Saturday, December 29, 2012

My first screenplay...

I survived the holidays, mostly by being a hermit and reading my new favorite book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. Now moving onto Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut. I also ate a delicious cake shaped like a log, so festive...

Earlier this month I completed an introduction screenwriting class where I wrote a 24 page screenplay for a short film. It was this class that I hoped would help me work on the big problem I was having  of not being able to tell a story (see my previous post), and I was totally right. In fact, writing the thing and dedicating all of my energy to learning as much as I could about the process itself has changed me for the better.

I started out thinking that I would just try screenwriting to gain a little story telling experience, but what I learned is that this isn't just a craft that I want to dip my toes into. While in the midst of writing it, something unexpected happened that I've never encountered before. I simply lost myself in a world of my own. The characters I had created had grown into something more than the pages of their bio. I could suddenly hear their voices and thoughts in reaction to an obstacle that I had given them. I could imagine a place that I had never been before and yet give it plenty of life and a purpose. My imagination and the ever elusive writing muscle that I had been so desperate to exercise had both gotten a rigorous work out.

I've always struggled to find a medium that I feel comfortable expressing myself in, but something clicked after writing these meager 24 pages. Now nobody is saying they're very good pages, but they're mine and something I feel proud of. When I finished it, and boy did it feel good, I knew that I should probably pay attention. Here was an opportunity to start something new in life. I knew from making short films in school that I think visually, but it never really occurred to me to direct that effort into writing visually. It was definitely something I had to be taught how to do. In a sense, I had learned more in this class than I had in the majority of my other film courses.

I want to keep going with it and see where it will take me. This winter I'll be starting my first feature and I see it as a wonderful opportunity. I'm in the mode now where I'm starting out and simply creating a stack of work. Screenwriters generally don't even sell a feature script until they already have 15-20 sitting on a shelf already, and I think at this point in time that is exactly what I intend to do. They might never see the light of day, but it's practice and something that I want to work towards. I want to make something that I can be proud of, and if I can make even a cent for it, well I'll consider that a win.

Rather than have you vaguely attempt to relate to what the hell I'm referencing, I'll simply attach my screenplay to read. Keep in mind that I've never done this before, but that's kind of why it's fun. I don't want to be shy about it, the more feedback I can get as I move forward the better.

Welcome to Earth

On to the next one!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

To study film, sort of.

A funny thing happens when a desperate college student plays a little game called "Go down the entire list of majors and pick one, or die." Suddenly you insert yourself into weird fantasies and scenarios previously thought to be out of the question. Traveling down the list one by one, I think to myself "How can I embarrass my parents the most and spend a lot of borrowed money doing it?" I pass over "Film and Digital Media" and then it hits me. Wait a second... can I actually just sit there all day and watch movies... for college?!

To most people I just say yes, it's pretty sweet blah,blah,blah. But beneath the surface of it, my experience with studying film at the university level in California has left me with mixed feelings.

As an undergrad, at least at my school, you get about two or three options with this discipline. The first is obviously production, you're making actual films for class. The second is critical studies, you read, write, and probably even teach some other students film theory. The third is more focused on digital media, mixed mediums, web design, etc. Now, I'm coming out of this thing with all my energy put into the production side and about 3 years in I start to notice a big problem.

Everyone starts off in the same boat learning the language of film. Cuts, tracking shots, lighting, editing, every filmic technique -- mostly through example. It's true, I did in fact sit there for years doing exactly what I pictured, which was watching film after film and then getting lectured about it. Now this is all fine and dandy, but it was also a problem for me because we were being taught how a story is told in film without being taught how to tell a story period. This might sound like a stupid complaint, really, who the hell doesn't know how to tell a story?

The thing is, after watching plenty of student films that we made for class over the years, most people couldn't convey much to an audience aside from the fact that it took them all night to get the title cards just right... We all knew how to work a camera, we were raised with them, but what frustrated the hell out of me was that dramatic storytelling, screenwriting, even three-act structure was just not a halmark of my education. Right away I learned technique from Hitchcock and theory from Eisenstein, but actually telling the story and in an interesting way was the farthest thing from my mind.

I feel like I've only reacted naturally in response to this backwards strategy of teaching film. I got sick of not knowing how to write. Why doesn't my short film about a dude who listens to a vinyl record and dreams about being a criminal getting judged by a demon while he's actually a police officer who just broke up with his girlfriend make any fucking sense? At least partly because I didn't think to take the only screenwriting class offered until my senior year. I'm going to be mentioning it in more posts in the future, but for now let's say that taking that class has to be the best decision I've made in years. It's also what sparked the idea for this post in the first place, because every day I thought "Why is this not mandatory for all beginning film students?!" Now I know how to develop characters, premises, obstacles, a setup and punchline... be it a little late in the game.

I think my perspective has drastically changed and in a good way. Of course I still want to work in production, but I've also jumped on the writing train and it's opened up a lot of new ideas for me. I'm reading more than ever, studying screenplays, and working on a voice for myself. It's the only logical path to take for fixing the problem that I had earlier where I couldn't make coherent films. I simply want to get the writing down solid.

Don't get me wrong, I've had a blast studying film over the past 4 years and, to be honest, I might have dropped out to do something else had I not come upon it. Shooting bloody fight scenes, emotional breaking points, twisted fantasies, and everything in between is something that not many students get to do for their assignments and I feel lucky for the opportunity at such an exciting education. Now I'll be writing a feature film for my senior exit instead of the usual senior short film, and will hopefully hone the skill to get somewhere with it in the real world...

(licks his peppermint Haagen-Dazs ice cream bar)

Mmm. I'm home in Napa for the holidays. It's time to freeload for a few weeks and catch up on my, uhm, more ice cream? I think yes.

Favorite Christmas movie? No question, I'm in front of that 24-hour marathon every year!

Also considering using Django Unchained as an excuse to escape the impending family living room get together. Last year was actually the first time I was driven to do such a thing and I snuck out for Tintin in 3D. Yes, I will pay good money to get the hell out of that nightmare and no, I don't feel any remorse. Ho ho ho!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

How did I get here?

I was one of three 6th grade valedictorians when I "graduated" elementary school in Napa Valley. Yes, I know. Stop laughing... Anyways, this means that we each had to get on the stage and give (read) a graduation speech. Now I don't remember much of the heartwarming bits about the future and growing up, but I do recall telling the audience that I wanted to make movies and some joke about showing up Steven Spielberg.

Sure Ben, sure.

Having lowered my soaring sixth grade career expectations, I'm still taking the film route and Delusions of Fresh Meat will serve as the record of my experiences.

Thank you for being here and reading my first post! I'm starting this blog for a number of reasons, but mainly to exercise my writing muscle and to share things that I'm interested in. I'm setting out to improve the way I articulate my thoughts and ideas, and I think getting in the habit of writing regularly will be my best shot at it.
Aside from me just writing for the sake of writing, I'd like for this space to be where I can talk about anything; films especially, but also work I'm doing, college life coming to an end, and eventually my pilgrimage to Los Angeles this upcoming year.

My goal is to get a job, surprise! I want to start off at the bottom as a production assistant, so while researching this I stumbled onto a bunch of blogs written by people who do exactly that. I read all their awesome stories and experiences about working on a production set every day and let's just say I'm anxious to dip my feet in.

I'll be here posting pictures, videos, news... Maybe try my hand at a film review?
Stop by when you want to see what I'm up to. I'll do my best to update regularly, every few days or so.

Here's a short video you should watch that is totally relevant, check it out!