Be As Rough As You Want, It’s My First Time

Posted in Dark Rum Chronicles, first page, Nick Drama, spec script, The Adventures of Nick Drama on August 26, 2009 by alaindominic

So, in the interest of putting my money (which I really have none) where my mouth is (which I possibly have too much of), following is the first page of a spec screenplay I’m getting ready to market.

By “getting ready” I mean the spec is complete and polished and I’m currently researching and targeting buyers (managers, talent, prodcos, agents, in that order).
Once I finish the spec I’m currently in the middle of writing, I’ll start approaching those buyers, entering contests, etc with both.

Sorry @ the terrible formatting, I haven’t been able to figure out how to properly format screenplay excerpts for this blog yet. If anyone knows how, please enlighten.

Any feedback – even the snarky kind – will be received with great appreciation. But I’d really like to know if you think the following accomplishes what a first page should: set tone, time and place, establish character, hook you into wanting – HAVING – to turn the page, read as its own “mini-story”, etc. So without further adieu…

Dark Rum Chronicles: The Adventures of Nick Drama
by
Alain Dominic

FADE IN:

INT. PRIVATE AIRPLANE HANGER – DAY

A FIST connects with NICK DRAMA’S jaw, sending him reeling the opposite direction into — another fist.

Late 30’s. Scruffy. Hawaiian shirt. Cargo shorts. Nick resembles a ranch hand turned surfer, like he should be on vacation sipping a drink with a pink umbrella. Yet —

ANOTHER FIST. Looks like that drink’ll have to wait.

See, Nick’s a little preoccupied with the FOUR BLACK-CLAD MERCENARIES gleefully tenderizing him.

Another vicious blow and Nick’s legs give out.

NICK in mid-fall, semiconscious.

NICK (V.O.)
Drama. I don’t like it. Unfortunately, its my last name.

NICK’S HEAD smacks the concrete floor with a dull thud, bouncing slightly.

NICK (V.O.)
That’s me. Nick Drama. The handsome feller getting his eggs scrambled right there.

A swiftly moving combat boot swallows Nick’s vision. Another kick flips him on his back.

NICK (V.O.)
And if you’re wondering how an average Joe like me gets himself into a jam like this, well brother you ain’t flying solo,‘cause right about now old Nick finds himself pondering that very same question.

A HAND roots a dusty beer bottle from the floor. Smashes the end off. Angles the jagged edge toward Nick.
A TATTOO OF A WATER SNAKE winding its way across the knuckles distinguishes this hand from the other Mercenaries. This bastard’s clearly their LEADER.

End pg. 1.
Ok, let me have it!

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Screenwriting is Easy!

Posted in easy, screenwriting on August 16, 2009 by alaindominic

It’s just a constant process of figuring out how to precisely say what you need to say without really saying it.

R.I.P.

Posted in Blake Snyder, Bud Schulberg, John Hughes on August 6, 2009 by alaindominic

Damn, what a horrible couple days it’s been for screenwriters and the industry at large — we’ve lost not one or two but THREE huge talents in the past 48 measly hours.

Bud Schulberg, writer of “On the Waterfront” died last night.

I just heard Blake Snyder, screenwriting consultant & author of industry standard “Save the Cat” died on Tuesday.

I just checked out some filmmaking blogs, and after signing out was immediately informed that John Hughes (does anyone reading this NOT know who John f’ing Hughes is??) died today.

Wherever they are now, a big THANK YOU to all these folks for enriching my life, as well as millions of others.

“I’m not European. I don’t plan on being European. So who gives a crap if they’re socialists? They could be fascist anarchists for all I care, it still doesn’t change the fact that I don’t own a car.”

Tales From the Script

Posted in Billy Ray, Larry Cohen, Paul Robert Herman, Peter Hanson, screenwriting QandA, Tales From the Script, Zack Penn on August 6, 2009 by alaindominic

Last night I went to a screening that should be required viewing for all aspiring screenwriters.

The film is “Tales From the Script”, a fascinating documentary put together by two other aspiring screenwriters, Peter Hanson and Paul Robert Herman (take note, Paul and Peter are writers who haven’t yet found traction, so took the initiative to shoot their own film. Through that decision these guys now have access to some of the best, most experienced minds in H’wood film writing, and a wonderful doc with THEIR names on it that is now showing in selected theaters!).

