Complications Ensue: The Crafty TV and Screenwriting Blog
Complications Ensue:
The Crafty TV and Screenwriting Blog



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Thursday, January 31, 2013

I'm loving the new, free Courier Prime font John August has released. Specifically, it has real italics, instead of just using the regular font and slanting it. That makes the italics much more legible. I've been using underline for stresses, but twenty-five years after everyone got WYSIWYG formatting, we ought to be able to move beyond a typewriter-based formatting style. 

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The title character in MAMA is a restless spirit who moves in creepy, unnatural ways. Or, if you are Javier Botet, the 7-foot-tall contortionist who plays Mama, ways that are natural to you:

 

It's crazy how the movies find homes for tiny people, giant people, people who can make their elbows go backwards... and people who'd rather spend their days in a fantasy of their own making. Like, y'know, us.

And, this is a reminder, there is no limit to what CGI can do when it is crafted with artistry, but the real thing is somehow always a little more powerful. "The audience doesn't know, but it knows."

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Lisa posted this on a Facebook group, but I'm stealing it for the blog:
BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD. TREME. Louisiana created their film/TV tax credits solely for business reasons, but the results show the state's rich literary and cultural heritage in ways we'd never seen before. I even hear that CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES, Louisiana's most beloved novel, is going to be a Hollywood studio movie. 
That's why tax credits matter culturally. When I was a kid, you never saw Southerners on TV unless they were illiterate yokels who existed only for non-Southerners to laugh at. (Coming from a Southern family, I internalized the idea that my culture was inferior and that the only way to be a Serious Person was to lose my accent and leave.) 
Louisiana is proof that tax credits enable you to tell your own stories, instead of being defined as a stereotype. And that's part of what's at stake in B.C. Yes, tax credits provide a lot of employment. But they also make it possible to be proud of your culture.
I guess one question is: how do you make the tax credits so the gatekeepers don't kill BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD in the cradle, while still providing a benefit to the taxpayer?

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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Catherine Tosko interviewed me in Filmmaking Review about my rewriting, whether film school is worth it, and the perils of being a writer-director. Check it out. 

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Every other TV drama is a cop show, so odds are good you'll have to write a cop episode sooner or later. But what's the difference between blood spatter and blood splatter? What's a hesitation wound? What are Galton details?

FORENSIC SPEAK is your basic primer of basic crime scene terms, from guns to toxicology to gas chromatography to fingerprinting to courtroom testimony. If you're a crime drama fan, you have certainly heard these terms used, but this book will tell you what they mean. It doesn't go into much depth, and there are a few places where I doubt the writer's expertise. (Rifling does not add "speed and range" to a bullet. It decreases both. It increases accuracy.)

But if you don't know the difference between a contusion and a laceration, the book may be a good read, and then you can read the Wikipedia articles on the subjects for more detail. And it may be particularly useful as you write scenes full of forensic babble...

 ... but remember, please, try to stage those scenes as arguments. Not only are arguments more fun; for some reason it is always easier to follow an argument than a diatribe.

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Sunday, January 20, 2013

We watched THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, an odd Oscar contender about coming of age in the 90's. It's well made, with lots of lovely songs. Emma Watson is fetching and lovely as the wide-eyed toxic pixie dream girl. There are some nice walk-ons from Dylan McDermott and Paul Rudd. There's some great tunes in there -- I suspect a big chunk of the budget went to getting "Heroes" and "Come on Eileen." (Which I remember hearing when I was growing up in the 80's, but people are allowed to listen to old songs, after all.)

It's an odd period piece because there isn't much of a reason for it to be a period piece, except it's got a closeted football player, and coming out in high school was much harder in the 1990's than it is now. (In fact it reminded me a lot of my high school days.) But I suspect the main reason it's set in the 1990's is it's based on a novel about growing up in the 1990's, which is written by a novelist who grew up in the 90's. And, probably, the filmmakes like David Bowie and didn't want to have to put "Poker Face" on the soundtrack. I guess everyone has the right to write about their high schools days; otherwise they'll be writing about some other generation's high school days and getting it wrong. As if.

But I would like to say a word about scripts and novels about young men who Want to be Writers. This is a really annoying genre. They inevitably star some slightly passive kid with a hidden trauma (= "depth") who is picked on by jocks for no apparent reason -- he's entirely innocent. He has a crush on a pretty girl. Eventually she falls for him, too. Even if, as in this case, he's a freshman and she's a senior. Because senior girls so often date freshman guys.

If I never see a movie or script or novel about growing up as a writer again, it will be too soon. This is just taking Write What You Know too literally. Come on. Use your imagination.

Please don't try to make your character seem more compelling by informing us that he's a writer. That only makes him more compelling to other writers. Yes, I love you guys, too, but most people don't write, don't have any aspiration to write, and rarely even read. Which is why we're in showbiz, after all.

Instead, just give your character a unique point of view. That's what makes a writer interesting, actually: having things to say that no one else could say. It makes you have to dig up actual insights for him or her to have. It's probably more compelling if the character says those things in conversations, or even in voice over, than if he or she writes them down; seems more immediate that way.

