Night of the Naked Dead!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

2017 Academy Award® Nominated Screenwriters

2017 Oscar®-nominated Screenwriters

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

Screenplay by Eric Heisserer

Screenplay by August Wilson

Hidden Figures
Screenplay by Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi

Screenplay by Luke Davies

Screenplay by Barry Jenkins

Writing (Original Screenplay)

Hell or High Water
Written by Taylor Sheridan

La La Land 
Written by Damien Chazelle

The Lobster
Written by Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou

Manchester by the Sea
Written by Kenneth Lonergan

20th Century Women
Written by Mike Mills

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Human Emotions in Scripts

FEBRUARY 21, 2017

Screenwriting is the art of crafting a movie into a blueprint so a director can interpret these instructions using their vision to make a good movie. Humanizing characters connect moviegoers to special characters.

Do you like End of the World movies? Have you watched Deep Impact, Armageddon, The Day After Tomorrow, and 2012? These movies do a great job with humanizing characters to capture the essence of real life people in similar situations. In television, Tv writers are expected to craft characters in such a fashion that viewers will return back every week in anticipation of what will happen and how these characters will respond.

The Walking Dead (TWD) is a perfect example of humanizing characters to stimulate emotion. If done right, people will watch often and word-of-mouth will deliver new fans. As TWD seasons move forward, show fans become loyal followers. In every episode, there is heavy emphasis on character development. Have you noticed that zombies are now secondary characters on a show about the dead? This strategy enables the show writers to capture interest on unique characters we come to love.

In the movie world, Dawn of the Dead (2004) is a remake of the classic George Romero Dawn of the Dead released in the late 1970’s. The remake takes a group of polarizing characters into a mall. Zombies surround this mall, a memorable place they probably remember before changing into dead carnivores. As moviegoers, we find solace in watching these characters trying their best to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. At moments, we’re put on edge in climatic situations. Those we hate, we come to like. Those we like, they end up eventually dying.

Humanizing characters represent an enriching style of screenwriting. As screenwriters, we warm the hearts of people. We stimulate their inner desires through building connections. How we respond to events may differ from person-to-person. Why do we like characters in end of the world movies? We empathize with these real-life characters. We find them emotional satisfying. We’re drawn to their traits, their actions, their decisions.

Telling a great story involves understanding how people may react to such events. In the Titanic, Jack must save Rose from taking her life. As a first-class passenger and upper class person, Rose is stuck in a boring routine. We watch her character evolve into an actual rose. Jack becomes the change Rose needs to graduate into womanhood. Before this growth, Rose was dependent on her mother and fiancĂ©. Humanizing Rose required showing her weaknesses. She desired charismatic Jack, a spontaneous young man willing to travel the world to live life. Unlike Rose’s fiancĂ©, who is an uptight rich man, Jack enjoyed simple things. His drawings revealed a fascinating side to his experiences. Rose got stuck in her mother’s wants and desires, forcing her to follow strict rules.

Nonetheless, Titanic does a perfect job in conveying the wants and desires of Jack and Rose. Furthermore, the Titanic script maintains focus on the plot—keeping the audience drawn to this doomed ship awaiting its dark fate. We watch this Dreamliner ship in the days preceding its impending doom. All the audience can think about is Jack and Rose. They hoped there would be more time to unite these two lovers together in America. Unfortunately, most people who watched this disaster movie know the tragic movie ending.

Want to capture interest in your screenplay? Humanize your characters to connect moviegoers with their emotions. Touch their minds, warm their hearts. If screenwriters follow this script, they can/will write a powerful screenplay. We’re all unique creatures desiring more in this life. Even homeless people have goals. Our goal as screenwriters is to write a screenplay that makes sense. Infusing these screenplays with real life characters that move and talk like us could take a movie on a journey of a lifetime.

Humanizing characters put these people above the plot. Despite plot points to move scripts forward, the majority of attention is shifted toward characters with human emotions like ours. Screenwriters can rise above the plot through injecting their scripts with psychological disorders, bad traits, common interests and worries, and even internal goals and desires that won’t be revealed until the climax. A good practice session in developing intense characters is to watch movies that rely on humanized characters. In resolving conflict, we learn about people and their emotions. We enter the minds of these characters to save the day, save the world. Regardless of your personal execution as a screenwriter, choosing to humanize characters may capture powerful human emotion unlike plot-driven movies. Happy screenwriting!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

5 characters and one location create suspense: Hush

On Netflix, there is movie called Hush. It only features 5 characters but executes suspense extremely well, considering it's shot in one location and never leaves this scene at any point during filming.

