Truth vs Reality

Literally the first image that popped up on Yahoo search when I put in

Literally the first image that popped up on Yahoo search when I put in “Truth Vs Reality”

I learned the difference between truth and reality from the film Big Fish. Probably not in the way you would expect, however. This article is going to have some spoilers about the film so if you haven’t seen the movie and want to you should probably stop reading right now. Also, it gets pretty personal and depending on your view of such things overly schmaltzy. It has screenplay advice but not until after a long winding story of family loss.

My grandfather was not larger than life. You can’t be larger than life, he was the exact size of his life. He just filled up so much space around him with it. I owe a lot of who I am to him. My overdeveloped sense of justice, my belief in what a person should do for those around them, a love of the TV show the Rifleman. That’s all from him.

Which now that I think about it is the main way I knew him. Through TV. Thanks to him I’ve seen every episode of Walker Texas Ranger. Every Bruce Lee movie. Most things John Wayne has been in. Quite a lot of Gunsmoke. All of Highlander. The list goes on. I also have my aversion to drinking from the man. He was not a pretty drunk.

What? You haven't seen highlander? You're missing out. Every episode someone gets their head cut off.

What? You haven’t seen highlander? You’re missing out. Every episode someone gets their head cut off.

He died. As people tend to do. It isn’t like in the movies. He died in a hospital bed. I only saw him the once. I don’t remember getting the option to go back but my mother tells me I was invited and declined. I don’t blame me. The rail on the side of the hospital bed was cold against my hands. He couldn’t speak. The gruff whiskey thick voice he’d had all the time I knew him was instead a mumbling stroke addled mess of nothing. He laughed occasionally, but a man who had always been nearly perfectly round was gaunt and thin and sad and dying.

They ‘pulled the plug’ at my mother’s urging. As I said, it wasn’t like the movies. He didn’t flat line as the camera panned up. Or take my mother’s hand one last time and say something clearly. No, he sat there in the hospital bed well aware of what was going on for two weeks.

Maybe longer.

My mother spent a lot of time with her dad over those two weeks. But as I said it was hard to communicate with him. She had to watch him go as slow and painful as one can.

She handled it very well. She only cried a lot instead of all the time.

Now, let’s jump forward a decade or so. The release of the film Big Fish.

I wish I was half as well designed as this logo.

I wish I was half as well designed as this logo.

It’s a movie about a son and his dying father. I saw it, it was by director Tim Burton who was possibly at the height of his fame. A lot of people were pissed off that it had a cheery cartoon like quality to it. They wanted dreary spiral filled Burton. I found the film charming, especially the use of music. Any film that uses a track from Buddie Hollie can’t be all bad.

I took my mother to see it as I had thought it was fun and right up her alley.

I don’t think she ever forgave me.

The father in the film was my grandfather. The way he talked, his propensity for long drawn out stories that probably had little baring in reality. His refusal to accept help or discuss his private life. Even the kind of voice he had. Or the way he looked at the end of the film dying in his hospital bed.

I have never seen my mother so emotionally distraught. Nothing else has ever come close. By showing her this film I had ripped her heart wide open and let it spill out over the movie floor. She told me in no uncertain terms that I was to never show her that movie again.

We probably talked more about my grandfather that day after the film than we had in the decade after his death put together.

It wasn’t that the film was true to life. My grandfather was a mechanic and not a traveling salesmen. His tall tales were rarely so extreme or whimsical. Drinking was his main vice not women, and as I said he didn’t die in some neat pat Hollywood way like the father in Big Fish does.

The father in big fish gets to see his son finally accept him for who he was. They share a profound moment between one another even through the haze of heart attack and death. They truly connect for possibly the first time in their lives during that passage from living to gone.

It’s utter crap. How many people actually get to do that? I mean, if you have. Lucky you. I’ve lost many people and I’ve been by a lot of hospital beds and gotten a lot of late night phone calls. The closest I’ve ever come to a Hallmark moment was talking to one of my Grandmothers who asked me if I’d be coming down from college to visit and I’d said ‘oh, hopefully in February’ ‘that’d be nice’ she said. I agreed. Hung up. And being a bitter college kid thought that it sure was a pain that family always wants you around.

She died. I felt bad.

