Writing On Spec

An award caliber procrastinator discovers a new and dangerous pursuit to keep him from actually writing another script. Why another Blog? I love to talk screenwriting. I love to talk story. I live in Richmond, VA. It's almost easier to get produced than find another screenwriter here. We are the anti-LA.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas

Hope everybody has a safe and happy holiday.

Friday, December 22, 2006

How Freakin' Sad

Just went to see A Night at the Museum. Good flick. Plays all the right cards, fits the bill nicely for a light hearted, feel-good comedy. I actually enjoyed watching Stiller. Often he gets too goofy for me, but he played this part well. Great cast and lots of laughs. Highly recommend.

However, the freakin' sad part was the previews. They previewed Fantastic Four 2 (Rise of the Silver Surfer). Holy freakin' cow. I was as giddy as a 4 year old. The theater was packed and I was unable to stop myself from giggling and clapping after the preview...the only consolation was that I was up front and couldn't see the rest of the adults staring at me. I didn't turn either.

Needless to say, I'm a Silver Surfer fan (not an uber fan, just a fan). The animation looked great to me and when the Human Torch catches him and he turns, grabs him and zooms into outer space... oh. my. god. Can't wait. Transformers looked good. Spiderman looks great. But. The Silver Surfer. I'm still giddy. It's the same feeling I got when seeing Spiderman and playing Spiderman 2 on the Playstation 2. Absolute joy.

And I have 1 person to tell who even remotely gives a shit.

So here I am. Broadcasting to the entire planet in the hopes somebody shares my giddiness for seeing the Silver Surfer in live action (even if it is CGI).

Looks like, for now, the trailer is only in theaters - and perhaps only in front of A Night at the Museum.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006


I love movies. I love books adapted to movies. I understand that it's really not the same, but something with a very similar concept now in movie format. However, I just *love* Jumper. It's a fantastic book. One of the things that makes this book great is that the main character is the only person who can do what he does --- Teleport.

So... it comes with great dismay when I read the plot on IMDB:

A teenager from an abusive household discovers he can teleport from one place to another. He uses this ability to search for the man he believes is responsible for the death of his mother, drawing the attention of the NSA, and another kid with the same power.

Another kid with the same power? Oh, man. There's even a freakin' sequel for this book in which ONE more person is discovered, and it's NOT another kid.

Now, Steven Gould wrote the book and I'll be the first to admit that it's really all over the place. I wanted to adapt this book many years ago, but somebody from Hollywood beat me to it. I was thrilled when I heard the writers on this film: David Goyer, Simon Kinberg & Jim Uhls (some pretty good writers). But the addition of another kid with the same power is just disheartening.

I'll be hoping that's an early draft and perhaps things have changed since then... I'll still have to go see it because it really does kick immense ass and is perfect movie material. Just curious how it's implemented.

Should anybody happen to have a copy of the script, I sure wouldn't turn down a viewing of it .

If you haven't read the book, you can only get it used now, but it's well worth a read. Both that and the sequel Reflex. You want more movie stuff, he also wrote Wildside. A book about kids that find out their uncle has been travelling back to prehistoric times and is now lost. They then decide to start trapping prehistoric wildlife and bringing it back to our times to sell for profit. Woot! Ka-Ching. Jurrasic park with young entrepreneurs.

ok...after some more research, now I'm getting the feeling it's both Jumper & Reflex combined.... Hmm... more interest in the script...


Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Best Kept Secret

Recently Unk had a post on why going to the movies is or is not "special" any longer. Well, I don't go to the movies much these days. I work all day, have a wife and kid and finding time to go out to a movie is difficult. I can, however, throw in a dvd and watch a movie much easier. I have a big screen TV and home theater system, so I really do enjoy the movies at home.

So, Scott the Reader puts up some good words on Casino Royale and I love Bond, so what better flick to actually go to, right? Big effects, big action flick...woohoo!

Well, it takes me about a week to get to it...one thing or another always comes up to keep me out. Now, I have to catch the first show because I need to pick up my daughter by 6pm. I check online and the first show is at 2:50pm, so I've got to hit that show, the next is 3:55.

So, after a week or so of trying, I finally make it. Sit down...woohoo....lots of trailers. This is great - albeit, it's a tad louder than I remember, but, hey, it's Bond, right? The film comes up in B&W. WTF? ok... something arty... whatever. It's also open captioned... maybe it has something to do with the artsy thing.

