Tag Archives: Screenplay

Writing leads to mental illness

Hellfire and Brimstone PreacherA young Jewish film student from the Bronx walks into a bar with a Southern Baptist preacher, a Goth 7-Eleven clerk, and a gay vintage clothing storeowner.

Sound like the setup for a corny joke?

Actually, those are some of the characters and one of the locations in the screenplay I’ve been writing for the last three months, along with my writing partner Deborah Hocutt.

When those characters inhabit your brain for that long, you have the makings of a serious mental illness. I’m beginning to understand why so many writers have quirky, borderline schizophrenic personalities.

And for those who’ve lost sleep worrying why I haven’t posted on my blog in the last three months, you have your answer.

The script for “Shooting the Prodigal Son” is getting close.
If all goes well, we will complete this draft by Easter.
Soon afterward, we’ll find out if enough people will consider it screen worthy enough to support it with their money. If so, we’ll move into preproduction. Perhaps we’ll be ready to begin principal photography late this summer.

It has been a long, winding road, starting in January 2010. The writing team got down to serious work in February 2012. This is the third major rewrite.

Man Drinking CoffeeI’m feeling pretty good about this one. Although I must admit, I felt the same way about the previous two. So my optimism is guarded and nervous. But optimistic still.

Even if this project never gets off the ground, I am a richer person for having spent the last three years immersed in Jesus’ parable of the lost son. There are so many spiritual gems to be discovered, we could mine it for another 2,000 years and still find wonder and inspiration in this simple story. It is, I believe, the essence of the Gospel.

We’ve set out to interpret it for our culture in a fresh, relevant and entertaining way. Over the coming weeks and months we’ll find out if we succeeded. Pray for us.

In the meantime, I’ll return to a more frequent blog post schedule. There are so many exciting things going on. Among them are next Friday’s TEDxRVA event, in which I will participate. Can’t wait to tell you about it.

The Prodigal Plot Thickens

This week in our writing session, we decided on a direction for the second draft of our screenplay for The Prodigal Project.

Dr. Jim Somerville, Senior Pastor, Richmond’s First Baptist Church

Thanks to our Pastor, Dr. Jim Somerville, who met with us and offered some well-timed words of encouragement. He also made a suggestion which forms the structure for our next draft. It was actually his brother, Gray who came up with the idea. But we’ll get into credits later.

We spent a lot of time laughing during our meeting. We recalled some of the wild ideas we’ve had, both the far-out and the way-too-safe concepts that we’ve considered, and the long path we’ve traveled so far.

I think God opened our eyes to a new perspective: our message and our goals are serious and life changing, but we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously… and God Himself is in charge of the life-change department.

The meeting came after a difficult three weeks of sifting through the responses and input we’ve been getting in response to the first draft. We asked for it, sought it and, in two cases, paid for it. We appreciate every word of it. Most of it has been helpful.

English: Example of screenplay formatting. Wri...

I’m learning something about advice, though: Listen to all the advice that comes your way. But be careful, prayerful and wise about which advice you follow.

Seems pretty simple and obvious, I know.

But I, for one, tend to tune out when someone offers advice that I don’t want to hear. Maybe I’d do well to keep listening and try to pick up at least one point I can use. If I shut down too soon, I may miss something really important and helpful.

A couple of cases in point:

One reader (a west coast script coverage professional) advised against beginning the screenplay with a voice-over. But when I viewed one of the movies he’d written, guess what? It began with a very long voice-over. And it wasn’t especially well-done. I lost interest pretty quickly and turned it off half-way through.

Well, at that point I was ready to dismiss all the rest of what he’d given us. But then I watched another film – and this one was both commercially successful and critically acclaimed. It began with an even longer voice-over. This time, it held my attention.
It was a difference between good and poor filmmaking – not necessarily poor writing.

OK, I understood. So I went back through all the other points our screenplay coverage guy gave us and found several very helpful tidbits. Our second draft will be better for it.

Hollywood Sign

One consistent theme that runs through all the comments we hear from “industry insiders” is about how important it is to stick with the tried and true Hollywood formula for movie making. There are certain kinds of things that have to happen at a certain time, in a certain way for a movie to be successful.

Most of this information is helpful. If we don’t produce a movie that people will want to see, we will have failed miserably.

English: Nestor Studios, the first film studio...
The first film studio in Hollywood, 1913

And Hollywood has been at it for more than a century, so we will listen to the folks “in the business” who know what works and what doesn’t.

But then I pull up a wildly successful movie on Netflix and watch as it systematically breaks all the rules.

As one of my writing partners, Matthew Brown has pointed out, “Who would think that a two-hour and twenty-minute movie, most of which takes place on an island with one actor talking to a soccer ball would be any good.” But, of course, “Cast Away” was hugely successful at the box office and won a raft of awards.

Cover of "Cast Away (Widescreen Edition)&...

The lesson: Learn the rules. Learn why they are the rules. Learn the theory behind the rules. Then and only then, with fear and respect for our industry forebears, venture out and push the edge of the envelope.

I don’t think it is an overstatement to say we’re going to push the edge of the envelope with this project. Can’t say too much about it yet because it would spoil the surprise.

Pray for us as we write the second draft… and as we listen to advice, learn the rules, and decide which rules to break.

Stay tuned… this is going to be fun.