Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Screenwriting 101

So what exactly do film majors study? Curious? What follows is some work I did for my screenwriting class.

The assignment: Create a non-dialogue scene with a character trying to achieve an objective. It's tougher than it sounds- learning the language of film is not always an easy transition- although I think I've gotten a handle on it. Enjoy.


A PRISONER, is crouched in a corner of a dark, damp cell. Gleaming metal bars stand between him and never ending darkness. What sounds like mice scrounging for food is actually the prisoner frantically trying to expand the hole he has made in the cell’s brick wall. He has one metal KNIFE and one FORK. Footsteps echo in the dark. The prisoner stops. The footsteps draw closer. The prisoner tries to pierce the darkness with his eyes to no avail. The footsteps linger for a moment and then retreat back down the hall. The prisoner returns to his work.

He jabs with increasing anger at the brick. One of his hands is bleeding. One of the bricks seems to be coming loose. The prisoner’s eyes gleam with success. He thrusts his fork at the brick once more. SNAP. Too hard. The fork breaks in half. The prisoner looks as if he could kill someone. He lets out a roar and punches the brick. The brick flies out and lets in a stream of daylight. He looks around scared- did his outburst signal the guards?

No sign of anyone. He looks at his broken fork and knife shimmering in the gleam of light. His scarred, bleeding hand carefully reaches out for the knife. He snatches it and begins earnestly, but carefully working on the next brick. This brick comes out with relative ease. The prisoner’s hands begin to shake with excitement. He starts on the third brick. It too wants to come out easily, but then more FOOTSTEPS. He freezes. There’s too much light in the cell. He hastily begins picking up bricks, but the FOOTSTEPS are too close. He pauses, breathes heavily. He raises his eyebrows and moves quickly. He positions his body against the hole in the cell.

The FOOTSTEPS are now just outside. They stop. CLUNK, CLUNK. Silence. CLUNK, CLUNK. The prisoner is sweating bullets. A rat scurries close to his hands. CLUNK, CLUNK. The rat begins to nibble on the prisoner’s fingers. The FOOTSTEPS finally move away. The prisoner swats the rat against a wall and it scurries away.

The prisoner returns to work, four bricks now lay on the ground. He shimmies out a fifth with his crude, now nearly dull knife. The prisoner lays flat and tries to squeeze through his hole. So close, he needs one more brick. He grabs his knife and begins jamming into it like a murderer finishing the job. CLUNK. It falls to the ground. The prisoner lays down and on his elbows pushes himself through the hole.


The prisoner wastes no time in quickly moving through a lush field to distance himself from the imposing brick wall that lies behind him. He reaches a dense forest and pauses. He hears footsteps, but of a different sort. Softer, shorter. He sits down. A GIRL, no more than 11 or 12 is walking in the forest, humming a little tune. She doesn’t see him through the trees.

The prisoner’s face takes on a totally different visage. He smiles in a frightening way. Licks his lips. He stands up and begins walking towards the girl.

The girl stops, and turns around. She screams as he walks faster and faster towards her. She begins to run, but it’s useless. The prisoner reaches out to grab her-


In a cloud of blood the prisoner’s head explodes. The girl screams and then begins running. She runs headfirst into a prisoner guard who swoops her into his arms. The guard smiles and tries to calm her. The body of the prisoner remains motionless as the guard walks by, CLUNK, CLUNK, CLUNK.

Monday, September 05, 2005

MTV: Wrap-Up

The last three days of the shoot can be wrapped up in a single post-I'm ready to write on other things and I'm sure you're ready to read something new. However, I'll try my best to go over all the main points.

Day Four

This was the last day at Washington High. We started with some shots of the guys spinning tires with the camera angle low shooting up into their faces (this was not alot of fun in the 115 degree heat). The crew used their rental car to put up on blocks to substitute for the Dean's car. These shots took a while, but also lended to some creativity. In between takes we hopped on the golf cart provided by the school and improvised a rail shot. We held the camera on the cart as the guys walked "Reservoir Dogs" style towards the camera. It looked pretty cool (as far as a bunch of teenagers walking can look "cool").

We moved inside for the latter part of the day. They were basically classroom scenes of the Dean coming over the loudspeaker announcing that the "Seniors ruled." This more or less did happen. It was the lone thing the Dean actually did that we had asked of him. We filmed this announcement and the ensuing celebration (didn't happen) that included Mike Ransom jumping on a desk and ripping off his shirt.

Also during this scene an extra tried to tell me, Mike Ransom and Anthony Chavez (all pretty big kids) that swimming was a more physical sport than football, hockey and rugby combined. This was a kid who a day or two earlier had stopped filming because his sunglasses had gotten moved. This earned him the nickname "Hollywood." So I already hated Hollywood, and here he was telling me and my friends that because he was a swimmer he could kick my ass. As you can imagine this did not go over well with us. Words got so heated that Ryan had to step in. He later told Chavez and I that he was hoping that the kid took a swing at us so we could kick his ass. Hollywood won't ever be in Hollywood, that much I'm sure of.

We wrapped with me getting a crew shirt from Joelle (she took off early with some more footage to bring back to New York). John Howard and I spent the last few minutes of daylight as extras walking around Chavez as we walked into the Dean's office.

Day Five

Day Five was mostly spent in and around a garage. This was supposed to be the "Planning" stage where the guys are all working on a car and magically come up with the plan. I got a lot of time to work with lights now that we weren't in such a time pressure crunch. Each setup took a lot of time to get right. We didn't want lights reflecting off of the car. But on the other hand the car created a lot of shadows that masked people's expressions and since this was one of the few scenes with important dialogue we needed to see faces.

Other times little things that didn't seem all that important to me (for instance the placement of a rug) took a few different time to get right.

The day did move quickly as the heat was not as unbearable as days past due to some rain. We did some other pick up shots of various students carrying equipment and wrapped almost on time.

Day Six

The last day we worked was basically divided into two half days. The first half day we spent shooting in and around TG's house. We got some shots of TG and a few other guys driving cars as well. This was interesting because Steve was running behind schedule and Ryan kept pushing to get to the thrust of the day. The car shots were unplanned. Biz also took the time to get some nice shots of Phoenix off of Camelback Mountain during the car shots. It's a breathtaking view that will probably add a nice touch if they are used.

The second half of the day we spent around Brophy. We shot all exteriors since the school was so uncooperative. What exactly their problem was being associated with this show I'll never understand. MTV was willing to pay them per day over a thousand dollars. But I digress. I directed foot traffic around the cameras, which was a chore since a school down the road had just gotten out. I enjoyed messing around with Steve and Biz and talking about some funny Brophy stories.

But all good things must come to an end. When Steve finally decided they had all that they needed they loaded up the car and we had to say our good-byes. For all it's problems the entertainment industry is a really wonderful business. Each project develops relationships and brings people together more like a family than most people probably realize. I hadn't mentioned it, but Chavez came down for the last day of shooting just to hang out. The relationships that were forged with Steve, Ryan, Biz and Keith in five days can take months or even years in other settings.

And all in all relationships are all that really matters in life.

I hope you've enjoyed reading this little saga. I'll get back to more regular posting soon.