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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Thrill Ride

So lately, the Wave-inatrix has been helping out a friend with a really fun, action-packed action-adventure script. He had the first act done, actually, but was needing help beating out the second act (because he knew, from having set up the first act, about what his third act had to be already). So we've been having a lot of fun with it - this is going to be a rollicking good time and because I am sworn not to discuss it, all I can say is it has a huge, perfect, never-been-done hook. When my friend gets this off the ground, he's totally taking me out for some surf n turf. Dammit.

Recently I had the pleasure of having a young pianist and USC student of film composition over to the ol' place to play my 150 year-old piano which is, beyond my books, my most treasured possession upon which I can play slightly imperfect versions of the Canon in D and my all time fave, Hoagy Carmichael's Heart and Soul. Hey, it's music to me. And my neighbors.

The pianist - we'll call him Julio - asked about the story I was helping with. I described it and he grinned from ear to ear and said - like this? And began to score the story idea. It was an amazing experience to see how a composer plays with the story to arrive at a theme for the score. The main theme. The scary parts. The romantic part - all based on the established theme. Julio asked what the set would look like. He asked what the theme of the story was. He asked about the rating the movie would likely get.

But the best was yet to come. Sitting on the creaky old piano bench, Julio turned to me and said - tell me the scariest part. I made a pretty good scary set piece up on the spot and Julio played fast, frightening, action-y music. He turned to me again. Like - would this be a ride at Universal? It only took me a second to respond to that one. Why yes - yes it would!

I had what our beloved PJ would call a "ding dong" moment. Or, in my own parlance, an ohhhhhhhhh moment. Yes, yes this script could totally be a thrill ride! But the pianist wasn't done. What would you ride in? What would be the first thing the ride does?

And right then and there I began to simply make stuff up. For one, the actual author of this story wasn't there so I had to take some liberties but suddenly, set pieces began to inspire me.You'd be riding in this rickety canoe! The pianist began to play. And - you'd go over this waterfall that's on fire!

And suddenly, set pieces for the 2nd act began to appear to me as set pieces that would just have to be on that thrill ride. I wonder what screenwriters get paid if their movie becomes a thrill ride? A nickel for every passenger? Hey, that could add up to a lot of cupcakes.

Later, I told my friend about the experience and he was delighted and inspired by some of the set pieces I had imagined on the thrill ride based on his script. Together, we began to build on the set pieces so that they really capture the essence of the story and escalate the narrative in fun, dangerous ways.

To be perfectly honest, I had heard somewhere once before that imagining your action-adventure as a thrill ride is a great way to come up with set pieces - I'd just never done it since this is not the genre I write. If you're writing an action-adventure, I highly recommend imagining the ride that would go with it.

Now, I know a lot of Wavers are reading this thinking - fat lot of good that does me, I'm writing a period drama! 1) please, god, say that's not true but 2) so you're writing a different genre. You can still make use of this idea by imagining the trailer moments for your script. That is an oldie but how many of you have tried it?

Trailers are generally set pieces with pivotally funny/scary/dramatic moments of dialogue punctuating them. Try it today Wavers - write a trailer for your script so far. In prose - I'm not recommending you abuse Final Draft by literally writing a trailer. But what would that trailer look like? It would start with what, be punctuated by and wind up with what?

Can you distill the most exciting, pivotal moments in your script? No matter where you are in the process of writing your script, from the imagining/panicking stage to the final touches, this is a fun exercise.

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PJ McIlvaine said...


Anthony Peterson said...

Yeah Baby! Oldies ARE Goodies. I'm writing my trailer now!

Wenonah said...

I rode on that ride (on the photo) in Las Vegas and puked my brains out for the rest of the night.

-which reminds me of a script I wrote...

Julie Gray said...

LOL Wen! There is no way in heaven or hell I would set foot on that ride!