The doc features interviews with some of H’wood’s top screenwriters — Shane Black, William Goldman, Zak Penn, Frank Darabont, Jose Rivera, David Hayter, Billy Ray, John August, David Ward, Larry Cohen, just to name a few. The purpose was to get a picture from seasoned screenwriters about the lifestyle and challenges all screenwriters face, and how to navigate those challenges. Most of the film was horror stories about writers being treated badly, but the cumulative effect was actually quite inspiring — against all odds, these guys did it (just like your protagonist)!!

There was a post-screening Q&A panel as well, hosted by Peter (the Director), who asked some very insightful questions. Jose Rivera, Zak Penn, Adam Rifkin and David S. Ward were among the panelists, and all shared intimate, fascinating, insightful and inspiring points of view. Truly an invaluable gift for aspiring writers like myself, so thanks, Gents.

Among the writers who made a huge impression on me was Billy Ray (writer of State of Play, Breach, Flightplan, etc.). Billy has great passion and enthusiasm for storytelling, despite all the travails he’s had to endure throughout his impressive career. Billy sticks to his intent as a screenwriter against all odds, and consistently produces thoughtful, socially significant films.

For me, the most inspirational speaker was Larry Cohen. Larry’s been in the business since the late 50’s (!) and has been working the entire time. Aside from the impressiveness of a 40 + year career, the true inspiration Larry passed to me was when during the Q&A portion of the screening, a writer asked WHY writers don’t have much power.
Larry’s answer was “Bullshit”! Writers are low on the totem pole simply because they set themselves up for it! Writers tend to characterize themselves as beaten down, trod upon, disrespected and powerless, so of course, that’s how we’re treated. But if you stand up for yourself, stand up for your point of view, people are bound to listen — after all, who’s the story expert in the room? YOU ARE! So have some self confidence and speak up! This doesn’t mean to be combative, what it does mean is simply to stand up for your ideas.

And although most insights were about the difficulties of writing for H’wood, Larry made a great argument for how wonderful the life can be, if you chose to focus on the positives instead of the negatives: you get paid large sums of money for films that more often than not don’t get made, films that directors, actors etc. didn’t get paid for, but YOU did; a director works maybe 2 years on a movie, shooting in the cold, on mountaintops, away from their families for months at a time, dealing with actors, producers, studios, financiers, marketers, etc, while you’re sitting poolside contemplating your next story; directors can’t direct whatever they want, and actors can’t have whatever roles they want, but you can write whatever you want, whenever you choose; the list goes on.

There’s too much to write about what a great impact hearing all these stories and points of view had on me, but I highly recommend you seek out “Tales From the Script” and watch it, repeatedly. Harper Collins is also releasing a “Tales…” book in January which features all the above interviewees, plus a bevy of others who weren’t in the film but still wanted to participate.
After experiencing the film and the invaluable advice these guys are imparting to us for the low, low price of cost of admission, for me, the upcoming book is a must-have.

I have great respect for all the ladies and gentlemen who participated in the “Tales…” project in book and/or film. To take time out of their busy careers to impart their hard won wisdom to those aspiring to do what they are doing is a priceless and generous gift that can ignite careers and change lives. These folks – and certainly the filmmakers – are truly paying it forward (backward?), so a big thank you to any of them who may be reading this, and an especially large thank you to Peter and Paul for putting this all together.
If you’d like more info, just go to www.talesfromthescript.org
Happy Writing

FREE Professional Screenwriting Software

Posted in Celtx, formatting, free software, writing software on March 2, 2009 by alaindominic

A quick note to all those out there who need properly formatted scripts but don’t have/can’t afford pro software like Final Draft, Script Thing, etc.

GET CELTX!! Before I got final draft I wrote using Celtx version 1, a wonderful writing program that’s easy to use, professionally standardized, has different templates for stage plays, teleplays and feature screenplays, and above all, it’s FREE! After I switched to Final Draft I found myself missing some Celtx extras, like being able to store your projects online, the Celtx community boards, etc.
Celtx just rolled out their version 2, which is new, improved, and still FREE! For those of you who don’t have and can’t afford proper writing software, Celtx is a can’t miss and will make your life much easier! To check out or download the new version of Celtx just go to http://celtx.com/download.html

PS – I am in no way connected to or affiliated with Celtx, this is just a genuine endorsement from someone who used (and may go back!) and was impressed by their software.

