Tag Archives: screenwriting

Cuddlefish The Film Shoot

All that nervousness about shooting my short scene was unnecessary, but was probably going to happen anyway. My film shoot went really well, and it was a lot of fun. The set looked great (especially given that my original ideas for the set kind of went wrong early on, especially concerning the bed) and the actors were fantastic and everyone was relaxed. Including me, surprisingly. Once it got going, it rolled along smoothly and we finished on time to enjoy the nice spring day.

Here are some set photos to show how the space was transformed between my shoot and the shoot the next day. The same exact space was used, as was the same bed. Here’s my set:

A professional cuddler's room on a low budget.

A professional cuddler’s room on a low budget.

I’ve never seen a professional cuddler’s bedroom. Originally I wanted a double bed, but the only bed available from the props department was a hospital bed. So, we did a LOT of covering up with blankets and pillows and somehow managed to make it look like a coherent bedroom. Our props department has a lot of mismatched stuff, so I’m still amazed that we got stuff that matches somewhat.

The next day, I got to be camera (or, director of photography if you want to be fancy about it) for another fellow screenwriters’ shoot. This shoot also went smoothly, which was great. I actually really liked being camera, probably because I love photography and the two are similar. The first set we had was a trashed bedroom that belonged to a male musician:

The bedroom of a very upset man.

The bedroom of a very upset man.

This was for the first scene of that shoot. For the second, the room became a hospital room.We changed from the trashed bedroom set to the hospital room set in half an hour.

It's a really dingy hospital.

It’s a really dingy hospital.

Props has a surprising (disturbing?) amount of hospital/medical equipment. Which isn’t really obvious in this picture, but we did manage to get the dingy hospital feeling across. I have seen some hospitals in the Bronx that would rival this set’s dinginess, so for me at least, it was convincing.

So, it’s surprising what you can do with a set. This space was meant for two different shoots, and stood in as three different locations. I was a bit wary of the space because, as a room, it’s pretty grim. But as you can see above, I think it turned out well.

I’m really happy my directing experience worked out so well. I don’t know that I would want to be a writer-director. I definitely wouldn’t want to only be a director; I like writing too much to ever stop doing it. But if I got to direct my own writing, I don’t know if it would be stressful or a nice extra bit of control. This experience was really relaxing, but I know they’re not all like that, especially on a full-fledged production rather than just the production of a short scene. After our short day of shooting, I was exhausted. So I won’t write it off completely, but we’ll see.

I also have no idea if I’m any good at it. My team helped a LOT. They were awesome.

I did like doing camera on the shoot the next day. Working to make images that look interesting is a lot of fun. I also really like pull-focus shots, but some cameras are better at it than others.

And somehow, I always end up on shoots where the camera is in a position that’s quite a bit taller than I am. But it’s okay, because the shots we got from those positions were really good.

I’m looking forward to getting back to writing. But we have two weeks to edit our short scenes, so I think it’s going to be awhile before I’m back to the thing I’m actually studying.

 

 

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Cuddlefish

It’s almost time to film my scene. Production begins and ends on Thursday. I’ve finally cast actors, gotten props, and I have a shot list.

As I mentioned before, the scene comes from a longer feature film idea that we were asked to come up with a few weeks ago. Mine is called “Cuddlefish,” about a professional cuddler who falls in love with one of her clients, but she’s asexual, so she doesn’t want the relationship to go beyond cuddling (and kissing) (and romance.) The scene I chose from this idea is when her client confesses that he likes her and wants to be in a relationship with her, and she’s conflicted because she likes him too, but she isn’t sure she can give him what he wants.

Explaining the scene, because it’s out of context, is one of the most important parts of producing it. I need to get the romantic comedy tone across, but I also need there to be an understanding of exactly why the scene plays out as it does, why my professional cuddler is so hesitant when she’s told by the guy she likes that he likes her back. I think that’s been the hardest part of the whole process, making sure that the context and tone are clear and transferring that to film. Hopefully it works.

