Friday, December 15, 2017
Orange County Screenwriters Association


Where No One Has Gone Before

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plotpoints podcastThis article by Mark Sevi was first featured on the PLOTPOINTS PODCAST with Mark Sevi, Mary Claire Anderson and Toby Wallwork.  Available on iTUNES.

Today I’d like to focus on not a writer, or specific film but a franchise that spans both television and film.  That has engendered parodies.  Massive merchandising.  Conventions.  And continues to re-invent itself for over 50 years.

Star Trek.

start trek originalThe latest version premieres Sunday night on CBS Television and then goes to CBS streaming which is a pay service.  Whether or not that business model proves to be successful is yet to be seen but there is no doubt that there is a massive amount of anticipation for the newest entry into a universe conceived by master story teller Gene Roddenberry.

Roddenberry, a successful TV writer had written dozens of episodic TV scripts for series as varied as Highway Patrol, Mr. District Attorney, I Led Three Lives, West Side, Boots and Saddles, and others.  He has over 105 credits as a writer.

Frustrated at what he perceived were the limitations of what could be done on the network on issues like bi-racial relationships, political commentary, and hot button topics of the day including the highly charged Vietnam War, in 1964 Roddenberry put his interracial crew of explorers in outer space seeking new worlds of creative  freedom.

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Woody Allen - Seriously Funny

This is basically a transcript of a podcast segment (www.plotpoints.com) done about great writers we admire. 

PODCAST RSS LINK / iTunes Link

woodyimagesImagine you're a genius.

You start life as a boy named Allan Stewart Konigsberg.  At the age of 15, in 1950, you begin writing jokes and you never stop.  You change your name to Woody Allen.  By the time you're 27 you've written thousands of jokes and gags.  According to some sources 20,000 in 1962 alone for the top comedians of the time.  You also work for the Tonight Show and Candid Camera, with Larry Gelbart, Dick Cavett, Syd Caser - on and on with the best and brightest of that era.  Because you're a genius at what makes people laugh.

And also because you work your ass off.

Dick Cavett said of Allen: "He can go to a typewriter after breakfast and sit there until the sun sets only interrupting work for coffee and a brief walk, and then spends the whole evening working.  15 to 18 hours at a time."

Given Woody Allen's work ethic, his incredible, seemingly natural wit, and his drive for perfection, the rest, as they say, is history.

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Rod Serling: Tortured Genius

This is basically a transcript of a podcast segment (www.plotpoints.com) done about great writers we admire. 

PODCAST RSS LINK / iTunes Link

Rod Serling photo portrait 1959

 So goes one of the most iconic monologues in television history by TV pioneer Rod Serling who wrote, directed, produced and acted in the series, The Twilight Zone.

A small anecdote that came out of my research is that Rod Serling initially had it as sixth dimension until a producer asked him what happened to the fifth one.

Among the resources I tapped for this article was the American Masters documentary called "Submitted for your Approval."

It opens in an operating theater - tense moments ala The Twilight Zone.  Black and white.  Men and women in masks in tight shots.  Eyes darting...

Actress Lee Grant's voice says:

Submitted for your approval.  The man in cardiac crises is Mr. Rod Serling: writer, producer and agent provocateur of a certain electronic medium he helped to create and which, by way of thanks, kindly ushered him out the door.  But that is of no particular concern of his at the moment because this is Tuesday, June 28th 1975 and thanks to a million cigarettes and a heart with its own a flair for the dramatic Mr. Serling is on the cutting edge of infinity. Mr. Rod Serling who once remarked that he'd like to be remembered as a writer is about to get his wish.  During a short stay in a small town called yesterday - found on any map...in The Twilight Zone.
    American Masters Rod Serling: Submitted for Your Approval

The American Masters documentary starts with that excellent voice over and rolls into a sometimes harsh but always contemplative examination of a true writer's writer.  Someone who was as tortured by his work as much he was celebrated for it.  Who loved success but hated the hypocrisy he knew he participated in as part of that success.

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AutFest Film Festival - 2017

autfest logoI never thought I’d see the day when I would attend a film festival dedicated to showcasing films about autism. On April 22-23, The Autism Society of America launched it’s first AutFest Film Festival in the City of Orange in honor of Autism Awareness Month. Themed “Spectrum to Screen” festival organizer Matt Asner, son of the legendary Ed Asner, both parents of children in the autism spectrum disorder (ASD), reached into his network of entertainment and industry professionals to grace this inaugural event.

