The Story of a Screenwriter – Scripts 7-10
And now, the last bunch.
We start senior year with me at six scripts, three useable. Not bad, considering this is only my third year out of high school and I only really started writing just shy of four years earlier. I consider that a great success.
So, senior year, I have to come up with a thesis. This was my goal going into the film major. Most people want to shoot a 16mm or a digital film, but the department only has so many resources to provide (plus students need to put up their own money for it), so usually the ones with good ideas/ones who put in early/the ones with deep pockets and well-to-do families/the occasional extremely lucky one (some combination of the three) are the ones that do film theses. I never had any illusions. I was a screenwriter, I am a screenwriter, I was going to write a screenplay. It wasn’t going to be a problem, since my first three years, the amount of screenplays that were done totaled about seven. The year before I wrote one, there were two, and the year before that there was only one. I forget what it was my freshman year. So I figured, “I got this shit in the bag.” Plus, I figured, no harm, no foul. I knew I could write one, I just wasn’t sure if it would be good enough to turn in as an actual thesis. Though apparently my standards are higher than most people’s, since really the department really only required that I be resolute in trying to finish it and be willing to put in the work on it. They didn’t so much care if the end result was shit. Which is cool, because it enables people to at least to try to write one.
However, going into senior year, I told them I was doing a screenplay, and got an email back that said, “Due to the demand of a screenplay thesis, we’re going to have pitch meetings where you need to pitch your idea and then we’ll decide whether or not we’re going to let you write one.” At which point my competitive side, which really doesn’t see the light of day all that much (mostly because in my mind, there’s room for everyone. And even in high competition scenarios, like, say, applying to college, I’m really not one to try to compete. I’m always like, “Yeah, if they want it that badly, give it to them. You can take me on my own merits or not. I’m not gonna dance for you just to outdo that other guy.” I mean, don’t get me wrong, in a life or death situation, I’ll kill that guy and everyone who looks like him, but, in something like college, whatever, I’ll get in somewhere. Some people see that as a sign of weakness. I see those people as morons), came out. I was like, “These motherfuckers will not stop me from writing this script. I can write better than 99% of the people in this major.” Which, wasn’t true. People have told me this, but I think that’s just because I’m one of like three people in the major who had stated from the beginning that screenwriting is what we want to do primarily and by default that just put us firmly on that peg. I was probably a better writer than, say, half of them. Not that it matters. The point was, I knew that I could write a better script than enough of the people that were gonna be left off of the list. I think like 14 people applied to write one, and they were going to let 10 people do it. And somehow we ended up with as many people writing scripts as were making film theses (if not more).
I went into that pitch meeting, laid down my idea — which, I wasn’t so much worried about, because, it was clear that I was going to put in the work. The two people interviewing me were the two primary professors in the department. They knew I did the work, even if I wasn’t the best student there ever was. I did what was required of me. I never slacked off (at least, from their perspective). Plus, my idea was essentially based on a kind of film that one of the professors wrote a book on. So I figured, even on that level, I’d get it. And I did. I can only assume that I was one of maybe like three people who went in and essentially told them the entire plot of the script. So I got approved, and off I went.
Now comes the thesis story. It’s a good one. Because there are at least four different perspectives to this story. And in every one, I’m doing something different. It’s like Rashomon. Except no rape.
Okay, maybe a little rape.
I raped that thesis, is what I did! Oh!
Sorry, had a Dice Clay moment. It won’t happen again.
So, off I went to write the thesis. Remember that war picture I said a couple days ago I had the idea for? That was originally going to be my thesis. But, it was rather ambitious, and I felt the end result would be kind of unwieldy for a thesis and might go over poorly. Plus, pitching it would have been difficult. Because — well, I’ll skip the synopsis. But let’s say I totally made up the war. It’s not based on a real war. I just mixed and matched the pieces of different wars I liked best. And originally I was going to do it Deer Hunter style. Start with no war at all, and then just cut to it out of nowhere. And then it would be a full war story. It just felt like not the right sort of thing to attempt with a thesis. However, while coming up with that idea, I had another idea. And that idea did seem like the right one to use.
