Trainee Writer

Adventures of a screenwriter in training…

[Development Diary] Lowering The Bar – #1


Before I go any further, let me preface this by saying that yes, I know, I said previously that I was going to spend 2012 tying up loose ends and finishing all my unfinished scripts. And that genuinely was my intention until I was tipped off on an exciting new opportunity.

Developing for the web is something that I’d previously considered; one of my unfinished projects, Housemates, was designed with the web in mind as something that I could produce with friends as a showcase for all of our talents. But the opportunity to do it, have it seen by a mass audience and be paid for it was too good to turn up.

This particular opportunity presented some very interesting challenges; the site that will be hosting and producing the show, ChannelFix.com, is based in the Philippines, which meant that I had to produce something that could be filmed over there but their target audience is for the American 18-30 market (give or take) which meant I needed something that could appeal there. Not the easiest set of parameters to write to. And it had to be low-budget.

Given carte blanche to pitch them whatever came into my head, effectively, I pitched two shows; the first of those shows, Lowering The Bar, is in the later stages of the writing process, which made it a great time to write a development diary to tell you how I got where I am with the project now.

Because I had to make this show to such a narrow set of guidelines, I decided to go with what I knew (to an extent) and pitched a show about a guy who arrives in the Philippines with a couple of his frat brothers to save his uncle’s failing bar.

It’s a sitcom, which means that it needed potential for conflict, which always comes from the characters and the situation. A group of American tourists is always great comedy fodder, so that was always going to make things interesting. Put them in a foreign country with its own language and culture for the long haul and you’ve got endless material to play with. Throw in a bar and a beach and you’ve got great settings for them to get into mischief. But it always comes back to those characters. Let’s meet them:

Scott – Our lead, early 20s and a former business student. He’s there to make the business a success and to reconnect with his family, but he’s hiding a secret from his alpha friends – he’s gay.

Mike – Also in his early 20s and was an engineering student. He’s calm collected, smooth and suave. He loves the ladies but wants to expand his intellectual horizons too. He loves to fix things – either literally or figuratively – and approaches every situation in a careful, considered way.

Tommy – the stereotypical frat boy, Tommy comes from a wealthy background but lacks intelligence. The fact that he graduated from college with a marketing degree is a mystery to everybody. He wants to party and get laid, his stupidity will get him (and the others) into trouble and he has a far higher opinion of himself than he should.

Riley – You can’t have conflict between guys without throwing a girl into the mix, that’s just the way life works. So enter the ridiculously attractive, super-snarky and highly intelligent bookworm Riley. Riley is Scott’s cousin, it’s her dad’s bar and she’s staying for the summer. She wants to have fun, but she also knows that she needs to keep an eye on the boys to stop them from burning the bar down!

Now, I’ve been lucky enough (he says, ironically) to work in various bars for the last few years, giving me plenty of experience to draw upon for stories here, but the most important part of writing comedy is to collaborate. That’s why I’ve been workshopping this at Zoetrope among friends, including my favourite comic genius, Shaula Evans and one of the finest unsigned writers I’ve ever come across (a 2009 & 2011 PAGE Semi-Finalist, 2010 Finalist) Jen Zinone. If we get a full series, hopefully those two fine minds (and others) will come aboard to write episodes for you to enjoy!

So, what more can I tell you? Plenty, but I’ll save it for next time when, hopefully, I’ll have a final draft of the script in pre-production in the Philippines and I’ll see if I can;t wrangle some notes, pictures and tales from the set for you to paw through!

In the meantime, don’t forget that the workshop here is still open for business and, if you want to track me down on Zoe, maybe you can join the LTB team!

Until next time…

x

March 7, 2012 Posted by | Development Diaries, networks, screenwriting, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

NaNoWriMo: Day 4


I realize that this is the first time that I’ve mentioned this on the blog, but I decided to take part in this year’s National Novel Writing Month in the hopes of not just gaining a new experience, but also of finally finishing King Of Hearts in some sort of reasonable time frame. Sadly, I’m finding that the trouble with writing a novel is that it’s just too damned easy to get distracted, especially with the variety of options available as past-times in modern life.

