Screenwriting and Perseverance

Film has always had a special place in my heart. During my childhood, I wanted to be in movies. I had this limitless amount of energy that I would use to perform in front of family members and friends. My earliest impressions of film began when I around eight years old. Remember the classic opening theme to the Wonderful World of Disney Pictures? As a young kid, I can still remember that special feeling I got when a Disney movie started. Once the music started playing I knew to be ready to see and hear some wonderful actors with some amazing stories to tell. That was magic!

From an early age, I knew that I eventually wanted to create my own magic. Not having the tools or resources as a kid to experiment with cameras, I started to draw cartoons. My brother and I would have an ongoing contest on who could draw the most original character. We soon learned that if you draw a succession of images on multiple pages, and flip the pages with your thumb, you could create a moving image. I could not count how many books or magazines I used for this purpose during this creative spark in my life. It was just so much fun. Later on in my teen years, I realized that my interest shifted and my ambition leaned toward telling stories. I found that the better I could tell a story, the better story I could write. Life was moving fast during my teenage years and the discipline just didn’t exist for me to write a script or a book.

Fast forward to my 20’s and living on the edge, literally. I spent several years living in Northern California, skiing just about every resort in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. “I couldn’t tell you how many movie ideas I would brainstorm while riding a chair lift…” This is when and where I started my education in filmmaking. My skiing buddies and I would take turns being the camera operator. The cameras were a Sony HI-8 or a Panasonic VHS, the best we could afford at the time. It was a blast chasing each other down the ski slopes and filming at the same time. We would setup for shots in the trees, bumps and even film small cliff jumps. I was our self-appointed editor since I was the only one that had two VCRs and two TVs. I would play the footage from one VCR and record with the second VCR. I soon learned that I had to hit the pause button for each splice. I found that if I hit stop and start buttons there would be a jump gap in the edit. This was low budget editing at its finest!

Knowing that I wasn’t going to be paid for skiing and making home movies, I needed to settle down. I eventually found a promising job working in communications. This is what led me to a job transfer from California to Seattle. October of 2001 I packed everything I could into a Chevy S-10 Blazer and drove 14 hours north. It was here in the wonderful state of Washington that I started writing.

As I began to write more regularly, I learned that pulling from first-hand experience shapes your characters and gives your story heart. It can sometimes be tricky to come up with a satisfying personal story, but if you have the experience to draw upon, the words will often just flow. I found that your background could have a large impact on your character’s beliefs, personality, and purpose. I believe this is where the essence of one’s originality in writing comes from. Another reference point for me is watching as many movies as possible. The more movies you watch the more you understand how movies work. A good screenwriter needs to immerse him or herself in the world of film. Before Netflix and movies on demand, I was proud of my DVD collection. Whatever form of media you have access to, watch as much as you can.

It’s now 2015 and I’ve completed 14 screenplays, most shorts. I look back at most of my early work as class study. The more I wrote the better a writer I had become. I also found that reading books on screenwriting and filmmaking helped me tremendously. One of my favorite books is “How Not To Make A Short Film: Secrets From A Sundance Programmer” by Roberta Marie Munroe. What I absorbed from her book is that a great short has a solid story, interesting characters and the appearance of a high production value. Whether you have a big budget or a next-to-nothing budget, your film must have the appearance of money well spent. “How Not To Make A Short Film” is definitely a recommended read for any screenwriter and filmmaker.

I love a gripping story and I love reading biographies on individuals that followed their dreams and forged their way through life to make their dreams a reality. These kinds of stories serve as tremendous inspiration to me and show what is possible when applying ambition and perseverance to your life goals. If you can believe it, you can achieve it. Another recommended read is “When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead” by Jerry Weintraub. I was awestruck by this story of the now-famous and intrepid Hollywood dealmaker that started his life on the streets in Brooklyn. Throughout his life, Jerry found a way to put on a show and sell tickets at the door. Jerry Weintraub did not simply follow his dream, he built it.

You can never be afraid of rejection or of the unknown. If you approach certain aspects of your life like a salesman, you will always have the upper hand. Get used to people telling you “no” and you will work harder and smarter for the next person to tell you “yes”. Along the way, you will also find that some people are actually willing to help you out.

