Reality TV is my Sports – the reason I made Quiz Boy

Reality TV is my sports. The strategy involved in shows like Survivor and Big Brother is way more compelling to me than watching the Blazers get swept 4-0 in the first round of the NBA playoffs today. Grrr. Anyway, what’s also compelling to me about reality TV is the emotional impact it has on the people who are crazy enough to compete on these types of competition shows. And that’s what I wanted to explore with my upcoming web series Quiz Boy.

Quiz Boy follows Chris Baxter, who—as a teenager—was a contestant on a game show called The Million Dollar Question, but lost on his final question in an embarrassing fashion.

Twenty-five years later, Chris still feels the sting of defeat and desperately wants to get back on the game show to redeem himself. When he learns that several “all-star” contestants are being invited back for the final season of the show, and he isn’t one of them, he hires a pair of local film school students to make a documentary about him as part of a viral campaign to get back on the show.

My aim with Quiz Boy is to create a comedic and gut-wrenching reality TV satire about public humiliation and the price of pursuing fame. This is an arena that I love – reality TV and its aftermath – and I’m really excited to share the series.

Like this page on Facebook for regular updates leading up to its release.

 

 

Posted in New Zealand Content, Reality, Web Series | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Writing a Kick-Ass, Propulsive Act Two

If you look at any structure paradigm – Save the Cat, hero’s journey, three-act structure, whatever – you’ll see that each paradigm provides a road map for how to begin a feature film story (act one) and how to end the story (act three) but they provide very little on how to navigate through the heart of the story (act two). For this reason, many new writers who use one of these paradigms as their guide stumble when they hit page 25 or 30.

Act one is where a writer must introduce the main character, the world they inhabit, the main character’s flaw, and what their wants and needs are. Structure paradigms recommend that a writer accomplish all of this within the first 10 pages. Then at the page 10-12 mark, the main character is called to adventure, or their world is blown apart… an event happens that sets the character on the journey that is the rest of the story.

Of course, the character is comfortable in their old world and resists the change that the call to adventure embodies. But then somewhere within pages 12-25, something else happens that forces the main character to commit to the journey that is the rest of the movie. Ripley refuses to go back to the planet where she first encountered the Alien. Then she has a nightmare and realises she can’t move on until she faces and overcome the thing she fears most. And then we’re in act two.

If you know the story you want to tell, that’s an easy guide to follow. But going into act two, the structure paradigm turning points become more vaguely defined.

“Fun & Games,” “Tests, Allies, & Enemies.” Descriptions like that arre broader than the ones found in act one, and sometimes writers can miss how these beats serve as a guide to propel their narratives forward.

For me, the answer to how to write a kick-ass, propulsive act two lies within how writers are instructed to design their first act. In the bold sections in text above, you can see that the first act is roughly divided into two 12 page sections that each set out to achieve two things:

  1. Set up & Inciting Incident (1-12)
  2. Resistance & Commitment (13-25)

The rest of your screenplay should follow suit. The major turning points in your script should occur every 10-12 pages, and each 10-12 page section should have two story beats.

A few years ago, I took part in an Emerging Artists Trust writers and actors workshop where each writer wrote a feature screenplay over the course of 19 weeks (and has evolved into the equally rewarding Sandpit Workshops). Instead of workshopping a full length screenplay, writers were instructed to present 25 pages of their script every six weeks. For those of us who were writing a new script, this meant we were writing each 25 page section of our screenplay in a vacuum. Instead of grappling with a 100+ page document, we were focusing on a more manageable 25-page chunk at a time. The first 25 pages being the first act, the second being act 2A (up until the midpoint reversal), pages 50-75 being act 2B, and the last 25 pages being the conclusion of the script.

Doing this was immensely helpful to my writing process. I was able to focus exclusively on making each section of the script the best that it could be standing on its own, and then I would incorporate it into the larger narrative. This made the two halves of act two significantly more manageable.

Since then, I have made my writing process even more manageable by focusing on 10-12 page sections at a time. My goal is to make the 10-12 pages I am working on as engaging and propulsive as I possibly can and build up to the next turning point.

Of course, doing this means nothing if I haven’t already set up the right foundation in act one to propel me forward into act two. Again, the answer to writing a kick-ass, propulsive act two lies within how a writer designs their first act.

Here are a few common act two stumbling blocks that can be found in how a writer designs their first act:

 

A weak main dramatic question
The audience needs to know what needs to happen for the story to reach a satisfying conclusion. If they don’t, they will feel lost and/or bored.

In Little Miss Sunshine, the question posed at the end of the first act is, will Olive make it to the competition and will she win? In a body-swap comedy (pick one), it is, what will it take for the two people who’ve swapped bodies to swap back into their own bodies? In Star Wars, it is will Luke/Rey defeat The Empire/whatever The Empire is called in the new movies? 