Even better, have your main character express their unique point of view by doing things that other people don't do. Then you have a really compelling character.

And you're proving you were meant to be a writer all along. Which writing about a young writer does not really do.

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

I raised my screenplay critique rates quite a bit last year because I was overwhelmed by work. Now we are in the winter lull, so I have a little more time, and I have lowered them to their usual, still pretty high rates.

I am currently giving a round of notes on a script (usually 6-10 pages) for a thousand bucks. I'll also happily critique outlines for substantially less, and query letters for a hundred bucks.

The query letter rate is your best bargain, because I critique your hook, not just the query. If I can help you improve your hook, then you may well wind up rewriting your screenplay to match it, and then you don't need page-by-page notes.

Deets here.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

There's been a bit of news up here in Canada about the Idle No More movement, which is a movement of Native rights activists who are blocking roads and trains and things because they want... something. I'm not entirely sure. Something about rivers?

Kids, I'm not up on the politics of this movement, or whether Natives really get the short end of the stick on taxes. I don't doubt they do. I went up to visit an Inuit town on Hudson Bay, and the Canadian Government pretty much destroyed the Inuit way of life and replaced it with nothing. But from a point of view of political theater, which is the only part of this that belongs in this blog, "Idle No More" is a lousy name for a movement.

First of all, it's generic. Any movement at all could be named "Idle No More." (Tautologically: if you are a movement, you are moving, and if you are moving, you aren't idle.) ACT UP could have been named "Idle No More," except that "ACT UP" is much snappier, and has the nuance of "We are going to behave rudely to get your attention" which is exactly what ACT UP was all about.

"Idle No More" utterly fails to communicate what it's about. The name of a movement should communicate what it's about. Greenpeace -- get it? The People's Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints. Occupy Wall Street. No one ever heard the name "Students for a Democratic Society" and asked, "But what do those kids even want"?

"Idle No More" unfortunately sounds like it should be an organization whose goal is to obtain jobs for its members, who have been or are currently unemployed. I suppose Idle No More wouldn't mind getting more jobs for Natives, but then it's not about rivers, since their objection to deregulating rivers is that stuff will get built near or in or over them. Some of their program is a recipe for fewer jobs and more environment.

"Idle No More" is a lousy name because it implies that its members have been idle so far. And "idle" is just not a good word to apply to yourself. "Oppressed no more," fine. "Dispossessed no more," good. "Give Us Back Our F***ing Land That You Stole, Or At Least Pay Us Fair Market Value," a bit wordy, but okay. But "Idle No More" has the nuance, "Hey, Look, We Finally Got Off Our Asses!"

I guess the idea is that Natives have been forced to be idle by a couple of centuries of oppression, rape, murder, theft, and so forth. But this gets back to my main point is:  the public shouldn't have to guess. Your movement's name is the most important way you communicate with people who don't already agree with you. It has to be amazing.

And this gets back to screenwriting: the most important part of your screenplay, after your hook, is your title. No one spends enough time on their title. You might spend three or six months or a year on your screenplay. Shouldn't you spend two weeks or a month getting the most amazing title you possibly can? Because people make snap judgments all the time. If your title doesn't sell your screenplay, you are cutting yourself off at the legs. Make sure it sells

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Monday, January 14, 2013

Some people are apparently mad at Jodie Foster for coming out at the Golden Globes without using the words "I'm gay" or "I'm a lesbian."

For the record, Jodie has never been very deep in the closet. I bumped into her at any number of GLAD dances when we were at Yale. She just doesn't open up her private life to the press. At all. That's what she needs in order to be able to open up her soul to the camera. We're talking about the girl who played an underage prostitute in TAXI DRIVER, and who then had a crazy fan shoot the President in order to get her attention.

But she really did come out. Even though it was obviously very upsetting and scary for her.

So let's cut her a little slack, okay? These days, it's probably scarier to admit you're 50.

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Saturday, January 12, 2013

Lisa and I had a coffee with a delightful young actress and dancer who wants to turn her musical into a feature. We wound up suggesting she make a short film.

I'm finding that a lot of independent features start as short films. It's not always widely publicized, but you look at a film like MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE or SLING BLADE or any number of other Sundance favorites, and there's often a short film behind it. Ditto indie genre films like HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN.

Likewise, 9, DISTRICT NINE, SAW, EVIL DEAD, SIN CITY, BOTTLE ROCKET, BOOGIE NIGHTS, THX 1138, and NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, to name just a few.

When you're trying to get a feature made, there's a lot to be said for making a short first. The short answers a lot of questions people have. It's hard for people to read a script and envision the tone, the visual style, even the style of the acting. If you're hoping to direct the feature yourself, people may wonder whether you can direct. If you can make a short film with the same stars, and the same director, in the visual style you want to shoot the feature in, then that will answer a lot of questions that the people you're asking to put up the money will have.

This weekend I've been story editing a very broad horror comedy sort of in the Troma Films vein. If I just had the feature script to go on, I'd be railing about the plotholes. But having seen the short, I know that the cartoonish characters and violence are part of what the filmmakers are going for, and I can evaluate the script based on that.

