I had a great time talking with the Atlanta Film Chat podcast this week! We had a really fun conversation talking about Uncommon Law, writing, the struggles of making a film without a budget, my love for romantic comedies & Japanese RPGs, and more. Please download & give it a listen!
When you think of an “indie film” you don’t typically think of a romantic comedy. The genre gets derided as being formulaic and unimaginative. However, filmmakers like this week’s guest Brian Work disagree and only want to make the films they want to make.
I went down to the Atlanta Film Festival today for the “Screenwriting for a Living” discussion as part of the Coffeehouse Conversations series. The guests were Robert Orr (Underworld: Rise of the Lycans), Tom Luse, and Ray McKinnon (Oscar winning VSU alum who came to speak at the school a few years ago.) It was fun and really informative. Here are some of the notes I took:
The Business Side
While preparing to write my current screenplay, Once Bit, I watched a lot of other movies in the Domestic Monster in the House genre (Fatal Attraction, Single White Female, The Cable Guy, etc.) However, now that I’m actually in the thick of it, one thing became apparent to me: It’s difficult for me to write something as purely horror or thriller. I always end up throwing humor in there. In the case of something like this, it’s not that I’m turning it into a comedy, it’s just that I’m keeping it somewhat light, at least at the beginning. I assume it goes back to the fact that I’m also a comedian, but beyond that my favorite movies & TV shows are the ones that don’t stick purely into one genre. Joss Whedon is my hero, in part because he is so good at making you be tense in your seat one minute, laughing your ass off the next, close to tears moments later, and then cheering like crazy. To me, that’s entertainment. It’s a roller coaster ride, and I absolutely love it.
Back to my point. As I started writing, I realized that the beginning of my script bore a lot of resemblance to the first act of a romantic comedy. And that makes sense, because much of my story is the nightmare version of the “boy meets girl” situation. But what had me worried was that the tone was also more akin to a romantic comedy than a thriller. On the one hand, I kinda like this juxtaposition, but I was questioning whether or not it could work. Then I remembered a film that I felt did this quite well: Red Eye.
If you didn’t know that it was directed by Wes Craven and hadn’t seen any trailers for it, you might start off thinking you were watching a romantic comedy. It’s funny, it’s cute, and there’s some awesome chemistry between Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy. It’s not until the Break Into Two that the shit really hits the fan and we see exactly what kind of world we’re in. I found that this mirrored my intentions with Once Bit, so I decided to rewatch the movie a couple times and better analyze its structure, using the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet (BS2) from “Save the Cat.”
Movie: Red Eye (2005)
Genre: Dude With a Problem
Writer: Carl Ellsworth
Director: Wes Craven
Logline: Terrified of flying, Lisa reluctantly hops a red-eye flight bound for Miami and buckles up for a bumpy ride. But her phobia morphs into terror when she learns that a fellow passenger has plans to murder the deputy secretary of Homeland Security.
It’s been two weeks since I’ve updated this, but it’s been a busy two weeks. I had my audition for the Atlanta Unifieds this past Tuesday, and was very happy with how it went. Also, I finished filming Home Sweet Home last Saturday, which was a week later than I had originally planned because of complications that arose, but I’ve learned to expect problems by this point (since they’ve come up in every single film project I’ve ever attempted.) Then on the last night of shooting, there was an interesting moment where I was filming a scene outside the Trade Center that involved an actress screaming bloody murder, and a police car pulled up to ask me some questions. All things considered, though, I was really glad it was the police, because the alternative probably wouldn’t have been good at all.
Now that April is here, it’s time for me to really get to work. I have to get Home Sweet Home edited fairly soon so I can get it to Sean & Will so they can work on the sound & color correction respectively. I also have to finish editing The Dark Side of Sun Rock; I have a self-imposed deadline for that being completed by the beginning of May so I can get it into a few festivals, but more urgently I need to get a few clips from it to my lead actress for her reel. There are a couple of scenes in it that are still driving me berserk because of continuity problems or lack of good coverage which I’m still trying to find solutions for, and which may result in me headdesking until something comes to me.
The other thing I’ve got going on in April is Script Frenzy, the younger cousin of NaNoWriMo. For anyone unfamiliar, NaNoWriMo is a writing event in November where the goal is to write a 50,000 word novel in one month. Script Frenzy is similar, except instead of a novel, the goal is to write a 100 page script in one month. I’ve been looking forward to this since I found out about it a few weeks ago, and set aside one of the screenplays I’d been developing until April for this. It’s entitled Once Bit, and it’s my take on the vampire genre. I’m really excited about it, and can’t wait to see how it turns out. If you’re interested in undertaking this challenge as well, let me know so I can have other people to commiserate with. My user ID on the site is IcyBrian.
Today is the first day of shooting for my short film, Home Sweet Home. This is the first short film I’ve shot in over a year and a half, and I can’t express just how much I’ve missed it. I’ve shot a few digital shorts since then, but doing this kind of narrative is a whole different beast. It’s completely crazy & hectic, and by the end I know I’m going to want to kill myself, but I love it.
I didn’t get to film nearly as many short films (or even digital shorts) as I would have liked when I was in college. I always had too many things piling up on me, whether it was class work, shows, my responsibilities with TBNL & ITP, or maintaining my personal life, and so that was the thing that fell to the wayside. Now that I’m out of college and getting settled back in to life in Atlanta, I’m ready to get back to work.
