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. 🙂

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.

I invented the integrated circuit.

Me as Kilby. The black gloves and neck thing are for the post guys, to aid in the animations.
Me as Kilby. The black gloves and neck thing are for the post guys, to aid in the animations.

Today was the video shoot for the Computer History Museum‘s new upcoming exhibits. In it, I play Jack Kilby, inventor of the integrated circuit. (I’d like to clarify that I play Kilby at the time he invented the circuit, not the more well seasoned Kilby shown on his wikipedia page.)

At left, me in wardrobe, with cigar and ill-fitting glasses.

The shoot was fun. The entire thing was shot out on a green screen stage in Pleasanton, California, at the LMA Productions Studio in partnership with Impact Media. After extensive post production, the thing will have the feel of the Mad Men title sequence … all silhouettes and animation. Should look way cool.

Since they will be compositing multiple assets in the final footage,  I had to repeat actions (simple stuff – writing, sketching circuits, etc) at a dressed desk, again at a green desk, all from several angles. No dialogue, and since it’ll all end up in animated silhouette, any subtle facial expression will likely not be seen… so it’s easy to understand why I got the part:  I look like an old computer geek from the 50’s, and it didn’t depend on my acting chops. 🙂

LMA Studio green screen stage. We shot on the RED ONE. First time I've seen one out of the box. It's way cool.
LMA Studio green screen stage. We shot on the RED ONE. First time I've seen one out of the box. It's way cool.

There were five other guys in fifties garb as well, and a young woman playing a contemporary character using a piece of modern technology.

My understanding is that the video will premiere for IBM sometime in June of this year, and then will be playing constantly within the new exhibit for about a year starting in 2010. So if you’re in Silicon Valley next year, check it out. If not for me, then for the children.

Mad (Men) style.
Mad (Men) style.

New horror project: Day five writing

Two new things experimented with:

ONE: Starting not with prewritten dialogue, but a tighter set of plot points for the day’s scenes, grown off the existing outline. It still gave us a head start without sucking the creative satisfaction out of it. We had fun again, actually collaborating, writing from (closer to) scratch.

TWO: Writing in a coffee shop. That I’m not so sure about. It is awfully cool to be able to hang out in one of my favorite places (Java Junction), but there’ s a lot of distraction in noisy kids, screaming espresso machines, grinding smoothie blenders and the like. A lot of distraction. This might be better saved for the outline brainstorming (most of which we do at Seattle’s Best in Borders) or later editing/review bull sessions.

Nevertheless, we did get another 2.5 pages done. We know the creatures are getting more brazen, we’ve learned that one of the husbands is a total douche-nozzle, and we know that the douche-nozzle has convinced his wife that she’s just being paranoid about the possible danger.

And next, we get to write about another bout of hot monkey sex — in the woods!

We’re now at about 28 pages, give or take. According to the initial estimate, this point in the story should be about page 31-32, so we’ve made up some of our overage. Right on track. I feel like I’m jinxing it just talking about it.

Total hours in so far (Chip): 30-ish.

Quentin Tarantino on American Idol?

Yeah, I said that with a question mark when I first heard it. Quentin Tarantino was the guest mentor on this week’s American Idol, as the category was “songs from movies”. Of course, since AI mentors are generally professionals in the music industry, I thought to myself “what’s QT going to offer these kids? He’s no singer, not a songwriter or musician (of any note). WTF?”

Q himself explained it thus: That he would be “directing” the singers as he would an actor. He listened to their performance, gave them notes, and then asked them to make adjustments.

Again, though, I thought “what kind of notes can you offer that will be relevant?” And again, I was surprised.

Just as an example, his advice to Danny Gokey, who was so emotionally invested in his song that he was gesturing intently with his hands: [paraphrasing] “When you’re so emotionally invested, performers find lots of ways to dissipate the energy they’re feeling… through their hands, for instance. Put your hands in your pockets, and try again… channel that energy you were losing through gesture into your voice and your eyes.”

I walked away feeling a little humbled. His direction was about dramatic performance, about channeling the emotional content of your song/story/script in ways that will optimize its communication. It was insightful, intuitive and on point, and it was cool to see him play to his own strengths to find a way to offer valuable notes to the kids.

I may not love all his work — his first two or three films are by far his best stuff (Reservoir Dogs is still brilliant), I nearly walked out of Kill Bill and had to fast forward most of Death Proof — but there’s no denying that he’s an immensely talented guy. Just an immensely talented guy whose tastes have unfortunately parted far from mine in recent years.

It was neat to watch, and I bet I’m a little bit better a director for having seen it.

John August is doing something cool (again)

John August is doing something cool over at his blog… short video screen captures, looking over his shoulder as he edits a screenplay segment. I’ll just offer links, rather than embed them here, as to send your traffic to his blog.

Writing better scene description.

Writing better action.

Don’t just watch the video, but read the comments too… it’s illustrative of the fact that while there are many ways to screw things up, there are also many ways to do them right… and some of John’s readers raise legitimate alternatives to his edits. Which doesn’t invalidate his changes, of course. All the alternatives are better than the bad passages he starts with.

I’m sorely tempted to try something similar. But of course, as I am not John August, nobody will care. ;P

New horror project: Day four writing

Another day down already.

Sean had worked on some dialogue for the upcoming scene and forwarded it to me last night. I’d gone through it and fleshed it out, so when he got here we just had to review it, paste it in, and format. Then a quick polish, and on to the next scenes.

We’ve found their lost dog, introduced the Ranger and the Grad student, learned about other missing animals, gotten their generator running, and were warned about fires. Oh, and one of the couples had hot mad monkey sex.

We ended up adding 6 or 7 pages today in pretty short order. That brings us to 25.5 pages more or less. According to early outline estimates, we should be at 23.5 pages, so we’re still running a little long. But my original estimate was a conservative 82 pages overall, and I’d really like to hit 90-100, so I think we’re just fine.

(NOTE: We’re using Zhura, an online script writing collaboration tool. It’s kinda buggy, and the page count it shows you in edit mode doesn’t exactly sync with the page count it shows in display mode. And neither quite matches the formatting you get when exporting to PDF. So we’re fudging a little on the numbers.)

What we’ve learned about the collaborative process is this: one or the other of us can work independently and come to the table with a first draft of the day’s scene(s), and that gets us mechanically through the outline pretty efficiently. But it’s not the most creatively rewarding system. It’s like we spend our time together editing each other’s work, rather than brainstorming and creating. We’re going to focus more on that, and less on independent work. Because when we do that, the whole is always greater than the sum of the parts. And isn’t that the point of collaboration?

Total hours in so far (Chip): 28.5

New horror project: Day three writing

Sean spent a little time on his own over the weekend writing some first draft dialogue for the upcoming pages. So when we sat down today to work, we had a kind of a head start. We pasted in his notes, then set about refining and formatting them.

By and large it all worked. He hit all the points the outline called for, the dialogue worked well, it had the appropriate subtext. I hadn’t expected to have that head start, so that’s cool, but I am curious how it might have looked if we’d written it together. But so long as it all works, and we’re making forward progress, I’m not going to stress on it. 🙂

We added 7.5 pages today, so now we”re at about 18.5 pages. According to my early estimates, we should be at about 16.5, so we may be running a little long. But we’re going to save any deep edits for the next draft, and continue forward.

Regarding the story, the secret past relationship between two of our principals has been revealed, they’ve found the first stripped coyote corpse, and had our second (even more strange) interaction with crazy-old-lady.

Now the Ranger is about to appear, setting up a few plot points for later payoff. That’s for Wednesday.

Total hours in so far (Chip): 24.5