I’ll get to that in a minute, let me explain NaNoWriMo first. Yes, it’s one of those posts, where I’m procrastinating and writing whatever pops into my head in the hope of kick-starting the project at hand. Bear with me. NaNoWriMo is simple: 200,000 authors attempt to write 50,000 words apiece in 30 days or less. Some decide to try to do it in one – God bless them – others, myself included, set themselves bigger challenges. Mine is to write 110,000 words this month. My total so far? 6,689. Yeah. I need to be at closer to 3,500 every day. I’ve only broken that number once, so far. Yesterday.

So the distractions? Day 1: I got on with it, but didn’t budget my time well. Lesson learned. Day 2: Got bored of writing. Went to pub. Got drunk. Forgot about writing. Wrote 200 words. Day 3: around 3,500. Worked hard, didn’t drink, didn’t get distracted. Today? About 300. Why? Watched television, went to dentist, played Angry Birds. Those damn Angry Birds, they’re ruining my masterpiece.

Time to stop procrastinating and get back to work. I love you all. Feel free to encourage me, it’s pretty obvious I need it!

Kx

November 4, 2011 Posted by | Contests, Development Diaries, Novels, Nuevo Oro, writing | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

[Development Diary] – Improper Representation #2


I’m so excited to be able to say this, but my new pilot, Improper Representation is now at a stage where I think I can call it ‘complete.’ Of course, no script is ever completely finished; every so often you go back and change a word here, a phrase there, you get a note about something from someone, etc.

That said, I’m very happy with the current draft; it’s only the second pass I’ve taken at it but it’s already looking near-near perfect and has had some very positive reviews so far.

Writing this script has been another wonderful learning experience for me. Being a comedian, it comes as a surprise to people when they learn that I don’t write many comedy-based scripts. In fact, this is the first teleplay I’ve written that deliberately crosses into the genre, and reviews suggest that it’s funny, intelligent and culturally relevant, which are three things I was shooting for but didn’t know I could achieve.

On the off-chance any producers or agents are reading this, Improper Representation is available to read upon request, with a logline available on the My Work section of the site.

For those regular readers looking for me to write another formal lesson, I play to post my thoughts on creating great dialogue on Wednesday at the latest.

August 22, 2011 Posted by | Development Diaries, Improper Representation, screenwriting, specs, writing | , , , , , | 2 Comments

[Development Diary] Improper Representation – #1


It feels strange to me to be writing a development diary about something I’ve completed a draft of; usually I write these to explain my writing process and to help myself to organize some of my thoughts semi-coherently. With Improper Representation it’s all been very different to my usual methodology.

Ordinarily, an idea hits me, I scribble some note down, play with the idea in my head for a few days and sit down to write it, piece-by-piece, as the ideas come to me. In this case, the idea just hit me, so I scribbled down the basic premise (which was ever-so-slightly longer than a logline) named my characters and – BOOM! – got straight into the writing of it. Two sittings later (around six hours total, for those interested – no, I have no idea where that burst of writing energy came from either) I have a completed first draft of a thirty-page pilot script.

So what’s it about? Scott Weismann, 26, is a disgraced lawyer who flees the scene of his troubles (New York City) to return home to Los Angeles. After catching up with his high-school best-friend JJ, an out-of-work actor, he goes on a job hunt around the city only to find out that his reputation has preceded him. Nobody will hire him.

JJ, meanwhile, finds himself caught up in some office politics; his sister Rosie is in the mail room at a major talent agency -the agency that represents him – and whilst waiting for a meeting with his agent, he sees her being sexually harassed by her boss. After confronting her about it and a long wait he finally meets with his agent, who promptly informs him that he’s being dropped from the agencies books.

