‘Big Fish’ Screenwriter Helps With Some Small Tips

So I’ve become a little bit infatuated with screenwriter John August lately. The first full-length screenplay I read this year (to help get the juices going) was his adaptation of Big Fish, which is a great read, by the way. Then I started to listen to his ScriptNotes podcast, with screenwriter Craig Mazin. There’s just an eloquence to the way John August writes his action text in his screenplays, and I’m a sucker for that (see last post about Breaking Bad’s Vince Gilligan). It’s gotten to a point where J.J’s script for the pilot episode of Fringe has me annoyed now. August does the whole “let’s dictate the action, but spice it up subtly” thing in screenplays really well – and here are some videos to prove it. All these videos can be found on his YouTube page, just search ‘John August.’

This is a little video showing how he would enter a particular scene. The basics are all there: cut to the chase, play up the conflicts, and cut out early. But just the way he explains himself is really easy to follow, and he makes things make really good sense.

This video is more about writing action text. Keep in mind, this is the guy that wrote Go and The Nines - he doesn’t primarily work on straight, genre-action but he can definitely help you if you want to.

Here’s a tutorial that I think all of us screenwriters could benefit in watching/re-watching as to constantly be aware of how we do this. Here is talking about writing better scene descriptions. This is more for the guys working on their first screenplays, but hey it’s always good to be conscientious about it.

Sadly, those are all the video tutorials he has on his site, but I wanted more, so I hit the guy up. The guy was nice enough to take the time out of being a professional screenwriter, doing a podcast about screenwriting, and giving presentations at the Austin Film Festival to reply:

So hopefully we’ll have more soon! Until then, if you could point me to some other great, similar tutorials – I’d be much obliged! Otherwise, go listen to ScriptNotes on iTunes – make sure you subscribe.

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Ending Bad – A Glimpse at Vince Gilligan’s Final Pages of the ‘Felina Script’

SPOILERS ABOUND: Okay, so the title of this post is definitely a pun-gone-wrong. Breaking Bad’s finale was nothing but the most satisfying way to end Vince Gilligan’s five season-long tale about transformation.

Today, SlashFilm posted a leak of the final two pages of the script to “Felina,” BrBa’s acclaimed series finale. The writer of that post made a point that I whole heartedly agree with…

No matter how good the visuals were, the writing on Breaking Bad was always better.

And they’re right. Vince Gilligan’s action text in his screenplays, the way he sets up scenes, and the insight he gives his characters on the page are the closest to screenplay-literature as we’re probably going to ever get (if you can show me better, I’d love to see it). The SlashFilm author went on to say:

As fantastic the first episode of Breaking Bad is to watch, to hear it read reveals another level of brilliance. If you were to travel back in time, sit down with Gilligan in 2007 and ask him to describe what happens in the show over a few beers, that’s what his writing sounds like. It’s perfectly, brilliantly descriptive with a language that’s filled with vulgarity and humor. It has a conversational, culturally current tone that pops off the page.

I’ll post the images to the screenplay, as leaked, below:

breaking bad felina script

breaking bad felina script 2

As beautiful as the cinematography, editing, directing, and acting all came together – Gilligan’s words are almost even more poetic that the sum of those parts. Obviously I would have rather watched BrBa than read it, but my God it’s such a good read. If you’re able to find an online version of the pilot, I suggest you read that too. A lot of the writers credit reading the pilot for the reason that they signed on to BrBa simply because how visual his language is, and how he really goes into the character’s thoughts.

Can’t wait to see what’s next, Vince.

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Discovering My Process

Using cards to plot

Using cards to plot

So an interesting thing happened to me today. After working for MONTHS on end on my first real full-length feature I had a major breakthrough. I’ve been breaking and re-breaking this particular story on and off since May, but due to some personal issues and the sudden announcement of a major deadline, I’ve been working 12-14 hour days for the past two weeks trying to hammer out the newest incarnation of my tale from page-freaking-one. Continue reading

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Call of (Civic)Duty

Let me preface this by saying that if you’ve talked to me in the past few months that, among many other things, I have been on somewhat of an Aaron Sorkin binge. I’ve always liked the man’s writing, but it has since become an almost unhealthy obsession. The following may be a knee-jerk reaction to the idealism and unrelenting optimism that his television work is filled with, but who cares? The man did his job with this viewer.  For the record I’ve watched 4 complete seasons of the West Wing in the last couple of months and am halfway through re-watching season one of The Newsroom along with being caught up with season two as it has been airing this summer.