In my war story, I had different sections with different types of war strategies. One was World War II, one was Vietnam, and one was World War I. Which, as we can all probably tell at this point, included the trenches. How could I not? I wanted trenches, but I didn’t want 1914. I wanted more contemporary. So, I figured, “Why not just make up a war? Who cares what war it is if the point isn’t about the time of the war but rather just the war itself?” So it’s not a historical exercise but rather a genre exercise. This line of thinking is what created Inglourious Basterds three years later. Though he changed history, kept the war. I kept history, but created the war. Originally I was like, “What if it’s set in an alternate timeline where France rules the world and then we have to fight them?” That was quickly thrown out, because then I’d have to explain the timeline and why it happened — too much uninteresting space. Then I was like, “Why not just have the war be there, not explain why it’s there, but just have it be there, and then if anything I can explain that it’s an allegory for something?” Which, I wouldn’t do within the film but could do afterward. There’s a lot of logic to get around, so, I figured, “Not the best thesis topic.”
However, while coming up with that story, I wanted more trenches. The trenches were really only a small section in that one, and I knew so much about them, I really wanted an entire movie about the trenches and about life in the trenches. So, I got an idea, which was set in motion by this desire, that came about from a tidbit I’d read when reading up on the trenches. Plus it came from the creative side of me that’s always looking to maximize resources. I learned from an early age how wasteful the shooting of movies was, and I figured that, were I ever to make movies myself, it would be beneficial to me to stay as much under budget as possible. I figured if I learned to make things as cheaply as possible, then I’d be allowed more freedom. So, I was thinking, “This war picture is going to be a nice chunk of change,” because, you know, thinking about budgets at 18 is clearly healthy, “so what if I wrote another, smaller, picture, one that’s confined to a single location and wouldn’t take much to make, and could also be made on the existing sets of the first movie?” Enter the trenches. I wanted trenches, and I figured, if the trenches were built, those scenes can be shot on them, and then, the rest of the time, so the set doesn’t go to waste, just have a small B-movie set entirely in the trenches that can be shot at the same time. It would be like two for the price of one. A man can dream, can’t he?
The great thing about this script is that I can talk about it fully. Because it’s online and copyrighted and shit. You can read it here.
So, that tidbit that set the entire story in motion was that I’d read that, out in No Man’s Land, men would get caught if they were on sentry duty and shellings would occur. They’d have to wait it out and be right in the middle of the shelling until it stopped. And then, because the ground would be filled with shell holes, which the men often times had to hide in, the rain (and rats) would collect in the holes and made them all muddy and swampy at the bottom. And the men, especially if they were wounded, wouldn’t be able to gain traction in the mud and end up drowning at the bottom of the holes. That, to me, sounded like a great idea for a scene. Which actually became the opening scene of the script. I figured, with no budget, give them something to hook them immediately.
The script begins from zero to sixty in the middle of a shelling. The first words in the script are “GET DOWN!” Imagine cutting from black immediately to bombs and shit dropping. Big shift, right? That’s what it is. Boms and shells going off, men ducking for their lives, being hit, walls of the trenches flying everywhere, dirt, wood planks from the floor, mud, everything just creating chaos. Men are screaming and dying left and right and no one knows what the fuck to do except to get out of the way. Then, after some time to orient to the chaos, the camera straightens out and begins tracking along the trenches. And at this time, one person comes forward to the front of the line, where the snipers are waiting. Because, shellings often occurred before an ambush. Weaken the lines, then send everyone up and over during the chaos. Good time to push forward and take an area of the trenches. So the snipers wait, despite the bombs coming down, to start shooting in case of an ambush.
And the guy comes over to check with the snipers if the other side is coming over or not. And then he goes over to another guy and they figure out what to do. And at this point, the shelling is dying down. So they can start to hear themselves think once again. And as they do this, they hear, from out in No Man’s Land — a dude screaming.
They realize it’s a dude out on sentry and realize, “Oh, he’s fucked.” And as they hear him screaming for his life and for the men to come get him, one guy is like, “The snipers are gonna hear him,” knowing he’s gonna get shot if he keeps screaming like that. And then the other guy, unable to take it anymore, goes up and over to go get him, knowing it’s almost certain death, but — hearing a dude scream like that, you want to help him. He overcame the whole, “I might die,” thing and went out. So he goes out, finds the guy, getting shot at in the process. And the dude is screaming and wounded and bleeding. And he’s on the other side of a giant fucking shell hole. And he gets the guy to stop screaming and crawl inside the hole, because at that point, he can grab him and bring him back under cover. Problem is, when the dude crawls in and the guy goes to get him, the snipers start shooting at him. So he has to wait. And at this point, the dude is sinking to the bottom of the hole where all the mud is. And the dude is trying to get out to him before he drowns, but is still being shot at. Finally he’s like, “Fuck it, it’s now or never,” and dives in. He gets in and pulls the dude, who’s almost completely submerged at this point, back over to his side, only to find out — dude’s dead. And at that point we fade out and a title card comes up.
