Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Magic Time

From way back in April 2008. Another movie that never got made!

So, the assignment was turned in last week, and they’ve read it and like it. There’s always a certain amount of writer’s paranoia that has me worried they will drive over to my place, light the script on fire and leave it on my porch, hit the doorbell, then drive away. *I* like the script, but you never know if anyone else will. You hope they will.

Because I have a deadline, and must be able to plan out my writing so that I have a finished screenplay on time, I use an outline. I usually outline, but I’ve done a couple of experiments working without an outline... which usually serves to remind me why I need an outline. Some people think that an outline handcuffs you, but I think it frees me. I know where the story is going, I know what has to happen... but I don’t know exactly how it happens. And sometimes that means there’s some sort of magic that happens while you’re writing a scene, and the scene is exciting and entertaining to write.

Here’s an example: The script is a fun monster movie, similar to TREMORS. There’s a sequence I called the Tides Restaurant Scene (from THE BIRDS) where the monster chases a bunch of folks into a building, where they discuss where the monster came from and how the heck they’re gonna deal with it... while the monster tries to break in to eat them. Sort of a town meeting during an attack. That’s basically what I had in my outline - I knew key story points and all of the things that I was setting up for later... but I didn’t know the *how it happened*.

While writing the scene, I came up with all kinds of funny bits that entertained me as I wrote the sequence, and then I came to the halfway point, where the monster would break in and eat some people, which forces our folks to stop talking about where this monster may have come from and figure out how they’re gonna kill it. When the people run into the building to take cover from the monster, they reinforce the doors and windows, making them “monster proof”. But the monster breaks in, destroys the reinforcements, grabs a couple of people and goes outside to chow down. Our hero realizes they have nothing to reinforce the doors with - they will have to hold them closed themselves. He asks for volunteers, and one guy says he’s crazy, the monster is right out there, it’s going to break in again, and he doesn’t want to be anywhere near the doors when that happens. They hero makes the big speech (fun to write) and then...

Well, magic happened.

One of the townspeople got up, walked to the doors, and used their body to hold them closed... then another person got up, and another, and another, and another... until *everyone* was against the doors, holding them closed as a group, except the naysayer. Who didn’t want to be left out, so he joins all of the others.

Okay, this was a scene where they find something else to reinforce the doors to keep the monster out in the outline... and that’s what happens. But in the outline I was thinking it would probably be tables and chairs, right? Which is how outlines work - you just figure out the skeleton of the story and fill in the details when you write it. They barricade the doors. Once you get to the writing stage, you get creative. Hey, maybe they barricade the doors with a car or something, right? You try to come up with something that you haven't seen before in a movie. Knowing that you need to do something different *helps* you. Your subconscious knows this is coming up, and starts to work on the problem... and that leads to the magic happening. The scene idea that isn't off the top of your head, it;s been percolating in your subconscious all of this time. Well, I guess it has - hard to tell about that subconscious.

But I think this is going to be one of those “I am Spartacus” moments. One of those amazing big moments that make the audience emotional. And it just happened by magic - I created it as I was writing the script, because *something* needed to reinforce those doors. Oh, and it’s thematic, because the story is about how all species need each other to survive (the monster was created by fooling with mother nature). Look, this is a silly monster movie... no one is going to give it 4 stars, it won’t make critic’s lists... critics won’t even know it exists. It’s just a silly movie. But I still want it to be emotional, and funny, and scary and something that you watch and don’t thing was a total waste of your time (only a partial waste). So I need scenes like that. And even with an outline, even knowing what happens next and who gets eaten before the final credits, there’s still room for lightning to strike - still room for that magic to happen on the page. I live for scenes like that - the ones that come from nowhere and have me tearing up as I type them. I live for those funny lines that come right off the top of my head. I live for that one thing you invent in the fly that turns a bunch of words into a living, breathing *person*.

That’s the magic. We take a bunch of words, and turn them into emotions.

That’s what I love about writing.

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Adaptation
Yesterday’s Dinner: Burrito at Tortas in Studio City.

3 comments:

Martin said...

Killer blog on outlining – and great tip of the day about adaptation. I got two tips of the day for the price of one. Thanks Bill!

ObiDonWan said...

I like LEATHERNECKS primarily because I was able to persuade my wife (extremely reluctant film-goer because of nasty shocks in the past) to go see it with me. It became a "date movie". She enjoyed it--mirabile dictu! So all your points are well-made but they don't take into account the "wife factor".

PLUS: I need to write a 3-4 page treatment. Can I take your old 1-page summary and expand on that, or do you have a good sample of a longer one?

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