Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Four Stages To Writing A Screenplay

Saturday, July 20th, 2013

So while it wasn’t done in a day, thats mainly because time is a hot commodity. Add up the hour here and hour there and there you go, though I have no idea what the exact number is.

I finished writing a screenplay today – and felt like it went through a four stage process, so I thought I’d share it.

Of course this is assuming you have some idea for a screenplay, key characters, etc, as I can’t really help much if you dont have the default.

1) Spreadsheet – Outlined the full story by scene and kept it top level, so I could see when to connect chracters, mix scenes around with ease and also see what pace I had things going. Just a top level line or two of who and what was taking place, little detail, no real dialogue unless I felt something absolutely had to be referred to in the scene. This made the story line very flexible and rearrange.

2) Rough Draft it up – Once I was about 95% sure with the structure of the story, I wrote up a rough draft in traditional screenplay format, though with a bit of a shortcut thanks to an App that works ok for rough drafting and convenient for the next stage, even if inadvertently. But by now I already had a good idea on what I wanted to write, characters, etc, and so it was written up quite quickly.

3) Fixings with decorations and hooks – Not only did I need to fix up spacing and format issues, but this read through inspired me to push comedic hooks within the dialogue (such as defining character lines to make them stand out from other characters). And by this point it became a storyline that occupied the rare moment of drifting blended with inspiration. So this is when the story got cleaned up, checked up and some decorations added, particularly in scene detail such as character reaction, movement and dialogue hooks to make sure there wasn’t too much down time or bland scenes that had no reason to be there.

4) Final polish – Then over to Justin for a final read through and feedback, and after taking my eyes away from this script for a week or so (as I’ll be kicking off the next storyline spreadsheet), then I’ll return for a final read through or act through if I’m lucky to have the right people around and thats’ that. It will never be perfect, but thats when its time to get it registered and run with it.

Almost there, waiting for #4. But starting #1 on the next story.

Hope that helps put ideas and writing into perspective from a scheduling task list point of view. Once thats in place, will try and keep posting when possible to look at what we do with the idea. It’s a 90 minute comedy in this case, so its easy going and I’m not too attached to it, which is an advantage. I’m aware the story can always be improved, and an idea is never 100%, but also that this is good enough that I dont need to waste time nitpicking.

Writing The Screenplay – Round Two, The Fix Up Review

Thursday, July 4th, 2013

So we drew up an outline to make sure the screenplay kept pace and didn’t go into those dangerous dead-end tangents.

And then we used an iPad app to churn through pages at a fast pace (we’ll be reviewing other apps soon).

We exported to Word and needed to do some tidying up. This was a great opportunity to proof read the whole thing and look for notes where we could add/remove some character, some dialogue, scene description, plot loops and so on.

And it made it quite an easy transition to remember the plot, characters, spot the tangents and un-necessary lines. Also tried my best to not get attached to the script, which was much easier in this case, as it was a comedy. But what I mean by that is not feeling certain things have to be said, certain points have to be made. One valuable lesson I learned is when writing, to keep things flowing and make sure all lines need to be in the script.

So what’s next? Well, now we have a 90 or so page screenplay with a few scenes highlighted. These five or so scenes needed rewrites or better transitioning. And so onto the next stage.

Ideally this will occur in the coming days if I have time and I’ll have something finalized. Then what? On to the next one.

Scripts Pro for iPad Review

Saturday, June 8th, 2013

One of the rare moments where I get a chance to really work on screenplays is whilst traveling. And a couple weeks back I had a pair of long flights to endure. However, I’m not one to take a laptop, let alone on a plane where there’s hardly any room to move. But at the same time, the iPad adds an option of portability. It’s not too small to type on, and while I know people can type on an iPhone, Android, Blackberry, etc, its not something I would want to do for too long, let along for several pages.

And while I’m not much of an iLife person anyway (don’t have an iPhone, and even the iPad isn’t mine technically), I am impressed with the range of apps that the iPad has, especially when it comes to music and film apps, where there is not only an abundant selection but some gems that I couldn’t even imagine say, 10 years ago. Either way, I have tested out a few screenwriting apps over the recent months, particularly on travels like the one noted here.  As a result, I figure it might be worth starting to review them, now that I’ve used them for a while.  Another reason I want to go through a bunch, is so I can see what I can improve on when developing a screenwriting app of my own (though considering how little time I have, this may take a while)!