Perseverance is the key to success.

David Spies

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Screenwriting and the Hyphenate

In today’s competitive industry creatives must understand the importance of Hyphenate. A creative with the ability to be multifaceted, multitalented and cross-specialize in a multitude of creative outlets. Think of your current skill as a springboard with the option to wear many different hats. Specializing in one particular skill such as a screenwriter, may not generate the attention today that it may have twenty years ago. With that in mind, you’ll need to consider learning multiple skills that relate to your current specialty.

There’s a multitude of creatives in the industry that are already on this path. It really starts with the mindset of being a business person first. You must have the forethought and vision to realize the practical connections needed to build your brand and advertise for your project. Work to build the skills needed to be a Hyphenate.

If you’re one of the millions looking to make your mark in the creative industry you’ll need to be versatile. You’ll need to posses the fortitude to market yourself and your project.  If your main focus is screenwriting, you’ll also want to try your hand at filmmaking, directing, editing and even acting. Having a good understanding of the different aspects in filmmaking will serve to make you a better writer.

Give yourself the title of “director” and start working with a video camera. This will give you a better understanding of shooting scenes, framing, blocking, sound, lighting and timing. Practice shooting short films. Get to know the mechanics of a video camera and how to operate one well.

Knowing the basic fundamentals of filmmaking will help when it comes time to put together a video pitch, video resume or a short film that demonstrates your collective abilities as a writer, director, editor and maybe even an actor. In most cases each of these jobs are exclusive to each other and would require the collective efforts from several creatives. However, it does help a writer to have a basic understanding of the work that’s required of each of these positions.

Video editing is another facet you should consider adding to your skill set. Most editing is performed as non-liner (digital) editing. Knowing how scenes are edited, e.g. timecodes, various transitions, greenscreen and manipulating time in video. Hands-on experience will give you a better understanding of working with video in a post production environment. Learning the art of manipulating the perceived flow of time is the task in video production that writers can learn a great deal. There are some occasions when your video will be real-time. However, in most cases, video duration will differ from the real-world time span of the story you are telling.

Learn the three possible ways of presenting time in a video or film sequence:

Time is expanded, i.e. slower than real-time.

Real-time, the video runs at the exact same time as it was recorded.

Time is compressed; this is the most common situation when working in video production. Your story will likely take place over days, weeks, months or even years. Time compression is applied to keep stories at an acceptable duration on film.

These are just a few examples of work that is required in the filmmaking process. In addition to writing, shooting, and post production, there are special effects, sound and music. If you’re a true hyphenate, this is where you take up guitar lessons…

It’s almost a requirement to have a social media presence if you want to succeed as a creative in the industry. Keep in mind that your primary goal of social media should be about networking, forging friendships and helping others. Social media is also about building and marketing your brand. If you’re unable to hire someone with a good understanding of marketing who has vision and creativity, you’ll need to wear the hat for this role as well.

Today’s technologies allow creatives to reach out to their audience like never before. In addition to your goal of attracting buzz for your project, you’ll also want to be cognizant of the balance needed to build a large and influential audience. To do this, you must have an extremely well thought-out plan before you execute with your brand campaign. Once you have a marketing plan in place you’ll want to utilize web techniques such as blogging, social networking, and video sharing sites to share your creativity with the world.

Hyphenates can be found on wordpress, twitter, facebook, YouTube and a multitude of other social networking sites.

It may take a while to educate yourself in the many different aspects of filmmaking and the various roles of the creative process involved. Therefore, it would be in your best interest to consider collaborating with a filmmaking group. Your collaboration should be with creatives that share common interests and values. The most important interest and motivation being the desire to succeed as a creative in today’s industry. Seek to join a creative community or create one yourself.

“Commit to success and your dreams will be realized” – David Spies

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Screenwriting and Overcoming Roadblocks

Writing can be a mundane task at times, so you’ll need to build a continuous drive of self-motivation in order to succeed. If you set achievable writing goals you’ll do something that will get you a small win. This discipline builds momentum and gives you the confidence to make bigger and better decisions throughout your story. How many pages can you write in a day?

