Tuesday, May 31, 2005

[RPG] Changeling via TSoY

We’re playing a Changeling game set in Wellington using The Shadow of Yesterday. This is our third session out of (probably) four – and it was the first that I felt really rocked.


1) We aggressively pursued and unraveled the central mystery of the situation. Remember the jawbone Maui used to fish out the North Island? Now some Sidhe of the Native Court want to use that jawbone to rip the North Island out of our reality and fully into the Fae one.
2) The players all started grokking the system and loving both the idea of simple conflict resolution and using non-standard abilities in combat (Sway, Dancing).
3) Our GM is very clever and at least twice I out-thought him to our group’s advantage.
4) I can see a way to use my character’s abilities in conjunction with the Bringing Down the Pain system (which has so far been unused) to really hammer the Big Bad of the setting into the ground.
5) All the players got several moments in the spotlight.

Plus it was fun. We didn’t really find a groove until this session – a lot of mucking around wondering what to do. But after an OOC conversation , I think it helped me find my place.

[Cross-posted to The Forge.]

Monday, May 30, 2005

[Script] Editing.

Some new thoughts on how I could edit a script:

Read through the script.
Mark off how ‘engaged’ I am with it, on a scale of 1-10.
That’s in order to create a Whammo Chart. A graph of the script’s highs and lows.
Read through with a blue pen and circle any bits where the story seems to be off.
Then go through each character’s journey. Use a red pen to mark any points where they don’t seem to be acting true to themselves.
If they go significantly off-beam, go back to the start and red-pen every other character’s journey up to that point. Try to understand at the level of Motivation what’s going on.
If that doesn’t clear things up, look at the conflict in the scene. Is it being expressed clearly.
What about sub-text? Is the scene about more than it appears to be about? Does it have layers to it?

[Film] War of the Worlds

This is a great article about Spielberg's new film, from Wired. Some talk about the script, insights into pre-visualisation for movies and the film vs. digital debate.

Friday, May 27, 2005

[VW] I spread Evil

It's back. The second level of Hapland is here.

[The 48] The Post post

I had one of those sleeps where you close your eyes at 1 in the morning and then open them a second later and it’s 7am. A 5 minute shower and then a nice half hour stroll to Jenni’s. Can you tell that time was starting to become a factor today?

We had an extremely efficient production meeting where we decided to film at the Botanic Gardens and I apologised in advance for my strategy of being really blunt with everybody to keep us filming at a steady pace. My aim for the day was: Protect Norman. He was cutting the film while on set, so I instructed everyone to make his life easy by shifting all of his and Mark’s gear out of the van first and then to leave him alone while he sewed our footage together.

We shot the Duel between Gino and an incredibly smug Lee, then moved to some nearby stairs to film Regan and Matt consoling Gino. In terms of directing, this was my favourite moment on the shoot.

It was a one-er – the whole scene in one take, featuring the three actors and a cute brown bear puppeteered by Lee. We did multiple run throughs to rehearse the scene and each time it wasn’t quite right – but each time, Jenni and I and Mark suggested tiny adjustments to each actor and gradually we honed in on a version of the scene that played. And then two perfect takes and we could safely say, “Principal photography has been completed!” (A shout-out to all you Cecil B. Demented fans out there (I know I’m not alone).)

A quick packout, a substantial reduction in crew numbers and Luke and Sam drove me back to Norman’s where we stayed upstairs and ate, planned and listened to music for the soundtrack while he edited with Stephanie and Mark. Then Jenni and I were called downstairs to help him out.

The three of us made an awesome team – Norman’s smooth cutting, my grasp of the big to do list of edits and Jenni’s unerring grip on the heart of the film. As we worked, music and ADR were being recorded above us – couple that with memory sticks and the home network and it was all an unbelievable advance from the last time I was involved in no-budget post-production.

Unfortunately time slipped out from under us, the stupid Loop logo wouldn’t load into our end credits, and the tape was chucked to Lee, Luke and Sam at 6.56 for a high-speed ride to the Paramount.

We knew they wouldn’t make it in time, but we had a fantastic group hug anyway and got ready for the wrap party that night.

The best … and worst, was yet to come.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

[TV] Some Writing Tips from Joss

"I like to fall in love with my characters," says Joss Whedon in this interview and the commentary track to "A Hole in the World" (Angel, Season 5).

He also talks about his desire to punish characters - what I call 'finding their vulnerabilities'. The theory is that characters who are in control of their lives are boring; you only get to find out what's interesting about them when you destabilise either them, their lives or something they care about.

[The Limit] Minus & Plus

A. Disappointed because I've wasted a lot of time today.

B. Satisfied because I've kept asking myself what this scene is about until I realised it's about 'Peter facing the consequences of becoming a vigilante'. I think I'm ready to write and finish this thing.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

[The Limit] Halfway there

Reached the 50% mark on Saturday. Took a couple of days off and now I’m back working on the scene where we turn Michelle into the hero. It’s good; it’s action again, so all I need to do to write a good scene is a) keep coming up with ways to block her from escaping and b) figure out how to make the situation worse.

