Category Archives: blog

Olan's gotta gun

Hear Ye, Hear Ye!

Fellow Filmpunchers,

Now, I know we’ve seemed a little distant these past couple weeks, what with posting inspires, blogs, and new video content, but rest assured, we have been very busy preparing for something quite epic.

O’Ryan and I are pleased to announce that in a few minutes we’ll be hopping in our spaceship aka the Dodge Magnum “Maggie” and lugging all our gear down the East Coast to Georgia. What will be doing there, you ask?

We’ll be filming with the one and only Olan Rogers on the set of “Pop Rocket”. Now, we’ve seen the scripts, we’ve talked to the man in charge, and boy are you guys in for a treat! And as for us—we’ll be in for a long, tireless week of work . . . and fun . . . and fun work. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook, and we’ll be sure to keep you guys posted.

When we return, we’ll have some new blogs, new inspires, new video content, including a new Weekend Challenge, as well as a featured Weekend Challenge submission from the previous. And we are ecstatic to announce that Olan has asked to feature the Behind the Scenes specials exclusively on Filmpunch! *giddily sneaks dragon-shaped firework from back of cart, lights it, runs, Gandalf stares angrily as the sky explodes with magic*

Well, peace out for now, we are about to enter the event horizon and the space-time continuum may affect coms for the next day or so, but we’ll see you on the other side . . . in Prime City!

My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius...

Modus Operandi

Champion Series
Now, for the moment of truth . . . the gates shudder open. The hot wind brushes against his face. The light from the arena fills his eyes. Heart beats fast, fists clenched, jaw set, eyes narrowed, he steps forward from the shadows. The noise from the crowd rises like the ocean roar to greet him. Will they cheer? Will they jeer? Will they make effigies of him for their children, and their children’s children to gaze upon for centuries to come? Or will the lions devour him, leaving nothing but scarlet sand and bones? Only the gods know.

But who is this man?

He is your champion—your story. It fights for you. It represents some part of you; some idea you believe in. It entertains the audience, and, if trained properly and with diligence, it wins your victories, making it well worth the investment.

In this thirteen part series, we’ll discuss the various facets of story construction that will help shape your “champion,” and hopefully, make it a steadfast contender worthy of the critical Coliseum.

Part One: Modus Operandi

Modus operandi is a Latin phrase, approximately translated as “method of operation”. The term is used to describe someone’s habits or manner of working, their method of operating or functioning. In English, it is often shortened to M.O.

This first facet applies to character development. You’ll want your story full of characters that live and breathe and feel organic; they should be recognizable by their actions and their diction, and those should be echoed consistently throughout the story to enforce their personas. The way they move, interact with other characters, their usual course of action should bear some sense of predictability—not in the “Oh, this is boring” sense, but in the “That is totally a (character’s name) thing to do/say.” Lest, some exterior force interrupts that character’s routine, they should maintain a certain identity.

It’s easy to define a character based on the way they look, unless you’re in anime and the only distinguishing characteristics between characters are sometimes as miniscule as hair and eye color, but M.O. really refers to their essence. It is your character’s face, their façade. It could even refer to your style of directing, writing, or music composition. Either way, it needs to be recognizable.

Now, whether it be a handsome face or a grotesque face—we don’t care, but we want to see it, and we want to see it in all lights: negative, positive, under pressure due to conflicts, elated, distraught, and etc.  We want to be able to study it closely, and maybe even glimpse similarities to our own physiognomies staring back at us in the mirror, convicting us, encouraging us, affecting us.


Series Contents
We’ll activate each link below as the blogs are posted. Enjoy!

  1. Modus Operandi
  2. The Threshold
  3. Titanic Syndrome
  4. Heat of the Moment
  5. Call 911
  6. The Alien
  7. My Shoes
  8. Inception
  9. The Quest
  10. Encounter
  11. Luke, I am your father
  12. Umm…honey?!
  13. Anything Goes
Hey there, Indy, you're looking REAL nice.

Your camera sucks!

“Your current camera isn’t good enough, you should wait until you get a nicer one.”

