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Thursday, January 24, 2019

And Interview with Paulina Lagudi, writer/director/producer of Mail Order Monster - post author Anthony Cawood

An Interview with Paulina Lagudi

This interview originally appeared on Anthony Cawood’s ScreenWritingOpportunities blog.

Paulina is the Writer/Director/Producer of the new movie Mail Order Monster (MOM). We delve into how she got started, how she gets films made and how MOM got made.

Thanks to Paulina for a really insightful interview

Q: Could you give me a little bit of background on how you got into screenwriting and filmmaking?
A: I really have to give a lot of credit to my fiancé, Cooper Ulrich, who is also the DP of Mail Order Monster. I had gone to school for theater, but after Cooper and I met, he convinced me that my ideas weren’t crappy and I was really good at bossing people around. I’ve always been casually writing, but didn’t get deep into screenwriting until I wanted to produce and direct. I never thought I was much of a writer, but now I get a lot of enjoyment out of it.

Q: From IMDb it looks like you usually write and produce what you shoot, so what came first for you writing, producing or directing?
A: Producing came first. I produced branded commercial videos first and even directed most of them. I then added writing into that mix when I wanted to make my narrative shorts.

Q: Many writers are advised to ‘film it’ themselves but many struggle to take this step – how did you do it and any advice for those contemplating this step?
A: Well, I can understand the hesitation because writing was a means for me to make work and build a directing reel. However, for those that are strictly writers, definitely just pick up even the cheapest camera and shoot it as cheap as you can first (I recommend you do this with shorts not features to start). Even if no one sees it, you’ll learn a lot about your writing through this process. I started editing my shorts and other works this year and it has taught me so much more about writing and directing. All the storytelling processes teach us more and more about how to connect our stories to audiences. So film it, then through that, recruit some collaborators that can help you expand on your next piece of writing.

Q: You also produce much of your output, how have you found the difficult area of raising funds? Any tips?
A: Well, I’ve become very poor lol. I’ve adjusted my means of living to accommodate my investment into my projects because that’s what I’m willing to do. This business isn’t easy and you have to be willing to give up a lot to continually practice your craft. When it comes to producing, you have to be really savvy. The business is changing for producers. Producers not only have to find funds and the team to make a project happen but also have to know how to market and distribute it in case that ends up being the best strategy for the project. A producer’s wealth comes from connections and time. The more people you know and the more projects you do that can “make a splash”, then you’ll level up to higher budget projects where it is easier for other people to give you money.
I’m actually redeveloping my Producer Bootcamp that takes people from script to release on their project. In general though, if your project can be made for a few thousand that is easy to raise through crowdfunding, but simultaneously builds an audience that you can stay engaged with, do THAT. But every project, especially features where it’s intended to be sold, is a start up. Look at it as a business that is selling a product. Therefore, you need a solid business plan that manages risk NOT one that shows potential gain. Investors are more likely interested in giving a project money that has a tax benefit to them even if the project makes no money. So, be savvy. There are also production and financing companies that exist in order to help find funding for your project if it has a solid package. That package typically includes some letters of intent from name actors and/or name creatives.

Q: You started with a couple of shorts, how did they come about?
A: I wish I had a simple answer for that. They kind of just happened. I would do them all SOO differently now in almost every way if I could, but those mistakes were made to learn from, so no regrets. They pretty much came from being around other creatives that were hungry to make something and learn just as much as I was. We put our heads together and created something.

Q: What did you learn from that experience and take into your first feature, Mail Order Monster (MOM)?
A: I learned how to put out fires and that really is going to be your number one job when you make a feature. You will plan and plan and plan and plan and then it will all go down the drain and you’ll have to call some audibles. However, that becomes quite simple to do when you know your story really well because of all the planning you’ve done. That’s what I learned. Planning is a must, but be prepared for all of it to go down the drain.

Q: Any advice to writer’s considering a similar approach to move into directing or producing?
A: Start now. Start small. Learn how to edit. It’s very simple now with Adobe Premiere. I taught myself how to edit and it really changed the game for me. I was able to produce so much more content for so much less.

Q: When it came to your first feature script, how do you approach structure? Do you follow any particular narrative method or model?
A: Mail Order Monster is a family film, so I definitely followed a standard 3 Act structure with it because it has to be something that kids can swallow. I find that most of the stories I’ve written tend to stay within that structure to a degree, but that’s only because that was what’s best for those stories. I think, just like anything in storytelling, it has to be customized to the story you’re telling. If you’re telling a story that connects better with the audience through a non-traditional non-linear structure, then definitely go with that. If telling your story in that way hinders people from understanding your characters and story, then maybe that isn’t the right approach.

Q: Have you ever written spec scripts and if so how did you get it out there? Did you query Producers, enter competitions, use Inktip, etc?
A: I’ve never written a spec script and have been fortunate enough to have been hired to write a film based off of Mail Order Monster and the treatment I submitted. I have searched for scripts through Inktip, though. I know a lot of fellow producers find scripts through competitions and festivals.