Also deepened the script’s basic conflict. Up till now it’s been vigilantism versus the law. Now we introduce criminality and vigilantes who are worse than the criminals. This all fits naturally into Robert McKee’s description of conflicts in Story.

As ever, I know the scene is good when I can see it playing like a film in my head.

[The 48] Sleep Dep

As we hit the library (where we made Gino repeatedly do faceplants for the good of the movie AND tried to work with children), my tiredness started catching me, throwing me to the ground and forcing my brain to shut down for a few seconds at a time.

I began to not push the crew along as efficiently as before (although, to be fair, we were also attempting much more ambitious shots – dollies, day for night and stuntwork).

During all this I had a great micro-argument with Norman – which I believe ended with us hugging and gaining respect for each other. Although I could have hallucinated that.

Then back to Jenni & Lee’s where my inability to think achieved a whole new level. It started with not being able to list the night’s scenes in order of shooting priority and extended to not being able to figure out how to lock their shower door – so I ended up holding the door shut with my foot while stretching one hand to adjust the nozzle and the other hand in a third entirely separate direction to get at the soap. Ah, physical comedy and potential death-traps. Really, there’s no difference.

After a nap and pizza I felt more able to process. We planned out a shotlist for the LARP, loaded gear into Turnbull House and ran through how we’d shoot the scene. The LARP didn’t finish till late so we were forced to drop some scenes till the morning but on the plus side we got 20 or so extras dressed up in amazing costumes.

Several rapid takes later (including one fantastic moment where the fairies sat down to listen to Gino’s story and we saved ourselves an extra setup), we wrapped and I slept. Blessed sleep.

Monday, May 23, 2005

[The 48] Getting it together

At 6.20am I panicked, realising that I still had to send a copyp of the script (and therefore the props list) out to the crew. Originally, the idea was for them to read the script at home, gather up anything around their homes that matched our requirements and then bring it in to the production meeting. Nice and ordered.

Instead, after insisting Gino wake up, I stumbled into Jenni & Lee's where they fed me instant porridge and Beroccas. As our crew tricked in, I simultaneously pretended I wasn't tired, tried to keep my seat from being stolen, planned for the upcoming briefing and wondered if I should get angry that people hadn't all arrived at 7am like we'd said they should.

By the end of the meeting, people had a rough-to-good idea of what they'd be doing. And I was starting to freak out about the upcoming Jungle shoot. There were many reasons for that:

Our Wilton-Otari location had 2 entrances and we were making on-the-fly arrangements about where to meet.
We were starting much later than we should have been due to the need to assemble props and costumes.
The location was bad for sound: close to a road and with a working bee going on nearby.
Parking was so bad we had crew standing in spots - but we were too polite to block people who insisted on arriving.
We couldn't go off the paths into deeper bush.
The location didn't really look like jungle.
The light was fading.

And most importantly, this was the most complicated scene in the script - an action scene with 20+ setups. It was our first scene to shoot, our team hadn't jelled yet and we had to be out of the location by 2pm to meet parents at Jenni's library. In my estimation, we wouldn't be finished till at least 3pm.

I thought we were screwed.

But something amazing happened. We worked hard, we pulled together. People quickly learned what they were doing. I don't know how we managed it, but we finished the Jungle scene with an hour or more to spare and managed to sneak up to a nearby waterfall location to quickly sneak in the Training Montage - a scene I believed we'd have to drop until Sunday.

The Montage was fast and fun. I was yelling directions at the actors off-screen while Jenni checked the shot ... and then we were off, to eat the great lunch that Luke & Sam had bought (as well as a few of the 200 bananas that they'd managed to find to bury Gino in).

Sunday, May 22, 2005

[The 48] Cutting the Script

So, we needed (roughly) a six and a half minute long script. By 1am we had a 22 minute long one; by 4am, it was 15 minutes long.

Everyone left Svend's at 4.30 in the morning after a gruelling cut session. It was my responsibility to deliver a workable script to the production meeting. I knew I wasn't going to get any sleep before I took up being Assistant Director at 7am.

On the car ride home with Gino (he crashed out on my couch for an hour and a quarter before becoming the lead actor in the film), I tried to control my panic as he suggested what to cut. In fact, most people on the team made really good suggestions - and they all seemed pretty relaxed when I assured them that stuff they loved would be gone when they read Draft 3 in the morning.

But there was no defensiveness. I guess another good thing about the 48 is there's no time to grow attached to what you've written. Proof of that is that the first cut I made was to eliminate the 5 pages of set-up that I'd spent most of the night labouring over.

What takes that sting away is the sense of satisfaction I get from excising things that don't need to be in the script. It's the same pleasure in the editing room: each time you cut, you're getting a little closer to the true story. And each cut also changes the story; it's a weird, gripping feedback loop.

As Gino slept, I cut and cut and cut.

[How to: TV] The Demo script

OK, Phase 1 probably continues with these steps:

Write the quintessential scene and a 1 pager description (which includes title, metaphor, 4 main elements and commentary on the quintessential scene). You might want to write this up before taking the idea to your first audience.