If you find that you’ve reached a roadblock and you’re writing has come to a sudden halt, you’re not alone. Many writers can overcome roadblocks by first identifying what they are. The good news is that roadblock is not what you think it is… it’s not that mysterious case of writer’s block. It’s simply lack of inspiration. That story you fell in love with, took everywhere with you, and thought about on a regular basis is now fading away.

If you find that you’re falling out of love with your story, keep reminding yourself of that initial spark that got you writing.

Assess the situation, the roadblock if you will, look at your story structure, scenes, characters, dialogue, and assess what isn’t working. These obstacles only block the road if you let them. Focus on a rewrite that will help you find ways around it. These pauses can lead to very creative writing solutions that you might not have thought about had it not been there.

Start from the beginning and examine your entire script. Every screenplay must start with four basic elements, which are; Plot, Structure, Characters and Theme. Without strong characters to move your story forward, your screenplay will fall flat.

Just as your story has setup, conflict, and resolution, each scene should have a setup, conflict, and dilemma. This will keep the audience engaged with every scene and launch their attention into the next scene. This is also the best way of making a determination of whether your story is moving forward. Write what you know, write what you find intriguing, write what you can’t stop thinking about.

The ultimate goal in screenwriting is creating an original story, containing memorable characters with unique traits that resonate with your readers. Your characters should have quirks that set them apart from other characters in your story. In order to truly develop interesting and unique characters, you must consider the opportunities around you. Some of the best ideas for characters and story development can be derived from everyday life. Let yourself be receptive to conversations and situations you wouldn’t normally lend your eyes and ears too. You may find that you stumble across some very interesting and useful material.

All writers have an assortment of reasons why they write, some more or less commendable than others. Whether it’s their way of expressing themselves, or an outlet for their desire to entertain people, they love writing for the sake of writing. If you’ve found that you hit a roadblock, take a break, get out and explore the world around you.

“Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.” – Carl Sagan

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Screenwriting and Sharing

Reading a lot of scripts is a good habit for all screenwriters to learn, but most of us don’t have time to read works by other writers. Understandably, there’s only so much time for reading scripts, when writers should be writing.

I’ll generally read a synopsis or a review on a particular screenplay, but rarely download scripts. However, if a script sounds really intriguing, I might take the time to give it a read. There’s obviously a downside to sharing your script on ‘public’ sites for feedback and comments. As releasing your work into the wild gives other writers free reign to your story and ideas that they could then rewrite as their own.

It’s always a good idea to register your work before posting it publicly, as any interested buyer/producer won’t care who’s seen it as long as the rights are still available. If you don’t already have representation or a manager, you should be doing everything you can to get your work out there.

The following short script is available for download:

Title: Hallows Eve
By: David Spies

Elise Walker and her family are unaware that their house was once the home of a girl that disappeared during their towns first Hallows Eve. As the town prepares for Halloween, their neighborhood will soon be haunted by a murderous presence. WGAw Reg: 1765035

Enjoy the story and keep writing!

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Screenwriting in 3D

Writing a screenplay in 3D consists of adding a third dimension, rather than focusing on length and width, you now need to consider more in-depth. 3D is just another way to tell a story with a lot more visual details. Remember that a bad movie in 3D is just as bad as a movie in 2D. Concentrate first on telling a good story with a solid structure and insert your 3D details as a compliment to the good material that you already have.

In the past writers needed to certainly consider budget when writing a script. Of course you’ll still want to consider budget to a certain degree, but knowing you’re writing a screenplay in 3D, there’s much more latitude with budget. This is because 3D environment modeling and digital effects are used to create any location that you can imagine. Just about anything you write in 3D, you can build in 3D. Therefore, writers can visualize and create sets that have never been seen before.

When penning your script, keep in mind, 3D cameras can be placed anywhere. This means that you write what you want to see, and that vision plays on the screen. Therefore, screenwriters, directors, and cinematographers may ultimately have more fluid and numerous storytelling tools at their disposal than does their counterparts for a traditional, static screen film.

Additionally, screenwriters have a creative choice that can enhance (or take away from) the storytelling. 3D technology is just another way to emphasize space limited only by the writers’ imagination. No, you don’t need to write scenes where things are thrown at the audience every 10 minutes to make them notice its 3D! This is because the entire story will be imagined in 3D, filmed in 3D, and presented in stunningly real, cutting edge 3-D projection.