But that’s what I’m getting at. The film Big Fish was not true to life. However it hit upon a truth. It captured to my mother the essence of who her father had been. It was so emotionally taxing thanks to the ways it altered reality to present the same story she’d gone through in an hour and a half that it nearly killed her.

So, what I’m saying is this. If you want your screenplay to ring true. To have a feeling of reality and honesty. Don’t go looking for real events. Real events are messy. They involve dozens of characters and take hours and hours. Real life isn’t full of metaphors and catharsis. Closure doesn’t come to those of us who deal with reality.

Speaking to truth and speaking to reality are very different. I’m referring to truth as an emotional truth. As something that speaks to someone and feels honest and real. It’s different for everyone. One person’s hammy is another’s perfect fiction.

Still, you can’t find that emotional core spending your time trying to perfectly replicate the way people talk. Or making sure that every weapon in your WW2 epic is exactly as it really was down to the bullet count. You find that emotional core by figuring out what part of the story moves people.

For my mother it was seeing a once strong proud man mumbling in his death bed in a hospital with no one around but a single one of his children to see him off. That image was truth to her.

If just a single moment in your script strikes someone as completely emotionally honest then to that person, odds are you’ve written a good script.

Something to keep in mind.

Also, I’m sorry mom for sharing such a private story, and I love and miss you grandpa. I wish I had known you better. I hope you wouldn’t mind me talking about this.


The First Ten Pages: Indiana Jones

We all know this scene.

We all know this scene.

(Written from Comic Con at 1 in the morning! Apologies for any of those kind of grammar snafus and snobbles that come up when one does such things… ON TO THE POST!)

So, one of my fellow bloggers wrote about Raiders and you can read his writing on it here.

(In his article he basically explores how Raiders manages to do exposition in an interesting yet realistic to the setting and non convoluted way)

I am continuing his grand tradition by also writing on Raiders of the Lost Arc. Which we are not the only ones to do of course. People have talked about how they hate the ending, or how they defend the ending. How the exposition scene is impressive, how Indy never takes off his hat but everyone remembers him going after it (Which only happens in the sequels).

Let us look instead of that at the most important part of the script. The first ten or so pages. Kasdan, the screen writer of Indiana Jones and many other excellent films was always worried about one thing. That Indy would be like the two fisted pulp heroes before him. A hero with no flaws. Someone that can take any situation, woo any woman, kill any badguy.

So, what does Kasdan do with the script? He writes some of the best opening pages of all time.

We open on a jungle. We see a guy who’s obviously the hero. Fedora and leather jacket = hero. Everyone knows this. Someone pulls a gun on our hero and CRACK! He’s disarmed by a bullwhip. The hero? Is also odd, but in a super manly and cool way. Established!

Then there’s the treasure cave. He finds a dead adventurer  like himself. He finds some spiders. A pit. Some deadly darts. He passes them all.

Then the idol. He measures out the sand and makes the switch and… fails.

He has to run from his failure, and his failures keep stacking up. His guide has tricked him and steals the idol. He is chased by a massive boulder. He then gets it back but finds that another treasure hunter has gone about this all much smarter than him and he only just barely escapes thanks to luck and determination.

He flies away a beaten man with his tail between his legs.

So, if really all the opening is, is one giant build up to Indy being in over his head and not up to the challenges around him, why is it one of the most parodied and memorable opening sequences of all time?

Because it’s all about Indy being in over his head and not up to the challenges around him. That’s what the WHOLE movie is about. Indy is powerful, he is manly, he is strong, smart, quick… and he is out of his depth. It’s the entire basis of the film. He is a pulp hero who is not quite up to snuff.

Think of the scene everyone remembers where he guns down the swordsmen. In this sequence he fights and beats dozens of men… and loses the girl. She’s kidnapped. He fails. It’s like this over and over again.

Remember the big man he boxes in front of the flying wing? The guy punches him and has him on the ground before the propeller saves him.

The key to the opening is the key to the whole movie. Indy is never invincible. For as over the top as he and his adventures are, the adventures are always literally one step away from killing him. His adventure is raw because it truly seems to be about to take his life. Everything is one milometer from the edge. Not in the James Bond sense of the bomb about toe explode. Indy is embarrassed by his failures. He’s bloodied by them. He’s laid low and often mocked by his mistakes.

