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Shocking the Donkeys progress report

September 2 2010  Categorized Under: Writing  Add Comment

We’ve just finished the treatment (or book – see previous post) for Act 1.

Most screenplays for feature-length films are designed to produce a movie that’s between 100 to 120 minutes. Hollywood proportions expect them to comprise three acts in the proportion 1:2:1.

This means that a movie of 120 minutes has a 30-minute Act 1, a 60-minute Act 2, and a 30-minute Act 3.

Now that our first act is written out as a treatment we are able to study the proportions of the different scenes. There are 24 scenes and mathematically that means they average about 75 seconds each. Of course, some scenes will be longer than others, but the treatment helps us to see which ones need to be longer and which shorter.

Screenplay formatting is designed to make one page of script equal one minute of finished movie. So when you know that scene 16 can only be 90 seconds long, you know your script for that scene must be confined to one-and-a-half pages.

This is exactly what I was talking about last time when I said you need to start out painting on a canvas (or in this case writing on a digital sheet of paper) that’s the right size in the first place. This is a much better method of working than trying to make savage cuts later. And less time wasting.

The secret is to get the proportions right in the treatment stage before you start writing any dialogue.

But for the moment, we’re moving on into the treatment for Act 2. September is all about getting the book written for the first half of Act 2. We’ll come back to the relative proportions of the Act 1 scenes later.


Writing the treatment (or book)

August 30 2010  Categorized Under: Writing  Add Comment

I’ve been very busy these past few days completing the treatment for Act 1 of Shocking the Donkeys.

When you read a screenplay for a film, you’ll find it’s rather like looking at the script for a play. It’s full of dialogue, and descriptions of what the characters look like and do.

Before reaching the dialogue stage, most screenwriters will produce a treatment (some film people call it the book). This reads more like a novel. It’s a detailed description of every moment of the film, but with very little dialogue.

Imagine, for a moment, you are watching an old silent movie with someone who is completely blind. The blow by blow description you give is, in effect, a treatment. There’s no dialogue – just lots of description of what you see on the screen. So good advice to beginners is to write a treatment by imagining you are describing your movie in much the same way.

Why bother?

When writing a treatment you can let your ideas flow, unrestricted by time and space. You enjoy the same freedom as a novelist, whilst keeping to the proper structure for a movie.

Once the treatment is completed, you can re-write, rebalance one scene against another, and make all the necessary changes. Crucially, you’ll know how much time you can allow for each scene. If one scene needs more, another will have to have less. All these choices can be made before you start writing dialogue.

Imagine painting the Mona Lisa only to be told after it’s finished that it’s too large and the canvas needs to be cut down.

Cutting down the dialogue of a fully written screenplay amounts to much the same thing. Much better to start painting on the right sized canvas in the first place.

Working out the treatment first ensures you know before you start writing scene 34 that you only have one minute (which is one page of script) and you can discipline your writing accordingly and make every line count.


New Facebook Site for Gay Actors and Film People

August 24 2010  Categorized Under: Top donkey  Add Comment

We realise that as word spreads about our film project Shocking the Donkeys, our blog is likely to be read by an increasing number of people involved in the film industry, or who want to become involved.

shocking the donkeys

Shocked donkey

One of our aims in this blog is to take you on the journey from the beginning of the project right through to when it is screened and released as a DVD. And along the way we’ll share with you any useful tips and information we come across.

So here’s a tip. If you’re already involved in the film industry in some way, or hoping to become involved, whether as actor, screenwriter, director, producer – whatever – and you happen to be gay or identify as gay, there’s a new Facebook community which is just for you.

Gay Male Models and Actors sounds like it’s just limited to actors and models but the site says it’s really for anyone in the entertainment industry.

You can sign up there and have your picture, biog and skills on display for others in the industry to see. It’s all about networking of course, and putting people in touch with each other, creating opening and job opportunities.

We shall certainly be giving the site a good run through when it comes to casting some of our characters for Shocking the Donkeys. But let us make this point straight away. Although this movie features some gay characters, the sexuality of the auditioning actors is completely irrelevant and carries no weight at all. It’s all about acting, and many straight actors have carried off gay or lesbian roles brilliantly, and vice versa.

Click here if you want to check out this new community.