The second hardest part is actual set design. Over the past two weeks, I’ve struggled with how I’m going to build a bedroom set that looks like it could be the room of a professional cuddler within the confines of the film school. The room I’m booked to shoot in looks a bit like a cross between a basement and an industrial kind of place, and has art supplies in it including one huge blue canvas. The door is also in a really odd place.

To add to the problem, the double bed from the props department I planned to use is already being used on my shooting day, so I’m using a hospital bed (single) and making it look like a bed that a professional cuddler might have in their bedroom. It’s going to involve a lot of pillows and blankets and honestly it won’t look like what I thought about in my head, or anything remotely close to it. But for the purposes of this scene, hopefully it isn’t too distracting. I think a lot of it hinges on performances, so if the bed looks a bit suspicious, well, hopefully clever camera angles can take attention away from that.

The last problem is directing. I’m not a director, and I’ve never really directed in any sort of official capacity before. It’s a lot of decision making and controlling and knowing what you’re talking about, and having written the thing, it’s also an exercise in learning what works on the page and what doesn’t need to be in the film (things like small stage directions, for example.) You’d be surprised at how many things in a script, even a good one, don’t need to be in the film. The past week has involved learning that directors look at scripts differently than writers, so playing the part of a writer-director is weird because, at least for me, I’ve never fully been in one mode or the other. They bleed through to each other.

Other things I’ve had to learn include camera coverage, health & safety (there was a risk assessment), working with actors, film set protocol, and producing practices. Yesterday, when filming someone else’s shoot, I got a crash course in being an assistant director and on using clapper boards. It’s a lot to take in, and there’s definitely a lot of learning while doing. And the set should be relaxed, which is hard when you don’t know what you’re doing and you’re secretly panicking and there’s so many choices.

Somehow, so far, the sets have been pretty relaxed.

I just hope the shoot on Thursday goes smoothly. I hope that the set looks like a bedroom tomorrow when I’m done with it. I hope nothing sudden happens that’ll throw a wrench in the works.

The good thing about being on the screenwriting course is that, if I want, this is the first and last time I’ll have to do any of this film production stuff.

We’ll see how it goes.

 

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Screenwriting In the UK

So I said I’d be keeping up with this blog, and I’ve done a really bad job. But it’s been a month since I’ve started my course in England, so I thought it was about time for a post to talk about what I’ve been doing aside from the answer I usually tell everyone, which is writing.

I am writing. For those who missed the last blog post, I’m doing a two year Masters course in Screenwriting at the National Film and Television School in England. After which, I hope to get a job, preferably in the UK because I like it over here more than, say, LA. Not that there’s anything wrong with LA but it’s not particularly my style.

The screenwriting course does involve a lot of writing. There are ten of us, and we spent the first few weeks each generating ideas for a film or TV series. We had four ideas to develop with the following prompts (or guidelines, they weren’t very hard about them): idea based on visuals, idea needing research, fantasy idea, and an idea in a particular genre other than drama. We wrote treatments (proposals, pretty much) for each of these ideas. I ended up with four film ideas whose working titles are: Fishermen (this will change), Underground, Fallen, and Cuddlefish. Take those as you will. The last one is a romantic comedy. The first one I’m thinking about as maybe a play, though the visual part would be great to see on camera. But it’s such a smallish drama that I wonder if it wouldn’t be better on stage. The middle two I haven’t thought much about, but would love to write them.

On the side I’ve gotten involved with games design, collaborating on story for a game. The second year games designers have to develop a full-fledged game (for any platform) as their final project. Some of them want to bring in writers for story/character reasons. This is where I’ve come in. The game I’m working on is very story based, which is great. I like story based games. It’s much different to writing a script, but it’s a lot of fun, and the interactive aspect is fun to think about and play around with.