Scripts Pro is a popular app and its gained traction over the years (its also gained cost, from 4.99 to 6.99 to 12.99 which is pushing it a fair bit for this market but still a bit cheaper than some of the other stuff out there). It’s got some great positives to it, but also some painful negatives.

Lets’ get the negatives out of the way first though.  Exporting/importing is PAINFUL! And never correct. I imported a script from a custom formatted Word document I made too, still no luck. Same goes when I try to bring it back. Scripts Pro claims to be able to export back to Word. Technically it does do this, but expect formatting, spacing and tabs to be awry and expect odd characters.  In fact you might as well save your export until you’re done, and then use the opportunity to fix up the formatting as a chance to review and revise/finalize your script. But being able to easily take this back and forth between PC and iPad? Not happening, unless perhaps you ante up for the likes of Final Draft.

Within the use of the app itself, it has a range of character glitches actually. And putting apostrophes within text seems to create interesting outcomes like how ‘ becomes a italic i sort of character? Another issue is that as a writer, I like to hit “save” and “Save as” a lot, in order to feel reassured perhaps, or keep track of major variations. However, you can’t do that here.  And its very scary.  I get this screen a lot.

I also cannot change the name of my file in regards to how it appears on the menu, and sometimes a second version of the file appears in the menu screen.  Despite this, and getting the scary crash screen above on all variations at times, use a far from logical method keep trying again and the file will open to where you last left it – despite never selecting “save” and the file name selected no longer matching the name of the file name shown once opened!

While there is a backspace and an undo button, there is no “find” option a la CTRL+F to find that word/reference, while the delete button goes one way (the latter is not Scripts Pro’s fault though). This means instead of getting your cursor in and hitting delete to “forward delete” and backspace to deleted back, you can only do the latter.  Perhaps this is just me, but I often delete forward and backward depending on my flow, and with a touch screen like the iPad and a program that often preselects by word, you might not always get the cursor on the right letter of the word. So the lack of forward deletes on iPad itself drives me crazy, but I do wish some apps would account for it.  I understand that point is mainly my gripe, though from searching around, I’m not the only one. Again, thats more a dig at iOS devices overall rather than this app. But one dig at this app that it could have done something about – is that you cannot highlight a letter within the word midway if you want to spell it a certain way yourself. So you have to respell the whole word anyway!

That said, on to the positives. It’s good for burning through a draft. Character name auto-fills, you can move to any scene via one click, formatting in place for the display version at least (and actually it does an ok job exporting to PDF, though no cover page – despite places saying this was fixed). Auto-correct is generally decent at remembering what you’ve edited prior, so you dont have to keep forcing a word that’s not in its dictionary, such as a location or slang.

On the tab when you bring up the keyboard you can easily change the text from dialogue to action to scene heading, etc and it will adopt a relevant format for you. I like how it highlights the scene headings on the iPad screen and also allows you to move to any scene at any time.  If you don’t like a characters name later on, you can easily change it via the character menu (though a find and replace in Word does this better, as it finds it within the dialogue, action, etc, too).

Overall, that is the benefit of this app, convenience. Without apps like this, writing a screenplay while traveling would be tough to pull off.  Just don’t rely on it to be your final piece of work, and since you can’t “save” it, make use of the option to email it to yourself or upload to Dropbox after any major changes. However, you will be able to breeze through it. I churned out about 20 pages via my outline, during perhaps 3 or so hours of a flight (despite spending the first hour reformatting my import too), and when you’re on a roll using this app, it becomes good to have.  Though my iPad typing might need work, and I developed wrist aches from it, so its probably only useful for bits and pieces when on the go.  And don’t bother reformatting the exported version on MS Word until you are doing a final run through.

It’s a good app overall, and I’m making use of it, but there is room for improvement (particularly in compatibility and a CTRL+F element beyond scene headings). Price is realistic, considering how much of a rip off some screenwriting programs can be, when all some of them are is a custom formatted Word Doc with various Macros. For those that want to translate this into a rating, overall I give it an 8 out of 10 (less if you plan on working on it back and forth, more if its just for quick writeups on the go).

