Monday, March 27, 2017
Orange County Screenwriters Association


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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

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

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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.

AnatomyOfAPremiseLine coverAnatomy 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.

HIGH PRAISE FOR JEFF LYONS' WORK!

  • Jeff's seminar concepts are brilliant! This man knows what he's talking about and he can show you! In about three sentences
  • I knew this was going to be something that I needed.
  • His down-to-earth style makes it easy to under-estimate his brilliant insights.
  • I am in awe...

    REGISTER NOW!

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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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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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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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Deborah Cook, Premiere Stop-Motion Costume Designer, Shares Her Story with OC Screenwriters

kubo and the two strings costume art 2 600x400

In a historic first, the Costume Designers Guild recognized stop-motion costume designer, Deborah Cook, this past week with a nomination for Excellence in a Fantasy Film for her work on Laika Film's stop-motion animated Kubo and the Two Strings. It is the first time in the guild’s 19 year history of the awards that an animated film has been nominated by the CDG. No small feat for this enormous talent.  

OC Screenwriters was graciously afforded the opportunity from Emily Lu Aldrich and Kevin McAlpine of Focus Features to speak with Deborah to discuss her incredible career, artistry, and why this medium deserves your attention.

Beside Kubo, Ms Cook has been involved in the films Box Trolls, ParaNorman, Coraline and Fantastic Mr. Fox as a costume designer and visual effects artist. (IMDB)

6a01156f47abbe970c01348026c87f970cWhile her work is astounding in its detail and technical brilliance, we were equally amazed at her endless grace, good humor, and down-to-earth approaches in discussing her work.

“I love what I do,” Deborah tells us with a laugh. “Anything else is just a bonus.”

Keep reading for our exclusive interview.

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Andrew Garfield on Hacksaw Ridge

Video below.

Before the release of "Hacksaw Ridge," I attended a LionsGate screening where lead actor, Andrew Garfield, spoke of what attracted him to the role of Desmond Doss, the first and only Conscientious Objector who ever won the Medal of Honor for actions above and beyond the call of duty in combat during,WWII.

The film was directed by Oscar-winner, Mel Gibson, who said it was a passion project of his for many years. 

Doss, who saved 75 men on Okinawa in the bloodiest battle of WWII, believed in the war, but not in killing. 

 

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