Unlock Your Screenplay Characters

screenwriting

Writing Image via Wikipedia

When writing a screenplay, there are lots of questions you can ask about your characters to get to know them better.

Here are three questions I find useful:

1: What’s the one moment in their lives they would change if they could? If you ask this of real people you get some surprising answers. Yes, sometimes they’re the big events (“I never would have married my first wife”) but often they’re moments that seem unimportant to an outsider. One of mine is when I was 12 and I cheated a friend out of a few dollars. Many years later I still have a sense of shame about it, even though it’s not the biggest mistake I’ve made.

2: How is that moment reflected in their current life? This is interesting to know whether or not it has any effect on your plot, but it’s quite possible it will. In my case, I think that one little incident has made me try to be as loyal and good a friend as I can—not that I always succeed, of course. Sometimes maybe that’s taken me too far in that direction. In a story I’m working on, the father of the protagonist once declared bankruptcy and the fear of that happening again leads him to making some highly questionable moral choices in order to make sure his current business keeps going.

3: In your understanding of the character, what’s one moment they should change if they could? In other words, objectively looking at this person’s life, what moment would have taken their life in a better direction? This may well be a moment the person doesn’t even recognize as being influential—we’re much better at spotting these things in the life of other people than in our own (unless we’ve been through therapy…).

If there’s a character you’d like to get to know better, try these questions. They could also be interesting to ask your friends—or yourself, if you dare.

Jurgen Wolff has written more than 100 episodes of television, the mini-series “Midnight Man,” starring Rob Lowe, the feature film “The Real Howard Spitz,” starring Kelsey Grammer, and as been a script doctor on projects starring Eddie Murphy, Michale Caine, Kim Catrall and others. His books include “Your Writing Coach” (Nicholas Brealey Publishing) and “Creativity Now!” (Pearson Publishing). For more tips from Jurgen Wolff, also see www.ScreenwritingSuccess.com

Screenwriting Tips – Hope for shy screenwriters

Your Writing Coach by Jurgen Wolff

Cover via Amazon

Shy and awkward is how screenwriter Seth Lochead describes himself. When he was starting out he felt he had to choose between building his career by socializing or by writing a great script.

He decided to try to do the latter.

The result is “Hanna,” co-written by David Farr, starring Kate Blanchett as the daughter of a rogue ex-CIA agent. He told the Vancouver Sun: ““I was going for the absurd mixed with action influences that are seemingly familiar, and then something that twists you a bit. You want to keep people intrigued and on the edge of their seat where they’re mentally having to keep up.”

It’s not clear from the article but I get the sense that Farr was brought in to do rewrites, but Lochead was flown to Berlin to do production rewrites for three months, which was a great education.

It’s a story that can give up to the other shy and awkward screenwriters (hey, isn’t that most of us?)

Beyond that, the internet gives us shy types another way to make connections. Here are three suggestions:

* Write intelligent fan letter (via email) to people whose work you admire–directors, producers, actors. I stress “intelligent” because most fan letters are of the “I think you’re really great!” variety. In yours, mention specifics about their work. It’s a long shot, but some working relationships have started out that way.

* If you’re looking for an agent, read the trades online to see which agents have recently opened their own agency or moved–that’s the time they’re most open to new people. (I know trade subscriptions can be expensive–why not split the cost with two or three other aspiring screenwriters?)

* Write and produce short films and make it easy to find them on the web, as samples of your work. If you’re not into the “making” side of films, team up with some aspiring directors who don’t want to (or can’t) write their own scripts.

Jurgen Wolff has written more than 100 episodes of television, the mini-series “Midnight Man,” starring Rob Lowe, the feature film “The Real Howard Spitz,” starring Kelsey Grammer, and as been a script doctor on projects starring Eddie Murphy, Michale Caine, Kim Catrall and others. His books include “Your Writing Coach” (Nicholas Brealey Publishing) and “Creativity Now!” (Pearson Publishing). For more tips from Jurgen Wolff, also see www.ScreenwritingSuccess.com


How to give your screenplay emotional intelligence

“Chasing the Monster Idea” is a book by Stefan Mumaw in which he identifies seven questions that will help you determine whether you have a “monster” idea rather than just a good one (or a bad one).

These questions also can help you figure out whether your movie idea is a monster.

The first one: Does it evoke an emotional response?

People go to movies not just to see something, but to feel something. Horror fans want to feel fear, thriller fans want to feel suspense, comedy fans want to feel amusement, and so on. It’s obvious, but not every movie or every script makes that happen. There are three main reasons some fail:

1) We don’t identify with the protagonist. Especially in horror, thriller and drama we experience the feelings vicariously via the protagonist. She’s scared and we’re scared. The more your script has done to help us understand and identify with her, the stronger our feelings.

2) We don’t believe the situation.Sometimes we feel these things because we know more than the protagonist–we know the killer is hiding in the closet, she doesn’t. In comedies we are just as likely to be laughing at the protagonist as with him. But if the situation you have set up obviously is fake, then we may not buy into it and we don’t feel what you want us to feel.

3) We feel used up. If there’s not enough emotional variation–for instance, in a horror film if the horror is unrelenting–we may feel emotional fatigue and stop responding. That’s why the films of Hitchcock, for instance, are so good: he gives us moment of suspense interspersed with moments of comic relief, high drama mixed with low drama (a guy named Shakespeare understood this, too).

If your screenplay allows for these factors, it will have the emotional intelligence to give viewers the experience they crave.

Jurgen Wolff has written more than 100 episodes of television, the mini-series “Midnight Man,” starring Rob Lowe, the feature film “The Real Howard Spitz,” starring Kelsey Grammer, and as been a script doctor on projects starring Eddie Murphy, Michale Caine, Kim Catrall and others. His books include “Your Writing Coach” (Nicholas Brealey Publishing) and “Creativity Now!” (Pearson Publishing). For more tips from Jurgen Wolff, also see www.ScreenwritingSuccess.com

Filmmaking 5 Tips For Throwing A Rough Cut Screening Party

No matter how awesome you think your movie is, there are always a gazillion ways to improve it. Yesterday we had a screening of Career Courier. It’s a movie by Kenton Hoppas.

I’m a producer on the flick, with a lot of my duties falling into the range of what Jon Reiss calls a PMD (producer of marketing and distribution). Part of my responsibility is to help Kenton (and other filmmakers) make the best (and most marketable) movie possible. Here is a brief guide on how to have a screening party:

  1. Find a location spacious enough to fit at least six people, plus the filmmaker. Obviously you will need a BIG television.
  2. Invite friends with passion for movies. Explain that the screening will be a rough cut – and the goal is to provide constructive feedback.
  3. Make sure you have snacks and drinks on-hand. And if you’re getting pizza, make sure you get the delivery prior to starting the movie.
  4. Make sure everybody has a pen and notepad. The goal is to take notes.
  5. At the conclusion of the screening, people will have a tendency to be overly polite. While this is very nice, it isn’t helpful to the filmmaker. So it is your responsibility to ask some very tough questions.

Once you share some constructive (but not always ideal feedback), the ball will start rolling. From there, other members of the audience will come up with a lot of great feedback. While some of the feedback might suck, as a filmmaker, you need to write these ideas down and keep an open mind.  The objective is NOT to settle for a good movie. The goal is to settle for a GREAT movie!

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