Another corkboard thingy…

I found a really cool online corkboard utility called Popplet yesterday. It’s similar to the CardScape app that I recommended a while back. Popplets are little index cards that you can fill with text and images. You can even draw in them! They can be resized and given different colors. You can connect them to each other, drag them around, and add notes to them. Popplets can be private or shared. I’ve found them to be quite useful already in planning out my sitcom. My only complaint is that there is no android app available, and that if you want more than five corkboards, you have to pay for it.

There is really not much more I need to say. Just go to the website and you can try out a demo which will guide you through the simple process of creating popplets. You do have to register to use the site, though. But anyway, it’s another neat way to organize your thoughts and plan out your screenplay.

Oh, P.S., I am going to start using Blogger more often, where I’ve had a blog for years but forgot about. I will keep this one specifically for screenwriting posts, and use the other one for everything else. I can barely remember to post on one blog, let alone two. But I do have some followers here and none there, so yeah, I’ll just try to juggle them. I use Google products for just about everything-how can one not?-so I figure I might as well use their blogging platform, too. But fear not, I’ll keep the writing posts here!

Go pro

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I upgraded to IMDb Pro a while back (you get a two week free trial) and absolutely loved it. In addition to all the other cool IMDb features, screenwriters will find a wealth of insider information that might not be easy to find elsewhere. Most importantly, there is contact information for tons of producers, agents, attorneys, and every other professional that a serious screenwriter will eventually need. There is also a wealth of information on film performance, current trends in popularity and other Hollywood goings on that the serious writer can use to her advantage.

I recommend trying out the free trial and seeing how beneficial an IMDb Pro account can be. You are a professional. We are professionals! Even if we haven’t sold anything yet. If we want to be pros we should think and act like pros. So why not invest in something that the pros make good use of?

Oh, BTW, as usual, I don’t get paid by posting this blog, nor do I desire to. My recommendations, when I make them, are for products or services I enjoy and think might benefit others. Just thought I’d let you know. Seems most people in this world only ever do anything with a profit motive anymore.

Thinking like a screenwriter

classic-linen-screenplay-covers_mediumI have a blog over at Blogger that I forgot about for several years, and which I plan to get back into, because I am still a scientist and lover of all things tech. Well, I was looking over it and realized that I like the posts there much more than anything I have posted here. After some thought, I realized that it was because over on that blog, I was writing naturally. I wrote the way that I think. Here, I have been trying to be a bit more professional, and have reigned in my natural speaking (and writing) style, mainly so I don’t say anything that might offend anyone. But that has left my posts sounding stilted and unnatural, so I am going to just start writing as I normally do. But even that is not good enough; I need to think and write like a screenwriter.

Maybe that’s one reason I’ve been struggling with my screenplays. I have been approaching them as though they were college English essays, concerned about proper grammar and style. But after reading several screenplays for very popular and profitable films and television series, I realize that it’s the story that counts, not how flowery your writing is. Look at the script for World War Z, for instance. An English professor would fail the hell out of it. Incomplete sentences, bad grammar, etc. But, it does what it is supposed to do- it tells the story in a way that a director can easily know what is supposed to be happening, and then make it happen.

My problem is that I am still writing to be read. Of course, you want to write in a manner that keeps a script reader’s attention and moves the story along, but I tend to forget I am supposed to be writing something that will be seen. I need to learn to think like a director, cinematographer, film viewer, and, of course, screenwriter- not a novelist. I’m actually writing too much! I’ll give you an example. I was reading a few scripts from my favorite sitcoms yesterday. Some Seinfeld, Married… With Children, and others. I realized that the characters in sitcoms don’t actually do much talking. One line of text is the norm. In Seinfeld it’s often just a word or two. More than just what they say, it’s the actors’ portrayal of the character that makes the situation funny. Compare to the sitcom pilot I just finished. My characters tend to have over four lines of dialogue each, every time they speak. I’m trying to tell the viewer (and reader) who my characters are, and what their personalities are like, rather than show them. I’m still writing as though working on a book rather than a half-hour TV show. For feature length films, the characters can be a bit more wordy, but even then they speak much less than my own characters. Films are about action and doing, not merely speaking.

So, anyways, yeah. It’s quite a change and one that will be difficult to make, but it helps reading all the screenplays you can get your hands on. And learning all you can about how a movie is made, and the roles of the various people involved in production. Don’t approach your script like it’s a book. If you want to be a screenwriter, you must think like a screenwriter. Who’d have thunk it? And as always, keep learning, reading, and writing!

Mix it up

I’ve been working on a few feature length scripts for some time now, as you might know. Well I’ve also run into some writer’s block. It pains me to admit that I’m not the most creative of writers. Oh, I have great ideas, but I tend to have so many that it’s difficult for me to finish what I start. I second guess myself, change my mind often, and despair of ever finding the perfect story. After a while I just scrap everything and start over.

