Screenwriting

Roll of queries, hear my cry

Last night I sent out another small batch of query letters to producers regarding my screenplay The Melody Box, only this time I made mention of my small new site www.TheRealMelodyBox.com, showing off my attempt at programming a program that does what the melody box in the screenplay does: generates melodies. I’m hoping the potential software-movie tie-in will appeal to someone out there. It’s a bit of a long shot, but any attempt to break into the film business from the outside is probably a long shot. But it would probably be the most rewarding, I imagine. So we’ll see what happens. I hope to send out some more query letters over the weekend, and a friend suggested making a YouTube video with some of the melodies arranged into a more orchestrated piece, which I also hope to do over the weekend. Luck, be a lady…

By S P Hannifin, ago
Writing

Novel progress…

I’m about 5,200 words into my novel Atarius Destroy This World. Overall, it’s going well; the beginning always seems the most exciting. I’m coming up on the “catalyst” scene, the scene in which the main character walks out of his home to go on his adventure. It’s interesting to see the characters take shape in ways I didn’t plan in the outline. I actually changed one of the viewpoint characters from male to female; for some reason it just seems to make the character dynamics more interesting. It was originally going to be a guy named Riklorien, father of the main character Atarius, but now it is Rillorien, mother of Atarius. The plot will stay the same, just writing from Rillorien’s point of view seems more interesting, I guess because a mother figure will feel more nurturing or something. Another non-viewpoint character named Toller is turning into a sort of a comic-relief character (if you can call my corny humor comic-relief), which I didn’t quite expect, but it works. In the outline he seems more like a dark almost semi-evil character, but having him be more comical makes him more likeable. After all, he’s not supposed to be evil, he can just be a bit manipulative and determined at times. Anyway, all the characters are still taking shape, so I expect their personalities will continue to grow.

I’ve also got some query letters for film producers to send out regarding my screenplay The Melody Box, queries that mention my in-development melody composing software. I just want to create a little website showcasing some of the program’s output first so producers can take a listen if they have the time and actually read my letter before tossing it. I was going to work on the site yesterday, but lost track of time novel-writing.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Programming

Stories and code and stuff and whatever

I hit a snag in my in-progress short story Through a Flame of Blue and Green. I realized one of my scenes is purely expositional. The information given in the scene is important for the story, but there’s no action, at least no action that’s important to the story. My natural response to this snag is to just stop writing the story until I can figure out a way to make the scene work. “But wait,” I say to myself, “just skip the scene! Come back to it later!” Of course! Why didn’t I think of that? “You just did!” I say to myself. Oh yeah! Both I and me are the same! So I’ll do that… later.

I’m still working on my Android melody generator program as well, but learning to program Android interfaces is boooooooooring, so progress is slow. However, a friend of mine recently gave me some extremely helpful feedback on the screenplay I wrote last year, The Melody Box, so I’ve been thinking about sending out another round of query letters, this time mentioning that a potential film could have the tie-in of software that does what the melody box in the screenplay does: generate melodies. Seems like both products would boost interest in each other. Not sure if that will truly interest anyone, but it’s worth a try, yes? Then I’ll get back to trying to learn how to program Android interfaces.

Other than that, I’ve been endlessly tweaking my outlines for Atarius Destroy This World. There are some tricky little issues here and there. But I’ll probably start writing on Saturday or next week. I’m kind of scared to start. I’ll have to keep saying to myself: “It’s just a rough draft. It’s allowed to be awful. Just get something down.”

By S P Hannifin, ago
Non-fiction books

Save the Cat – and I am a genius

So there’s this book called Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies. (It’s a sequel to Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need, but my library didn’t have that book, so I can’t read right now.) The book is about story structure in screenplay writing, kinda like Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, but focused more on movies.

The book also details about 10 different genres of movies, such as Monster in the House movies, which are about characters facing some deadly evil, like Jaws, Jurassic Park, and Alien, or Golden Fleece movies, where a group of characters go on some kind of journey, like Star Wars or Finding Nemo.

