And speaking of research…let’s talk about period pieces!

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I recently started a new project – well, not recent – four, five months ago as a matter of fact – another period piece like the first one. Went through all the first steps – brainstorming, treatment etc., and then after all that, put it aside temporarily to focus on some other projects.
Recently, I came back to it, and reread my old treatment. Though at the time there was a lot to be excited about, now I can see that there is a lot left to be desired. And then there’s this one nagging doubt in my mind. It’s a period piece – which automatically by past experience, opens a whole can of worms for me. Imagine all the research involved. I have been told plenty of times that no matter how difficult a project is, ultimately the most important thing is the story itself, but as I am breaking down this story, I keep finding things I don’t know about:

‘How did European society function? How many women were actual students besides my main protagonist?’, ‘How were they regarded by the male population? ‘, ‘How did they entertain themselves (they didn’t have tellys)?’, ‘Where did people live, eat, sleep, poop?’

It doesn’t help that I have never been to one of the main locations (Scotland!). I have ordered a truckload of used books and given Amazon a ton of business. I even have two colleagues helping me research – but it’s still not enough. Luckily I am a voracious reader and can get through volumes when I put my head to it – but the point is, sometimes research is fun – and other times it just sucks – literally sucks away the time from writing the actual project. My last project was a period piece as well and required just as much research. OK, some of you are probably asking now, ‘Well, you idiot – if it’s so much work, why go period then?’

It’s a good question and something I did evaluate before starting this project as well as others. In this case, the early 1900s just happens to be a great epoch for all the things that challenge my main character and her landscape: war, a country fighting for freedom from colonialism, the feminist movement, women struggling for their rights to study, to have male-centric careers. Not to mention she is my first female protagonist (all my protagonists thus far have been male).

Anyhow, here’s my final theory on research: sometimes it can take a week, sometimes it can take months or even years (seriously, that’s too long)- but most importantly, it has to support your writing, not prevent you from doing it.  If you are writing a documentary, this is not a great discussion for you – but if you are writing a screenplay, while it’s desirable to try and keep things authentic, it shouldn’t deter you when it comes to your story and creating characters and scenarios that thrill and emotionally engage your readers.

And the fact is no matter what, you can’t please everybody (take movies like ‘Argo’, ‘The King’s Speech’) – there will always be something you might miss or not do the ‘authentic’ way. Being an expert over-thinker, I have struggled enough times in my last few period projects to avoid bending the rules of history (still do, as a matter of fact). While being respectful to my source material though, I have also written enough drafts to know that the most predominant element when I begin the journey of writing a historical, period piece is to just tell the story and  breathe life into my characters…after which…

All the rest will follow.

Learning how to write a script! The ‘where’ and ‘how’

Peanuts_EssaySo I was talking to some friends of mine recently about ‘writing’ and the big pieces of conversation that kept coming up were ‘where should an individual go to learn screenwriting’, so of course, I thought it a good occasion to jot down a few thoughts on the subject.

First, I can only speak from my own personal experience. I have always adored movies, and writing screenplays has essentially become an extension of that desire–to see more good movies and be an enviable part of that experience, otherwise known by the millions like me, as the ‘Hollywood dream’. Before even knowing what a screenplay actually was, I used to write them with my friends just for the sheer fun of it – and that’s what it was for a long time, F-U-N, because my real passion at the time was ANIMATION.

I lived, breathed Disney Animation.  I was one of the great souls in the 90’s who taped every single making-of segment on Entertainment Tonight featuring the next Disney movie of the year on my VHS and watched it again and again (REMEMBER DISNEY SURFERS, GUYS?!). The Special Editions and the ‘making-of’ documentaries were a constant replay and fixture in our house, growing up, to a point where I became a wannabe artist – taking my sketchbook in the subway, the zoo, you name it.

Once I got into college, however, all of that changed as I began to realize exactly what animation was: endless hours of… drawing. Tons and tons of it. And after attempting and failing to get accepted, deep down, I realized I didn’t love it as much as I thought I did. But instead of getting into animation, I got into film school – a blessing in disguise, and something that ultimately changed my life because that’s where all over again – I fell back in love with writing. Still, while film school introduced me to the concept of screenwriting, my real education took place simply by doing the following:

A) Reading scripts

B) Writing scripts

C) Reading every piece of material I could get my hands on about screenwriting.

Don’t get me wrong, there are places where people can learn how to write scripts. There are schools, classes online and tons of books and seminars one can attend to learn the craft  – but in my opinion, ultimately the best way to at least begin the process is by actually sitting down and doing it on your own – at least once. It was incredibly beneficial to me to use what resources I had, and once I had something to show and had been through the first part of the process, I went on to obtain more resources, my best one being:

D) Discovering, learning from and collaborating with a screenwriting mentor.

