Sunday, June 25, 2006

Chronicles 25 - Who are these guys?

So, after a long period of procrastination I'm returning back to tackle my comedy heist script. What I now have is a very rough, unsatisfactory first draft where the protag's goals and characters are not yet fully defined. The side-effect of this is that the script lacks conflict and dramatic tension.

Since we are dealing with 5-6 characters who are taken out of their ordinary world into the world of crime, the humour and reality of the comedic dramatic situation will hinge on the characters and their interaction with each other. The characters have to be fully carved out and clearly defined.

Writers deal with creating character in different ways. One way is the character breakdown - a list of the character's likes, dislikes, political persuasion, physical characteristics, hang-ups, flaws, obsessions etc.

I've written material where the characters were based on fusions of people I have met - strong, definable characters that stuck out in my mind even 15 or 20 years later. These characters required no breakdown at all - using the DNA of these real-life individuals I was able to create strong, clearly definable dramatic characters that came into being instantly and effortlessly.

This isn't always the case. When I started writing I wrote "what I knew". There was no research involved, no writing out lengthy character biographies. I knew these people and I knew their world.

I then went on to write other scripts that were not only set in other countries, such as America, but dealt with characters who I had never met in real-life such as American politicians, English lords etc and even CGI characters who didn't exist at all in the real-world!

The danger for the writer here is that instead of doing the necessary research and character breakdowns you base your characters on stock movie characters with the result that they become cliche'd, undefined and derivative.

The characters are the core of the story because when they are fully defined THEY make the choices for you, THEY decide what they say and do and you as a writer can then take a back-seat and try not to "get in the way".

On my second script I developed a very laborious technique of getting under the skin of my characters in order to identify/feel who they really were and what their motivations were. I started writing out, on exercise books, the complete history of the character, from a first person point of view, from their childhood all the way to the beginning of the script. I then continued the process and told their story throughout the whole script from their point of view.

What this gave me was a much more clearer view of what their motivations were at any point in the story. Since I write in the first person, irrespective of whether they are male or female I feel what they are feeling or what their motivations are at any point in the story. This technique worked very well on the romantic comedy script because after writing the full character story of both the male and the female leads I could then see where they were both coming from and could see what was behind the words they were speaking at any point in the story. I could see the rest of the iceberg. I was writing the characters from the inside-out rather than the outside-in.

The downside is that it is a very laborious process and along with the research which is also required on this script, (and all the other film scripts I have written), it always feels like a mountain to climb before you can actually sit down in Final Draft and write the damned screenplay. If I don't feel secure that I know the world and the characters inside out then I don't really enjoy writing the script because otherwise I'm all too aware that it feels 2-dimensional, foggy and derivative.

One of my next projects is based on real-life experience that requires little or no research either regarding the world or the characters. Great! Bring it on!

Apart from the comedy heist project I'm working with a partner on a treatment for an animation feature for a UK production company. We bounced some ideas around on the phone the other day and it was amazing to see what we came up with just in one phone conversation. Working with a partner that you click with can be a very fast-paced creative process.

Things are also under way with the short film which is based on a play of mine I staged in London a few years ago. The production company have met with the director and the DP and are really excited about moving ahead. They will visit a special effects house next week and look at getting their help on one particular scene.

In the meantime I've been running a "name" past the sales agent for my rom-com, which was suggested by the casting director, but my contact there doesn't think the name is strong enough and has asked me to come up with a top 5 list of actors. Well, creating such a list isn't rocket science, it is getting to these names that is the difficult part!

Rom-coms are not like horror flicks which can be sold with unknown actors. Rom-coms rely on known names and known names are of course, booked-up and expensive. I'm just about to send off an email now to see if we can enlist the help of some US casting directors I met a while back to attach talent.

Attaching "names" is definitely proving to be the most difficult aspect of making this film but in order to nab a good sales agent, secure pre-sales and bag a US distribution deal it seems to be a necessary evil for this particular genre, so, onward, onward and forever upward (one hopes, anyway)!

Ciao for now :-) See Chronicles 24