Screenwriting’s best kept secret

August 22 2010  Categorized Under: Writing  Add Comment

One of the reasons we’re writing this blog is to share our experiences of creating Greek Island with aspiring screenwriters. We’re not setting ourselves up here as experts, though. But we are fellow travellers with a story to tell.

Screenwriting books

Click to go to Amazon

And here I think is the moment to let you in on one of screenwriting’s best kept secrets: anyone can do it.

Yes, you don’t have to be a Tolstoy, or Tolkien, a Dickens or a James Joyce, or even a JK Rowling, an Agatha Christie or a Barbara Cartland to write a memorable box office hit. And it probably helps if you aren’t.

Screenwriting is a craft, not an art. And like crafting pots, chairs, even buildings or bridges, it’s a skill that can be taught and learned. Once you learn the techniques, anyone can do it.

And if you don’t believe me, just look at the vast number of books, seminars, and college courses that aim to teach you how to do it. Today’s screenwriters have a bewildering range of choice when it comes to theories and tips.

Future blogs will from time to time refer to books we find particularly useful, and you’ll find an expanding list of useful links at the side as we go along.

Today, I’m just going to mention one which Jack Rousseau, my writing partner, is currently reading and which he finds enormously helpful in helping him structure Greek Island. Inside Story: The Power of the Transformational Arc is hardly the most catchy of titles but don’t let that put you off. Jack tells me that Dara Marks has found an interesting way of demonstrating and underlining the importance of the inner story when writing a screenplay.

The transformational arc is about the relationship between the protagonist’s out journey, the visible plot, and the inner emotional journey, what Marks called the sub-plot (not to be confused with a secondary storyline). Jack says that even if you don’t buy the book, do at least read the reviews, such as those in Amazon for example. Also now available in paperback.

Menni, our feisty grandmother protagonist in Greek Island, is a character who is on just such a journey.


Stelios the former best friend

August 19 2010  Categorized Under: Characters  Add Comment

shocking the donkeysI introduced you briefly to the main eight characters last time, but didn’t go into much detail. So I thought I’d tell you more about Stelios. (Please: do not think EasyJet.)

If you’re a woman, or a gay man, be prepared to swoon over Stelios. He is stunningly good looking in that classical mould that goes right back into Greek antiquity. He’s in his mid 20s, with the blackest of thick hair and the whitest of perfect teeth, the smoothest of olive skin covering the most well toned of perfectly formed bodies.

Yes, an absolute fantasy I know, but I’m sure we’ll eventually find an actor who comes close.

Stelios has lived on Kalados all his life. He grew up with Menni’s grandson, Petros, as his best friend. They were inseparable and did everything together. But all that ended when Petros was taken away at 16 by his American mother to live in New York.

Despite promising to stay in touch, Petros didn’t. His new life in New York was so exciting and distracting, and remember he just let it slip. This was before personal computers and mobile phones were commonplace. Remember those days?

We’ve not yet thought out the dynamics of all this yet, but it looks like Stelios could be a very interesting and worthwhile character with plenty of depth to dive into.


The story so far

August 14 2010  Categorized Under: Characters  Add Comment

I’m beginning to feel we’re really getting somewhere with our movie, Shocking the Donkeys. We’ve now got a total of eight main characters, six of who live on Kalados (our fictional island which we really know is rather like Symi) and two living in New York.

Menni is our early 70s, rather feisty yaya (grandmother) who has spent most of her life on the island. Her only grandson, we’ve decided, is called Petros, and he’s lived in New York since his American mother took him away from Kalados at the age of 16.

Petros, who works as a translator for an up-market book publisher (think coffee table glossy) comes out as gay, and meets Alex, a highly talented American photographer who illustrates some of the books.

Menni’s dearest wish is for Petros to marry a good Kalados girl. However, when Petros announces he’s marrying an American she’s happy with that. What she doesn’t realise, until Petros and Alex arrive on Kalados, is that it’s going to be a gay marriage.

shocking the donkeys

Shocked donkey

The bulk of Shocking the Donkeys is about Menni doing her best to get rid of Alex, convince Petros he’s really straight, and get him to marry a good local girl. Stirring the pot will be Gorge (the police chief), Jane (the reporter) and Stelios (Petros’ one-time best friend). Also involved is Takis, the mayor, and his teenage son, Merkouris.

What they all do exactly is still in the creative melting pot.


