Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Spook Hunt: On Writing

It was 1:57 am.  I had already gotten up once out of bed and dragged my ass in front of my computer, I really didn't want to have to do it again. My brain however didn't care. It kept swirling with ideas, dialogue and shot setups.

Go to sleep please, I told it.

Nope.

I knew it was a losing battle.  The more I tried to shut my brain down, the more ideas kept popping up, and when a good idea floated across, part of my brain kept flashing so I would remember that idea by morning.

Eventually I gave up, plopped in front of the computer and begin writing - or should I say, not so much writing, as brain-dumping all these ideas into Microsoft Word.  You see, I don't really write while I'm at the keyboard, I just self dictate ideas, sentences and dialogue that I've already worked over in my mind time and time again.

My best times for "writing" are either right when I'm drifting off to sleep, or when I'm in the shower. Something about when there's no other distractions allows these thoughts that have been percolating in the dark recesses of my mind to finally float to the surface.  Then it's a mad dash to record them before they sink back down into forgotten darkness. I've written many a blog post with nothing but a towel wrapped around myself - desperately trying to jot the ideas down before the images fade away from memory.

Why I can't write like a normal person (you know, sit in front of the computer, work through an idea and start typing) I really don't know, but this is what I'm stuck with.

So, a number of weeks ago I realized that I would have to re-write (and re-shoot and re-edit) the first two scenes of my movie, Spook Hunt.  It's not that they were horrible, they just were just a little flat. And they were almost 4 minutes long - a sure death sentence for a short film that needs to be 15 minutes or less.

These were two perfectly good scenes where my two characters discuss what's going on and set up what will happen - you know, the dreaded exposition scenes.  I tried to dress them up as much as I could, but I knew it was a losing battle.  After shooting and editing the first two scenes of my movie, I knew they would have to go.  I still didn't know how to fix them however.

Fortunately a good friend gave me great notes that hit it on the head why the scenes weren't working.  One of his criticisms was that the dialogue was too "on the nose", a very typical problem for neophyte screenwriters.

The premise is very simple:  Charles has been hearing and seeing weird things in his house and his wife has freaked out and wants to sell the house - not a good idea in this economy.  He has brought his buddy Rob over to help him investigate and hopefully rid himself of his ghostly problem.  Now obviously there is more going on in the movie (especially the end), but this is how it starts, so I just needed a way to get into the film and set it up.


I had the two guys sitting around talking about the weird sound Charles had captured; when the sound had been recorded, what it could mean, how the sound had effected his family, while they looked at and listened to the sound.  Pretty one-dimensional.  Then I had the two of them discussing the gear they were going to use (a camera, flashlight and digital recorder)  and why it was important to use that gear, and how capturing something on that gear would help solve Charles' problem, all while they got the gear together.  Again, one-dimensional.


Yeah, I added some other stuff to each scene, but it was just window dressing.  The problem is people, especially guys, just do not talk like that. They usually have cross-purposes and talk over each other and change the subject and evade and eventually get back to the subject at hand.  That push and pull is what helps make a scene dynamic.

There was no real conflict or tension in either scene.  Charles is kinda freaked out and desperate, while Rob is concerned -  doesn't make for great drama.

Finally, it came to me that I should just combine the two scenes.  Have Rob listening to the weird sound while Charles is getting gear together. Except Rob isn't really listening to the sound - he's half paying attention to it while texting on the phone and trying to get Charles to go get a drink with his buddies.  Ah, that's better, a little dynamism and tension.  It doesn't take much to bring a scene alive.  Now there is a natural arc to the scene where Rob starts out as skeptical and non-committed but then eventually agrees to help his buddy out.  But of course, to keep some tension going through the next couple of scenes, I added one caveat:  Rob gives him just two hours - then he's dragging his ass out to get some drinks.

The other issue was I just had too many pieces of information crammed into these first two scenes, so my movie was top-heavy.  It was like, 4 minutes of setup and information and plot points and then whammo - 10 minutes of non-stop ghostly action culminating in a wild climax.  So, it was just a matter of paring down those plot points to the essentials in the beginning, eliminating some altogether, and then sprinkling the rest throughout the following ghost-hunting scenes so that I could build a more natural rhythm of tension and release.

This of course meant that I would have to work on not only the first two scenes of my script, but many of the later ones as well, all while I had already shot half of the movie already. 

Now you can understand why my head was swimming with ideas at 1:57 in the morning...

1 comment:

  1. My showers generally run for over an hour because I have the exact same problem. Except, when it comes to dialogue, I have frequent and loud, and regularly absurd conversations with myself. None the less, glad to know I'm not the only weirdo.

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