Thursday, 19 March 2009

Captain's Blog 19.03.09

The Writing Process II: Doing the Donkey Work

Ok, based off what we've already covered, we have the basis of our story outlined. We have a pretty good idea where it's going, and we're now ready to start, right?

Yes, we are! :)

The big thing about writing is you MUST DO IT! There's no magic way for it to get done if you don't sit down and actually put pen to paper or finger to keyboard; no-one else is going to sit down and do it for you, so you are not only the workforce on this, but also the project manager and the hard taskmaster as well.

Everyone writes differently, at different times, speeds and in different locations. Some like to use dictaphones to get down ideas or specific scenes, others just sit down and turf it out. Work however suits you best.

Writing Speed. Now, some of us are blessed with the ability to write quickly; note that this doesn't mean we necessarily write well! I tend to be able to write fast when I get really caught up in something, but when I do my editing pass (see later), I immediately spot spelling errors, problems with certain lines, etc, etc. I don't let that stop me when I'm brainstorming; the important thing is to get it completed, then worry about the minutiae later. Get the thing written first before you start messing around tweaking here, changing there, adding things right, left and centre. To go back when I'm halfway thru writing something and start making changes is death to my creative process and, I suspect, to most other people's. You spot something that needs correcting, so you do. Then you see something else, and something else. Maybe it'd be better if they said this? Oh, now that line won't work so I have to change it.... now THAT won't work, so I have to change it again... and so on, and so on...

Leave the editing til the end! There'll be plenty of time to worry about that afterwards... for now, just get the script written and worry about the content later.

Where shall I do it? Set out a time and place to write; outside distractions are the worst thing possible for any writer. There's nothing worse than settling down to start an evening's draft, to then get distracted by the telly, or kids playing, or a million other things. You HAVE to be disciplined if you're gonna get this finished sometime this year, so apply that discipline to your writing from day one.

How much is not enough? How much SHOULD you be writing at one go? Well, only YOU can decide this. A page? A whole scene? The whole script? Or just one line? Sometimes it can take several hours of agonising to get one line "just so", so a productive night's work in that case may be one or two lines. In another case, you might suddenly get hit by your "muse bat" and take off, writing the whole thing in one sitting. Neither way is wrong; if it works for you, great. If it doesn't, find a way that does!

I think, therefore it is...
Always, but ALWAYS, think about what you're writing. If you slap any old crap down on the page, it will show. Don't try to write about a subject or in a genre that doesn't interest you, or you'll be doing yourself a disservice. Trying to write a detective noir story if you really don't like that kind of tale isn't going to lead to a happy ending (at least, not until you get a lot more experience under your belt, at any rate), primarily as your disinterest in the writing will shine through off the page; stilted dialogue, formulaic scenes with no care taken to construct them, etc. Trust me; it won't be a movie YOU will want to watch, let alone anyone else :)

In the next part, we will examine the actual construction of the script and use a few examples to demonstrate what I've been blathering about upto now :)

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Captain's Blog 12.03.09

Blog Two: The Writing Process: Part One

Ok, so... we have the initial structure of what we want to achieve in the episode scrawled down... we have the 6 questions answered (or, at least, we have an idea what the answers are, even if they aren't fully formed yet), and we're ready to launch into the writing, right?

Well, yes and no...

Ok, so now you're confused, right? Well, we're NEARLY there; there's just a couple of extra bits to tack onto the existing processes before we're ready to pick up the pen/sit at the keyboard and launch into the mammoth task of writing the whole thing.

And that is, of course, our base framework.

Now, you might think we already have a base frame outlined from the previous sections, but that's not what I mean. And, this base framework doesn't have to be something written down in "hard copy" format. It just has to be a general overview of the flow of the story as a whole, so you have waypoints to aim for.

When writing a long piece, it can sometimes be a daunting prospect to be staring at a blank page and wondering "how the hell am I going to write 30+ minutes of movie?!?". Using a base framework will at least give you an idea where you're going.

It can be as simple as Point A) Joe wakes up, cleans himself up, eats breakfast and leaves for work, for example. Now, that one line can be shot in a myriad of different ways, dependant on the other factors we've already addressed. Does Joe have a partner? Any kids? Is there any dialogue in this first scene? Is it all just done in a series of quick shots to establish the process he goes through every day, or is this day "special" for any reason?

Questions like this will help to form a basis from which to expand the initial scene. It could be a 30 second montage; it could be a 5 minute discussion about astrophysics, it really depends on what the purpose of this scene is.

Now, in 95% of instances, the scene needs to do one of three things:-

1) Further the plot of the story,
2) Provide further information on the character and/or his/her personality
or 3) Act as a buffer or establishing shot between two other scenes to avoid overload.

