[Post rated 18(UK)/R(US) for ‘strong language’]

During a Q&A following a screening of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (the videos of which were posted on Blip.TV by director Edgar Wright), Guillermo del Toro talked about how much respect directors and screenwriters need to have for the authors of the works they are adapting. He asks a question of the writer of the Scott Pilgrim books, Bryan Lee O’Malley (11:27):

Guillermo del Toro: “Let me ask you, because having gone through two movies with Mike Mignola [writer of the Hellboy comic books], I know the first time you show the movie, they shit their pants, the authors. I always say that adapting work is like marrying a widow, and you are going to be respectful of the late husband, but at some point, you’re gonna fuck. You have to stop talking about the late husband and say ‘shut the fuck up.’ For you being the dead husband thinking ‘holy fucking shit,’ what was your reaction when you first saw the movie?”
Bryan Lee O’Malley: “[…]That whole Vegan thing, what was I thinking when I wrote that? Seeing it all come to life. It was horrifying.”

Guillermo is telling screenwriters that respect for the original work should only go so far. To adapt properly you need to move on. because you are making a film, not rewriting a book or remaking a comic.

That’s just one bit from three videos from that night that are well worth watching.

Introduction (6:57)
Q&A part 1 (25:23)
Q&A part 2 (55:55)

In an event in September 2009 at USC, Stephen Susco talked to students about horror film development.

Poster for the US version of 'The Grudge' from 2004.

He says that he developed his version of The Grudge in parallel with Takashi Shimizu. Takashi had made a couple of shorter films for Japanese TV, so they decided to create their own feature versions seperately – one in Japan and one in the US. Stephen’s version was delayed, so when the time came for him to write the U.S. version, he had a few questions for Takashi (42 min):

‘”It’s great to meet you, so what was this?” and he would just be like “I don’t know. (beat) Does it matter?” In a way there’s so much genius in that, especially with horror. Look at the Shining. What does end of the movie mean? You don’t know. If you did it wouldn’t be scary. That kind of ambiguity is so essential to good horror movies
That’s what we’re lacking so often in that genre. I think it’s almost the only genre that is diametrically opposed to the way that studios develop movies. The development process is: “We need to understand everything.” You turn a script into a studio and you get 50 pages of notes and it’s all about clarity – having everything wrap up, so that when the movie is over people go “I got it, I got the whole thing.” Horror is about not doing that. Horror is about keeping people off-guard, unprepared and leaving with questions.”

He then talks about a development executive who points to The Sixth Sense as a perfect example of a script that has everything cleared up at the end.

‘So I said “OK, how could Haley Joel Osment see dead people?” […] If they had a scene where Haley Joel Osment as the camera is slowly pushing in on him gave this monologue about when he was five years old he was in this car crash and when he woke up in the hospital he could see dead people standing at the foot of his bed, the movie would have lost all of its power. But the movie was so good that you didn’t leave saying “Gee, I really wish I knew how the hell Haley Joel Osment could see dead people.”‘

He then goes on to tell a little more of his battles to keep The Grudge as ambiguous as possible. There’s a lot more available in the podcast of the event on iTunes (The episode dated ‘2 9 09’ here). The podcast is available as an mp3 at the bottom of the 2009-2010 podcast page at USC.

“Write your whole scene with all the things you think people would say to each other. Imagine all the things two people could say when saying goodbye to each other. Then keep taking words away while it still makes emotional sense. Five lines of dialogue between to people may end up being a single word: ‘Later’ “

Tony Jordan, Life on Mars

“In good dialogue people aren’t really listening to each other, the opposite of listening is waiting: you’re just waiting to say your next thing. That’s everyone in life, all the time. People hardly ever listen to each other. Good dialogue is two monologues that connect sometimes.”

Russell T. Davis, Doctor Who

On avoiding exposition: “I’d rather be confused for ten minutes than bored for five seconds”

Jimmy McGovern, The Street

Ela Their suggests that you base your plots around the evolving relationship between the main character and the main supporting character:

Act 1: When a character with a pattern is faced with a problem that challenges their pattern

Act 2: Then the main character and their key relationship pursue a goal despite major obstacles

Act 3: Until they step outside of their pattern to achieve the goal and solve the problem

If you are based in New York, consider going to her workshops.

“Become the change you want to see around you”

An aphorism I seem able to remember most days.

“Seven social sins: politics without principles, wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, and worship without sacrifice.”

Each of these could be the theme of a film – the debate that all the characters have different positions on.

“Carefully watch your thoughts for they will become your words. Manage and watch your words for they will become your actions. Consider and judge your actions for the will become your habits. Acknowledge and watch your habits for they will become your values. Understand and embrace your values for they will become your destiny.”

I read this on a marketing/business blog. This looks like a method for exploring character. If we start in the middle, we can get better ideas about the edges of his idea.

If screenplays are about showing actions, not words, work out what each character needs to do in your screenplay.

Gandhi says
1. Character actions are determined by what they usually say, which is defined by how they think
2. Character actions become habits, which modify values which determine destiny

These dependancies will help define your characters as they are in Act 1… when they bump up against each other, you get a film.

After over a year of listening to Pilar Alessandra’s On The Page screenwriting blog (iTunes, FeedBurner), I was lucky enough to attend a London event meeting her alongside UK-based screenwriters. It was inspirational.

I’ve already written about some of her ten minute exercises, but this evening reminded me of something else: spending too long preparing can mean you never start.

The following tip deliberately uses terminology to put you off: Name your first draft your ‘Vomit Draft.’ If you have that sub-title at the top of every page, it’ll excuse you from spending too much time judging the first version of your script as you write. You can get all the ideas out in one go.

You know you’ll never show anyone else your Vomit Draft. That means you won’t risk anyone else judging your abilities (or you as person) based on that draft. If you don’t worry about making it perfect, you’ll have a terrible version of script done very quickly. This is good news because “writing is rewriting.”

Here’s where I digress: One of the problems with being a freelancer is the clients. It’s not just that they don’t know what they want, it’s that they only know what they don’t want when you show it to them. That problem is useful when it comes to editing your own script. Once you see a scene written down, once you read the way a character talks, you can see something is wrong, and you can come up with ways of improving what’s been written.

Another example of using rewriting as writing uses the example of having someone else asking you about your story. You might have a vague idea, but if another person asks you some specific questions, you might be able to firm up the idea.

You can practice doing this for someone else if they’ve just woken up and tell you about a dream they just had. Their dream will fade away very quickly as they become more awake and remember who they are and what the day might bring. To stop the fade, ask them specific questions about their dream: “Was it the house as it is now, or was as it was when you were growing up?” “Was the park full of people, or was it deserted?” “Did she whisper or did she shout?” The dreamer can then either remember dream more clearly or provide an answer that makes sense at that moment.

Your vomit draft is the dream. The re-write happens when you ask questions about the dream.

Oscar award season has started. The ‘for your consideration’ adverts have started to appear. That means the ‘glut of award hopefuls to be released in the next six weeks’ and ‘end of the cinematic year’ articles can be written.

Go on over to Hollywood Reporter to read an interview with six writers who may be nominated for an Oscar. When asked about discipline, Andrew Stanton, writer of “WALL-E” said:

My mantra is: Be wrong as fast as you can. Because I have to have the liberty to know it doesn’t have to work so that I’ll just keep moving.

I hope they get around to talking to some below the line people.

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