Sunday, June 1, 2008

Screenwriting 101: Diary of a Spec Script Part 1

For the next few weeks at least, I’m going to chronicle my own attempt to write a new spec screenplay. This will be my sixth feature I’ve written, although there are two, maybe three of those that are third or later drafts, and I would actually consider showing to an agent.

One thing worth noting is that these are the methods I’ve come up with after a lot of writing, and it’s primarily something that works for me. You’ll have to work on developing your own methods, but maybe what I do can give you an idea towards what to do.

First I need an idea. I’ve been thinking lately about the way the internet is, how people build entirely new and different lives in cyberspace, especially in those fan communities where people pretend to be something totally different from reality (like MMORPGs, or Second Life, or so on.) So I want to take that a step further: in the future, where virtual reality holds sway, people can live entirely different lives online, being whatever they want to be. That’s an idea.

An important question. How do I feel about this? That will help me figure out my tone and my theme. To be honest, while some elements of this can be fun, I think it’s really ridiculous. The tone I want to go for is absurd, ridiculous, and bizarre. I want to go for such audacious things in the online world (machine gun-wielding monkeys riding dinosaurs, etc.) and juxtapose that with very mundane things in the real world.

But where’s my story in this?

This is an important question to ask. You can’t go half-cocked into a screenplay not knowing what the story is or else you’ll meander and end up cutting a bunch of pages in rewriting. So, what is my “A” story, the main arc?

With this idea, of people being able to communicate across continents, a love story seems interesting: between two people who know each other well online, but might not even know they exist in the real world. I like that idea, but it doesn’t fit in with the audacity idea I had before, but I like it. I’ll keep that in mind for my “B” story. Subplots are nice, a few of them can help pad around another story and address your theme. And I can’t just have samurai fighting the entire Soviet army for the whole movie.

Now that I have a sense of my basic plot (absurd online action juxtaposed with mundane reality in a world where people waste countless hours in virtual reality) I have to ask: what is my theme. I seem to have a stance on technology here. The sentence in my head that jumped out to me was: “Technology is bringing us together even as it’s pulling us apart.” I like that. It’s a good theme. I put it on a sticky note on my laptop.

Now that that’s out of the way, I have a rough idea of what I want to do and my theme, I want to come up with a logline, which is good way to condense what you’re after. This is what I first wrote, which is a little long:

In the future, people live entire double lives online, lost in a virtual reality of their own making. Leroy Jenkins is one man who dedicates his life to the Virtual World, living in a realm of audacity and bizarreness even as his own life is full of boring mundaneness. Leroy wins a special competition in Virtual World, getting to playtest Virtual World 2.0. But when the process malfunctions, Leroy finds the virtual world and his virtual persona invading reality.

But I’m not using this as a pitch, it’s just for my own use. And you can see how the idea developed even in the last few minutes of me thinking about it. That sounds like a lot of fun to write and it’d be a great movie.

Next week, I outline and start coming up with my opening. Good writing!

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