We’re also working on a project called Metamorphosis, which is to give us writers a perspective on what it takes to bring our scripts to the big screen. We’ve each picked a scene from one of our film ideas and written it, and we’re going to film it two weeks from now. Between then and now we have to finalize the script, cast actors, get location and props, and learn how to use the equipment. This means that we’re making 10 films (since there’s ten of us.) Each writer directs their own scene, and the crew is made up entirely of other writers who aren’t filming that day. So we have two weeks of prep (this week and next) and one week to film, and then a few days to edit. I’m not a huge fan of the production process (I did come here to write, after all) but it should be a lot of fun. Especially since it’s the most developed script I’ve ever filmed.

Adjusting to life outside of school is interesting. I’ve had to get used to not having the usual people to fall back on for support and/or weekend hanging out, to not having things work the same way they do at home, and to not having a good selection of pre-made cookie dough. The Ben & Jerry’s here is also terribly expensive. I haven’t been able to justify getting any yet, but I will. Maybe as a birthday present. Going into London a lot gets expensive so I haven’t done it too much.

Overall, I’m enjoying this, and I’m really happy that I’ve got this opportunity. I feel more creative than I have in a long time, more creatively supported than I ever have, and like I’ve learned more about the film/TV/theatre industry and writing in the past month than I did in my three years at my university. And that is just fantastic. I’m really excited about all the writing we’re going to do, all the different areas we’ll get to explore, and how much we’ll learn about everything.

And, fingers crossed, when I’m done they won’t kick me out of the country.

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2014

Hello all!

I know it’s been a while since I’ve properly posted. I’ve been really busy with a new internship at a theater, working in the film and booking departments. It’s a great internship, but it also involves a two hour each way commute to the city and back, which takes up a good chunk of the day. I’m pretty much out of the house from 6:45am to 8:15pm. It’s been a good experience, learning how to be a real working person, but this next year is going to change quite a bit.

I’ve been accepted into the Screenwriting Masters program at NFTS, the National Film and Television School in England. I applied back in the spring and never expected to get in, but I did, and I’ve gone on orientation to meet my fellow screenwriters and people from other programs in the school. Everyone is really awesome and nice and passionate, and it looks like it’ll be a good environment to be creative in. And I’ve always wanted to write for film, television, or theater in the UK. It’s been the pipiest of my pipe dreams. But it’s not so far fetched anymore.

The program starts at the end of January. Whether or not I’ll get there in time is another matter-I’m having issues with the visa application that I really need resolved this week before things start to get really hairy.

That aside, I’m exciting. Especially given that this time last year, I didn’t have any prospects for after I graduated. That’s changed, and I couldn’t be happier.

A lot of my posts from now on are probably going to revolve around the screenwriting program, so if screenwriting, film, or theater is something that interests you, then you’ll really like what’s going on! There’ll probably be a few other posts about the state of packing and being in England and saying sorry for not posting in awhile because time gets away from me.

I can’t wait to start. I have a small notebook full of stuff I learned during the orientation, which was already a lot (and a good chunk which I’ve been told to forget until graduation). And then there’s a list of ideas I could use for future stories. I’m pretty sure I’ll be using most if not all of them, considering we did a lot of idea generating and developing during the orientation. And, I get to write a dissertation, since it is a graduate program. I’m thinking about writing about performing Shakespeare. I love Shakespeare, and I find the various ways his plays can be performed an interesting subject.

2013 was a good year, especially compared to 2012 (the year I’d rather forget.) So I’m ready for 2014. A few more things need to fall into place, but in general things are looking good. Which is all I can really ask for when starting off another year.

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Writing: Crack Open the Emotions

The other day, in playwriting class we were discussing ideas for plays, and a few of the ideas were personal. One of the questions that came up was, “what if I write about something personal that happened to me or my family?”

To which the professor replied, “that’s okay, as long as you’re ready to crack open those emotions and show them to the world.”

Cracking open emotions is a phrase that makes emotions sound like eggs. There’s probably an extended metaphor for emotions being like eggs, too, but the point is that we often keep our emotions inside us. It’s not necessarily a matter of bottling things up so much as, if something difficult happens, we have to move on, because life goes on. If someone dies we can mourn, and we might never get over it, but we can’t spend the rest of our lives crying. Instead we detach ourselves from the event, bury it deep, and if not forget it then at least try not to be reminded of it all the time. We learn how to deal.