What has all this Sorkin-binge watching done to me?

That.  This new overwhelming sense of civic duty has fallen over me.  Well, civic duty might not be the best term for it. Maybe it’s civic responsibility? I basically feel the sudden urge to participate it a much bigger way than I ever have before. I went ahead and signed up on govtrack.us and opted in for email alerts on Congressional bills.  I’ve bookmarked Politico, The Hill, and Roll Call as news sources. I binged on harsh reviews of the 112th Congress and am just starting to get up on the 113th. I’m over the “coolness” of being disenfranchised and jaded. I’m starting to reject the notion of needing overly idealistic changes. If I’m going to join a rally, I’m going to make sure that there’s one clear objective, one clear set of leaders or organizers, and for damn sure I’m going to expect them to be open to communicating with Congressional leaders.

I feel a little intimidated and scared by the daunting task of suddenly immersing myself in the issues, but whatever. I’m going to try. It’ll be a process, and it will be one thing at a time, but I’m going to wake up and pay attention. I feel that romantic sheen of Gen-X detachment wearing off. I’m ready to dress for the game. I might just be a bench warmer for now but I’m willing to be involved in the huddles.

These metaphors are getting really messy.

I do need help though, if anyone out there is willing to give it. I want to find the best sources of information, read and listen to journalists who pursue the fact and avoid as much logical fallacy as they can. I want to find the outlets of information that can approach a topic intelligently without overusing six dollar words. Is that the expression? I think it is. Forgive me.

Sadly, I come with the disadvantage of only having four years of just film classes for my post-high school education. I didn’t take enough liberal arts, and if I did it was only in classes that had something to do with creative writing and film. I basically feel like one of the uneducated who suddenly wants to play with the intellectual elite, but I swear to you, coach, that I’m going to work even harder in conditioning camps, at practices, and when at the gym in the off season.

So that’s that. I know at least two of you that have read my blogs on WordPress actually live in D.C, but hopefully my tagging will reach a lot of you that don’t know me and are willing to help someone get in the game. I don’t care if you come from the right or the left – as long as you make sense, are rational, and argue logically. Until then I’m starting with the three news sources above, then I’ll try and pay more attention when Congress is out of recess. I hope I can find someone that will keep me accountable, and someone else who can be my guide. Please. It’s my first year on the team.

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Devil’s Advocate: Fast & Furious 6

I’m totally gonna get a lot of flack for this post

Let me preface this whole post by saying that I do wish there were more original films in wide distribution. We do have some great art-house releases every now and then (I just saw a matinee of Mud – a modern day Tom Sawyer Lionsgate release) but from the month of May to August there are probably only three or four movies being released that aren’t adaptations, sequels, or reboots. Hell Man of Steel is a reboot of an adaptation of comic book. But we’re all pretty much used to this, and the films they create aren’t necessarily always bad, some of them are damn near masterpieces (Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight) but it is popular to say that franchises get annoying, and there isn’t one any more lauded than the Fast and the Furious franchise. When the original The Fast and the Furious came out it seemed like the very definition of a one-off B movie, but somehow, twelve years later here we are and I’m actually quite excited.

  1. Why, though? Another sequel to a very unoriginal franchise? Well it wasn’t made to be original. The F&F movies are just fun action movies that has actually gone on to reinvent itself in the last few movies. I’d argue that Fast Five was a better heist movie than the remake of The Italian Job.
  2. Ugh, but that cast… Think about this, what other mainstream summer movie is going to have a cast as diverse as F&F 6. Star Trek, kind of (and I’m dying to see Star Trek: Into Darkness) and that’s it?
  3. It’s just endless car chase sequences: well yeah, but the interesting thing about the F&F franchise is that director Justin Lin actively tries to use the least amount of CG possible. Not saying that it doesn’t exist in the film, but the majority if it employs a lot of stuntmen, stunt drivers, pyro guys. Watching a F&F movie helps promote job creation ;)
  4. We need more Justin Lins in the industry: Minority directors making big movies? Yes please – especially if they’re down to cast Asian-American actors as protagonists, and not antagonists or clowns.
  5. The more F&F movies they make, the more Universal gets money, the more money they have the more they can spend on another Jurassic Park… ’nuff said.

It won’t be the greatest, but hey, at least it isn’t Twilight.

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