Anyway, I’m happy to say that my screenplay The Melody Box follows the structure of the Out of the Bottle genre so well, that I will call myself a plagiarist genius. No, really, just following my instincts, the story follows the Out of the Bottle structure very nicely. Character gets magic, magic changes life, magic causes complications, the character eventually rejects the magic, etc. I was really delighted with myself.

Another real eye-opener for me (though unrelated to my screenplay) was that in Monster in the House movies, the evil that the characters are fighting has to be somehow associated with the actions of the characters. The characters (or at least one character) has to sin, has to invite the trouble of the monster(s) in; it all has to be someone’s fault. For example, in Jaws, people underestimate the power of the shark and keep the beaches open, even though they should know better. In Jurassic Park, John Hammond clones dangerous dinosaurs, even though he should know better. In Titanic, they should’ve known to put enough lifeboats on the ship, they should’ve known not to turn the ship too much upon seeing the iceberg, and they should’ve known not to say something as blasphemous as “even God couldn’t sink this ship!” The sin might even be something like not paying enough attention. I think the reason these “sins” work so well is because audiences will imagine themselves in the situations they see, and if they can’t say to themselves that they would’ve found a way out of danger (even if it means sawing a foot off), then watching the movie isn’t quite as fun.

(P.S. I think a novel plot can be much more “loose” as different readers will experience such stories at a different pace, sometimes over many months. However, the more the plot of a novel follows the “Save the Cat” structure, the easier a movie adaptation will be. And it could be a nice way for someone who’s plotting a novel to get ideas. Overall, I think most good writers will follow similar structures naturally, just as good composers follow the “rules” of music theory naturally… because it just feels right to do so.)

By S P Hannifin, ago
Screenwriting

Short story and animation and screenplay, oh my

11 days until Christmas!

Just a couple updates on my life:

1. Be sure you’re signed up to get some Daily Science Fiction! Even if only for a day. My story, Maker of the Twenty-first Moon, will appear tomorrow, December the 15th, making it my fictional debut. You don’t want to miss this historic occasion. I plan on baking a cake tonight to celebrate. Might seem arrogant, but all excuses are valid for cake.

2. The second semester of Animation Mentor is just about over! I’ll post my second semester reel later this week. The semester really flew by. While I think I definitely improved this semester, I know there are plenty of areas I definitely need to keep working on. This semester was quite challenging, but overall, I’m still very happy with Animation Mentor, and I’m looking forward to the third semester, starting next month.

3. I got this email in regards to one of my screenplay query letters (for The Melody Box):

Hi Sean,

Thanks for your intriguing query.

I’ve attached my bio/producing credits and can be reached in New York City at: [censored].

Let’s talk first.

Best,

[censored]

At first, this got me all excited. I forgot the first rule of the artist’s creed: don’t get excited. After Googling the producer’s name a bit more, I found that he ran a script consulting service, and I’m sure that’s what he wanted to try to sell me on. Ugh! No thanks.

That said, I have been fortunate enough to get a few actual genuine requests for the screenplay, woohoo!

I guess that’s all I have for today…

By S P Hannifin, ago
Screenwriting

I wrote a screenplay… now what again?

18 days until Christmas! Yay, woohoo, and such things.

Over the last week or so I’ve been editing my screenplay The Melody Box and it’s at the point now where I’d like to try selling it.

Most books and blogs I’ve read about selling your first screenplay strongly suggest that you write several before trying to sell one. I started writing another one earlier this year, but I lost interest and don’t really feel like continuing work with it. Quite frankly, it seems like a waste of time to write a screenplay if it’s not going to be produced. It’s a waste of a story. Might as well write a novel. The only reason I wrote The Melody Box as a screenplay is because music is essential to the plot. It could work as a play or a movie, but it can’t be just prose; the audience has to hear the music.

(I do have another story idea that must be a screenplay just because certain things must happen visually, but I don’t yet have a good grasp on the story, and, again, I really don’t feel like putting a whole lot of effort into something that would most likely go nowhere. Maybe that’s a bad attitude to have, but I’ve got plenty of other more interesting ways to use my time creatively.)

