Posted by: steveonfilm | January 11, 2010

Change In Direction: Part 1

I know I said I’d post a video today. I tried recording it twice, but I’ve got too much to say, and I was pushing the 12 minute mark both times, which is too long for a video. Instead, I’m going to write up the first part of what I wanted to say…

This is what got my head rolling this weekend…

On the 10th I mentioned that the scenes I was writing “technically achieve what they need to, and they’re not terrible, but something’s missing.” I ended up walking away from my writing that night and taking a breather. Aside from doing a bit of meditating on the story, I did what I do a lot of other times I feel sort of down or stuck during a project, I watched a movie. This time it was “Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang.”

I’ve probably seen this movie a dozen times. I’m constantly trying to get other people to see it. I think it’s brilliant. It was the start of Robert Downey Jr’s “comeback,” so to speak. It also had Val Kilmer in a comedic role, and if you know me, you know how much I think his comedic acting is underrated. And Michelle Monaghan, are you kidding me! I’ve got no idea what it is about her, since she doesn’t look anything like my type, but that women just does it for me.

For whatever reason I was actually paying attention to the opening credits. Oh, wait, I know why, I actually noticed the art direction of the credit for the first time. Meaning, I recognized the style and homage to 1960 minimalist advertising and logo design. Then I saw the name Shane Black. He was the writer and director.

I knew that I recognized that name. But I couldn’t put my finger on it. So I just filed it away in the back of my head and set a reminder to look him up on IMDB when I was done watching. After the movie was over I was left, as I usually am, just amazed at how great the dialog is. I thought, “That had to be ad-libbed, no one can write stuff like that.” So I looked up Shane Black and then it all came together: “Lethal Weapon”, “Lethal Weapon 2”, “The Last Boy Scout”, “Last Action Hero”, “The Long Kiss Goodnight.” This is the guy who wrote some of my favorite movies of all time! I mean, I put Lethal Weapon up there with Die Hard for possibly the greatest action movie of all time. This guy DEFINED the hard R action flick. And I had no idea! Let me tell you, I felt pretty shitty.

That did it. I went out and found the script to “Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang” and started reading. Holy shit! This is incredible. There was no ad-libbing in the dialog, he wrote all of it! Ever witty aside. Every snarky comment. Every snappy comeback, put down, whatever, it was his. I blasted through about 30 pages in like twenty minutes. It was a rush to read.

This seemed like it was so much fun to write. It was like what I saw myself aspiring to write like. I was going in that direction with “Served Cold” (though still lightyears away) but I felt like I was going the other way with “Pride is Forever.” The fun wasn’t there. The excitement wasn’t there.

Here’s an example of how Shane writes from a deleted or excluded scene in “Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang:”

EXT. LAKESIDE ROAD – DRIVING – NIGHT

PERRY drives. He’s donned a dry pair of sweats. Beside him Harry’s still soaked, shivering. Perry’s mood: foul.

GAY PERRY
Bitch. Lies to me, drags me up here to watch a Goddamn murder… I swear, I’ll —
(stops suddenly, points:)
Hey. Over there. See those tracks…? They weren’t there before; they’re new.

They Exchange puzzled looks. Pause… Perry turns off onto the rutted dirt TRACK. CUT TO:

HARRY AND PERRY STAND, STUNNED

Staring forlornly. Overlooking the exact same beach

Now utterly devoid of CORPSES. Female or otherwise. Serene. Peaceful. Water placid.

HARRY
Maybe she, um,… wasn’t dead?

GAY PERRY
Piss off. I could reach in and touch her exposed brain.

HARRY
Right. So… the tide drew her out.

GAY PERRY
What tide, IT’S A LAKE.

He shakes his head, gazes out across the dark water.

GAY PERRY
We’re getting out of here, now, and this shit better be improving your acting.

I did some reading up on Shane Black after that and came across the quote I posted earlier today, “The feeling of finishing the script, the first draft, was the high.” This was it. This was everything I was trying to get across to people when I explained why I write. It wasn’t about trying to be great. It wasn’t even about trying to be good. It was about that rush I got when I typed FADE OUT.

This is when I knew that I needed to get back to writing the way I wanted to write. The problem I had been running into with “Pride is Forever” wasn’t the story, it was trying to write in a method that I had grown out of. I was forcing myself to operate within a creative boundary, within the exercises outlined in “The Screenwriter’s Workbook.” And that was the problem.

But more on that tomorrow.

Until next time, keep writing!
-Steve

P.S. I almost forgot. You can get a copy of the screenplay for “Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang” here. If you’re an aspiring screenwriter, or just enjoy doing it as a hobby, I HIGHLY encourage you to read it.

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