Sage advice from John August

I frequently (maybe once a week) click over to John August’s screenwriting blog (JohnAugust.com) to read up on his craft. He’s quite the Hollywood workman, taking on many projects, delivering pages upon pages to producers, penning his own work. In one of his seminar interviews he mentioned having 50 un-produced scripts of his stacked somewhere, waiting for a budget, waiting for the “Go”.

Yes. Fifty. Perhaps I misunderstood what he said (you be the judge, watch this and let me know) but, moreover, something he mentioned rang true to me and it’s something he says quite often: “My favorite scripts are the ones that get made.” Or “produced” or “made into movies”. Point being, he’d rather have a stack of movies than a stack of scripts — more or less — and so would I, to be honest.

That said, and I don’t want to put words into his mouth, it is important to keep writing and have material to show for your efforts. I don’t think I’ll ever have a stack of FIFTY screenplays on my writing desk. Nope. Never. However, I wouldn’t mind FIVE feature films on the shelves of Blockbuster or available on NetFlix or even just ONE in the theater. Yeah, I could deal with just ONE on the Silver Screen. It would be great to have more than that, but I’d be content with one. Happy with more, but content with one.

Anyhow, one of the bits that August posted was titled You only have to destroy the Death Star and you can read about it here. Without knowing it, I was doing just this with The Sleeping Deep.  Read below and I’ll explain.

You only have to destroy the Death Star

Something I try to remind myself when writing epic-themed stories — which is a lot, recently — is that my hero doesn’t have to fix The Big World Problem by the time the end credits roll. Rather, he just needs to achieve the small, specific goal I’ve set out for him. He only has to destroy the Death Star.

Yes, that task should be exceedingly difficult. But it’s several orders of magnitude away from The Big World Problem.

Darth Vader and the Empire are still very much kicking at the end of A New Hope. Nazis are alive and well at the end of Raiders, The Guns of Navarone, and every WWII epic you’ve seen. By the end of The Matrix, Neo has learned something of his powers, but the world is largely unchanged.

In fact, the rule seems to be that it’s only at the end of a trilogy that the hero really transforms the world. And you don’t get to make a trilogy unless the first one works. So make the first one at human scale.

When I approached the first draft and core story of The Sleeping Deep, the idea was to keep the action personal, intimate, “at human scale” August mentions, so the action wasn’t global, continental or widespread. It was mostly about the main character Charlotte Foster. Her dreamscape counterpart Kevin Tiggs plays a big role in the film, too, but is mostly there to motivate Charlotte’s story. Well, that was my plan at least.

The Sleeping Deep is Part I of a larger story that I’m hoping to expand on with a sequel, a second script, and maybe even a third. The first film is intimate, personal. In Part II, the net is cast wider, opening up the story to a collection of diverse characters, and the threat is even greater. The third installment, well… let’s save that for another post shall we?

I guess having read August’s post after the fact, I’m feeling as though I’m on the right track, or at least feeling that my intentions aren’t so far fetched in terms of outlining the scope of what could be a satisfying and effective motion picture fantasy/sci-fi/horror/thriller epic saga. (phew!) Time will tell.

Enjoy the weekend!

~ Jeff

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