Posts Tagged screenwriting

Pretty Good Year

When I am old, I will remember 2010 as one of those years that defined who I am. Years of hard work finally paid off with the release of my first feature film. The March premiere of Bloodwood was one of the best days of my life, and the movie’s wide distribution as “Bloodwood Cannibals” meant that I was no longer an aspiring filmmaker. I am a filmmaker.

The friendships that developed while making Bloodwood thrived. I made new friends and reconnected with childhood pals while promoting the movie online and at film festivals. A friendship turned to romance, then returned to friendship. I learned a lot about myself in the process.

I learned that father and son are more alike than I thought, in ego and temper. I’ve behaved poorly because of it, but I’ve learned to accept my failings and start on the path to correcting my mistakes. These are but small setbacks in life. My momentum continues forward.

2010 also saw the resurrection of “A Midsummer Nightmare”, a Shakespeare inspired horror script that I wrote in 2005. Midsummer was optioned but never produced, and the rights reverted to me while I was making Bloodwood. My friends and fellow filmmakers Steve Everson and L. Jeffrey Moore offered to produce Midsummer as the next feature. I jumped on the opportunity, and we started planning for a 2011 production.

I’ve continued working at the Butte College Foundation and consider myself blessed to have steady employment in such a difficult economy. I’ve also been blessed with good health. No major illnesses or injuries this year, and I’ve gained almost 20 pounds of muscle in the past 12 months thanks to a more methodical workout/recovery system and lots of whey protein.

Mom wasn’t so lucky, suffering a broken arm after a fall in the garden. Luckily she’s tough as stone and recovered quickly. Padme and Darth are both in good health, but more spoiled than ever. I’m thankful that my 1999 Honda has survived another year with only a few more dents and dings.

All in all, it’s been a pretty good year. I have much to be thankful for and a lot to look forward to in 2011. Thank you, friends, for being a part of it all!

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Dreams and the Writing Process

Just as every writer should have his or her own “voice”, every writer has a process for developing the story and spitting it onto the page. My own process has evolved significantly since I first sat down behind my mom’s typewriter and banged out a short story. Based on a recurring dream, the story was largely a rip-off of The Empire Strikes Back with telepathic cats. Many years and eight screenplays later, the process still usually begins with a dream.

Inspiration comes in many forms, but an idea is just the beginning of a story. The rough idea for “A Midsummer Nightmare” began when I auditioned for a stage production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. Growing up with the stories of Tolkien and other fantasy masters, my take on the hobgoblin Puck was considerably darker than most interpretations. The director didn’t agree with my vision of a psychotic Joker-esque Puck, and I was cast as Lysander instead.

Years later, I dreamt that I was in another production of Midsummer. I wandered through a forest with other actors, looking for the way back to a camp. We were stalked by a creature made of vines, and the actor playing Bottom was transformed into a demonic donkey creature. Dreams are a great incubator where raw ideas can develop into a story. This particular dream took the concept of an evil Puck and turned it into the basic story for “A Midsummer Nightmare”.

Once the story has emerged from the dark recesses of my brain, scenes and characters start to hit the page as notes, sketches, and rough storyboards. With Midsummer, I found further inspiration from the play and decided to develop most of the script’s characters as modern day versions of Shakespeare’s characters. The play’s intertwined stories of a feuding couple, a teen love triangle, and magic gone awry were easily updated to the classic horror setting of a wilderness campground.

My story notes become an outline, and at this point I make the painful decision whether to continue a project. First I check to be sure it has a Hook, a Plot, and a Kick-ass Ending. All these are essential, in my view. The hook is the concept that gets people’s attention. The plot is more than a collection of scenes. It is a journey with multiple arcs. And no horror movie is complete without an Ending that leaves the audience breathless. If my outline has those three essentials, I ask myself “Is this story worth telling?”

Many of my stories never go beyond the outline stage, but “A Midsummer Nightmare” passed the test. The process of transforming an outline into a script is one of my favorite parts of writing. Characters develop their voices. New story arcs develop. Details come alive, often acted out wherever I may be writing. It can take anywhere from a couple weeks to several months for me to write the first screenplay draft.

Then comes the hard part: Editing. It’s like you’ve just given birth to this beautiful new life… then you have to hack it into pieces with a butcher knife. Unfortunately, it’s essential. Editing is not just finding the typos. You have to answer the WHYs of the story. WHY is the villain after so-and-so? WHY would someone go into the dark basement alone? If the answer is “because that would be cool” or “because it helps the story”, it’s time for more thinking.

I usually wait until the second or third draft of a script before I show it to anyone. After I’ve stitched up the baby and tried to make it pretty again, I hand it off to a trusted editor to rip it apart once more. It’s essential to have someone who will give you honest feedback and not just blow smoke up your fanny. A new pair of eyes should find a lot more WHYs. Answering them isn’t always easy.

The final step before a script “goes public”, either in the spec market or as something I plan to direct, is the table read. Hearing your script performed by actors can help expose character issues and dialogue that wouldn’t work even in a Star Wars prequel. And of course there are always more WHYs. Working on those issues with other creative people makes it a lot more fun.

At this point it’s time to introduce the screenplay to the world. When a script is produced, it inevitably evolves again through the various stages of filmmaking. But that’s a topic for another post.

- Joshua

You can win a signed BLOODWOOD CANNIBALS dvd by “Liking” my new movie “A Midsummer Nightmare” on Facebook. Check out the page for details!

http://www.facebook.com/pages/MidsummerNightmare/125717127473187

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writing season

Winter is always the best time for writing. On cold, wet days there’s nothing to do but sit and get out the stories that have been buzzing around in my head for the past few months.

The treatment for Dream Raiders  is finished and like most of my scripts, it’s very ambitious.  It’s meant to be “scalable” in terms of budget even though it’s very FX heavy. A lot more needs to be developed before I show it to anyone, but it feels like I’m off to a good start.

I’ve also been tweaking the Fallen Sky screenplay.  Scenes or dialogue that didn’t add to the story are gone, making it much leaner while keeping the spirit and “holy shit” ending. It’s still probably too “big budget” to be my next movie, but SOMEDAY…

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Looking Ahead

As Bloodwood get closer to release, I find myself looking ahead to the next project. A vacation is probably in order, but then my schedule is wide open.

Most people agree that the Shakespeare inspired horror “A Midsummer Nightmare” is my most marketable idea. I wrote it a few years back to be produced for around $3 mil. The next draft will have to have to tone down some of the bigger scenes if I’m going to make it for under $100k.

If Bloodwood is successful there will undoubtedly be a sequel. Both Midsummer and Bloodwood 2 are set mainly in forests, so it could even be possible to film both at once (or back to back) on a limited budget. That is IF I want to follow up my first feature with more horror.

Personally, I would love to make Fallen Sky my next film. The dark modern fantasy is my most original screenplay, and it has infinite potential as a series or just as a stand-alone movie. My ambitions exceeded my skill (and budget) when I first attempted to film the story as a short in 2003.  Still, we got enough footage for a cool trailer and the movie’s back story inspired my first novel: “Fallen Sky – The Shining Blades”.

Can an epic fantasy movie be made on a limited budget? I think so. Especially when you have a good Producer.

Know any?

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