nowhere move, except… they set this up earlier when Fuller had stated that he doesn’t care about anyone and that at the end of the day, you’re all just gonna be dead some day.

    Because of this mentality already setup, it does make sense that he wouldn’t take shit from anybody. He’s still an idiot. But an idiot with principals.

  6. Shark in the Water: There’s a great moment when our heroes know they’re fucked: Rusty knows their car. And he can see it right now. This is where the audience yells, “RUN!!!” These moments are often simple and effective.

    Where is he?

    Where is he?

  7. Up the Ante: Right after they find out Rusty is behind them, guess what? They’re almost out of gas. FUCK!!

  8. Grazed by a Fish: When there’s a killer shark in the water, anything you even think grazed against you is the shark, and you’re getting the hell out of there! Right as they pull into a gas station, an ice truck pulls in. Holy shit! Is this him? Is it?!

  9. Know More Than Them: In their panic, the boys drive down a road, but miss the Dead End sign. But we don’t. All we can think is, “Don’t go down there! Don’t go down there!”

  10. Effective Fakeouts: Another staple of the genre. This round, served up with a twist: Normally the guy who fakes out the heroes is ugly or creepy enough that we think it could be the killer, but here, he’s just a normal guy. He gives credible answers to the guys’ claims of him scaring them.

    He's a keeper.

    He’s a keeper. The mustache, I mean.

    Hell, he even makes a joke about his appearance being creepy. In a bad movie, this kind of guy usually turns out to be a misunderstood person or something. Fuck that, make them interesting. A guy joking that his wife says the mustache has to go because he looks creepy with it is a keeper.

  11. Sensible Moment: In any slasher flick, there’s always a slow-down scene where the survivors try and put things together (and usually split up soon after). Here, it’s simple: Lewis asks: “What’s the range on a CB radio?” It’s great because we can easily see the wheels turning, we can see where he’s going with this. Immediately, he verbalizes that they call the cops and leave a message giving them the update.

  12. Spectacle: Remember the guy that freaked them out? Well as he’s backing away from them on a thin road, Rusty Nail’s truck SMASHES through the trailer of his truck! I’ve never seen that! It’s simple, and it’s effective. Talk about showing motivation. And a cool stunt!

  13. Effective Scene: PINNED. I loved this scene. It had all the horror conventions: The Shark Fin, Car Trouble. BUT!! It doesn’t end like you’d think it would, with our heroes making a last-second escape. No! They get pinned up against a tree by Rusty. What’s he gonna go? They can’t die yet! We’re only 45 minutes in!Joyride 05

  14. Unseen Terror: Again, the unseen is SO GODDAM EFFECTIVE!! Case in point, we don’t see Rusty Nail. We only see his truck. It, coupled with his icy voice, become a character. If this were from a Stephen King book, the TRUCK would be Rusty Nail and there wouldn’t be any human inhabitants.Joyride 03
    The truck reacts to what the brothers say and they’re completely in sync with Rusty’s words. He gets his apology and seemingly lets them go. Immediately, there’s already suspense. Is he going to kill them after they think they’re in the clear? We don’t know because we can’t see any human reaction from Rusty. It’s great.

  15. Best Cliffhangers: Soon after Rusty lets them go, the guys toss the CB radio out the window. He can’t contact them now. Are they safe now? What can happen now??

  16. Adding New Characters: Normally, I don’t think it’s a good idea to add in new characters halfway through the movie. Here it’s an exception. Venna is a major plot point. She’s the reason Lewis BOUGHT the damn car in the first place.
    We also meet her roommate, Charlotte. It’s a quick scene that’s done well. She’s sweet, cute and she humors Fuller’s bullshit pickup attempt. I’d definitely remember a girl with a good sense of humor.

  17. Character Development: At a bar, the three have drinks. But all is not well in River City. Some rednecks start hitting on Venna. Lewis tries to defend her honor, but he’s outnumbered.

    Here's to mud in you eye!

    Here’s to mud in you eye!

    Then Fuller steps in. He’s been in jail, so I was expecting him to throw down. But no, he’s not always looking for a fight, and manages to get them out in a non-violent method. One might attribute this to street smarts or perhaps the whole Rusty Nail situation has changed him for the better.

  18. Upping the Stakes: Rusty wants Candy Cane real bad. He stalks the group. While Fuller is hanging out with Venna, Rusty calls a sleeping Lewis to call him out on his shit: there really is a girl. She’s in the other room with your brother. Holy shit! He’s back!

    Hello, Sidney... oops. Wrong number.

    Hello, Sidney… oops. Wrong number.

  19. Smart Move: Fuller at long last has his head in the game: they have to call the cops, they have to get off the highway. Good, he’s thinking smart now.

  20. Cards on the Table: Through a creepy method, Rusty tells them to look in their trunk. Their tossed CB radio is in there. Lewis wants to make tracks, but Venna refuses to get in the car again until they tell her just what the hell is going on. The stakes couldn’t be higher. The explanation doesn’t feel forced or out of place.

    We should have fucking shotguns for this shit.

    We should have fucking shotguns for this shit.

    What’s really great about this scene is that we don’t see her immediate reaction to being told, just her face after she’s had a chance to take it all in. Plus, we’re sparred hearing the story we already know. All we need to see is the impact of it all on Venna’s face; and that’s all we get. It’s done beautifully. And the pacing’s great!

  21. More Stakes: As Rusty Nail taunts them, they all realize Charlotte, Venna’s roommate, has been taken captive by Rusty. What?! When?! How?!

    Any time you can inject more chaos into an already tense plot, do so, it’ll only add to the drama! And, it’ll turn the overall energy up to 11.

  22. Great Psycho: Like the perfect movie villains, Rusty never once raises his voice. Instead, everything he says is delivered in an icy-cool delivery. Cold and calculating. Just like Mr. Blonde, he lets his actions speak for him.

  23. Big Showdown: The chase through a cornfield. Another horror staple. Rusty, after they’ve temporarily eluded him, blasts a slow country song through his speakers and then exits the cab. But!! We STILL don’t see him. It’s still a mystery. It makes him even more scary because of this.Joyride 05

  24. Character: As Rusty is setting up a trap for the boys in a motel room (a trap involving a shotgun aimed at Venna’s head, triggered by the door being opened), Rusty does something distinctive: He doesn’t gloat, he doesn’t showboat, and he isn’t constantly threatening her with further violence. He’s making threats real.Joyride 11

  25. Pacing: I love the final showdown here! Writers take note: at the climax, milk the scene for every second you can. This was paced so slowly, but it worked. We were kept in high suspense thanks to all the elements at play. If you choose to do this, make sure you do this the right way, and have several elements at play. And for God’s sake, make damn sure it pays off big time.

What I Gained: Pacing is crucial, and bombard the audience with tension, never let it up. Let the actions show character.

Until next time, Movie Buffs!

Script Link: Joyride aka Squelch – JJ Abrams & Clay Tarver