The guest list did not disappoint with Hollywood heavyweights, including The Accountant’s Ben Affleck, and Peter Doctor and Jonas Rivera, the Oscar-winning creative talents behind Pixar’s Inside Out.

There is a whole body of creative work about autism that the entertainment industry has capitalized ed asner ben affleck photo greg dohertyon that can inform, misinform, entertain, and profit from. There are hits and misses, mainly in the portrayal and content of what autism is. Film can inspire and visual stories can influence policy and opinions.  In this regard, there is nothing that peaks my interest more than this platform to promote the workforce development of persons with ASD.  What got me excited about AutFest is that it encourages and brings together individuals with autism and industry personnel to network and explore potential partnerships.

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Monsterpalooza, Pasadena, 2017

be7120f0aaIn case the title isn't descriptive enough, Monsterpalooza is a fan-based convention of all things horror.  It's not as big as ComicCon, the big daddy of fan-driven conventions, or even Wondercon (just recently passed) but the convention is growing and might someday challenge even the bigs.

monsterpalooza 0002tIn most ways, it resembles those other conventions:  lines to get in (later in the day though,) busy, happy crowds of people of all ages, cosplay, t-shirts shouting out big love to both popular and arcane IPs (intellectual properties) but the levels are all definitely lowered somewhat.  After all, MP has only been around since 2009 and it's still a youngin' compared to the others which have been around for decades-plus. 

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CinemaCon 2017

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In a series of articles from the floor and back rooms of CinemaCon, our intrepid reporter, Lorenzo Porricelli (board member and co-founder of OC Screenwriters) tells us "off the record, on the QT and very hush-hush" what's happening in Las Vegas!

CinemaCon, Las Vegas, (March 28, 2017) 

For those who don't know, CinemaCon is a yearly event for studios to display their upcoming movies to The National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), a trade organization based in the United States whose members are the owners of movie theaters. Major theater chains are members, as are many independent operators.

This year, Sony Pictures kicked off CinemaCon2017 with a huge bang, stunning the packed audience at Caesar’s Palace Coliseum with a preview of upcoming films from Sony that had audiences grabbing their seats during the absolute best car chase ever done on film in Baby Driver with Ansel Elgort; cringing in fear for an absolutely terrifying horror movie appropriately named, Cadaver; and laughing so hard tears flooded the aisles for the remake of Jumanji, with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Jack Black, a film that’s sure to take the box office at Christmas; Spiderman gets a reboot with a twist, its  Peter Parker during his teen years in high school, called Spiderman: Homecoming, with Tom Holland as Parker and the film includes Ironman as his mentor; Sony also showed their animation prowess with films as diverse as Smurfs to Emojis, a new concept that also had the audience roaring with laughter; an audience favorite was Rough Night, with Scarlett Johansen, a raucous comedy about a girl’s night out that goes crazy, absolutely crazy and destroys any similar guy movie.

Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series is a new franchise Sony is launching this summer, and the first glimpses were horrifying, and the series should be a big winner.

Sony also had all the film’s stars appearing: with Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson and Jack Black adlibbing their own version of scenes from Jumanji on the stage, and Dwayne Johnson did an homage to Robin Williams that didn’t leave a dry eye among the crowd of 5,000.

Tom Holland (Spiderman) talked about what it was like to work with Robert Downey and how the character he played was shaped with Downey’s influence.

Ansel Elgort, the driver in the most outrageous car chase ever done on screen, and the director, spoke of what it was like being strapped to a car going 80 mph, the director with a camera in hand, and when you see the wild chase, you will know the results of hard work paid off.

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Passengers is Great Science Fiction - Even Without Aliens

 passengers 1For years I've been railing against the general perception of science fiction in Hollywood.  Without spaceships, aliens and laser beams it isn't scifi, the consensus thinking goes.  As a lifetime reader and 20+ year writer of scifi I know better. 

I've been the victim of pseudo scifi thinking from producers and film execs.  Two or three of my films and/or scripts have fallen to the thinking that something "alienish" has to happen to grab and entrance people.  "How about a shapeshifter character?"  "We need more alienish shit, Mark." "Three more heads need to explode." This in a film where no heads exploded.  "But it's not sicifi - it's horror!" Uh...

