Monday, March 27, 2017
Orange County Screenwriters Association


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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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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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Sh*t! That's my idea! What To Do When Hollywood "Steals" Your Baby.

o PICKPOCKET facebookIf you're doing it right as a writer, you're channeling the societal gestalt and the world in general in which you live both locally and globally.  At this moment in time, you're observing the situations taking place societally, politically, culturally, internally, and also exploring the past as things become apparent to you.   Movies and TV are reflections of our world but they also serve to show us truths from the past that cause us to explore further.

This is all to say that what you think is some sort of Hollywood conspiracy is just the hard, cold facts that there are a lot of writers out there processing the same information as you - and then they are writing that information into articles, scripts, novels, etc.  You shouldn't be surprised if more than one person has your idea and has written it.

But you also never capitulate to those "thieves."

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