So I might be shooting myself in the foot by not working on some more screenplays, but that’s a hole in the foot I’m willing to have. I’m not really trying to become a full-time screenwriter; I just want to get this particular story out there somehow.

So I’ve got my screenplay. I prepared a query letter and a synopsis for it, which I plan to send to producers in Hollywood. Today in fact. There are hundreds out there, so this will probably be something I’ll be doing over the course of several months.

The idea / hope is that a producer (or someone involved with the producer’s creative material acquisitions) is interested in the query enough to read the synopsis, and is interested in the synopsis enough to request the script. I send it to them and they like it enough to option it or buy it. (In case you don’t know, buying an “option” basically means they’re not sure if they want to buy it, but they’re interested, so they pay you a certain amount to not sell it to anyone else for 6 months or a year or something while they make up their minds.) I’d be happy enough just to get to that point, but then the real dream-come-true part would be it, you know, actually getting made.

Wish me luck! I can read your mind, and appreciate the luck you have just wished me subconsciously…

By S P Hannifin, ago
Screenwriting

I wrote a screenplay… now what?

(Disclaimer – I don’t really answer the question in this post, I just blather about possibilities.)

I met my first (and maybe only) goal for the new year: finish my screenplay. Well, the rough draft at least. I finished writing THE MELODY BOX yesterday. It’s about a young lad who is given a music box that writes infinite melodies. Ah, what a wonder it is! It’s 93 pages (really 92, because the last page is comprised only of the words “FADE OUT”). Many resources I have looked at say that the standard screenplay length for a beginner is 90-120 pages, and I was aiming for 90-95, so I’m kind of happily surprised that just by following my outline it worked out to just around what I was hoping for. I guess that is a sign that I am brilliant.

Okay, so I’ve got my first ever screenplay. Now what?

I don’t know.

From online screenwriting blogs and some books I ruffled through, I think I need to do a couple things.

1 – I need to polish this screenplay. I’ve given a copy to a some friends, and look forward to any feedback they might give. Hopefully I can force my parents to read it as well. Also, I need to get my mind off of it, because right now I’m so close to it that I’d probably be afraid to change much of it. So I need to–

2 – Write more screenplays. I’ve actually read you shouldn’t try marketing your first screenplay until you have written several, because potential agents or producers might say “I like your writing, but this one isn’t right for us, what else ya got?” and if you don’t have anything else, you’re kinda shooting yourself in the foot, especially since the chance of anyone saying that is pretty low to begin with. (Some also say that your first few screenplays will be complete garbage anyway; you just have to write them for the practice.) At this point, I don’t know if I’ll be able to resist dipping my toes in the water and trying to sell THE MELODY BOX before I finish anything else. I guess we’ll see how long it takes me to polish it and/or write another screenplay. It’s very tempting to just try marketing the screenplay RIGHT NOW, but I’ll resist.

3 – Try marketing it. A lot of the books I ruffled through suggested that one should get an agent, but some blogs I’ve read suggest that if you’re new to screenwriting and nobody recognizes your name, an agent might not be much help. So I’ll probably try marketing the screenplay directly to producers. I’m not quite sure how to do that, but from what I can tell, it involves sending out query letters, giving people a short description of my screenplay and asking if they’d like to read it. 99.9% will say no or never respond. If someone does request a copy, I send them the whole thing. And then, if the gods really favor me, they buy an option, which means I can’t sell the screenplay to anyone else for a year or so in exchange for $$$$. And then, if the gods really really favor me, they buy all the rights to it and make it into a real movie, and I win an Academy Award and become famous and all my dreams come true. I guess. (Of course, it could be purchased by a more low-budget studio, and might go directly to DVD or whatever, in which case, no Oscars.) Anyway, even if it’s optioned, they might not ever buy the full rights, or they may hold on to the option for several years, which means it can take a screenplay over a decade or two to actually be realized, if it ever is. So this really isn’t a very good get-rich-quick scheme at all.

