And It’s Back to the Drawing Board

Well, after some time off, Rick and I took a really critical look at the outline, and we realized something.  Something big.  Like, it’s not anything what we really imagined it might be when we first started out.

We envisioned a dramedy in the veins of “Juno” or “Little Miss Sunshine,” and it turned into this sort of dark drama that was 180 degrees from the original mission.  The protagonist lacked a character arc and the plotline was sort of flat.  I was of the mind to just trash the whole thing and start on an entirely new project.

I’m sure most of you who have written features have found yourselves in this exact same spot.  You thought you had a great idea or concept, but you found out that you couldn’t really build a story around it.  So you have to make a gutsy call:  Do you drop the project entirely and start on a new idea that has more legs, or do you try to perform emergency triage on the existing project and bring it back to life (realizing that you might be halfway through the triage and still need to declare the patient dead).

I was in the camp of throwing a grenade into the script and just putting it out of its misery.  Rick, to his credit, tried to disarm me and help me see my way back from the abyss.  We decided we would take the weekend to see where our thoughts might lead us.

Here was where I landed:  The original idea was to have a script set essentially in one location, first, for budgeting reasons, and two, to allow the film to be shot quickly (also factoring in to budgeting).  I wanted to go Richard Linklater “Slacker” and just get a minimalist movie made.

Why would we want to do that?  Well, unless you’re a big-time scriptwriter, you’re not going to get a big budget film made.  Your script’s not even going to be looked at by a production company.  Even small to mid-level budget films are getting harder to make unless you already have a foot in the door.  Indie films are typically the best option for an up and coming writer, but you have to be realistic in your expectations.  It has to have a compelling story (to attract talent and financing), it has to be easy to make, and it needs to be right financially.

So, that’s a long way of saying, we have to go back to the drawing board on the outline.  I think the original idea and setting was a good one, but we need to find the heart and humor in this storyline.  Tomorrow, we’ll bring in the demolition experts in to blow everything up and start again.

Hang in there with us!

We’ve Finished the Outline!

Thank God! We finally got around the cranking out the last few beats of the outline.  It’s changed a half-dozen times since we last reported on it and it runs on for a bit. It’s still not as long as some outlines are, as we don’t beat out every single scene of the script.  We figure we can fill in the gaps as needed as we write around the highlights of what is in the outline.  And as I’ve mentioned, Rick and I are never bound to the outline we start with.  One thing we don’t want to do is write ourselves into a corner.  Flexibility is key when it comes to writing that first draft of your script (and second and third drafts as well).

So what’s next?  Well, first of all, a couple of days off!  No thinking about writing for a day.  Just enjoy some time catching up on binge-worthy TV shows, spending time with family, or whatever else might arise.

Then we begin the process of writing.  As we write, we’re going to post the script, as rough as it might be, here.  We’ll post the differing versions on a regular basis (so you might see version 1.1, 1.2, etc.) so you can see where changes might have been made as we go back and edit the script.  It’ll give you a good idea of what our writing process is, and how we go back and edit as we write.

Some writers like to do a “garbage draft”, where they just write without really thinking about what’s on the page. The idea is just to get through the entire draft, and then come back later and clean it all up, make corrections, and so on.  Rick and I operate a little differently.  What typically happens is that I might write a page or two, then I’ll send it to Rick, and he’ll review it, edit it with his changes, and then he’ll write another couple of pages, and send it back to me.  I’ll do the same to his portion, edit, then write some more. Wash, rinse, repeat.  We’ll keep up that process, and usually, if we stay on that pattern, we’ll have the finished script done sometime between 45 to 60 days, sometimes longer if we run into situations where we have to take some time off.  For example, we’re starting this script just as end of the year holidays are approaching, so we might take a whole week off from working on the script to enjoy Thanksgiving or Christmas.  I think our goal is to finish by the end of the year, but if we don’t, it’s not the end of the world.

I’ll try to update the outline on this site, but I’ll need to break it down into two or three posts because of the length.  Anyway, time to celebrate!

Part Two – The Unending Question: Which Screenwriting Software to Use?

