Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Taking Master Classes

I discovered Master Classes on Facebook. My daughter Blair recommended the James Patterson novel writing class. That was my first Master Class.
Patterson reminded me of my mentor, Harry Whittington. Both work at a fast pace. It was a wonderful experience and I came away with a complete outline and chapter for a book I will be writing as soon as I'm done with my other projects.
I answered the MC survey after the Patterson class and recommended Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin may have already been on their list, but I was ready to sign as soon as they posted Sorkin was developing a class.
I have no affiliation with the Master Class site, other than being a fan and student. As mentioned in a prior blog post, I completed a script for my novel Marquel.
Taking Sorkin's class helped me understand some of my story issues. I was having problems with the resolution in Act 2, though I didn't know it was Act 2, until I learned more.

I was also one of the lucky students who got to call in and ask Sorkin a question. Master Class offers different bonus events from contests for co-authoring, to office hour Q&A, to live events like the one I participated in.
I asked Aaron Sorkin something like this, "If I disagree with the notes I've been given on the setting or period of my script, do I have to follow that advice." I say I said something like this, because I was so in awe of the chance to speak with Sorkin that I just remember part of my question and his reply.
Sorkin said something like, "If you feel strongly about something, you can tell Mr. Spielberg  why it has to be this way." Hurray! I thought. Because I had a note from a producer, who wanted me to change the period and challenges of my screenplay from the 1990s to the 1950s.
I am still a novice, but it is nice to hear a pro say that you can stand up for your work. However, the reality is if you are being paid to write a script, you may not have the luxury. It depends on the agreement.
After taking Sorkin's class, I took Shonda Rhimes Television Writing and David Mamet's Dramatic Writing Master Class.
All four of the classes were honest, instructional and provided recommended reading and resource materials. To think that you can learn from the top experts for less than the price of a college text book is mind blogging.
The Master Class format is entertaining, if one just wants to watch an educational program. However, if you ever wondered what it would be like to be a college student who enjoys a guest lecture from one of the industry experts, you'll find Master Class a treasure.
I am super lucky, because I enjoyed working with a pulp master, Harry Whittington. And now I have resources online that make it possible for me to get closer to my book to film reality.

- Next,  What I've learned about Successful Screenwriting

Typos happen.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

How to write a script based on a book

 Writing a film based on a novel sounds hard, unless you wrote the book as a movie. Not that I am an expert...
When I wrote the novel Marquel, I saw it as a movie.
The chapters are plotted in the progression of a suspense film, short and enough info to keep you guessing.
I was taught plotting by my mentor, the late master of the pulps, Harry Whittington. Harry approved the outline and sample chapters of Marquel before he passed away.
My chapters are film scenes with just enough background, emotion and dialogue to keep the reader engaged. Well, I hope so.
I work with my completed novel in Microsoft Word open, along with Final Draft Screenwriting software open.
I’m pretty much toggle between them.
Knowing that a book and film need to grab you from the opening doesn’t mean they’ll have the same initial start. A film might introduce a scene later in the book. Regardless, both book and film should interest the audience immediately.
I cut and paste sections I want to work on from Word into Final Draft. Naturally, it will be a bit jumbled moving from one program to the other.
Films have a specific format and the software is easy to use once you’ve read enough scripts and learned the structure.
However, I still mess up.
I put in camera shots and direction that shouldn’t be there. I get complaints in script coverage about formatting. So, I’m still learning.
Each page is a minute of screen time, so I edit down everything that isn’t dialogue. I pretty much wipe out all the descriptive stuff and get to the bare bones of the discussions my characters are having.
From there I add in the scene headings, action and such.
It takes time to learn how to set up the introduction to a scene, but reading award winning film scripts helps you get the hang of it.
I’m not going to explain what gets capitalized and such, I’m just talking translating book text to a script.
Good storytelling is key in book and film, however in film there is a three-act structure that Hollywood expects. Masterclasses and workshops will help you become more familiar. 

-Next, Taking Masterclasses

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Part 3 - My Author to Screenwriter Journey

Why I am doing it
Before I explain why I’m writing a screenplay.
Let’s go back to the beginning.
At 20, I bought a Smith Corona typewriter at a garage sale and made a career choice.

