Peggy Bechko: Scripts as Blueprints

blueprint

by Peggy Bechko

“I don’t think screenplay writing is the same as writing — I mean, I think it’s blueprinting.” -Robert Altman

“A screenplay is really an instruction manual, and it can be interpreted in any number of ways. The casting, the choice of location, the costumes and make-up, the actors’ reading of a line or emphasis of a word, the choice of lens and the pace of the cutting – these are all part of the translation.” -David Nicholls

Great quotes on screenwriting and some agreement. Blueprint, instruction manual, that’s what many view the screenplay as. And it strikes a familiar chord with me. While screenwriting is, indeed, writing, it’s also blueprinting. The story is taking shape in your head, the characters coming alive and at the same time what you put down on paper must be an engaging blueprint that many others will follow. It must be clear and it must be gripping.

The words you choose, the way of putting across love, brutality, anger, excitement or any other action or emotion are the writing. And the writing must be good. You, as the writer, must provide an engaging, colorful and exciting script to have it move on to the next level.

There’s really no magic to it. You must write, rewrite, take notes and rewrite again. Because of the blueprint aspect of script writing you must be prepared tear things apart and put them back together again. You must also be prepared to stand your ground in some battles, but choose those battles very wisely and if you’re a newbie, even more wisely indeed.

Remember the interpretation part. Yes, you had a movie going in your head when you wrote the script. You’re certainly pleased with your writing and yet since screenwriting and movie making are collaborative it will fall on you to understand there are many others in the collaboration. Producers and directors and other writers, and casting directors, and actors and, well, heck you get it; sometimes it seems even the guy who runs the commissary has a say in it all.

But, in truth, the script is your idea. However it may change and evolve it’s yours. And, no matter what the demands, suggestions, expectations for changes and modifications, that remains true, unless you’re somehow removed from the circle involved with production. Maybe you’ve just sold the idea, and run for the hills in which case it really doesn’t matter.

On the other hand if you’re included in remember all the other folks are looking to make a great film too. Your story has gripped them in some way, probably many ways. They generally are not trying to sabotage you or your writing/blueprinting. They want to make it better. You may not agree with their ideas. They may, in fact, be totally wrong. Dig deep, consider all the angles, rethink your story and inject real life into that instruction manual for a story you’ve written.

I’ll end this with another outstanding quote – one we writers can embrace and use to lift our spirits when all seems lost. Sir Richard Attenborough, actor, producer, director, said, “There’s nothing more important in making movies than the screenplay.”

Thank you Sir Richard – your words lift us up.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree or disagree with the ‘blueprint’ projection on scripts?


Peggy Bechko is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about her HERE.

Indie Film & TV: RABBIT AND DEER

This is how ya do it, baby:

Writer Director and Designer: Péter Vácz
Co-Director and Animator: Attila Bertóti
Edited by: Judit Czakó
Original music & Sound Design by: Máté Hámori
Ending song ‘Listen’ by: Mahdi Khene
Photography: Gábor Garai
Voices: Adrienn Mórocz, Dániel Czupi
Animation: Attila Bertóti, Péter Vácz
Set design: Kata Müller, Móni Kovács, Kati Egely
Production: MOME, Budapest (Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design) mome.hu/

Advice for young writers trying to break in

…by one of TV’s all-time great advisors. We mean this. No snark here, folks. Read on, read on:

Break_in

by Ken Levine

This is in addition to the standard — just keep writing – the more scripts you write; the better they will be – advice (which, by the way, is still sound.)

But beyond that..

Immerse yourself in the industry. If you want to break in to sitcoms, watch every sitcom (at least once or twice). Know who is on staff on all these shows. Know their background. Did any of these working writers go your college? That’s a connection. Utilize it. Are any of these writers from your hometown? That’s also an in. Do you know if they are rabid New York Jets fans (although I don’t see how anyone could be this season)? You get the point. Do your due diligence.

