Thursday, December 21, 2006

Dramatic Action

I've been working really hard the last few months to craft plots with a lot of dramatic action, so I thought I'd share with you all and hopefully learn a few things from the collective intelligence I've been hearing so much about. This part is Writing 101, so please bear with me if you are, like, waaaaay past this in your work. :-)

Dramatic action describes the story beats that relate the plot. This is different from things that establish factual things about the character (e.g. he's married), or things that establish motivation or need (e.g. Reese's story in The Terminator confessing his reason for traveling through time). Dramatic action primarily concerns itself with conflict, specifically, conflict that generates action, i.e. plot.

For instance, in television, dramatic action is generally compressed (e.g. those short teasers in L&O that set up the crime), expressed in dialogue (like when characters talk about how angry so-and-so's off-screen behaviour makes them -- Aaron Sorkin is the master of this type of drama as I have yet to see anything actually happen during one of his shows), or elided (as in two characters prepare for the "Big Raid," then we cut to the aftermath of the raid).

In contrast, film stories are comprised of the most dramatic action you can find, bits that exemplify the protagonist's emotional journey. I'll go back to my favorite film LA CONFIDENTIAL for an example here. The open of the film establishes the main players and the film's themes through a jail riot (the Bloody Christmas scandal). From here on, the viewer can anticipate Exley's bulldog response when he discovers the inconsistencies in the Nite Owl murders and that he will be uncompromising in his pursuit of the truth, no matter the cost, as well as each of the other core cast members' emotional responses to the rising tide of shit that is at the heart of the film.

Dramatic action invests the viewer in the emotional journey of the story. It is the most difficult thing to master, and typically, the most dynamically evolving tool in the craft arsenal. It requires an attention to human psychology and a sense of spectacle. The writers who tend to make the biggest splash in the spec world are those who have an inherent sense of dramatic action -- not just what story to tell, but also the best way to show the story as they are telling it. These writers are adept at creating a voyeur out of the viewer (mmm, my literary criticism theory slip is showing here, sorry).

So, in short, I'm struggling to find some decent dramatic action to tell the story I'm writing. I like things that are visual, require the core cast to take dramatic action that will serve to reveal their motivations and strengths/weaknesses, and since I'm shoring up the bottom of the second act, I find that I've been going back into the first act to remove information that is revealed too soon, and planting "mini-beats" that foreshadow the big plot turn I have planned for my little people.

I'd love to hear alternate/opposing view points to all of the above, and, of course, anyone who wants to share their wisdom is welcome to do so. Toodles.

P.S. The pic is from the NY TIMES' excellent article on photojournalist Enrique Metinides, a Mexican photog who specialized in death, gore and other sensational images. I'm putting the coffee table book on my wish list today!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Merry X-mas

I'm busy busy busy and apologize for not being as prolific as Will. :-) After the 11+ hour flight back from the UK, I've been doing yoga, fasting (all that cheese, ugh), and spending time with the dog. He's real sweet and has been following me all over the house since I got back. He spent the two weeks being spoiled by my mom and has learned a really great new trick -- whining at the back door at 2 AM to be let out for a moonlight romp in the garden. Yay! Thanks, Mom! I really appreciate being awakened EVERY NIGHT by the dog! More together time! :-)~

I flew up to San Francisco for my novel-writing group and am finally back in LA for the next week and a half before I head out to San Diego for a wedding and possible trip to TJ (or Tijuana if you aren't from SoCal). At this point, I'm looking forward to January which has only got one trip planned so far, and February in which I will be home all month.

The new screenplay is turning out nicely. I've got work to do on the third act before I'll feel comfortable handing it out, but hope to get that done this week. My other screenplay is still awaiting notes from a friend -- he called to let me know he's started reading for an A+ list director, but will read my script on his plane ride home. I love it. I'm very happy he's getting this big break -- he has long wanted to work as a producer and paid his dues in some of the worst offices in town. Real terrible places where people get things thrown at their heads and are made to do humiliating personal chores that are best left undetailed (also, I don't want any scary lawyer-types emailing me). Anywho, he has an excellent eye for structure and the script that I've asked him to help me with is one that I wrote in two separate bursts two years apart, so it's uneven and reflects how much I changed vis a vis the subject matter. I'm hoping he'll throw me a lifeline when he gets back.

In the new year I'm going to blog the other half of that managers post from November, and also I wanted to blog a little bit about negotiating contracts. The request line is open, as always. I'll blog as much as I can over the next couple of weeks, but like the rest of Hollywood, I'm pretty much shut down until after Sundance.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Petition Time!!