Without a clear path forward in the form of a narrative question, the audience has no reason to engage.

The main dramatic question and main character’s goal aren’t aligned
In most cases, the central dramatic should be exactly the same thing as the main character’s goal. In Little Miss Sunshine, the family’s primary goal is to get to the competition. In a body swap comedy, the characters want to return to their own bodies. In Star Wars, Luke and Rey both want to defeat their respective evil empires.

One could argue that the reason the Star Wars prequels don’t work is because they lack a compelling central question that is tied to the main character’s goal. How will Anakin become Darth Vader? does not make us invest in the main character’s journey. And the main character’s journey shapes the story.

 

Lack of an immediate goal
Michael Arndt, writer of Little Miss Sunshine, suggests that the second act should contain an immediate goal that complements the clearly defined larger goal. The example from Star Wars that he uses is that the global goal is to ensure galactic safety (by destroying the Death Star), and that the more immediate second act goal is for Luke and co. to deliver the Death Star plans to Alderaan. In Michael Arndt’s own script, the immediate second act goal is for the family to drive to the competition, and the global goal is tied to whether Olive wins or loses the competition and how the family reacts to the result. In body swap comedies, the immediate goal is always to swap back, but in order to do that, each person must learn a valuable lesson from being in the other person’s body.

It is that immediate goal that first propels us in act two. The midpoint is often a setback to that immediate goal. Alderaan is blown up, the grandpa who trained Olive for the competition dies, the characters have to adjust their plan of attack, etc. Often, the immediate goal is resolved by the end of act two, and the third act becomes about resolving the global goal. As is the case in Little Miss Sunshine when the family reach the competition by the end of act two but Olive winning or losing the competition remains unresolved. And in Star Wars, the third act is about restoring galactic order by destroying the Death Star (or the new Death Star, or Starkiller Base).

~

So before I set out to write my second act, I must first be able to answer:

What is my central dramatic question and is it the same as my main character’s goal?

What is my main character’s immediate goal, and what is the global goal?

Once I am able to answer these questions, I am able to proceed to breaking my script down into manageable, 10-12 page turning points. And when it comes to scripting, I narrow my focus to one 10-12 page section at a time.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Write What You Want To Write And Be Okay With Sucking At It

“The annoying thing about screenwriting is that the only way to get through it is to feel like you’re doing it right but then also hold in your mind simultaneously the knowledge that you’re not doing it right.”

Craig Mazin said this in episode 227 of the Scriptnotes podcast, discussing the split-brained, contradictory nature of writing a draft. In other words, writing is rewriting and the only way to advance to the rewriting stage is to convince yourself that you’re getting it right the first time around (whilst in the back of your mind realising that you’re actually not).

When I first started writing feature scripts, this contradictory mindset was something I had a hard time getting past. I would either complete a first draft and then never return to it, or I would hit a point in the writing process where I would realise my writing wasn’t where I wanted it to be, and I would fall out of love with the idea and eventually abandon it. I had to understand that my writing wasn’t perfect, but at the same time convince myself that it was “perfect enough” in order to advance to the next scene, complete the screenplay, and become a better writer.

As David Mamet says in his advertisement for his upcoming Masterclass, “You gotta stand being bad if you wanna be a writer.”

That’s the contradictory nature of writing on a micro level. On a macro level, when we write a spec script, we write it with the intention of seeing it made into a movie. But we also write it with the understanding that there is a very minuscule chance of it ever getting made. We’re writing into a vacuum. So why do we exert so much time and energy into it? (because we’re crazy people, that’s why)

There is a temptation to write a spec script with saleability at the front of mind. If we write for what we think the market wants, we make that minuscule chance of seeing our script made into a movie slightly less minuscule, right?

Sure, it can be a creatively rewarding exercise to set yourself parameters based on market or budget concerns.

Hmm, women over fifty is a growing market, what’s a story I could write with that audience in mind?

Hmm, what’s a character I could write for a big name actor to play and how could I make it so that all of the big star’s scenes take place in one location spread out throughout the script so that the big star is in the movie a lot but it would actually only take like a few days to shoot?

Etc. and so forth. Thinking about these sorts of things can be creatively rewarding because they put your writer’s brain to work. Think of them as writing prompts or freehand exercises that could maybe lead to a great story. But ultimately, your first concern shouldn’t be with chasing the market (by definition, chasing the market suggests you’re playing catch up). Instead, the first parameter you should set yourself is:

What is a script I can write that demonstrates that I’m an expect in story, character, and creating an emotionally rewarding experience?

The way my brain overcomes the macro contradiction of writing a spec screenplay that has next to no chance of getting made is that I take the goal of making it into a movie out of the equation (as much as I can. I mean, that’s why we’re all in this, right? Writers are crazy). I write it with the primary goal of using it as a sample to demonstrate my skills and hopefully use as a tool to get writing assignments.