I made a conscious decision a few weeks ago to start focusing more on writing & filmmaking than on acting, because that’s more where my passion lies. I still enjoy acting, but I don’t get nearly as excited about it as I do about ideas I come up with that I want to develop into screenplays. I also know where my strengths lie, and I know I’m a better writer & director than I am an actor. Besides, I figure I can still get my acting fix by giving myself small roles in my own projects. Regardless, I’m happy with this decision, and feel that it relieves some of the pressure I’ve been putting on myself lately to get my act together.
This project came at me about a month ago from a friend of mine, Jason Geigerman, who’s now working out in LA. He was looking to put together a feature length film comprised of several short films about the apocalypse, and asked me if I’d be interested in writing & directing one. It came at a really good time for me, when I desperately needed to be doing something creative, so I jumped on it. I’m using the upstairs at the Trade Center for most of it, because with as much junk as we’ve accumulated over the years, it really does look like a wasteland up there. I wrote the short around the location, because there’s a lot of potential there for some great images. I’m sure I’ll make another post later with more details, but for now here’s the information on it that I’ve put up on the Cold Silver Films website.
I’m fairly certain that as an actor/writer/filmmaker, I’m legally obligated to make a blog post giving my two cents on the Oscars, regardless of how insignificant those pennies may be (in other words, I was looking for an excuse to write something.) So here we go!
I was saddened recently to learn of the passing of Blake Snyder, author of the Save the Cat series of screenwriting books. I had read other books on screenwriting before, most notably Syd Field’s Screenplay, which is the basis for modern screenwriting, and Viki King’s How to Write a Movie in 21 Days, which took Field’s ideas and expanded on them, but it wasn’t until I read Save the Cat that things really made sense. It’s a bit cliche, but it really felt like someone flipped a light switch in my brain and suddenly I could see the skeleton structure that underlies a good movie. Since then, Save the Cat, has become my screenwriting Bible, the book I always go back to and whose rules I try to adhere to. That’s not to say I take it as “the unbreakable gospel,” because there are certainly some things I disagree with (Memento is a good movie, damnit!), but as a whole it has become thoroughly ingrained into me with the way I write and look at movies.
More than just structure, it has completely changed the way I look at movie genres. No longer am I confined to such terms as comedy, action, or sci-fi! Sure they may tell you something about the tone of the movie, but they say nothing of the actual story being told. Now when I watch a movie or begin to write one, I instead ask myself whether the movie is an Out of the Bottle or a Buddy Love, a Golden Fleece or a Rite of Passage. Blake broke each genre down into 10 categories (all with 5 subgenres), each of which is about the journey the hero must take, which makes a lot of sense when you get right down to it.
For instance, one of the scripts I’m working on right now is a comedy, but that doesn’t really tell me what movies I need to look at to study the structure and beats of how it should flow. I mean, there’s a big difference betweenWhen Harry Met Sally and Dodgeball; sure, both may be comedies, but they’re completely different types of comedy that tell two completely different stories. However, based on the STC genre it fits into (Issue subgenre of Institutionalized), I’ve found that I can learn far more about how to set up this particular script by looking at other films in that genre, most of which (Magnolia, Crash, Sin City) are certainly not comedies.
Right now I’ve got the section of wall over my desk taped off to represent The Board with a couple dozen notecards tacked up there, each containing information on various scenes for my current screenplay. It may look like a cluttered mess, but it’s a great way for me to see where my problem spots are, what may not be needed, or what would be best moved around. Besides, it’s really nice having something tactile to play around with.
I feel I owe a lot to Mr. Snyder and the works he put out before he passed. I wish I had been able to take one of his workshops to get feedback on my writing, because I’m sure that would have been immensely helpful. But instead, I’ll just give him a thank you for everything, and recommend the Save the Cat books to any writers out there, regardless of the medium.
Last night I was watching Paul Blart: Mall Cop. It was a cute little movie, and had some good moments (I loved the criminals who all did parkour, and their leader was just really fun to watch) but there was one glaring problem in my book. No, it wasn’t one of the several plot holes in the movie, such as how the daughter managed to just stroll into a mall that was supposedly surrounded by cops without realizing something was wrong; I can deal with that kind of thing, especially in this type of comedy flick. No, my problem with the movie didn’t come until the very end, and it’s very simple:
Not every movie needs to have a twist ending!
Now, I know this movie is a Die Hard spoof, and it may have been a play off of the end of Die Hard 2, but frankly I don’t consider that an excuse. There really was no reason to have the leader of the SWAT team turn bad for all of one minute before being taken down at the end of the movie. It felt like one of those “Oooh! Oooh! Here’s something else we can do!” things that the writer decided to throw in there at the last minute to push it over the 90 minute mark. Why? For an extra little punch? To cement him as a douchebag? To give the old mall cop who we don’t care about a moment of heroism?
Honestly, my beef with it isn’t that it doesn’t make sense, or that there was zero build-up or hint at the fact that there was anyone else involved. My problem is that it actually hurt the movie! A big theme throughout the film was Paul Blart not getting respect from anyone, especially law enforcement officials. So when he was in the van with the SWAT leader and was actually paid a compliment, that should have been a big deal for our hero! It would have made for a much stronger final beat of the movie for Blart to have actually earned the respect of the big badass guy who had doubted his ability the whole time. Instead, this is sacrificed for a twist that frankly just doesn’t work.