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Tales From the Script: Part 3 (Tools of the Trade)

The first few things I wrote years ago were done with a regular old word processor.  It was a pain in the ass.  Every time I went to do a new draft, I’d have to manual go in and change the “continued” and all that stuff.  Setting the tabs was awful.  Making sure everything was formatted correctly caused me so much panic.

I was never able to full jump into just the creative part of screenwriting because the mechanics were always in the back of my mind.  Well, truthfully, they were front and center.

A year or so ago I got Final Draft.  It’s the industry standard for screenwriting and I totally see why.  It’s basically a word processor program specifically designed to write scripts.  I don’t have to think about anything other than the story when I use it.  When you hit Enter to go on to a next section, it asks you if you want this to start with a character, dialogue, scene header, whatever.  With a click, you can be back on track.  It becomes second nature and it makes the whole process so much quicker and easier.

Here’s something else I just found out about Final Draft.  Okay, I mentioned before that Lesley and I are going to start on a spec script to show that we can write television as well.  I Googled Modern Family scripts and found a link to a template that plugs right into Final Draft!  There are plug ins for pretty much every popular show out there.  And if you’re writing a spec script, the best idea is to do it for a popular show.  As much as I loved The Middleman, writing a script for that would make little to no sense!

Yes, the software is a little expensive, but if you’re serious about writing, I can not recommend it enough.  Here’s a link if you want more information.

Tales From the Script: Part 2 (Storytime)

In our last episode, after a few attempts at screenwriting, I found a great writing partner in Lesley Braden.

Lesley’s idea (and the script is already registered with the WGA so just try and steal it, buster) was about a woman in her mid to late 30s who was tired of people either harassing her or taking advantage of her time because she was single.  She creates a fake guy on Facebook and puts herself in a relationship with said guy.  It’s Bridesmaids meets The Social Network.  Both movies just came out.  Both movies were successful.  Kristen Wiig changed Hollywood overnight and showed the women can open a comedy and make a ton of money.  Lesley’s idea was original, fun and hugely marketable.  I was hooked!

Initially we started writing it with the two of us in mind to play the lead character and her slacker roommate.  I have friends who have production companies in Michigan, so it seemed like something we could potentially try to raise money and make.  As it went on, we realized how this script would be a really great calling card for us if we wanted to try to get writing jobs.  So we stopped limiting ourselves with set pieces that we could possibly pull off if we were to raise enough money through a Kickstarter campaign of whatever and we decided to shoot for the stars.

When we cracked the story, we didn’t do a traditional outline.  We knew key comedy moments that we wanted to happen and then from there we figured out how to get there.  Using a basic three act structure, we knew too when certain beats had to happen.    As we fleshed out the secondary characters more, our secondary story lines and conflicts started to become clearer too.  We were both on the same page that we didn’t want this to necessarily be a joke based comedy.  We wanted the humor to come from the characters.  We both do comedy though, so naturally the jokes found their way into it.

The crazy thing was that every idea either of us had, the other either found a way to build on it or tweak it into something different.  We never pitched a story element to have the other one say, “That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard”.  I think that’s the key to a strong writing partnership.  You can’t shoot down someone else’s idea without anything of your own to add.   I’m sure it helps that from the beginning we were both really on the same page.

Okay, I’m going to jump ahead in time to the present day.  We’re going to start working on a spec script for a television show.  It’s an idea that I had rattling in my brain for awhile.  I bounced it off of Lesley the other night and instead of shooting down my idea, she said, “That’s great, we could do that or maybe make it this slightly different thing too.”  Okay, that’s not technically a quote, but you know what I mean.  While her idea was slightly different than mine, it also opened itself up for a neat spin on the ideas I already had.  I think the most exciting part of writing a story is not knowing what’s going to happen next.  Changing a small detail, or even a large one, can definitely do that!  I’m looking forward to cracking another story with her.

Tales from the Script: Part 1 (Partnering Up)

I’m at a pivotal point in the screenwriting process.  I thought for my own piece of mind I’d share the journey it took to get here.  I don’t know where this story will end.  I certainly hope it has a happy ending.  Let’s start from the beginning.

I’ve written a lot of screenplays.  Most of them were through my twenties.  I burned all my bridges in radio and television, moved back to Michigan and had the first “real” job of my life working in a Toys R Us.  Over the next few years I went through my Kevin Smith phase.  I first wrote my “Clerks” about a guy who was working in a big box toy store cleverly called We B Toys.

Next when I was in an unhappy relationship and feeling like I was hundreds of miles from where I wanted to be, I wrote my “Dogma” about a couple in an unhappy relationship who die and get stuck in Purgatory…which happens to be a small town in the middle of nowhere.

After that, the unhappy relationship ended so I wrote my “Chasing Amy” about a guy who ends his unhappy relationship and starts a non-romantic relationship.  I guess it was also my “When Harry Met Sally”.  The main character in that one was a struggling stand up comedian.  At the time, I hadn’t stepped foot on the comedy stage yet, so it was just a way for me to get out the material I wrote without having to actually perform it.  Coincidentally, the arc of that character kind of mirrored what I ended up doing creatively in real life years later.

So, after those first few attempts at screenwriting I started doing stand up and seemed to have a knack for it.  Most of my creative juices flowed into that outlet.  Friends asked me if I wanted to partner up with them on scripts, but for one reason or another it never really worked out.

Last year a fellow performer named Lesley Braden and I met with some other performers about starting a sketch comedy group.  That didn’t work out, but Lesley and I found that we worked really well together.  She pitched me her idea for the story we ended up writing and I loved it.   It’s like what they say about love.  You find it when you’re not looking for it.  I wasn’t looking for the perfect screenwriting partner, I just happened upon her!

Next time, I’ll talk about the story.