The Bag Means Your Mind

A delightful mix of insightful comments and ignorant assumptions about screenwriting... and such.

Friday, June 23, 2006


“I’m not good enough.”
“I was foolish to think I could do it.”
“This won’t interest anyone.”
“You’re a hack.”

As you may have guessed, these aren’t cornfield ghosts begging me to build an athletic field. This is the voice I call Evil Tom, and at times, the Force is with him. This is one of those times. The further I get into a project, the stronger the voice becomes. I have to fight through it, and tell Evil Tom that he is a no-good-doody-head*. I’m struggling through this outlining process. I don’t have the faith that a solution will present itself and that I will figure out how to organize my story into a tight, well crafted script.

I have to tell myself that a solution will present itself, and that my script will be good enough. And while I battle Evil Tom in Act II of Tom: A Life Less Mangled, I must believe that he will eventually be sucked up by a jet engine after our grueling sword fight on the rain-swept tarmac of Philadelphia International Airport, so that I can move into Act III, head held high and hopefully enjoy a lengthy epilogue the critics will find melodramatic and preachy.

This is not a blog post as much as a diary entry. And though it seems it, I’m not looking for people to tell me things will be all right. I know that I will get through it and finish my script and be happy with it. Then the process will start over and Evil Tom will come back again and again to haunt me.

I think I will take up fencing.

* He doesn’t like being called a no-good-doody-head, and tells me I’m a hack for using such a juvenile term. Better writers would think of something interesting.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Left Turn at Albuquerque

So I finish reading my first draft. I was expecting to find excessive bloat. I imagined an excruciating read rife with boring scenes and wasted opportunities. I thought its faults would be glaring at me like a clown at a wake*. Fortunately or unfortunately (depending how you look at it) the story flowed well. There were a lot of spots where I was proud and the bloat that I thought would be obvious was not easily detectable. I’m left with a 165 page script that I need to cut 45 pages from (at a minimum).

Now I’ve got to put my script in a press and take the welding torch to it. I have way more questions than answers, because I’m not exactly sure how it’s all going to happen. What if my story is, in its heart of hearts, a 140 page script? Unlikely, but possible. What if getting it under 120 means cutting it to the point where my original story no longer makes sense, so I have to blow it up and start anew? That frightens me, but I have to take solace in the fact that, in the end, the story will tell what it wants to be. I just have to listen.

For now, I’m going to write an outline from my existing draft. For each scene sequence, I’m going to write down how it affects the main plot and any relevant subplots. I’m going to write down all the characters involved and what their want is for that scene. Then I’ve got to answer the most important question: why? Why does this scene need to exist. On a separate file, I’m keeping track of all the subplots and how many scenes are involved in each. I’m hoping that I will be able to look back on it and glean some information that will help me wrangle this monster in.

Condense. Compress. Combine.

I think that will be my motto for the foreseeable future.

*What? I thought it would lighten the mood.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Video Research

As part of my homework for writing my football script, I watched a bunch of football movies. I wanted to see what they did right, what they did wrong, and what I should avoid as far as clichés and over used material. I’m both sad and elated to say that, barring Remember the Titans (which I really like a lot), all of them were plain awful. I watched Friday Night Lights. I watched North Dallas Forty. I watched The Longest Yard. I watched The Program. I also watched a few others (the list isn’t long or storied). They were all awful. I thought that The Longest Yard and North Dallas Forty would be the best of the lot. I was so under-whelmed. Whatever luster they may have had is now gone. Since, they failed to capture me in any way, their flaws just stood out like an open receiver, arms flailing wildly. Any Given Sunday is the only DVD I have yet to watch, but since I hated the movie so much when I saw it originally, I can’t bring myself to open the packaging let alone view it. I suppose I’ll have to suffer through it again at some point.

I also watched movies that I thought would help out with my writing. I saw Saving Private Ryan and We Were Soldiers back to back, because I want parts of the my story to have a war movie type feel. I really like We Were Soldiers, but watching it in such close proximity to the venerable Saving Private Ryan really exposed its flaws in my eyes. I also watched The Natural and Rollerball.

The Natural is one of my favorites (maybe my favorite sports film). So many of the football films are exposés that criticize the sport rather than celebrate it. The Natural treats baseball as a good thing that people end up corrupting. Roy Hobbs is a legend in the game. He elevates the team and captures the imagination of the public. When Ty Jackson, the main character in my story, hits the field I want him to have some of that he’s-too-good-to-believe magic. I also want my story to celebrate football without seeming like a 120 minute infomercial for the NFL. It won’t be easy.

Rollerball was another movie I viewed (just last night as a matter of fact). It has a player that is bigger than the game. It also opens up with a prolonged in-game segment as my story does. It was great to see how character came through in those opening moments that were short on dialogue and heavy on action. Rollerball has its flaws, but it still holds up. “Jonathan! Jonathan!”

In addition to my movie watching, I also took in many hours of NFL Films documentaries. Lots of great stuff there. If you like football, hopefully you will have the good fortunes to watch a segment called The Rites of Autumn. Written by NFL Hall of Fame writer Ray Didinger, it eloquently expresses the essence of football and why it resonates with Americans. Awesome stuff. If I could post a link to it without Steve Sabol showing up and kicking me in the crotch, I’d do it in a finstant*.

I hope all of the above plus book research helps me craft a compelling story. First draft is done. Now I’m in the evaluating/overhauling stage. Things are muddy. I need to get on track. I want a 115 page script packed with quality.

*quicker than an instant.