Friday, February 20, 2009

What Was the Middle Thing?

After nearly a week of dithering, I've finally buckled down and made some rules.  Work starts at 10, finishes at 7, and there's an hour of lunch in the middle.  Take no notice of the fact I'm writing this at 6.  The main rule: no internet during work hours.  I can take non-essential showers (which I did this afternoon, as it seems to be a place where ideas get born), I can read books on subjects useful to the project (today was half an hour of the Sense and Sensibility screenplay), but I cannot, under any circumstances, surf the net.

Not surprisingly, today was a productive day.  It's very hard to say exactly where I am in the process, as everything seems to be endlessly rewritten.  There's a very credible first act, I think.  I'm somewhere in the second act right now, trying to turn the screw without giving too much away too quickly.  I understand my characters a little better now, and that's helping things move along.  I feel good about my step outline, the making of which was facilitated by instructions found in Lew Hunter's Screenwriting 434 (thanks Lacey!).

As far as these books are concerned, I'm doing my best to sift the sand and keep the little gold nuggets.  Despite all the lip-service paid to personal expression and flexibility of implementation, there's something soul-deadening about the way these guys write.  At the same time, the books have helped me avoid some big mistakes.  Then again, there are some things they tell me I absolutely must do, but that I don't think I really want to do.  So I won't do those things.

The big change over the past week: the story has a villain now.  At first, he was a full-throttle killing machine.  The first scene had him killing like a hundred people, just to show how badass he was.  I've gotten that out of my system, and he only kills three people now.  How moderate of me!  He kind of started out Michael Madsen, went through a Jason Statham phase, and is now sort of a grumpy Clive Owen.  

The person I picture in the lead female role is America Ferrera.  I've never actually seen her act in anything, so I guess I should say that this character acts like I imagine America Ferrera acts.  Actually, I have no idea how I latched on to her.  I guess because she seems like a human, based on the ads I've seen for Ugly Betty.  

I'd like the characters to have, like, 1.12 dimensions, at least.  Even the bad guy.

I sure would like to have a first draft done by the end of the month.  Is that even possible?  

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Fast Times at Roy Street High

I have discovered FAST TIME.  I first noticed it today while contemplating the speed with which my nose hair has regrown.  The last two weeks -- wait, no, now it's three weeks-- have blown by in an instant.  I guess that's the paradox of doing what you want to be doing, of losing yourself in your work: you end up with less time.

My screenplay is horrifically bad.  Like, Power Rangers bad.  I will not give up.  I will find something true inside this mess.

Today wasn't too productive, but I kept my butt in my seat.  I need to shake loose a new idea.

Okay, it's probably not Power Rangers bad, though it feels like it sometimes.  I need to be more patient.  It's going to be good.  I won't give up until it's good.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Less Up-and-Downy

Going a little bit crazy.  I had to deal with a bout of "what on Earth was I thinking" today.  I really am pretty green.  I probably wouldn't have attempted this project if I'd grokked how huge a challenge it would be.  I'm glad I didn't grok it until I was past the point of no return.

That said, I think the script is still getting better.  I honestly have no idea where it's going, but what's there seems more and more credible.  I'm sure it's still dreadful, but as long as we're trending upwards, I've got no cause to complain.

When I was first imagining the film, I started putting together a playlist of songs that I thought would go well with the action.  That first playlist is pretty energetic -- lots of slightly Britpoppy and technoey stuff.  Jiyoung and I have been watching a lot of 80's movies lately (my fault), and I've realized that very few of them weather well.  That seems mostly attributable to two factors: first, the pacing is slow (Starman, for example, spends a good ten minutes on helicopters landing and taking off).  Second, the music is distractingly old.

With that in mind, I've started listening to classical and OST music while I write, with a view to using similar music in the final film.  It's definitely changing the tone of the writing, and for the better.  I started out with Aaron Copland and Steve Reich.  Today, I listened to the soundtrack for The Thin Red Line on repeat -- shades of Steve Reich again, but with more ass on it.  Sometimes a long, single tone can generate more tension than a bunch of up-and-downy stuff (can you tell I'm a trained musician?).  I'm definitely leaning away from lyrics-based pop music at the moment.

Certain images are really beginning to crystallize in my mind, to the point that it's getting hard to resist jumping into storyboarding (must resist!).  I'm especially excited about a scene in which a space elevator is severed and comes flopping down on top of the surrounding city like a giant, beheaded serpent.  If it's handled right, I think it'll be a pretty unique moment.  

I'm also excited about finding ways for camera and character movement to feel non-CGey.  Camera movement, especially, is what kills most CG for me.   I almost want the entire thing to feel hand-held, like they did in Children of Men.  Meh.  I have no idea what I'm talking about.  I'm nearly done with Story, and Shot by Shot is next.  So I'll get back to you on all this.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Still Alive

With each revision, the story improves.  It's a frustrating, occasionally panic-inducing process.  Looking at the Post-it wall, there are few similarities between the story I started with two weeks ago and what exists now.  

This morning, after a day of banging my head on a third act that didn't feel right, I started sketching out five-sentence synopses of every possible ending variant that popped into my head.  After I had about eight, I started to zero in on something that didn't feel like a complete cop-out.  But the way things have been going, I'll probably wake up tomorrow morning and feel like today's additions were crappy.  Well, even if I only save five percent of each day's gains, that'll get me somewhere, eventually.

One thing I've zeroed in on is that this really is a love story.  It sounds like a simple thing to say, but I had to sweat for about a week before that was clear to me.

Another thing that I'm starting to notice is that a lot of movies (including some movies that I really like) get away with murder in the writing department.  Bad pacing, cliches, too much exposition, repetition -- it turns out that you can still make a successful, well-liked movie, even if your story sucks.  And the literary standards for sci-fi and action movies are especially low.  I feel like I'm already close to the middle of the pack, story-wise.  Anime films, especially, can fall into some weird, solipsistic navel-gazing B.S.  I totally understand the impulse, but nobody cares that you have deep thoughts.  They want to see stuff happening.

I don't know how long I should wrangle with this before I throw in the towel and start drawing (more importantly, I don't know how long I can afford to wrangle with it).

I said I wanted a learning experience.  Boy, did I get what I asked for.