After lunch with the two boys, Rosie feels empowered. Called in by the boss, who wants to pimp her out to attract a new, A-list client, she finally reaches her breaking point, making his sexual harassment public and quitting her job. The three friends are at a crossroads. They’re all unemployed, all needing a new opportunity but maybe, just maybe, their shot at the American dream is staring them right in the face.

What happens next? You’ll have to wait and see if someone buys it to find out.

So that’s it, job done. Right? Nope. Now I’ve completed the first draft and, as is my custom, I’ve submitted it for review by my peers over at American Zoetrope (link is in the sidebar on the right) to see what they think; the advice they gave me was invaluable when I was creating Holland Park and I’m hoping they can be of the same help to me this time. Aside from them, the only people likely to read it before I have a final draft ready for pitching are close friends and family.

That said, it’s at this point that the most emotional investment goes into a script; whilst you might pour a small part of yourself into the writing, the characters and the story – an often-cathartic experience – the really emotional part is waiting for the reviews.

As a writer, or any kind of artist, you (and, in turn, your projects) live and die by their reviews. No matter how confident you are of your writing abilities, you never truly know how good something is until you show it to the world. If people love it, you feel on top of the world. If they think it sucks then, well, that sucks. The important thing is to keep fighting, to take any and all suggestions aboard and move on to the next project.

My next project? Well, aside from getting caught up with my reading for the contest, (I’ve had quite a few submissions so far. If you’re one of them, don’t panic, I’m getting there!) I’ve got another concept in mind that looks like it’s leaning towards being ether a sitcom or a romantic comedy feature, which I’m actively plotting right now.

I also have planning in motion for a new feature, which I’ve given the working title Invisible and tells the story of three teenage runaways trying to make a better life for themselves whilst living on the streets. It’s looking like this is going to be the grittiest, most emotional drama I’ve ever written. But that’ll be another [DD] for another day…

Until then, take care.

Kriss x

August 5, 2011 Posted by | Development Diaries, specs, writing | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

On the ‘write’ path…


God, I hate cheesy puns, but having walked five miles home in the wee hours of this morning, I’ll hope you’ll forgive me for not exactly being on top form today.

After taking a depression-induced week off from writing anything at all (I may blog about that over at AC at some stage) I’ve decided I need to get my head back in the game, because work is piling up. I have four reviews to write for OMS (two of my reviews from last month can be downloaded from that page, actually – they’re in The Sampler) and I need to get my head back into the novel, as well as writing this blasted one-sheet, which I really mustn’t keep putting off.

The novel, it seems is going really well. I’ve just come to the end of my prologue and already I’m starting to get inside the head of Detective Reyes and feel my way into her story. As I’ve said before, I’m not a planner. I have no idea where the track is leading at this stage – I know the basic outline of my story and a few of the key characters. I know my prologue and I know my opening chapter at this point, but everything beyond is a mystery. Incidentally, if I get the opening chapter right it’ll be a real tear-jerker for some.

Without spoiling too much, I hope, I’ve gone into extensive research about the procedures for a police funeral – the pipes, the last call… I was tearing up just reading about it, let alone when I started actually listening to the calls on Youtube. If I can create one tenth of the emotion I felt while doing the research on the page, y’all are going to hate me and I’ll have to get the book sponsored by Kleenex. Seriously, you’ll be drowning in tears, not choking them back.

On the screenplay front, I’ve been strongly considering adding a few more pages to what I feel is going to be my magnum opus, Trailer Park Blues. It’s a working title – one I’m working on – but it should be a really special piece if I get it into the right hands. I actually have a fairly good idea who those ‘right hands’ are, too. When it’s finished, I’ll see if I can attach them to the picture (and talk about that process extensively on here, I’m sure) and get the ball rolling on things.

Actually, talking of getting the ball rolling on things, I was contacted recently by a producer from LA about the possibility of coming on board with an Anglo-American sitcom. It was literally just a touch-base e-mailing session, but it’s given me some hope for my week.

On a final note, I’ll be adding a few more works to 26 this week, because I kind of have a hankering to drop some deep emotional thoughts on paper. Hopefully I’ll finish it before I have to rename the collection 27!

I’ll be back with some lessons as I think of them. In the meantime, I’d like to recommend a friend’s blog to y’all. I say ‘friend’ – it’s not like we hang out and such, but she’s a fantastic writer I discovered through WP – C-C Lester’s blog, The Elementary Circle, can be found by clicking on the link. Go show her some love, especially if you’re into YA Fiction. And, let’s be honest, who isn’t?

She recently posted the prologue and first chapter of her book, Mercury’s Child on there. And it’s phenomenal. After reading it, I cannot wait to get my hands on the finished book.

Have fun, kids.

Kx

June 2, 2011 Posted by | agents, Development Diaries, Novels, Nuevo Oro, screenwriting, Trailer Park Blues, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A whole new world…


…a new fantastic point of view…”

Yes, it’s a blog (predominantly) about screenwriting, so I’m definitely allowed to quote Aladdin as a tenuous link to the content of today’s entry.

Actually, today I’m not talking about the art of screenwriting – there may not even be a lesson to be gleaned from it. Just a casual post about my latest writing exploits.

Today, I decided to finally undertake the one writing task that’s been eluding me for years. For ten years, I’ve been threatening it and now I’m finally going to do it: I’ve started work on my first serious attempt at a novel.

I always said that one day, I wanted to create a fictitious world against which I could set a variety of stories; I suppose the inspiration from that was in part drawn from my screenwriting hero John Hughes’ legendary setting of Shermer, IL, A completely fictitious town that played host to Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Pretty In Pink, amongst others. It’s a common device for a writer, so don’t think for one second that I’m claiming to have reinvented the wheel; I’m very well aware that such great writers as Terry Pratchett, J.R.R. Tolkien and L.J. Smith have all done it, to name but a few. So, with my first novel, I’ve decided to do exactly that; it’ll be the first to be set in the town of Nuevo Oro, California.

Nuevo Oro is a former gold rush settlement on the Mexican border; originally settled by a handful of European immigrants who traveled west to find their fortune in 1850, they named it ‘Golden Hills’. In 1852 After having all but mined every ounce of gold from the surrounding environment, most of the original inhabitants left to seek their fortune elsewhere, leaving behind only the most successful family in Golden City. the Carvers. With enough money and livestock to maintain their lifestyle, they had no reason to leave.

A year later, a second wave of prospectors comes through town – this time crossing the border from Mexico. California, at this time, had only recently seceded from Mexico to join the USA, so many Mexicans felt that laying claim to the gold was their right. When they found the virtual ghost town that ‘Golden Hills’ had become, they quickly settled in, rechristening the town ‘Nuevo Oro’ (New Gold) and sparking a 150-year family feud between the Carvers and the leaders of the migrant prospectors, the Reyes family.

Where do we join the story? In the present day. Nuevo Oro has grown to become a small city; though certainly not a sprawling urban metropolis like Los Angeles or San Francisco, Nuevo Oro has all the amenities that any Californian city needs to survive; it’s a college town with a thriving technological industry, a small movie studio and a high crime rate.

Enter our hero: the first book centres around Selma Reyes, the youngest descendant of the original migrant Reyes family and the city’s only female homicide detective. Following the suspicious death of her partner – found stabbed in his mistress’ apartment – she’s determined to find his killer. To make matters worse, she has a new partner; if the stories she heard growing up are true, she should despise him – but she has a murder to solve and John Carver might be the only person she can trust.

Obviously, I only started writing this today, so don’t expect to be reading the finished book next week, but I’m excited to finally be starting on my ‘long-awaited’ debut novel.

The thing that excites me most? Being able to tell the many stories that can be found among the citizens of Nuevo Oro – having the ability to populate my city with the stories of those characters who may live there and having the scope to write them in whatever genre I see fit – all of the ones I enjoy, like YA, fantasy, satire and romance, will probably feature – is possibly the greatest freedom of all. I have a blank canvas on which to paint as rich a tapestry as I see fit.

Expect a development diary and excerpts along the way.

Vaya con Dios,

Kriss x

May 17, 2011 Posted by | Development Diaries, Novels, Nuevo Oro, writing | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

[Development Diary] Outbreak #1


Like the majority of writers, I find my most simple pleasure in life comes from adding text to a work in progress. To ironing out the wrinkles and tweaking the story. So this morning, whilst submitting it as an in-progress work (and back-up to my usual spec, Holland Park) to another potential agent, I decided it was time to knuckle down and finally get my first draft of the Outbreak pilot finished.

Outbreak is a sci-fi/event television concept for which I’m writing a ‘premise pilot’ – it’s a concept I’ve talked about before and one that John August brilliantly deconstructs (and, in fact, denounces) here. In this first episode, we meet our hero/heroine combination for the first time: Newly-promoted (the inciting incident) NYPD homicide detective JIMMY O’BRIEN and his super-genius high school senior girlfriend, ROBYN CAMPOS. We also meet a cast of supporting characters; LAUREN and MARILYN are Jimmy and Robyn’s mothers, respectively; JOHANNES VAN ZYL, Jimmy’s partner; MICK HARPER, Jimmy’s new boss in homicide; BARESI, the grizzled veteran of the homicide department; DR. STETLER, the department’s ageing forensic expert; PADDY O’MALLEY, owner of the cops’ favourite local bar; ASYA, AUSTIN and BRIONY, Robyn’s school friends and TRAVIS WILSON, Robyn’s history teacher.

Whilst almost every screenwriting guru in the world will be screaming “THAT’S TOO MANY CHARACTERS!” at me now, it’s perhaps worth noting that I consider them ‘supporting’ characters. This is very much Jimmy and Robyn’s story, but giving them a large group of people around them gives me scope as I move forward; one of my pet hates with television is when someone introduces a new friend. colleague or family member that we’ve never seen before, but they’re supposed to be ‘best buddies’ with. The Simpsons subverts this brilliantly. So the mothers may not appear in every episode. Baresi may not appear. Professor Wilson may not appear. I may only use one of Robyn’s friends at times, if any. O’Malley and Stetler would only appear when needed, too. Each character serves a specific function in the show; in the pilot, I introduce snapshots of them to the audience, but not so much that it would take away from the overall story.

The premise of the show if, for me, what made the project so interesting. We pick up our story on April 7th, 2031, eighteen-and-a-half years after a Smallpox outbreak decimated the global population, reducing it from the 7 billion(ish) it is now to just 100 million. While that may sound implausible as a premise, it’s worth noting that this is perceived, by government agencies around the world, as being a potentially very real threat. Even the CDC considers this a strong enough possibility to have an emergency plan in the event of such an outbreak. I’ve talked about this before, but my first challenge was how to convey this strange new world to an audience. In my first draft, I combined narration and pictures, a 5-page ‘history’ lesson that looked like this:

FADE IN:

EXT. NEW YORK CITY - DAY

TITLE: NEW YORK CITY - OCTOBER 2012

An elevated view over Central Park and the Manhattan skyline
captures the hustle and bustle of the world’s busiest city.

ROBYN (V.O.)
It was just a normal day in New
York City--

EXT. WALL STREET - DAY

Wall Street is full of business-types walking around in suits
talking loudly into cell phones. You couldn’t squeeze a
cigarette paper between the traders on the crowded sidewalk.

ROBYN (V.O.)
Wall Street was still packed, the
bankers were still trading--

EXT. BROADWAY - DAY

Broadway, a mix of tourists and arty types crowd the streets.
Names of shows in bright lights hang on theatres, scalpers
openly sell tickets on the streets.

ROBYN (V.O.)
Broadway sparkled with the bright
lights and promises of star names
in grandiose musical extravaganzas--

EXT. TIMES SQUARE - DAY

Times Square, as always, is alive with activity. Tourists are
everywhere and so are their natural by-product - souvenir
vendors.

ROBYN (V.O.)
That’s when it happened. The even
that everyone - the government, the
people, the experts - had feared
for over three decades--

INT. ENTRANCE OF 42ND STREET STATION - DAY

New York’s busiest subway station. At rush hour. There are
people everywhere, commuters from every borough, even from
outside the city. Thousands of people headed in every
direction imaginable. In there, somewhere, a man is dropping
a test tube.

ROBYN (V.O.)
Thousands of potential witnesses
missed the biggest crime against
humanity in human history; the
defining terrorist act of all-time.
If you’d seen it, you probably
wouldn’t even have noticed it--

INT. 42ND STREET STATION - DAY

Somewhere in the crowd from earlier, a man - his face unseen -
walks through the crowd. He’s dressed for business - a suit
and tie, a briefcase, a copy of the Wall Street Journal
tucked neatly under one arm. He’s knocked from side to side
by those passing by as they force their way through the
crowd.

ROBYN (V.O.)
Even if you had witnessed it, you
almost certainly wouldn’t have
survived. Hardly anybody did.

He nonchalantly puts his hand into his pocket and pulls out a
test tube. Without stopping, without even slowing down, he
throws it on the ground. It smashes immediately - the
beginning of the outbreak.

ROBYN (V.O.)
They’d been predicting these events
for years, right out in the open.
It was public knowledge that the
next big terrorist attack was going
to be biological. As simple as
dropping that one test tube of
Smallpox in the middle of a major
metropolis.

He carries on walking, unchallenged, unquestioned, everyone
was too busy to notice anything. The smashed glass on the
floor just regarded an inconvenience, as litter.

EXT. TIMES SQUARE - DAY

His face still unseen, the man emerges into Time Square,
amongst the thousands of people, all those tourists with
hotels to go back to and nations across the globe to return
to.

ROBYN (V.O.)
Years later, forensic experts
figured out that it started in New
York, probably in a tourist hot
spot, just by retracing the steps
of the first to die--

He stops among the gawping tourists that have stopped to
stare at the Jumbotron at One Times Square and again, reaches
into his pocket and drops another test tube before calmly
walking away, into the throng of people and disappearing into
the crowd.

INT. A NEW YORK HOSPITAL WAITING ROOM - DAY

Patients arriving in A&E. Some sign in, some are already
awaiting triage, most are coughing and spluttering.

ROBYN (V.O.)
At first the hospitals just assumed
that flu season had started a
little early--

INT. AN EXAM ROOM - DAY

A DOCTOR is examining a YOUNG GIRL, who clutches a worn-out
teddy bear as her MOTHER stands by, worried.

DOCTOR
Can you say ‘ahh’ for me, sweetie?
She does and he checks out the inside of her mouth, a
standard exam to check on a sore throat.

DOCTOR (CONT’D)
How long ago did you start feeling
sick?

YOUNG GIRL
Just yesterday and today.

MOTHER
She’s got a rash on her stomach,
too.

DOCTOR
Can I see it?

The girl lifts her t-shirt to show him her rash.

DOCTOR (CONT’D)
Looks like she’s got chickenpox.
It’s unlucky to get a cold at the
same time, but she’ll be okay.

MOTHER
Chickenpox? That’s not possible,
she’s had it before.

INT. A NEW YORK HOSPITAL WAITING ROOM - DAY

More patients, almost all coughing, all spluttering as
doctors run around attempting to triage them.

ROBYN (V.O.)
It was two weeks before anyone even
suggested smallpox. By that time,
thousands were already dead.
Emergency rooms across the world
were packed to capacity.

INT. NEWS STUDIO - NIGHT

A YOUNG NEWSREADER sits at a desk awaiting her cue as make-up
people and tech crew run around ready to go live. She’s
visibly extremely nervous and definitely too young to be in
the anchor’s chair under ordinary circumstances.

ROBYN (V.O.)
By the time the public became aware
of the outbreak, almost a million
deaths had been confirmed in the US
alone.

The chaos calms and the lights come up on the studio. She’s
live.

YOUNG NEWSREADER
Good evening. Breaking news as the
CDC confirms that the global
epidemic that has so far claimed
the lives of around a million
Americans is Smallpox.

INT. A BAR - NIGHT

A busy bar. Everyone is glued to the television as the news
breaks.

YOUNG NEWSREADER
The White House is urging people
not to panic and has announced that
it has deployed military personnel
to oversee the administration of
vaccines across the country.

EXT. A CHICAGO STREET - NIGHT

Chaos everywhere are the streets are lit only by the fires
that have engulfed various buildings. People are rioting,
looting, fighting in the streets as the police struggle to
contain them.

ROBYN (V.O.)
Eventually the people learned that
there simply wasn’t enough vaccine
for everybody. This led to
panicking, riots, looting.

EXT. LOS ANGELES CITY HALL - DAY

More rioting, with cars set ablaze as fire crews and police
desperately try to get the situation under control. A rioter
throws a Molotov cocktail trough one of the windows of city
hall. Others soon follow suit.

ROBYN (V.O.)
It would’ve been a nightmare under
normal circumstances, but with a
highly-contagious and deadly virus
already spreading like wild-fire,
the people turned their cities into
giant petri dishes, allowing the
disease to spread at a faster rate
than ever before.

EXT. A LABORATORY - DAY

A scientist in a biochem lab raids the stores of viols of
medicines. Finding the one he wants, he inserts a needle into
it, loads it up and injects it into his arm before grabbing
more viols and some spare needles.

ROBYN (V.O.)
The people with access to the
vaccines took care of themselves
and their families first. By the
time any got released to the
public, there was barely enough to
vaccinate more than a few million
people.

EXT. NEW YORK CITY STREETS - DAY

TITLE: SIX MONTHS AFTER THE OUTBREAK

The streets are almost deserted - at least by living human
beings. There are bodies laying in the street, some being fed
on by once-domesticated dogs who now roam freely.

ROBYN (V.O)
Within six months, the global
population had been reduced to less
than one-hundred million people.

INT. A HOSPITAL DELIVERY ROOM - DAY

A delivery room in an under-equipped and understaffed
hospital. On the bed, YOUNG MARILYN (mid-late 20s) is pouring
sweat as she gives birth. A MIDWIFE holds her hand as a
single doctor (DOCTOR #2) tends to her.

MIDWIFE
It’s okay, you’re doing fine.

DOCTOR #2
Okay, Mrs Campos, one last push
when I say.

Marilyn begins to hyperventilate - she wants this baby out
now.

MIDWIFE
Control your breathing.

She does as she’s told. Over this:

ROBYN (V.O.)
Of course, that’s the story as I
heard it. I wasn’t actually alive
when the outbreak started.

The midwife mops Marilyn’s brow.

DOCTOR #2
Now, push!

Marilyn gives an almighty push and we can hear the sound of a
baby crying.

DOCTOR #2 (CONT’D)
Congratulations, Mrs. Campos. It’s
a girl.

He hands her the baby and Marilyn looks into her daughter’s
eyes for the first time.

MIDWIFE
What are you going to call her?

MARILYN
Robyn. After her father.

Now, whilst those five pages explain the entire back story of the show and how the environment, the New York the characters live in, came to be that way, it also kills an element of the mystery of the show, takes up five pages and, frankly, is boring as hell.

So instead, I decided to use a more visual way into the environment. When time stands still, as we see in Cuba to this day, everything falls into disrepair. The image of New York, one of the world’s most glamorous cities, in such post-apocalyptic disarray is striking enough – even in disrepair, New York would still very distinctly be New York – but I wanted one more layer to the visual image to really set the tone:

EXT. NEW YORK CITY (MET MUSEUM) - DAY 1

TITLE: NEW YORK CITY - APRIL 7TH, 2031

A busy New York street, so run-down that it could be the
Bronx, Queens, Havana... or Sarajevo. The street bustles with
life as decades of old posters peel from the wall.

Despite the obvious signs of urban decay, there’s not one
single homeless person on this street, no street vendors.
Yes, it could be Cuba, but this ain’t Havana. This is the
Upper East Side.

The striking image is complete with the mention of a decaying Upper East Side; for most New Yorkers, the idea that Manhattan’s most affluent district could fall into disrepair seems almost unfathomable; it would be akin to tearing some of the heart and soul from the city. And that is what I wanted to get across.

With this change in my opening scene, the focus of that scene also had to change. I effectively had three choices: the montage (which I used for Holland Park), the walk-and-talk (a technique adapted from literature, whereby you introduce two characters in conversation with each other right from the start) or an action sequence. Sci-fi convention dictates that an action sequence is usually the way to go and, with a police officer as a lead character, the opening scene became obvious.

In the scene, which I’ve printed in full in a previous post (if you do a category or tag search on Outbreak you should find it), Jimmy witnesses a mugging whilst buying coffee, chasing the mugger around the Met and into Central Park, which is in an equal state of disarray, before apprehending him on the softball field. Introducing our hero, Jimmy O’Brien, with an act of heroism. But by closing the scene with the deliberately clichéd cop show line (“You’re under arrest, dirtbag” ), I also have an opening to introduce Robyn as a Deadpan Snarker (“Book him, Danno”) with a heart of gold; she ‘just happens’ to be in the park with a group of young kids she’s looking after right where Jimmy is making his arrest. Contrived? Definitely, but it lets me establish the relationship between my leads right off the bat.

Interestingly, it’s the middle of this scene where I choose to throw yet another, almost unnoticeable nugget of the mystery out to the reader and (hopefully) eventual viewer. Van Zyl arrives as back-up, taking charge of the arrest so Jimmy can spend a few moments with Robyn (the Bro Code demands it) but as he does, we learn that there’s something unusual about him: He’s South African.

Obviously, under normal circumstances, there’s nothing unusual about being South African. However, you do have to be a US citizen to serve with the NYPD. (You can be a foreign-born, naturalized US citizen, but this is dramatic license being used.) The other unusual thing in the scene, one that I’ll openly admit was inspired by Joss Whedon’s wonderful series Firefly, is one that’ll become a recurring theme: he talks to the mugger in Afrikaans. Later on in the pilot, I’ll introduce both the idea (and the reason) that everyone under the age of 25 speaks Afrikaans as well as English. Why? Well, I can’t spoil everything for you.

At the point in the script’s development that I’m at as I write this, I’ve introduced all of the above characters as organically as possible. The mothers are standard meddling mothers and best friends; Van Zyl is both Jimmy’s partner and a charming womanizer; Harper, Baresi and Stetler are involved in solving the case of the week; by virtue of Professor Wilson’s lessons, we learn small pieces about the history of the outbreak, etc. We’ve got our case-of-the-week and we’re in the process of solving it – red herrings, dead ends and werewolves, oh my! – and we’re leading up to two things: a solved case and another piece of the show’s myth arc being revealed.

What ‘experts’ may find interesting is that I’m not a ‘planner’ – I don’t plan act-for-act, scene-for-scene breakdowns for my scripts before I write them. I have an idea of what the story is or the episode. I know, in my mind, roughly how I intend to get there. Then I write it and re-write it until I not only have the story I wanted t write, but also so that it makes the most sense as an episode of a television show. Every screenwriting book you will ever read says my methodology s wrong. Ignore them; I find my method works better than their does for me. You may find that intricately planning things is the way forward for you. Nothing I write on this blog is intended as gospel, just a new perspective.

Fly by the seat of your pants. Live a little. And failing all else, keep writing… which is what I’m going to do now.

Until next time, vaya con Dios, mi amigos.

Kriss x

May 15, 2011 Posted by | Development Diaries, lessons, Outbreak, screenwriting, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments