FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE GUILLOTINE
By Craig Kellem
Recently we wrote an article entitled "Revisiting, 'It's the Singular Image
Haunts us that Becomes Art'" in which we put forth what we thought was a
and powerful way to start the development of a screenplay.
It worked so well for us that we started touting it to some of our consultation
clients with smashing results.
But first some backstory.
We initiated this technique and used it ourselves when we were given a full
project to write from a producer/idea guy who provided a seven page pitch with
instructions for us (Judy writes, I consult) to write the script.
We liked the concept a lot but it obviously did not come off our own radar
screen, and it was a formidable prospect knowing that we only had twelve weeks
or so, to produce a terrific piece of professional work.
So we came up with a novel exercise to get things going fast and furious, which
was to give each other the prerequisite task of "playing in the sandbox" for
two of our precious weeks -- namely to think of cool ideas for scenes or parts
of scenes in order to get things rolling, without worrying about story structure
or much of anything else.
This was alien to the way these things usually start which is via initiating
story arcs, act breaks, character inventories --the whole nine yards.
So instead of eking material out in the usual ways, we decided to go for
something different and come up with five ideas a day, each. The only rule: NO
STRESS. At this stage of the game it was enough to just come up with some really
good glimmers of material.
What a freeing notion this was, kind of like painting by splashing paint on the
wall and seeing how it all comes out.
So the "games" began.
Each day had a mini deadline, namely facing each other (which naturally fondled
our respective sense of pride and yes a dash of competition). It should be
noted that neither of us were allowed to complain - nor would we have since
somehow filling this prescription became a matter of pride!
Day followed day, which followed day. What a delight it was to just be creative
without having to put anything together. Under these bohemian conditions it
sometimes took me 10 or 15 minutes to do my daily task and then I got to happily
walk away from further responsibility.
How that appealed to the rebel in me.
Like a free play period in kindergarten we could be wonderfully extemporaneous
and delay, in a way, the inevitable work that we knew we had to face down the
The pile began to accumulate.
Almost all of the scene ideas and creative threads came from that bedrock
resource: our lives and times. Indeed this never ending asset emanates from
things that we have both felt, noticed and experienced, all defined under Julia
Cameron's wonderful umbrella, "It's the singular image that haunts us
that becomes art." (ie: insights, moments of truth, fascinations
and unique experiences which had previously lacked a "file.")
My associate Judy (Kellem) says this--"there is a marked, qualitative disparity
between stories and images born from real life experience and those made from
pure intellectual invention. Life is rife with evocative moments, large and
small, which create powerful feelings. Insights. Unique situations."
We brainstormed and played, keeping in mind our own words of previous advice
" Write it down. Put it on index cards randomly, no need to be
organized...yet. Let your mind wander. Get it all down on paper without
restrictions. Thinking about characters? Jot down the hot licks about them
remembering that the main ingredient is YOUR emotional connection with them.
Forget the mundane--stick with your creative electricity. Only collect the stuff
that's near ten on the Richter scale of your heart. Which idea creates a hot
beat in your belly? As you bubble and percolate, AVOID the temptation to write
at all costs! Instead, let the DESIRE to write build up as you dabble. Let your
energy be expressed in the proliferation of creative nuggets randomly thrown
on a page or on index cards."
A funny thing happened on the way to the guillotine: 2 weeks went by and we had
over...100 scenes. It so delightfully snuck up on us, as did a real sense of
POWER. For we were now well into this puppy, totally sucked in via the
confidence that is achieved when there's something "on the wall" to
to provide inspiration and synergy.
As if ON THEIR OWN our scenes also had begun to create plot trends and character
postures and we now started to connect the dots.
We were soon beginning to get a sense of the trajectory of the film? A rough
sense of how the idea set up, then developed. Even got a sense of how the story
resolves, indeed the rough parameters of Acts 1, 2 and 3 (i.e.: Act 1, the set
up; Act 2, tell the story; Act 3, resolve it).
On the wings of smelling possibility, it wasn't long before we cut to the chase
and had a full, very extensive story outline.
Just like in a Hollywood movie, we're happy to report that the script's been
delivered, they love it and now we go to the next step --we'll let you know what
This approach has already helped other writers, as we've used it in dealing with
Works in Progress clients who often are in need of more "meat" and
in their quivers. The results have been extremely impressive.
It works particularly well with writers who are in a hurry to get it done and
tend to under develop their stuff (and there are many). By "forcing" them
take a short couple of weeks or so laying down this track (sometimes we help
with idea contribution and thus moral support as well), these previously
" once too easily satisfied quick prep players" find themselves swimming
mountains of scenes which we've found gives them a new strength and perspective
on doing things. It pushes them into being more multifaceted in their approach,
since having more of the needed goods under their noses gives impetus to new
ambition and willingness.
One client, a comedy type, was always in a rush to make you laugh via his fat
inventory of stuff. He can now supplement "the funny" and anchor his
character currency and even a little drama and poignancy. These elements
contribute greatly to his scripts, since comedy always works better in an
atmosphere of reality.
Another client - who's more of a drama aficionado - was always in a hurry to
to the "spiritual" moment in his story. He now has a wealth of OTHER
assets to choose from, which support those "big moments" story and
All were born from this simple system.
The idea here is instead of scratching it out, indulging the tendency to become
impatient and rush one's beloved writing phase, to use that nascent first energy
to create a little mountain of creative goods. Those goods will not only help
with the psychology of the thing, but with staying well ahead of
the "posse" faced by all writers.
Copyright Hollyscript.com, LLC 2006 All Rights Reserved.