Archive for the ‘screenwriting’ Category

Applause

One of the greatest lovemaking acts in the world is between an artist and his audience.

Therefore, the greatest place for an artist to be is on a stage. To stand in front of the people who love his work, his talent, his gift. To stand in front of them and share it with them. It must be the best high in the world. Musicians and other performance artists experience it in the most direct way. Music shows have people clapping and shouting and cheering with enthusiasm after each song, and during. Magicians, jugglers, acrobats, and other performers of the circus also experience the appreciation of the audience in the most immediate way, although there’s a difference between a performer who is a part of a show and a musician who people come especially to see. I think as far as audience feedback goes, nothing beats being a musician/singer on stage. Yes, it’s hard, doing shows one after the other. It demands energy and stamina. But there’s a reason why music legends such as Madonna and The Rolling Stones still perform while most of the people their age are rotting away in places with names such as “Green Fountains”. You see, it’s the love of the audience. It’s intoxicating. Is it an ego-trip? Partly, for sure. But as long you keep your ego in check, as long as it’s not too inflated, as long as you can enjoy the adoration and not get too caught up in it, it’s just an awesome feeling. For musicians, going on tour is the best thing there is. It is nothing like recording in the studio. It is connecting with the people who buy and enjoy and love their music. It’s seeing them, hearing them, feeling them.

As an artist, some fans will leave you, especially if you’ve been in some sort of creative decline, or “sold out” in their opinion. It’s hard, keeping the love of the audience. It’s hard to win it and it’s even harder to keep it. But, you will always have your core of fans, your little family, who travels along with you, metaphorically and literally, over the years. And even if you don’t have a fan base yet, even if it’s your first performance ever, even if it’s in a school talent show instead of in a stadium, you can still connect with an audience like no artist can. And it’s still magic.

Actors in the theater have it a little different. It really depends on the kind of show you’re making. If you’re making a comedy, you’ll be able to enjoy the crowd’s response during your performance, just like a rocker on stage (depending if it’s funny, of course). If it’s a drama, you’ll have to wait until the end to get your applause. That part, where the actors return to stage and take their bow, is the most magical part in theater, it’s the moment where the performer goes in front of his audience and says “there you go, I did my part, now it’s your turn”. It’s awesome being an actor in the theater if only for that moment, if only for that feeling, doing the same play each and every night, and when it’s over, feeling the love rising out of the seats in a roar of applause, and like a wave, washing over you, affirming your talent, your gift, telling you that you have found what you were brought to this Earth to do. Those applause, this love, they are the stamp of approval on the talent sheet you received from god.

A writer, on the other hand, cannot experience this immediacy, this connection with an audience. A writer performs his act on the page, adding words to words, creating a story or a poem. The closest a writer can get to feeling like a rock star is if he reads his work on stage. And that’s really more of a performance, only of the literary kind. The writer needs to be proficient with it, or he risks boring his audience to tears, just like a musician. But a writer cannot see or feel first hand how his work affects people. He cannot be in your living room with you while you read his book. He cannot hear you gasp, laugh, cry. Writing is the most intimate of artistic endeavors. The connection between the author and his reader is always done through the mind. Yes, a writer can receive letters from readers telling him how his work affected them, but it is certainly not as direct as hearing your crowd cheer and applaud your live performance as a fire-eater or as a Blues artist.

A playwright can hear his words spoken on stage and can take joy in the love of the audience. He is not necessarily on stage bowing, or even present at the theater every night, but he can experience it behind the scenes. Better than nothing, right?

And what about the screenwriter?

Screenwriting, that weird amalgamation of the playwright and the novelist. A script, unlike a novel or a play, is not an independent piece (barring some exceptions…). It is the blueprint for a motion picture. A screenwriter cannot experience a direct link with his audience unless he sits in a theater showing the film he wrote. And even then, it is anonymous. It is like the playwright behind the stage.

A writer is not a performer. Writers are usually shy and prefer it this way. But there’s something to be said about getting your applause. For me, showing my short film in the theater was a high point, and the closest I got to being a rock star. Of course, I cherished it with complete anonymity, and I was somewhat tense since when you’re making a comedy you always worry the audience won’t laugh. But when they do, and in the right spots, and when they gasp in the right spots, you can imagine yourself on the stage, a guitar in your hand, shredding it, or maybe sitting at a piano, hammering those tunes, your fingers dancing on the keyboard like drunk ballerinas.