Q: When looking for scripts, through Inktip or elsewhere, what are you looking for and how do you decide on what to read/not read?
A: It depends. If I’m looking for a specific type of genre, then I will look for stories in that genre that I feel like have an edge or haven’t been told in that way before. As producers, we’re always looking for the edge to a script. If it doesn’t have a hook that we can pitch and sell, then it becomes very difficult for us to make it. That’s pretty much my filter for scripts. If the logline sounds like it’s something that audiences will say “Oh, I’ve never seen that before,” then I’ll read it.

Q: Any competitions or festivals in particular that you or your colleagues regard highly?
A: There are the obvious ones like the Blacklist and the bigger screenplay festivals like the Austin film festival. However, if a script is sent and it has that it won any sort of award on there, then we usually give that some merit. Generally speaking, regardless of the name of the competition or festival, your script was still chosen as a winner against others. That’s something that is given weight.

Q: Your feature has a great cast, including Charisma Carpenter, how did casting come together?
A: My fellow producer, Robert Ulrich, owns one of the top casting offices in LA with his two partners. His office, UDK casting, was essential in getting the cast I was so lucky to have had.

Q: She’s playing a very different role to what many people will be familiar with, did that present any challenges?
A: Nope. Charisma is a great actress, so she took on the role that was written very well. She’s a big collaborator so she brought a lot to the character that caused me to do rewrites on the entire script and really elevated it.

Q: You have a child star and co-star at the heart of this movie, what are the challenges involved and the logistics for things like schooling?
A: This is where the producing hat comes on because it’s important to write down the pros and cons of your shooting location. So all the kids in the film were Kentucky locals and we shot in the summer, so we didn’t need any studio teachers or schooling.

Q: I loved MOM, great family film but can be a difficult genre – what has the critical and commercial reaction been?
A: Thank you so much. Critically, it’s had a pretty solid reaction. People either love it or just like it and can see the flaws in it, which I can see every time (we shot a low budget movie with kids in 17 days lol). The overall consensus critically and commercially is that if people can watch it with kids or with a child’s point of view, they really enjoy it. They enjoy it even more if they are a stepparent. I’ve had kids who have been adopted or are step kids cry to me after seeing the movie because they related to it.
On the other hand, it turns out middle aged and young men who aren’t married or have kids don’t like it at all. Although, they weren’t really my demographic when I was making the film.

Q: Where can people see MOM and your short films?
A: MOM can be found on iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Googleplay, Xbox, Vudu, DVD’s at Walmart (February 5) and Showtime (February 6 I think). Some of my short films can be found online at boyish.media under my name, Paulina Lagudi, and also on my Instagram TV @paulinalagudi.

Q: You’ve also worked as just the Producer on things like ‘The Lover’, how different is this when you’ve not got creative control?
A: To be honest, it’s not really my favorite. It depends on the project really. For feature films, which there are a couple coming up soon, I actually like just being a producer if I’ve been hired in that capacity. I find there’s so much creative work to be done when it comes to the marketing and distribution strategy. It was actually too much to handle when doing that on MOM and directing and producing day to day on set.
It is very different, though, because you’re not just answering to yourself. There’s a lot more personality management. But as long as the story and project is what’s at the highest priority, it all ends up working out. Ego is the enemy.

Q: What other projects are you working on now and when can we next expect to see your name on the credits?
A: As mentioned earlier, I was hired to write a feature film for a production company, so I’ve been working on that as well as two other feature scripts. Hopefully, we’ll be shooting one of them this year for me to direct and produce also. I’m also producing a couple movies with some friends of mine, which is always fun when you’re working with talented, hardworking creatives.

Q: Screenwriters get told that there are all sorts of formatting ‘rules’ that they must adhere to… any specific things that would turn you off or stop you reading a spec script?
A: Well, it has to look like a script. I know sometimes people want to get fancy, but you can’t write a script like an essay or a poem or whatever. I don’t know. It’s not fun for the reader. It’s easier if you just follow script format. I also HATE it when a script is sent and it’s clearly a first draft and has tons of spelling and grammatical issues….unless it’s my friends and they’ve told me this ahead of time. In general, if you’re sending out a first draft of your script to producers, you’re not doing yourself any favors.

Q: What’s the best and worse screenwriting/filmmaking advice you’ve been given?
A: Well, on my first draft of MOM, I was told to stop and not write lol.

Now for a few ‘getting to know Paulina’ questions

Q: What’s your favourite film? And favourite script, if they’re different.
A: I have so many favorite films, but the one at the top of my list recently is Andrea Arnold’s “Fish Tank”. Second to that is always “Shame” by Steve McQueen. I don’t have any favorite scripts that I can recall, but I did just read a script from fellow writer, Marc Prey, recently that was one of the best I’ve read in a very long time.

Q: Favourite author and book?
A: I don’t think I’ve ever stuck with reading just one author’s books other than the entire “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” series, which I love! So besides Steig Larrson, my other favorite books are “The Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zaffon, Ryan Holiday’s “Ego is the Enemy” and “Obstacle is the Way”, and John Irving’s “A Prayer for Owen Meany” (that one always stuck with me since I was a kid).