In an earlier post, we talked about outlining software you can (or not) use. As I mentioned, I stick with the old tried and true method of Microsoft Word, mainly because it’s easy to use, easy to edit, and no one is going to see it really except for you.

When it comes to writing your actual script, however, that’s a much different story. There’s a lot of alternatives out there, some free, some fairly pricey. And the software you use may or may not leave a lasting impression on a potential producer or reader of your script.

First of all, let’s start with what you should not use, and that’s Microsoft Word.  While it’s fine for outlining, you should not use it for writing your script.  Why?  Because if you somehow got someone to read it, you’ll never get a producer to utilize a Word version for a feature (you might get lucky on a short).  Producers, directors are going to want to work with the writer on the script, adding in their own notes, action lines, and dialogue, and they won’t be able to do it if you’re working strictly out of Word.  And the one thing you don’t want to do as a writer is to make the job more difficult for the producer and director.  If the paginations and the margins aren’t standard, it doesn’t put you in a good light.

Using a software program designed specifically for screenwriting is obviously your best option, both stylistically and professionally.  I have used Final Draft (I’m now at Version 10) for about seven years, and before that, Movie Magic Screenwriter (currently version 6).  I have still have both programs, but tend to write strictly in Final Draft (as does my writing partner Rick).

Final Draft is the gold standard for film producers and directors. It’s used by a great majority of the top screenwriters in Hollywood (and the rest of the US, for that matter).Final Draft image Overseas, the standards tend to more varied as to the acceptance of screenplays, so it’s market share is much less in the European market, for example, and so you see differing options (some of them free), like Celtx being used.

For some screenwriters, the cost is a non-starter.  For example, at The Writer’s Store,  Final Draft 11 (the most current version) is $169.99, OR, if you’re still a student, you can get it for $99.99.  My opinion is that you’re making an investment in your career is this is something you really want to do, and do it well.  On the other hand, if you’re without a job, or you’re making minimum wage, this is a significant amount of money to be putting up for something you may never make a dime off of.  You’ll need to weigh your choices and determine whether this works for your budget, and in another post we’ll look at free software you can use as well.

Final Draft is available on both the Mac and Windows platform, and if you’re like me, who has both a Windows desktop and a Mac laptop, the good news is that you can download the program on both with the purchase of just one license.  Final Draft 10 is compatible with Mac OS X 10.9 or later and Windows 7 or later.

What I like most about Final Draft is that I really don’t have to think much about the process.  Everything is pre-formatted to industry standards, and you’re given various templates to work off of (screenplay, TV three-camera comedy, TV drama, etc.).  You also have a beat board for knocking out your story and a timeline for how your beats are working in terms of minutes consumed.  If you work closely with another writer, you can actually work (in Final Draft 10 or 11) in the script at the same time with the other writer in Collaboration mode.  You might find that there’s a little bit of lag time depending on your network speed, which can be a little frustrating at times.

You also have a great Title Sheet page to create title pages, and it converts your script easily into PDF or, if you want to convert to another program like Movie Magic Screenwriter, you can export to an RTF file and then import in to the new program (not a perfect option, and you’ll have to do some cleanup, but it’s better than most alternatives).

If you want to get more information on all the features of Final Draft, you can go to this review to get a more in-depth look at what you can (and can’t) do with Final Draft.  The bottom line for me is that I feel like if I’m going to make it as a professional screenwriter, then I need to have a professional screenwriting program to assist me in that endeavor, and for me, Final Draft checks all the boxes.

We’ll look at other screenwriting programs in a later post, and coming soon, we should have our outline completed (finally!) and we’ll be ready to move into the writing stage.

The Outline To Date

I thought it might be good, since I’ve been on vacation in Canada the past few days (all work and no play, right?), to bring everyone up to speed on the outline.  Rick and I made some changes, and as I mentioned in our last post, we’ve given Jinx a change to his character to give him a little more depth and provide more of an explanation of why he wants to leave the small town of Titan, Texas (we’ve come up with a town name – or at least I have. Rick may not agree with it!).

