Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The One-Page Pitch Idea

I recently submitted a one-page pitch idea to the ImagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival for their Pitches Competition. After all, I'm pretty much finished the second draft of my feature and, even though I know it needs many more drafts before it's done, I'm beginning to feel ready to workshop it or pitch it or do something with it. So I thought I'd do a little research on how to write a one-page pitch idea. Sounds simple, right? Should be easy to find in my many writing books or on the internet, right? Or not so much.


People may write about how to write a log line, or a treatment, or a summary, but no one seems to talk much about a one-page pitch. And if they do talk about it, they all seem to have different ideas. One website said that you should definitely have a comparison with other movies, like "Jaws meets The Little Mermaid" (okay, that was my random concept, I think the website had something a little less ridiculous). But another website stated that under no circumstances should you make a comparison like that. I decided to agree with the latter website. Another website said not to bother mentioning your characters by name unless there is some significance to the name(s). Whereas another site said to use the names and make it more personal (which happens to agree with what my screenwriting mentor said, so I included the names).

The one thing that most people seemed to agree on was that it should sound like the blurb on the back of a DVD cover. The author of Complications Ensue: The Crafty TV and Screenwriting Blog wrote that it's typically "heavier on the setup, and may entirely gloss over the finale." So that's the approach that I went with. I gave the background and the opening incident, with a glimpse of how things will unfold but keeping the details out of it.

Oh, and some sites said that you should include your logline at the top of the one-page. (And much as I hate to recommend this book for anything, one of the scant few reasons to read "Save the Cat" is to hammer out the best logline that you possibly can.) But I took my own twist on that one. Having recently reminded a fellow writer that what you want to emphasize in a sentence or a paragraph is best placed at the end, I decided to see if that might apply to a one-page pitch idea. So this is how I ended my pitch (with a little nod to Charles Dickens):
"Ultimately, things begin to fall apart, and a series of traumatic events in her present life forces Katrina to finally realize that she needs to face her past in order to have a future. This vet student who had been longing to be rescued from herself, discovers that she can be the hero of her own life."

In hind sight (or, if I'm being honest... after it was pointed out by my cousin), my tone was a little formal throughout. I tried to make it more colloquial but I realize that I didn't quite get there. But I'll keep that in mind for next time.

And I'll be sure to let you know if I win a spot in the pitching competition!


Thursday, November 22, 2007

Walking the Walk

So I got this email today from my screenwriting instructor: "Where's your 2nd draft???"

After a twinge of guilt, I realized that he was just teasing and the email was actually to inform me about the release of his film, "Walk All Over Me," on the weekend of December 7. I saw it at a gala screening during the Calgary International Film Festival, but I am definitely keen to see it again.

Now, I don't necessarily believe that someone needs to be a good writer themselves to be a good teacher of writing; it is possible to talk the talk without walking the walk. And I definitely don't believe that being a good writer automatically qualifies you to teach. But it sure is nice when the two go hand in hand. So I was thrilled to discover that my oh-so-talented screenwriting instructor is also a very talented writer. And I had, as Christine Lavin would say, A Proud Moment.


I was reminded of another Proud Moment that I had many years ago... I was a working student for a three-day event rider on the Canadian Equestrian Team. Whilst acting as her groom for one particular competition, I had a chance to watch part of the cross country course. It was a particularly nasty combination of jumps, starting with a solid fence in the middle of a water hazard followed immediately by a very imposing series of upward steps. Almost every horse refused the steps (assuming they made it past the water). The spectators got into a rhythm with their cheers: an encouraging "c'mon, C'mon, C'MON" as the horse and rider approached the steps, then a disappointed "awww" as they refused. When my rider appeared, the chant started anew: "c'mon, C'mon, C'MON"... then absolute silence as her horse cleared the steps effortlessly on their first approach. I still remember the incredible pride that I felt, wanting to point and proclaim loudly, "I'm with her." But I digress...

It might be too late to make a long story short, but I can at least wrap up the denouement quickly: "Walk All Over Me" opens on December 7, 2007. Go see it. You won't be sorry.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

$100 Film Festival

Okay... so I said I was doing NaNoWriMo this year but I've been too busy. Check back in March to see if I manage to do NaNoEdMo. Why have I been so crazy busy? Because I'm on the $100 Film Festival committee and our Call for Submissions deadline is December 1, 2007. Between running the festival's MySpace site and contacting artists, as well as editing my own film submission, NaNo just had to take a back seat.