One really confusing aspect that came up a lot in my research is the WGA, the Writers Guild of America. I don’t quite understand their role in all this, but from what I can tell, the big studios in the industry are “WGA signatories” and will only hire writers that are members of the guild. In turn, guild members can ONLY work for these WGA signatories. Want to join the WGA? Well, you can’t, at least not until you’re actually writing for a WGA signatory. So I’m not quite sure how exactly you get in.

My guess is that I really don’t have to worry about it until some WGA signatory producer or production company actually buys or options my screenplay, and then I’ll be pretty much forced to join. This would be very good, as I think it would imply that there’s a good amount of money involved (and then the WGA would always take 10% of all my writing profits). But if the screenplay is produced on a low budget, it’s possible that my screenplay could be produced by a non-signatory company. The thing that kind of bothers me is that, if I am lucky enough to have my screenplay purchased by a signatory company and am forced to join the WGA, I have to completely STOP marketing my screenplay to non-signatory companies. Which means I have to find out whether or not a production company is a signatory before I query them, which seems like it would be a pain.

And, to make matters even more confusing, the WGA doesn’t even really seem to exist. There’s actually a WGAWest and a WGAEast, each of them for different halves of the nation. I’d have to join East, since I’m in Virginia. Or I guess I could quickly move to California and join West?

So the entire business of screenwriting seems ridiculously confusing, at least for someone just starting to explore it. I guess I really don’t have to worry about much though since the chance of my screenplay being optioned by any producer or studio in the first place is very VERY small.

Anyway, for now I’m just waiting for feedback on THE MELODY BOX while plotting out some other screenplay ideas and trying to decide what to work on next. (And I’ve got TONS of ideas…)

PS – My recent obsession with screenplay did make me fail one of my goals–to keep updating my daily comic. I still have plenty of comic ideas, just less enthusiasm with which to draw them and post them. Hopefully I will continue though, eventually. I’m paying for the domain, after all.

By S P Hannifin, ago
My life

Goals for 2010

I don’t think I really like the idea of giving myself goals, at least not these kinds large goals that are so easily influenced by uncontrollable events in my life.  But I’m going to do it anyway just to see what happens.  It might give me a bit more focus throughout the year.  Or I might become too disinterested in them and try other things instead.  I guess they can be considered “Goals I currently think would be interesting to achieve in 2010” and not so much “Goals I will use to judge myself at the end of 2010.”  In other words, I’m not going to strictly hold myself to them; it will all depend on where my interests lie when I have the time to pursue them.

And so here they are, the Goals of 2010:

1)  Get a full time job. I kind of have to put this on.  Obviously.  The alternative is to go to grad school.  But, c’mon, can you see that happening?

2)  Continue keeping Hannifin World updated daily for the entire year. This shouldn’t be too hard as long as I can keep thinking of ideas and don’t run out of ink and paper and the scanner keeps working.

3)  Finish writing a novel. Or a novella.  Or a novelette.

4)  Continue practicing sketching. I hardly did any sketching at all this year, but I got some extra drawing supplies for Christmas, so I should try to spend some time practicing with them.

5)  Finish writing screenplay for The Melody Box. This was a screenplay I started this year that needs to be finished.  I don’t know what in the world one does with a finished screenplay, but it was fun to write; I really need to get back to it.

6)  Get started on animating a short film. This is something I’ve been meaning to do for the past few months.  It doesn’t need to be long, it doesn’t need to be drawn very well, but I should at least get started.

7)  Finish album! This is something I’ve been working on since the end of 2008, and I’m still not finished!  2010 should be the year for that.

8)  Listen to all of Mozart’s work. In other words, finish the Mozart Listening Project.

9)  Make some sort of progress on a machine creativity program. Either make progress on my music generator (which still doesn’t generate music), or try creating a story generator.  This [machine creativity] is the subject I’m most fascinated by at the moment, but it’s also the most frustrating and hardest area to make any progress in, as it floats near the invisible edges of the impossible.

10)  Become a millionaire. While I’m at it.

Well, there are only 2 goals I know I definitely won’t achieve!  A-heh heh heh…

2010… a nice decade-ish number…

By S P Hannifin, ago