That was the original idea. And I also read somewhere that in the trenches — which were thought to be part of the “offensive spirit” but ended up just being two sides dug in and just shooting at one another and causing massive amounts of death — they’d try to get over to the other side by digging tunnels underneath and then putting bombs inside them to detonate. Problem is, both sides were doing this, and would have countermeasures in place to discover enemy tunnelers. So you’d basically have tunneling and counter-tunneling going on at the same time. And whenever a tunnel was discovered — which was often — it would be destroyed, either by the enemy or by the people digging it, because the enemy could also use it to get to their side, and they’d have to start again. Sometimes the tunnelers would meet underground and have to fight it out. Problem was, they couldn’t use any explosives because the whole thing could collapse and kill them all. So they had to fight it out with close combat weapons. All awesome ideas, right? There’s real tension there.
So the idea became, about men digging tunnels under the trenches — Great Escape style — to detonate a huge bomb under the enemy’s trenches to lead an attack. This was based very loosely on an actual event where they detonated some two or three thousand tons of explosives underneath a front line, which today is actually a 400 foot man made lake. That’s how big the explosion was. They heard it in a neighboring country. It’s a 400 foot lake. Not only a great story, but one that’s never been told before. No one cares about World War I, so there’s loads of shit to talk about.
So, the rest of the script is about — keep in mind, it’s envisioned as a low-budget, gritty war film. B-picture, in the vein of Sam Fuller’s The Steel Helmet — life in the trenches, and the digging of the tunnels. It starts after the shelling, and the men are rebuilding the trench. Trench life is essentially nothing but that. Rebuilding every day after its destroyed by constant shelling and waiting to be killed. So they’re rebuilding, and sorting out all the bodies, figuring out who died. And while this is going on, we meet most of the main characters, and we also have new soldiers coming in. These are the young ones, fresh out of boot camp, and they’re basically there as fillers for the men who died, and are often the ones to die next. And the men don’t take them seriously. They see them as — oh, look at these idiots. They’re so inexperienced they’ll be dead by the end of the week. Which was often true.
So, they come in, and, our link through this whole scene is one guy, Pvt. Joey. He’s the “scrounger” of the group — if you’ve seen Great Escape, he’s the James Garner character — the guy who can get you anything you need as long as you’re willing to barter. Morgan Freeman in Shawshank. That kind of guy. Though this guy, not so much obviously, but is coded as the soldier from Brooklyn. I wanted that in there somewhere. I don’t out and out say it, but in a B picture, you have to embrace the archetype. Even Eddie Burns in Private Ryan is that guy. There’s always one. So I made him one. And he’s trying to barter for some kind of light work duty, and ends up having to bring in the new guys, which is a job nobody likes. So he goes to the back, the new guys come in, and he gives them the tour. And in the front, he sends them off to help rebuild once their tour is done, and he brings one guy aside. This is the “main” character of the story. This is the audience stand-in character. Pvt. Hanson. Joey pulls him aside, like, “You. You come help me.” And Hanson comes over, young and trying to help, and Joey brings him over as he gets the dog tags from the dead men. Identifying the bodies. And as he does it, he casually starts stealing their personal items. Crude, yes, but in this situation, not all that terrible. It’s like in All Quiet on the Western Front, the book, but I think it’s mentioned in the movie, where the dude is in the hospital, and you know he’s gonna die, but they’re like, “Yeah, when you die, can I have your boots?” These things are important. So he steals the things, and the kid is against it. He’s got principles. You know how it is. He’s that character. And he’s saying, “I’m gonna tell the C.O.” And Joey, getting to the next body, is like, “Now’s your chance, kid, here he is.” And we see the C.O. is dead.