A female lead character plays the protagonist, who happens to be deaf/mute. She had a bout with meningitis at age 13, which caused her to go deaf and also damaged her voice box.

Interestingly, this protagonist plays a best-selling author. She lives alone in the woods. Her home is constructed with plenty of glass windows, empowering the natural lighting to enhance her mood.  

This disability sets up the conflict. We see a murder take place. A serial killer is on the loose, standing right outside of the protagonist's patio while he is killing his victim. Our protagonist can't help this victim because she is unable to hear her scream. Plus, this protagonist is a female with a disability. It is obvious she lacks in strength, unable to go toe-to-toe with this psychotic antagonist.

Hush is clever in execution, as a normal person experiencing this terror would be at a major disadvantage. Out in the middle of the woods, there is nobody capable of helping this deaf/mute woman in time. We know of her neighbor, a couple who befriended this protagonist.

The female neighbor is a friend who visits regularly to check on the well-being of this protagonist. On the opposing side, the plot thickens and we watch through the eyes of the protagonist how terror feels when a person is faced with many obstacles to stay alive. It's during this time, the protagonist is confronted with many challenges to keep ahead of the game.

Although this storyline has limitations, possibly due to budget constraints, the screenwriters keep the suspense high. Only 5 characters are featured in this movie, one of which is seen on computer Facetime for less than a few minutes. We have a protagonist, an antagonist, a sister, and a nearby couple. It doesn't require multiple settings and several characters to inject thrills into a movie plot.  

Definitely watch Hush, a clever home invasion movie that will put you on the edge of your chair. It creates that Strangers and No Good Deed movie feel.

Spreading Yourself Too Thin

Are you spreading yourself too thin? Taking on more projects than you can handle? Struggling to say no to clients? Spreading yourself too thin is part of the reason you may experience problems with completing scripts. Your time is extremely important. Cutting into this time can block screenwriting.

Sure, you want to help people. While you help people, your script projects are put on hold. This valuable time is shifted to writing content you may view as survival money. Meanwhile, your future screenwriting dream is waiting another day, another month, another year. This vicious cycle of spreading yourself too thin steals your dream.

If you're serious about becoming a great screenwriter, please value your time. Don't spread yourself so thin that you lack any energy to write scripts. The bigger picture is that you want to become that amazing screenwriter. If you already screen-write in Hollywood, then you know time is of the essence.

Review all your projects to see how much time you have available to outside projects. If writing is your survival gig, then you need a good schedule to keep on track. It is easy to fall behind and jeopardize your reputation as a professional writer. It is not okay to postpone paid projects, or tell a movie studio they must wait on revisions. Don't throw away your future being too nice.

Spreading yourself too thin is doing projects that don't advance your dream. In a way, you may be sabotaging your future wasting your time. You may struggle with saying no to clients, friends, family, and co-workers. If you can't complete projects on time, please say no.

Don't play around with time management because it will defeat you. You will lose valuable writing projects from these missed deadlines. You can suffer financially once your projects dry up.

Screenwriting is likely a side gig since you rely on writing and/or a primary job to survive. Just know that pages won't fill up without you writing them out.

Build a strong foundation. Structure your time so you can screen-write. Juggle paid writing projects, enough of them that keep money flowing in and give you ample time to devote to screenwriting.

Don't make the "spreading too thin" mistake. Doing too much of what you don't love instead of what you really love will cheat your dream. Your dream will eventually move on to a better suitor. 

Respect your time. Your screenwriting depends on you typing those vibrant stories, those original stories, those great movies with the potential to inspire people. Become that screenwriter today!

Happy Screenwriting!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

On Flashbacks

"Do not take us to the past until we care about what's happening in the future" - David Trottier's The Screenwriter's Bible

Flashbacks are prone to overexposure. Instead of dragging out secrets, some screenwriters rely on flashbacks to serve up truths without holding back any material. Screenwriters may use flashbacks early, maybe too early, to explain missing pieces of their story. However, we know little about these characters to invest our emotions into their journey. Exposition is key, but give the audience time to find an emotional connection. 

The fear of using the flashback approach is that we can lose the audience early on. As excitement builds in knowing everything, showing too much of everything and exposing everything in flashbacks, this technique of serving appetizers, drinks, dinner and dessert all at once may disconnect us from the main storyline. We need time to digest information, so going back and forth between flashbacks without at least building character development will cheat your story. 