Therefore, screenwriters should continue crafting unique stories built on the components that drive a story; character, desire and conflict.

Several years ago, many people in the film industry and audiences of 3D films imagined that 3D would be short-lived. However, 3D film technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace. There are continuous enhancements to the resolution of a camera’s sensor or new software to automate the filmmaking workflow. These inevitable advancements in technology will make the action bigger and more real than ever before. So, keep visualizing scenes in 3D and writing screenplays for a more engaging experience for the moviegoer.

Keep writing and enjoy everything!

-David Spies

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Screenwriting and Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracy theories are a part of life. Any high profile story that has unanswered questions or holes if you will would likely be queued up in this category. A definition of conspiracy is entertaining in itself… To conspire means “to join in a secret agreement to do an unlawful or wrongful act or to use such means to accomplish a lawful end.”  The term “conspiracy theory” is frequently used by scholars and in popular culture to identify secret military, banking, or political actions aimed at stealing power, money, or freedom, from “the people”.

Writing a good story with a multi-layered conspiracy is complicated and takes most of the movie’s plot to figure out. Keep in mind, you’ll still want to ensure that your setup, conflict and resolution are tight, just don’t give away any crucial details or answers early on. Instead you’ll want to drop hints throughout your story that fuels the readers’ paranoia but also creates doubt.

Do you already know of a real conspiracy? Are you also a writer? Well, that would be the best case scenario, right? You’d have all the details, it would be a passion project and you’d know how to assemble all of the many complicated layers that makes for a great movie thriller. However, if you were that close to a real conspiracy you wouldn’t have any time to write because the guys that look suspiciously like your local gas or electric company would be paying you a visit. Hell, I don’t think you’d even make it to act two before you were missing a nipple or a finger. And forget about penning act three if you were lucky enough to get away… doing a hundred miles an hour through your city with duct tape still over your mouth, looking for the nearest police station.

Well, take a breath and rest easy because ninety-nine point nine percent of us will just have to create a story or borrow ideas from stories that are already known. When searching for ideas or a place to start, think of information that, if it got out to the general public, it would cause great concern or even mass hysteria, and would mean the end for the individual or organization attempting to suppress it. Regardless of the ideas you pull together or the story or choose to write, the stakes have to be so high that your hero would be killed to keep any secrets from becoming public.

A good example of a story that has many unanswered questions took place April 2, 1997 – Phoenix AZ Military A-10 Pilot Craig D. Button Disappears.

When asked to describe the mysterious disappearance of A-10 “Warthog” Pilot Craig Button. The U.S. Secretary of Defense – William Cohen Replied: “It is a Mystery, Wrapped in an Enigma, Inside a Riddle.”

My generation was brought up to believe news reports on television were true, but what if they weren’t? This is the mindset you need to have if you’re going to write a good conspiracy story.

On Wednesday, April 2nd, Davis-Monthan AFB in southern Arizona reported that one of its A-10 aircraft went down on a training mission, somewhere near Lake Roosevelt and the Superstition mountains in Arizona. However, a detailed chronology of events was later made available to the media. The timeline included many sightings that placed the plane in a flight path crossing the northwest corner of New Mexico and into Colorado. The last reported sighting placed Button northeast of Aspen, near Craig’s Peak and New York Mountain.

An unanswered question that stands out… Why did the USAF originally report that one of its A-10 aircraft went down somewhere near Lake Roosevelt and the Superstition Mountains, and then days later release a timeline of events that included sightings placing the aircraft in Colorado? The story changed… something changed.

So, where are the holes to work with? Looking at the chronology of events, the times are too well-ordered; almost to keep the plane in the air until it reached a mountain peak in Colorado. After all, the high altitude and inclement weather would make any recovery efforts almost impossible. Buying time?

If you really scrutinize the timeline of events, the elapse time between the sighting South of Lake Roosevelt and North of Lake Roosevelt is eighteen minutes. Would this be enough time for Craig Button to land the A-10? This would be consistent with the USAF first report that one of its A-10 aircraft went down on a training mission, somewhere near Lake Roosevelt and the Superstition mountains in Arizona.

Did Craig Button land the A-10, offload the four 500-pound bombs, and then take off again? Or, did he leave the A-10 near Lake Roosevelt and simply walk away…? Did the USAF recover the A-10 intact minus the four 500-pound bombs?

There are many unanswered questions regarding this story and many ideas to pull from. This is just an example of the kind of story you’ll want to pick apart in order to generate ideas. To start, do the research and ensure you’re acquainted with the subject matter. Keep in mind, a conspiracy theory is a story, not a scientific work, so you are entitled to an Artistic License (within reasonable constraints).

Screenwriting is a wonderful opportunity to tell a story that will resonate with an audience and leave lasting memories. Make it count.

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Screenwriting and Remembering Our Heroes

Memorial Day is a day to reflect and give thanks to all service members that have served and continue to serve our great nation. Most of us will never come close to knowing the sacrifices that are made by our military personnel and the people that love them. It may be hard for some to really understand how deep their sacrifices run unless they have a personal connection to a service member. We can only hope and pray that those who selflessly dedicate their lives to protecting our freedom find peace and feel gratitude from the rest of us.

On this somber, rainy Monday, our family spent the afternoon at the Tahoma National Cemetery, paying respect to all those that have served and continue to serve today. It was apparent that many in the crowd of people had personal ties to service members; Fathers, Husbands, Sisters, Uncles, Grandparents. You could see it on their faces, so wet with pain. I can’t imagine waking up one day and finding out that I would never see a family member again, that their lives have been given on some far away soil in a place so different from their home.

Although I don’t have any family members with recent service in the military, there is a long and fascinating history of military service in my family. During WWII, my grandfather and his four brothers all served in the Navy simultaneously. My great-grandmother, Mary Hery, was an Inspector at Eastman Kodak Company’s war-working camera division. Unfortunately, her husband left one day when their boys were really young, and he never came home. Mary continued her own war effort with her work at Kodak and supporting all five sons on her own, including an adoptive son, Larry Reis.

At age 17, my grandfather and his twin brother, Robert, both joined the Navy and initially served on the USS Farragut together. They saw sixteen major engagements in the Pacific. My grandfather was transferred off the USS Farragut and assigned shore duty for a brief time in Bremerton, Washington. He eventually received orders to report to the USS Hopewell.  His twin brother, Robert Hery, continued his service on the USS Farragut. His ship was positioned in Pearl Harbor at Buoy X14 East Loch on Dec 7, 1941. Robert Hery was recognized by his Commanding Officer for courage, coolness and steadfast performance of duty throughout engagement with over thirty Japanese aircraft during which his ship was subjected to torpedo, bombing and strafing attack.

The youngest of the Hery brothers, John James Hery (Jack) was a Seaman Second Class and assigned to a fleet oiler USS Neshanic. Jack saw 14 major engagements, the most terrifying of which involved his ship suffering a direct bomb hit and plagued by fire which persisted for two days.

Francis Paul Hery (Frank) was the oldest of the Hery brothers. He joined the Navy at 18 and served for eight years. Frank Hery was a Motor Machinist’s Mate Second Class. Frank taught as an engine instructor at Annapolis for three years, though he always wanted to serve on a submarine. In 1942, Frank volunteered for submarine duty and eventually got his wish. Frank served on the USS Pickerel in the Pacific. Frank saw his final engagement off the Island of Honshu, Japan, when the Pickerel was likely sunk by depth charges. Frank never made it home. Frank loved his ship life so much; he convinced all of his younger brothers that Navy life was the only life.

After the ceremony concluded, we made our way around the outside perimeter of the cemetery. We were stunned by how many newer headstones were now situated across the expansive turf. As we made our way around to the exit, we paused at the last group of headstones. There was a twenty-something man sitting next to a headstone, rocking back and forth, letting all of his emotion out. He was distraught and his pain was raw and unrestrained.

A well-known quote from one of the speakers at the ceremony reminded us that “Freedom is not free.” The cost is great and the grief endures. The depth of the commitment and the risk of loss endured by those who are willing to serve their country can be difficult for the rest of us to comprehend. In simple, quiet or active ways, we need to ensure that we take care of the Veterans who return home, take care of families struggling through loss and continue to work for a post- active duty culture that welcomes and supports our returning military heroes as they move forward.

– David Spies

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