So the music comes up and, yup, on-screen lyrics. I'm hoping this is a mistake. The screen is jumpy too, so I head out to talk to somebody. I grab a guy and tell him that the screen is jumpy and it's captioned. He steps in and says "oh, that's how it's supposed to be, but I'll get somebody to check the jumpiness." Just then a lady comes up and says, "i have to ask somebody to turn this down and fix the screen jump." I mention I've asked somebody already, but she keeps going since I didn't mention the volume.

I come back in and in a few moments, the screen jumping stops, but the captions are still up.

I pop back out to talk to somebody else.

I finally get somebody who says that it's supposed to be captioned. I've stepped into a film version/theater which is for the hard of hearing. I'm sort of dumbfounded.

Now, I don't mean to imply anything about deaf or hard of hearing people not going to see movies, but jesus, you think the theaters could fucking advertise this fact a little better? There was nothing online, on my ticket stubb or anything I came across on my way into the movie. You know where it was? Over the tiny little picture at the ticket booth...in like 20 point type "open captioned". I always buy at the little credit card machine - it's so handy.

My beef was first, when the hell did the start this? But it turns out since, like, the 90's. I don't know how I've been watching movies for almost 25 years and never come across it - either in the movies or in print. Talk about a great secret! If I'm a movie buff and I haven't seen it, how many people who actually WANT it are coming across it? And I just know the theater doesn't give a crap about publicizing it because they don't want only the hard of hearing showing up for the showtime. They want people like me waltzing in and just accepting the damn on-screen text.

Man, I'm here to tell you, my DVD experience would have been MUCH better in this instance. Sheesh... I'll be out to see Eragon and the museum flick later this month and it'd better be an improved experience or I won't be going back.

Strike 1 movie theaters.


Sunday, December 10, 2006

Can anybody explain Stay?

I watched the whole thing expecting some sort of explanation or story, but the movie ended and I was still confused. This is the one with Ewan McGregor - 2005.


Saturday, December 09, 2006

What Do You Like?

I was racking my brain the other day over my current script/story (still in the 'staring at the ceiling' phase) when I decided to take a break and get some food. With food came watching a show to relax. I picked Studio 60 since I love Sorkin's stuff.

This was the show where Danny comes out and admits that he's in love with Jordan.

What I realized, after the show, was that I absolutely loved that episode. So, as I'm prone to do, I dove back into the rerun in my head. Exactly what the hell made that episode so dang entertaining for me? For that matter, what makes Sorkin's work so dang entertaining for me.

I came to the conclusion that it's the characters. They're pretty much people I want to be. They're smart, funny, hip, self-aware (to some degree), opinionated, fair and yet -- still very human.

Let's take Sports Night - the two anchors are very close - can almost suss each other out with only a look. They're always thinking 2 steps ahead, yet they both have their own issues. What makes it really funny is they both know the other's weaknesses and they play off that knowledge.

West Wing - you have most of the staff acting in that same manner. They're all smart, very smart, and yet they all have weaknesses. What's interesting to watch is the banter between them. This is because they all appear to be in on some inside joke that we, the audience, is actually let in on. You feel like part of the group - and, wow, what a great group to be a part of!

Transition to Studio 60 and, here again, we have smart people. On top of things. Snappy dialogue, people that you'd probably want to hang out with - or... even be! They're powerful, or funny, or popular, yet they're not assholes.

The most evil character on the show is played by Steven Weber - and wow is he evil sometimes. Yet, when Aaron takes you behind the curtains to give you a peek at his life, you can see what he's up against. You actually like this guy.

My favorite scene in the recent show I mentioned is when Matt just says to his buddy Danny, "Say it out loud." It's great. The actor is able to portray a momentary goofy "i'm in love" look and his buddy spots it a mile away. He knows what's coming even before his friend. The great part is that we're in on it, too. So we get to go along for the ride. The cajoling that Matt does until Danny finally breaks and admits his feelings to Jordan. There is nothing dumb about the characters or the situation. It's funny because we see the weakness of the character (unable to express his feelings) in a friendly, teasing situation that encourages the audience to participate in the friendship.

The culmination is classic Sorkin-esque dialogue. I mean, talk about melodrama at it's best! Skipping to the good stuff here...

Jordan with a mouth full of food, steps out of the room.

I've been married twice before and I'm a recovering cocaine addict. And I know that's no woman's dream of a man, or of a father. None the less, I believe I'm falling in love with you. If you want to run, I understand, but you'd better get a good headstart 'cause I"m coming for you Jordan.
You should go ahead and chew that sandwich.

He turns and leaves.

