Tag Archives: writing

I DON’T FEEL CREATIVE…

Hello there. I’m Josh Bailey.

I’ve been obsessed with storytelling ever since I was a child. From making my own Batman home videos, to memorizing the jokes I heard from my Dad, to creating my own comic strips, I was always fascinated with story.

I still have so much to learn about filmmaking, but I’m always open to learning from others.

INT. HOUSE – Day

Josh (24) sits at his iMac with Celtx open. He’s looking at the screen, eyes glazed over.

JOSH

Wow. This sucks. I don’t feel creative or like writing anything. I guess I’ll write a blog post to kick myself in the butt.

I’ve been wanting to do something creative lately, but I just feel like I have nothing right now. I think sometimes I have this unrealistic hope that one day I’ll just be walking down the street eating an ice cream cone and then BAM, the greatest movie idea known to man will just suddenly make its home inside my brain. Until then I’ll just keep walking down streets eating ice cream cones and patiently wait for it to appear. What I don’t want to admit is that I’M BEING LAZY. Yeah, that’s right, I used the “L” word.

If there’s anything I’ve learned by spending way too much time reading articles about screenwriting, it’s that I’ve been spending way too much time reading articles about screenwriting and not enough time, you know, ACTUALLY WRITING. Really, the gist of what I’ve read by all these artists that I look up to is simply that I have to put in the work to get to where I want to be. It’s a journey, you can’t just teleport to your final destination. To use a Lord of the Rings analogy: The eagles can’t just come pick you up in Rivendell and then fly you over Mount Doom so you can drop off the ring (wait, why can’t they do that? I was never really clear on that…).

If I had to guess, to finally get to the place where you’re writing a script that’s really great, you’ve probably got to write a lot of terrible/mediocre/decent/pretty good scripts first. It’s pretty hard for me to do this, because I like to shoot down my own ideas really quickly. I’m my biggest critic (well, that I know of). Often, I start getting excited about an idea, but then shoot myself down because it’s not “amazing” or “original.” I think this “originality” trap is something that I fall into way too often. At the end of the day, there’s nothing new under the sun; everything is ultimately a remix of some other idea. BUT YOU ARE UNIQUE. There’s not another person in the world who is just like you, and there’s not another person in the world who will tell a story the exact same way that you will. (By the way, I didn’t come up with that idea either, Xander Benett gave that great insight here: http://screenwritingtips.blcklst.com/2011/11/screenwriting-tip-800/)

So, what do I need to do then? WRITE. I need to write, even if I don’t think it’s going to be amazing. When I write, I develop the ability to see what doesn’t work, what does work, and I start to find my own voice. If I can put in the work, I’m going to develop all of my abilities and my work is going to get that much better. Yes, I’m probably going to have to suffer through some cringe moments when I let others publicly view my work (or am I the only filmmaker who experiences this?), but it will be well worth it when I can make something that I’m truly proud of. And I’ve found that when you actually start writing again, you suddenly remember, “Oh yeah, I enjoy doing this.”

And by the way, this applies to basically anything creative, not just scriptwriting and filmmaking.

Alrighty, time to get writing!

Editor’s note:
Be sure to check out the feature film Josh Directed last year!
Make Your Paths Straight.

over_the_edge

Just Run Into It Naked

So, how about some honesty, guys? I, just like many of you, really know about a dime’s worth of actual knowledge pertaining to filmmaking. I’d like to believe I know what I’m talking about, but I’d be lying to you if you asked me how to best capture a shot, the proper way to light it, and what lens would work best.

There’s so much to it—so much that I don’t understand yet. Lighting techniques are a science all their own that can be a bit daunting to confront if you’re a rookie . . . don’t even get me started on the finer points of proper white balance, all I know is, it’s important. Camera operation, even navigating through all the menus, sub-menus, and numerous formatting options (which are all abbreviated just to make things easier for beginners—not! And who likes to read manuals apart from Lego diagrams, huh?) All this is the equivalent of a massive brain freeze, especially for someone like me who is so used to the highly advanced point-and-shoot technique. Tools and hardware, gear and lenses, and editing software—like Adobe CS-whatever . . . essential, but golly gee—a world I can’t even begin to understand. At this point, you’re probably wondering, well, that’s funny that Andy should start a site dedicated to the art of filmmaking, when he is so inept at it. That’s why I’m considered aspiring, but I digress.