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Creating Entire Worlds with My Hands

b2ap3 thumbnail Screen Shot 2017 03 21 at 6.46.42 PMSome of my fondest memories of my father were of seeing him working in his art studio in our home.  My father was an architect by trade but his passion laid in comic book art and cartooning.  I remember seeing him come home from work and creating his own comic books based on Asian mythology.  I remember how masterfully he told the story of the dragon that married an angel and had fifty boys and fifty girls that would eventually become mankind.  The seamlessness of the storytelling was only matched by my father’s vibrant ink and water colored art on the 11x17 Bristol board. 

Those sessions watching my father create entire worlds gave me many gifts.  They gave me lifelong memories of my father that I hold onto dearly to this day even though I have lived more years with him gone than with him alive since he passed away when I was only six-years-old.  It was through my father’s love of sequential art and graphic storytelling that I would fall in love with Marvel Comics in the 1980s.  Most importantly, these sessions watching my father work also showed me that I too had the ability to create entire worlds with my own hands. 

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Devil's Knot - No One Is Untouched by Violence

This is a series of occasional articles on my experiences writing "Devil's Knot."

banner3 index2As writers we need to always remember that any movie based on a true story has real people's lives behind it.  Everyone surely knows and understands that.  It's hard, though, to embrace that thought wholly when you're trying to fulfill  story obligations and decisions, and when the story you are trying to tell is as complex as "Devil's Knot."  This is a lesson I took from my work on my script for "Devil's Knot."  It took me a while to fully "get it" but I did.  I carry that lesson with me now and for always.

dkIf you don't know, "Devil's Knot" is a non-fiction book by journalist Mara Leveritt that explores the truths and falsehoods behind the accusations of murder in Arkansas in 1993.  It was made into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon and Colin Firth in 2005.  Witherspoon played one of the mothers of one of the victims and Firth played a private investigator.

The background: In 1993, after a horrifying discovery that three eight-year-old boys were brutally killed, three teenage boys, Jessie Misskelley (16), Jason Baldwin (17) and Damien Echols (18) were then railroaded by a court and community panicked and hungry for closure. 

What happened was terrible and frightening by anyone's standards.  The mind boggles at how anyone can torture, mutilate and kill three eight-year-old innocents.  Anyone responsible for that just doesn't seem human.  The term demonic did and does easily come to mind and was used frequently by the residents of that area at the time.

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Put A Face on the Devil

hannibal Recently, a student started a very complex script.  It had flashbacks, flash forwards, non-linear narrative framing, illusion, delusion and just about every other non-standard story device you can imagine.

When I read his synopsis I cautioned him the story probably wouldn't work as envisioned.  For one thing, it was horribly complicated - I've been doing this for 20+ years and I wouldn't attempt it.  And, although the student was a good writer in other ways, this was his first script. 

He started it several times, getting feedback about the things that worked (not much) and what didn't (a lot) and he worked to improve it.  And although it has gotten a bit better and more digestible it still doesn't work.

But not for the reasons I thought although those are still there.

Without getting into too much detail his story involved a man who was destined to be destroyed and in the process the world.  That seems like terribly important stakes, right?  The entire fate of the world.  And it is.  The problem is that the man was fighting against something he couldn't see.  And by extension, something we couldn't see,

This is not a drama like "A Serious Man" where his actions caused a problem.  This was big picture, big world stuff - a very large, supernatural agency that was out to get this guy.  It had big scope and big villains...

But we never saw them.

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Jeff Lyons at OC Screenwriters

AOPL 3D WebsiteJeff Lyons doesn't like the appellation of "GURU" - he considers his insights as basic understanding of story and how drama unfolds. 

And he should know.  He's studied his craft for years, applied it to many seminars, including a yearly event at the Producers Guild (PGA) and many, many events like the one we had on Saturday in Fountain Valley.

40+ rapt attendees absorbed Jeff's wisdom and knowledge on how to break a premise line (more than a log line, less than a synopsis) into components and tease out the story under the story.

In a word, he was fantastic.

Rather than cover the event in detail I will point you at the videos embeded in this article and Jeff's book "Anatomy of a Premise Line" available on Amazon (LINK TO BOOK ON AMAZON).

Our sincere thanks to a terrific student and teacher of story.

Video (also available after the jump) courtesy of one of our wonderful board members, the incomparable Rudy Garcia.

There's also gallery of photos up by another great board member, Robert Rollins:  (LINK TO PHOTOS)

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Ideal Home

ideal home h 2016This wonderful movie, "Ideal Home," could not have come at a more symbolic time from a standpoint of the dialogue that is occurring in this country.  I'm not going to stand up and say it's an important movie but it sorta is.  Because it's about people, not stereotypes or labels, and we need so much more of this and less of that.   We need to be reminded that no one category of men or women has an exclusive on love, relationships, anger, or pain.