Now, Point 3) is a special case; these "padding" or "transistion shots" are sometimes required to enable smooth movement from one situation to another (for example, someone getting out of a chair and walking into another shot where action or dialogue happens, etc). They are usually used to break up long dialogue sequences, establish a mood or situation or to act as elapsed time.

The question you need to ask yourself is: "Does this scene fulfil one or more of the above criteria?". If the answer is no, seriously think about leaving it out unless it's a quick scene (such as showing the character getting out of a chair or leaving a room) being used as a transistion; extraneous extra scenes only add to the running time of the movie and can hurt the current mood or flow of the story if you aren't careful.

Examples of this kind of shot abound in Odyssey (tracking shots of the ship flying through space or sitting in orbit spring to mind). These kind of "establishing shots" help to form natural breaks between sections of the narrative and keep the viewer up-to-date on the current time, location and situation, so they don't get lost when a scene change happens. For my own use, they tend to be short, concise one or two liners, just to "jog the memory" about how the set a mood or location in the viewer's mind.

So, keep your "filler" shots firmly in mind as you start the initial writing... which we'll cover in the next installment :)

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Captain's Blog 10.03.09

Blog One: The Idea II
Ok, so we have established in yesterday's opener that Leyland's character has been a little one-dimensional upto now, so we're going to "plump it out" a bit in this episode. We've given him a very bare family background (happy, supportive parents and maybe a sibling)... we've established that the continuing story of the "behind the scenes" political situation is going to be furthered a bit in this one... and there's an additional caveat to add now; this episode has to set up the happenings in the season finale. As such, there is a literal "plot device" that I need to ensure makes a prominent appearance in this episode (not going to mention what it is, or what it does, so as to preserve the surprises for the episode itself, but will allude to it under the "PD" heading throughout the following blogs).

So, we have a PD, a bit of backstory (that will get some fleshing out as we progress) and a mysterious "end goal" in sight for this episode (already worked out in the initial plot plan).

Before I go on, a word about Plot Plans. I feel that, for an episodic format, a Plot Plan is absolutely essential. I need to be able to plan out how and where the course of the over-arcing story is going to go through the course of each season (for two main reasons; 1) to ensure that the "end point" of each season is met and 2) to make sure that I know the essential questions for each episode, and the season in general; who, what, where, how, why, when. Who is featured in the story? What are they doing? Where are they doing it? How are they doing it? Why are they doing it (the most important question)? When are they doing it? Get basic answers to these 6 questions, and we have the bare framework of a plot.

Who is obvious; Leyland. What are they doing? At this point, that's still a little nebulous, so we'll come back to that. Where is going to be Earth (dictated by the appearance of the character's family, but also (and more importantly) the place where the main part of the story is going to play out. How is he doing it? Well, in order to break his "mould" a little, I decide that Leyland is going to be forced into working "undercover" for some reason; this challenges his usual method of operating strictly "by the book", and will force him to make some decisions that he wouldn't normally have to face, which is all good character developing stuff. Why? Well, that is part of the main plot of the episode, which will become apparent as we go forwards. When? Well, time-wise this is pretty much the least important of the questions on this occasion, but could become important later on.

So, there we have the bare bones of our plot process; the initial idea nugget (as mentioned in yesterday's post), fleshed out by the addition of a character with the potential of not only external conflict situations (being undercover immediately brings attendant risks), but (in the case of the character we've selected to showcase) also the inner conflict of a man needing to face his own limitations and personal code of ethics head on. Lots of juicy stuff there!

To bring this into relief a bit more, let's examine an existing episode and see how the process works. Episode One was written specifically to showcase the character of Albrecht (as she didn't get much chance to do anything in the finale). In this instance, I wanted to demonstrate several aspects of her character in order to flesh her out a bit more. She's friendly, yet authoritative (the exchanges with Cross, Ryan snf the Major indicate this); she's also fiesty and fully capable of looking after herself (the confrontations with Ryan and Mannheim); however, there are also hints of a deeper and perhaps darker side to our beloved First Officer (the implied fact that she embarked on an illicit affair with Mannheim and seemingly used him for her own ends was deliberately written to turn the stereotypical situation on it's head; no simpering woman bemoaning the fact she was used and dropped when no longer needed here... oh no; we reverse the roles and find Mannheim in the firing line for that part! The fact that he acts the way he does takes some of the heat off the implied treatment he received by Albrecht, but at no point does she deny what he says, notice...)

She is obviously very close to Ryan (how close, and at what stage their relationship is, is never stated), she is capable of reacting instinctively to something she doesn't like (the "slap heard round the ship") and could quite easily be charged with allowing her emotions to cloud her judgement and overrule her objective thinking (well, she IS human, after all, and not some flat, 2 dimensional cardboard cut-out!); hopefully, all this rounds her out a bit more as a "real" individual.

