May 4th, 2014:

CREATING A SCREENPLAY

I have probably seen thousands of movies in my life; it’s a passion of mine. And I’ve always liked historical stories. I must have learned something from all that watching and absorbing. I knew it would be challenging, but I was up to writing a script, I thought.

Before I sat down to write my screenplay on 16th century English sea captain, Sir Francis Drake, I needed to do some historical research. And how the heck would I write a screenplay? In the 1990s I’d never seen a script before or even been curious about how to create one.

Relying on CARIBBEAN, the book that had excited me to begin with, I was disappointed to discover that James Michener’s sagas weren’t entirely accurate: all those huge tomes about Hawaii, the Middle East, Alaska, Texas, Colorado, etc. Since he didn’t call them histories, he felt free to fictionalize. It made for a simpler story since real life is never tidy, although reel life is! James Michener didn’t even work as hard as I had presumed: he had his own research team.

Michener’s story about Drake was so tidy he created a neat rivalry between Drake, the English privateer, and a Spanish official of some high rank. In the 16th century, Spain was the ruler of the Old World and the New World: my story of Drake’s saga took place some years before England’s defeat of the Spanish Armada. The Michener story was entertaining and neatly handled even though the Spanish enemy didn’t exist (he was a conglomerate of many Spanish ship captains, officials, etc.). Drake made lots of Spanish enemies before he was through robbing their gold, jewels, and various battleships.

After I’d been lent a few sample screenplays, and a book about creating them, I was soon happily engaged in writing–lots of instructions about NIGHT, DAY, FADE IN, FADE OUT and what sort of emotion was on whose face, not to mention setting the scene. Aiming for a standard page count (at least then) of 120 pages, I was confident and joyful.

My creative partner, Dudley Hood, and I had met more than a few people industriously working or aspiring to work in the entertainment industry. It was relatively easy to interest people in helping to create a potential movie, TV program, etc. In LA, many of us live on dreams of stardom and success, and there are always a few who do realize their dreams, even in spectacular fashion.

I can no longer remember if Jan, our associate, was involved with costumes, set dressing or what, but she had been in the film industry for a few years and was making a living at it. She was an encouraging, enthusiastic kind of person as well as intelligent. Our project must have sounded feasible.

I could hardly wait for her to take a look at my creative efforts. I’d put a lot of work into my script and I was brimming with pride.

When we met after she’d read it, I eagerly awaited her verdict. I was sure I had a good beginning and I even liked my dialog.

“Where’s the conflict?” she asked me gently. “Every film has a conflict.”

“It’s got plenty of conflict,” I replied, defensively. “Drake’s always fighting this battle or that one.”

“It’s a dramatic technique to keep the audience interested. The work has to focus on a primary conflict of some kind as it builds to a climax and the conflict is resolved, one way or another,” she told me gently. “You also don’t want to lose your viewer in all sorts of unnecessary details.”

My screenplay was just history with a few flourishes.  Maybe Michener was more right than I gave him credit for.

Back to the drawing board, I thought ruefully. It wasn’t so simple after all. In the next couple of years, I rewrote my screenplay eight times. I even received encouraging reviews!

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