If anyone ever says this to you, they are an idiot.
There is this thing that annoys the crap out of me and it happens on almost every decent looking video on Youtube or Vimeo. It seems harmless, and I have even been guilty of this when I first started out.

“What camera did you use?”

Argh! Not only is this a slap in the face of whoever shot the video, but it shows a general misunderstanding of the way things work. As if buying the same camera will yield the same results for you. To be honest, if you can’t tell … it probably won’t matter what camera, lens, or brand of slider was used. The reason a video looks good is because someone put some thought into the way it was shot and that is what you should focus on—why it looks good.

I want you to consider something for a moment:
Let’s say you are learning to play the piano. You currently have this old electric keyboard and it doesn’t sound very good. To be honest, it sucks; the keys stick and everything you play on it sounds terrible. So you go out and purchase a 97 key Bösendorfer. It’s an internationally acclaimed thing of beauty. The sound is rich and full. The sympathetic resonances of the extra bass strings give it a voice that no other instrument has. After admiring this majestic construct of wire, wood, and iron, you sit down and place your fingers on the ivory keys. You begin striking the notes to what you hope will be your next multi-national chart-topping single. Instead the the only thing you hear are the all too familiar sounds of suck.

“But why? This piano is the best of the best! Should I have gotten the Steinway instead? Oh, God! What have I done?”

It’s a trap we all fall into at some point. We see all the big dogs using all this mouthwatering gear, and then we look at what it all produces and the assumption is “if I had that new Canon 5dmIII, I could make awesome films that look just like Philip Bloom’s” or “if only I had the rig that James Cameron has, I could make the next Avatar”. But that’s not how it works. These people you look up to didn’t just pick up a really expensive camera and get lucky. They have spent the better part of their career perfecting their craft. Not only that, but I guarantee that if you gave Cameron your iPhone he could still make a better film than some kid who just bought a RED Epic. Why? Because a great film has almost zero to do with the camera or equipment that is being used.

I’ll say this, and stone me if you want, but I feel that this is a truth we all need to deal with:

Your gear does not affect the quality of the story you’re trying to deliver. The more time you spend worrying about creating great impacting images, the more amazing images you will create.

Is gear bad?
… I can hear you asking. Of course not. The right gear just makes it easier, faster and more convenient to capture the results you need.  However, you will never know what you really need unless you’re out there practicing.

I read a lot of blogs and forums and watch a ton of videos about cameras and video. I love reading about gear. I love drooling over all the new film tech. I may even have a small addiction to buying vintage lenses on ebay… I say this because I don’t think wanting or having gear is a bad thing. That is, unless it or the procurement of it disables you. If you find yourself waiting for that affordable 4k camera, or to have enough money for that wireless follow focus, instead of shooting, then you’re stunting yourself creatively. You need to be out there every chance you get, trying to perfect your craft. You need to be annoying your friends and conning them into being in your short films. Worrying about all the gear you need just makes your skills weak and anemic.

What do you expect to happen if you constantly hold off on filming your short because your camera isn’t good enough for your story?

I can tell you what’s going to happen, one of two things: you’re going to eventually give up on the dream because it feels too far away, or you’re finally going to get that camera and you’re not going to know how to use it, how to frame up a shot properly, how to convey emotion, or how to tell a coherent story. Then after seeing how much your story still sucks despite all that equipment, you give up on your dream.

You should be concentrating on being an impressive cameraman instead of a man that wields an impressive camera. The camera doesn’t matter as much as your ability to SEE and TELL your story. You need to be out there practicing and developing your storytelling vocabulary. Skills have to be earned, they can’t be bought. The awesome thing is practicing costs you nothing except time. Even if you’re shooting video on a Nokia 6630, you are still building skills that will be useful for creating compelling images on any camera you use.

A master pianist can make any piano sound amazing. They don’t need to be using a special “master” piano for their skills to shine. In fact, I bet a truly gifted pianist could make a herd of football players emotional with an untuned piano.

I will leave you with a Google image search on Ansel Adams, a man who spent the bulk of his career (from 1927-1984) shooting on stills cameras that would be considered ancient and outdated by most today, and yet he has shot some of the most amazing and breathtaking photographs that rival the millions of images uploaded online everyday.