The 6 Questions, when applied to Episode One, work a little like this:-

1) Who (Albrecht, obviously, but to a lesser extent Ryan, Cross and the other crew)
2) What (obstensively a story about piracy, it's really about our perceptions of people, how circumstances can affect our "destiny" and what lengths we are prepared to go to in our quest for "happiness")
3) Where (not so important in this episode, as we flit about quite a bit)
4) How (by using the character of Mannheim as a "mirror", we examine a little of what makes Rachel who she is as a person and round her out a bit more, as well as expanding the Odyssey universe a little with our first glimpse at the Scolian League, filling out the overall tapestry a bit and alluding to the ongoing political situation in the galaxy in light of the events of the Pilot episode.
5) Why (as said above, the idea was to round out Albrecht and make her more "solid"; she is definately a heroine, but not one that's whiter than white, has made some wrong and perhaps dubious choices in her past and has had to live with those decisions)
6) When (right at the beginning of the Odyssey's first operational mission, so we can see a little more of the universe as it unfolds and get a glimpse at how she operates in her normal routine, which can then be "taken as read" for most future episodes. It also allows us time to reacquaint ourselves with the central characters before the season gets fully underway).

Ok, with the reasoning outlined a bit, and the bare bones in place, we move on to the actual fleshing out of the plot... which comes in Part Three ;)

Monday, 9 March 2009

Captain's Blog 09.03.09

The Anatomy of an Episode - Part One

Ok, as a kind of experiment (and also a good indicator to anyone I can eventually entice into writing for Odyssey :P), I thought I'd start this "mini-series" of blogs about my own writing (and shooting) process, in the hope that it's useful to those of you who shoot and write yourselves, to see how someone else's "creative process" works.

It might sound a little disjointed, as there are plot points I want to avoid giving away in the interim, but I thought it was worth a shot.

Blog One: The Idea

Ok, so as I've mentioned on the show a coupla times, I have a plan for at least the next two seasons of episodes already laid out, in very rough sketch format. This plan consists of a few pages of Word doc, liberally broken down into synopses under provisional title headings. Titles are something I think people struggle with; sometimes they come slam-bang out of the blue, other times they need long and careful thought, and in the case of Odyssey, I try to make the title fit the episode as much as possible (even if the meaning is a little obscure to begin with).

So, with that in mind, let's look at Episode Six, the next one on my "writing block". This has been slated as a Leyland-focus episode since Day One (as all the other main characters in the ensemble get a spotlight episode this season; Albrecht in Ep1, Nolan in Ep2, Harper in Ep3, Frost in Ep4, M'raal and to an extent Cross in Ep5, and this one is Joseph's chance to stretch his acting wings a tad ;)). As such, it needs to be an episode that examines certain aspects of his character, maybe challenges some of his beliefs, and gives him both a mental/psychological conflict to resolve, as well as a more material one.

So, for character development, what are we looking at here? Well, Leyland has been broad-stroke painted as somewhat of a dull, by-the-book guy upto now. He commands the fighter wing attached to Odyssey (as shown in Ep2), and fulfils the role of Second Officer in the command hierarchy. Slow to anger, slow to joke but fast to complain about a rules infraction, Leyland needs to change a little to adjust to life aboard the Odyssey (a most unusual command crew isn't likely to be seen elsewhere in the Fleet. Ryan has handpicked the crew for a reason... which we may or may not discover directly, over the course of the developing series...), and he has picked the stiff-necked Leyland as well, for a reason.

So, the first two elements are in place; we have a broad idea of the kind of guy Leyland is (already having been set up by the Finale and the preceeding episodes), and the fact we need to make him grow as a person during the course of the show, so we can understand him more.

Eager to avoid the old "estranged father" concept (and having already used it to a degree in Ep3), as well as trying to side-step the old trope of having the character's parents distant, dead or so far away they don't appear, I decided to bring them to the forefront in this episode rather than falling into the stereotype trap. So, Leyland has a happy family; does he see them regularly? Maybe. Is his father proud of what his son has achieved? Probably (as we've already had one strained family situation brought about by unreasonable expectations this season :P).

Brothers or sisters? Maybe an older sister, I feel (breaks out of the usual mode of competing mail siblings). Will she appear in this episode? Who knows; the idea and concept might well be used purely to push the story forward at some point.

So, what's the story about? Well, it's a questioning of Alliance Command's distrust of the growing political and sectarian power the United Church has begun to demonstrate. They don't trust something that looks almost too good to be true. But what's really going on behind closed doors?

Well, that's the subject of Part Two, coming tomorrow... stay tuned for more :)