Below is our outline to date.  You may think we outline too much.  I think it’s just enough to provide a guideline for us to get from Point A to Point Z while allowing us flexibility to make changes as we see the story develop.  We don’t want to be hemmed in to a story that isn’t working, and if we need to zig rather than zag because we find ourselves going in a new direction, we’re free to do that and still be fairly true to the outline.  The beauty of an outline is that you can always edit it. You don’t have to be locked in to your first draft.

As a reminder, here is our logline:

A Texas high school senior involved in an accident that caused the death of a popular student struggles to cope with the emotional fallout at a lake house graduation party, and at the same time escape ‘the secret’ he’s been keeping while cutting ties with the small town he desperately wants to leave behind.

And our outline:

ACT ONE

SEQUENCE 1 – Status Quo & Inciting Incident

i.  Jimmy ‘Jinx’ McCarthy, 18, rides with his friends, Ellie and Tate, along a country road. They discuss their graduation from earlier that evening and the party they are now traveling to. Jinx is anxious about the party as he looks at the passing woods.

ii. There’s a reveal that, toward the end of the party, they’ll be an opportunity for everyone to share something or stage something for everyone to remember them by. A skit, lip sync, video, anything. Individually or as a group – to commemorate their time together.

iii.  There’s a playful disagreement — the joking kind but a nerve is touched in Jinx. Tate hints at revealing to Ellie how Jimmy got the nickname ‘Jinx.’ Jimmy silences Tate. It’s learned that Tate’s got nothing for the show. Ellie plans a mock cheer for the jocks and cheerleaders that she’s butted heads with for four years. Jinx hints that he has ‘something’ but is unsure if he’ll go with it.

iv.  They arrive at a house with a great view overlooking a lake. The party is in full swing. Jimmy is self-conscious, partially because of Tate’s comment. Ellie reminds him that this is a night to ‘celebrate’ and encourages him to relax. Tate seconds that and declares that he needs to find something to do for the show.

v.   Most of the students ignore Jinx as he arrives, but he steers clear of engaging in games or groups of people — He feels like everyone is either staring at him or judging him. Ellie leaves Jinx and Tate, and talks with some friends, including Lucas, one of the school’s jocks. She explains that she’s going to do this mock cheer and she’d really appreciate his support.

vi.  Jinx looks despondent, and reveals to Tate that he wishes things could be ‘different.’ Thinking that he means with Ellie, Tate questions why he doesn’t go for it.  Jinx ignores the question and lets him know that he’s leaving town soon for college and never looking back. He’s turning a page that should have been turned a while ago. This surprises Tate, who asks why he’s leaving, and Jinx says he has to leave the life he had here. People will always think of him as the one. He hints, “maybe you’ll understand later. Maybe you won’t. I’m still not sure that I do, but I have to be true to myself.”

vii.  Jimmy sees some kids looking at him. He thinks they’re laughing, but in reality, they’re not. There’s another mention, like back in the car, about how ‘Jinx’ got his nickname. Logan, the kid who’s always loud and obnoxious at parties, asks Jinx if he brought his friend, ‘Lucky’ to the party. Logan plans a song parody that he claims will go viral after tonight. The jab at Jinx firmly establishes that Jimmy’s got things in his past that are sensitive and known to these kids but there’s also something Jinx is struggling with. He fumbles with a flash drive. Maybe it’s for the show? Whatever is on it – it’s clearly heavy on Jinx’s mind. Jinx is brought back to reality by Tate, pointing out a beautiful girl, Cassandra, the class flirt.

SEQUENCE 2 – Predicament and Lock-In

viii. Jinx and Tate get drinks and encounter Maggie, a hot cheerleader. Maggie is surprised to see Jinx, and says he shouldn’t be there. Not with anger – just caution. But Jinx takes it as anger and stares at the ground, troubled. Maggie’s boyfriend, Hunter, threatens Jinx. If he doesn’t leave, he’s going to get the crap beat out of him. Jinx is happy to leave, but Ellie confronts Hunter and counters that this isn’t the football field and Jinx isn’t going anywhere. Jinx is happy that Ellie has his back, but tells everyone the truth. He really does want to leave – forever. Hunter tells Jinx: “Great idea. You’ve ruined enough lives here.”

ix.  Hunter proclaims they’ve drawn up a special play to be debuted at the show and says to Jinx: “We thought we could use your help with it but you’d probably ruin it like you do everything else.”