And when it ends, you stand up, and take a bow, and thank them.

And then you are one with your audience.

And you love them for it.

Express yourself

For me, writing is hard. Everything about it is hard. From forming ideas, to formulating plot and characters, to actually sit down and write. It’s 90 percent torture and 10 percent joy. It’s joyous when it’s flowing, when the story seems to actually write itself. But that is so rare. Usually I have to hammer at it and write with fits and starts. I can’t remember when was the last time I actually wrote continuously for 3 or 4 hours.

Sitting in front of a blank screen and trying to find the first words is a very stressing experience.

True, I write in this Weblog. I write in this Weblog much more than I write screenplays or stories. It’s easier to write in a blog. First of all, it’s not a story. You don’t have to think about plot turns, dialogue or characters. It’s a much more intuitive, flowing form of writing. The second reason is that I’m much more motivated to write here because, as a friend of mine mentioned, it’s the instant gratification of seeing your work published, pure and simple. You write something, hit “submit”, and it’s out there, for all the world to see. A miracle of modern technology.

So why is it so hard for me to write fiction? When I look at my body of work over the years, I get depressed. I first began setting pen to paper about 20 years ago and been at it continuously in one form or another ever since, and what I got to show for it is three short decent stories, one feature screenplay, and a couple of other screenplays in varying lengths, from 5 pages to 45 pages.

this is not meant as another self-depreciating rant like I’m “fond” of doing, but as a clear view of the facts. In 20 years, I have produced very few completed works of written fiction. Sure, I wrote dozens of short stories in my youth, but they were easier to write because I couldn’t care less about characters or sensible plots. I just wrote them intuitively, applying things I learned from reading other people’s stories. Sadly, all those stories were thrown away over the years and so I can’t really look at them today and see what they were really like. I suspect they were crap, but it could be that some of them held good nuggets of ideas or even just characters that I could’ve used today. And so I have many, many beginnings of stories just laying around in my computer, begging me to complete them, but I have no idea how.

So why is it so hard for me? As I see it, a writer is someone who sits down and write. All the time. And not come up with a script every five years. I now read George R R Martin’s amazing Song of Ice and Fire series and I marvel: How does he do it? each book is a tremendously detailed and flowing and riveting and highly readable tome of 800 pages or more, obviously the product of an incredible effort behind the scenes, of planning and then planning some more. The guy must have 50 drawers full of background and research material.

And this is what separates the professional from the amateurs. The level of commitment. You have to be committed for it with every fiber of your being. You have to skip on television, movies and even eating. You have to skip on being with people. you have to sacrifice your social life. In order to be a prolific writer, you have to cope with the loneliness of the writer. Sitting in a room for hours and typing away.

Just look at Stephen King, who has written more than 50 books in 30 years. His memoir, On Writing, is highly recommended for every aspiring writer. King’s methods may not suit everyone, but he has some very good points to make about the craft.

I find it hard to mold ideas into a narrative. I lack the patience and the peace of mind. I’m too restless. That’s why most of my work is short. Short stories, short screenplays. The idea of writing a feature, not to mention a book, intimidates me. When I see a book written by some model about her life I get envious. Even people who don’t consider themselves as writers manage to finish a book and get it out there. That’s a great accomplishment in my… hmm… book.

Because I’m a guy who thinks too much as it is, and sits alone at his house too much as it is, the notion of making this life style into a profession intimidates me in some way. That’s why I love to direct and create a visual story with other people – collaborate – then sitting alone at home and write. I write the scripts, because if I want to make a film, nobody is going to write the story for me, unless I purchase the rights for written works which is out of my budget right now.

There is one clear resemblance between writing posts on the weblog and writing stories. I write them only when I have something to say. The most underwhelming experience a writer can have is the feeling that he has nothing to say. That there’s no issue or theme or a facet of the world or the human condition that motivates him to sit on his ass and start working. Crafting a story is work. Writing in a blog is a hobby, unless you do it professionally. It helps you flex your writing muscles and communicate ideas in another form, but for me, at least, it is no substitute for fiction writing.