Dumfounded, Jordan slowly chews.

This is all setup by the original TWO discussion with Matt, who is teasing Danny. The first with "say it out loud", then again when he pushes Danny into revealing that he's driven by Jordan's house. Matt is pushing Danny the whole episode and this speech delivers in spades.

Can you imagine somebody actually saying this AND getting away with it? I don't know. Around here you don't see many twice married, recovering cocaine addicts in high paying jobs with tons of responsibility. But, here, man... plays like a charm.

One of the things Sorkin does fantastically is the speech. His most famous probably being the "you can't handle the truth" exchange in A Few Good Men. But his speeches are in just about every TV episode he's written and they're in every film he's written. What makes them great is that they are characters spilling emotions on screen. It doesn't feel like acting because, in the hands of a good actor, these people feel so real.

But I've digressed a little... my point in mentioning all this is that, if you haven't noticed, I desperately want an apprenticeship under Sorkin. I love his work, so when I look at what I'm writing, I thought, why not write what I love to watch? It's not the subject that I love, it's the characters. For me, that means writing smart characters. Characters that have emotional depth and yet are willing to share that with others that are close.

These characters are very different from, say, the characters in The Unit. Also deep, also involving, smart and human. But that's not what I want to write. My advice is take a look at the films or the TV that you watch and see what shows really turn you on. What are the characters like? Then look at your own writing and see if you're reflecting those same type of characters. I believe it'll make the work much more entertaining and enjoyable if we want to return to the characters again and again.


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Say Thanks to our Troops

Jumping on the colloquial bandwagon here, but I believe it really is for a good cause.

Regardless of what your thoughts are about our soldiers being overseas, they are. They are harms way and they're doing it for those of us at home.

While I know we all wish that it wasn't necessary, we don't always get what we want, do we?

Click on the title to go to the webpage and send a card to our troops overseas.

I'm an addict

I just can't help it.

I look over the creative screenwriting expo dvds and I just must have them! What great subjects: Theme, creating scenes/characters, etc. with emotional impact, using sequencing, how to adapt anything, everything you wanted to know about structure, guiding your career, how to get by Hollywood readers...oh my god! How can I not buy them?

The sad thing is that after studying this damn art/science/skill/trade and reading probably 30 or more books on it, several lectures (hell giving a couple), I can't think of many things that I still need to be told. I know exactly what I need to do.

Sit down and bloody write.

It's so easy to get wrapped up in new books, dvds, seminars, etc. thinking that it'll be some magic pill to get you past that illusive trouble spot you're in. The truth of the matter is that, deep down, we all want this to be easier than it really is. It's much like simple games like Tetris, Othello, Checkers, etc. The concept is simple, but mastering is difficult. Just about all of us can write, but writing something emotionally engaging is something learned.

All you need to do is introduce the audience to engaging character they will care about. Put that character in jeopardy, then show us how that character's emotional growth during the story enables them to either escape their jeopardy or succumb to it.

All in 90-120 pages... easy, huh?

Everything else, all these books and videos and seminars are just ways to help you break down the process. To make it easier to understand - more palatable - things that make it *seem* easier. Does it? Perhaps. But none of them will replace sitting down and dreaming up a story about an interesting character in jeopardy. There are no magic pills for that outside the boredom of staring at the white wall/white screen/white sheet of paper and sweating blood until the Muse decides it's time to pay you a little visit.

The best thing about the web right now is that you can get so much valuable information FOR FREE from great blogs and web pages. If you're new, just glance at my links and they'll take you to month's worth of sites where you can view, for free, information, stories and advice on my favorite form of writing - screenwriting.

So, when you start jonesing for that new book/dvd/seminar, have a little browse around the web - or stop off at the Scribosphere for a chat on screenwriting to ease your urge, then get your butt back in the chair for some real writing.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A little kindness goes a long way

I've had this for darn near 15 years. I'd always dreamed of "making it" in screenwriting and getting an opportunity to meet and talk with Jeff. I wanted to make it big and then give back to all the newbies like me.

Alas, he was taken from us in 2000, so I will never get to meet him.

I've spoken about how our writing group had obtained items to auction off to raise money for our group (many years ago). Well, my responsibility was to send out requests to writers to donate scripts - any of their choice.

James Cameron's envelope came back with a wrong address. Phil Alden Robinson rejected the letter. However, Richard Price and Jeffrey Boam both replied with autographed scripts. Jeff's came with the pictured card from his desk. He sent three of his scripts. Richard Price sent a very nicely bound copy of Sea of Love, autographed of course.

I've never forgotten the kindness displayed by those two in what is depicted as such a glitz town with no connection to the outside world. These two took the time to open a letter from some nobody, read it and actually respond.

Today, it's all at once, easier and harder to contact our writing heroes. There are more avenues than ever to get in touch with somebody, yet, due to the abuse from spammers, telemarketers and sycophants, people are more apt to shut off all communication from those they don't recognize.

One of the greatest things I've seen lately is the blog scene. There are many folks making a living in the industry who are taking their time to share their knowledge and friendship with newbies all over the world. I wish more professionals would contribute.

Thanks, Jeff & Richard for your kind responses and taking the time to help the little guys on the opposite coast share a little bit of the dream that is screenwriting. These 15 years later and that kindness is still appreciated.


Saturday, December 02, 2006

Tightening a Script

Awhile back, I asked a longtime writer friend of mine to write an article on tightening the script. He's sold a script, optioned a couple and done some re-write work and I consider him to be a pretty good writer. Here's what he had to say:

I try to even make the page look right. I don't want the page to look too cluttered or full of words. Words should, where appropriate, be kept to a minimum

Your script, generally speaking, is usually around 100 to 120 pages. That's not a lot of pages, 50 each word needs to count. Keep description lean.

Your scene description or exposition blocks should usually be one, two or three lines long. Sometimes four. MAYBE five, but not often. If you have more, cut and prune where you can, and then just break it up - make more paragraphs so it looks better.

I also look at blocks of dialogue that run more than three lines. Of course sometimes it's's necessary to have longer blocks of dialogue. But more often than not, if your block of dialogue is more than three lines long, you'll find you can come up with away of cutting one, two, or many more words out of it.

One of the first things I look for when trying to tighten a script is those blocks of description or dialogue (especially those three or more lines long) where there is only one or two words on the last line. By reducing that block by a couple of words, I've made that section one line shorter. And probably eight times out often, I can do that. What this shows me is that most "long" blocks of description or dialogue can be tightened it. I'm also always amazed at how many times I can go through a script tightening it, and yet I still be able to rework a paragraph again and once again reword it such that it's shorter. I become intent on finding a way to say an eight word sentence in six words. Or in five. I always count the number of words I'm able to remove. Sometimes it's really easy. Other times I simply have to rephrase how I'm saying something. But I don't make the change if I feel it makes the sentence too vague or nonsensical. But the great thing about tightening a script is usually the shorter sentence is the more powerful one.

In a script I was recently working on, I looked at the dialogue in the first 30 pages, and found I only had three blocks of dialogue over four lines long, and none over five lines. Again, it's not to say you can't have large blocks of dialogue; people will always point to Quentin Tarrantino or Paddy Chayevsky, but those are the exception. But even if you do need large blocks of dialogue, it's still essential that each word and sentence is necessary. A large block of dialogue should be one that you've worked on and worked on and worked on to tighten, and you've gotten it as tight as it can be. So if it turns out to be ten lines long, then it needs to be ten lines long. But again, you show me a block of description or dialogue five or six lines long, and I'll likely be able to say it in fewer words.

Sometimes you need to look to see if the dialogue is truly needed. For instance, in Hitchcock's "North by Northwest", Leo 0. Carroll's character is explaining something to Cary Grant. It's not necessary for the audience to understand the details(since we already know it), but it is necessary for Grant. So Hitchcock has them talking while the sound of an airplane engine drowns out their dialogue. This serves two purposes. We don't have to hear what's unimportant to us, and the characters can get away with explaining something in a fraction of the time it wouldn't have taken in real time. The scene with Grant took seconds. In real time the dialogue would have taken minutes.

Personal preference: I don't buy into the "Continued's" at the top and bottom of each page. I don't use the "Cut To's" after each scene. I don't use "continued's" when the same character speaks with exposition dividing up his dialogue.

In the script I'm currently working on, I'm struggling trying to keep it at 119 pages. With my Scriptware software, I've found that by changing the name of one character who appeared a lot near the end of the script... from Steinberg to Keys (from nine letters to five), I was actually able to shorten the final product by a page simply because of the way the longer name sometimes caused a descriptive paragraph to run another line long. This is kind of an extreme example, and is more appropriate for lessons on how to "cheat" the page length, but I offer it to show the lengths you might need to consider to keep a script within certain parameters.

Some ways to tighten a script include the following ~art of this is from various articles):try as much as possible to rely on nouns and verbs, rather than adverbs and adjectives. Instead of a "light rain", try "drizzle". Not only is it shorter, it's less bland. Instead of "quickly ran", use "dashes" or "races"

-get rid of words that aren't necessary. For instance, I constantly find myself still writing "he stands up": when during rewriting I try to replace it with "he stands". Same with "he sits down". Of course he sits down, therefore, it become "he sits".

-Get rid of present progressive phrases. Instead of "she is watching", simply use "she watches". Instead of "they are ignoring the man", just use "they ignore the man". In other words, where appropriate, try getting rid of the"is/are + mg" combination.

-Avoid weak linking verbs (such as "is, are, was") Removing them leads to greater variety and usually to a more colorful replacement. Instead of "The sign in front of them is huge", try "the huge sign looms before them". Not only is it a better sentence, but you've replaced an eight word sentence with a six word sentence. Instead of "The man looks angry. He glares at them", try"the angry man glares at them". You've replaced two sentences and eight words with one more powerful sentence with six words.

-Use the active voice, not the passive: Active voice means someone or something does something. Passive voice means something is done to someone or something. Most of the time, the active voice is more vigorous, as well as stronger and more direct. Plus, it's usually shorter. Instead of "He is smacked in the face by the foul ball", try "The foul ball smacks him in the face" (ten words reduced to eight). "The money is grabbed by the crowd" is changed into "The crowd grabs the money".

Don't use "we see" or "we hear" unless absolutely necessary. Instead of "we see the ball as it hurtles through the air", just say "The ball hurtles through the air

Beware of characters who ramble or go from one item to another like a pinball machine. Perhaps your character is someone who talks like this, in which case maybe it reflects character. But otherwise, tighten, tighten, tighten.

The following are some examples from a script I'm currently working on. Some, if not most, of these are obvious when you're looking at it in this context, but in my first or second draft the first examples are what I came up with. It was only upon rewriting with an eye on tightening the sentences that I reduced the word count. In fact, when typing these up to present this evening, I even thought of ways to make a couple of them even shorter. I've tried italicizing some of the words in the first example which ended up getting changed.

1st draft: Paul looks around the empty bookstore.
2nd draft: Paul surveys the empty bookstore.

1st: "Yes, I prefer not being up too high".
2nd: "Yes, I dislike heights".

1st: Robert grabs his suitcase and walks away from the counter. He walks over and rings for an elevator. One arrives and he steps into the empty car and pushes the button for the 3lst floor.

2nd: Robert grabs his suitcase, walks across the lobby and rings for an elevator. One arrives and he steps into the empty car, pushing the button for the 3lst floor.(from 35 words to 29 words)

1st: Several people sit at tables throughout the restaurant.
2nd: A fairly crowded restaurant. (the previous sentence was reduced by half).

1st: Jamie is pacing around Nancy's living room as her host sits in a chair watching her rant.

2nd: Jamie paces around Nancy's living room as her host sits, watching her rant.(from 17 words to 13 words. I took out the "is pacing" suggestion mentioned earlier, plus it wasn't important for me to note that her host is sitting "in a chair".)

1st: Robert peeks out the door of the bathroom and sees the groom's mother on the other side of the room surrounded by friends.

2nd: Robert peeks out the bathroom and sees the groom's mother across the room surrounded by friends.(from 23 words to 16 words)

1st: Jamie wanders down the hotel corridor past the ballroom where the rehearsal dinner is being held.

2nd: Jamie wanders down the hotel corridor past the rehearsal dinner ballroom.(from 16 words toll)

My suggestion for tightening a script is to first look at blocks of description more than three or four lines long, and look at dialogue more than three lines long. See if you can't tighten there. Secondly, I would suggest you try finding those blocks of description or dialogue where there is only a word or two on the last line and see if you can't do something to shorten that block by a line. If you're able to do that, then you're likely able to shorten other blocks as well.

The game is to find a way to take out one, two, or more words. Even taking out only one word is a good thing. When I can shorten a block of description or dialogue by five or six or more words it's like finding a nugget of gold.

No matter how tight your script is, chances are another look through it will reveal ways to make it even tighter. Eventually you have to move on and send it out(you don't want to spend ALL your time obsessing over word count), but you need to be partially obsessive about it. The tighter the script, the better the "look"of it on the page, the quicker the read, and the clearer the story, unless of course you've taken out TOO many words. Readers and producers in L.A. recognize when a writer has gone the extra yard to write a concise and very tight draft, and they'll be given a little more consideration as professionals.