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Saturday, October 6, 2018

Outlining for the script, how I hate it (but oh how I need it) – Lake Regret - post author Gary Howell

So before we delve into today’s post, just a bit of horn tootin for both Rick and me. Rick recently had another short film completed, “Missed Stop”, which will be hitting the festival circuits in the near future. I have a short script, “Last Rites”, that is set to be filmed in California over the Labor Day weekend, and so I hope to see a finished cut before the end of the year. Always great to see how the words you’ve written are interpreted by the director, the cinematographer, and the cast.

But getting those words to the script are always paramount to the writer, and how they get there varies from writer to writer.

There are those writers who need to have every beat in the story crafted out, the story blocked out to the greatest extent possible, characters fully described and the protagonists main arc perfectly delineated. Once they have all that then they can finally sit down and type out FADE IN and craft their script in accordance with their outline. I can’t do that. I just can’t. If that works for you and that’s the only way you can tell your story, then by all means, go for it. To me, it’s a little bit of paint by number writing, because you’re going through each scene and you’re writing based exactly on what’s in that outline without any room for maneuvering lest you sabotage the rest of the outline.

Then there are the writers who sit down at the computer with only a general idea in their heads about the story and the characters and just start typing. In their mind they want to see where the characters take the story — which is a bit of a fake out. The writer is the one driving the characters, so the writer still is the one making up the story on the fly. To those writers who can pull that off, I tip my cap to you and secretly loathe you, because that’s not how I can do it.

I think both Rick and I are somewhere in the middle group. We’ll look at each act, prepare a general, but not overly detailed, synopsis of each act, and then work from that. This allows us room to deviate from the big picture as the spirit moves us without having to go back and revamp the entire outline. It gives more flexibility to operate, and I feel, to be more creative overall.

I encourage anyone preparing to write a script to work with whatever gets you motivated to sit down and start writing. Do what works for you, and not because you read it in a book or because someone told you that it HAD to be done a certain way to be successful. Most of the people telling you that haven’t had any success to speak of.

That said, it’s time to start outlining. Let’s see where our outline takes us on our trip to Lake Regret.

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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, September 29, 2018

A Little Bit of History – Lake Regret - post author Gary Howell

So, before we get into today’s topic, I wanted to share a little background about Rick and me and how we started writing together.  I mean, you can obviously take the shortcut route and just read about us on our Writers page, but that’s the Reader’s Digest version.

We both were writing short film scripts for submission to a peer-review site called Movie Poet (R.I.P. to this great site), where every month a different topic was presented for you to write short script of up to five pages (and no more).   It had a very dedicated following and there were some extremely talented writers on that site.  I still run across some of these writers on other sites now, primarily Simply Scripts, another great peer review site (and free!).

One day — April 13, 2013, to be exact — I got an email from Rick asking me to read a series of two page scripts he had written.  This was to be the first of 1,316 emails (to date) that we have exchanged about scripts and other related matters (gmail does save every email you’ve ever written, I’ve discovered).

I gave him some feedback, he thanked me and that was that, or so I thought.  After a few months break, we connected again and I helped him with some notes and story ideas on his feature “Taking the Reins” (FYI, producers, this is a great script — ask Rick for a read!).  Then, in January, 2014, we committed to writing a feature together from scratch, and out of that came a great feature script (in my total unbiased opinion) called “According to Plan.”  It took about four months and when we finished, we sent it around, got a couple of reviews on the Black List, and put it on Simply Scripts (it’s still there, by the way, if you want to read it) but I thought it was one of those scripts where we thought we had written this great script (we had), but like 99% of most scripts written, it was destined to collect dust in the interwebs of history. Or so we thought.

Fast forward two years, after we’d been working on a lot of different projects — I had a short film produced and had been working with a director on a rewrite of one of his scripts; Rick had two feature films and two short films produced — he’s always been such a slacker — I received an email from a producer in L.A. who wanted to produce “According to Plan.”  He paid us to option the film and after some discussion, he decided he wanted to turn it into something completely different, much to our chagrin. Rick and I wound up writing an entirely new script out of it, called “The Journeyers,” and the producer is trying to find a director to helm the project.  We’ll see where it goes, but the option is still with him.  I could write an entire blog just on the process with that film, but it definitely gave me the idea for writing the blog for this script.

Rick and I have learned a lot about each other during the collaboration process, and the interesting thing is: we’ve never met in person.  He lives in Pennsylvania, and I’m in Texas.  We swear up and down we’re going to meet up someday, but life, as it always does, seems to get in the way.   We have similar backgrounds, both of us have experience, past and current, as DJ’s, we both have experience in the legal world, we’re both into fantasy sports.  So we come from a common place and a shared background, and it has made for a great collaboration.

What I’ve learned in writing with Rick is that we each bring different gifts and talents to the table.  He very much wears his producer’s hat and likes to think about the cost of everything that goes into the script; I’m more big idea guy and like to think about story, damn the costs.  Rick is pragmatic and I’m whimsical.  Rick does great subtext; I wouldn’t know subtext if it bit me in the nether regions.  Somehow we make it all work.

All that is to provide you with a couple of disagreements we had right off the bat, before we even started outlining for the script.  When I first thought about this piece, I envisioned this great opening where our protagonists enter to this great 70’s song from King Harvest called “Dancing in the Moonlight.”  Then I thought about other songs from the 70’s that would fit perfectly into certain sequences.  This needs to be a period piece, I thought.  Like “Dazed and Confused” (only better!).  Rick’s response: Uh, no.  Okay, he didn’t say it exactly that way, it was more like this:

“I don’t think it’s advisable. I’ve been watching postings for scripts and I never see anyone looking for ‘period pieces.’ Probably because they’re expensive to film and continuity is a bitch with what was and was not available — plus some youngish audiences will not know or appreciate ‘how’ things were. It works for adult drama series because they get an older audience.”

Okay. I get it. Pragmatism 1, Dreamers, 0.  I’ll get you next time, Pragmatic Rick!

Actually, I didn’t.  Next idea was the use of flashbacks to help tell the story.  I also envisioned an accident happening in one particular way.  Rick wasn’t necessarily keen on the idea. His response:

“Really, I’ve been trying to stay away from flashbacks. Not even from a producer’s standpoint of expense etc. I just find it ‘too easy’ — like you’re telling the audience to ‘pay attention, there’s a reason we’re interrupting the action to show you this.’ I like the challenge of a nuanced approach. Anyway, hack away and we’ll go back and forth. Nothing is carved in stone.”

A ha!  I’ll take that as a “maybe” and we’ll call it a draw!  Pragmatism 1.5, Dreamers .5!

We’ll hammer it all out, I promise.  And I’m going to get a victory for all of dreamers here soon!  Meanwhile, the outline is underway and we’ll bring you up to speed on how that is coming along in the next few posts.

_________________________

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, September 22, 2018

We’ve got a logline – Lake Regret - post author Gary Howell

We have a logline.  We think.  At least a first draft of one.

Loglines are a pain in the ass to write. I’ll be the first to admit that, and some of the best writers I know stink I writing them.  Loglines require you to be concise and to basically come up with an overview to your entire movie usually in a single sentence.  But they are helpful to quickly explain to someone the essence of your movie.  If they get bored with that simple explanation, or don’t understand it, then it’s a pretty good sign you’d better go back to the drawing board.  Here’s a quick article on writing a good logline that might be worth reading: How to Write the Perfect Logline

For “Lake Regret,” we wanted to convey the sadly ironic situation that our protagonist found himself in, and create empathy for what he was going through so that you would pull for him from beginning to end.

I’m going to leave the logline here for you to read, and ask yourself whether you would want to read this script.  If so, why?  If not, what is it that doesn’t appeal to you?  This is the sixth or seventh draft of the logline, and we’re willing to write seven or eight more, but your feedback can help us refine it further.

LOGLINE – LAKE REGRET
A high school senior who accidentally caused the death of a popular student tries to deal with the emotional fall out at a lake house graduation party, and at the same time cut ties with the small town he desperately wants to leave behind.

In our next post, we’ll start pulling back some more of the curtain about developing the storyline, and how a couple of guys who collaborate so well still can get into disagreements over the tone and direction of the script.

Bookmark this site and keep reading!  Hope to hear from you!

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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, September 15, 2018

The Concept Starts to Take Shape – Lake Regret - post author Gary Howell

In the last post, we talked about how Rick and I started out in planning our script.  and how it was going to be set around a lake house.  I asked, what’s so interesting about that?

Here’s Rick: “I’ve always been inspired by ‘little movies.’ Tales of the everyman. Things we’ve all been through and can relate to. One of my earliest ‘all-time favorite’ movies was “Diner” by Barry Levinson. I didn’t grow up in the 50’s and I’m not from Baltimore but those characters — the nuances of a tight group of friends from high school and college resonated with me. I saw glimpses of each part of my own group in each of them. I tried to replicate those types of friends in my holiday short, “Branches.” It’s that kind of connection to the everyman that drew me to this particular project. Our lives are filled with friends and influences and there’s life-lessons in the everyday events of our lives that shape our connections to friends. I wanted to create something that was completely relatable on a human scale. Not with special effects or wild action stunts but with scenes where people could equate an experience from their own lives and feel empathy for the way it changes the course of fate.”

Rick nails it.  I too wanted to tell a story that resonated, that made you feel something.  So in this case, we came up with a story of a high school senior that has done something he feels has made him a pariah in the small town in which he grew up, and desperately wants to escape, forever.  But there are forces at work that may keep him tied to this place, and such a thought is unbearable to him.  This irony is what we hope will make the story compelling to those who read the script and (hopefully!) watch it unfold on the screen.  In the next few posts, we’ll share the logline and how we’re proceeding through the outlining process, and how we’ve already had to compromise on a couple of areas of disagreement with the storyline.

We hope you’re enjoying this blog, and please feel free to share with your friends and fellow writers!

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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, September 8, 2018

It starts with a concept – Lake Regret - post author Gary Howell

Every movie script ever written started with an idea or a concept.  They’re not the same thing, by the way.  An idea is just a short fragment of the larger picture.  “Guys capture ghosts” is an idea for “Ghostbusters”, but beyond that, it doesn’t tell you what the story is about. “A girl gets transported by a tornado to a magical land, but the only way to return home is to kill a wicked witch” is more of a concept (and turned out to be a great movie!).  This article, if you’re interested in the differences, gives you more details about what constitutes an idea and what makes up a concept: The Ten Greatest Movie Concepts of All Time.

In this case, Rick Hansberry and I shared ideas and concepts, and in some cases, full outlines, to try and land on a story that we would both buy into.  After some back and forth, we settled on what we have started calling “Lake Regret.”

“Lake Regret” started as an idea I had a few months back.  It was a crazy idea, one that would probably be laughed out of any pitch session.  Basically, I wondered if you could create a movie that could be filmed entirely in one day.  Craziness, I know, but it arose from a second viewing of “Birdman”, the Michael Keaton film. The original thought was, could you come up with a script that could be filmed in one continuous shot in one location, almost like you were watching a play.  The trick would be in making it interesting enough that it would hold your attention, as well as not be entirely dialogue driven.  Some other factors playing into my idea were doing something on a shoestring budget — i.e., it I had to film it myself, could I make it happen easily and quickly (I can hear you all vigorously shaking your head “NO, YOU CAN’T”).

With that as my guideline, I started generating places where this could happen.  I had some general locales I played with — a courtroom, a radio station, a bowling alley, and then I settled on a house, looking out over a this beautiful lake.  Nice, peaceful and picture perfect, located in a small town where parents would love to raise their kids.

Hold on, you say, what’s so interesting about that?  Well, that’s a post for another day. Read the link above, and in the next post, we’ll talk about how Rick and I are going to try and find something compelling in this little part of the world.

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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, September 1, 2018

The Journey Begins – Lake Regret - post author Gary Howell

Well, this is going to be interesting.  And exasperating.  And educational.

Rick Hansberry and I have spent time writing screenplays together, and we’ve had success in getting both our joint and individual screenplay projects optioned.  So we know a little bit about writing for the screen, and the business of what it takes to get the film pitched, marketed, optioned, and (fingers crossed) produced.

We recently decided we wanted to write another script together, and we begin discussing how in this brave new social media world, you need to do more than just write the script.  You have to be adept at marketing, not just in making a pitch to producers, but also in using Instagram and Twitter and other platforms (like this blog) to start generating buzz about (and interest in) the script.

We thought it would be interesting for those of you out there who are interested in the entire process to see how we tackle it, from concept, to the writing, to how we handle disagreements, to marketing the script.

The idea is to provide encouragement and education to those of you out there who haven’t been through this process before:  Maybe you’ve written a screenplay, but you’re not sure what to do with it, maybe you’ve never written before and you’re curious how it all works.

Let’s take this journey together.

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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

Friday, February 9, 2018

According to Plan — Going Through the Rewrite - post author Gary Howell

WRITER’S NOTE: Rick and I are are struggling with the outline we started with on “Lake Regret”, and while we try to come up with another project, we are providing you with insight on our script “According to Plan” and how we went from concept to getting the project optioned, and the craziness that ensued afterwards.

My apologies for not posting here recently.  It’s been a crazy last couple of weeks where I’ve been approached about my pilot script “Bounty” — we’ll see where it goes but the conversations have definitely been interesting.

In our last post, we talked about how it took us 78 days to finish the 98 page script, but that couldn’t be the end of it.  We had to go back and edit the first draft, which is never going to be your best work, if you’re being honest about it (some of you even refer to that first draft as a “vomit draft”).  Now, you may remember that I said I would write a couple of pages and then Rick would edit and and send me back additional pages, and we went back and forth that way until we finished that first draft.  Now while we were editing along the way, it wasn’t the full-blown editing you’re probably used to.   We were just looking for misspellings, continuation issues, and so on.  The full re-write was still in front of us.

In addition to taking a critical eye to the writing, we were taking a look at some of the actual setup for the script.  Here’s an example:  This is a script that deals with early onset dementia and having a grandfather convince his grandson and one of his friends to drive him from St. Louis to New Orleans to recover a treasure he claims to have left there.  Now I originally imagined the family as being African-American.  This was an indie film and the black community is pretty underserved when it comes to that film segment.  Rick was against that idea, for a couple of reasons.  First, neither of us have the world view of what it is like to be African-American and we didn’t feel like we could adequately portray dialogue, lifestyles, customs, etc.  Second, if we made the characters non-race specific, it would open it up to more producers, who could choose how they wanted to approach it.

Another thing that we had to do was a make a change to a significant plot point.  The grandfather was originally going to be in an assisted living facility and the grandson and his friend were going to break him out of the facility and drive him to New Orleans.  The problems with that, we decided, were two-fold.  Breaking him out would immediately have legal authorities looking out for them, which might make it a bit interesting, but not make it very realistic.  Second, the grandfather only has early onset dementia, not full-scale Alzheimer’s (which would render him incapable of making any sort of coherent communication), and because of that he would likely not be in an assisted living facility.

So what to do in that case?  We reworked the plot so that the grandfather was at home, but there were instances that made it clear that he had some problems, such as wandering away from home, talking about a treasure that may or may not exist, and so on.  For a screenwriter, this is, I think, the most important job the writer has, which is finding the little inconsistencies and problems that your script has.   When you’re writing on your own I think finding those little problem areas are very difficult at times because a lot of writers have tunnel vision or they block out what might be a bad plot point or just plain bad writing because they are determined to wedge a plot point into their script.  If you’re not writing with someone, then at least find people to read your script after it’s done and give you an honest assessment of the writing.  And here’s something I’ve always done — I’ve always asked writers that are better than me to review my scripts and give me honest feedback.  SimplyScripts is one of those places where you can post your script and get those types of reviews.

So the second rewrite took us another three weeks, and when that rewrite was done, I still don’t think we were satisfied.  We took another swipe at it and finished that editing process in a couple of weeks.  Again, why would we do this?  Why wouldn’t we?  We wanted our script to be at its absolute best, and just taking the first draft was never going to cut it.

We’d finished the draft.  What now?  We’ll get into what we did with the script after we finished it in our next post.


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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