The last point, though not necessary for every individual out there, has certainly been an immense help to me. Finding someone who is a writer with a writer’s mindset to look at my drafts and work has been a huge bonus and a great experience, especially when it comes to improving my own personal discipline and work ethic – the greatest motivation – not to mention he’s AWESOME and incredibly generous with his time.  That being said, I don’t think learning ever ends and as long as you keep writing, there is no harm in dipping into resources without solely relying on it. If you have a story you are passionate about, just see it through regardless.

So to conclude for the moment, when people ask where to learn how to write one,  here’s what I would do first: read a script, any script of a movie you can find and watch the movie while you are doing it.  And then…write…and write…and write. The more drafts you do, the better you get.

In the coming weeks, I will be posting some more detailed resources on this specific topic If anyone including the experienced ones has anything else to add, feel free to post in comments!

Before Your First Draft – Part 3 – Biographies

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Here’s where we are so far with this series:

What you should know before you write – the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ of prep

Part 1 – Logline

Part 2 – Brainstorming and Research

In terms of the several steps before writing a first draft,  one of my most favorite things before writing any story is establishing my hero’s backstory: getting to get to know my main character. An ‘imaginary friend’ that, once conceived, would remain with me forever. Or at least the period of time it takes to write his story –  a few months, six months, a year and so on.  Sometimes, more than the protagonist biography, I get more excited about my antagonist but the point is: a story, in my opinion cannot fully function and be written well without characters you LOVE to drive it. Regarding how to write these, I usually write them in short story/treatment form starting with the very basic details. (A quick note: you can also go point-form, ask interview questions or combine all three methods, whatever it takes to dig into your characters)

So, without further ado, here are some pointers on writing your hero’s biography. These can also be used for other characters:

• Start right from the the time they are born – or before, as far back as you can go (if they are not human, the start of their lives). Depending on the character, I also like to do this in first-person, like you are reading their diary entry. Include details of their parentage, where or how they were born, relationships with their families.

• Establish what their core is. For example (hypothetically),  ‘Mr. Lickety Split is a poor ice cream maker in love with the richest girl in town.’ Conceiving a good logline also helps you here in terms of figuring out the rough direction you want your character to go.

• Establish the character’s ‘want’ and ‘need’. What a character wants when the story starts, what a character actually needs by the end (Mr Lickety Split wants the rich girl, what he needs is to be secure with himself and find someone who loves him for who he is).

• Go where your character takes you. However if you find yourself getting a bit lost in the details, focus on the most important pieces of their lives (happiest, saddest, most influential moments).

• Establish why the story happens to the specific character at this particular time (so in Mr. Lickety Split’s case, when the story starts, he is a high school junior whose motivation to make some summer money is so he can afford to take the rich girl out on dates)

• Establish their emotional, psychological landscape: who they are, their best and worst traits, what they like/dislike, why they feel and experience things the particular way they do when the story starts. I tend to focus on their temperaments and general emotional state when they encounter people and situations.  Figuring out the protagonists’ insecurities also helps me form the conflicts that he encounters on his own as well as with the nemesis (who represents my protagonist’s insecurities).

• The range of this biography can go all the way from before they are born to just the beginning of story, and further if needed.

• Speaking of conflicts and insecurities, zone in on these.

The more details you can muster on all your characters, the better. However, considering I do have a time limit and  don’t want to take forever doing these, the ones I stick to are the main ones – always the protagonist, nemesis, mentor and love interest (if there is one). Depending on the need as I go along, I also put together mini-bios for the parents, families, friends and any other new character that crop up. Go Into Your Story has a great section and tips on some of these steps as well. I encourage you to visit it.

Hope you are enjoying the trip so far. Next week: the Treatment.

Update on Posting Schedule!

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Hey everyone, just a quick update: I am currently in the middle of outlining another project and drafting another one and when I am not doing those… enriching my imagination by watching Digimon  on Netflix with my sis (I know, pretty sad excuse but my sis is a terrible influence and here’s another confession: despite not being a huge Anime fan,  I LOVE Digimon and Airbender! Metal Greymon and Angemon are so bad ass! And the theme song is SO totally stuck in my head…damn.).

Anyway, I should return with new posts including the continuation of the ‘Before the First Draft’ series  and some other fun, sporadic thoughts starting Monday!

For all the readers out there, thanks again for following the blog and taking the time to read my two cents – not to mention, sharing your thoughts!

Completing a First Draft!!!! Why we celebrate!

