Readying Step Outline for Delivery

October 17, 2009

While I’m already deep into the step outline for the second act, I’ve gone back briefly today to the first act, cleaning it up for delivery to the producer.

Going back? Say it isn’t so!

No, no — this “going back” isn’t like a retreat. It’s a good thing. And truly a step forward.

You see, there’s an interesting statement by William Goldman in his book Four Screenplays with Essays that inspired me to go back and polish up that Act I step outline before delivery. In his essay introducing the script Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, he talks about how the standard screenplay format is so structurally counterintuitive to a good read, being loaded with conventions that almost seem designed to interrupt the narrative flow. Which, he explains, is why, “I try to make my screenplays as readable an experience as I can, for a good and greedy reason — I want the executives, who read them and who have the power to greenlight a flick, to say, ‘Hey, I can make money out of this.'”

How I’m applying that

Even though this step outline is mostly for me, the writer, to help me structure the story and test out the narrative flow before I invest so many more hours in the detailed structuring of the entire screenplay with all the dialogue, I figured that the rules change for the delivery. This outline will be, in two days, mostly for the producer, not me.

As the producer reads it, he will be less focused on how artfully structured I have or haven’t made this first act than how much this outline version of the first act will or will not already begin to inspire him as being a potentially good movie. Or not.

So, borrowing on the wisdom of William Goldman, I’m modifying the first act step outline to read well: to flow compellingly from one step to the next, and using turns of phrase designed to make the reading more enjoyable. For the same good and greedy reason. 😉

Speaking of Quotations for Writers…

October 15, 2009

Along with the new “Motivation/Inspiration for Writers” post of yesterday, I’ve also added several more quotes that I’ve found useful as a writer to these existing pages:

  • On Screenplay Structure 
  • On Scene Structure
  • On Story Characters and Characterization
  • So, if you’ve been to those before and liked the quotes, check again for new ones.  🙂

    Writer Motivation – Quotations

    October 14, 2009

    I turn to these quotations for inspiration or motivation as a writer. Face it: Writing can be a lonely business. Having the comfort or motivation of inspiring words from other writers (or from those who understand the challenges of writing) can go a long way toward fabricating some sense of fellowship, and maybe even generating creative action.  🙂  On other topics, see more quotations for writers here.


    “I shall live badly if I do not write, and I shall write badly if I do not live.” (Francoise Sagan)

    “Why do writers write? Because it isn’t there.” (Thomas Berger)

    Close the door. Unplug the phone. Cheat, lie, disappoint your pals, if necessary, but get your work done.(Garrison Keillor)

    One hasn’t become a writer until one has distilled writing into a habit, and that habit has been forced into an obsession. Writing has to be an obsession. It has to be something as organic, physiological, and psychological as speaking or sleeping or eating.” (Niyi Osundare)

    These next five are some of my favorite quotes for general motivation toward taking on any monumental task, whether writing or not:

    ”The most important thing I have learned over the years is the difference between taking one’s work seriously and taking one’s self seriously. The first is imperative, and the second disastrous.” (Margaret Fontey)

    “We have forty million reasons for failure, but not a single excuse.” (Rudyard Kipling)

    “Every production of genius must be the production of enthusiasm.” (Benjamin Disraeli)

    “They are ill discoverers that think there is no land, when they can see nothing but sea.” (Francis Bacon)

    “A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” (Chinese Proverb)

    “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.” (Aristotle)

    “As I got ready to write the screenplay [for Terminator 2], I kept asking myself, What’s the real goal of this movie? Are we going to blow people away and get them all excited? Is that it? Or is there a way we can get them to really feel something? I thought it would be a real coup if we can get people to cry for a machine. If we can get people to cry for Arnold Schwarzenegger playing a robots, that would be terrific.”
    (Screenwriter-Director James Cameron)

    “Illusion is the first of all pleasures.” (Oscar Wilde)

    “Have fun! The most important thing to do is to love what you’re doing.  That way, getting better at it isn’t a struggle, it’s a pleasure.”  Blake Snyder.

    More Step Outline Progress

    October 13, 2009

    Things are progressing slowly these days, as you may have noticed.  Competing priorities!  But at least there is progress.

    And it was a really enjoyable part of the step outline process — the last sequence of the first act. This is a dramaturgically critical point in the story; it’s that all important Plot Point 1 — that surprising, major event in which the hero’s life is radically changed.