Hey folks, last night in the UK. I've had a great time hanging out with my friend and her family. Haven't done any tourist type things, but I've had a ton of cheese, all raw milk, 'natch, eaten bangers and mash made with Duchy of Cornwall sausages, had toasted tea cake, clotted cream ice cream, and many other things I can't even get into before this becomes Deep End Dining.

Dix and Denis have been waxing poetic about DAYBREAK, which as some of you may know, I've been circling since the producers flashed Taye's nicely toned biceps at me. Damn, I'm simple. Anyway, Denis had a great post up on the 6th and Dix did a solid one the day before. Please check them out. Then, I heard a vicious rumor over at Callaghan's blog that the show is being put on hiatus/moved/cancelled, of course I had to follow up on this immediately.

From what I understand, the remaining eps will be available via internet, so at least those of us who hung in there can find out what the end is. Let's petition the powers that be to stop the madness. At least play out the storyline. I agree with Dix about the idea of a Maxi-Series aka Telenovela format. It hasn't been imported into US TV yet, but I think the time is just about here. Daybreak could be that test case!!! C'mon ABC, don't screw the viewers!! We need the chocolatey goodness that is Taye Diggs.... :-)

Monday, December 04, 2006

Mincemeat and Stilton

So, Day 9 in the UK and I'm finally waking up before noon. For someone who is used to waking up at sunrise, the last week has really kicked my butt, especially because sunset here is around 4:30-5pm.

I haven't traveled around too much, the friend I'm visiting has alternately had car trouble, baby trouble and stomach trouble, but I have managed to eat a few cheeses, some mincemeat pies (taste great with Blue Stilton!), these really great sausages made by The Black Farmer (apparently the only one in England, he even has a TV show wherein he trains and selects two apprentice farmers from a group of inner-city black youths), digestives, genuine lamb stew (with the fatty bits on, ugh, but the stew was delicious), tons of coffee, tea and every bit of bread I've come across, a crazy fruit from Israel called a Sharon fruit ("The sweetest persimmon in the world!), Cornish pasty (Steak and Stilton!), fish and chips, HP sauce, and at some point this week, I'm supposed to be headed to the town of Cheddar. Oh yeah, baby. I can't wait. After reading this list, it looks like it was a stroke of luck that I've had to walk everywhere....

Had to nix the trip to France since the dollar is doing so poorly (I knew I should've exchanged money the week before I left!!) it will literally cost me about 30% more than I've budgeted. I guess I'll have to do that as a separate trip. Darn. :-)

Anyway, in writing news, I'm pushing through on the drama I started a few weeks ago. I've been writing ahead, then reaching back and tweaking the first act as I refine the concept. I've been trying to use this SAVE THE CAT! software, but my brain rejects some of the terminology he uses (not because I don't believe in his structural outline, I just learned it under different names). It does look promising for anyone who outlines and plots with story cards and the demo version I have allows me to save and print to PDF for the outline I've started. I'll keep you posted on my progress.

One book that has been a tremendous resource for this is Linda Seger's classic MAKING A GOOD SCREENPLAY GREAT. I'm not afraid to reference a writing book, especially for craft information. No one can write your story for you, but there are definitely some nifty tricks to keep in mind along the journey. I haven't read any of her other books, so I can't recommend them. Please feel free to suggest away in the comments section.

In fact, I meant to ask folks to recommend their favorite craft books. I'll start a separate post with links to all the books on my shelf. Please include reference books as well, if you don't mind. I would never dream of asking anyone for their obscure reference materials, (you know, the one you found in a discard bin that is a first-person narrative outlining some completely mind-blowing life experience/job/time period/lifestyle), that would make me feel guilty and like a hustler -- I hate when writers steal my reference materials and write something better than me. :-)~

Anyway, it's nighttime here, and I'm trying to get to bed at a reasonable hour. My fingers are blue from the cold, even though the heat has been turned up to indulge the Southern Californian. I feel too guilty to complain, thank God I have my laptop to heat up my legs, my nose is colder than the dog's.

And the short film has been pushed AGAIN. The rock star DP isn't available until February cuz... he's a Rock Star DP. But, because it's been so long, the cool actor the director is enamored of (okay, it's really me, I'm enamored of him) has become available once again and is still interested. One good thing is that I have a lead on a location that will let me hang a rig (and an operator) out of a window and simulate flames and smoke. Heh, heh, heh. My own short film is waiting patiently for me to rewrite it. I went a wee bit astray starting this feature spec because I just woke up one day with 50 full-blown pages in my head and couldn't turn away from that (right, right?? I need validation here, people!). I am supposed to be rewriting the pilot, updating my SHIELD spec, speccing another current (prob RESCUE ME) and submitting all of this to the Agent and manager type folks I've been teasing for the last few months. Ugh. Back to the grindstone. I'm giving this drama another week's worth of work, and then returning to my "to-do" list of work. Promise.