Scripts and Screenplays

The Outer Darkness

The Outer Darkness Poster

Rising from the ashes of Bloody Cuts is a new short horror film from directors/producers Ben Franklin and Anthony Melton, with director of photography Jonny Franklin and with a screenplay by my good self.

What will the Outer Darkness bring?

On Friday evenings in the hall of St Barabbas’ Church meets a group led by Father Jonathan Crowe. Together they share their stories – tales of strange occurrences, horrific events and bizarre encounters that have scarred their lives. Tonight, a young woman called Jenny will share her story of her experience with a game of chance that sealed the fate of her family…

We’re in pre-production at the moment, but will releasing a series of behind-the-scenes videos showing the film develop from ‘Script to Scream’ on the KesslerU website, who are sponsoring the project.

The first in the Script to Scream series launches on September 1st – with some hints from myself on writing for short horror films.

To discover more about the film check out the website – www.theouterdarkness.co.uk, follow us on Twitter as @faithindarkness or visit our Facebook page.

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Why writing a TV Spec is a very, very bad idea.

The title of this post is misleading. Sorry about that. Writing a speculative script for a potential TV show is one of the many things that we as writers do. It is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, in the current climate, writing for a TV show is a sound investment given the fact that more and more TV shows are being made on newer platforms like Amazon Studios and Netflix. And lets face it – the writer has more input, credit and control in a TV show than a movie screenplay – or so I’m told.

But writing one is a bad idea. Not because no one will read it. Not because it’s a waste of time. Not because they are harder to structure than a movie. But because…

They will haunt you.

If you’re reading this as a fellow writer, hopefully at this point you’ll have worked out that a spec screenplay is an encapsulated moment of time involving characters whose story is told over 90-120 pages. There’s a beginning, a middle and an end. There will be a journey for the protagonist, whether you follow McKee, Vogler or that Save The Cat thing. Whatever structure you favour – the narrative will end at the end of the script. Yeah, you might place in some potential leads for a sequel (I write horror – that’s a given) or the concept might be so strong it lends itself to a franchise but, at the end of the day, when a feature screenplay ends – it ends.

That’s not necessarily the case with the TV spec. There are different kinds of TV pilot script. There’s the franchise, episodic story-of-the-week type. The same characters who don’t change much, but the situations they’re in do change. Come on – you’ve seen CSI or NCIS or Criminal Minds or whatever. Killer of the week, case of the week, story of the week. With these you need to set up the concept, the characters, the tone of the show and make sure there’s enough there to keep the engine running.

Then there’s the serialised show – a longer form story spread over episodes featuring the same characters. The Walking Dead, Sons of Anarchy, blah blah. There’s a concept there, the characters and conflicts, yep – there are different stories in each episode but its a long form narrative based on longer story arcs, seasons and character developement. This is the binge watching shit we hear so much about. It’s a good thing.

So Joel, why is writing a TV spec a bad thing? There’s the freedom to think about the big picture, plot lines and story threads that could carry over seasons of television rather than 120 pages, all that character development, the endless possibilities of exploring the concept you’ve created.

You’d be mad to say that’s a bad thing. Right?

(It will fucking HAUNT YOU.)

I wrote a TV spec. I didn’t intend to. I wrote a screenplay for a low-budget crime/horror movie that could possibly be produced in one location for fuck all money. I had a good idea and I wrote the script in a few months in my evenings and days off. It came out pretty well. There were some good characters, some juicy scenes and a decent ending. What was good about it was that, although being a ‘monster in the house’ story, if you took the monster out of it there was still a story. The characters, their conflicts and their situation were solid and interesting enough to carry a film.

Later on, myself and my associates were looking for an idea for a TV show. I took the bones of the screenplay – the concept and characters and developed it into something else that transcended the original idea and became something more interesting, original and downright more exciting. The first 15 pages of the feature screenplay grew a 30 minute script. New characters were created, new relationships, themes and concepts came to life. Sorry – that sounds really fucking wanky. But, no shit, this thing became something far better than what it was before. A new logline, a new pitch document, a breakdown of characters, a synopsis of a whole first season of a TV show were written over a few months.

After notes and development, I wrote a 50 page pilot script for the show. Using notes I expanded the characters, their situations, conflicts and relationships. I amped up the tension, suspense and drama. It’s the best thing I’ve ever written. Honestly.

But that’s the problem. Because this pilot is the prelude to a story. It’s the beginning of a tale, the opening to an ongoing story of family, death, crime and betrayal. A story I dearly want to tell. These characters have their own life now. I have notebooks with my scrawls about situations, dialogue and relationships they may have. I know which actors should play them, the story arcs for numerous seasons, cool lines and potential episodes. I know what happens in the very last scene of this show – maybe 6-7 seasons in. I know the music I’ll use for some scenes – I have a playlist on Spotify.

But for now – all they can be is 50 pages of a PDF file. Maybe, just maybe they will become more than that. Some people may see the potential, read the bible I’ve written, listen to my pitches and hopefully see the promise that this story brings.

But this is why writing a TV spec is a bad idea. Because you are creating characters whose lives deserve to be played out over more than 120 pages. They deserve hours of screen time to honour their nuances and conflicts. What is just a name and some lines on a page to a reader is a ghost to the writer, a ghost they have summoned from the depths who requires more than their master can give.

These ghosts will haunt you. They will gnaw at your brain, speaking to you about all the stories they can be involved in but… you can only write the pilot. Yeah, you can create a bible and synopsis for future episodes but they want more…

They will haunt you.

So stick to the feature screenplay spec my fellow writers. Create a character with a problem and wrap it all up by the end of the script. Give the character and the audience what they want – a fucking ending.

Because if you don’t, if you want to start a chain reaction, if you want to drive yourself insane thinking ‘that’s a brilliant idea for season 3’  then by all means crack on with a TV script. I dare you. But seriously, stick to the feature spec with the definite ending.

Because you don’t want ghosts of your own creation haunting you.

Or do you?

(I currently have 30 pages of a new Horror/Thriller TV spec on my hard drive along with the bare bones of an idea for a Crime TV show. As always you should ignore the advice of anyone who talks about screenwriting on the internet unless they are a professional or you agree with them. Especially if it’s me.)

 

 

 

MACHINE STOPPED WORKING

Made over 48 hours a few weekends back with some chums from Bloody Cuts for the Sci-Fi London 48 Hour Film Competition.

We had some actors, a load of costumes and rubbers guns and a big robot suit.

I wrote the script in about 2 and half hours in a busy room, plugged into Fade In and Wu-Tang Clan on iTunes.

This is what resulted – a rather bonkers, cool, post-apocalyptic thing that has made the Top 10 of the Competition.

(I also feature three times – as a guard with a shotgun, a goon who gets shot in the neck and a Bong-Faced Alien who also gets shot. Unfortunately shots of me stroking a mutant fish were excised. Rumours exist of a Director’s Cut however).

Superman/Batman – A Writer’s Take – Part One

Batman. And Superman. And a woman I don’t know.

So, as usual, I’ve neglected my blog somewhat. That tends to happen when you’re writing a spec screenplay, the new Bloody Cuts episode and working up pitches for a number of projects I won’t mention here.

But, in the interests of having some fun and producing some new material for my readers (all 3 of them) I thought I’d explore something that might be of interest.

As a writer I’m constantly trying to come up with new original material for screenplays. But a lot of the time I find myself wondering about how I’d approach existing properties, film series or characters. For example, a fair amount of recent mental bandwidth has been spent mulling over how I’d approach a Halloween or Friday the 13th film (perhaps I’ll post that at some point). Now some might say this is in the realms of fan fiction – nothing wrong with that I may add – or a waste of time as I should be working on original material. There’s a certain point to be made there – but I disagree. Certainly, as a screenwriter trying to break into the industry then your focus should always be on self-generated ‘spec’ material. But once you’re inside Hollywood a great deal of work for professional writers comes from writing assignments, working on intellectual property from other sources such a comics, games or TV rather than original material. This is where having ideas and practice on how these can be turned into screenplays successfully becomes a very important tool in the screenwriter’s arsenal. So – I figure having ideas or concepts on existing properties and kicking around ideas – even just as practice – is a worthwhile thing.

But hey – you saw the title ‘Superman/Batman’ above. Where’s the super-hero stuff come in Morgan?

This post – and the ideas behind it – were inspired by this article on the Scriptshadow website. Now, I visit the Scriptshadow website a fair bit – I don’t agree with a lot of what he does or indeed much of his analysis but its usually entertaining. Essentially what Carson Reeves says here is that a Batman Vs. Superman film won’t work for numerous reasons and that writing a screenplay for it is an impossible task.

Now, I disagree. Certainly it’s one of the most premium writing assignments in history with a ton of things – especially money – riding on it. The pressure to deliver a workable story that pleases studio executives, actors and fans alike is huge. But impossible? No. My main issue with Carson’s opinion here is that it shows a lack of understanding of both the concept and characters.

His approach is that  the film will be Superman Vs. Batman, and that’s the reason it will fail. I agree – but I don’t think that the film at its core will be a Superman Vs. Batman story. The theory here is that the climatic battle between Superman and Batman will be just that, climactic and set at the climax at the 3rd act. Reeve’s issue is that there are a number of ways this won’t work – the motivation for the two characters to be at each others throats, the mixing of tones between the two of them, the fact that Batman is weaker than Superman. These are all fair points, but they miss the major point —

This won’t be a Superman Vs. Batman film — it’ll be a Superman and Batman team-up film. Yes – they’ll fight. Everyone wants to see that. But that shouldn’t be the climax of the film and I suspect it won’t be.

The consensus that Superman and Batman will take each other on is based on the announcement made at Comic Con by Zack Snyder where a portion of The Dark Knight Returns was cited. For those of you unfamiliar with that click below —

In TDKR, Superman (depicting as a government stooge) is tasked with taking out a grizzled, older Batman who has gone rogue and broken his self-imposed vow of not killing. It’s an all-time classic fight – one of my favourites – and involves Batman beating Superman with superior tactics, grit, self-belief and a pair of Kryptonite gloves. A great deal of fan reaction and opinion seems to be that this scene will be the basis for the film’s story. Again, I respectfully disagree. I think Bats and Supes will and should fight (and the kryptonite angle seems obvious) but I don’t think it’ll play out like this.

In previous versions of a Superman/Batman screenplay this was indeed the basis of the plot – Superman hunting a Batman who has gone off reservation. Indeed, it’s the core of a draft by Andrew Kevin Walker and Akiva Goldsman Scriptshadow discusses here . I haven’t read this draft but I think Carson does have a handle on why this particular take doesn’t quite work. Internet commentators have made a great deal of why, following ‘Man of Steel’, that the motivations behind Superman and Batman’s antagonism won’t work. Batman has always had a vow against killing, even letting the Joker live on numerous occasions. Superman isn’t a killer either – although he’s broken that vow a few times in the comics and kills Zod in ‘Man of Steel’. Much has been made of the carnage and death left in the wake of Superman and Zod’s Metropolis battle at the end of ‘Man of Steel’. So – people say – having Superman hunt a Batman because of his willingness to kill is both illogical and hypocritical – and won’t work as a plot point.

I agree wholeheartedly – which is why I don’t believe that Superman hunting Batman, will or should be, the focus of the Superman/Batman film. Let’s look at where Superman ends up following the climax of ‘Man of Steel’. He’s saved the world, revealed himself as a super-powered alien and whilst defeating a greater threat in General Zod he’s also wreaked havoc across a major American city which has left many people dead and injured. The military and government don’t fully trust him – why would they? Whilst Superman agrees to assist them, it’ll be on his terms. Essentially he’s a one-man rogue state who is himself a weapon of mass destruction.

So in the shared filmic universe who here is the threat? A masked vigilante from Gotham who beats up criminals? Or an alien with godlike powers who’s already killed – even by accident – hundreds of Americans? Therefore – based on ‘Man of Steel’ it seems clear to be it won’t be Superman hunting an out of control Batman but vice versa – Batman (the paragon of all it is to be human) hunting or trying to stop Superman.

Now – as I mentioned earlier – this plot point isn’t the whole story. In fact pitting Superman versus Batman should be (and I imagine will be) the 1st half of the story. The Scriptshadow article above seems to have a lack of understanding of the nature of the classic comic book team-up. The genre trope of the team-up is that two heroes, often differing in methods and ideologies, come to blows, realise the error of their ways post-fight and then ally to defeat a common foe or threat bigger than themselves. A classic film example of this is the Iron Man versus Thor fight in ‘The Avengers’. Now – in many cases both heroes are pitted against each other by the machinations of a villain, they are tricked or manipulated in some way. Again – the first time the Avengers meet in the Marvel Universe is when Loki manipulates The Hulk into fighting Thor and Captain America and Iron Man get involved. This fight and eventual team-up happens in the beginning of the 1st act or during mid-point of these team-up stories, and that’s how I’d play the Superman/Batman screenplay.

This – a pitting of two heroes with different methods and ideologies against each other by a villain – is the core of the team-up, and should be the basis for the 1st and 2nd act of a team-up (not versus!) film like Superman/Batman.

But how to do that? What would be an exciting, interesting and plausible way to combine  Superman and Batman (along with their respective supporting characters) in a team-up film? What villain to use? Why are Batman and Superman at each others throats?

Now I was going to reveal my take on Superman/Batman in this blog-post, but what was an introduction has turned into a small essay, which is why this has been labeled ‘Part 1’. However, over the next few days I’ll be working on a summary of my ideas on how a Superman/Batman film could, and may possibly work, for your reading pleasure.

In the mean time, feel free to comment below. And if you want to see what I’ve already done with Superman and Batman, there’s a spec comicbook script for a JLA/Authority cross-over downloadable on this page of the my blog.

Death Scenes – The Script

Death Scenes PosterDeath Scenes‘ is the 7th film in the Bloody Cuts series of short horror films and my directorial debut. For those  interested in a little peek behind the scenes or in screenwriting here’s a link to the PDF of the Shooting Draft of the script.

This is the 4th draft of the script and isn’t really very different to the 1st draft which I wrote in around a couple of hours. The following drafts changed some dialogue to suit the actors and altered/added to the action such as the flickering lights and train noise seen in the finished film.

There is a difference in structure towards the climax, with the revelation of John’s kills being inter-cut in the script but coming in a burst in the film itself. This is one of those examples of the script being changed to suit the pace of the editing and the actual footage.

Click on the link below to view the PDF file —

Death Scenes – 4th Draft