x. The tense situation is broken up by some students throwing water balloons into the crowd. Tate captures it on his phone and is suddenly inspired to build around it and make a short, ‘Sharknado-like’ video to show as part of the festivities. He sets out to build around the footage.

xi.  Hunter fumes after being hit by the balloon, but just as we think that he’s going to charge at Jinx, he takes off after the person who threw it. Crisis averted for the moment.

xii. Ellie pulls Jinx aside. “What’s this about you leaving forever?” They argue. Ellie states that he has obligations to family here, and maybe to friends as well. Jinx counters that staying here will never allow him to do what he really wants to do, be who he wants to be and move on with his life. He’ll always be ‘that guy.’ The one people whisper about. Ellie calls Jinx a coward and storms away. Again, he fumbles with the flash drive, finds a computer inside to test it. He only gets as far as the opening image – Him in front of his parent’s store addressing the camera on a tri-pod. Even the image of it unsettles him and he yanks it free from the computer.

xiii. Jinx walks to the lake and sits on the dock. A few students are there as well, but leave him alone. Tate comes by and sits with him. They talk about the lake — it was their “happy” place. They spent their summers fishing, camping out and water skiing here. Now, Jinx looks at it, and all he can see is regret. Frustrated, Tate gets up. He tells Jinx “it wasn’t your fault. But if you can’t let it go, you might as well jump in your damn lake of regret and stay there.” Jinx calls after Tate – “Don’t go shooting off your mouth if you don’t know something. You’re like those catfish under the water. Can’t see nothing until it’s too late.”

xiv.  Several girls run past Jinx and jump in the water. One of the girls is Cass, who looks back to Jinx and encourages him with a look to join them. Jinx ignores her, and she swims away to join the others in the water.

xv. Hunter talks to other students about Jinx. How it’s time to set things right. It’s apparent that revenge is on their minds. Maybe they will use him for that special ‘play’ they’ve drawn up for the show.

ACT TWO

SEQUENCE 3 – First Obstacle & Raising the Stakes

i.   Jinx goes back to look for Tate, ready to leave the party. Tate is dashing around, grabbing footage and staging things to add to his video. Not seeing Tate, Jinx ventures about. People are enjoying themselves.

ii.  One girl, a cute, girl-next-door type, Savannah, stops Jinx, asks him where he’s going to college. Texas, he says. Me, too, she responds. She’s excited because she’ll be able to get help on her freshman history classes. “You saved my ass on a half dozen exams junior year.” Another student with her pipes in. “Saved me too.” Jinx isn’t sure how to respond, but before he can figure it out, the girls are off to chat with someone else.

iii.  Jinx stops in front of a mantle above the fireplace, where there are various framed pictures. Several of them are of Lucas and Maggie, some with Lucas’ parents. It’s obvious the house belongs to Lucas’ family. We land on one important picture: It happens to be Jinx with four other people: one is Lucas. The others are Ellie, Maggie and a guy we haven’t seen yet (Nick). They look happy in the picture. Not a care in the world. Jinx is transfixed by the picture.

iv.  From behind Jinx a voice arises: “Remember where that pic was taken?.” Jinx turns, and it’s Lucas. Lucas sees that Jinx is troubled by the picture. “San Antonio,” says Jinx. “I remember you were surprised by how small the Alamo actually was.” Jinx agrees. “I imagined it being larger than life.” Lucas: “We always tend to imagine things to be bigger than they really are.” Lucas follows up with: “I miss hanging out with you. Let’s get together this summer, okay?” Jinx mumbles a half-hearted, “sure.”

v.  Lucas leaves the house and runs into Hunter and his goons. There’s an argument. Hunter wants to know if Lucas is going to be ‘in’ on the play for the show. Lucas makes it clear that he’s not participating. His football life is done. Hunter mentions to his guys to watch out for Lucas. He might get in the way of their plans.

vi. Music is playing and students are dancing. Logan boasts that the song parody will become a party staple for decades to come. Lucas asks Ellie to dance and she agrees. As they dance, Jinx watches them from the house through a window. It’s a reflection and Jinx sees his own as well. Once again, he feels like he’s on the outside looking in. He takes out the flash drive and is about to throw it away but he’s interrupted by Cass, who walks past, sits on a couch and beckons Jinx. He goes over and sits down, ever the polite guy.