I might be a real novice when it comes to computers, but there’s another part of filmmaking that I am not so unfamiliar with, and that’s storytelling. And if filmmaking is not the pinnacle of story evolution, I don’t know what is.

My real “expertise,” if it can even be called that, lies in words, in creating stories that revolve around interesting, relatable, varying, organic characters. That’s a full-time job in and of itself. So I wouldn’t say I’m lacking the prerequisites to take to this field. I’ve taken thousands of pictures during my short life, and I’ve acted in numerous productions since high school and even on into my college years. In fact, for the longest time, I wanted to move to L.A. and get into acting, before I realized that my real love all these years has been the overall movie making process, or what else was my passion for writing good for? Surely not being just a scriptwriter or only an actor, because both interest me, but I didn’t want to be limited to one or the other—I wanted to do it all.

The Great Unknown
It’s true, trying to tackle the technicalities of editing, video compositing, and post-production is terrifying and unknown to me, but I will say this: I am thrilled to learn it.

For a while now, I’ve been focusing on honing in my skills as a writer, but I’ve come to the point where I am comfortable with the stories I’m creating, and now I want to give them life beyond that of the silent words on a page. I want to see the colors that make up my worlds, see my characters’ faces, and hear the themes that drive them—that describe them and their actions. I want something more tangible. And why not? There is no reason. I just want to do it, and I’m willing to accept the risks because . . .

Logic: Hold up, sir! Be realistic, you can’t just pick up a camera and record Oscar winners. You do need the skills to produce good visual work.”

Me: So, what do I do, then? I can’t afford more school. Well, Frodo, looks like this pipe dream has come to an end.

Well, I can assure you that is not the case. There are ways to level up without a degree. In this day and age, with wonderful tools like the Internet, information is free and easily disseminated to the laymen . . . that is, if you know where to look. It’s true what they say: “It’s right at your fingertips,” figuratively and literally.

Most of the stuff O’Ryan knows, he learned by himself, through practice, and reading (lots of reading), and from web tutorials. Now, he’s no expert, but if you talk to him or ask him a question, you might think otherwise. He really does know his stuff, and his knowledge base is steadily growing, as is mine (just a little slower). It’s amazing to think of how much I’ve learned in the past couple years of really diving in. I have every confidence that I can learn what he knows, if I’m diligent and have the patience to try and try again. It won’t be easy, but it will be easier than you’d think. And there will be many mistakes, no doubt, and many trials, but I invite them. In the wise words of Jake Sidwell:

“I’d rather die trying, than live with paralytic creativity.”

The Fire
We learn more about ourselves, our craft becomes more sincere when it’s passed through the refining fire, and so do we. I can’t be scared, and I can’t shy away from putting myself out there and asking for help when I need it. I can never think, “Oh well, it’s good enough,” because, quite frankly, that’s a piss-poor attitude. If this is your passion as much as it is mine, then you should expend all your energy into it, invest all your time (including the extra hour it takes to re-render something out because you discovered a typo in the beginning credits), and you should devote your heart to it and its betterment, fearlessly and fiercely.

I hope this has served as an encouragement to some of you . . . quack, quack, quack, QUACK! Go DUCKS!

In the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing some ways that you can get practice at telling a better story visually and verbally, which is one of the purposes of our Weekend Challenges. Also, be sure to follow the links below to some great tutorial sites. We’ve used them before, and we shall continue to do so (I know I’ll be living on these sites in the coming months).

Resources:

Film Riot is a how-to trip through filmmaking from the hyper-active mind of Ryan Connolly. From how to make great effects to following Triune Films through production, Film Riot explores the art of filmmaking in a way you’ve never seen.

 

 

Greyscalegorilla is an active community and resource for training and tools for creative types. [They] want to make learning more accessible and effective by creating easy-to-follow tutorials and training that show you way more than just what buttons to push.

 

 

Video Copilot is a collaborative resource for training, design tools and artists. [Their] goal is to show you what is possible and how effects can be created so that you can apply these techniques on your own creative adventures.

"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.

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!