When writing about a personal experience or event that wasn’t necessarily happy, it can be hard to crack open those emotions and share them with others. This leaves something very personal open to criticism and sometimes, criticism for something like that can be hard to hear. The interesting thing about personal writing is that even though you’re delving deeper into your emotions and memories, in a certain way you’re also detaching yourself–you’re telling a story for others to read, making your experiences relatable. What you write won’t be exactly how it happened, or even how you felt it.

I plan on writing a play that uses real life experiences, and events and characters that would be recognizable to family members. It isn’t exactly a biography; it’s fictionalized in certain aspects. I’m writing it because I feel like the story of what happened is what people should hear, because something good comes out of it–learning to be independent, and going after your goals despite roadblocks and setbacks. That message is the important part.

I suppose it helps that the play I’m writing tells a story that happened to another family member and not myself. I’ve written things about my own life experiences as well, and that, too, is an interesting experience. I gain more insight, I tend to realize things I hadn’t realized before about the situation by writing about it. I gain a better understanding of my emotions by being able to come back to them from a distance.

Yet I also tend to detach myself. If I’m writing about something particularly difficult, the writing takes on an almost third-person, clinical sort of tone. Very matter-of-fact. Then again, that might be a reflection of real life, where I try to detach myself from emotions as quickly as possible, because drowning in them isn’t really a better option. Emotions are messy, all-consuming things.

But that detachment needs to go away in the process of writing this play. Like my professor said, I need to crack my emotions open. I need to feel them when I’m writing so that other people will feel them when reading, or watching. And as a writer, I want that. I want to make my audience feel those emotions as strongly as I do. Maybe even more so. I want to effect them.

Let me put it this way: at the end of the old silent film The Great Train Robbery a cowboy shoots a gun directly into the camera. According to certain sources, people ducked when this happened, or covered their ears, or reacted as if that cowboy was really shooting at them in the theatre. That’s the kind of reaction I want from my audience. I want them to be there with my characters, feeling what they feel, reacting how they react.

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The Internship Problem

Many college students are finding it hard to get internships and jobs. Even more are reluctant to waste their time: internships often don’t pay, and in college nothing helps like a bit of money. It actually costs to do an unpaid internship.

But many paying internships and entry-level jobs are looking for a huge amount of experience. College students looking to get hired need to have an ample amount of experience in their field under their belt-whether it be research, publication, unpaid internships of previous years, volunteer work abroad, ect. It isn’t enough to just get a degree; now, employers want you to have been doing the job long before you get paid to do it.

But that’s a problem. Internships are meant to help build your resume and in the process, help you learn about your chosen industry. Entry-level jobs also provide an introduction to your industry and teach you a bit about how things work; that’s why it’s entry-level and you’re getting paid less. You know the basics, now the job has to teach you the applications.

Yet it isn’t enough. New hires are overqualified; even my mom, who works at a relatively large business, said that her boss thought they were hiring overqualified college students who ended up being bored with their entry-level job because there was nothing to teach them, yet they couldn’t send them to an upper-level job right out of college. Yet the company would hire the most insanely qualified students. Ironically, they didn’t get much out of it.

Of course, experience isn’t a bad thing. I’m saying that work places expect way too much experience for a college student. Let me give you a personal example:

I got rejected from a school internship program in Hollywood for screenwriting because my resume wasn’t full enough. I’d taken several production and screenwriting classes, produced four short films, written three short films, and written one full-length screenplay. I had worked as a photographer for the school paper and for one of the art galleries nearby. I had also taken a graphic design class, so I know how to use the Adobe Creative Suite programs (Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign) in addition to video editing software. And I know how to write scripts.

But the interviewer said it wasn’t enough. I needed other things; more produced films, or scripts perhaps. Had I ever had an internship in my field? No. But there’s a good reason as to why I don’t have all these extra things: I have two paying jobs.