Of course, a writer cannot do that. A writer who cannot finish his writing is a poor writer; I know this. Therefore, it has been necessary for me to change the way I approach my writing. So, yeah, rather than just get an idea and start writing, which is fine for some people, I started (gasp!) actually putting some thought into what I wanted to do with that idea. Outlining, storyboarding, brainstorming, etc. Getting a good idea of what my actual plot is and how my characters will achieve their goals. And what are their goals, anyway?

Suddenly I discovered that when I take the time to do some planning, it not only helps to move my story along, but can give me new ideas for other stories, as well. For instance, when coming up with a background for a certain character in “Hatch,” a feature length film about drug smugglers in New Mexico, I realized that, hey, I lived in New Mexico for a long time and never once met a Polish person there. So does it really make sense to include a Polish character in a movie set in the tiny, mostly Hispanic town of Hatch, New Mexico? Eh, probably not.

But I had already created a background and personality for my character, so I thought I might as well do something with him. And, just like that, less than twenty-four hours later I had written the pilot to a sitcom called “Grabowski’s Deli.” Even more awesome than the fact that I actually finished something is that the break from “Hatch” allowed me to approach the screenplay with a different attitude and fresh perspective. I went back to it and was able to finish the protasis. Yeah, I’ve been reading. I was also inspired with some new ideas to give direction to the other two feature films I’m working on, and even came up with an idea for a ten minute play, why not? Though now I will have to learn about writing for the stage, too. But oh well, learning is fun!

Long story short. Try new things, maybe work on several projects at once if you have a short attention span, and even try a writing style or genre you might not be that familiar with. This will get the ol’ great mass of grey matter working harder and might help you overcome a block or discover a talent for a different style of writing. Above all, write something every day and keep writing!

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The storyboard

Yesterday I found a great little Android app called CardScape. It is basically an endless “corkboard” upon which you can place index cards for a spatial view of your ideas, which helps to link various elements and see connections in ways that might not be so easily done with a list or outline. Each card can be assigned to user-defined groups, each with its own custom color. Cards can be freely moved about the board or pinned in place.

The board itself is unlimited; you can scroll forever and place as many cards as you like, anywhere you want. Pinching zooms the board in and out for easy navigation.

I have been working on my first screenplay, “Hatch,” for several months now and am only fifteen pages in. This is because I just randomly got a flash of an idea one day while cooking some green chiles, and just started writing, letting the story come to me as I wrote. That’s fine; there’s nothing wrong with just sitting down and writing. But it’s stalled out due to the fact that, though I have a general plot and some great characters, I have no story. Ok, so, the hero has a goal. But how does he accomplish it? Why exactly does the antagonist want to foil the hero? “Because he’s an asshole” just doesn’t cut it. My characters do this and that, but why? What is each one’s motivation?

To solve this I began using CardScape by placing a yellow card (my ‘story’ group) with the name of the film and the general plot I had already come up with. Then I surrounded that card with blue cards (‘character’ group), each with a character name and bio, including the character’s primary and secondary motive. Off to the side a red card (‘acts’ group) titled “Act One” gives the basic flow of events for the first act. Acts two and three will be added as I figure out where my story is going.

This process has really helped get the creative juices flowing. I already know much more about my characters and their goals, which has stimulated new story ideas of which I might never have thought.

I suggest every beginning screenwriter take the time to use CardScape or a similar app or process to get to know their characters and story before actually writing anything. It will save you so much time in the long run, trust me.

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A depressing amount of time…

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I found “The Little Blue Book for Filmmakers” by Carl Gottlieb and Toni Attell in the library and read it to get an idea of what all goes into a film. The book is written primarily for the directors, writers, actors and producers of film, and it has a good section on writing. I immediately found myself in agreement with the following from the section titled “Notes on the Writing Process:”

Writing requires a depressing amount of time. The time’s not necessarily spent in the physical act of setting words on paper…  Organizing a flow of ideas; putting dialog in characters’ mouths; determining the sequence of events… that’s writing, and it means that most of what you do must be focused on that job. In short, living is writing, and writers spend only part of their creative time in the physical act of writing.

It’s so true that writing takes a lot of time, but it’s good to be reminded that, even if you are not physically seated at the computer pounding or your script, you don’t have to feel as though you are being lazy or wasting time. Observing life is a part of the writing process, because all writing boils down to a description of life, real or imaginary. So go watch a movie (which every screenwriter should be doing quite often), chill in the park or coffee shop, have lunch with a friend, and feel good about how much work you are actually doing!

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Change is coming

Gonna change the name of my blog, as Nat Russo uses the write tips hashtag on his twitter posts. Besides, I’m not really here to give tips but to chronicle those things I learn about screenwriting and even solicit tips from others. Happy New Year!

Follow me on twitter and I’ll follow back @0qubit1