Timesaver note: When exporting/opening in Word, it will look pretty hard to fix up. In Word, do a Align Center, and Align Left, and all the weird spacing at the start of each line / between lines will go away. You still have some tidying up to do and may want to do some traditional Word doc tab settings…. but not nearly as much as before. Worked as a great 2nd round read-through though, which I’ll write about soon.

Common Questions When Writing A Screenplay

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

So I did the outline as per the post http://www.deadredeyes.com/how-to-write-a-screenplay-in-one-day – practicing what I preach of course – and it technically took a month, but also took only a day if not less when going by time.  Over the past month I had an hour here and an hour there at best, and so this added into the time I took to do an outline.  Overall, I spent about 10-12 hours on it total, which I think is a decent day’s worth if you can pull it off.

I’m happy with the story, its a light hearted comedy, so quite flexible too and probably comes in at a relatively short 90 minutes.  Originally I wanted to use a more dramatic and semi-personal idea, but it got the best of me and added negative vibes to an already stressful schedule.  So I reverted to comedy to relieve me in this case.

I ended up with just about 80 scenes laid out in an Excel Spreadsheet, with the columns of :

– Scene Number (which explains itself, though for some continuous sequences I would do 1a, 1b, etc)

– Outline (whats the scene doing, whos’ what, etc)

– Location (slugline in some ways, INT, EXT, that sort of thing)

– Main characters (who’s this scene focusing on)

– Estimated duration (when acted out in my head at least, rounded to the nearest 10 or 15 seconds, many scenes would be 30 to 90 seconds for instance, while faster sequences 15)

– Notes (more for me to notate in the scene if relevant)

So now is the next part.  How does this transition into a full length screenplay?  Will it be something I can easily churn out pages from and not worry about the outline, because I have already connected the loose ends?  Any guesses on how long it could take?  Hopefully equal to or less than this stage.

And I made sure it answered the common questions for writing a screenplay… such as:

– Do you characters have a reason to be there?

– Does each scene / line have meaning or relevance to moving the story?  Hmm, maybe not “meaning” if its a comedy, but you get the idea.

– Is there the right level of background and transition (not every scene has to lead through and onto the next for instance)?

– Did you come up with an idea for storyline (including the end) before you started writing it?

– Would you watch it?

Anyway, a bit of an interim post, but figured I’d document how its progressing, whether anyone is listening or not.  Hopefully will have an update soon.

 

Almost Halfway There – Or What I’ve Learned in 6 Months

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

Almost 6 months to the day, we thought about finally getting our act together, taking things a bit more seriously perhaps. We always had an interest in film and writing, but couldn’t quite get it off the ground. Life got in the way.

We had to make ends meet, we weren’t quite ready for the critique yet, confidence fluctuated, ideas came and then became blurry. Time flew by. The latter continues to keep going at an increasing pace – backing my firm belief in how life is proportionate. For those that don’t know, its the whole theory that when you’re 10, a year is 10% of your life and thus seems like quite a long time (even summer breaks took a while).  Where as when you are 33, each year is just over 3% and things become a bit more blurry.  When 50, this drops down to 2% and so on.

However, that’s perhaps best reserved for another post. This is more for Dead Red Eyes, which was started in late October 2012. For some background, its probably no shock that I’ve always been inspired by writing, inspired by film. At least I used to be. The last few years were not the case, and very little was written once other immediate requirements occupied my life. So perhaps this is about putting that effort, making it count this time.  Only problem is some things haven’t changed since my early 20’s, other than I can actually pay my rent and not have to crash around and move all the time, yeah that’s probably a plus! I may have gained experience work-wise in a completely different industry, thus my writing and film knowledge has receded – or has it. Perhaps more experience in any manner of life helps, if you have the time to harness it.

Several things inspired these last six months for me.  While I can’t fully speak for everyone else, here’s what I think kicked things off.

Motivation and People. I’m glad to be working on this with people who are motivated (somehow managing to squeeze in acting on stage, filming, writing and multiple jobs), especially when I might not be at times (my day job takes up the biggest cut of my time, but there are other factors too – whether personal or creative) and need to keep things on track, or at least a reminder. Props to all those that can go it alone, however I’ve recently realized I am not one of them. Especially nowadays, when other aspects of your life are fighting for time, you need to manage things as well as you can.