So Joey goes off to alert someone, and tells Hanson to get the dog tags. And as he gets to the end of the line he sees another body, though this one is sitting up on the wall of the trench and not lying down like the rest of them. And as he’s going to remove the dog tags, a hand reaches up and stops him. Turns out the dude’s alive. Enter Sgt. Foley. This is the John Wayne character of the film. More like Sgt. Zack, in Steel Helmet. The dude who ‘s the grizzled veteran and is gruff and hates everyone, but warms up by the end. That guy. And he’s like, “What the fuck are you doing?” and scares the kid and the kid runs away. And he calmly goes back to sleep.
Then we meet Lt. Eckert, who is the pseudo antagonist of the story, but also not really. He’s one of those by-the-books officers. Good guy, but very much about the job, which makes him come off as a hard ass and makes the men hate him. He becomes the new C.O., much to everybody’s chagrin. But also not, because they have a history of losing C.O.s in that area. After he’s made C.O., he’s brought into a meeting and is told about the plan with the tunnels. They’re digging 21 tunnels, each filled with explosives, to be detonated at some unannounced date. Each area is responsible for between three and four tunnels.
Now we’re introduced to Arthur. Arthur is the French tunnel expert. He’s the guy who’s spent half his life underground, digging. The guy who’s got stories galore. The guy who’s infamous for digging tunnels. Like Charles Bronson in Great Escape. He’ll tell you the story about when he was in a POW camp and the Germans was so astounded by his abilities, they had him dig a tunnel to show them how he does it. And he ends up digging a tunnel back to American lines, and ended up liberating the entire camp. Shit like that. He’s that awesome, fatherly type character. The one that everybody likes because he’s so cool and also so relatable. He’s brought in to help teach the men how to dig tunnels. And at first, all the men treat it like a joke. Because they’re always coming up with tunnel missions, and either they all fail or they forget about them after a week and move on to something else.
Another side story is with the sniper — Red. They call him Red because he hits “dead red” every time. Never misses a shot. He also doesn’t speak, aside from like three words here and there. That silent badass character. He’s also got two major scars — one through the center of his right hand, and the other through his left cheek. Or maybe those are opposite. Either way, you know this motherfucker is a badass. He’s the dude that you’re like, “Dude, go do it.” And he just goes and does it. Automatic. And their story is, they have a contest each week with the enemy, where the snipers shoot at rats out in No Man’s Land. Because there were thousands of rats in the trenches. Literally, thousands. Huge, too. So, they get a point for each rat and keep a tally. They also have a points system for the men they kill. Five points for an enlisted man — privates, corporals, the men who don’t matter — ten for an NCO — sergeants, staff sergeants — fifteen or twenty for a CO (I think) — lieutenant or higher — and twenty five for a sniper. A sniper shooting a sniper is fucking hard to do. And at the end of each week, they tally up the totals and shoot them over in undetonated rifle grenades. And they meet out in No Man’s Land — Note: this actually happened. The fact that there was this truce each week and no one was shot while they met in No Man’s Land is actually really fascinating — and exchange goods. They win bread, meat, cigarettes — things like that. Joey’s prize possession is a bottle of Napoleon brandy that he won. And he refuses to open it unless it’s special occasion — like, we win the war, special. So that’s another side story.
The other major storyline is that Eckert and Foley know each other. We’re not sure from where, but we know they do, because of their attitude toward one another. Basically, Foley acts as though he’s a higher ranking officer than Eckert, and refuses to obey his orders. He berates him at every turn, just sits there, doesn’t do anything, and Eckert just takes it. He never once reprimands him. And it’s the kind of thing where, all the men know it but no one talks about it. And eventually we find out the real story between them, and eventually their antagonism gets to a point where — well, shit happens.
And eventually, the stories collide. Tunnels are dug, people interact, stuff happens. And it all happens in the trenches, in tunnels, dugouts, and one random scene in a town behind the lines. I don’t want to give the rest of the story away, because I do think it’s an interesting read. Plus, I’m proud of it. I achieved exactly what I set out to achieve with it. The story here is really about the writing of the script. Which I’m going to tell now.
Once I got approval for the script, they told me I needed a treatment by fall break. A treatment is basically a written out synopsis of the entire story. Every single beat. Basically like I was doing up there, but moreso in chronological order. Think a very detailed Wikipedia synopsis. Explaining every single plot point, and even including some lines of dialogue. Generally they’re between 3-5 pages. Mine was 5, and the first page was simply that opening scene written out.
