30 Days With Aristotle And Me

The Famous Greek Philosopher Helps Me Finish My Screenplay…In One Month?

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Day 30 – New Insights, Motivation

December 9th, 2009 · Aristotle's Poetics for Screenwriters, Dave Brubeck, Day 30 - New Insights and Motivation, Screenplay As Music

Aristotle's Poetics for Screenwriters I may not have been able to complete my screenplay within 30 days, but studying Aristotle’s Poetics has given me tremendous insights and new ideas. I believe I can parlay what I learned into new ways to approach my screenplays.

In short, I am motivated. Energized.

And grateful to author Michael Tierno for writing his book. I finished it today, right on time.

One of the most helpful tips Tierno provided came in the final pages of his book:

Lastly, write from your soul. Your real soul. As a story analyst, I have rarely seen really “bad” scripts come through the pipeline. I would simply call them really mediocre. I’m starting to believe that the proliferation of mediocrity has to do more with the fact that many writers are trying to second-guess the Hollywood system, which is a very tough system to write for indeed. That’s why I tell writers, especially those trying to break in, write from your soul. That way, the powers that be may sense something they like in your script, something they want to see. The trick to writing from your soul is the essence of the Poetics. You must communicate your soul to an audience and move that audience, as a whole.

Another thing the author wrote that pleased me greatly is [Read more →]

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Day 25 – Paranormal Activity

December 4th, 2009 · 2012, Day 25 - Paranormal Activity, Paranormal Activity

Paranormal Activity It was the best of movies, it was the worst of movies.

This is the tale of two movies. Both are in theaters now.

One film reportedly cost somewhere between $200,000,000 and $260,000,000 to produce.

The other film reportedly cost somewhere around $10,000 to produce.

One movie featured just four people and one set.

The other movie featured more people than attend your average Super Bowl game and enough CGI to make The Lord of the Rings look like My Dinner With Andre.

Guess which movie is worth seeing?

Right. The one that cost just $10,000 to make – Paranormal Activity.

In spite of its miserly budget, Paranormal Activity just topped $107,000,000 in box-office sales. The other movie – the CGI-fest that cost over $200M – only brought in $138,000,000. It’ll be lucky if it breaks even.

Rotten Tomatoes, the wonderful movie-rating web site, says 2012 is 37% fresh.

By way of contrast, R-T says Paranormal Activity is 83% fresh.

2012 Paranormal Activity proves that greatness doesn’t depend on mega-million-dollar Hollywood actors, 100-million-dollar computer graphics, and a marketing budget that would feed a Third-World nation

A good story, well told will make money just because it’s a good story, well told.

Given the dreck I’ve seen Hollywood excrete in the last few years, a movie like Paranormal Activity is a true spirit-lifter. I mean, I feel positively giddy. It demonstrates for all who have eyes to see that a really good Hollywood film doesn’t need to cost more than Obama’s health-care overhaul to hold an audience spellbound.

Paranormal Activity is a spooky, creepy, suspenseful film. It’s likely to cause many audience members to experience a few sleepless nights.

But what’s really scary is that 2012 cost over $200 million to make.

If I was the studio exec who green-lighted that dog, I’d be spending a few sleepless nights, too

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Day 24 – Aristotle Surprises Me

December 3rd, 2009 · Aristotle's Poetics for Screenwriters, Day 24 - Aristotle Surprises Me

Aristotle's Poetics for Screenwriters Part of my 30-day adventure is to read through the book Aristotle’s Poetics for Screenwriters by Michael Tierno. There are 33 chapters in the book and 30 days in which to read them. That’s one of the reasons why I picked this book; that, and it’s compelling analysis of Aristotle’s Poetics.

I’ve read 23 chapters to date. The remaining schedule of reading is thus:

Chapter 24: It’s the Thought Behind the Action That Counts: Creating the Tone of Your Screenplay (Dec. 3)
Chapter 25: How to Cheat If You Can’t Hire a Whole Chorus (Dec. 4)
Chapter 26: How to Create Characters That Are Really Really Really Alive (Dec. 5)
Chapter 27: Dialog Is a Piece of the Action (Dec. 6)
Chapter 28: If the Pitch Doesn’t Fill Me with Horror and Pity, the Movie Won’t Either (Dec. 7)
Chapter 29: The Non-Linear Soul of Quentin Tarantino (Dec. 7)
Chapter 30: If Your Story Were a Musical, Where Would the Numbers Be? (Dec. Eight)
Chapter 31: History Repeats Itself…Real and Imagined (Dec. Eight)
Chapter 32: Aristotle’s Take on the Importance of Drama (Dec. 9)
Chapter 33: Aristotle Took Comedy Seriously (Dec. 9)
Closing Comments (Dec. 9)

I’m working on two screenplays at the moment (which is likely why one of them won’t be finished within my allotted 30 days).

The other script is is 75% done. But something I read in the last few chapters of Tierno’s book surprised me – so much so that I e-mailed my writing partner to request a more thorough examination of a couple of key points in the script.

Poetics isn’t easy reading. But Tierno does a good job of making it understandable.

Unfortunately, some of what Aristotle says seems to run contrary to what a few of today’s screenwriting gurus preach.

I’ll list and discuss a few of the unorthodox recommendations from the great philosopher before my 30 days are up.

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Days 11-22 – Holiday, Clients…and Life!

December 1st, 2009 · Days 11-22 - Holiday, Illusion Suite, Progressive Metal, Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

Ah, the best laid plans!

When I created this month-long adventure through the mind of Aristotle, I didn’t take into account the Thanksgiving holiday. Or clients. Or the vagaries of life.

Needless to say, my writing has not kept up with the calendar.

Which means Aristotle will teach me how to write for the stage the way it’s been done for the last few thousand years, but he won’t do the writing for me.

I knew there was a catch to this.

The War of Art Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art to the rescue!

Actually, I think the only way I could have written a screenplay in one month is if I lived in a cave well stocked with food, water, and music. I don’t see how I could have written it in 30 days otherwise. It’s just too incredibly labor intensive. It requires absolute focus, which is darn tough to muster at the best of times and next to impossible during a major holiday.

Excuses, excuses. Yeah, I know.

I’m refreshed from the holiday, finished with client projects, and energized by the prog-metal band Illusion Suite, whose album Final Hour is rocking my socks off today.

In other words…

I’m back in the game!

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Day Ten – Replotting

November 19th, 2009 · Bradbury, Calliope, Day Ten - Replotting

Bradbury Propped My cat, Bradbury, is to me what Calliope was to the ancient Greeks –  my Muse.

For the record, Bradbury is a Scottish Fold, a somewhat rare breed known for being quirky, adorable, and extremely affectionate.

With his round face, sad eyes, and nearly ear-less noggin, Brad (named after my favorite author, Ray Bradbury) is a never-ending source of inspiration. But when I turn a corner and find him sitting in the middle of the floor like Buddha, or propped up against a wall (like in the photo), I can’t help but laugh out loud, which causes his forehead to crinkle up like he’s either (a) offended, or (b) trying really hard to get the joke.

Bradbury Pleading Eyes I defy anyone to remain focused on writing when something this cute sashays up and sits at your feet, eyes pleading for attention.

The really interesting thing (among many) about Bradbury is that he’ll just sit there, not making a sound, until I look at him. As soon as we make eye contact, he’ll vocalize something that sounds like “waaaah.” He never says “meow.” Not once have I heard him say [Read more →]

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Day Nine – Writing

November 18th, 2009 · 3x5 Scene Cards, Day Nine - Writing, Folk-Metal, Tyr

Tyr: By the Light of the Northern Star It took a band like Tyr, a folk-metal band from the Faroe Islands, to shake off the cobwebs.

Although I love Classical music, sometimes Chopin’s piano concertos and nocturnes are like a sedative and I feel my wits dulling. At such times, not even Dave Brubeck’s mind-blowing album Time Out isn’t radical enough to yank me out of a self-imposed rut.

But sword-wielding Norsemen can do it.

So my writing has been re-invigorated. But I see issues with my scenes (which I plotted on 3×5 cards in January or February of this year). I think I’m going to have to re-plot Act II before I get too far into it.

Tomorrow, I’ll grab my sword and a tankard of ale and get to it!

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Day Eight – Breakthrough!

November 17th, 2009 · Act II, Day Eight - Breakthrough, Eluveitie

Eluveitie Evocation I: The Arcane Dominion It took a bit of listening to some butt-kicking folk metal (Eluveitie’s excellent Evocation I), but I think I solved a problem that has plagued me for the past 2-3 days.

As I wrote earlier, my Act II consists of many flashbacks, stories that are taken from the series of books on which the entire movie is based. Those flashbacks – which are, in a sense, little movies in themselves – gave me pause. How to write them? How literal to the source material should I be? And can I capture the essence of an entire book with each flashback/story in 10-15 minutes, roughly 5-8 scenes?

The enormity of the challenge bogged me down.

So I decided to break down each story and write it apart from the whole, then put them together when I’m done.

Tackling them one by one in that fashion makes them less daunting.

Plus, I thought I was giving too much away in Act I, which opens with a flashback. I realized I could cut the opening flashback in half, then paste the balance into its appropriate spot in Act II. I was going to refer to it again in Act II anyway. This way, I could tease in Act I and reveal in Act II.

So, today I made progress. I wrote 3-4 pages and am now back on track.

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Day Seven – Thinking

November 16th, 2009 · Aristotle's Poetics for Screenwriters, Day Seven - Thinking

Aristotle's Poetics for Screenwriters I’ve read one chapter per day from Tierno’s book Aristotle’s Poetics for Screenwriters. Some of what I’ve gleaned is new to me despite my years of writing and reading dozens of screenwriting books.

Perhaps the biggest tidbit I’ve learned is this: “The perfect Plot, accordingly, must have a single, and not (as some tell us) a double issue.” (Aristotle’s words)

The author’s explanation:

Aristotle argued way back when that using subplots was a bad technique in dramatic writing, and it’s STILL a bad technique in screen writing…Abandon the concept of sub-plots.

A bold statement that runs contrary to anything I’ve seen or heard before.

What the author – and Aristotle – seems to prefer is all activity leading to and pointing to one major theme and one primary person: the protagonist. So, sub-activities, perhaps. But not sub-plots.

The author calls the theme that runs through and defines the movie the [Read more →]

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Day Six – Don’t Ask

November 15th, 2009 · Day Six - Don't Ask

I mean it.

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Day Five – Walking

November 14th, 2009 · Ace In the Hole, Billy Wilder, Day Five - Walking, Myrath, Solving Creative Problems

Myrath - Hope Two things came up today that sidetracked my writing.

1. The gorgeous weather. West Michigan isn’t known for a whole lot of gorgeous weather, at least not at this time of year. So my wife and I spent nearly four hours outside walking around – hiking in the woods, walking the rail trails, and just breathing deep the warm late-Fall air. I love being outside, especially in the Fall. And I absolutely enjoy getting exercise. While it’s true that writers write, writers who write too much get fat asses.

2. I’ve been ruminating on a format problem with the script. I have an Act II that exists almost entirely of flashbacks, with voice overs in the present, cuts from the past to the present then back again, etc. I discovered last night and early this morning that I was bogging down with my writing because I wasn’t sure how to properly format the scenes.

Whenever I encounter a creative challenge I tuck it in a corner of my mind and [Read more →]

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