The short doesn't have to be the same story as the feature. It might be an excerpt from the feature. In December I shot a short film for Bravo!FACT which is a couple of scenes from a feature I'm hoping to direct. We were fortunate to find a couple of scenes that stand on their own, and make a microcosm of the feature. But not every feature has a short film you can carve out.

And you don't have to. You'll still be sending people the script. Make a short that sells the tone of the film, and maybe the main character. I'm hoping to shoot a horror short this summer that stars the bad guy (actually bad gal) from a feature I'm working on. The other characters are entirely different. The story is different, even the mythology is different. But if you see the short, you'll get what I want to do with the feature.

I wish I'd done it a year ago!

Of course, you need to make sure that you can do a professional job. If you're selling a special effects movie, the special effects in your short need to be as high quality as they will be in the feature. That may mean having only one special effect in the whole short; make sure it scores.

Every year it gets cheaper to shoot a short film. If you're just sending out your script, you're competing with people whose script comes with a disc or a link. It is a still a big chore to make a short. But consider whether you can. I think you'll be glad you did.

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Friday, January 11, 2013

Intrepid Assistant Jennifer M has tracked down a very good price for those Acco #5 brass fasteners that we almost never use any more to bind scripts. Find'em at Stenoworks. Apparently they are still used in the courts.

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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Okay, this drives I insane.
Thank you for putting Joe and I in touch."
People are overcorrecting like crazy. They know they're not supposed to say "Me and Joe went to the store." They may even know it is grammatically correct "It is I," although it sounds unbelievably pretentious and you have my permission to say "It's me" unless you are auditioning to be a butler.

 But people take it too far. The correct phrasing is "putting Joe and me" in touch."

 You know how to tell? Try this simple test. Would you ever say "putting I in touch"?

No? Then you shouldn't say "putting Joe and I."

 Just take out the other person. Use the case (I or me) that sounds natural. Now put the other person back.

I don't care if a producer screws up "your" and "you're." But come on, you guys are writers. When a writer does this, it drives I to distraction. See how distracted it makes I?

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At the gym, on the elliptical, listening to my tunes, I noticed for the first time Paul Simon's "Demo (Take 6)" of "Bridge Over Troubled Water." It's Paul singing, instead of Art, and it's unplugged. No orchestra.

And I'm listening, and Paul does some interesting things on the demo because he can't hit the high notes like Art can. And I'm wondering what kind of song it is, what genre, because I do that. And I realize, this feels like a gospel song.

And then it suddenly hits me why this is a gospel song. Whose words the lyrics are meant to be. And suddenly I'm weeping on the elliptical. Because who else can really make this claim:
When you're weary, feeling small
When tears are in your eyes
I will dry them all
I'm on your side
When times get rough
And friends just can't be found

Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

When you're down and out
When you're on the street
When evening falls so hard
I will comfort you
I'll take your part
In darkened roads
When pain is all you find 

Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind
And I realized an important difference between the demo and the original album version. This is the third verse in the album:
Sail on Silver Girl,
Sail on by
Your time has come to shine
All your dreams are on their way
But this is the demo:
Sail on silver girl
Sail on high
Your time has come to shine
Put your faith on me
So go, have a listen. And tell me if that's not one of the most beautiful and powerful gospel songs ever written.

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Monday, January 07, 2013

For the first time in several years, I am actually mailing a printed script to someone, bound with brads. And I've discovered a couple of things. 1. Staples does not have #5 Acco Brass Fasteners. They have 1 1/4" brads, but they're too thin. 2. Everyone (Amazon, even the Writers Store) seems to be charging over $15 plus shipping for a box of 100 proper #5 Acco Brass Fasteners. When did this happen? Anyone have a source that charges less than $10?

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Sunday, January 06, 2013

Nigel Cole knows 44 things about making a film, including:
  • If you cast the wrong actor there is very little you can do. If you can’t find the right actor rewrite the part for an actor you love.
  • Shooting a film is all about compromise. Knowing where you can’t compromise is what makes you different from other directors.
  • Never ask the actors to improvise sex scenes. It’s very embarrassing for them. You need to tell them what to do. Move by move.
  • Never have a character talk to themselves. Always looks fake. Find an action that reveals the character’s thought process.
  • Some actors get better the more takes they have and some get worse. When planning coverage shoot the ones that get worse first. (I would add that some actors think they are better on the first take, but they really aren't.)
  • You are going to hate the poster. But there’s nothing you can do about it.
Check it out.

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Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Q. This agent's email isn't on the agency's website. I just found it. Is it disrespectful to use it?
Nope. First of all, it's to your credit that you found his (or her) email. It suggests you either know the right people, or you have enough initiative to find it. Either explanation helps you. Second, anyone with an eddress gets a bunch of emails every day from people they've never heard of. They don't spend a lot of time worrying about how those people got their eddress. If the email seems pertinent, they'll glance at it, and if it seems interesting, they'll read it through. If not, not.

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