Greek Island gets a new title

August 10 2010  Categorized Under: Writing  Add Comment

The money boys have asked us to come up with a sexier title for the movie.

As you know, Greek Island was only ever a working title, something I plucked out the air at the very beginning. But a film title, as is any book or play title, is a vital part of the marketing process.

Shocking the Donkeys

Shocking the Donkeys

I once read that a title should make some kind of promise and then you must make sure you deliver on that promise. It got me thinking about famous film titles and seeing if I could work out the promises they made.

The money boys also wanted a strap line, the bit that comes before or after the title. In fact, title and strap line should really be worked out together as part of a single promise.

One of my favourites has to be: The Big Lebowski – Her life was in their hands. Now her toe is in the mail. And then: GoldenEye – You know the name. You know the number. Titanic had a clever one: Nothing on earth could come between them.

Each of these films delivers on an implied promise. So we had to be just as clever. After dozens of brainstorming mails between my writing partner, Jack Rousseau, and myself, we came up with:

Shocking the Donkeys – the gay Greek marriage that rocked the cradle of civilisation.

There is some logic to this. There’s an English euphemism about “frightening the horses”. But on our fictional Greek island, there are only donkeys. Lots of them, in fact. And the people of Kalados have their own colloquial expression (the Greeks are famous for them) about something being so dreadful it even shocks the donkeys. And other expressions about donkeys come to mind.

So Shocking the Donkeys it is. Spread the word.


International hotline

August 8 2010  Categorized Under: Day to day  Add Comment

Although I live here in Greece (well, on Symi, actually) I feel at the moment as if I’m having bi-lateral talks through an interpreter with a computer based in the UK. The computer, through my writing partner, Jack, asks me a series of questions and I have to send it back answers.

Jack is my interpreter because I haven’t a clue what all these questions are about or where they’re going, so he tries to translate.

Do decisions force actions or actions force decisions? That was one. Haven’t a clue.

Will the climax be brought about by a time lock or an option lock? Any climaxes involving locks sound decidedly dodgy to me.

Jacks says it’s all pretty simple really. The time lock is where the characters are racing against a clock, like defusing a bomb before it goes off. The plots of “24” always have Jack Bauer up against some impossible deadline.

Option locks are when the characters, well, run out of options. Like “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (great film). With that super posse closing in, they had no option but to jump off that cliff.

With that computer on my trail both my time and options are running out and I’ve got to take action and make a decision.


Battling Granny

August 6 2010  Categorized Under: Day to day  Add Comment

Jack and I are deep into brainstorming ideas for sketching out the characters. I’ve had what I think is a rather brilliant touch for Menni, the grandmother, who I’ve decided is the protagonist and main character of Greek Island.

I’ve given her a mobile phone and a Nintendo DS.

I didn’t want Kalados (the fictional island with a striking resemblance to Symi) to look as though it was completely cut off from the 21st century.

The Nintendo DS has apparently taken the Menni generation by storm. All over the world there are grannies valiantly battling galactic monsters. They used to be avid buyers of puzzle books but hand-held computers have opened up a whole new realm for them.

The opening scene of Greek Island could well be a distant shot of Menni apparently fast asleep outside her shop (empty of any tourists). But as the camera tracks in more closely we may see her fingers and thumbs manically twiddling with something in her lap. Closer still, and we see her killing off some fiend in a dungeon. Cue the banal computer music with a victory fanfare as Menni fists the air with a clenched first.

Yayas rule, OK!


Essex girl Jane

August 4 2010  Categorized Under: Characters  Add Comment

I’ve decided the reporter will be an ex-pat British woman called Jane. She’s married to a Greek man on Kalados, and she’s originally from Essex. But she’s not an Essex girl, if you get my drift.

Kalados is too small a place for its own newspaper, and I couldn’t see any other media organisation having a full-time reporter based on the island. So Jane has got to be a freelance who lives there because she wants to.

So she’s the one and only reporter supplying any news there happens to be on the island. Which means she’s not exactly busy, and that could be frustrating for her. The gay marriage could be the biggest story she’s ever come across.

Jane probably came across Kalados years ago when she was backpacking round the islands. She fell in love with both the place and her husband and stayed.

Being from Essex. I think Jane can be quite an assertive kind of woman. I think she might be the kind of person to stir things up on the island if she has a mind to. She’s not the sort to be a submissive housewife. Could be fun.