Choose an idea to turn into a script (some people advise that you don't write the pilot first).
Brainstorm the act breaks.
Write a script (as a group) in 48 hours.

Refine the quintessential scene and a 1 pager description (which includes title, metaphor, 4 main elements and commentary on the quintessential scene).

Extra thoughts:
Have actors involved as writers.
Keep the number of writers small and trusted. If someone doesn’t ‘get’ how to write the idea, they don’t belong on the team. No matter how experienced they are.
[For Pre-production] The hiring of directors is vital.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

[The Limit] Mr van Beynen

I interviewed Ray van Beynen today, head of the Armed Offenders Squad. We had a great talk, he was just as personable as I'd hoped and - just as with talking with DI Graeme Resima - his description of how an AOS operation works has fundamentally changed the direction I think a big chunk of the script will go in.

[The 48] Intro

Warning: These 48 Hour posts are going to have way more emotions in them than normal multi-dimensional posts.

I'm wearing Bodil de Rezeney's Red Scarf of Imagination right now. I hope to wear it every time I write from now on.

I am feeling emotionally washed out and vulnerable right now; same as I do every time I finish a big creative project. Watching the last third of Angel Season 5 today, I think I cried for about two hours in total. And because we did a Disney movie, I have been walking around so happy I almost felt stoned for the last two days, thinking about all the new friends I made over the weekend.

This was a big project for me. In terms of the storytelling, I think it's the thing I've helped right that I am most proud of. Lately feel like I have climbed up off the plateau of writing I have been on and discovered a whole new level that will take me a couple of years to explore. 'It's a Wonderful Library' is a big part of that exploration. It has a clear story, clear conflict, it was created in collaboration and it's honest to itself.

So here am, three days later, finally having had an afternoon nap that has gotten rid of the last of my sleep deprivation and I think it's time to start talking about what happened from my point of view.

Friday night, Gino was later than I expected picking me up. I was already nervous, and even more so after the details of our project were delivered while I was in the toilet. 'Disney Family Movie'. To start with I had no idea what we would do. And then my assumption that we would all collaboratively know the essentials of any genre was born out. We quickly established that our movie would involve children, and adventure, and as we worked through our locations it became clear that Jenni's library and the fairytale LARP would be involved.

Our first draft took ages and it was during this that I first began to feel the situation slipping out of my control. We had not set a firm deadline as in our run through. Telling the story had it's stops and starts, as I've written about elsewhere.

However I was pleased that Jenni accepted our idea so quickly. I think we all knew we were telling the right story, immediately. It was just going to be a matter of grinding it out...

Monday, May 09, 2005

[The Limit] Relief

So, last week’s work on The Limit came to a crashing halt on Thursday. I woke up with a headache, kept trying to work, felt worse and worse and finally realised I was stressed about … well lots of things but at that point it was about trying to make the scene work.

I took 4 days off (which was actually long overdue) and today things seem to be flowing much more smoothly. The big rebuild of this mid-point scene with Trace, I can finally see a way through it now.

Other cool stuff: I think the movie is starting to work on 2 thematic levels – the obvious one of whether it’s better to follow the law or be a vigilante, and the true (or at least deeper) one. On the redraft, I’ll have to make sure that 2nd level is in there enough (at least every 10 pages or so) to reward attentive viewers.

Friday, May 06, 2005

[Script] Universalis

I am (sort of) on holiday at the moment - hence the light posting - but thought I should point out the use of Universalis as a script-writing tool.

There are 2 threads about it:
Wellington Roleplayers.
The Forge.

Svend also has a description of the game of Uni we played on Tuesday night, here.

"... a surprisingly complicated political thriller, as well as the musical romantic comedy we were aiming for. Basically, a plot by a sleeper cell of the Otago Farmers association to trigger a civil war by assassinating the President of the North Island with a small child trained in ninjitsu ... . Except it was a little more complicated than that... "

Monday, May 02, 2005

[TV] F&G tests its limits

Watched 2 more episodes of Freak & Geeks last night. First, the Freaks rejected Lindsey and then the following episode has Lindsey rejects the Freaks. That second episode gave us a sense of the status quo in Lindsey’s life before the show started (something I felt was missing from the pilot). Both plots pushed F&G’s Situation to extremes, testing its vulnerabilities.

The double-bill had an epic feature film sense to it – with Lindsey as the solid dramatic plot and Sam very definitely as the sidelined comic relief.

Now it'll be interesting to see how the show handles its continuity here: the parents have forbidden Lindsey to hang with the Freaks and she seems to be defying them.

[TV] Kindred spirit

Oh dear lord, such goodness. Tightrope Walker Girl is the first blog / LJ I've found dealing with stuff close to what I'm doing. She's a writer / show-runner, currently working on Smallville but also had stuff to do with Tru Calling and Angel.

Click here for Tru Calling spoilers (spoilers? They cancelled the series before it got to this point) about why it might have actually turned into a cool show.
Click here for an picture of the Angel S5 overview.