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Micro-Budget Screenwriting-The First 5 Pages- An Analysis
Oct 15th, 2014 by paul peditto

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Good Reader, I have an apology. I write endlessly about Chat, the damn micro-budget I made last year, because I’m a multitasker. Yeah, I have to fill space at Script Gods. But the good folks at Self-Counsel Press agreed to publish my micro-budget filmmaking book Surviving Outside Hollywood (Life Lessons For The D.I.Y. Filmmaker) so a lot of these posts will go there too. Apologies for the navel gazing…

I’m hoping today’s post helps your own process of writing the first 5 pages of your screenplay. Whether micro-budget or a Studio movie, the first 5 is valuable real estate. You’ve got to nail it or risk losing the reader/audience.

Today we’ll look at the first draft of my script for Chat, and then compare it against what actually became the movie.

Remember that famous expression about movie (I believe attributed to Fellini?) There is the movie you write, the movie you make, and the movie you edit and that the public comes to know as THE movie. But the script you write and film you end up with can be very different sometimes.

All scripts should do four things these first 5 pages: 1-Establish the POV character (protagonist) 2-Establish the Tone 3-Establish the World 4-Establish the beginnings of Conflict.

So, here are the first five pages of CHAT, and the changes that happened(in bold):005

FADE IN:

INT. CHAT OFFICE HALLWAY- NIGHT (PRESENT DAY)
Floating, down a fluorescent nightmare. A long, narrow corridor leads toward a bathroom door. The door opens wide…WHITE OUT.

This was filmed and presented at the top as is up to the rough cut. The audience feedback we got showed confusion on this opening so it was swapped out for a shot of Falcon, our protagonist, in the same chat office hallway right at the top. Less confusing and more evocative. It also sets up the creepy tone we want, the lead character, and the world in a single 10 second shot.

This is also the first of MANY times I disagreed with the director Boris Wexler. I came up with a new opening that reached more into Falcon’s mind, that was not as literal, that flashed images at the audience and took a piece of a monologue from a future scene and put it right here, right off the bat. Boris preferred his new open, and with directorial “discretion” and diplomatic balm, basically told me we were doing it his way.

INT. FALCON’S DARK ROOM- DAYs
FALCON, 45, eyes open and ringed red, disturbingly fucked up.Dimmer switch at a 5 watt flicker. Falcon lays back and listens to a WOMAN’S VOICE.

WOMAN’S VOICE
Always the falling, bottomless, silent body, spirit at dawn, dawn on nightmare.

This was filmed as is, but moved.

INT. FALCON’S APARTMENT- DAY
Dim world. Fifteen watt lightbulbs, pitched blue. Well-kept home of a scientist– doctorate diploma, honors and awards framed in glass, library of science manuals and biochemistry books– genius stuff.

RAPID SHOTS – FALCON
Peeking out from blinds, drawing them closed fast.
Expertly inserting a set of contacts. The tray with six other pairs of contacts from strong to extreme light protection.Falcon in the medicine cabinet, pops open a large 500 count bottle of Xanax. Knocking the Xanax down with one- two- three cups of espresso. Frail, hair uncut or combed, Falcon nervously dresses in a suit and tie, readying himself.

This was also filmed as is. It establishes Falcon as a scientist, but also as a man with suffers from photophobia, a disease of the cornea. This is a man who can’t handle light, and shuts himself in as a result.008

EXT. FALCON’S APARTMENT- LATER
Falcon emerges, holding a large wreath, staring up at the sun. He places powerful protective sunglasses over the contacts, stepping into light.

EXT. STREET- CONTINUOUS
Alien landscape, cars and people move very fast, dizzying. A crying child, a jackhammer at a construction site, the screaming of an EMT van passing with cherry lights blazing. All these exaggerated, hypersensitive for Falcon, who walks with wreath toward…

EXT. CEMETERY- LATER
Falcon bends, laying the wreath again a newly dug stone. He stands back to observe the wreath, the stone, the empty cemetery.

EXT. CHAT OFFICE BUILDING- LATER
Falcon looks up at a piece of paper with scrawled writing, then at a nondescript commercial building. He moves inside.

INT. ELEVATOR- CONTINUOUS
Yellow floor numbers pass, reflecting off Falcon’s sunglasses, an inexorable rise.

All these scene were shot as is and open the movie exactly as described. This takes us through about the first 2 minutes of the movie. Boris felt with good pace. For me, I felt, and still feel, we could have trimmed time off here. But so far, no major changes.

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