The intro has many plants and pay offs. The bull whip, the opening where some of his guides turn on him, the discovery of the corpse of a rival adventurer, the talk of the ancient people and their beliefs. It all comes back around to show how human Indy is.

Then it ends on the note of his great fear of snakes. The final moment of the opening is to tell the audience Indy’s biggest weakness.

And somehow our hero still comes off as cool and awesome and fun in this intro. That… that is what makes the opening of Indian Jones such a master stroke. That Indiana Jones walks away from that series of well written failures as a cool main character the audience roots for. He’s in over his head, but he always swims as hard as he can. He struggles harder than most other pulp heroes, and that is why he’s so easy to get behind.

It’s easy to be the hero when you always come out on top. What Indy does is hard.

Your Script is Terrible.


Why is the night never bright and calm?

Was that mean? I’m sorry to say, it’s true.

It’s a lousy script. The characters, they’re flat boring and predictable. The plot!? Trite! Your script has second act problems, sooo many second act problems. Your protagonist is obviously just you, only doing things and saying things you’re unwilling and afraid to actually do or say in real life. And your ending? Don’t even get me started on your ending.

Yes, I’m being overly harsh. But, I’m making a point. My simple point is that you should give up on that script and move on to writing a new one. And here’s why:

If you’re lucky, some day you’ll end up in a room pitching your idea to some executive, or someone else with a lot of money who can make your idea a reality. You’ll pitch your heart out, you’ll give it everything you have, and you’ll nail it. That person will look up at you, nod, and they’ll say…

“So, what else do you got?”

I know it will happen to you, because it’s happened to me. They didn’t like your first idea. Maybe they HATED it. Still, they’re willing to hear another one, see another one… you do have another one ready, right? RIGHT?!

Now, I will admit, if you’ve finished a script you should be proud. Most people don’t do that. Most people let it sit unfinished on their computer for years. Something they’ll always get around to. Yet, now that it’s done, it seems no matter what you do, the important things – fame and glory, money and jobs, wine and immortalitydon’t seem to be happening. No one wants to buy your script!

Why is it not selling? Why are they not beating down your door? Maybe you’re just not lucky, maybe you don’t have the right friends and connections, or maybe… the script is bad.

That can’t be! It’s your love, your one true plot. The only good idea you’ve ever had and will ever have!

If you’re only going to ever have one good idea, why do you want to write? If it was just to get that one good idea out, bam, done, good work! You did it! If you want to write for a living you need to be able to churn ideas out. Not like some writing mill, but a new one every now and then may be required of you.

Relax. Take a deep breath. Just try this. Stop putting all your time into trying to sell your script. Let it sit in the back drawer. Let it get some dust. Let it just be done for a while.

I’ll say it again, start a new script. Think about what you didn’t like with the last one, think about what could be better. Think about what things you love in fiction and what things you hate. Write something that surprises you. Write in a genre you’ve never considered writing in before. Finish THAT script.

It will probably suck as well, but when you’ve finished two lousy scripts, you can finish three. When you’ve finished three, you can finish five. When you’ve finished five, you can finish ten.

When you’ve got ten scripts, well, one of those is probably decent isn’t it? Now when you DO get that moment and someone that matters is willing to look at your work, you don’t just have your one desperate cry in the dark, you have a grand ocean of writing. You can show them all sorts of things. Maybe even something they’ll like.

The point I’m trying to make is that good writing comes from dedicated editing. Great writing comes from practice, and a willingness to keep trying.

Now the less harsh truth:  your script probably isn’t that bad, but if you’re hung up on trying to get it produced, you’re focused on that and you’re not writing. Move on to the next piece. That’s the great thing about writing, you can always come back to something later.

So go, write so many terrible scripts that one is accidentally amazing. Unless you’re much more talented than me (and you might be) that’s the only way to ever actually make something great.

Will turning your unsold script into a graphic novel help you sell it?

Comics are fun.

Comics are fun.

I have seen a lot of people trying to turn unsold movie scripts into graphic novels with the hopes that they can get the industry to notice. It makes sense, what with every other big budget movie coming out seeming to use comic books as source material.

The question is, does it work?

The simple answer is… no. Continue reading