The writer is the story expert in the room. It’s someone else’s job to be the market expert. Master story by writing what you want to write. Think about the other stuff when you’re getting paid for it.

The awesome Richard Walter talks about this in the video below. Click on it for the writing advice, stay with it for the discussion of horse hair and sheep guts:

 

With that intent, understanding that your screenplay has very little chance of getting made can be just as liberating to your writing process as knowing that you won’t be able to get it right the first time around. Write what you want to write. And give yourself the freedom to suck at it the first time around.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Expressions of Interest For Feature Screenplay Writing Workshop Due Today! Friday 28th August

Writing a Screenplay From Scratch – 18 Week Workshop

This intensive workshop will guide writers through the basics of writing a screenplay all the way through to a completed draft that has been workshopped extensively by peers in the group.

Starting Monday 21st September 2015, 12-15 writers will meet for three hours each week for 18 weeks to learn the craft of feature film writing. By the end of the workshop, you will have completed a polished draft of a feature film script.

Each week fundamentals of the craft will be covered and four writers in the group will present one act (approximately 20- 25 pages) of their script to be workshopped.

Facilitator – René Le Bas

René completed his MA in Creative Writing at the Victoria University of Wellington International Institute of Modern Letters where he earned the Michael Hirschfeld Scholarship in Scriptwriting. René has experience as a script editor and consultant and has worked with the Gibson Group’s development team. René lead two blocks of the EAT Writers Group, one on the essential craft of rewriting and one that examined writing for genre in depth. In this workshop he will foster new voices in writing while also providing a structured environment for more established writers to hone their craft.

Teaching/Learning Methods

Primarily, this course will be workshop-based and participants will learn through critiquing each other’s work and learning how to integrate feedback into their own work.

There will be an examination of:

• Narrative structure

• Story analysis

• Character and characterisation

• Theme

• Rewriting

• Pitching

• Market research, networking, and how to ‘pitch’ yourself.

• How to give and receive feedback

The first half of each session will cover screenplay craft and exercises to improve writing. It will also cover skills and useful knowledge that will help improve one’s professionalism in screenwriting. The second half will focus on workshopping the feature film scripts being written by workshop participants. The workshop will be limited entry with only 12-15 spots available.

When and Where:

Mondays, 6:30-9:30pm 21st September – 23rd November 2015 (nine sessions)

25th January – 21st March 2016 (nine sessions)

Community Room Toi Poneke Arts Centre 61 Abel Smith Street Wellington

Entry into the Workshop

To apply you must provide a one-paragraph synopsis of the feature film idea you wish to write in the workshop and a brief bio about yourself and your career aspirations as a screenwriter.

Applications close on Friday, 28th August 2015

Cost: $350 for the full 18 sessions (this can be paid in increments of $175)

Writers accepted into the workshop must commit to all 18 weeks of the workshop.

Registration: To register your interest and receive a detailed programme, send your synopsis and bio to René Le Bas (nzscreenwriting@gmail.com).

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Easiest Way To Write Authentically

One reason that your script may not be gaining traction when it is sent into the world is that it doesn’t feel ‘real’ enough. Movies do not need to be grounded in our reality (see: Fast and Furious 7), but they must establish their own reality early on and ground themselves within that constructed reality.

Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 7.30.39 PMBut it’s not only an inability to suspend disbelief that makes a movie lack authenticity. Sometimes the characters, plot, and world just don’t feel real. It’s hard to explain why.

If it’s so hard to identify what’s inauthentic about a script, how can writers inject authenticity into what they’re writing?

As I’ve said in other posts, a story is primarily an emotional experience. If the emotional experience rings true for the audience, then so will everything else. The easiest emotion to tap into when writing is fear. This doesn’t mean write a horror film. Fear can just as easily be a mine for drama or comedy. Exploring your deepest fears through your writing will add veracity to your storytelling.

Fear is a broad and primal emotion. Injecting your specific fears into your writing will help make your script both unique and authentic.

Honing in on a primal fear can also provide your viewers with an escape from their own fear, and reveal that those fears are part of a shared human experience.

Whatever genre you are writing in, I would always recommend writing about something you are scared of.

Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 8.01.32 PM

What are you afraid of?

Posted in Advice, Feature Films | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

There’s no such thing as writer’s block (or is there?)

I didn’t think of it as an actual thing until recently.

Even now, I can’t think of a time where I’ve actually been incapable of writing. I’ve always been able to put words on the page and drive a story forward. I used to think of writer’s block as a way unmotivated writers excused their procrastinating.

Recently, kind of on a whim, I sidelined all my major projects to write a TV series script I’d been mulling over in my head for a while. Writing the script was exhilarating, and when I showed it to my peers for feedback, it was received extremely well. This made me even more excited about the project and made me want to share it with the world as soon as possible. I was like, this thing is badass. I want to share it with everyone right now.