Q: Wine, Beer, Gin… or something else?
A: You just named my 3 favorite things! I love a great Gin and Tonic. My dad has a wine cellar so always grew up on wine. I really love Ports and dessert wines. My fiancé and I also love craft beers. He’s the whiskey drinker, but I still haven’t been able to get on that level.

Q: Favourite food?
A: Oof this is a hard one because I’m a huge foodie, I love to cook, AND I’m Italian. My favorite food might have to be my fiancé’s grilled bone in rib eye steak. It is pretty phenomenal. Second to that is pasta with my homemade tomato sauce.

Q: Any other interests and passions?
A: I study Krav Maga. So far, I’m two more tests away from being a blue belt. Context to that is a blue belt is two belts down from a black belt.

Q: Any final thoughts for the screenwriters of SimplyScripts?
A: This industry is a long game. It takes a lot of practice and a lot of persistence. I recently came across this quote that was very helpful to me, so I’ll share it with all of you:
“All of us who do creative work…we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there’s a gap, that for the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good…It’s really not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good. But your taste — the thing that got you into the game — your taste is still killer, and your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you.” – Ira Glass (an excerpt from Ego is the Enemy).

Once again, thanks to Paulina for such a great interview.


About the reviewer: Anthony Cawood is an award winning screenwriter from the UK with 4 short films produced and another 10 or so scripts optioned and/or purchased. Links to his films and details of his scripts can be found at www.anthonycawood.co.uk.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Shoving Forward, and Moving Back – Lake Regret - post author Gary Howell

Rick and I got back into the outline business, albeit on a superficial level, as I’m in the Pacific Northwest on vacation (I love Houston, but when it’s 95 degrees in September, it’s time to get the hell outta hell for a week to cooler climates).  But as I mentioned in our last post, I felt like we needed to give a little boost to our main protagonist’s decision to leave town on a permanent basis.

Now, for the moment, I’m not going to reveal what my suggestion to change was. Suffice to say, it was a very significant change to the character.  Rick’s was hesitant to make the change, as he thought that it would necessitate going back to the beginning and completely redoing the outline draft, and in addition, that it might change the tone of the movie from a dramedy in the vein of “Juno” or “Little Miss Sunshine” to a straight drama.

My argument was that the character change would already be known to the other characters, so it would only result in minor changes to the outline, and there was no need to change the tone of the film, because a film like “Juno” dealt with tough subject (abortion and teen pregnancy) while still making it an uplifting and, in many cases, a wildly funny film.

The bottom line is that we’re both wanting a film in the tone of “Juno” and we’re going to ponder this character turn and see where it leads us.  If we decide to make the change you’ll be the first to know.

So back to the outline as it’s currently situated: when we last left the outline, Jinx was in the house and Cass asked him to come over and sit on the couch with him while Hunter watches.  Hunter and Cass share a conspiratorial smile and then Hunter goes outside and find Ellie, and tells her that “her boyfriend Jinx is putting the moves on Cass”.

Ellie dismisses it — “he’s not my boyfriend” — but we can see that she’s fuming over this news.  More conflict created!

Back inside, Jinx has extricated himself from the situation and is going down the hallway looking for a restroom.  He accidentally opens the doorway to a spare room in the lake house where Lucas’ dad, Paul, is running on a treadmill. Jinx is embarrassed by the interruption, but Paul waves him in eagerly.  He stops the treadmill, and Jinx apologizes for the intrusion. Paul says he needed to stop anyway.  Can run and run all he wants on it, but never gets anywhere.  A little bit of subtext towards Jinx, who is intending to run away from this small town at the first chance he gets, but will he really get anywhere if he does?

Paul shows Jinx a picture on the wall.  It’s of Jinx and Lucas working at the hardware store.  Paul reminds Jinx that Jinx helped Lucas get a job with his parents’ business.  Kept him away from some bad people (like Hunter) at a time in his life when Lucas really needed it.  Jinx says he just wanted someone fun to work with during the summer.  Maybe it worked out for both of them.

And now we go on in for a reinforcement of why Jinx wants to leave.  Paul asks about Jinx taking over the parents’ business someday and Jinx fidgits for a response. “I get it. Not your thing.” Jinx is surprised at that reaction.

“So what are you doing instead?”
“Going to college,” Jinx replies.
“And?”
“That’s as far as I’ve gotten.”
“Well, that’ll be further than a lot of the kids in this town. This place is a black hole. Unless you get far enough away from it, you’re sucked in permanently.”

We’ve now established that even the adults in this town know that if you stay here, you’re stuck here, and that Jinx needs to go.

We’ll keep you updated on what we’re going to do with Jinx’ character, and I’ll be updating the post on screenwriting software soon!

 


The further adventures of the screenwriting and marketing process of Lake Regret wherein Gary Howell documents his and Rick Hansberry's screenwriting adventures from concept, to the writing, to how they handle disagreements, to marketing the script. Reproduced with permission

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Trying to Shake up the Outline – Lake Regret - post author Gary Howell

We’We’ll provide the second part regarding our overview of screenwriting programs soon, but our outline still beckons and I’m having some hesitation with where it is going at the moment. I felt like it would have a different feel to it; Rick and I wanted a high school version of “It’s a Wonderful Life” — a feel-good story that could be easily made.

Right now it has taken on a darker tone and there’s a little bit of drift going on. From the one-pager we originally wrote for the premise, I think we have Acts I and III pretty much figured out, but Act II is getting to be a little bit of a struggle.

Here’s the dilemma. Our main character, Jinx, is determined to get out — forever — from the small town he’s lived all his life. He was involved in an accident that killed his friend Nick, a popular student at school, and he feels like he’s always going to be “that guy” — and that he’ll never be forgiven for what he’s done. Plus, he has bigger dreams than just running the family hardware business for the rest of his life and living amongst all these same people who do the same things every day.

The trick, of course, is how do you show that? You can’t just have him talk about it for an hour and a half. That would be utterly boring and no producer would want to make it. So we have to come up with devices to show his frustration, his dismay. I think you can show it in pictures; for example, in the opening I envision Jinx, Ellie and Tate driving through the small town on the way to the party and the visuals show it as a drab, lifeless place. And the way he sees it is the way we see it as well, so that we can empathize with him

Maybe at the party we show the students as all acting alike, or thinking alike. Or, like in “Napoleon Dynamite” (one of my all-time favorite movies), when they show up for the dance, the decorations and the way the students dress scream out “small town”. The same could be done here. You can’t completely spell what the art direction for a movie — that’s the Art Director and Costume Designer’s jobs — but you can drop clues as to what the tone and look and feel is. For example, when describing the town they’re driving through, it’s enough to say that “it feels as if they’re driving through a town stuck in the 1960’s,” or “mom and pop shops line the deserted main street.” No need to over describe here.

Of course, at some point Jinx will have to verbally express his emotions at times — but expositional dialogue in a movie is boring to listen to. So what he says needs to have impact in a way that we’ll feel it with him and that we’re not just listening to an actor recite some lines. I have an idea that I need to share with Rick — I’m currently writing this 30,000 feet in the air flying to Seattle from Houston — and it might be a game changer. Will see if I can convince Rick to buy in on this — stay tuned!


The further adventures of the screenwriting and marketing process of Lake Regret wherein Gary Howell documents his and Rick Hansberry’s screenwriting adventures from concept, to the writing, to how they handle disagreements, to marketing the script. Reproduced with permission

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Part One – The Unending Question: Which Screenwriting Software to Use? – Lake Regret - post author Gary Howell

I’ve been asked what software I use for writing and for outlining, and what would I suggest for new writers who want to get into screenwriting but either can’t afford the top-end programs or don’t want to spend money on something that they may not get a lot of use from.

This is an endless debate that goes on and on and you will never find anyone that will give you the definitive answer on what program to use. There will be people out there who tell you that you can do just fine with free software or web-based writing tools, like WriterDuet or Celtx, and others that tell you that if you have any hope of working with industry professionals, you’ll need professional software like Final Draft or Movie Magic Screenwriter.

Let’s start with the easy proposition, which is: outlining. You do NOT need any professional software to outline. You can handwrite on a legal pad, use note cards, or my preference, writing in Microsoft Word. Of course, Word is not a free software, put if you have an iPad, you probably have “Pages”, which is fairly close. I use Word because I can type and type and type my garbage draft outline, edit things easily, copy and paste, and use their pre-formatted outlining tool. I can also easily send a copy of my draft to my writing partner, Rick, and he can edit it and add his own notes. Can’t do that with a legal pad or Post It Notes! It is a convenient tool and I highly recommend it.

But what about outlining software, you might ask? Software that helps you develop your outline and characters? I’ve looked at them and even tried a couple just to see what they were about. Some of the ones out there that you may have heard of are Plot Control, Contour, Dramatica,  and Outline 4D.

These programs are designed to help you along in the outlining process by asking you questions. For example, Plot Control will prompt you to answer questions like “What is the unique or significant event that is happening to the main character?” or “What is the main character’s personal goal and what obstacles are preventing the character from achieving it?” Answering these questions will supposedly help you propel the narrative forward and essentially get you a completed outline. I’ve tried it and found that while the prompts help with explaining different stages of the story, like the “inciting incident,” and is somewhat easy in use, the layout is a little boring and is not great with providing many examples to help in the use.

Contour prompts you along on each of the plot points and sets up a series of “Yes/No” situations to create drama and conflicts for the characters. Contour is good in that it can help in creating hurdles for your protagonist, and it provides a lot of examples to explain each question prompt (as well as provide a lot of completed storylines from actual movies so you can observe what the outline should look like). The downside I have with it is that it seems to force you into a given scenario or type of film. For example, every main character seems to have to be faced with either a literal or metaphorical “death” to propel the story along. It’s a bit overdone, especially if you’re trying to write a comedy or lighter indie-film.

Dramatica is the most highly detailed of all and incredibly difficult to use. It’s gets into a lot of minutia for something that should be a fairly short process. You have to define your characters, get into a ton of options for what the character’s journey is, and then start building in the supporting characters and their journey. You could have literally hundreds of different options at your disposal, which is great, but it is so confusing and frustrating to use that you’ll likely give up on it after an hour of use. They do have videos explanations on how to use the software, but honestly, if you have to watch hours of explanations to write out your outline, then maybe this software isn’t for you. Listen, they have a lot of people that swear by it, so maybe you just have to try their free trial version for yourself to see. Note that the Windows and Mac versions are radically different – the Mac version is the more souped-up one.

If you just want a straightforward outlining program, then perhaps you can try Outline 4d. It has a dual way of outlining, either in timeline version or a more standard outline. The timeline version has the ability to show you, theoretically, how you’re progressing in terms of minutes into the movie with the various stages of your outline. Thus, you can see whether your Act I is running forty minutes long (that’s too long!). It’s a little distracting with the visuals in timeline. The standard outline is more what you’re likely used to and you can type away to your heart’s delight. The outline is pre-formatted so you don’t have to think, really, just type. They also have several examples, like “Thelma and Louise,” that they have pre-populated in the program to show what your outline should ultimately look like. It does not provide you any prompts or explain what certain elements of the story are, so it’s not very useful from that standpoint.

I should point out here that several of the screenwriting programs, like Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter, have developed ways for you to create story notes and index cards within their program, so you don’t necessarily need an outlining program if you just prefer jotting notes down as you go.

For me the bottom line on all these programs is that these programs might be helpful in prompting questions you may not have been thinking of, but ultimately, you have to understand that they don’t write the story for you. They can only provide the prompt, and if you need a program to ask you questions about a story you should already know, then maybe the problem is your story and your whole creative thinking process. Your brain is the most important software you need, and if you can’t creatively craft a story without prompting from a piece of software, you’re never going to be able to get that story into a quality script.

My suggestion is you spend time with however you write, whether on a laptop, on a legal pad, or what have you, and begin with your idea. Think about how you want it to begin and how you want it to end. If it helps, write down your beginning on one side of a piece of paper, and the ending on the other side of the paper, and draw a line from that beginning to the end. Now draw about 5 or 6 up and down lines through that line. These will represent roadblocks for your characters (every main character needs roadblocks to hinder his journey) and it’s up to you to figure out how to get your character around these roadblocks. This is a simple process and can help you more clearly define your story and build your outline!

In addition, spend some time writing two or three line descriptions about your main characters. Once you’ve done that, go back and re-read them critically. Do they all look like the same character? Do they all have the same traits? One helpful trick on this is to ask yourself the question: What if this movie was about them, rather than the main character? How would it be different? How would they react in the same situations? Shining a light on the supporting characters and their unique roles can provide you with a richer, fuller, more dynamic movie.

In Part Two of this post, we’ll talk about screenwriting software programs and which ones we prefer.




The further adventures of the screenwriting and marketing process of Lake Regret wherein Gary Howell documents his and Rick Hansberry’s screenwriting adventures from concept, to the writing, to how they handle disagreements, to marketing the script. Reproduced with permission

Friday, November 9, 2018

Reaching the Midpoint of the Outline – Lake Regret - post author Gary Howell

We’re still balancing work life and family life and writing life in trying to finish our outline.  I’m sure this is never an issue for you (ducks as you hurl projectiles at my head), but it’s constantly something we all need to juggle as we try to conjure up things creatively.

I’m a big believer that a well-balanced life makes for a well-balanced writer.   If all you know if your work life or family life, that’s going to be reflected in your writing, as your world experience tends to color your writing style.  Maybe you’re the exception, maybe you can handle 14 hour work days and 6 hours of sleep, trying to cram in a couple of hours of writing in between fast food meals.  But what will that writing look like?

If you have an unbalanced life, take a look at some of your writing and see if it’s not having an effect. Better yet, have someone you trust to read it and give you an honest assessment of what’s in there. If it’s off in any way, take some time to go out and doing something enjoyable.  Hike.  Go to a baseball game.  Binge watch “Ozark”.  Drink some beers with friends.  Once your head is cleared of all the unhealthy crap, then you can be more productive.

So back to the outline.  When we last left our friends, Lucas and Hunter were having a little disagreement over whose side Lucas was on.  After Lucas sides with Jinx, Hunter tells his guys to be wary of him because he could get in the way.

Time to create some more complications for Jinx.

Music is playing and students are dancing.  Lucas asks Ellie to dance and she agrees. As they dance, Jinx watches them from the house through a window.  He thinks Lucas has feelings for Ellie.  He’s distracted as Cass walks behind him.  She sits on a couch and beckons Jinx.  He gives in to the temptation, goes over and sits down.

After the dance is over, Lucas tells Ellie about the picture on the mantle.  Ellie says that was the trip where Nick almost got ticketed for underage drinking and Jinx talked the cop out of it.  As they talk, Ellie folds a napkin, making a flower out of it.  She attaches it to a straw and sticks it in Lucas’ drink.  “What’s this?” asks Lucas.  Ellie isn’t even aware she was doing it. “Oh, that.  It’s a flower for your drink. Jinx used to always be annoyed that the Mexican restaurant that didn’t put a flower or umbrella in my virgin pina coladas and so he would make me one out of a napkin.  Guess I just picked up on it.” Lucas is a bit put off that everything is becoming about Jinx.

Back in the house, Cass makes small talk with Jinx.  When the small talk stalls, she gets more direct: “What’s the deal with you and Ellie?” Jinx is nothing if not honest, and tells her that at one time, he thought she might be the one, but now he’s basically resigned to just moving on – he’s leaving everything behind here, including her.  “Well,” Cass replies, “Maybe you ought to create a new memory you can take with you,” and slides her hand over to his leg.  Jinx is uncomfortable.

Hunter watches Cass and Jinx from across the room. Cass and Hunter’s eyes meet, and they share a conspiratorial smile.  Jinx sees Hunter, and as Cass slides in closer to Jinx, he extricates himself from the situation, embarrassed.

We’re now creating several scenarios where things could go wrong.  Hunter and Jinx, Lucas butting heads with Hunter, Cass interfering potentially between Jinx and Ellie, and whether Jinx and Ellie can truly express their feelings before it’s too late.

As we head into the second half of Act II, we’ll continue ramping up these tensions.  If you have any comments about how it’s going so far we’d love to hear them!


The further adventures of the screenwriting and marketing process of Lake Regret wherein Gary Howell documents his and Rick Hansberry's screenwriting adventures from concept, to the writing, to how they handle disagreements, to marketing the script. Reproduced with permission

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Getting the Outline into Act II – Lake Regret - post author Gary Howell

So after taking a Sunday off, we got back to working on the outline.  We’ve completed the outline for Act I, and we’ve locked our main character, Jinx, into a difficult situation. Our resident bad guy, Hunter, was forming a plan to exact revenge on Jinx.  You can see the previous outline blog notes in previous posts.

Now as we go into Act II, we need to start creating obstacles for Jinx and begin raising the stakes for him. That can be in the form of human obstacles, or in many cases, moral ambiguities.  Both create the dramatic tension we’re looking for.  But it can’t all be emotional conflicts and head-butting, and you can’t get right to the dramatic showdown between Jinx and Hunter — you have to build to that point, constantly pulling the rubber band until it can’t stretch anymore, then let it snap into place.  And hope that you don’t stretch it too far and break it.

Starting with Act II, Jinx leaves the dock and wants to leave the party.   He’s looking for Tate, and goes to the lake house to find him. Not seeing him, he goes in the house, where students parade in and out.  Inside, he’s nowhere to be seen.  Students are situated around the house – it’s not a wild scene, but people are enjoying themselves.

One of the things we want to try and do with Jinx is show how he has had an effect on others, even when he doesn’t realize it.  Why do this?  Because one of the themes of this script will be that Jinx has had an impact on the lives of others, even when he can’t see it, especially in this world after the accident where he has built up this belief in his mind of how he’s now a pariah in this small Texas town.  So we’ll show small things that begin to add up as we go.

One girl, Savannah, stops Jinx, asks him where he’s going to college. University of Texas, he says.  Me, too, she responds.  She’s excited because she’ll be able to get help on her freshman history classes.  “You saved my ass on a half dozen exams junior year.” Another student with her pipes in. “Saved me too.” Jinx isn’t sure how to respond, but before he can figure it out, the girls are off to chat with someone else.

In addition, we’re going to drop in a little subtext.  In this instance, Jinx stops in front of a mantle above the fireplace, where there are various framed pictures. Several of them are of Lucas and Maggie, some with Lucas’ parents. It’s obvious the house belongs to Lucas’ family.  We finally land on one important picture:  It happens to be Jinx with four other people: one is Lucas.  The others are Ellie, Maggie and a guy we haven’t seen yet (Nick).  They look happy in the picture. Not a care in the world.  Jinx is transfixed by the picture.

From behind Jinx a voice arises: “Remember where that pic was taken?.” Jinx turns, and it’s Lucas. “San Antonio,” says Jinx.  “I remember you were surprised by how small the Alamo actually was,” replies Lucas.  Jinx agrees. “I imagined it being larger than life.”  Lucas follows up with: “I miss hanging out with you.  Let’s get together this summer, okay?” Jinx mumbles a half-hearted, “sure.”

The subtext, of course, is that we tend to make things bigger than they tend to be, and in particular, Jinx has made the accident bigger in his mind than it is in others. But Jinx of course can’t see that — yet.

We need to bring Hunter back for another appearance to offset the good feelings we just got from Jinx and Lucas.  So Lucas leaves the house and runs into Hunter and his goons. There is an argument over whose side Lucas is on.  Lucas makes it clear where he stands and moves on. Hunter mentions to his guys to watch out for Lucas.  He might get in the way of their plans, and if they have to, they’ll take care of him as well.

We’ll continue working on this and post the next part of our outline (and other random thoughts) soon.  In addition, because of some of you may want to see the continuing outline as we go so we’ll create a page that has our progress.  If there is anything else you’d like to see, please let us know!


The further adventures of the screenwriting and marketing process of Lake Regret wherein Gary Howell documents his and Rick Hansberry's screenwriting adventures from concept, to the writing, to how they handle disagreements, to marketing the script. Reproduced with permission

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Getting into Subtext with our Script – Lake Regret - post author Gary Howell

A good script is going to have a lot of layers to it, in other words, it’s not just A, then B, then C, then D.  That results in a pretty thin script.  One of the best ways to add subtlety to your script and build unique characters is by adding subtext.  As we’re building our outline, Rick and I are always looking for ways to add subtext to the story.

What is subtext you ask? It’s really just an underlying or deftly hidden action by a character.  Rick is a master of the subtext, and I’ll let him explain his thinking on the subject:

If there was a strength or skill to consistently work on as you ply your craft as a screenwriter, I’d recommend it be adding subtext to each of your scenes. It makes movies so much more impactful when you’re watching them and enhances your characters and story immensely. Sometimes, in ways you don’t even put together right away — I’ll offer two examples, one from an older film and one from a more contemporary film, that I use in my screenwriting workshops to illustrate:

1. Think back to “The Graduate.” – There are countless examples in this film alone (Mike Nichols was a genius and you’d do well to listen, watch and learn from his incredible body of work) but I specifically love this simple example: Remember, early in the film, Dustin Hoffman has graduated college and is basically loafing at his parent’s house, unsettled and unsure of what he wants to do with his life. This frustrates his career-minded father to no end. One day, the Father comes home and his shoulders collapse upon seeing Dustin Hoffman floating on a raft in their pool, just chilling and thinking. He, of course, pleads that it’s time to ‘do something with your life’ and Dustin merely looks at him and feels very misunderstood. For me, the beautiful subtext in this scene is that it’s set for our directionless character in a pool where he’s literally drifting aimlessly. The mere visual of him ‘drifting’ enhances the message so beautifully, yet it doesn’t hit you over the head and scream: This guy’s got no direction in his life! Subtext. It adds so much. Do it in every scene.

2. Then there’s “Titanic.” — James Cameron, ’the screenwriter’ is as equally talented as James Cameron, ‘the director.’ Reading his scripts, the visuals pop and he’s very conscious of subtext in pivotal scenes. Remember, toward the end of the first half of the film, Rose’s mother is helping her dress for the Captain’s dinner and making it very clear to Rose how important it is for her to stick with the ‘money and established’ suitor she’s positioned Rose for, rather than that impulsive bad boy Leonardo something-or-other. As she’s basically telling Rose what to do, what is Rose’s mother actually doing? Tightening her corset. She literally pulling the strings and tightening the pressure on Rose to her specifications. Rose is visibly uncomfortable yet her mother tightens and adds pressure. Again, it’s all very natural and organic because someone has to do it but the subtext of having Rose’s mother communicate her wishes this way, enhances the message, her character and the take-away from the scene exponentially.

Re-watch any of your favorite movies. There’s probably countless examples, some of which you may have missed on the first few watchings. Good subtext is often that — submerged in the words and actions of the very natural. Get good at it and screenwriters of the future will be citing examples from your scripts to screenwriters learning the craft. It’s a universal strength and powerful tool to make your scripts engaging on multiple levels.

Thanks to Rick for this valuable insight!  We’ll be back soon with more work on our outline!


The further adventures of the screenwriting and marketing process of Lake Regret wherein Gary Howell documents his and Rick Hansberry's screenwriting adventures from concept, to the writing, to how they handle disagreements, to marketing the script. Reproduced with permission

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Considerations for having a writing partner – Lake Regret - post author Gary Howell

Taking a quick break for the outlining sequence for a moment, as Rick Hansberry, my writing partner for “According to Plan”, “The Journeyers” and now “Lake Regret” provides some thoughts around whether you should consider a writing partner for one of your projects.  Listen up, guys, Rick is a sage when it comes to this stuff!

His thoughts on maybe why you DON’T co-write with someone:

“Generally, use thesetwo writers as guidelines, if you’re considering co-writing with someone. Everyone’s situation is different and these are by no means universal but intended to help those that have never co-written a screenplay with someone and are trying to evaluate if it will suit them. In reverse order of consideration:

5. Do not co-write to ‘learn.’ Before attempting to write a screenplay, be sure to read hundreds of them. Literally. They’re on-line and in books. There’s no excuse to not have read countless screenplays to understand, format, structure and the nuances of the craft. Your experience level may vary but never co-write your first screenplay. Learn the craft, then apply it.

4. Do not co-write to ‘coast.’ Sure, having a writing partner makes it easier to advance pages and attack revisions but there should always be a balance. A co-writer is a co-creator and there should always be a back-and-forth, give-and-take. If you tend to be lazy about writing, do not co-write to have someone to procrastinate with, rather treat him or her like an exercise or dieting partner — Push them through tough stretches – Hold them accountable and expect the same back. You’ll both win in the end.