So, having until fall break to just write that — I said, “fuck that.” I basically fucked around instead of commencing work. Mostly because, I didn’t want to start writing the script only to have it be changed. Once I’m set on a story, I want it set. I didn’t really have a story when I started, aside from a general, opening scene, digging tunnels, this is how it ends, deal. Also, my plan going into senior year was, “Write the thesis and the other war script alongside, then turn in both, like, “look what I wrote during the whole year.” I wanted to be like, “I write scripts quickly. You gave me so much time I came up with two.” I could have done it, but, it would have required a lot of work, and, I really underestimate my own laziness sometimes. Plus this was assuming that, in my senior year, I wouldn’t be out drinking most nights of the week. Or if not drinking, sitting around, hanging out with people and watching movies. Yeah, like that was ever going to happen.
So, I had until October 24th or so to crack an entire story. I got it done by October 6th or something. Which is good, because, once the story is cracked, then the script will literally only take me as long as it takes to put it down on paper. Which is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good because, quickness. It’s bad because, once the work is done, I’m like, “Yeah, hard work’s over with. I’ll get this done at the last minute.” That’s why it’s better for me to do this on my own time. Had I not had a department mandated schedule, I would probably have gotten the script done by November, which was my original plan. But, I turned in my treatment, which I only had to do one draft of (my advisor told me that other people had three or more drafts of their treatment, so I consider myself fortunate on that count), and then she said, “you need to do scene cards.” And I’m like, “fuck that.” At this point I was like, “I need to do all this pointless shit, being treated like I don’t know how to write a script. Fuck it.” So I literally ended up doing nothing and treating it like schoolwork. I put it off until the last minute and didn’t work on it like I would normally work on a script. And I had no choice, because I didn’t know how the department would react. I didn’t want to get three steps ahead and have to change things every step of the way when they told me they didn’t like something. Real shame. But, leads to a good story.
So, scene cards. What scene cards are, are every single scene in the movie, written on index cards, which are then placed side by side on a table. So you number your scenes and put them down. Which is supposed to help you be like, “This scene feels weird next to this one, let’s move it.” Which, is so fucking stupid. I mean, I’m sure it helps people, but, I can do all that in my head. I can feel the pace of the story as I’m writing it. I know when things don’t fit. So, at this stage, I did the cards, but didn’t bother going to meet with my advisor about it. I had a month to do them — by Thanksgiving break. And I did them, and tossed them aside, figuring I’d write the script and then have it done when I expected to, and never have to meet about the fucking cards. As it turns out, November was probably my highest volume drinking month during my senior year. For those who were there, I will leave you with these key words and phrases to illustrate my point: Transformers, rail gun, shopping cart, P-Safe car, broken whiskey bottle, jungle juice, brita filter. I think those who were there can agree — ain’t no script was ever gonna get written during that month. Nuh uh. Especially the night with the bottle of whiskey. Plus I also was in my production class and had my film to shoot before Thanksgiving. So, that was on my mind as well.
Then December came, and I was in Christmas mood, and more drinking happened, and no writing got done, because I was like, “There’s two weeks left to the semester. I’ll just write the script over beak.” Fortunately, I never heard back about the scene cards, so I never had to deal with that bullshit. I figured she saw my displeasure when she told me about them, and knew I wasn’t taking them seriously. So winter break comes, and I’m going to write the script. It didn’t happen. (Mike note: Fucking really?) And now we’re two days before we come back in January (like the 18th or something), and I get an email being like, “Once you’re back on campus, turn in everything you’ve written over break. We’ll decide whether or not to let you continue writing or terminate the thesis.” Because we were getting two thesis credits for writing it. One per semester. They wanted to make sure we earned the first one before giving us the second one. So I was like, “shit, I need to write something.” So, I got back to campus on the 18th, and the 20th was the first day of classes. Or 21st. So I had three days to write something. After talking to people, I figured I’d need about 30 pages. So, in 3 days, I wrote 30 pages. The first 30 pages of the script. And not just any 30 pages, mind you, these were the first 30 pages as they exist within the script right now. I did just throw something together, but I’m skilled enough (and I had a story set, which helped greatly) that I can throw together good shit. The only changes that got made were some dialogue tweaks. Mostly making the British general guy more British. She was like, “The characters don’t feel ethnic.” So I made the French guy more French and the British guy more British. I had really toned myself down with the dialogue so I focused solely on telling the story. But that was license to just go nuts with dialogue, but in the most controlled manner possible. Hence the reason “bob’s your uncle” appears in the script. I had fun with that. Other than that, the first 30 pages of the script, 95% the way they are in the final version, were written in 3 days. January 18-21. I got back Saturday, met with her on Thursday. The script was written Monday-Wednesday.