I was going to be a working writer. In fact, the next Erma Bombeck.
With my poetry phase behind me, I was ready to write a body of work.
To give you an idea of my skill set. I quit high school at 16 and went to night school while also working full time at a local carwash to help support my mother and younger siblings.
High school for me was after work with a lot of moms and dads, immigrants and people who decided to go back to school after dropping out.
To my credit, I finished on time when my peers (who went to high school in the day) did.
I didn’t feel I missed out. Rather I enjoyed not being in the company of teenagers, though I was one.
I was a go-getter. -- Eventually hired away from the local carwash to become a detailer for a local Saab and Subaru dealership.
Funny, I was so green that I didn’t even know I was negotiating my salary when the car dealer asked what I made at the car wash. I said, “I can’t afford to leave here.”
The day I bought that typewriter I knew I needed serious help. Grammar and structure were/are my weakness. Not story.
I have ideas.
Anyway, I signed up for every English and writing class the local junior college offered. Not because I wanted a degree, I wanted to write!
My college creative writing teacher, God love her, said I had a “certain naivete.” Which I took as a great compliment. I didn’t look up the definition. In fact, I was sure it meant gifted.

She had me. Clueless -- and fearless! So much so, I sold articles to the local weekly newspapers.

Ten dollars and a byline. Sign me up.
With my growing portfolio, I eventually moved up to stringing for the dailies. The big time.
Sure, I heard remarks about my writing, but they still accepted my stories and corrected my work. Made me look good.
I was getting noticed!
How do I know? The editor came out of his glassed-in office to the newsroom floor, paper in hand and screamed, “why is the stringer writing everything? What am I paying you to do!?”
Apparently, I was invisible. I was out in the open. He’d made his point, turned and stormed back into his display case.
So why am I screenwriting now?
Because I have a certain naivete.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Part 2 - My Author to Screenwriter Journey

How I decided to do it

The first draft of the Marquel script was written by Amy K. Green, my daughter Blair’s producing partner. Amy spun my novel into an edgy movie she would want to see.
I really liked her snappy dialogue and scene progression. However, I felt my characters weren’t themselves. – After all, I am their mother! I know them better than anyone.
Amy agreed I could use her version as a template to rewrite and organize the book into a screenplay I was comfortable with.
I also wanted to keep some scenes that were uniquely hers.
I started by buying the iPad version of Final Draft (screenwriting software). I didn’t know how to use it, but I got the hang of it over time.
When I originally wrote the book, I saw it as a movie in my mind. Each chapter had cinematic progression. Even now, if I hear a certain song, the Play button goes off in my brain. I can see my book as a movie.
After several drafts, we all agreed the screenplay should be sent for script coverage. We liked it, but it needed an outside perspective.
I knew what script coverage was, because Blair did coverage for Penny Marshall’s company, Parkway Productions. Basically, coverage summarizes a script for a production company’s consideration. The script will get a grade of Pass, Consider or Recommend.
I later learned in a workshop that roughly 96% to 99% get a Pass, maybe 1% to 4% a Consider and anyone that Recommends, is usually fired.
“A good script warrants a Consider, but you better have a damn good reason why you’d stick your neck out for a Recommend!” --The words of a working screenwriter, not mine.
To save money, I entered a film festival screenwriting competition. Fee around $50. It included coverage. Coverage can be in the hundreds, depending on the experience of the reader.
I made top 12 of 125 scripts in the contest. No prizes, but good encouragement.
The biggest complaint. Sloppy formatting. And I used industry software!
Talk about embarrassing.
Okay, I can work harder. The story was solid. Not perfect. Now I have notes.
Notes – the film industry term for feedback.
Around the same time, I was writing the book sequel to Marquel, titled Marquel’s Dilemma, when I realized a big difference in book and film opportunities.
A novel can be self-published.
An author can write, hire a proofreader, editor, designer and marketer to launch a book, but a film requires a team. And, the writer isn’t important after the screenplay is approved.
The producer is the head of the film and can fire the screenwriter (of the approved script) and start over if they deem necessary.

Thankfully, I have daughters who are producers.
I don’t think they’d fire me?
Next week - Why I am doing it