"I have a soft spot for cripples, bastards, and broken things."

The “Good Guy”

You’re all pretty familiar with the term protagonist, or at least you’ve heard the word tossed around in conversations involving books or movies, or in your English classes. If not, here it is, plain and simple: The protagonist is the main character, usually a proponent of good, around whom the story revolves.

Protagonists are not always a person, or even one person. They could be an idea, a movement, an event. More often than not, they are synonymous with the hero, so it makes them easy to spot. But sometimes they aren’t, and the hero is some other character that merely saves the day and paves the way for the protagonist to have their revelation.

If you’re having trouble identifying a protagonist, just look for the character that gives the story purpose, drive, and meaning. They are the vehicle for the themes interwoven throughout the narrative.

Enter HERO
Now, it’s a pretty simple task to right a story about a hero on a quest to save the world from certain destruction. This hero is faultPrince Charming Once Upon A Timeless. He’s handsome (or she’s rapturously beautiful). All the words that issue from their mouth are as empowering as battle commands given by a seasoned general, or they’re as soft and reassuring as a mother’s hug. What’s more, they overcome the antagonist, thwart the villain’s plans, and always save the day so the happy ending can ensue. It’s a classic tale of chivalry (or feminism), a clash against fate, overcoming all obstacles, the fairy tale ending, it’s . . . it’s boring is what it is.

People are sick of color by numbers stories filled with those kinds of flat characters—static and unchanging.

So, how do we avoid the clichés and stereotypes?
Let’s dumb ‘em down, you think. Maybe if the archetypal hero has been overdone, it’ll be better to write a character that’s as boring as a class on Excel, or worse . . . typing with Mavis Beacon.

Jim’s just an ordinary guy who works in a cubical; he goes home to his cat, Lucy, eats some dinner, brushes his teeth, and goes to bed. The only climax in a story like that is when Jim is late for work the next morning because Lucy accidentally unplugged his cell charger during the night and his phone died. Everything turns out okay though, because when he gets to work, his boss isn’t even there yet. That was a grueling scenario just to write about. If your story sounds like this, here’s some advice: CTRL + A, then tap delete. Watering down your main character is just as bad as injecting them with steroids.

How do you create an interesting main character, then?
Michael Goldenberg, a playwright who has worked on various big name projects, which include Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, The Green Lantern, and Peter Pan, describes very eloquently the protagonist’s raison d’être.

“The protagonist is the character that suffers
the most.”

So there you have it. Make sure you inflict as much misery and depression on your main character as possible and you’ll have a wonderful story . . .

*snickers* The word suffer doesn’t always mean something negative. Most simply, it means to experience or be subjected to. So, the character whom most of events of a story are affecting would be the protagonist.

Suffering
That is not to say that this character will not suffer pain and suffering, but because of the basic struggles: Man vs. Man, Man vs. Himself, Man vs. Society, and Man vs. Nature, all or at least some of these things are going to imbue your character with life and purpose. A character, who is normal and plain and who’s daily routine is just as menial and mundane, can become a point of intrigue when you weather them with conflict.

Think about how you handle problems, how your friends react in certain situations, your parents even; and you’ll find it a lot easier to define your character (both protagonists and antagonists alike).

Your protagonist should be just as flawed as you are.
That doesn’t mean you’re evil, or that your good guy is a bad guy, but it does mean that they make mistakes. They don’t always say the right thing, do the right thing; adhere to a set of morals. In fact, they may be arrogant and impulsive—like Holden Caulfield in J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. You’ll find these types of protagonists easier to relate to. By the same token, you as the viewer may undergo a similar process of enlightenment as the protagonist if they are relative to you.

What’s this look like?
Well, remember Jim the office worker? He’s actually an identical twin. While Jim pushes papers behind a desk, his brother, Josh, is a traveling photographer for National Geographic. Now that we’ve created an interesting dynamic. Let’s push it a little father.

Internally, Jim has been harboring some pretty intense feelings of jealously toward his brother for years; ever since they were children, really. He’s sick of him. When Josh comes home, all he does is gloat about his victories and his experiences, the exotic places he’s visited. His parents continually dote praise on him, which doesn’t help matters.