Unfortunately, if its not as pressing, you push things back. That’s why I think we’re all grateful for the collaboration element. Sometimes you need others to push things forward. Back in October, I was able to help Justin finish off a screenplay he had been working on for a while, but perhaps wasn’t quite ready to let go of.  Later on in the year, Bryan and Justin were able to collaborate on getting a couple of short scripts and film them in very quick succession with the help of some great actors and people overall. The least I could do was help out where possible with the scripts and the soundtracks to them (as per my other current push with music, which I also couldn’t do by myself, as much as I used to once think so). Have also had a hand in getting the word out there, whether with this site, or by testing the waters of various film festival events.  Pushing the name is certainly something I want to be able to dedicate more resource in the coming months too.

So far we’ve fared ok. Nothing spectacular, but a start. We’ve submitted the two short films – “Alphabet Soup” & “The Torment” to just a few festivals, however its a slow turnaround, and some of these are several months away still – so I guess we’re in suspense for the most part.  Going against the unwritten rules, we’ve also been rejected a couple of times.  Of course, we’ve also pushed the screenplay, in this case “The Havenots”.  It’s early days, and we’d be naïve to think we’re going to rack up awards from the get go – and so some of it is to build a bit of a portfolio.  We had some positive feedback including The Havenots making it as a finalist (but missing the cut on the top 10) at the Richmond Film Festival, which was a nice tease for the first stage perhaps.  A few years ago it might have hit home a bit more, but instead it felt like we finally shook off the rust and could improve on it – and thus we’re working on a few different screenplays, some of which I’m pretty much narrating how the process goes for, as per my recent obsession with outlines for instance.

Without sounding too cheesy, that’s the main lesson we’ve learned. It takes a while to establish oneself, and we’ve only just begun. That said, we’re looking forward to turning things up a notch in the next six months, and then likely realizing 6 months later that we still have a ways to go.  But we’ll get there.

P.S: Other miscellaneous learnings include:

– Over 1,100 visitors have been on this site, which might not be saying much, as I’ve worked on sites that get way more.  But considering we had nothing a few months ago, its a start.

– Feb was our biggest month for overall visits, which is when the films went live on site too I think.  Though April has already brought more search traffic than any other previous month.

– 90% of them are from the US, 4% from the UK, then its pretty evenly split with one or two visit each amongst 19 other countries

– We get a fair bit of search traffic for “baseball movies 2013

– Twitter brings us more traffic than Facebook

– We made 32 posts in 26 weeks

– There are two short films on the site, though more people went to the trailer page than the full length

How To Write A Screenplay in One Day

Saturday, April 13th, 2013

So, one thing I’ve been working on with the three screenplays currently in progress is efficiency. Outlining, writing when you are in a good flow, a good state of mind is key. Some days I am full of ideas and hooks that come from every direction. Some days I am useless. However what used to happen is when I was on the wave of creativitiy, I’d start writing, and a few scenes and pages later, it might fade or the time may have passed and I’ve got to leave/go/sleep/work/eat/acknowledge others. And while I’d be happy that I fit in a couple of hours and got some ideas down, I wish I could get more value for that.

I’ve already gone on about how outlining a screenplay is so important and the element of modern convenience is useful too, in an age and time where we seem to have a lot of the former but none of the latter. As I am still a long way away from developing an iOS app for screenwriting, let alone testing out the competition – I am still concentrating on what I’d want it to do in the first place. And I found an odd candidate for doing this. Microsoft Excel! I hate Excel, as what it stands for is something that eats up a fair bit of my work day, but at the same time, I see myself use it in more and more non-work scenarios.

The other day I had a couple hours to spare. And this was rare. So I knew I needed to make the most of it. One of my recent screenplay ideas was scribbled on a piece of paper. This is the first tip on how to write a screenplay in one day HAVE AN IDEA IN THE FIRST PLACE. So anyone expecting some magical trick here is out of luck. You need to know what you’re going to write about, how it will start, what sort of story it is, and how it will end.