    In the case of this story, this will be where the story really takes off — where Joe finally does that thing that we have been wanting him to do all along during the first act: to take off the gloves with both the criminal element and the senior government officials who have been squelching his attempts to achieve justice by traditional means.

    In short, this is where things start to get really ugly. 🙂

    Characters & Characterization

    October 10, 2009

    These are some of my favorite quotations for fiction writers on creating, developing, and unveiling great story characters. On other topics, see more quotations for writers here.


    “Good screenwriting allows the main character to discover what’s going on at the same time as the audience discovers what’s going on. Character and audience are connected by the community of emotion.”
    (Syd Field, from chapter 12 of his book Four Screenplays)

    “At the end of a movie (or any good narrative) ask yourself, How did the main character change? What did she want or need at first, how did she go about getting it, and what did she finally achieve or discover? What did that character learn? Usually there is an obvious answer that hides some more problematic issues: the action plot may be over, but a new plot is just beginning.”
    (Stephen J. Cannell)

    A character in isolation is hard to make dramatic. Drama usually involves conflict. If the conflict is internal, then the dramatist needs to personify it through the clash with other individuals.”
    (Film director Alexander Mackendrick from his book On Film-Making)

    “Self pity in a character does not evoke sympathy.”
    (Film director Alexander Mackendrick from his book On Film-Making)

    “It is desirable that all characters, even those only shown briefly shown, be presented as whole human beings. Any character worth keeping is worth developing.”
    (Author and Film director Edward Dmytryk from his book On Screen Directing).

    Beware of sympathy between characters. That is the END of “drama.”
    (Film director Alexander Mackendrick from his book On Film-Making)

    “A good film is behavior. In the language of screenwriting, action is character. What a person does is what he is. How the characters respond, what they do, what they say, how they act or react in a particular situation are what really define their character.”
    (Syd Field, from his book Four Screenplays)

    “What I’ll do is go out in the backyard in the morning, and just sit there and try to open myself up and let the characters come to me; let them talk to me. So much of writing is about getting quiet enough so you can hear your characters talking. Sometimes I feel they choose you because they know you’re listening. You just have to shut up and listen.”
    Screenwriter Callie Khoury

    “When you have two characters equally sharing the role of protagonist, their combined personalities become a single entity — the yin and yang… two halves that complete each other.” He uses Thelma and Louise as an example of this.
    (Syd Field, from his book Four Screenplays)

    Obstacles must confront your hero throughout your screenplay”
    (Michael Hauge, author and Hollywood script consultant)

    “When the screenwriter stares into that 60 page unit of dramatic action that makes up Act II, it’s important to remain focused on the dramatic need of the character. It establishes the foundation of the conflict that pushes the action forward through Act II and will provide a context for the Confrontation.”
    (Syd Field, from chapter 12 of his book Four Screenplays)

    “Stories are driven by desire; Your hero’s goals and objectives determine the story concept, plot, and structure.”
    (Michael Hauge, author and Hollywood script consultant)

    “In every film that’s worth its salt, there’s the text, and there’s the subtext. And the subtext of this film is alienation. The language and the culture worked against Gene’s character.” John Frankenheimer, Director talking about the lead character in French Connection II played by Gene Hackman)

    A Cacophony of Culture?

    October 9, 2009

    Right. I get that music design is normally a postproduction thing. Primarily.

    Unless you’re shooting a musical.

    And, no — this movie definitely won’t be a musical.

    However, one lasting impression from my four times in the country of Trinidad and Tobago (once for two months, once for nearly 10 months) is the omnipresent role of music there. Even in the very atmosphere itself, really.

    Must be something in the soil

    It seems that music not only reflects but defines the people of Trinidad and Tobago. If you’ve traveled the country much, you know what I mean. The music is everywhere and anywhere in Trinidad and Tobago – where ever people gather (in crowds of one or more). image

    And so, for a movie that we plan to shoot in such a music-centric land such as Trinidad & Tobago, I feel it’s important that the movie’s music design begins now, influencing even the structuring of the screenplay.

    Whether I’m thinking as a writer or as a director, I feel it’s important to consider the rhythm and volume of a culture into which the movie will be set. And in the land of Trinidad and Tobago, the volume is up, the rhythms overlap, and the music styles often clash. Beautifully!

    I guess you could call it…

    A cacophony of culture

    … because the mishmash of music you hear on the streets is an honest reflection of the Trinbagonian people: diverse, divergent, overlapping, and surprisingly harmonious.

    In that sense, while the near-constant amplified dissonance of so many concurrent and competing sounds can seem a bit discordant or dissonant, it really is as natural and harmonious as can be, when you consider the culture.