During one of their family reunions, Jim and Josh get into a heated debate. Jim says some really horrible things. It ends with both brothers storming out angrily.  On the drive home, Jim thinks, I wish he were dead. He resolves to avoid Josh from that point on. And years pass without a single word exchanged between the brothers.

One day, Jim finds out that Josh has taken his own life. No one has any idea why. Turns out, from the outside he had everything going for him: money, a good job, endless beauties wanting to be with him, but what Jim didn’t know was that his brother felt just as empty and alone on the inside as he did. Josh only became a photographer because it was their father’s trade, and he had pushed him into the field. He’d never gotten to follow his own dreams of becoming a musician, because Dad always said, “The only real art is taking out the noise,” as in a good photograph. Whereas, music was all about adding noise to life. Josh never told Jim how he felt, but the words in his goodbye letter read, “I always admired you.” But what was it that his brother admired? He had a dead-end career. He used to love writing when he was younger; used to do it all the time and it made him happy. He didn’t know what happened to that passion.

From that moment on, Jim decides to change his life around and find some purpose to live for. He quits his boring job, he packs up his cat, and he moves to a completely different city where he decides to pursue his love for writing.

At the end of the story, we see Jim write the final words of his first draft. The scene ends with Jim tapping the period key and letting out a gratified sigh.

The Shape of ThingsThe Road end
The protagonists you cling to as an audience/reader are the ones that end up in a different place than when they started. It’s not always miles apart as in Jim’s case, but it is a marked change that the viewer should be able to take note of, a step in some direction, and it should bring some sense of closure, however minute. Not all the loose ends need to be tied up, but your main character should have reached a point where we can safely assume their future, and we can accept/understand their past.

Boooo!!

Understanding Criticism vs. Cynicism

I have often heard that you should seek out feedback on creative projects you are working on. I have just as often heard you should ignore what everyone else says and just do what your gut says is right. What’s a creative person to do?

“If I am creating for an audience, shouldn’t I listen to that audience?”

“Hey, whoa, I am the creative person here. I know what’s best for
my project.”

Confronting criticism is one of the hardest things for us creative types to deal with (initially at least). Whether it be a script, a short film, or a musical composition; it’s something that you’ve probably been laboring over for weeks before letting someone else in on it. It can be very disheartening when you finally show something to someone and instead of glowing accolades and a pat on the back, you get hesitation and suggestions for improvement.

It sucks, but it doesn’t have to.
Feedback is one of the most valuable tools you can use to hone your craft. It can point out things you may have never noticed, or worse, noticed too late. But it can also be a poisonous tar pit of despair. Ok, that sounded a little scary… but it’s true.

Like any good tool, you need to know how to use criticism to make your project better. The first step in coming to grips with this new found tool is understanding the difference between criticism and cynicism. Knowing which to use and which to toss out is probably the most important skill a filmmaker can possess.

Let’s break it down.
Criticism is doubt informed in curiosity or a deep knowledge of the subject or discipline in question. Often times it comes in the form of insights such as, “The lighting here is a little flat and makes her face look a little wide,” or “It’s a little long, you may lose your audience.” Whether it is constructive or destructive, it comes from knowledge.

Cynicism is a state of mind that is often rooted in ignorance and antiquated ways. Many times in the film industry, experts will often shun new technologies because it doesn’t fit within the workflow they have settled into over the years. This type of behavior is a handicap and barricades you into the good-ole-days. A large percentage of Youtube comments are often written by cynics looking to knife creatives with their keyboards for no other reason except the joy of the troll.

Know the difference
Feedback is gold to a creative person, and you’re guaranteed to get your fair share. Requested or not. Understanding how to pan the good stuff out of the Ganges River of Opinion can be tricky. As storytellers we need to harness the ability to discern thoughtful criticism from short-sighted cynicism.

Here are some thoughts to help you separate the gold from the mud:

Consider the credibility of the source: Who is giving this “advice”? Is it someone with little to no experience. Does this person legitimately desire to see you prosper? Do they have years of experience in this situation. It may not always be a black or white situation. Many times it will be someone that actually knows what they’re talking about, but sucks at being gentle when telling you. It might be a well-meaning parent that has no idea why Mr. Spock needs pointy ears. It’s up to you to decipher whether or not the person dealing out the criticism is qualified to do so. If not, patiently await the end of the verbal vomit and walk away from the steaming heap. You’re not a dog, so leave it alone. If they are qualified, then get a spoon and eat it up.

