Posted by: steveonfilm | December 28, 2009

Pride is Forever: Day 22

I hate index cards. Wait, let me rephrase… I hate writing on index cards. Even after I wrote yesterday that I was going to do all my notecard work in Final Draft or Celtx, for whatever god forsaken reason I found myself sitting at my desk with a bunch of 3×5 index cards just scribbling away. This lasted all of 20 minutes before I wanted to gouge my eyes out with my pen.

I booted up Final Draft and got to work. About two hours later I had all 14 virtual index cards filled out.

Here’s what I came up with:

1. Doug running with the track team. Complaining about not being able to run the 5K.
2. Coaches discussing steeplechase issue.
3. Coaches address the team, ask for volunteers. Doug and three other guys sign up.
4. Doug and teammates discuss chances of winning.
5. Doug in class staring at Victoria instead of paying attention.
6. Doug strikes out trying to ask Victoria out.
7. Fun race with teammates. Doug beats the guy who is running the 5K instead of him.
8. Doug returns from practice to find a letter from Father Stevens.
9. Flashback: Doug’s high school recruitment and winning the state meet.
10. Doug waiting for Victoria outside of her class. She tries to avoid him. He follows her through campus. She agrees to a date if he wins his race at the meet.
11. Doug at dinner with teammates. Tells about the Victoria challenge. They laugh at his chances.
12. Doug practicing the night before with the steeple hurdles. Doesn’t go so well.
13. Race time. Doug paces back and forth staring at Big Ten champ as he undresses.
14. Doug beats the Big Ten champion.

Now, I wanted to take a moment here to talk a bit about what Syd Field suggests you do with your note cards, and what I find works best for me. Syd wants you to just write one or two lines of description about what the scene/sequence is about and leave it at that. This works for me, to a point. I’m able to hang back and work on the act from a high level for a while. I get the broad strokes down of each scene/sequence. I keep working at it until all 14 cards read through smoothly, and have a natural flow to them. If I can’t tell the story for the act in those 14 cards, then I know I’m trying to do too much.

However, I can’t just leave the cards at that. I’ve found that on more than one occasion, I’ve left things too broad, too high level. This comes back to bite me later on when I’m further along, probably working on a different act. Maybe I glossed over a relationship. Maybe I didn’t realize that I had started a subplot that wasn’t going anywhere. Maybe I’ve got a scene that really has no point. Maybe I’ve got a scene/sequence that really should be split into two scene/sequences. I don’t want to come to the realization of all of these problems AFTER I’ve already started writing the script in ernest. I want to figure all this stuff out before hand.

What I’ve found works for me is to have the original high level notes as the “theme” of the scene/sequence, but flesh out the smaller beats so I have a better idea of what the scene/sequence is going to accomplish. If I need to drop a scene/sequence and replace it with another, I start with the overall theme BEFORE I start to flesh out the smaller beats. I ALWAYS start with the high level, and don’t move down to the low level detail until I’m satisfied with the high level stuff first.

To show you a but of what I’m getting at lets take the first scene/sequence:

1. Doug running with the track team. Complaining about not being able to run the 5K.

Okay, what does this really tell me about the scene/sequence? Not much. I know there is a track team. Doug is a member. And he’s complaining about not being able to run the 5K. Why can’t he run the 5K? Do I need to know this right now? Why is Doug upset about not being able to run it? Now, in an ideal world I wouldn’t need to worry about these questions yet. However, my brain isn’t ideal, and I’ve got to work around how it functions. And, unfortunatley for me, it functions in a manner that needs to know some of this stuff.

In order to handle the questions, what I do is flesh out the scene/sequence a bit. Nothing crazy. A few lines. The smaller beats of the scene/sequence. Instead of just one big beat that’s represented from the theme of the scene/sequence, I’ve developed three smaller beats that will compose the overall purpose of the scene.

Here’s what it looks like:

They trot through campus and through town. A chance to establish location, college, and that these guys are some of the distance runners of the track team.

The overall conversation is about Doug not getting the chance to run the 5K this weekend in the track meet against Wisconsin. The coaches want him to concentrate on the 10K, and thus don’t want him running the 5K.

Doug bets Danny Zoeller five bucks he’ll be running the 5K at the meet. Danny takes the bet, as it seems like a no brainer. Coach Stan Huntsman NEVER changes his mind about things.

Seven sentences. That’s all it took for me to flesh this out a bit. I’ve established a visual purpose for the sequence, to establish the location, college, and that the people on screen are track members. This can all be done with visuals. Buildings. Logos. Track sweats. Whatever. I’ve answered why Doug can’t run the 5K. Set up a bit of a sub-plot with him and Danny. And introduced that the coach never changes his mind, which is an obstacle for Doug to over come.

Everything I presented here can all be accomplished in one or two pages. I aim to have each scene/sequence card be accomplished in two pages or less. Why? Because it’s a real easy way for me to make sure I get the first act done in under 30 pages. 14 scene/sequence cards, times two pages each, equals 28 pages, which leaves me 2 pages as a buffer. Now, this method isn’t perfect, but for me right now it’s what works. And I don’t go crazy if I find myself going over the 30 page point. I find it’s far easier to remove things, than to add them later on.

I’ve got the first few scene/sequence cards fleshed out, but it’ll likely take me another day or two to finish them. I’ll post up how far I’ve gotten tomorrow.

Until next time, keep writing!
-Steve

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