Now, the resume asked to put only relevant to the field info, so I didn’t put my two jobs because they’re both not media jobs. For one I work as an Assistant House Manager at a performance hall, and for the other I work as an office assistant for housing. Both customer service, one of which includes a leadership role, and both worked so that I can make money and learn how to manage it for living.

But these two jobs don’t count towards anything. They’re just that: jobs. Not internships. Not experience. Working-class jobs.

But they pay.

That doesn’t mean I’m under qualified. I know how to format and write scripts, and I’m creative. I know how to use video editing software. I know how to use photo editing and graphic design software. I know quite a bit about photography. I could work in the media as a writer, or help with production, or photography, or graphic design. I may not know everything but I could learn. I’m a fast learner. And, as my two paying jobs demonstrate, I’m good with people. Even the irate ones.

Students graduating college face the daunting task of getting jobs, or even internships, even the unpaid ones in hopes that it will lead to something greater. Nothing is guaranteed. But when did college change from academics to work experience as well? Why do internship applicants have to be ridiculously qualified? We are barely adults, and this is all new to us, yet employers want us to be experts.

Most people aren’t experts at the ages of 21/22 in anything. Why is that wrong?

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It’s NaNo Time!

As November 30th nears, NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, draws to a close, and writers the world over struggle to reach their 50,000 words on time. And then some.

But the story isn’t over until the story is over.

November is quite the writing time for me, aside from NaNo. In addition to my novel (now over 50,000 words but not finished) I’ve been writing a fifteen-minute short film, and am rewriting a full-length screenplay, both for class. Add that to the boring academic papers we’re forced to churn out around this time of year, and suddenly hundreds of pages have been written, whether I’ve wanted to or not.

But all this writing, forced or no, surrounds me with the idea of writing, and with it comes ideas that I like, and some that I fall in love with and absolutely must write. A small idea in October turned into my NaNo novel in November. Something I had a passing thought about while on vacation turned into a full-length screenplay. Thinking about having to write makes me think about what I actually want to write, which makes me write more.

My writing process is pretty simple-first draft, just put it all on the page. Forget subtlety (which my professors push a LOT, so don’t completely forget it, it’ll be important later), forget restraint, forget the stupid rule about not including characters’ pasts in a screenplay or whatever. I just put every thought, feeling, and action onto the page, so that I know what’s going on in the story. It comes out bad, but at least it’s all there, and then I can word the rewrites.

Rewrites, for me, are drastic things. I literally rewrite the story, often times, so that the second/third/ect drafts hardly resemble the first. I cut what I need to, sometimes I change the point of view, or the tone, or the tense in which I’m writing. I take out everything I know that the reader doesn’t need to know.

Then I let it sit for awhile, and go back to read it. This last time is more for small edits; changing a word here or there, deleting a sentence. Polishing up the stuff that made it past the Major Edit.

I’m pretty sure this frustrates people to no end. Screenwriting professors look at my first drafts and think, wow, there is not a lot of subtext going on here, or there’s too much detail, or this dialogue is too “on the nose.” But later drafts improve. I tried explaining this one time, but I wasn’t particularly successful. (I tend not to be successful when talking.)

My NaNo is probably going to get a massive overhaul at some point. It already has; I started out writing in the third person, then trashed that idea early on and continued from a different point of view. And when I get the time to rewrite, it’ll change even more.

(side note: has anyone else noticed how fun second person is?)

So what’s the point? asks the reader of this blog who just wasted ten minutes reading another writers’ writing thoughts (and not even a published one, at that!). Well, the point is, if you feel the need to put it all out there, do it. Even if people are going to be critiquing it. Because ultimately, those people won’t be thrilled about your lack of subtext or finesse, but they will be able to tell you what to let go and what to keep when you decide it’s time for a draft that actually has some subtext and finesse.

Word vomit, is the appropriate term, I think. But it’s good word vomit. Word vomit your story everywhere, because it needs to get out there, and clean up later.

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