ImageHey everyone,

I know this is a bit premature considering all the posts on writing first draft I have been putting up in the last couple of months, but, after five weeks, I just completed a FIRST DRAFT of a PROJECT yesterday! Not a final screenplay, that’s certain – knowing how this process works with previous projects on my end at least, it’s probably going to go through at least a dozen or more drafts before I can say it’s even close to a spec script I would be willing any other human beings to see – but a FIRST DRAFT. After all that dreaming and prep: outlines, beat-sheets, biographies, I wouldn’t be the first person to say it’s the nicest feeling in the world to complete something! A beginning to an end and so on and so forth!

Here is why I am celebrating:

1) I have actually written something from start-to-finish – PAGE 1 – 100 (or sometimes in cases past, pages 1 – 250)!! Even if it’s not finished after this and I die before it is, someone in my family will find my will and have something to work with and finish it for me! (ok who am I kidding?  I plan to finish it!)

2) I have a story!!! Even if there are locations called ‘INT. PUBLIC PLATE – NOTE TO MYSELF: THINK OF A BETTER LOCATION.’, characters called BLAH BLAH BEN (talkative guy) and incomplete sentences like ‘”They made out ‘somewhere’ – must be somewhere good, have to figure out where”*’

3) I have CHARACTERS – people, situations and other likeable nonsense and gags that is probably not going to make it past first draft, but who cares? No one can argue that it’s all on paper!

4) It doesn’t matter if I have already done this once, ten times or a hundred! It still rocks!

5) It doesn’t matter that I literally almost never looked back while I wrote it, because when I do in a few weeks, I will know despite my elation, it’s crappy, but not completely and I can fix it!

Speaking of which, the best part of all my weeks of PREP actually CAME to something, so writing the first draft, which in the past (due to thankless procrastination) would take me months now took me just about four weeks, so for anyone out there who has had the same struggles to complete something, KNOW IT CAN BE DONE.

To conclude, I don’t have a complete screenplay of this particular project….yet! But I DO HAVE A FIRST DRAFT.

It’s a start!

P.S. For anyone else who wants to celebrate, here’s something to tantalize your taste buds!

Screenwriting Thoughts on Monsters University

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So in case I haven’t mentioned this about a hundred (thousand) times on this blog, I am a huge fan of Pixar movies and anything stemming from Disney – and being the five year olds that we are (and I say we are five not because of the whole Disney-Pixar kid association, but because this is how giddy we get when we go see movies) I finally had a chance to go watch ‘Monsters University’ with my sister and as I always like to do, I decided to dissect it.

First, judging from the marketing and the gags, I was guessing it would be something fairly average but it didn’t turn out to be. Pixar did do its trademark magic and the best thing I can say about it is that it is incredibly full of heart and didn’t cease to surprise. Without giving too much away, every scene was crafted with care, the dialogue was spot-on, the characters extremely well developed.  I can’t remember the first Monsters much but I do remember that Mike Wazowsky (the one eyed cyclops) was the more annoying of the two, but he is the protagonist here and an extremely likeable, engaging one at that. It was also a nice surprise, because somehow I assumed the focus would be more on Sulley. The first Act sets up the story really well – introduces Mike the starry-eyed, passionate ‘scarer’ and then the story continues introducing a new motley crew of characters. It’s a college movie, buddy movie-type with monsters – but an incredibly likeable and relatable one about our two favorite monsters and how they eventually come into their own. And then there is the creepy cockroach-dragon played by Helen Mirren as the main antagonist – though I will admit I wasn’t a huge fan of the character, scary yes, and somewhat unfortunately familiar as well. But the weaker traits of the story were balanced with the greater underdog elements, every scene and subplot mellifluously functioning in a coherent, unpredictable and hilarious unit. Not to mention Mike and Sulley’s rivalry and how they fit together: Mike, a wannabe ‘scarer’ who relies too much on smarts and bookish knowledge and Sulley, a natural talent who is unable to go by the book. Speaking of scenes, one of my favorites, without spoiling is the scene where they interact with the human world (though I missed Boo terribly here!).

Perhaps my only grievance with ‘Monsters University’ is that it’s not an ‘original’. It’s not Toystory one or two or three – all of which despite being sequels, were certainly stories of their own. Perhaps, and this was the first thing I thought when I heard plans for this sequel – there was no ‘real need’ for a prequel – something that seems very akin to Dreamworks’ money-making tactics with the Shrek sequels. Did anybody really need to know how the two monsters met? Wouldn’t a better sequel have been a continuation of the first saga? Not sure – however, I still really enjoyed it. Not a classic like the toystory sequels, but still worthily entertaining and well worth some time and money.

So go see it  (it’s 78% on Rotten Tomatoes) and let me know your thoughts if you have any!  For more movie rants or just plain ol’ curiosity, here’s my previous ‘Man of Steel’ review. New posts on drafts, where to learn screenwriting, and more coming up in the next two weeks. Have a great weekend!