Northeaster

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pierI spent five days in Maine, writing and researching my next project. A few observations, in bullet point form:

  • Part of my motivation for visiting Maine was that I’ve always claimed to have visited all 48 contiguous states, thanks to endless summer roadtrips with my family growing up. But my mom recently told me that we’d never been to Maine, which kicked in my set-completion instinct.

  • I was reluctant to try to pronounce any place names in front of people. Bar Harbor is on Mount Desert Island. “Desert” is pronounced like “dessert,” which conjures images of a fantasyland of fudge and sprinkles.

  • Even though a screenwriter isn’t trying to capture an accent per se, it’s important to choose words and patterns that can work with the accent when spoken by the actor. (“Down the road apiece. Can’t miss it.”)

  • That said, I feel lucky that this won’t be a big accent movie, because several Mainers were adamant that Hollywood always gets the accent wrong. Which is probably true. But what I resisted pointing out was that no two Mainers I met had the same accent. It’s all over the place, particularly when you talk to people under 30.

  • Going somewhere to write has become my standard operating procedure. I barricade myself somewhere without TV, internet or familial distractions, and crank through as many hand-written pages as possible in three or four days. I fax these pages back to Los Angeles, both for safety and to let my assistant type them up. This time, I faxed to an eFax account, which had the bonus of creating a digital backup in .pdf form.

  • I took a lot of photos, which you can see on Flickr. It wasn’t really location scouting — we’re not at that point yet. But since there’s already a director on board, it can give him some sense of the place.

  • One place had flies. A lot of flies.

  • Man, I was lucky not to be flying on American. Or ATA. Or SkyBus. Or Aloha. (Though the last one would have been an unlikely choice.)

  • house wrappedAnother reason for the trip: we had to have our house tented for termites. This is probably alien to readers in colder climates, but in Southern California, termites can become pervasive enough that you need to nuke the house. Generally, you do it when the house is sold (and thus empty), but we’re not moving anytime soon, so we had to bite the bullet. But it looked cool, like a Christo project.


Two-hander

questionmarkWhat the heck is a two-handed comedy? Google turns up lots of two-handed comedies, but no one explains what that means.

— jb

I don’t know if Variety invented it, but it shows up in their slanguage dictionary:

two-hander — a play or movie with two characters; ” ‘Love Letters’ has been one of the most popular two-handers of the ’90s.” (See also: one-hander)

It’s worth looking through Variety’s made-up words list to help figure out what the hell they’re saying. In about 10% the cases, they’ve coined a term for something that probably merited a word (“kudocast,” “lense”). The other 90% are just color (“distribbery,” “ayem”).

The term that gets the most play is “ankle”:

ankle — A classic (and enduring) Variety term meaning to quit or be dismissed from a job, without necessarily specifying which; instead, it suggests walking; “Alan Smithee has ankled his post as production prexy at U.”

This is probably an example of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis: in Hollywood, no high-level executive is ever fired. They simply leave their job. By using a deliberately ambiguous term, Variety maintains the illusion that everything happens by choice.

Trivia: It’s hard to believe, but Variety apparently first coined the term “sex appeal.”


One-sided dialogue

questionmarkI’m writing a script in which a main “character” is invisible and the audience will never see or hear him. The character (Bob) is built from his interactions with the lead character in the story (Jane).

My question is, what is the best way to write dialog between the real and invisible character, when it appears as if the lead character is talking to herself?

Here are a couple examples of what I mean:

  • JANE
  • I’ve gotta get some food in me. You hungry…? You know I’m a vegetarian– Yeah, so…? Pork rinds are not made of real pig… Fine. You buy me a bag and I’ll read the label.

or:

  • JANE
  • I’ve gotta get some food in me. You hungry?
  • (beat)
  • You know I’m a vegetarian–
  • (beat)
  • Yeah, so?
  • (beat)
  • Pork rinds are not made of real pig.
  • (beat)
  • Fine. You buy me a bag and I’ll read the label.

or:

  • JANE
  • I’ve gotta get some food in me. You hungry?
  • (Bob answers)
  • You know I’m a vegetarian–
  • (he cuts her off)
  • Yeah, so?
  • (Bob won’t shut up)
  • Pork rinds are not made of real pig.
  • (he begs to differ)
  • Fine. You buy me a bag and I’ll read the label.

Do you think one of these options is better than the others? Do they all suck? I’d appreciate any suggestions from your own experience.

— Michael
Los Angeles, CA

You’re bumping up against one of the limitations of screenwriting: it’s hard to capture some things on paper that make perfect sense on screen. You’re trying to balance clarity with annoyance, so the reader will understand what’s happening without being aggravated by the technique.

Option one is just too dense. Option two is much easier to read, but you’re beating us to death. And option three provides more detail than we really need.

So my suggestion would be to try a combination of options two and three. Use (beat) or another short, meaningless filler such as (listens) or even (. . .) for most breaks, then provide more details (such as “he begs to differ”) on lines that need the setup.

Also, consider how often you really need to break up the lines, and look for occasions when it makes as much sense to keep them together.

It’s never going to be ideal. But if your dialogue is sharp enough, the reader will ignore the parenthetical awkwardness and enjoy the rhythms you’re setting up. That’s all you need.


Script frenzy

Script Frenzy is starting April 1st. I don’t know enough about it to endorse it, but some readers might find the faux-competitive nature of it motivational.

Script Frenzy is an international writing event in which participants attempt the daring feat of writing 100 pages of scripted material in the month of April. As part of a donation-funded nonprofit, Script Frenzy charges no fee to participate; there are also no valuable prizes awarded or “best” scripts singled out. Every writer who completes the goal of 100 pages is victorious and awe-inspiring and will receive a handsome Script Frenzy Winner’s Certificate and web icon proclaiming this fact.

It sounds like NaNoWriMo for screenplays. One hundred pages in a month is an ambitious but achievable goal.

If any readers end up entering and finishing, please write in and let us know how it went.