The Hero’s Journey Meets the Screenwriter’s Journey

And now the kind of love story we understand.

An analysis of a writer’s love of storytelling. A hero’s journey indeed.

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by Loren-Paul Caplin

Why the f*%K do we do it?

Money? Fame? Love of the process? What is it? Why do we continue to write screenplays when aside from the outrageously arduous task of getting it even remotely right, the odds of then getting it sold and then made and then becoming a hit are…well, tremendously long and then… sustaining or repeating that success is, frankly, beyond daunting. Why do we do it? Whatever the answer is, as personal and complex as it might be, I personally find it not only rewarding to ponder this question, but it’s actually essential to ponder it as part of the (my) creative process.

I’ve been writing screenplays and plays professionally for over 30 years and I’ve been teaching the art and craft of screenwriting at among the best university film programs in the world (Tisch & Columbia) for nearly 20 years — and increasingly, though especially over the last decade, I’ve found myself with mixed emotions regarding the entire “screen-writing” enterprise, including teaching it. Aside from basic questions such as “how realistic is a life in screenwriting?” and “can one actually be taught creative writing?” I’ve been increasingly concerned about nonchalantly encouraging people (and especially young people) to learn how to write a screenplay…. if it blindly fans embers of unrealistic hope that they will eventually be able to make a decent living writing anything in the “Film Industry.” Maybe they will and maybe they won’t. Either way, for most people, including screenwriting stars that at least get monetary rewards, it’s a tremendously bumpy and sometimes thankless road. And yet, so many of us continue at it. Why?

So what is it? Among the answers — and there are as many as there are people asking the question — is the human need to tell stories. I’ve observed that there are those individuals that at sometime in their lives had that very specific experience of writing a story and, not unlike getting herpes, caught the writing virus — for life! And then from then on, to a greater or lesser degree, they have this bizarre desire and need to return to that state of writing a story. And when they are not writing (which is a lot of the time) there seems to be various degrees of craving (and guilt for not writing) that simply becomes part of one’s existence like a chronic nasal drip. When the craving begins to really act up it can be as visceral a sensation as falling in love and being separated from the object of your affection. The only cure, the only relief is to get back to your loved one; that state, that zone or womb of writing/creating. When you get right down to it creating a story peopled by unique characters going through an emotion-filled journey is about as powerful (religious?) an act as creation itself. No wonder it can be so damn addictive.

Read it all

John Ostrander: Apparent Contradictions

John Ostrander Apparent Contradictions by John Ostrander

None of us are the same person all the time. We change according to the people we are around; they draw different aspects of us out of ourselves. A sibling may draw us into the role of younger or older sibling automatically. A guy talking with other guys may talk and act one way and, on seeing a pretty girl, turn around and talk and act completely differently. Have you ever said or felt that a certain person brings out the best or worst in you? It’s probably true. You do it to others as well.

What’s true in life should be true in our writing. One of the major purposes of supporting characters, major or minor, good or bad, is to draw out aspects of the protagonist. There are differences between who we think we are and who we actually are and it’s other people and/or difficult situations that draw these out and reveal them to ourselves or to the readers of our stories.

Nothing reveals a character more than contradictions. The deeper the character, the more profound the contradictions. Let’s do an exercise. Take a sheet of paper and on one side in a vertical column write attributes or virtues that a character may have. For example, our character Jimmy Bill Bob is friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. That’s right – a real Boy Scout. Now, draw a line down the center of the page and in a column opposite the first attributes, write their opposite. Be creative. You can’t use un – as in unkind or ir- as in irreverent. Find words that you feel mean the opposite of the word on the left hand side of the line. I’ll wait.

Done? Fine. Here’s the thing – if everything you’ve written on the left hand side of the line is true about the character, so will everything on the right hand side be true in some way to some degree. Not at the same moment, but it can flip from one to the other in a nanosecond. It doesn’t have to be a total change which would be kind of psychotic but it can and does happen just that fast. You’ve seen it in others and I’m sure you can see it in yourself, in your actions.

It also comes down to how you define each term. In what way is a given character courteous; in what way are they rude? An act of bravery can be a small thing as well as a big thing. If this is true in real life – and I submit that it is – then it should be true in the characters that we write.

I also want to pass on something I gleaned from a terrific book on acting calledAudition by Michael Shurtleff. He noted that actors loved to do “transitions” from one moment to the next, from one emotion to the next. Fates know that I was guilty of that in my acting days. He proclaimed that transitions were the death of good acting. We didn’t do it in real life; we just went from one emotion to the next often showing them hard against one another, in great contrast.