So I turned them in, met about it, got the minor notes, and moved on. The thesis is due on April 15th, mind you. So with less than three months to go, I had 1/4 of it written. I’m figuring, “no problem.”
Fast forward to March, spring break — still only have 30 pages written. And I’m like, “Yeah, she probably wants 60.” So I’m like, “I’ll do it over break.” Break is from March 5th until the 21st. Classes resume on the 22nd. I had a meeting set for the 23rd. I stayed on campus until the 7th because the Oscars were happening. So I was at home from March 8th. By the 12th, I realized, nothing was getting done at home. So, the next Saturday, I went back to campus. This gave me one week to write some pages. I also brought my Playstation with me, which should tell you how work-oriented I was.
I got back to campus, spent some time during the day writing pages, but mostly spend time with a friend, who was the only other person left on the hall, playing Playstation. It was great. We played all the old Twisted Metal games. We played Madden, where I ended up dropping 100 points on him. We played Streets of Rage on the computer, where I earned the nickname “Screenwalker,” for my habit of constantly moving forward. To explain — the game goes left to right. You move right, bad guys come, the screen pauses, you kill them, then you can move forward. Logic dictates that once the screen pauses, you wait in the middle, because the bad guys come from both sides, from off-screen. You wait in the middle, they come to you, you kill them. I say, fuck that. I wait on the right side of the screen, they come in, I kill them. By the time they’re dead, the guys on the left come over to me, and I kill them. Don’t have to move, and can move forward when it lets me. Problem is, there are really dangerous bosses that come from off-screen, and just beat the shit out of you when you’re waiting on the edge. You can’t help but be hit by them. And I’d keep doing that, and he’d be like, “What the fuck are you doing?” And I’m like, “Don’t worry, we’ll win,” and he’s like, “No we won’t, you keep playing like that!” We won. I mean, come on — Screenwalker.
So, we played games, and I wrote the script when I woke up for a few hours, and before I went to bed. And it worked. Because, by March 20th, exactly two months to the day when I “started” the script, I was finished with it. I wrote 30 pages in 3 days and then 90 pages in 8 days. In all I think I just called it 2 weeks. Two weeks of actual script writing for a 7 1/2 month long project. And in those two weeks, I played video games for most of the day. Those who showed up the following weekend can attest. There were many games of Mario Kart that happened once other people got to join in on the fun. Don’t ever think I’m kidding you when I say I really don’t do any work. Sometimes I think I’m kidding too. Then I tell the story and I’m like, “Shit, it’s worse than even I think it is.”
Oh, I got honors on the thesis too. But that’s extraneous information.
Then graduation happened, and I got home. And I was like, “I don’t want to write anything for at least the summer.” This was my first summer not having any kind of school to look forward to, so I really wanted to just sit and do nothing. I came up with the idea for the Oscar Quest, and started doing that.
By about July, I was ready to start writing, and I had the idea to write my Vaudeville script. It was about Vaudeville, and — essentially all my scripts take place on some sort of relation to the timeline of the history of the motion picture industry (whether directly or genre-wise. Sometimes I’m dealing directly with the history, like this one, or other times, like the thesis — I’m writing a 50s war film). This was the period right before it, and the inciting factor to it. So I started writing that — it’s about a Vaudeville theater — no reason to get into it. It’s still being written. This is the 1/2 script I was talking about. I got about 40 pages in when I stalled. It was 40 pages of continuous narrative, 1-40, plus 20 extra pages of scenes I had written but weren’t coming for a while in the actual story. Then I stopped for six weeks, then wrote like 20 pages more, and now I have like, 90 total pages. So, in a way, it’s almost done. But something’s preventing me from finishing it. One day it’ll get done. So that’s one of the last three scripts.
The other one is the one I’ve been hinting at. I’m being paid to write something based on a book. I can’t say anything about it except, there’s a great story coming about that one day. Just wait. It’ll be worth it. Also know that it essentially combines parts of all the other stories, and also its own brand of insanity. It’s a good one.
And the final script, is the one with the best story.