3. Do not co-write for the ‘credit.’ If you’re looking to hitch your wagon to someone so you can finally say you’ve had something ‘produced’ or ‘optioned’ you’re doing it for the wrong reasons and it’ll show. Just about any produced writer (yes, I can say that my work has been ‘optioned,’ ‘bought,’ and ‘produced’ but I won’t say I speak for all) will tell you that there’s a certain amount of luck and having the right script at the right time in this business. They’ll also most likely share that there’s countless dozens of scripts by writers that haven’t sold anything or had anything produced that have more than one script that totally blows them away. Know in your heart of hearts that a good script doesn’t always get bought or produced and own it for what it is.

2. Do not co-write if you’re the type of person that doesn’t argue well or holds grudges. Just like every screenplay needs conflict, so do writers. Having a strength like structure or dialogue is fine but ultimately you have to bring your complete game to every script and so does your co-writer and inevitably there will be times when you disagree about a character, a joke in dialogue, a scene, or an ending. If you can’t argue for it and lose and be okay with it, then don’t waste the other person’s time. Creativity inherently wounds egos because no one loves everything. Accept going in that you’ll lose some battles and win some and the script will be better for it but if you hold a grudge — it’ll show in future exchanges and the script will suffer for it.

1. Do not co-write if you can’t accept a subordinate role sometimes. This is a rule to follow for relationships and marriages and careers in general. Let others take credit. Have enough self-esteem to know that your contribution to a project is valuable and it’s not all about you. One of my many hats is to work as a paralegal in a law firm. In many instances, I do the lawyers work for them (at a cheaper billable rate) and they simply review it and often present it to the client as their own — and that has to be okay with you. You have to accept that we all have different roles and times to shine. If you know you’re not the type of person that needs to be recognized or given credit or put on a pedestal, do not co-write but also — unless you’re producing and directing your own films, do not pursue screenwriting. In the film industry, even after the script is optioned or purchased and everyone loves it — it’ll be changed by countless others involved in the production. Have the internal fortitude to know that you’re not the chain, just a link.”

Next time, Rick will chime in with the 5 rules in favor of co-writing.  Stay tuned — and if you’re enjoying this blog, follow and share with your friends!

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The further adventures of the screenwriting and marketing process of Lake Regret wherein Gary Howell documents his and Rick Hansberry's screenwriting adventures from concept, to the writing, to how they handle disagreements, to marketing the script. Reproduced with permission

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Outline – Act 1 – Lake Regret - post author Gary Howell

In the previous post we talked about our method of outlining, which is to fall somewhere between the full-blown, no stone left unturned outline, and “we know the beginning and the end, let’s just write and see what happens” outline.  We have a generally good idea of where we wanted to go with it, and so we needed to do a broad brush painting of each act.

Pretty much 95% of the screenplays out there are in three acts.  You’ll see all these guidelines and screenwriting books that you must have three acts — it’s the way everyone does it.  The first act needs to be about 30 pages, they say, the second act about 40, and the final act around 25, give or take.  But if that doesn’t work for you, fine.  Write what works for you.  My only thing is that your story works, and you write it well.

If you are working in the three act structure, then the first act is for world-building.  We learn about the characters, what relationships they have, and the world in which they exist.  You also will typically will have what is known as the “inciting incident”, which pushes the protagonist into his or her story for the rest of the film.

With “Lake Regret” we will probably be following the three act structure, and so we need to do a little world building in the first draft of our outline.

We know we have our script set at a lake house, and we know a high school graduation party is going on throughout the film, so we have to start with getting our protagonist to the party, and introducing the main players (both the heroes and the villains) that will be driving the story.

We came up with five main characters and a couple of supporting characters to revolve the story around:

— Jimmy “Jinx” McCarthy,  our main protagonist.  Jinx is the kid that everyone used to like at his school, but ever since an accident caused the death of another student, he feels like he’s been shunned at the school, which may or may or not be imagined by Jinx.  He’s created a world in which he feels like everyone’s against him, and is determined to leave this small town he’s grown up in forever now that he’s graduated.

— Ellie Burton, Jinx’s friend and someone that Jinx has had a crush on for years.  She’s tried to build him up during his difficult time, but he’s still in a dark place.  Despite the crush Jinx has on her, she may have eyes for someone else.

— Tate Oliver, the person who knows Jinx better than anyone.  When he learns Jinx is trying to leave forever, he tries to be the voice of reason, and caution. But does Tate have an ulterior motive in keeping Jinx around?

— Hunter Callahan, who was a friend and football teammate of the student who died, and who is seeking revenge on Jinx.  The question is how far he will take that revenge.

— Cassie Wilbanks, an attractive student that flirts with Jinx throughout the party and may sabotage any chance of a relationship between Jinx and Ellie.

Now that we’ve outlined our main characters, we need them to start interacting.  Stay tuned to see where we take them…

 

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The further adventures of the screenwriting and marketing process of Lake Regret wherein Gary Howell documents his and Rick Hansberry's screenwriting adventures from concept, to the writing, to how they handle disagreements, to marketing the script. Reproduced with permission

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