Coming up with ideas is easy. Ideas are dime a dozen. But it takes commitment and passion to actually sit down and do something with them, and doing that can be torture. Procrastination can be an art form for a writer. I also don’t believe in writer’s block anymore (at least for the most part. I do acknowledge that sometime a writer just hits a creative block and is unable to continue, but that usually happens in the process of a work, not when you first sit down to begin).
Also, an idea that comes up in King’s book as well in other professional writers’ musings can basically be summed up like this: “Fuck inspiration”.

Waiting for inspiration to grab hold of you can be a long wait indeed. In order to write you have to make yourself write, adopt a writing routine and have self-discipline, traits that I’m not capable of achieving right now, apparently. You need to work hard and not wait for inspiration. When it arrives, it arrives. IF it arrives at all.

And the most important question of all: Are you really a writer if you’re suffering most of the time? There’s this romantic notion of the suffering writer which may or may not be true, but many successful writers admit that they just do it because they love every minute of it. So I guess it shouldn’t be that torturous.

I know that today I write much better than I did 20 years ago. Practice always makes perfect. But it’s still not enough, I feel. That’s a big question that I sometime ask myself: If you only wrote one piece during your entire life, but it was a masterpiece, are you considered a writer? I think so, but I think you can only be considered an author or a screenwriter if you actually have the body of work to show for it.

With the advent of the Internet, writing has become more widespread than it ever been. Everybody blogs, writes reviews, writes articles. Everybody’s commenting on everything. On Amazon, you have comments for the reviews. Soon we’ll have comments for the comments for the reviews. It’s a lot of clutter and noise, but I also find it fascinating. Are we better people because we all write now? Human beings need outlets to deal with urges. If those are not dealt with through creativity, they can explode in negative ways such as violence and anger.

My answer will have to be no. The violence and anger is seen clearly all over the Internet, so the fact that you’re writing a comment instead of punching the guy doesn’t make you a better human being. Everybody’s a big hero behind the mask of anonymity the Internet provides. Everybody’s a writer in some form or another. Illiteracy is an unheard of notion in the Western world, but I don’t think it makes us better human beings.

Hey, that could be an idea for a story.

Leap of Faith

You’ve got to see this movie!

This, the opening line from my short script, Hype, is probably the only thing left in its entirety from the original work, except the title.

Fashioning a screenplay is a patchwork of trial and error. Perhaps more than a book, a script is an ever-changing work, first in rewrites and then in the shooting itself. Even when you locked a final draft, you never shoot the script exactly as it was written, and that is especially true in extreme low-budget productions, as mine is. You have to take into account the conditions on the location itself, and aspire to use its advantages and disadvantages to move the story forward. In low-budget filmmaking, it’s not the location you want, but the location you can get.

During the exciting, frustrating and exhausting maelstrom of pre-production, the filmmaker has a commitment to have the story in front of him in all times, to never forget its essence, its themes, its heart. While occupying myself with finding locations, doing technical research, recruiting people and scheduling them, I always tried to take the time to get back to the script and go through it again, to remind myself of why I’m doing it in the first place. In narrative filmmaking, everything exists to serve the story. And the characters, and consequentially the actors, are the nexus of it all.

While a story at its core is about the truths of the human existence, Filmmaking itself is a contradictory beast. It is ethereal and practical at the same time, belongs to the real world and out of this world at the same time. It is, as is well known, art and business all at once; in order to be successful in this field, one often need to be a shrewed businessman as well as a gifted director/producer/writer.

Taking care of all this practical stuff, all this doing, and trying to remember the story – and it was quite hard sometimes – was, and still is, like trying to be several personalities at the same time.

At my core, I think abstractly. I’m not good at practical, fact-based stuff like mathematical quizzes or crossword puzzles. They frustrate me and bore me after a time. I like to daydream, to imagine, to think about possibilities, to see connections, to find beauty in whatever I can, to imagine people doing strange, funny stuff in places they shouldn’t be doing it, to picture different lives in different worlds, to wonder what would’ve happened if–

That is the writer side of me, more than anything. But the director and the producer cannot afford to be this way. They exist in the real world, in the here and now. They must be practical and active. They cannot daydream. They must do stuff. They must act. If they sit and think all day, nothing will happen. They cannot afford themselves the luxury of pure artistic flights of fancy. The producer is the one that wills a movie into being. The director creates the visual storytelling out of the written word, aided by his skill-specific crew, in the only art form to incorporate all other art forms, which is what makes it so fucking awesome.

