New horror project: day ten writing

We’ve had the money shot!

Today was a tough day logistically… Sean planned to work remotely via Zhura, but ended up with errands to run and participated largely by phone while picking up prescriptions and other such mundane tasks. He did his valiant best to stay focused, especially considering he wasn’t able to see the screen and keep up with my edits in real time (save for a few minutes he stopped at a Starbucks for the wifi) and I had to read back to him, get his comments, edit a bit and read back, and so on. We did manage to get some work done, but it wasn’t the most creatively satisfying session we’ve had, for either of us.

Nevertheless, we added some good stuff, and got to the “money shot” — the first clear shot of the creature. Killing the cute puppy. Then everybody freaks out, and the group decides to drive down off the mountain.

Wrote 4.5 pages.

Page 44.5. Outline says we should be at about 46.

Still ahead of schedule!

Hours (chip): 50

BLUR screening in LA – May 6 2009

BLUR, a feature film I art directed a few years ago, is screening in Los Angeles on May 6th, at 6pm.

British Film Festival Los Angeles.

Starring Charlie Hofheimer, Burt Bulos and Katherine Towne.

Charlie is nominated for best actor in a feature… Break a leg, Charlie!

Sadly not nominated for best art direction but there was no such category…

New horror project: day nine writing

Another story meeting.

We’ve completed the story up to the point where the creatures are to be revealed, and our characters have to take off on a dangerous journey through the mountains while being pursued.

Today, we wanted to review the outline, and add more clear roadblocks to their juggernaut trip (is that redundant?) to create explicit points of conflict escalating toward the final resolution. We had a general escalation outlined, but wanted to make it better defined before starting the writing.

We’re going to create three challenges. We’ve chosen two and will find the third tomorrow. It’s important that the incidents feel organic to the story, driven by, resolved by, or directly affect elements already present in our mythos or in our characters. No lame “oh, I fell, I twisted my ankle!” moments.

More importantly, we had one major plot point to nail down. We’ve got two primary male characters… dude A is a douchebag, dude B is a good guy. The original plan was to have dude douchebag killed early in the juggernaut, and dude good guy die later, near the end. Dude douchebag was intended to be a somewhat shallow character, not quite a red-shirt, but not someone people would be connected to – or more to the point, he would be someone whose death people might cheer.

However, he’s grown, since we let him choose his voice to a certain extent, and has become more defined and complex. That’s great… he’s a multi-layered douchebag.

Our good guy is still complex… a nice guy with a troubled marriage (though he doesn’t know it), who just wanted to have some quiet time to write (a purposeful cliche – or homage) who has been royally screwed by his best friend and business partner (dude douchebag).

Neither of these guys is going to make it out alive… the overall goal is to have our primary woman character develop into a stronger person over the adventure… to become a hero a-la Ripley.

She’s about to be sent on a cross-country forest trek to (hopefully) safety, pursued by beasties, with two other women, and one of these two guys. Both of the other women are rather duplicitous and can’t be trusted either. They’re just more emotionally accessible than dude douchebag.

So here’s the question… do we want to kill off the douchebag character so early now that he’s become more interesting, and have our audience watch the good guy character make the trip through the forest? Or kill off our good guy, and have our audience watch the bad guy character make the trip?

Are we (and our story, and our characters, and our audience) better served by sending our growing hero through the woods with two other women and a douchebag guy? Or with two other women and a good guy?

We’ve made our decision. We’ll begin writing it next week.

What would you do?

No new pages added today.

Scriptwright v Playwright.

People who write plays are playwrights. It has a romantic, artistic, craftsmanlike quality to it because it’s not quite literal… not a play “writer” but a play “wright”.

Wright, of course, meaning “a worker, esp. a constructive worker (used chiefly in combination): a wheelwright; a playwright.” So it’s not simply writing… any literate person can do that. But it’s one who constructs, who builds, who creates, which is so much more interesting than merely writing.

There is, however, no entry at dictionary.com for “scriptwright” (or for “screenwright“). We who write scripts (for film, television and video as opposed to the stage) are merely “screen writers”. We are literate, but somehow less creative. That’s the subtext, anyway. I’m sure it has a lot to do with the long and respected history of play writing… there is as yet no William Shakespeare of screen writing. Screen writing is a comparatively new art form, and has yet to gain the cultural status of the playwright. And plays, too, maintain a cultured status compared to movies or television. Cultured, educated, sophisticated people go to the “Theatah”. The masses, the blue collar worker class, go to the “movies”.*

Were we to choose, would it be “scriptwright” or “screenwright”? Or perhaps it should be “filmwright”? I like the sound of “scriptwright”. I think I’d like to be referred to as a “scriptwright”. It has an old world artisan quality that appeals to me. Not that there’s anything at all wrong with saying “I’m a script writer” or “I’m a screen writer” (it’s oh so much better than “I’m an office supply salesman” — which I did for 17 years so I can say that with some authority. You’ve seen The Office? That was my life.).

I’m certainly not neologizing here… others have used the term, and there are websites (thescriptwright.com) so I claim no first-mover status on this. But I would like to see the term gain a broader acceptance, to see it one day included at dictionary.com, to see it used more in the trades.

And I will, I think, begin referring to myself thusly. And perhaps in the third person as well.

*I am, of course, generalizing, with one half of my forked tongue planted firmly in my left cheek, and have no interest in debating the relative histories and cultural impacts of film vs theatah. So don’t even start.

Why Zhura isn't perfect

(Follow up post here…)

As you may recall, my writing partner and I are using the online script writing collaboration tool “Zhura.com“. We usually use Final Draft, but wanted something that was web based, would allow us both remote access to the script, and preferably simultaneous access for true collaboration.

We looked at a number of options, including ScriptBuddy, CELTX and others. We arrived at Zhura because, at least at the time, it was the only one entirely web-based and offering true simultaneous logon and editing. Zhura offers a free and a paid version (comparison here), and we opted for the free version. Not because we’re cheap, but because we thought it did everything we needed it to.

Since then, it’s proven to be useful but terribly buggy.

Early on, I had ongoing problems with the system throwing in strange spaces, line returns, and so on. It was pretty consistent, and being an old Information Architect and Web App Usability whore, I did a careful QA on the glitches, took copious notes, and shared them with Zhura. They kindly got back to me, we swapped a few emails, and ultimately, I was told that I shouldn’t use Internet Explorer… that Zhura was optimized for Firefox. (Now, the site says Zhura works with Firefox, Google Chrome, IE and maybe one other…)

Okay, I like Firefox fine. So I dedicated myself to it, and continued on with Zhura.

There is no “import” feature to bring a doc in from another application, but in edit mode, I am able to paste in new content from other sources with a simple “paste” button. So we started by copying our outline from Word, and pasting it into the Zhura editor. It didn’t stop us, it didn’t give a warning, and there is nowhere on the site that says we shouldn’t do it. So we did.

Over time, we began getting some troubling glitches…

  • Everything would suddenly be italicized, randomly, while in mid-edit.
  • Everything would suddenly be formatted as an ACT, randomly, while in mid-edit.
  • Zhura includes an option to highlight the recent edits, color-coded by authorship. But when I clicked that button, our script would revert to its original version — just the outline — all our weeks of changes gone. Leaving the page and coming back would correct this, but it was very troubling.
  • And we would occassionally, randomly, find large paragraphs of strange code suddenly appearing at strange places in our script. We could delete them, but they’d reappear at will.

We were concerned that we could never be sure if we were looking at our most recent version. We began to wonder if we should stick with the tool.

So I sent another set of notes to Zhura. They did respond, nicely and promptly, as they always do.

Again, it was my fault.

This time, for pasting from a WORD doc. I was told that as a paid “PRO” member, I could upload files from other apps. But to copy/paste from a WORD doc would create issues as I was experiencing.