    I wonder sometimes…

    How aware or unaware is the average Trinbagonian of either the volume or the concurrency of the music? If you’ve lived that way from birth, do you notice it? or is it like breathing: a thing that happens at a subconscious level?

    To an outsider just visiting the country, it can be initially jarring to the senses. Overwhelming!

    I recall feeling psychologically exhausted the first time I spent more than 30 minutes on the streets of downtown Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. I couldn’t wait to escape to the aural insulation of an air-conditioned car, windows up, driving AWAY from the hullabaloo.

    But then … you adjust.

    Just as I adjusted to working in the (initially) suffocating humidity, I adjusted also to the musical cavalcade. I came to appreciate, and even look forward to, the signature chorus of sounds and music that, like the rooster’s crow, signified the dawning of a new day. And which, unlike the cock’s crow, continued until after nightfall.  🙂

    Oh, and I should mention: there were real rooster cock-a-doodle-doos mixed in to the daybreak chorus of sounds too. And the screeching of wild parrots flying over the hills. Morning in Trinidad.

    I think it’s the weather too.

    With the perpetually warm, tropical climate, the windows in Trinidad & Tobago are almost always open in homes, businesses, and cars. Which makes for this fascinating undulation of overlapping sounds as you walk or drive down the road.

    I don’t suppose then that you would experience the aural mishmash in an equally musically-oriented country that has a cooler climate; the music would be more contained by the closed windows and doors.

    But, no, it’s more than that.

    It’s not just that the windows are open. Because you don’t get a comparable musical kaleidoscope effect in the cities of the hotter regions of the US. Not even close.

    Part of what creates the Trinbagonian musical cacophony then has to do with the way that most Trinbagonians…

    Embrace the climate

    At least compared to Americans in the southern USA.

    Now, I’m sure part of this open-air environment is about economics — not as many people in Trinidad and Tobago can afford air conditioning as in the US — but it also has to do with the strange tendency of most of us Americans to

    (A) simultaneously seek out and settle in to the country’s hottest climates, and yet;

    (B) spend so little time letting that climate anywhere near our bodies: living in air-conditioned homes, driving to work and the store in air-conditioned cars, and then working, dining, and shopping in air-conditioned businesses.

    By not embracing our climate, Americans are more culturally cut off from the people around us than in an open-windowed, open-doored culture like Trinidad and Tobago.

    But it’s more than that, too.

    It’s also the melting pot effect.

    Indeed, the US was once a great melting pot, as we often call ourselves even today. But we are a lot more homogenous now compared to many other societies. And certainly compared to Trinidad and Tobago.

    And that’s my point with this whole music thing — how the ever-present musical mishmash is a perfectly natural reflection of Trinbagonian culture, which is a true melting pot of French, Spanish, British, African, Indian, and island peoples (did I miss any?).

    But here’s the thing; even as each culture’s unique flavors, accents, dress, attitudes, and music have influenced one another, the unique cultures of each have not become so diluted as to loose their distinctness. So you get diversity harmoniously.

    And that, you see, is why I describe the musical melting pot of the Trinbagonian culture as a beautiful cacophony — as clashing without clashing, if you embrace the sound as being a reflection of the people whose past 50 years, with a couple of notable exceptions (1990 comes to mind), generally accept and even take pride in their cultural diversity.

    So, while Men of Gray III, The Midnight Robber is not a musical per se, I am purposely structuring the screenplay to…

    Reflect the musical rhythm of the culture

    My intention is to infuse the scenes with the music you would hear if you were in such a modern-day Trinbagonian moment, and to use that music to tell the story as much as the dialogue or images of the scene.

    Sometimes, this infusion means envisioning a specific song that’s appropriate for the mood and the moment.

    Sometimes, it’s more about the type of music that would be playing in a certain neighborhood or a certain type of occasion that the movie will portray.

    Sometimes, it’s about the volume or the degree of musical cacophony in a scene or sequence: whether it’s subtly underscoring a character’s emotion or overpowering the dialogue, causing people to yell, for instance.

    But, ultimately, it’s about building a movie that respects and realistically portrays the country’s culture, so that it will entertain and be embraced by Trinbagonians at least as much as it will the rest of the world. With its music as a natural and interwoven thread of this story, i think we can do that.

    Big Move … Subjectively Speaking

    October 4, 2009

    A tough, tough move, it seemed to me.


    But then, in the scheme of things….


    I guess it was no big deal.