As moviegoers, we are invested in the storyline. How do the protagonist and antagonist make us care? Of course, we final an emotional connection with the antagonist. Unless it is unsettling evil actions that disconnect us from the antagonist, then we want to know why they behave in this way.

Showing flashbacks can work, but executing them right can make a difference between writing a good script or over saturating this technique in a bad script. In the opening scene, we introduce the audience to conflict, such as an introduction to a research paper, and then put obstacles in front of the ultimate goal to block the protagonist. We want the protagonist to earn their stripes.

Going back to the past can reveal character strengths and/or weaknesses. Is this character up for the challenge? Do they possess the courage to confront the antagonist? Chase the dream? Defeat the empire? Get the girl? Win the game? Pass the test? Use a flashback sequence where this technique is appropriate to inform the audience. It can represent an effective device to move your story forward. 

Flashbacks are employed in horror movies to fill-in gaps. The first Saw movie executes this technique in the midpoint, as well as toward the film ending. We watch John (Jigsaw) struggle with cancer. If we understand the impact of cancer, we emphasize with his character. We also discover his hardship, his unwillingness to accept the selfishness of people refusing to appreciate their lives.

The screenwriter, Leigh Whannell, revealed this important information to prepare us. These flashbacks convey what decisions are necessary to survive life. It is in these experiences that we are drawn to the game of life, where the protagonists must make critical decisions to save or end a life, including their own. 

Given this plot technique, flashbacks are also executed to twist the plot--plot twists. A tightly concealed twist relies on revealing enough information to make all scenes go against the perceived storyline. What we assumed was happening is a whole different story. Dead Silence builds on this plot device, shifting the ending into flashback overdrive. We assume Mary Shaw is thus defeated; however, Leigh tricks us with another twist ending. Watch this horror movie to see how flashbacks explain the twist ending.

Want to use flashbacks in your screenplay? Go ahead and flash your flashbacks, but do this after you build character development. Why should we care about the protagonist? Humanize characters before diving into the flashback pool. Don't abuse flashbacks because your audience will lose connection with the present time. Once the conflict is revealed and protagonist is introduced, make those flashbacks count.

Happy Screenwriting!


Spec Script Versus Shooting Script

Speculative scripts, also known as Spec Scripts, are written for commercial reasons. The main intent of a screenwriter creating this type of script is to sell to film production houses and/or to land a coveted television writing job. Shooting scripts are used to guide directors; they are prepared by production staff as a tool to shoot films. 

Write Spec Scripts as your calling card to possibly connect with film executives, to apply for writing fellowships (Disney/ABC) and/or to chase after a chance to write on television. It really takes some major effort on your part to employ your Spec Script and create interest. 

Aspiring screenwriters can lose sight of the Spec Script, using and/or overusing directions to impress film studios. It is not up to the screenwriter to include these directions in screenplays, unless the script writer is the director and they understand the focus of this script. Do yourself justice; leave out these directions and focus on telling your story. 

However, writing a compelling story is the best mode of operation to craft a great script. Tell your story using the right script format. Don't focus all your energy on making the script format perfect. Do realize your script must be formatted and packed together following industry standards.

A Spec Script is written to sell and/or to get a job. A shooting script is prepared once it is optioned and ready to begin production. All directions, numbers, and scene selection in shooting scripts are guides so the director, assistants, script supervisor and other production members can stay organized.

According to David Trottier in his The Screenwriter's Bible, "The main reason you write a spec script is to tell an interesting story" (p. 104). Essentially, write to tell instead of writing to impress.

Good luck writing the next awesome film!


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

End with a Bang!

Last night, the NCAA National Championship game delivered one of the most exciting finishes of the ages. North Carolina clawed their way back to tie the score with 4 seconds remaining in the game.

But save the fireworks for last -- Villanova coasted down the court - dribbling in traffic - with time quickly winding down. Their star player caught a quick pass at the top of the key. He released the game winning shot just in the nick of time. As the buzzer sounded off, the ball swished through the net for the title.

Game over! Talking about pure excitement!

Do you want to end your script with a bang? Enjoy the action-packed thrill ride you witness in sports? Now, it is the best time to infuse your script with that edge-of-the-seat excitement.

Give the audience what they crave most. Whatever genre you choose, make it count. Build the climax to the highest point in the script, and then wind down to resolve all conflict.

It is up to you how your screenplay ends. Reward moviegoers; end with a bang!