Now, there is no place on the site that I can find that tells me this is an issue. The tool offers a “paste” option. It offers no warning. I looked at the “help” files (which are colorful and graphical, but not terribly helpful), I looked in the “discussion forum” (which is largely novices asking other novices “how do I format dialogue”), and could find nothing about what I could paste and what I could not.

I did find the “Free vs. Pro” comparison table. This chart indicates that the Pro version will allow me to “Import and Export Rich-Text, Word, WordPerfect, and OpenOffice”. The expanded explanation states:

If you have a script in Rich-Text (.rtf), a document written in Microsoft Word (.doc or .docx), or a screenplay in OpenOffice (.odt), as a PRO member, you can import them directly into the Zhura editor. You also have the option to export your Zhura scripts to any of these formats.

But remember, I don’t want to “import” a file. “Importing” a file is a very different action than is “pasting” content. All indications are that I should be able to copy and paste my doc, because I am given a “paste” button in the tool, and am not told that this is a restricted activity. My assumption, and I think a reasonable one, is that the tool will default to a “plain text paste” function, stripping any formatting.

Clearly I was wrong.

Other ongoing issues that I’m keeping an eye on:

  • Page count is random. The page count shown in “edit” mode doesn’t quite match that in “view” mode, and neither quite matches what I get if I export to a PDF.
  • It makes a new historical version of the script every time it saves. And it auto saves about if you stop typing for more than about 30 seconds. So right now, my script (on which I’ve worked for about two weeks) has 1,425 historical versions on file. Seriously? I don’t even want to look at any of them. Not a bug, not a glitch. Just seems like a terrible waste of space to me.
  • Sometimes an element will appear properly formatted in “edit” or “view”, but won’t be so after export to PDF. (e.g. – an “action” sequence looks right, but simply doesn’t show up in the PDF. Going back into “edit”, I discover that it’s actually tagged as a “character” — even though it appears left justified and otherwise formatted as “action”. For some reason, this confusion of the system results in the passage simply not exporting to the PDF at all.)
  • Strange extra “spaces” at the end of a sentence, after the period (I can’t put my cursor immediately after the period). Backspacing to remove the space also removes the period… meaning the period and the space are treated as one character. Big issue? Probably not, but troubling, as it indicates another weird bug that may or may not impact the integrity of my script file.
  • And there are other random little hiccups.
  • And some, none or all of these may or may not also be the result of my pasting in text from a WORD doc.

But all is not lost. Zhura has proven to be a convenient tool for us, and I suspect will continue to be refined and revised. But the easy, short term fix for in-built systemic restrictions is to communicate them clearly for users. Zhura really needs a more thorough and explicit set of FAQ’s and HELP files. It’s not acceptable for users to struggle withย  apparent bugs and submit help tickets, only to be told that they’re using the system incorrectly, when there is no clear help (contextual or otherwise) to offer actionable direction.

I like you a lot, Zhura. But I don’t love you yet.

But opinions vary, as seen here on WriteForgeAhead… “Working With Zhura” – parts ONE and TWO.

(Follow up post here…)

New horror project: day eight writing

As last mentioned, we’ve reached a place where an adjustment of our outline is in order.

The outline calls for another day at the cabin before the creatures are fully revealed. A day of further development of the character arcs, a ratcheting of tensions between them, some flashback scenes with the crazy old lady (illuminating her back story).

But as the story has developed to this point, there’s been plenty of organic evolution in the characters and their relationships… in other words, the characters needed to say some things and we let them say them. We allowed them to find their own paths, rather than forcing the outline on them. Consequently, although we’re essentially on task as per the story outline, the characters’ awareness of events, and their natural revealing of their subtexts, are further along than anticipated.

And that’s great. It means we’ve allowed the characters to develop naturally. And, it means we’re ready to really hit the big reveals, get the blood and panic flowing, and start the real juggernaut through the second act (which we’re both looking forward to).

So, today we met to review what that “fourth day” in the woods was going to offer, choose which of its story points we can live without, and which story points we must have. We were able to lose about half of what that day was going to deliver. Those things we must have, we found new homes for by folding them (elegantly) into previous scenes.