The way I view writing scripts — which I may have mentioned already, I’m not sure — is, I try to keep them within two distinct camps: one that’s focused on dialogue, and the other that’s focused on story. That is, in the story ones, like the Vaudeville, I can have fun with dialogue, but I really need to keep myself from getting too far off course, because, I have stuff I want to do in those pages. I want certain acts to be shown, I want certain plot points and side stories to exist. Letting the dialogue go nuts hinders that. Not to say I take all the personality out of the dialogue, it’s just — when I come to a point, the dialogue will get cut off and we’ll move on to the next scene. In a dialogue-driven script, I’ll let my scenes continue for three, four, five pages and not even blink an eye. Of course, that’s not to say they go on too long — I still do understand pacing. It’s just that, in a dialogue script, the dialogue is what’s essentially creating the story. I’ll have my bare outline (which I’ll explain when explaining this next script), and I’ll just start writing. And as I write, I’ll discover more about the characters (that whole “method writing” thing again) and that will inform where the story goes from there. It’s a very loose style, and one I love employing.
What I’m getting at is — when I write a story-driven script, it turns off the dialogue faucet. Or at least keeps it on a regulated level, to the point where the dialogue starts to back up. I learned this the first time, when I wrote the musical, and out of nowhere the script about the actor and actress popped up in ten days in between. It was just all that excess dialogue escaping. This time it happened again. I was kind of ready for it. I had said, “If I start writing this one, I’ll need a side project to keep me focused.” I wanted a second script where I could just go to whenever I thought of stuff and run wild with it. Then, I’d essentially have two scripts when I was done. I tried to employ it on the thesis, only problem being two scripts were never getting written and both of them were story-driven. I really perfected the formula on the third try. And by perfected, I mean, understood and actually used consciously. So what I did was, write the Vaudeville one, have a scene where some dialogue conversation would pop up. I’d write a word or a line and be like, “What if they took it in this direction?” And then realize, “but I need to end the scene soon, so I can get to this next one,” so, the plan was, take that conversation, move it onto the next script, where I could continue it to my heart’s content. That’s the purpose of my two scripts at once idea. One main one, and a side one that can be picked up and dropped at any time. It’s like the mistress on the side that you go to when you’re looking for a good bone. Not many strings attached. Occasionally you get a crazy one, but if you do it right it works out.
So, I’m stalled on the Vaudeville one, and my family is going to the racetrack the next day. It’s a family tradition for us to go to the track at least once a year. My father’s been betting on horses since I was born. Not compulsively, mind you. More for sport. If he ever had $30 extra, he’d spend a Saturday, watching the races, putting $4 here, $6 there, trying to turn his $30 into $80, or what have you. I remember days where I’m playing at age five or something, and he’d be screaming, because a $2 pick three he played turned a $450 winner. And we’d always sit and watch the Kentucky Derby and all the triple crown races. Shit, I was betting on them myself by age 10. To really give you an idea of how connected I am to horse racing, the OTB (back when it was still in existence. Though it may be again, from what I’m hearing) implemented in the early 90s, a phone service, where you could call in your bets as long as you deposited the money beforehand. And my father had one of the first accounts they ever gave out. How do we know this? Because his account number was 1234-789. Which must have been like, the third or fourth number, after 1234-567, and 1234-678. Possibly also after 1234-123, and up. Still, clearly one of the first ten people to do this. So, I’ve been around this from an early age. And I was taught how to do it correctly. He’d always be like, “I think I want to throw $20 in this weekend.” Like when you decide to go fishing for the day or something. Just something to do.
And we’d always go during the summer to Belmont. Usually on a Sunday, because that’s when they had stuff for families, and my sister was always younger, so they put her on the playground and let her get her face painted and go see the petting zoo, while we’d sit there and study the racing form and see who we were betting on. And I’m like thirteen at this point. We’d always go to the betting windows together, and pick one where we figured the person would be nice. And he’d bring me to the window, age 13, and I’d make a bet. He’d be there in case they wouldn’t take it, but once they saw I was with him, they were cool with it. Then for the rest of the day, I’d go back to that window and make my bets, because the person would recognize me. It was awesome. Underage gambling.
So we had the conversation — “We haven’t gone this year. And they’re leaving next weekend.” So we decide to go. And I’m like, “Great. This will be a good diversion. We’ll go on Saturday, I’ll take Sunday off, and it’ll clear my head for the Vaudeville script come Monday.” Notice how I used to take a week off to clear my head? Methinks I’m getting better at this writing thing.