Remove fear and ego from the situation: This can oftentimes be the hardest part to spot and deal with. Typically when someone offers up criticism our defenses go on high alert. We begin loading the “yeah buts” into the chamber ready to fire off why it wasn’t our fault and “the lights, and the lens, and those lazy grips…” Criticism does not explicitly equal failure, and even when it does, failure is only a bad thing if you stop there. Being able to pull back and remove your ego from the situation will allow you to properly judge the critic’s motives and the true value of said criticism.

Learn to handle scrutiny. What good is feedback if you get all worked up because of it. If you want to grow as a filmmaker or storyteller, you absolutely need to embrace and take advantage of real criticism. After all, you want to write and film stories meant to be shown to large groups of people. What else do you think is going to happen, standing ovations every time? Not likely, at least not initially. It takes a lot of work and refinement to get to those standing O’s. That means you need to be willing to be refined.

“Criticism is something you can easily avoid by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” ~Aristotle

F is for friends that do stuff together!

Crafting Characters You Give A Flying Frak About

Now there’s the challenge. How do you write a story with not just a great plot, but convincing, relevant, organic, palpable characters that seem just as real as any movie character on the big screen, or even the girl that sits next to you in class . . . you know, the really cute one with the interesting scar above her right eye?

It’s all about the little things, not just the obvious traits. So, the technique here is a lot like creating believable dialogue. If you want to make it easier on yourself, just observe people around you for bit; that’s a good start. Take note of not just their appearance, but also their personality quirks, their compulsions, their tics. Does Jim have a slight stutter, or does Sarah constantly bite her bottom lip when she’s about to tell a lie? Pride issues, timidity, aggressive tendencies . . . these are all things that make a character so much more than just a dark scary man wearing a flowing black cloak, cackling maniacally—someone who is clearly evil. If there’s anything the world needs less of, it’s flat characters . . . and maybe the Kardashians.

What makes a flat character, you ask? Well, any character who lacks development and doesn’t need it (because they’re not worth it); a character that is either an archetype of good, evil, or some other emotional value.  They usually take the form of the mustache-twirling villain or the hero on an epic quest that knows exactly what to do and say no matter what the situation. No one is that cut and dry in real life, and no one should be in your stories either; unless it’s satire, then by all means go ahead. It could be humorous.

Characters, Like Onions (lots of layers)
A good example of a character with some real, well . . . character, would be Professor Snape from Harry Potter. At first, you think he’s just going to be another one of Harry’s numerous antagonists throughout the series. After all, from their first meeting, there is nothing to him. He’s just that one teacher who seems to have an innate hatred for Harry.

As the story unfolds, you learn that what first appeared as blatant dislike is actually a front to protect Harry, that Snape used to be in love with Harry’s late mother and as a sort of debt to her memory, he has vowed to go so far as to defame himself and pretend to ally himself with the Dark Lord only to give Harry the chance to defeat him. It’s very complicated, but the fact is, the “bad guy” is not a bad guy at all, but rather an unfriendly good guy who is motivated by love. That sort of character demands some measure of respect and even sympathy.

If you’re ever in doubt of whether your characters are multidimensional, ask yourself this simple question: Can you love and hate them at the same time? Can you see part of yourself, however small, in them? If yes, then congrats! You’ve created a wonderful character for your story. Taking the time to be subjective and consider these things could be the difference between a character your audience gets attached to and one of the out-of-focus extras walking around in the background of a scene.

Attention Hogs
Your character should be compelling enough that even though there may be a zombie virus outbreak in the background, and the crowd is panicking—in short, lots of distractions—your character is the only thing the audience truly cares about. And how that character reacts in any given situation will only add to everything we know about them. In most cases, actions speak louder than words. Be mindful of your dialogue, but be deliberate with your actions.

