Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Day 5: Was Voltaire onto Something?

Voltaire: playwright, poet, author and leading figure of the Enlightenment, used to drink 40 mochas a day. That's beyond impressive by anyone's standards. He'd turn up at the same Parisian café, day in, day out and order 40 coffee/chocolat hot beverages. Let's imagine, for a moment that Voltaire wasn't shy about getting his day underway and would arrive at the café at 8.00am. If he hung out there for 10 hours, that means he'd be knocking back a mocha every 15 minutes before he'd return home to Mrs Voltaire at 6.00pm. I don't know what to make of this? I don't know why I bring this up? Even if I lost all sense of reason and tried this for one day, I most certainly would not be able to front up and do it again the next day and the next.

You won't need to do what Voltaire did, but you will need to do this.....

Day #5 Tip: All You Need Is Index Cards
Yesterday I explained about the 40-60 story events/moments/scenes that I'm going to need to make up the 100-120 minutes/pages of my feature film script. Coming up with these 40-60 scenes is what I'll spend the majority of my scriptwriting time on, over the next three months and I'm going to need to come with at least 200+ scenes to find 40-60 that are any good.

For instance: all Crime films, remember, start with the discovery of a crime; one way or another, a body falls out of a wardrobe. I will need a scene like this very early on in my script. Let's call it "the scene where the crime is discovered" or the Inciting Incident of the Crime Plot. It can be obvious and apparent that a crime has been committed or maybe less so. It can be "open" (we see the crime committed and see who did it) or it can be "closed" (we arrive at the crime scene with the "investigator" and know no more than they do or we see the crime committed but don't see who the perpetrator is).

In Seven, this scene comes about three scenes into the film when Detectives Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and Mills (Brad Pitt) are called to the house of the "Fat Man" who has been found dead, tied to a chair, face-first in his food. Basic Instinct has San Francisco homicide detective Nicky Curran (Michael Douglas) arrive at a mansion on Russian Hill to discover a man tied to a bed having been murdered with an ice pick in some sort of sado-sexual act. A third example: Mississippi Burning. The opening scene is of three young men, two white and one black in their car, followed into the boondocks and backwoods of good ole' Mississippi by a cop car and a hick truck. The police car pulls the boys over and the cops shoot the boys before they can get out of their vehicle. Next scene sees the arrival of two FBI agents (Willem Defoe & Gene Hackman) to investigate the disappearance of three civil rights activists (the young men).

Three great films, three crimes committed, three Inciting Incidents that get the ball rolling in three Central Plots, two are closed - Seven & Basic Instinct - in that we know only as much as the investigators know. The other - Mississippi Burning - is open in that we know, for the moment, more than FBI Agents Ward & Anderson. All three are scenes that turn an arguably positive world to the negative, a just world turned unjust.

When writing my opening scene where the crime is discovered, I can probably think of a number of variations as to how this takes place and so, I'll grab an A4 pad and aim to list about twenty versions of the same scene. By the time I've got to number twenty I might be hitting pay dirt, having trawled through my clichés and contrivances first. When I've got the version of the scene I'm happiest with, I'll distill it down to one pithy sentence and then write it down on a 3x5 Index Card, just like Joe Esterhas probably did when writing Basic Instinct: Detective Nicky Curran arrives at the Russian Hill mansion of Johnny Boz to find the one-time record producer tied to a bed, dead from the multiple stabbing wounds of an ice pick. On the back I write other little details of the scene that come to mind - maybe about the sexual nature of the crime, the black humour of the crime scene workers (all guys) - and put the card aside, moving onto the next scene. That can easily be one day's work, if carried out thoroughly.

I'm looking to build a stack of those cards over the next three months and I mean a stack because I'll want to eventually distill them down to the stunning 40-60 moments of drama that will make up the scenes in my script. So, first things first: go buy a pack of Index Cards from your local stationer and while you're there, buy a black marker pen to write on them (you'll need to spread these cards out and read them from a few feet away in the weeks to come).

I will return tomorrow with more.

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