So I started sending it to more of my peers, and began to write further episodes and  soon outlined the entire series. But soon the demands of my other major projects forced me to table that script and focus on more pressing projects and deadlines.

It was in this transition between projects that I experienced something I’d never felt as a writer before. It wasn’t writer’s block in the sense that I was unable to write. It was more a lack of connection to what I was writing. I was just trudging through the story with feelings of–

why am I writing this?

This doesn’t feel like a story that needs to be told.

Why would anyone want to watch this? 

Naturally, these feelings left me unmotivated to write.

As a writer, I’d definitely experienced doubt before. I’d felt the hardship of revisions and writing later drafts. I’d also experienced agony of early outlining. But this feeling was something different. This was almost a distain for story in general, and an apathy towards writing. I’m not sure what to attribute it to. It could’ve been overworking myself. It could’ve been a too-fast transition from one project to another. Either way, I had to find a way to fall back in love with my projects and with writing on the whole.

And I did.

Here are the five ways I found the most useful in this process:

1. Taking a break.

It could be a week, a month, or as little as ten minutes. Stepping away from your projects allows you to look at them with a fresh pair of eyes when you return.

Part of what led to my writer’s block/apathy towards writing may have been that I’d overworked myself and existed too long in story worlds. One of the most enjoyable things about writing is that you’re able to immerse yourself in a new world of your own creation. But you must also exist in the real world in order for this solitary process to be enjoyable.

And usually as soon as you take a break, several new insights on your projects or new ideas for other stories come flooding at you.

2. Watch all your favourite movies again.

What are the viewing experiences that made you first want to be a writer? The cool thing about movies as a storytelling medium is that they take us on an emotional journey through the use of visuals, sound, and music composition. Replicate that journey by watching your top ten favourite movies again, and gain fresh insight into how you can create similar journeys for others.

What makes you want to be a writer instead of a film analyst or critic?

3. Write to a moral or a theme.

Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 1.00.01 PMScreen Shot 2015-06-26 at 1.01.36 PM

It’s often said that people always remember the opening sentence of a novel and the final scene/image of a film.

Identify what you’re  trying to say with your story. Identify why you wanted to tell it in the first place, and why it’s important to you. What message or new insight do you want your audience to leave the movie with?

Once you’ve identified what that is, write it down and tape it to your computer as a reminder.

Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 1.07.41 PM

Once you’ve done that, find a final image or closing sequence to end your movie on that encapsulates what you’re trying to say. Determining this may allow you to regain your passion for your story.

4. There’s safety in early drafts.

Know that what you’re writing is not the finished product, and is possibly not even something you’re sending out. Give yourself the freedom to write terribly, knowing that what you’re writing is merely the foundation for something greater. Give yourself a foundation first, then you’ll be in a position to improve upon it.

5. It’s mind over matter.

Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 12.50.29 PM

It really is. Once I went through the other four steps, I realised that all it actually took was thinking about my stories and my process more positively. In the early stages, writing is a solitary experience. Therefore, it is solely up to the writer to determine how they think about their writing, and how to move forward with it.

The onus of writing and believing in a story is entirely on the person coming up with the story.

Just do it.

Here is an article on Scott Meyer’s Go Into The Story that I also found extremely helpful:

http://gointothestory.blcklst.com/2015/06/why-write-2.html

Posted in Advice, Feature Films | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Going Off Book: Writing The Story As It Comes To You

Yesterday I wrote about the usefulness of re-outlining your story once you’ve finished a first draft. My focus was that doing so would help strengthen the structure of your story and aid you in the rewriting process.

Another reason doing so would be helpful is that many writers find new narrative paths to explore while they’re in the middle of writing their screenplay. I can’t think of one screenplay that I’ve written on spec where I didn’t redevelop the story in the middle of writing, even if I had extensively outlined it beforehand.

I usually roll my eyes when I hear a script tutor or ‘guru’ prattle on about how they have conversations with their characters and that their stories sing out to them and demand to be told or whatever – but to an extent I’ve found that to be true: When you’re in the thick of writing the first draft of your screenplay, you have a different perspective than you do when you’re simply outlining it. This fresh perspective gives you the freedom to follow your characters and story wherever they lead you (gah!).

Your original outline still acts as your guide and gives you clear turning points to write towards. But giving yourself the freedom to explore your story within that rough framework can be an even more creatively rewarding experience.

If you’re following this approach, and redeveloping your story within the script itself, re-outlining becomes essential in order to re-examine your structural turning points. It’s not until after you’ve written the screenplay that you can step back and diagnose what’s working and what’s not working about where your story and characters chose to lead you.

Viki King, author of How to Write a Movie in 21 Days, champions this approach.

For an alternate view on structure and outlining, here are scribemeetsworld.com’s guide on the 8 major turning points of a screenplay.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment