A bunch of interesting questions have backed up in the queue, so let’s see how many we can get through while waiting for the new iPhone to be announced.
I’m currently outlining a spec feature, 98% of which takes place at the Superbowl. I’m on the fence about proceeding, however, because a few creative executives I’ve pitched the idea to were concerned about 1) the production costs and 2) the need to secure the NFL’s approval. One of the execs did say, however, if the NFL took to the script and got involved it would be a potential dealmaker.
While the production costs aren’t as much of a concern for me (given that those particular naysayers hadn’t gotten past the logline), the seeming make-or-break nature of the NFL’s involvement is a bit daunting. Before I take the plunge from outline to first draft, do you think it’s worth the risk?
Yes. If you believe in the story and the characters, go for it. If a producer or executive likes your script, she’ll be smart enough to the realize that the NFL of it all can be figured out. 1
At a USC workshop this weekend, a student asked me about writing a spec Alien vs. Predator. I gave him roughly the same advice — if you think you can write a kick-ass version of it, don’t let the potential unmake-ability of it deter you. My caveat to him was that in the case of AVP, it’s a really tired franchise, so you’re starting with a significant enthusiasm gap. Better to make your own mythology.
I’m about to re-write a script that I’ve been working on for a little while now. It’s a small character road trip drama in the spirit of 1970s American films (e.g. “Five Easy Pieces”, “Coming Home”, “Sugarland Express” — though not all films referenced there are road trip movies). This is my do or die draft — if it’s no good, then I will abandon it. But I’m hoping that some of your advice will help me avoid that outcome.
My concern is that too many of the scenes right now are overly reliant on dialog and I don’t want to tread into unnecessary exposition. At the same time, I want to be able to reveal character and backstory (and obviously, dialog plays a huge part in that). Do you have any general pointers on how to balance scenes (or sequences) of relatively quiet character moments, with the overall dramatic push that’s necessary to maintain tension? I want to make sure that both aspects remain compelling.
There’s nothing wrong with dialogue scenes if they’re moving the story ahead, or enjoyable enough on their own merits. But I suspect you’re finding that a lot of your dialogue scenes are telling us backstory about your characters, and the thing is, we just don’t care.
That’s hard to hear, but you need to hear it: except for crucial, story-twisting revelations, we simply don’t need to know more about who your characters were before they walked on screen.
So before you start that next draft, take a red pen to any chunk of dialogue that isn’t about what’s happening now. Be brutal. I suspect you’ll find that you have a lack of action and some unclear goals that were hiding behind the chatter.
The movies you cited, along with more recent ones like Lost in Translation, Sideways and Little Miss Sunshine, are all good examples of movies that are talky without ever becoming expositional. Characters talk about what they want, what they fear, but they never dwell on what happened. And each movie finds moments to be quiet. Long stretches of each film play as montage, letting the characters do things without commenting on them.
Let’s say you’re working on a script that’s based on a musician. He’s a fictional musician, so you’ve never heard anything this guy’s produced. As the story unfolds, we watch him build up his song. Is it okay to include the song? Or would that just kill everything and shut the reader down? I guess what I’m asking is, do you include lyrics or just leave them out and hype him like he’s as great as the supporting cast says he is?
Give us lyrics. You’ll want to abbreviate a bit — cut out chorus repetitions, for starters. But it feels like too much of a tease to omit the words altogether.
Often, when I am diligently working on a script, or close to being finished on a script, I find my mind and writing meandering to other ideas. For instance, I’ve written several drafts on a thoughtful spy movie and have an extensive set of notes (from peer review) I plan to implement. Instead of completing the script, I spend time thinking and making notes on new ideas — a drinking road trip film and a sentimental father-son story.
Is this a natural way for new and good ideas to develop or am I merely avoiding “finishing” a project for fear it will suck? Not being a professional, yet, I’m not bound by deadline to turn something in…but how does a disciplined, professional, writer deal with this issue of…distraction?
The script you haven’t written is always better than the one you’re staring at, cursor blinking, its flaws so obvious that you can’t believe you ever started writing it. That doesn’t change over the course of a career. You will always want to be writing something else.
You’re left with two choices: toughing it out, or changing horses mid-stream.
Look at your spy movie, and ask yourself, “If this script had just landed on my desk, would I be excited enough by the possibilities to do this rewrite?” If the answer is no, feel free to investigate one of your other projects.
Granted, there are times you’ll really need to force yourself to finish a new draft. For instance, if you’re getting paid, or if you’ve promised a draft to someone whose opinion matters. And don’t mistake pragmatism for laziness: If something is difficult but do-able, do it. Not only will you improve the script, but you’ll learn something in the process.
The time to move on is when reaching the “best version” of your script ceases to be interesting to you.
- On the other hand, if she doesn’t like your script, the NFL factor is an easy explanation for why she’s passing. Which saves face for everyone. ↩