Paul Rudd and Brit Steve Coogan play an odd-couple, gay couple.  Actually, let's take the "gay" out of the equation and just say couple.  Odd is optional but wholly accurate.  Rudd is a producer/director who sometime longs for a bigger stage (the Rachael Ray show) and Coogan is a world-renowned chef who can be "fabulous" anywhere.  They live in the Southwest in a stunning home and have a nearly-perfect life.  They entertain the mayor, shoot Coogan's cooking show and bicker constantly. 

Unfortunately, their little slice of paradisaical routine has become familiar, stale and toxic.

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Jeff Lyons Event - Anatomy of a Premise Line

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IF A STORY IS GOING TO FAIL, IT WILL DO SO FIRST AT THE PREMISE LEVEL.

JOIN US ON MARCH 4th, 10:00am to learn from noted story analyst Jeff Lyons how to identify and fix problems in your story BEFORE you begin to write.

Anatomy of a Premise Line: How to Master Premise and Story Development for Writing Success is the only book of its kind to identify a seven-step development process that can be repeated and applied to any story idea.

SEATING IS LIMITED! BOOK NOW! RESERVE YOUR SEAT

REGISTER NOW!

WHAT: Seminar & Bruncheon Cost includes Breakfast Buffet

WHEN: Saturday, March 4th TIME: 10:00-2:00

WHERE: Claim Jumper Restaurant Banquet Room 18050 Brookhurst St, Fountain Valley, CA 92708 (714) 963-6711

HOW MUCH: $22.50 in advance $25.00 at the door.

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Cardinal

cardinal caI admit that I am a sucker for these shows.  A body is found or a person is killed and a flawed detective has to solve the crime.  Along the way will be surprises, twists, solid drama and a killer you probably could guess - well, maybe.

"Cardinal" is just such a series Giles Blunt’s acclaimed crime novels "Cardinal" takes place in the cold climes of the North Bay, Ontario.

Let me also say that 10 episodes can be a long sit.  With ten episodes the attenuation of actual narrative thread is almost always guaranteed.  "Forbrydelsen" at 20 episodes didn't seem long at all; The American version, "The Killing" did.  So maybe it's just the way the story is told.  But I like that I like that "Cardinal" is six.  That means that we won't have to put up with much filler and we'll get more actual connected story.

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Mark Sevi

mark 115x115Mark Sevi is a professional screenwriter, screenwriting teacher (Irvine Vallley College) and the founder of the OC Screenwriters Association.


BACKGROUND:

Mark has been a professional writer for many years.  Before he embarked on a writing career he was a professional musician for ten years, and small business owner for a time.

He's mentioned that in looking back, he feels his entire life had been preparing to work in film and it remains his abiding joy.

CURRENTLY:

Mark's scriptwriting career has spanned two decades.  In that time he has sold 30 scripts, had 19 produced into movies, including "Devil's Knot" the true story of the West Memphis Three starring Oscar-winning actors Reese Witherspoon and Colin Firth.

Mark also teach scriptwriting for the past several years at Irvine Valley College.  His classes have never stopped, ongoing for at least a decade and a half. 

Mark also lectures at colleges and events.

FAVORITE QUOTES:

  • I am joyfully participating in the sorrows of life. ~ Joseph Campbell
  • Have you ever heard of insect politics? ~ "The Fly"
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The Good Fight

good fightWhen I grow up I want to be The Kings. As in Robert King and Michelle King who were responsible for the incredible "The Good Wife" and "The Good Fight" which picks up after the main character of the "The Good Wife" (Julianna Margulies' Alicia Florrick) has left for other pastures.

I'm going to steal this excerpt from Wikipedia to explain the main premise because it covers everything needed to say:

The series follows Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart, as she is forced out of Lockhart, Decker, Gussman, Lee, Lyman, Gilbert-Lurie, Kagan, Tannebaum, & Associates after an enormous financial scam destroys the reputation of her goddaughter Maia (Rose Leslie) and Diane's savings, leading them to join Lucca Quinn (Cush Jumbo) at one of Chicago’s pre-eminent law firms.