For instance, don’t just throw a sex scene in a story because you feel like it’s obligatory, or that it will make your characters seem more real . . . ahem, ahem Game of Thrones. It adds nothing to your character (except for some extra texture *smirks*). However, the way a character shies away from touch could say volumes about their past experiences, most likely dark ones, which the viewer may never fully come to know (and they don’t need to know; that’s the beauty of good dialogue coupled with competent acting). What’s inferred by a simple action—like when a coworker innocently sneaks up behind Sarah the Waitress at Fridays, and taps her on the shoulder, and she jerks away violently—that’s the development. We can only assume that she does not like being touched, and for good reasons. Sometimes it’s better that we don’t know why, but can assume.  The point is, by making Sarah the Waitress react in this manner, she has now become so many shades deeper as a character.

So Say We All
One more character, a personal favorite of mine, is Admiral Adama from the show Battlestar Galactica . . . What? Don’t Laugh. Even people that are not interested in science fiction can find things (and plenty of them) to take away from this spectacular space drama. The character development is some of the best I’ve ever seen, and as for the “Old Man” as he’s called on the show, he’s one of the best.

The series opens up with the seasoned commander about to give a speech during the decommissioning ceremony of the spaceship he’s commanded for the last couple decades, the famed relic-of-a-starship, Battlestar Galactica. From the start, it’s obvious that the commander cares not for ceremonies and press hubbub; he just wants to retire in peace and get the media crews off his ship.

The future president of the colonies, Laura Roslin, is also present for the proceedings. She makes a comment that it would make things easier for people to learn the lay of the ship if everything was networked. Adama vehemently refuses, saying he “[doesn't] care . . . It’s an integrated computer network and [he] won’t have it on this ship.” It becomes exceedingly clear that Adama is a relic from the past himself, and his simple, functional ship, needs nothing more than a reliable crew, good guns, and a sturdy hull to operate. Very old-fashioned. We love this. It’s a precaution, which saves their lives later on in the series.

Before the ceremony, there’s another noteworthy scene that takes place in the captain’s quarters between Adama and his executive officer, Saul Tigh.

Here is an excerpt of their discourse:

ADAMA

Been drinking a lot lately.

TIGH

Maybe.

ADAMA

This have anything to do with...

TIGH

My wife? Why, just because she’s sleeping with half the population of Geminon while I’m away. Nah, doesn’t have anything to do with her.

Adama sips his coffee for a beat.

ADAMA

Well, I doubt Starbuck’s gonna ask for a court either. Lucky for you, considering your record.

TIGH

Doesn’t matter. I’m getting out anyway.

ADAMA

There a chance you’ll change your mind? The Fleet needs men like you, Saul.

TIGH

Like hell. You’re the only sonuvabitch in the whole fleet dumb enough to want me as XO.

ADAMA

(wry)

Now you see why they’re putting me out to pasture.

TIGH

I did wonder.

The two old friends share a brief smile, then Adama takes a deep breath.

ADAMA

All right. Ceremony’s at fourteen hundred. Be there on time, in a fresh uniform and clean-shaven.

TIGH

Yes, sir.

Adama nods, the meeting over. Tigh heads for the door, then pauses.

TIGH

(cont’d)

Has Lee reported aboard yet?

Adama doesn’t answer for a long moment.

ADAMA

Three hours ago.

TIGH

Maybe you should...

ADAMA

He’ll contact me when he’s ready.

And so, from this brief exchange we’ve established a couple of things that will stick with us throughout the course of the series: An age-old friendship between the two men, good friends that know and love each other, and aren’t afraid to call each other out; the smile they share hits home this idea perfectly; age is insinuated by their casual attitude in regard to their duties, and with that, experience; and respect, both in friendship and formally.

What’s more, Tigh goes on to ask Adama about his estranged son, Lee. Just by the pause, the way he answers plainly, and Tigh’s friendly chide that he should probably try to make amends with his son; the way Adama cuts him off as if to say, “I don’t need to be told what to do, it hurts, but this is just how it is,” there’s a whole flurry of emotions and character communicated. We understand that there is pain in his life, but we also understand that somewhere in time beforehand, he’s done his part in confronting it. He can’t do anymore. And we see him as a man who can accept the things he can’t change, including his broken relationship with his son. Additionally, we see that he is wise and patient enough to allow Lee to make the next move in reconciling their issues. Wow! What a character, and that’s all established within a few sentences and during the first half an hour of the show. With people like this, there’s so much to look forward to.

It’s not hard to hack it, but it does take some extra thought. Take time crafting characters. You’re creating life, in a sense.

How to Start A Story

How To Start A Story

So here we are, just a bunch of storytellers, or maybe some of you are simply looking for a good story to lose yourself in. Whatever your medium, it makes no difference; whether you write stories or scripts, direct, photograph, compose music; or my personal favorite, adapt all the above into one finished product aka making a film, it’s all centered around the same thing—the creative process.

Writing a story once its plot and characters have been established seems almost second nature, but coming up with the initial story—the idea—that’s the hardest part for most people. Inspiration doesn’t always strike you when you want it to, and just like lightning—it never hits you in the same place twice.

You can sit down at your desk, playing the very best of your iTunes library and . . . nothing. You could have all the time in the world, you say, “I’m ready, Inspiration, come to me!” and alas . . . nothing.

Hey, Inspiration, I’m still here, still waiting. C’mon already! you practically scream . . . silence. I think I hear crickets. “This is ridiculous,” you say aloud, voicing your frustration.

Two hours later, and all you’ve managed to do was update your Facebook status once, twice, maybe even three times! Gosh, I’m pathetic, you think to yourself.

No, no, you’re not. Stop thinking like that. The truth is all of us go through this no matter how long you’ve been hashing out ideas.

A Flighty Bird
Inspiration barely ever comes when it’s convenient. I know for me, it comes when I’m trying to sleep or do something else—a random project around the house, maybe; or when I’m at work. It usually comes when I have my hands full and can’t drop what I’m doing. It’s kind of like a lucid dream, the most vivid ones you have early in the morning, right before you wake up. If you don’t immediately try to remember it, tell it to someone, or write it down within a few minutes, it exponentially becomes harder and harder to recall with every second that elapses.

And so, having let too many spur the moment great ideas be whisked away with the wind, I’ve gotten in the good habit of always  keeping a pen and paper handy. This way, when the time comes, I’m ready for it, and I can hopefully revisit it for further development at my leisure.

So let’s skip ahead a bit. You have the idea now. It came to you when you were in the shower, or maybe while you were on the toilet (c’mon, let’s be honest). It’s a good idea, but it’s brief—nothing but a rude snapshot. In your head, it’s revolutionary—the best, most original idea that has ever been conceived . . . But honestly, is it really? Probably not. It’s true. We all think our ideas are the great exception; that because we’re artistes, simply spitting it out to the world will result in glory because we were true to our own self-expression.  Wrong!

In reality, if you were to share that crude image that you see in your mind’s eye with the public, 99% of the time it would most likely be just about as expressive as vomiting in public, which is definitely “expressive.”

Real artists take time; they dedicate lots of it too. They hone their craft, refine it; and most importantly, they are always seeking critique to better their future work or their work in production. Invest enough time and energy, and eventually something of worth and strength and meaning emerges. At least, that’s the concept behind the creative process.

Back to plotting . . . A tiny, high-pitched voice is heard:

“Gee, Brain, what do you wanna do tonight?”
“Same thing we do every night, Pinky. Try to take over the world!”

So this snapshot of yours, it could be anything. You envision a spaceship floating by the crystalline rings of a gas giant, or maybe something more down-to-earth: A kid with baggy jeans, walking down the street to the rhythm of whatever hip song is playing on his MP3 player, when in reality, he’s actually listening to Beethoven’s ninth. You would never guess that from his appearance. It makes no difference. They’re all snapshots. All good stories are spawned from dreams, visions, nightmares; or more often than not, snapshots like these.

Catch The Bird
Good, you have it! Now, write it down so you don’t forget it. Have a pen and paper ready at all times, next to your bed, out in your living room, or simply keep the Notepad app open on your computer—it’s brainstorm irrigation. Jot down the initial idea, ponder it for a while, then, let it breathe. Return to it later.

