Tuesday, March 29, 2011

More on character jobs...

Apropos of Friday's post about character jobs, check out this Monster.com post: How Does Hollywood See Your Career?

(Thanks Mom!)

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Career Day

Choosing a career for your character is fun, but also hard. Have you noticed that you see the same jobs in TV and movies over and over? I may kill myself if I read another script in which someone works at an advertising agency, magazine or newspaper. Sure, these professions worked perfectly in What Women Want, Never Been Kissed, 27 Dresses and How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days, among others - but that's kind of the point. They've been done.

Now, I understand why the magazine/ad agency thing is so genius. In these cases, the career is the B-plot (as opposed to the A-plot, like in cop or doctor shows, CIA/FBI/etc. movies or even something like Black Swan, in which the profession itself is the premise).  The B-plot generally exists so that we may explore our themes, and what perfect way to explore our theme than in a big, splashy advertisement! Film and TV are visual mediums, so it's a good idea to pick a career that we can SEE and instantly understand. Most people in the real world have jobs that aren't so visual, tangible or easily explained. They sit in cubicles and work at computers, generating reports, having conference calls, etc. Boring! Sometimes that's the point, like in Office Space, but usually we want to be watching something interesting and compelling. Also, many professions are entire worlds in themselves - and if this world is not the premise of your movie or show, you may A) get caught up in explaining a lot of boring, unnecessary things, or B) give us a perfunctory, unsatisfactory view of what we know is a complicated profession. I thought No Strings Attached did a good job with professions. Ashton's work on the teen musical show was fun to watch, and Natalie's job as a doctor - which is instantly understood by the audience - also made her slightly abrasive character more likable. Similarly, on House, Hugh Laurie is able to get away with being a douche since he does save lives for a living.

Challenge yourself to put your character somewhere besides a generic desk in a generic office. Here's what I think about when picking a character's job:

1. Is it cliche?
2. Is it visually interesting?
3. Will the audience instantly understand?
4. What is at stake? (This is why doctor, cop and law shows are so ubiquitous.)
5. Does it match his/her personality traits?
6. Does it enable you to explore the theme?
7. Does it function as a metaphor for something else?

What shows and movies have professions that you thought worked well?

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Monday, March 21, 2011

Script notes service: update!

Update as of 10/14/15: I am still doing script notes, but I am no longer maintaining this blog. Please visit AmandaPendolino.com for more information. You can also set up script  notes by emailing me at aspiringwriterblog@gmail.com

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ithaca College 2011 Rod Serling Screenwriting Competition

2011 Rod Serling Scriptwriting Competition Entries Now Being Accepted

Entries are now being accepted for the Rod Serling Conference's Short Feature Scriptwriting competition. The conference is scheduled for September 9-10, 2011, at Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York.

The script competition is open to nonproduced or nonoptioned writers only. The deadline for entries is Friday, April 15, 2011.

Serling taught at Ithaca College from 1967 until his death in 1975. Ithaca College is also home to the Rod Serling Archives consisting of television scripts, movie screenplays, stage play scripts, films, published works by Serling, unproduced scripts, and secondary materials.

The script competition is open to non-produced, or non-optioned writers only. Any applicant who has earned money or other consideration as a screenwriter for theatrical films or television, or as a playwright for the legitimate theatre, or for the sale of, or sale of an option to, any original story, treatment, screenplay, play, or teleplay will not be eligible for the competition.

Postmark Deadline
Friday, April 15, 2011

Top 5 finalists will be judged by Carol Serling.
First Place: $250
Second Place: $150
Third Place: $100

Winners will be notified by Friday, July 1, 2011.

Awards will be announced at the Rod Serling Conference in a formal ceremony held on September 10, 2011. Winners are not obligated, but encouraged, to attend.

Submission Guidelines

1. Each script must be written in the same genre and style that would have been suitable to conform with episodes for either THE TWILIGHT ZONE or NIGHT GALLERY. More specifically this means displaying traits of either a horror or a science fiction genre, while exhibiting strong traditional or contemporary social themes. An example of a script has been posted for your reference. It is a script from a NIGHT GALLERY episode that aired in September, 1971. Entitled “Class of ’99,” it is available here for information purposes only. It is copyrighted material not intended for reproduction purposes.

2. Each script must be written in English.

3. Each script must be between 10 to 20 pages in length. No exceptions. Scripts that do not conform to the above page limit will be disqualified.

4. Each script must be written in Master Scene Format, the accepted industry standard for motion pictures. All scripts must use standard industry script binding: three-hole punched with brass brads in the top and bottom holes.

5. Scripts will be blind judged. The entrant’s name and identifying information must appear ONLY on the entry form. No personal information should appear on the script OR on the title page. ONLY the title of the piece should appear on the title page.

6. The entrant must submit:
a. three (3) copies of the script
b. a pdf copy on disc (please label the disc with last name and title of script)
c. a completed entry form d. a check or money order for $20.00 U.S. made payable to: Ithaca College.

7. All scripts must be POSTMARKED by Friday, April 15, 2011. Scripts will not be returned.

8. Failure to comply with any of the guidelines can result in disqualification. Entry fees for disqualified entries WILL NOT BE RETURNED.

9. Scripts should be registered with the Writer’s Guild of America Script Registry.

10. You may enter more than one script, however, a separate entry form, and payment of $20.00 U.S must accompany EACH entry. All entries should be sent to:

Stephen Tropiano
Serling Scriptwriting Competition
c/o Ithaca College Los Angeles Program
3800 Barham Blvd. Suite 305
Los Angeles, California 90068

For more information, click here.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Scene writing: power and victories

Where does tension come from? Thrilling scenes often involve characters who want different things, and the subtext that results from characters who can't communicate exactly what they're thinking or feeling. In my study of scenes that work - and add up to something much greater over the course of a show or movie - some writer friends have helped me notice that tension comes from the balance of power in any given scene, and who "wins" or "loses."

Take The Bridges of Madison County. It's a long, simple story, and many of its scenes feature Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood sitting at Meryl's kitchen table. However, the movie is incredibly compelling not only because of the strong performances, but also because of the shifts of power. In the first half, Meryl holds the power. She hasn't yet decided how she feels about this stranger. She can kick him out whenever she wants to. She can let him get to know just a little a bit about her, or everything. She can have an affair with him, or not.

In the second half, the power shifts to Clint. Meryl's feelings have started to win out over her better judgment. She feels torn and guilty, held back by the ticking clock of her husband and children's return home. Now Clint has the power, since he will be the one to leave her - both physically and emotionally.

Beyond that, each scene can be marked as a "win" or "loss" for Meryl and Clint. When Clint says something too provocative and Meryl closes him out, he loses. When Meryl starts to regret her decisions, she loses. Here is a great scene of one of Clint's losses:

The "win" or "loss" concept is also featured in Stranger Than Fiction (one of my faves!) when Will Ferrell starts marking off moments in his life as comedy or tragedy. Since he's hoping for a comedy in which he can survive, the comedic moments are wins and the tragic moments are losses.

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