Oscar Thought for Writers

Posted in concept, familiarity, originality, oscars, screenwriting on February 24, 2009 by alaindominic

Concerning the nominees for Best Original and Adapted screenplays and Best Picture, I was trying to look for some pattern in these categories that may be of some help to us aspiring screenwriters. My question was, regardless of their individual merits or shortcomings, what was it specifically about these individual and vastly differing projects that got them to the pinnacle of the Hollywood game? What do they all have in common that directly contributed to their success?

The answer is a two-parter:
1. Excellent Writing – writing that got readers (agents, producers, studio execs, directors, stars, etc.) excited.
2. A Champion – someone like a producer or director who were so excited by the material that they fought for it and protected it the whole way through, from gestation to finished product.
Put those two together and my conclusion is for any writer – beginner or otherwise – to get their screenplay not just bought (if a sale is your end-game, you’ll be playing one very short game) but actually seen in a real, live movie theater, the writing must be so engaging as to gain not one or two, but a literal army of Champions – all the people a film requires who will do the hard work of transferring your blueprint sketch into a complete, living, breathing work of art (or at least, cinema).
So when you’re considering your next writing project, and during the actual writing, always remember that many very smart, powerful and talented individuals MUST respond to your material in such a way that they dedicate 2 or 3 years of their very lives, perhaps even more, to seeing it through to fruition in as accurate an interpretation as possible (a real Champion is one who not  just gets behind, but also protects the material).
Everyone’s different though, so what key ingredients will make all these different people with different agendas come together to champion your screenplay?
I believe the answer is a combination of superlative, unique storytelling coupled with a clear, distinctive marketing concept. There, the “M” word, I said it.
Now, you may not think of films like Doubt, Frozen River or Slumdog Millionaire as obviously marketable. But if you examine their loglines or overall concepts, I think they are all clearly distinctive from other films out there, and also share universal stories. “Distinctive” is a good place to be in any market, and in marketing terms “universality” translates to wide audience appeal. 
Why am I focusing on marketability? Because in the end, you need to sell your work, and agents, creative execs and producers are basically all just salespeople. They need product, plain and simple, and in order to sell the most product that product must be familiar to the buyer yet also stand out as unique in the marketplace, an attribute I’m calling “original familiarity”. Think about it, these players want to take risks, but not if it means losing their jobs or industry clout. So they like different. But they need familiar. And that’s the trick in crafting your screenplay.
The classic actioner Lethal Weapon has ridiculously familiar plot – two cops team up to bring down a ruthless drug cartel. How many times have we seen that before, right? But it was the writer’s specific take on the details of the story – mainly the interaction and relationships of the main characters – that gave Lethal Weapon its uniqueness. It was the telling of the story that made it seem like an original. Try the original/familiar approach when looking at the concepts & premises behind 99.9% of “successful” films, I bet they’re all originally familiar.

Too Funny…

Posted in assistants, Hollywood on February 19, 2009 by alaindominic
Not the greatest video, but funny, and most importantly for our purposes, instructional. A few days ago no one knew who these assistants were, they were nameless and faceless to the rest of the industry. But by creating this video, they have created “buzz” around themselves. I’m sure by week’s end they’ll at least have an agent, if not a production deal! All because they thought out of the box and created their own project instead of waiting around for someone to hand them one. A good lesson for writers – why not shoot what you write? Make a web video, webisodes, a short film, whatever. Lesson  being, don’t wait for anyone to give you permission – go out and make your own breaks. I have a tendency to write big and expensively, but I’m trying to focus on smaller fare too, the kind I can shoot on the cheap. Also looking into graphic novels, so if your best bud happens to be an aspiring comic artist searching for unsucky material, let me know.
Also, on a mechanics of writing level, think how much better this video would be if it were about 2 minutes shorter – less is always more! Think of this when you’re editing your scenes – the shorter they are, the more powerful they will be. Always leave them wanting more…
Hollywood ASST from Back of the Class on Vimeo.