But lets say you have an idea and you know how it will flow, how it will start, end and some main character elements. Open MS Excel. Create a spreadsheet with the following columns in the first row. Scene number, Outline, Location, Characters, Estimated Time, Notes, Hook Relation. Don’t worry, this isn’t advanced Excel 101, just some basic ways you can use it to your advantage.

So in this chart, we show how writing is a business and an art.

The “scene number” explains itself, the first one is 1, and so on. Outline is basically a summary of what the scene is, what’s the message, who’s in, and maybe a snippet of dialogue or how the vibe of that scene is overall. Then for Location we are looking at the traditional Location line, such as “EXT. PARK – NIGHT” for a outdoor scene in the park at night time.

“Characters” – this is where you list the main characters of the scene, so you can track who is involved where. Estimated time is a column formatted as a number where you indicate how many seconds you think the scene might take if you imagine it. No need to be too specific, think 15 for quick transitions, 30 for visual layouts, 45 for regular scenes, 60 for longer scenarios, 90 for large scale transitions with scenery/dialogue/interaction – use your judgement. Set yourself a total number of seconds as a target and put this as an equation on the sheet if need be. I do something like =SUM(E4:E150)/60
Where I total up the time estimates and divide by 60 to see an automatic update on how long into the plot I am.

“Notes” are more for you, if you have an idea of what should be in the scene or what should be referenced, put it here. Last but not least “Hook relation”. Every scene has to mean something in the plot. And sometimes its hard to keep track of a scene you wrote in page 7 when you are up to page 77. So desginate a hook note if its something you want to parlay into the script later – so as you build your plot, you can reconnect the hook into a loop, and thus layer your plot lines accordingly.

When you are in the flow, this is a great way to get your ideas moving and when you have a 2-3 hours with the creativity flowing, I was able to get close to 40 minutes of the story in place, as well as loose ideas for later scenes, open hooks that I need to close and how the ending will work out. I figure if someone gave me a whole day for this or a couple more 3 hour sessions, I’d be done with the outline. Then when I have less time and less creative flow, I can write out according to the outline.

Moving back to the spreadsheet though, there are other ways it can help you with establishing the outline and thus making the write up much smoother. Remember when I mentioned to make each column a different element, such as location? Highlight that top row and in the top menu of Excel (in the home menu tab on Excel 2007 at least) go to “Editing” and select “sort filter” and then “Filter”. Little arrows will go next to each of your column headers. Click on it and you can sort each column by location, character, scene number, etc. The filter option allows the rest of the columns to follow suit when shuffling up the spreadsheet. This way you can see which characters are getting more usage, which locations you have overused, etc. And to reset it back to “Scene order” just order by the first column of “scene number” and we’ll be back to the order of the scenes. I didn’t even really need to use this till after I had 30+ scenes in the spreadsheet, but its useful if you have a full length layout and need to polish up some aspects and/or make sure your plot hooks are closed up before doing your final write up.

Then from that, doing the final write up in proper screenplay format – well, its going to be faster than you’ve ever written up a screenplay before. And you’ll be able to freshly reference the excel sheet (which perhaps you have printed as reference for when you write the full version) in a way that you’ll remember each little bit about the plot, and make it more layered and cohesive overall. Was able to write up 20 pages from it in a 2 or 3 hours, so given a long day, it could be done. However, you will probably need to give it another final look at a later day, and read through, act it out accordingly (if you’re lucky enough to have a co-writer, that is one huge benefit). So its more like outline day 1, write up day 2, review day 3 and you’ll be pretty exhausted, but it can be done, and if you have that great idea, you dont want to let it fade. I’ve heard of books that say how to write a screenplay in 10 days. This method will at least reduce that.

Disclaimer: In reality, these days are spread out. Most people are only lucky enough to have an hour here and there to spare (as is the case with me doing insane hours at work, trying to have a life and not annoying the wife). So when saying a day or two, I mean two sets of 8-10 hours. If you have full 12+ hours to spare every day, well…. make the most of it! And obviously the question of a screenplay being “done” is another discussion.

Note: Some people don’t have Excel nor are willing to pay for it. However, Google Docs or Open office offer similar programs for free. I haven’t used them in a while, but for the basic spreadsheet layout, I assume these would suffice too.