The series stars Baranski, Leslie, Jumbo, Erica Tazel, Sarah Steele, Justin Bartha and Delroy Lindo, and features Paul Guilfoyle and Bernadette Peters in recurring roles. The series is executive produced by Robert King, Michelle King, Ridley Scott, David W. Zucker, Liz Glotzer, Brooke Kennedy and Alison Scott, with Phil Alden Robinson producing and co-writing the first episode.

109352 1309b copyWhat all that means (basically) is the original show is back but different.  Between "Wife" and "Fight" the Kings did a short-lived political satire show "Brain Dead" which involved alien critters invading the brains of people in Washington and creating even more politically polarized parties.  Hmmm.  Truth is very much stranger that fiction.

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Powerless / Apple Tree Yard

powerlessI have been a comic book fan since childhood when my dad would take me and my sisters to the local drug store to peruse the offerings after church on Sunday; something I'm sure the priests would not have approved of. 

"Powerless" would have been a welcome addition to that ritual although I'm positive it would never have been considered at that time.

The concept is simple: the world has superheroes from the DC Universe and some that haven't been created yet, I'm assuming.  I'm at a disadvantage here because beside the big marque characters I haven't followed a lot of any comic book series for a while.  "Jessica Jones" was new to me although I did remember "Luke Cage."  I can't honestly tell you what DC has been up to - but "Powerless" is a fun step!

In this world, as you can easily imagine, there is a lot of collateral damage in any superhero/super villain fight.  Marvel has already covered this somewhat in "Jessica Jones" a heroine who lives in a post-Avengers battle world where superheroes aren't loved for the destruction they've instigated while saving the world.  Supervillains are one thing, yo; getting to work when entire blocks are closed down due to buildings falling is entirely another.

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Riverdale / 24 Legacy

riverdale header3I wonder at times if I would enjoy being a TV or movie critic.  I do like finding gems and telling my friends and students about them.  Shows that inspire me to be a better writer are always a treat.  But then there's the other end of the spectrum so that would all be a wash I guess. 

In the middle somewhere is most of what I end up watching.  Not groundbreaking material, like "Archer" or "Game of Thrones" but well-conceived and well-written like the two shows in this article.  Both "Riverdale" and "24 Legacy" are well-above middle ground though.

I didn't think I was going to like "Riverdale" - it's not exactly geared to my demographic.  But I did.  A lot. 

Re-envisioning the "Archie" comics (or maybe the comics are now like this - I don't know) has the characters of Archie, Veronica, Betty, Jughead, Reggie and others living large in Riverdale: a small town with dirty undercurrent, including big time murders and hot affairs between teachers and students.

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Your Script Sucks - Why Are You Seeking Representation?

ranting angry manTHE RANT

Who exactly do you think you are?  Are you a writing genius who has figured out what took the rest of us many months, maybe years to understand?  Has one of your masterpieces gotten so many kudos that you now think you should be elevated to a place that normally takes hundreds of hours to accomplish? 

This is a rant, pure and simple.  You won't learn shit about screenwriting and you'll probably dislike me by the end of this article - if you even get that far.  Fine.  I accept your disdain.

Just don't ask me how to find an agent, manager, production company or anything else until you've written at least three scripts and those scripts (at least one) have gotten a lot of good word of mouth from someone beside your mom.

Deal?

What am I on about?  Simple.  I had a student ask me how to market his/her script.  I stopped what I was doing, blinked three times and had to ask him/her to repeat it. 

I mean, huh?  At the very least, finish a script first then ask me that question.

How in the world can anyone think they're ready to sell anything if they haven't been working for a certain amount of hours to hone their craft?

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Skies Are Clear on Dagobah

I just want to get this out of the way right away, and I know that I will most likely get tons of hate-mail from aspiring screenwriters reading this, but I officially retired from professional screenwriting in 2015.        

And I honestly couldn’t be any happier.  I finally get to consistently do the things that fill my life with joy: spend time with family, train mixed martial arts, spend time with family, go to heavy metal concerts, spend time with family, play videogames on my weeknights, spend time with family, take computer programming classes, spend time with family, draw my own comic books, and most importantly . . . SPEND TIME WITH FAMILY. 

            I have committed to another role since I’m completely out of the business and have absolutely zero silver screen aspirations – the role of the mentor.  Previous students and friends with Hollywood aspirations still reach out to me inquiring on how to transition their dreams into reality.  I don’t offer to introduce them to people who can turn magically materialize their dreams like a genie, but I do offer my time and honesty about the 15-years I spent in the business. 

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