Hype goes into production soon, leaving behind its ethereal existence on the page and making its way to the practical, technical, money-dependent universe we all inhabit.

And that’s the greatest leap of faith in the world.

Enjoy the silence

Yesterday I saw Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Wow, what a movie.

The first time I saw it was years ago, when I was a kid. Yesterday was the second time, and amazingly, it all seemed fresh and familiar at the same time, no doubt thanks to the countless Sci Fi films I’ve seen since that have all been influenced in one way or another by this one-shot wonder.

Elaborate sets, thousands of extras, and fantastic special effects(!) that look impressive to this very day. When you watch it, a constant thought runs through your head:

This was done in 1927!!!

Metropolis seems so familiar because it influenced an entire genre. The industrial nightmare a big city has turned into. Workers in the depths, toiling. Nameless cogs in the nameless machine they themselves operate. They are just one more big machine in a city that has traded its soul for the temptations of technology.

The Boss’s son falls in love with a commoner and descends from the skyscraper where he lives (like a god) to the belly of the earth, and when he witnesses the exploitation and nightmarish existence there, he decides to do something about it, along with his charismatic beloved

But then, wouldn’t you know, his beloved is kidnapped by a mad scientist (yes, a mad scientist) who wishes to graft her face upon a Machine Man he has built in a sad attempt to revive his long lost love (echoes of Frankenstein here). His objective: To destroy Metropolis by destroying the machines which operate it. Hate breeds indiscriminate destruction. Sounds familiar?

There are so many powerful themes here which resonate to this very day: Man and Machine and our dangerous dependency on them, losing one’s humanity because of grief, love conquers all, the abyss that lies between the rich and the poor and volatility of it all. And all this is done without any spoken words, just inter-titles and the actors faces. When you look at Brigitte Helm’s face you don’t really need to hear anything. It’s there, in front of you, every emotion, every nuance, in all its glory.

There is something truly magical about silent cinema. It is so stylish, so unrealistic, it is a pure movie. Alfred Hitchcock, who began his illustrious career in silents, really didn’t like dialogue and in every picture he made tried to tell the story as visually as possible.

And who can blame him? Cinema is visual. There are so many films these days with endless yammering. Not everyone writes dialogue like Tarantino or David Mamet. I myself have a secret desire to do a silent film, or at least a film without dialogue, to feel what it’s like to make pure cinema. How rich. This is coming from a guy who’s just preparing to film a script with tons of dialogue.

At the end, I think it’s about the material. The story I want to tell with my current production can’t be told without dialogue. Its essence rests on the spoken word. When you are both the writer and the director, you find yourself in an odd position: For a writer, writing dialogue is the most enjoyable part of the job. You hear your characters speak. Up until now they were just thoughts, ideas, but the minute they open their mouths, they become people. But when you put on the director’s hat, you look at the script and think: “What’s with all that talking??” for a director, shooting two people talking is mostly boring stuff. You put the camera on one side, and then on the other side, and you do a two-shot, and that’s it. Sure, there are exceptions, but mostly, when you’re a director, you want to tell the story visually. There are dialogue scenes that are great not because what is being said but because what is not  being said. Seeing the actors think and react with their eyes and body language is much more interesting then hearing them talk.

Metropolis is a great example for the triumph of the image. This won’t work today. This movie is a time capsule in a way. A movie like this today would be considered a parody or an intersting experiment, but won’t stand on its own. We moved on, of course. Technology has turned cinema into a digital playground where anything is possible.

So why are there so few films that look and feel as impressive a Metropolis? Why do so few filmmakers utilize technology to tell a story instead of using a story to celebrate the Machine? Let us not forget Metropolis’ main theme and sage advise to us all: “There can be no understanding between the hand and the brain unless the heart acts as mediator”.

Or else, we are all just cogs.

Ebb and Tide

When I first started this Weblog, I did it because I felt there were things I wanted to say: About life, about the world, and maybe a little about myself. I saw all those other Weblogs that began to spring like mushrooms and was a little envious. Me, who always wrote in one form or another, don’t have a blog, while 10 year old infants share their thoughts with the world. So, despite my dilslike of “joining herds”, I established my own little public notebook.

Lately my posting rate has dropped down considerably. This is the ebb and tide of writing. I experience it with my screenplays all the time. Enthusiasm, followed by a lack of enthusiasm. An idea comes up, then tossed aside. A piece starts to get written, only to be neglected.

I am not  a hard-working writer. In other words, I’m lazy. In order to write, I need a strong motive. Will power usually isn’t enough. It is no coincedence that most of my scripts are short ones. It is no coincedence that I’ve never written a book. I lack the follow-through. I find it very difficult to handle stories on a large canvas, because they require patient, methodical planning, and quite frankly, I’m not too good at that. Especially the “patient” part.

One of the reasons I didn’t write a lot here recentley is because I tried to devote what little writing energy I had to writing actual stories, screenplays, and it worked to some degree.

One of these screenplays, a little story called “Hype”, I’m actually trying to produce as a short film. I’ve already been all over town to find locations, and there is still a lot of work to be done. Getting people, getting actors, getting equipment. The way to do it, at least for me, is try to do it step by step, because I just can’t think about everything at once, because then I’ll just go hide somewhere and whimper.

So that’s it basically, that’s how it goes, take it as you may. This Weblog can again become my favorite writing pad – where I post something new three times a week, but it can also stay dormant for long periods of time. It is what it is and it mirrors my writing life and my moods.

I mean, I know I’m not a 10 year old, but hey, sometimes I sure feel like one. 

Fade in

A brief summation of my writing projects:

The Auteur, a feature comedy written in Hebrew, based on the 50 minute graduation project I wrote in screenwriting school, was submitted in July 2006 to the Israeli Film Fund and was rejected. Although the lectors said the script has a neat idea and funny scenes, they also thought that many of the characters are poorly developed or are basically cliches, and that the narrative doesn’t justify a feature length film.

I have yet to find the energy to rewrite this script again (it went through four rewrites already), and basically, I figured that in order to rewrite that script and make it eligible for a re-submission, I’ll need a writing partner. Because frankly, and It makes me quite sad to say that, I’m out of ideas for this one, at least for the time being.

As a side note, a good writing partner is something I’d very much like to find. I don’t particularly like writing alone. It gets very difficult sometimes. But that’s a topic for another post.

My two TV series (also in Hebrew), Trained Professionals and Stage Fright, have been sent to production companies long ago and will probably stay there until hell freezes over. I tried with all my might to market them and get people interested in them, but nothing came out of that. Yep, It’s pretty depressing.

As for English projects, there’s Palace (title is not final), a five minute short scheduled to film in New York City sometimes soon, I hope. Palace was originally submitted in Hebrew for a screenplay contest. It didn’t win, but it caught the eye of an Israeli Acting student living in NYC, and she expressed her interest in filming it. After deliberating the matter for 0.0003 seconds I agreed to let her do that.

Palace stemmed originally from a screenwriting exercise which concerned a character doing something creative. I wrote a short scene about a young boy building a sand castle on the beach, and received a very positive review on it. Later, I decided to turn it into a short. 

The second English script is Room 601, a 30 minute drama also based on a 15 page script submitted at the end of the first semester back in school. There is almost no resemblance between that script and the 35 pages version, except for the fact that the story concerns a business man and a call girl meeting in a hotel room. A secret wish of mine is to direct that one, as I visualized it in a very detailed manner, but hey, I’ll realize it any which way I can, even if it means letting someone else do it.

Here’s a scene  from Room 601:

INT. HOTEL ROOM

Jack puts the bottle in the Mini-Bar. We follow him back to the balcony.

EXT. BALCONY

He enters the balcony and freezes.

Linda is sitting on the ledge, looking down.

Her feet are dangling in the air.

JACK

What are you doing? Get down from there.

LINDA

(Obviously intoxicated)

It’s so beautiful. Look at all those little lights.

He approaches her, carefully.

JACK

Come on, Linda. Give me your hand. You’re drunk.

LINDA

Stop it. I’m fine.

She half turns to him, almost slipping down.

JACK

Linda, for chrissakes! Get down from there!

She looks at him with a sad, almost sorrowful expression. Then she laughs.

LINDA

It’s so nice up here. So peaceful.

(leans down)

Woooo! I’m flying!

JACK

What the hell are you doing?! Do you want to die?!

Beat.

She turns to him again. Her smile fades. All of a sudden she looks sober, and dead serious.

LINDA

(calmly)

Yes.