I get ready to go, bet on some horses, not think at all about the script, and have a good time. We literally got about ten minutes from the house in the car where I’m like, “Shit, I need something to write on.” It’s always when I’m not thinking that ideas come to me. I’m scribbling down notes for script ideas as we’re driving to the racetrack. And over the course of nine races, I’m writing down scenes, writing dialogue. I ended up with a basic outline for an entire story. And it was going to be a “fun” script. Which meant — dialogue overload.
Basically the conceit is — it’s a romantic comedy, with nine-year olds. Ever see Little Manhattan? Like that. Except, my nine-year olds, they talk like Howard Hawks characters. So think His Girl Friday with nine-year olds. The whole script is about the girl and the boy, friends since age two or three, and she’s madly in love with him. Problem is, he doesn’t realize it and really doesn’t care about any of that stuff. He’s nine. He’s a regular nine-year old, who has a crush on a movie star, but in that cute, adolescent boy style, and not in a sexual way (like say, if he were thirteen). He’s all gushy and everything. And she’s like, “Fuck. I know you love her, but I love you, and I can’t say no to you, so I’m going to do whatever you want and just hope you realize that I like you.” And the whole time they talk like Howard Hawks characters. It’s probably the best script I’ve ever written.
The whole thing came about in the car — when the song that lends the movie its title came on. And suddenly the entire credit sequence just appeared in my head. I just came up with it and had to rush to get the words down. Then I wrote like three scenes of dialogue, ideas for an additional set of scenes, and basically set the stage for the entire story to just happen. Basically it was, this is the inciting incident, here’s where we end. Here are three scenes to go in at some point, and, go. And the way it worked was, I thought up either a scene idea, or had a chunk of dialogue. And then the rest of the script was written around it. I just said, “This happens here, so, put dialogue before it, and dialogue after it. Start the scene, transition in — chunk of dialogue — transition out. Here are the major points. Go.” And right there I’d get a scene. Then I’d come up with more dialogue, which itself became another scene, and the whole thing came very organically. That’s how the dialogue scripts work. (Keep in mind, when I say “work” I mean, for me. Don’t just assume this will work for you. Everybody works differently. But, if you can get it to work for you, more power to you. Now we have something in common.) I’ll be writing, one of the characters will say something, which will bring about an entire separate conversation and idea, which will go in that gap I have after page 70, and it’ll bring insight into the character, which will explain why they do this and how they’ll respond when this other thing happens, and pretty quickly, an entire story falls into place and we have a finished script. And a good one, too. I really love this script. So much so that I just go back and read it every few weeks or a month or so. I just sit there and read it, like, “Fuck. I wrote this.”
So, those are all the scripts I’ve written in my lifetime. I wonder how many times I’ve said the word “so” in these stories. So, and, and also. They happen a lot. Mostly because I’m never one to be finite and resolute. Standard writing wants you to be clear and precise, have orderly transitions, don’t repeat words. I write like I talk. Plus life doesn’t end and begin orderly. What’s that quote. Life doesn’t end. Life has transitions. So, most of my sentences end on ellipses and stuff. It’s just a series of connected thoughts. So, if you have a problem with it, that’s too bad. Also, I don’t care. And, I’m going to continue doing it.
What we have on tap for 2011:
This year, script-wise, is a two-fer. It’s sort of a doubleheader about the same things. Kind of. One is a biopic about someone, and the other is a biopic about something. And they’re related in that the someone was involved with the something. I thought it would be fascinating to write two scripts that overlap at a very specific point, have overlapping characters and scenes, and to be able to deal with the scenes from different perspectives in both versions. In one version, one scene is this big epiphany, and it’s long and important. And in another one, it’s just a stepping stone. Really short, and means something entirely different. Plus, in both versions, you really end up with fuller characters because you get to see them as they relate to both scripts. It’s an ambitious project. We’ll see how it turns out. I bought 14 books for research. On book two. Hopefully I’ll get them written (or even started) by the end of the year.
I bought all the books figuring I needed to do research to accurately deal with all the history. You know, because they’re real people and all. But invariably what ends up happening is I’ll read the books and then be like, “I got all this from the wikipedia synopsis” and whatever knowledge I knew already, and then just make up the script that way. Like I do reading…