This is true in writing as well. Don’t explain the contradictions; state them and move on to the next moment. The reader will sort them out. Just make sure that the moments are true; that you’re not doing a contradiction as a short hand for a character. They are meant to reveal things about the character. A gimmick is a gimmick and makes for bad writing. Let contradictions reveal the character to you and then you can show them to your reader.  The reader will be stunned and then nod in agreement because you’ve explored something that, deep down, they know – that people, and life, are a nice messy ball of contradictions.

That makes it true.

Love & Money Dept – TV Writing Deals for 3/29/13

Latest News About Writers Who Are Doing Better Than We Are

  • Brian Bradley & Steven Cragg (HAPPY ENDINGS, SCRUBS) have made an overall deal with Universal Studios. (Which, as SCRUBS fans, gives us something to smile about.)
  • John Glenn (EAGLE EYE feature film) has created FIX IT MEN, a time travel drama for ABC Studios that has no network involvement yet. (But it does have Mark Gordon as producer, which could be even better in terms of it being a successful, money-making show in the future.)
  • J. Michael Straczynski is parterning with the Wachowskis on SENSE8, a science fiction drama for Netflix that already has been greenlighted for at least 10 episodes. (Anybody for a pool about how long Joe stays with the project?)
  • Dick Wolf, Derek Haas, Michael Brandt, & Matt Olmstead (CHICAGO FIRE) are working on an as yet untitled CF spinoff about the Chicago Police Department. (Wonder which of that team will be the first to “mysteriously disappear” or lost a limb or receive some other kind of gangland-style “correction” after the new show gets rolling.)

Angelo Bell: Fore-thoughts and after-thoughts (I screwed up…but I did good!)

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by Angelo Bell

I’ve been trying to avoid it, but it’s no use. I screwed up. I screwed up and now I’m paying for it.

Back during pre-production of BROKEN HEARTS CLUB  I should have spent more time with the schedule and location prep. I should have hired a 1st AD to take care of those things for me. I didn’t. Now I’m paying for it.

As a result of not properly preparing for our grueling 16-day shoot, we lost 2 1/2 days of shooting, equal to over five scenes. Five VERY important scenes. Now, as opposed to shooting reshoots and exteriors I’ve got to do pickups of scenes we missed. These scenes are pivotal to the development of three of the man characters.

And as a result of not planning properly I’m spending an extra $15,000 for these pickups. This money could have been used for a post sound mix, ADR, and sound design. Instead I’m spending more money on that.

So — that’s al the afterthought shit. All the hindsight that makes me want to kick my own butt. But — you live, you learn and you keep making films.

The thing I did exponentially well was hire my composer, Rob Gokee, before a page of the script was ever finalized. This is something I did much better than many indie filmmakers out there. For many folks, the score for their film is an afterthought. I am not saying this is the case for everyone, so don’t misquote me. But I know what I’ve seen and heard. Too many filmmakers budget for everything — except the music for their film. Then they are left to beg, borrow and steal, or accept substandard music. Their dilemma often gives them the chutzpah to ask a professional composer to do the work for free (see many-a-craigslist ad to verify).  What they are missing out on is a personal relationship with people like a Rob Gokee, who’s willing to work with them and their budget (as long as it’s fair).

The filmmaker/composer relationship should be a win/win situation. The composer gets paid to do what he/she does best while perhaps securing future work, and the filmmaker gets an original score for his/her film. Details can be negotiated. I was lucky because two years ago when we met Rob believed that I’d continue making films. He believed that there were other opportunities for us to work together so he was very flexible with pricing. We ended up working together on six films. He created 86 minutes of distinct original music for Broken Hearts Club. And more than that, he’s also now a good friend.

So while I screwed up in the production planning phase, I hit a home run in hiring a composer to create an original score for my film. But you filmmakers reading this can learn from my mistake and my good luck.  If your cousin isn’t a film composer don’t let him write music for your film. Treat your film professionally. Hire a composer. Don’t let music for your film be an afterthought.

munchman: Stanley Ralph Ross’ WONDER WOMAN Pilot – 1967

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Know how there are some books so bad you wish you could unread them? And films and TV shows you wish you could unsee? 

Well, I just saw the pilot below, for a WONDER WOMAN TV series brought to us by the same geniuses who came up with the ’60s BATMAN show, and believe me when I tell you my eyes are still throwing up.

Your little munchman is, however, a firm believer in finding company for his misery so here are five guaranteed to be unforgettable minutes, courtesy of YouTube. Watch if you dare and never say I didn’t warn you:

Bwahhh!!!

EDITED BY LB TO ADD: Good find, munchman. I knew Stanley had written a WW pilot but didn’t realize it had been shot. From the footage here, it seems intended to be much more of a sitcom than the travesty BATMAN was. Anybody know more about this project?