What’s next? Well, they say every picture is worth a thousand words . . . or maybe just more pictures—et voila! The birth of movies. The point is, it’s always worth extrapolating on and coming up with some purpose to lend it meaning—whatever your idea is, it can always be better.

Be ready to capture the idea when it comes, and once you’ve accomplished that, don’t stop there, be prepared to evaluate it, testing it for weak points and considering possible solutions for strengthening it. As you prepare to do this, always remember the original idea you came up with. It should be the thesis for everything that follows.

Be ready. It’s gonna be a long haul, but try to enjoy it! It’s your passion, remember?

What'd you say?!

Creating Believable Dialogue

Unless your film is silent and relies solely on the power of cinematography to speak to its audience, there will probably be words involved. All good stories are backed up with a great script. There is only so much actors can do to carry a poorly written script i.e., Terra Nova.

Unfortunately, the acting in some shows is also lacking, in which case there is nothing you can do, except push the stop button on your remote. It sucks, too, because the plot and setting may be gold, but without a good script to boot, well . . . the show gets the proverbial boot (or it just gets syndicated for seemingly endless seasons and you begin to lose faith in humanity).

So how does one create good dialogue? The key is to write as people speak in real life. Don’t write how you think they speak, actually transcribe it into script form. One simple trick you can try is to close your eyes and listen to people talking in a room; maybe at work, or at school. If your characters sound like the people you encounter from day-to-day, then you’ve at least achieved a realistic tone. Being mindful of that is being mindful of your diction, or better known as your choice of words, and is extremely important.

Be careful not to sound too robotic by using too many words in your sentences to express straightforward thoughts. Even something as simple as, “Okay, Mom, be there in just a sec,” sounds so much better than “All right, Mother, I will be there in just a second.” It’s a small difference, but honestly, how would you say it?

On the same note, if you avoid contractions as in formal essays—words like can’t, won’t, aren’t, and shouldn’t—you risk sounding archaic.  “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” seems only appropriate in Middle-earth or in stories set during Medieval times.  In a more modern setting, don’t be afraid to shorten your words so they flow as quickly and realistically as possible.

Love your lingo . . .
but make sure you don’t go too crazy. People use text abbreviations in everyday speech these days, but only girls in the seventh grade use it exclusively. I would shy away from using “OMG” in a script, but it’s definitely more permissible than one of your characters saying, “ttyl,” instead of a simple “see you later.”

Remember where your characters come from. Tyrone might be the leader of a notorious gang of ten year-olds in the backstreets of the Bronx, in search of new blood to join his ranks, but he’ll talk vastly different from Walt, who grew up on a chicken farm in Cochran, Georgia. Setting and background afford you a little slack as a writer to be creative with the respective vernaculars.

The important thing to keep in mind is this one truth: Simple patterns of speech will get audiences attached to your story, whereas flowery language only draws attention to the person who is speaking. More often than not, you’ll be focusing on their lips moving rather than the actual plot-advancing or character-enhancing lines.

A final note: Remember that in film, the rule of “Show, don’t tell” is still just as pertinent as it is in writing. The way a character holds his silence, glances away from a pretty girl to avoid detection, smiles shyly, blushes, clenches his fists, smooths the wrinkles in her dress—all of these actions can say infinitely more about a character and what they’re thinking than what they actually say.

Happy writing!

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Hello World!

It’s done, guys! Been a long time coming, but it’s finally arrived. So, firstly, we’d like to extend a very warm “Hello! Come on in.” *opens door* Take your shoes off, hang your ethercoats on the rack, stay a while.

So, it’s important to note that this site is in beta. The basic aspects are all working: profiles, forums, and the blog. There are many more features that require some extra lovin’ before we activate them; some edgy new things as well, which we have yet to program. Things like the video page are empty at this point, but we’ll be posting the first episode in just a couple days, so be excited.

As it stands, you may encounter things that work a little choppy. It’s okay. Like we said, it’s in beta. So just brings these things to our attention by posting a Bug Report.

Let us know what you think so far. Tell us what you like, don’t like, and might like to see in the future, and we’ll discuss it with the Council of Elders. We’re looking forward to it. No need to leave (ever) our home is your home, for that is the spirit of Filmpunch.