SEQUENCE 4 – First Culmination/Midpoint

viii. After the dance is over, Lucas tells Ellie about the picture. Elly says that was the trip where Nick almost got ticketed for underage drinking and Jinx talked the cop out of it. As they talk, Ellie folds a napkin, making a flower out of it. She attaches it to a straw and sticks it in Lucas’ drink. “What’s this?” asks Lucas. Ellie isn’t even aware she was doing it. “Oh, that. It’s a flower for your drink. Jinx used to always be annoyed that the Mexican restaurant that didn’t put a flower or umbrella in my virgin pina coladas and so he would make me one out of a napkin. Guess I just picked up on it.”

ix. Back in the house, Cass makes small talk with Jinx. When the small talk stalls, she gets more direct: If you’re not going to make the first move, I guess it’s up to me. This night’s about making memories. Maybe you ought to create a new memory of me that you can take with you,” and slides her hand over to his leg. Jinx is uncomfortable.

x. Hunter watches Cass and Jinx from across the room. Cass and Hunter’s eyes meet, and they share a conspiratorial smile. Hunter slips away, and as Cass slides in closer to Jinx, he extricates himself from the situation, embarrassed.

xi. Hunter makes his way outside and finds Ellie. “There’s talk you’re going to make the football team look bad at the show. Hope it’s just talk.” Ellie protests – “Get over yourself, Hunter. There’s no Varsity in life. You’ll be drinking your minimum wage every Friday night with your besties.” But inwardly she fumes. Who told him?

xii. In the house, Jinx asks someone where the restroom is. Someone tells him, “down the hall on the left”. There are several doors on the left, and Jinx picks one. Unfortunately, it’s not the bathroom, but a spare room in the lake house where Lucas’ dad, Paul, is running on a treadmill. Jinx is embarrassed by the interruption, but Jeremy waves him in eagerly. Paul stops the treadmill, and Jinx apologizes for the intrusion. Paul says he needed to stop anyway. Jokes that he can run and run, but he never gets anywhere. Jinx speaks to Paul in double entendres about how he feels like he’s been ‘running’ for years – and ‘you get so tired, you just want to stop.’

xiii.  Paul reminds Jinx about how Jinx helped Lucas get a job with his parents’ business. Kept him away from some bad people at a time in his life when Lucas really needed it. Jinx says he just wanted someone fun to work with during the summer. Maybe it worked out for both of them.  Paul asks about his parents’ business and Jinx fidgets for a response. “I get it. Not your thing.” Jinx is surprised. “So what are you doing instead?” “Going to college,” Jinx replies. “And?” “We’ll see.” Paul reminds Jinx that no matter where he goes, he needs to remember where he came from, because it’s made him who he is.  Still, Paul continues, “This place is a black hole. Unless you get far enough away from it, you’re sucked in permanently.”

xix.  After their discussion, Jinx heads outside, and sees Hunter and his gang grab Tate, who struggles mightily, but they take him to the dock and throw him far out in the water.  Jinx rushes down to the dock as he sees what is happening, and jumps in after Tate, who has sunk under water. After a tense couple of moments, Jinx emerges with Tate.  After he’s helped from the water, Jinx toes up with Hunter.  “What the hell is wrong with you?  He can’t swim.” Hunter looks confused at first. Jinx follows up: “You could’ve killed him.” “I guess you know all about killing people,” Hunter retorts. Things are about to get physical between them but the rest of the jocks turn – Logan is on the mic and the crowd is invited to gather round – the senior show is about to start.

After I put all this together, Rick and I exchanged emails about a new dynamic to this outline — these are the things that happen when you’re writing with a partner.  Rick will generate an idea, and throw it at me after we’ve gotten to this point, and I’ll counter with something and throw another idea back at him.  Consequently, we keep generating new ideas and new obstacles for our characters, and thus the outline will continue to evolve.  If you have any thoughts on how the outline is going, please let us know!