That means we’re able to get to the (horror) meat sooner. *

And our pacing will be better.

And we’ll be ahead of our outline as regards page count. ๐Ÿ™‚

So, here’s where we are.

Page 40. Outline says we should be at about 42.

Hours (chip): 44.5**

* Lest one be concerned that we’re not getting to the “horror meat” soon enough (we’re on page 40!) we’re building something that’s akin to “The Descent“. I looked at that film again just the other day. The first time we see the creatures in the cavern, we’re at minute 50. We’ll beat that.

** Hours are approximate. It’s just my hours. Sean probably has about as many, maybe a few more. So our total man hours may be around 100 (just to keep numbers round). This INCLUDES the hours spent building the ten page outline. That means we’re averaging a page every 2.5 hours. Crazy. This process is proving very efficient (provided the quality is not compromised. From where we’re sitting, it’s not).

Playing For Change

Great song. Amazingly talented sidewalk artists from around the world. All mixed together. Brilliant.

“Stand by Me” performed by musicians around the world from SKAT on Vimeo.

From a documentary called “Playing For Change: Peace Through Music“. Here’s more about the filmmakers…

Playing For Change Explained from Playing For Change on Vimeo.

One Love.

New horror project: day seven writing

Four pages today.

Went back and added a scene… we’d had the discovery of the hidden darkroom happen off screen, but decided that was a lame move. We need to see that happen… the secret door, the creepiness of the first entry into the old root cellar. So now we do, thanks to the new scene. And we took it as an opportunity to further define the back story on our writer character, and demonstrate his strong friendship with his buddy’s wife.

Then moved on into a scene where his buddy’s secret plans for the cabin are further revealed.

The past two days have been tough writing days… scenes with more subtlety, that require a certain amount of exposition of information without writing expository dialogue. Definitely the toughest two days so far.

It’s possible that we need to contract our story’s time line by one day… it feels like we’re ready to move into the action sequences, but on the outline, there’s still another day’s worth of discovery and character revelation yet to handle. The pacing to this point feels like we’re past most of that, and ready to go on to some faster, more action oriented scenes.

We’ll decide in our next session whether we can excise that day, just reveal the creatures in all their glory, and start the juggernaut of action and blood and dying and whatnot.

Total pages: 36.5

Total hours (Chip): 38-ish

New horror project: Day six writing

God it’s hot. It’s around 98 degrees outside, and at least 85 inside. Oh, for a little AC.

Oh well.

We tried something new today… Sean stayed home, and we both logged into Zhura, while talking on the phone. Worked pretty well. Still not as satisfying as being in the same room together, but all in all a successful round.

We got 5 pages done today. We’ve had a sweaty round of hot monkey sex in the woods (boobies for the genre purists), found a pile of bones on the roof, and stumbled across the creepy hidden darkroom in the root cellar.

God, I hope it reads as good as that just sounded!

Probably no work again till Thursday.

We’re up to page 33. That makes us about 7 pages long I think. Ouch. But we’re not worried yet. We can trim that down in our next draft. Right now, focus on getting done.

Total hours in (Chip): 34-ish.

Yes, I know what genre it is.

Success!

Acting class today. Had a scene from True Crime, in which I played Eastwood’s part, Steve Everett. Had the script for a week or more to work the lines, but only practiced with my partner Chelsea in the hallway for 20 minutes. Nevertheless, we (as Randy Jackson would say) “worked it out, dog.” Scene came off really well. Ralph said he was impressed with us and that he really believed my character lived in that bar… “no hobbies, no friends, just his car out front and drinkin’.”

It’s so nice to have real life experiences to draw on. ๐Ÿ™‚

And it’s a long way from doing that scene from “According to Jim” and having him ask “You do know this is a comedy, right?”

But it’s true… I felt the difference. This thing actors do (real actors, not me) is hard work. Till today I always felt self-conscious, not really listening to the other person between my lines… I was (cue John Lovitz) “ACTING!”

Today was cool. Now if I can only maintain. Next week, Jerry McGuire.

That’s a horror flick, right?