The Screenplay: Day Two

Today the book graciously informs me that I am going to write twenty pages in three hours.

Twenty pages, three hours.

While I'm at it, why don't I make bricks without straw?    I've always felt that I can't progress in a story if the beginning is wrong.  It's like adding another layer of pyramid on top of a crumbling, uneven foundation.  Eventually the pyramid will fall down.  Or it will turn out lopsided.

This monstrous task makes me want to waste the rest of the night reading Inspiring Dog Stories.

So tonight I am going to defy the book and do what it tells me NOT to do: go back and edit, starting with the opening scene.  Read the first draft here.



Red rooftops bake in the afternoon sun. Wind tosses dust and dead leaves across the roof. NIX’S HAND grabs a leaf. She opens her hand and the leaf lies in her palm. CAMERA PULLS BACK to show NIX, a plain girl of 16. She balances on the pinnacle of the roof.

BELINDA (O.S. from below) And when you fall and break your neck, I suppose you’ll expect me to feel sorry for you.

NIX Watch!

The leaf lies in her palm. Nothing happens. BELINDA and PEARL watch from the courtyard below. Belinda, 17, is plump and wearing yards of ribbons and white lace. Pearl, 5, is rocking up and down on her toes.

PEARL Are you doing magic, Nix?

BELINDA No, she isn’t. Come down! You can fail on solid ground just as well as on that roof.

NIX Uncle Lorenzo says heights inspire great feats of magic.

BELINDA (hands on her hips) Uncle Lorenzo also believes the earth is flat and that the ghosts of all the rabbits he’s ever eaten live under his bed. If you don’t come down, I’ll—

Pearl runs for the ladder leaning against the wall. She is half up the ladder before Belinda or Nix realize what is happening.

BELINDA Pearl, come back!

Meanwhile, Nix has still been staring intently at the leaf on her palm. There is a spark. Is it real or a trick of the light? The spark jumps out of her hand.

NIX (shrieks in triumph) LOOK! Look, both of you, I-

Pearl totters along the roof towards Nix. She slips, and grabs Nix’s skirt. Nix loses her balance and she slides down the clay tiles, twisting her skirts. She scrabbles at the tiles with her hands, and grabs a pipe. Nix dangles half off the roof, with Pearl clinging to her. Belinda watches from below, horrified. She runs for the ladder.

BELINDA Don’t let go, don’t-

Under the deep shade of a laurel tree in the courtyard, PASCI rouses himself from sleep, with two cats curled up in the dust beside him. Pasci wears rather grimy white clown’s blouse, frilled collar and trousers. He yawns and dabs his sweat with his collar.

PASCI Little birds are singing. (Lazily he walks over to the ladder, which Belinda is dragging towards Nix and Pearl.) Allow me, lady.

Pasci walks below Nix and Pearl and spreads out his arms dramatically, offering to catch them.

PASCI Smallest bird first.

Pearl lets go of Nix and falls in to Pasci’s arms, giddy and laughing. Pasci sets her on the ground and holds his arms out for Nix.

NIX I think I’d rather take the ladder.

PASCI Brown bird, brown bird, fly down to me.

Nix takes a deep breath and allows herself to tumble down into Pasci’s arms. He staggers, but catches her.

Better?  I think so.  Belinda and Pearl are important, so I might as well introduce them right away.

Read Screenplay Preparation: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Day One.

The Screenplay: Final Prep & Day One

During the month of August I'm working through the book "How to Write a Movie in 21 Days."  I'm almost done with required the prep work, so today I can actually start on the screenplay.

Last bit of prep: write a blurb.  The sort of blurb that would go on a website or the back of a DVD.  Let's look at the IMDB blurb for Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl.

Blacksmith Will Turner teams up with eccentric pirate "Captain" Jack Sparrow to save his love, the governor's daughter, from Jack's former pirate allies, who are now undead.

No offense, IMDB, but that's an awful bit of writing.  Maybe Amazon has a better synopsis:

Join the adventures of Jack Sparrow and his nemesis Captain Barbossa.

Captain.  Captain Jack Sparrow.  Surely I can do better than this, although it's hard to write a quick summary of a movie that doesn't yet exist:


For centuries the Family of Magic has guarded the city, though their enemies have long since dwindled into children's stories.  Now, when the Family’s secret is revealed, their house will crumble...

And the city will be left defenseless.

It's not a brilliant summary but it will do for now.

Moving on to today's assignment: write ten pages of screenplay in two hours.  The point of this assignment is to write badly.  To rattle out ten pages without stopping to think if it's good or bad or staggeringly awful.


Two hours after I typed the above, I've written my ten pages.  And most of it is awful.  Sometimes I didn't know what to write so I threw in some death and kissing, because it's ITALIAN.  And there's lots of death and kissing in Italy, right?  Or so all the operas say.

I sort of dread re-reading my ten pages of awfulness tomorrow.

Read Screenplay Preparation: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

The Screenplay: Preparation

I have never had the slightest desire to write a screenplay.

That being said, why am I writing one?

While I was at the IMC, Iain McCaig recommended the book "How to Write a Movie in 21 Days" during one of his lectures.  Afterwards I was lucky enough to have a chance to talk with him about writing.  He said, "Have you ever thought about writing a screenplay?"

I said no.

"Why not?"

I couldn't think of a reason.  I said I wrote novels.  Short stories.  Fiction.

"Try writing a screenplay," he said.

So here I am.  I've got a copy of the book, though I'm dubious of anything with a title along the lines of "How to Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too."  But I'll give this screenplay a shot, and if all else fails, maybe I'll get some material I can turn into a novel.

One of the first things the book said to do was write down any ideas for scenes on 3x5 cards or scraps of paper.  Here they are: all jumbled up.  No order, rhyme or reason.  Some came from old stories I dragged out of my mental attic, others from interesting REM cycles (I have a lot of these).

Then the book told me to make a list of my main characters, with their greatest desires, personalities, ages, etc.  Since my plot revolves around three families, they count as characters, I suppose.

The setting: a place like Italy in a time that never happened, but is very similar to the 18th century.  (I know it's vague.  Work with me.)

  • Family Incenda.  The family of magic and fire.  Traditionally they protected the city from a mythical "beast."  However, the beast has degenerated into myth, and now the Incendas occupy themselves with spectacular displays of pyrotechnics  and political intrigue.
  • Family Fontani.  The crown family.  Now only figureheads, but the young king is growing resentful of playing the Incendas' puppet.
  • Family LapidasA family who has recently risen to power through the guile and financial skill of its head.

And the main people who are members of these families:

  • Nix.  A minor cousin of the Incendas.  Nobody very important.  She has a gnawing desire to master her family's art of fire.  Age 17.
  • Pasci.  The Incenda family fool.  Always smiling, always laughing.  Even when he wants to weep.  Unknown age.  Not sure what he wants.  Nix's best friend.
  • Quanzi. Formerly the heir to the Lapidas fortune.  A dreadful disappointment to his father.  He announced he wanted to marry a nobody.  His enraged father had his son publicly humiliated and then made his younger brother heir.  To crown it all, Quanzi’s squeamish bride then jilted him.  His main desire, at the moment, is to NOT murder anyone.  Because there are several people he'd like to kill.

Obviously I have Quanzi worked out better than anyone else, but he's a character I thought up years ago.  Only a few days ago I discovered he fitted into my half-formed plot like a missing puzzle piece.