Information is so much more accessible these days due to thisinterwhozits thing the kids all yammer about. IMDB is invaluable, as are industry websites. You don’t have to buy Variety or the Hollywood Reporter anymore to keep up on who sold what to whom. Nowadays if someone sells a pilot pitch it’s a big story.

What are the networks buying this development season? There are some clear trends. Have you spotted them? Who are the writers the networks are buying? Why is that important? Because if you know the style of the writer you can get a sense of what the networks are looking for.

Which current shows are on the way out? Which are on the way up? I would not recommend writing a spec PARKS AND RECREATION. The show is ending its run this season. But the announcement of that was made months and months ago. You should not be surprised that it is going off the air. (If you are writing a spec PARKS AND REC, don’t junk it. Just know it will have a very short shelf life.)

Kevin Reilly is now running TBS and TNT. First off, know who Kevin Reilly is. Second, if you’re trying to break into sitcoms, TBS does a bunch of original sitcoms. What impact has Kevin Reilly had? How is he making his mark? This is a story you need to follow.
Who is Wendi Trilling? You hope to sell a pilot to a network? It behooves you to know who Wendi Trilling is.

If you’re going to spec an existing show, binge watch it. Take copious notes.

Read it all

Felicia Day is writing her memoirs

The Princess of Peer Production is telling all? Whoa! (Or is it “woah?” My generation can never remember.)

felicia-dayby Jonathan Grass

Huntsville native turned Internet and TV personality Felicia Day has written a book….about herself. The book, titled “You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost),” will be released around August 2015.

The writer and comedian announced her upcoming memoir via social media last week. This seems fitting seeing as how Day has made a strong name for herself by creating or starring in online shows. She’s most noted for her work on ‘The Guild” and “Geek & Sundry” and “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.” She’s also acted in TV shows like “Eureka,” “Supernatural” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

Day was born in Huntsville in 1979. Will her book discuss her Alabama roots? It looks like we’ll have to wait until summer to find out.

Love & Money Dept – TV Writing Deals for 12/21/14

TOSHIBA Exif JPEG

Latest News About Writers Who Are Doing Better Than We Are
by munchman

  • Paul Sofer (SUPER TROOPERS) is writing the pilot for a TBS comedy called QUALITY TIME, about”four adults who have been friends since college. They’ve managed to maintain their juvenile behaviors and friendships…but are now being pushed into having children….” (Know those times when you read about a new show and think, “I could do that!”? Well, this isn’t one of those times. Not at all. Lotsa luck, TBS.)
  • James Dormer (STRIKE BACK) is developing a 13-part version of BEOWULF for ITV. (Cuz the UK wants its own GAME OF THRONES? Well, why not? Especially cuz yer friendly neighborhood muncher isn’t afraid to say that the source material for this one is a probably gobs better. Although shorter. But that short thing is about to change.)
  • Russell T. Davies (DOCTOR WHO) is developing two new series for Logo TV and the UK’s Channel 4. “CUCUMBER and BANANA are interwoven drama series that explore 21st century gay life through the lens of two disparate generations.” (I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that you don’t have to be gay to watch – and probably love – these shows. You just have to be somebody who cares about people, period. Cuz RTD is, simply, one of the best writers UK TV has ever produced. And when you look at the writers and the shows that have been on the air their over the years, that’s way high praise. Especially from a snarky little munchman like moi, no?)

That’s it for now, munchaladas. Let us know in the comments if you think you’ve figured out who the blind item is about and/or what the TV and film projects are. And don’t forget to write in and tell yers truly what you’ve sold when you sell it. Cuz TVWriter™ can’t wait to brag to all your friends. (And, more importantly, enemies. Hehehe….)

Creating Movie Characters That Jump Off The Page

NOTE FROM LB: Back in the day, Robert Gregory Browne was my writing partner on over a dozen scripts for the animated series DIABOLIK, which was a major show on, of all things, French TV, and which eventually made its way to the U.S. Since then, has been writing best-selling novel after best-selling novel, giving us hits like Kiss Her Goodbye, Whisper in the Dark, Kill Her Again, and many more, all of which you can find on good ole Amazon.Com.

For old times sake, or maybe as an early Christmas gift (you never know with writers who are as unpredictable as the plots of their books), Rob has kindly given us permission to publish…hehehe…this:

red-fox-jumping-wallpaper

by Robert Gregory Browne

Imagine, if you will, The Fugitive with Ace Ventura as the lead.

While much of the plot of this exciting movie could remain intact, the entire flavor of it would be radically different. Scenes would change, dialog would be altered… and, despite the plot similarities, chances are pretty good these two versions would wind up on completely different shelves in your local video store. Which isn’t all that surprising.

Because when we watch a movie or read a book it isn’t really plot that we invest ourselves in. It’s character. The characters set the tone, and our acceptance or rejection of those characters is essential to our acceptance or rejection of the story itself.

Great characters make us laugh and cry or even frustrate and infuriate us. Great characters make us squirm in suspense and excitement. Great characters take us on an emotional rollercoaster ride and are absolutely essential to our suspension of disbelief.

WELL, SURE, BUT…

Whenever I spout off about the all-important need for great characters, someone invariably disagrees. True writing success, they say, lies not only in great characters, but in your ability to come up with a great plot and structure, compelling dialogue and so forth.

And they aren’t wrong. In fact, I couldn’t agree more.

But the simple truth is this — and I’m not the first to say it: your characters define all those things. They are your story. Even if you succeed in giving us a wonderful plot and structure, you’ve got nothing unless your characters jump off the page. In writing fiction of any kind, characters are everything. Everything.

It is impossible to imagine Gone With the Wind without the feisty, self-centered yet courageous Scarlett O’Hara. Or Citizen Kane without the domineering presence of Charles Foster Kane.

But not only are these lead characters all-important, every character that surrounds them seems to be full-bodied and alive. The authors have somehow managed to pump life into every single character that occupies the page.

Now the question is this: how do you and I do the same thing?

CREATING COMPELLING CHARACTERS

Truth is, I can’t tell you how to do this, but I can tell you how I do it — and I’m often complimented on my great characters. But my method, like any other method taught out there, is not surefire for everyone who tries it. In fact, many people will reject it out of hand as being far too simplistic. And they may be right. Yet it works for me. And, who knows, it might just work for you.

There are writing gurus who will tell you that the only way to create a great character is to sit down with a legal pad or a bunch of note cards or a character chart and start filling in the blanks.

How old is the character? What’s his occupation? What are his likes and dislikes? What school did he graduate from? Where’s his hometown? Who were his best friends in grammar school. What kind of parents does he have? Does he have any siblings? The list goes on and on and on.

All of these questions are designed to help you get under the skin of your character. To help you understand him or her to the fullest extent possible so that when you write your scenes, your character will be alive in your own mind. And if he’s alive in your own mind, then surely he’ll be alive in the minds of your audience.

Well, yes. Of course. But, I’m sorry, call me lazy, call me stupid — I just can’t bring myself to sit down long enough to answer all these questions.

Oh, I’ve tried. But halfway through I find myself wondering, what’s the point to all this? I may say my main character attended Dartmouth — but how exactly does that bit of information help me unless it’s directly related to the story at hand?

I have yet to figure it out. Instead, I approach the task in this way:

CHARACTERS ARE ATTITUDE

Let’s go back to Scarlett O’Hara for a moment. How did I describe her? Feisty, self-centered yet courageous? You could throw in flirtatious and childish as well. These are all attitudes that our audience can immediately latch onto and understand. We don’t need to know that she comes from a pampered Southern background and a rebellious Irish father to understand — and perhaps identify with — that attitude. Her attitude alone is enough to draw us in.

Why? Because attitude is action — the character in a state of being. Giving your character an attitude — preferably one that conflicts with the other characters in your story — is a great way to help you and your audience understand who that character is.

CHARACTERS ARE EMOTION

Adding emotion to your character can help your audience identify with him or her. Looking at Scarlett O’Hara again, when Gone With the Wind opens we see the flirtatious and selfish side of Scarlett’s personality. But as the opening scenes continue, we discover that despite all the attention she’s getting from the men in her world, she’s actually in love with another and has been rejected by him. Scarlett is wounded by that rejection yet hides the hurt from all but the object of her affection.

This is an emotion/reaction we can all identify with. If we haven’t experienced it ourselves, we have seen it in others we know and love. The emotion is what gives depth to… the attitude.

CHARACTERS MUST HAVE A GOAL

Every character must have a goal. Not just the main character. This is a given. Without a goal, your main character will wander aimlessly and your audience will disappear.

But every character that inhabits your story should have a goal. The character’s goal is often what defines both attitude and emotion.

Let’s take a relatively minor character for example. A grocery store clerk. The hero is buying a carton of milk. For a beat of conflict in an otherwise innocuous scene, we might give the grocery store clerk a goal: she wants to go home. She’s been on her feet all day long, the new shoes are killing her and all she wants to do is punch that time clock (and maybe anyone who gets in her way) and get the hell out of there.

This goal can help you define the character’s attitude. Is she weary? Is she grouchy? And how does this affect (read: conflict with) the hero?

Giving such a minor character a goal and an attitude/emotion may seem silly, but the result is a much richer story with much richer characters.

CHARACTER IS ACTION/DIALOGUE

Defining an attitude/emotion and a goal are all wonderful, helpful things. But none of them mean squat if we don’t see these things in action.

Sure, we can have Joe Blow say our hero is a selfish, manipulating bastard, but that means nothing unless we see this for ourselves. The way your character acts and speaks is what finally defines her/him.

When I describe Scarlett O’Hara as flirtatious and self-centered, these attributes are defined by what Scarlett says and does. She flirts with just about every man who enters her world, she manipulates them into paying attention to her despite the unhappiness this brings to the other women around her. By seeing her in action and hearing her words, we quickly understand the attitude and emotion she brings to the story.

The cliche, Show Don’t Tell, couldn’t be more true here. We must always show our characters acting and reacting — not simply talking about their motivations and desires.

ME + IMAGINATION

Defining a character’s goal/attitude/emotion/action are all wonderful things, but how exactly do we go about doing that without resorting to those cards and charts and character sketches the writing teachers tell us we so desperately need?

Again, this works for me. It may not work for you. And it’s deceptively simple:

Every character I write is me. From the hero and heroine down to that grocery store clerk, every single character I write is… me.

Yes, you say, but isn’t that a bit limiting? Doesn’t that make for a rather monotonous set of characters?

Maybe. But I have yet to hear any complaints. If my lead character is a divorced father of three who finds himself unwittingly involved in a conspiracy to overthrow the government, the first thing I ask myself when approaching a scene (even though I’m happily married and wouldn’t know a conspiracy if it jumped up and bit me) is this: how would I react in this situation.

Then I add the color (read: attitude/emotion). How would I react, if… I was a self-centered bastard… a no-nonsense cop… an officious political hack. And I apply this technique to every character I write.

In short, I’m like a method actor playing all of the parts. By using myself and a healthy dose of imagination, I can approach characterization from the inside out. And once I’m able to get into the skin of my characters, it’s much, much easier to create someone whom I, and hopefully the audience, can identify with.

FINALLY…

If you still feel like you have to drag out the cards and charts, then so be it. If knowing every single little detail about your character is important to you, then by all means write them all down, cover your entire wall with important tidbits of information. I would never belittle anyone for doing what feels right for them.

But while you’re at it, take into consideration the things I’ve talked about here. Remember attitude, emotion, goal and action.

Because these are the things that will make your characters leap off the page and propel your audience through the story. The key to success is to get your audience to say (and I’m cringing as I write this):

Frankly, my dear, I do give a damn.