But all of this focus on film has led me to ponder the writer's strike. See next post...

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Hero Screenplay: The First Draft

Well, I got my screenplay handed in on time for my screenwriting workshop. I don't consider it a full first draft, since about 1/3 of the scenes were simply described and not written. So let's call it a 2/3 draft (or maybe a 3/4 draft since I did at least have the remaining 1/3 of scenes present).

I've been living with the characters all summer and listening to the soundtrack that I made for my film (yep, I think of a song for each sequence and then put together a mixed CD that I listen to constantly even when I'm not writing), but I only had it about 1/3 finished by the middle of August. And I knew I was going to my cousin's wedding in Victoria for Labour Day weekend. And I knew the screenplay was due on September 7. So I managed to get 60 pages (out of a goal of 90) written before I went away for that weekend. Then I got a few people who were willing to read the script over the weekend to provide me with feedback for that last week-long writing push to get it finished. Unfortunately, I didn't make it to 90 (barely scraped in at 75 pages) but the feedback that I did get was quite helpful, even if it did mean that I needed to take some time out of writing to re-think a few things. So even though it didn't go the way I'd planned (as if things ever do), I'm pleased with the result.

When I find the time, I'll talk a bit more about my own particular process and some of the challenges that I had while writing along with some of the pleasant surprises.

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Writing Dialogue

First of all, I promise that once Script Frenzy is over I'll talk about more styles of writing than just screenplays, but in the meantime...

I was just reading an article over at Script Frenzy entitled: 5 Tips for Dialogue That Make Strong Men Weep (I'll admit that it wasn't just the topic that made me click on the link, the title was a big draw). It's not so much that there's anything NEW in the article, but it's well written and I liked the author's approach. And I find the thing with books and articles about writing (like so many other crafts), many authors write the same basic content... but it's HOW they write it that determines whether it will work for you or not. And this article worked for me. Hopefully, it will work for you, too.

The author of the article also has an interesting blog called everything comes together at 2 a.m. about scratch fiction and photographs. What is scratch fiction, you might ask. Well, this author defines it as short fiction written for the internet. I just wish he listed categories because, as gorgeous as his photos are, I'm really just there for the articles and the scratch fiction.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Scriptapalooza Script Coverage

As I mentioned previously, I'm participating in Script Frenzy during the three month break from my screenwriting. Of course, Script Frenzy is just one month (June) and I'm not aiming to complete the 20,000 words in the allotted month since my screenwriting instructor specifically said not to, but I still think it's a good jumping off point. But what do we do after we've finished our scripts? Assuming we're not planning on making them ourselves (although I'm seriously considering that, my health willing).

Well, there are competitions and agents and studios, oh my... but chances are a Script Frenzy draft isn't ready for any of them yet. Which leads me to this post. For those who aren't familiar with it, Scriptapalooza is an annual international screenplay competition. Well, they've recently added a script coverage service to help you improve your script. As their tagline says: "The industry is ready for your script. Make sure your script is ready for the industry."

If you don't have access to an industry professional who can give you thorough and unbiased feedback on your script, then you should seriously consider a service like this. I'm sure there are other services like this out there, so don't feel like it's this or nothing. But this one was recommended by Movie Maker Magazine, so I thought it was worth mentioning. For more screenwriting links from Movie Maker Magazine, check out their Screenwriting Listings.

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Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Write Wild

There's this fantastic site for screenwriters and filmmakers called WildSound. They currently have a three part article on How to Write a Screenplay, as well as a weekly column entitled The Writer's Way that has various articles written by Jen Frankel (a Toronto screenwriter and novelist) along with guest authors. I particularly enjoyed Write From Your Dreams, since that's what I do a lot of the time. What made the article interesting to me were the practical examples she gave of a dream that she had, the story that she wrote from it and some commentary on that story. Definitely a site worth checking out.

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Book Review: Save the Cat

This screenwriting book definitely has some usable information, and its breezy tone makes for easy reading, but it's by no means the last book on screenwriting you'll ever need. Blake Snyder has certainly made money in the industry -- good for him -- and if that's all you're looking to do, then this is the perfect book for you. Not to say that I wouldn't love to make a living in this industry, but -- call me a naive idealist -- I'd rather do it by having a really good movie made out of my screenplay than by selling a formulaic spec script that never even gets made.

Don't get me wrong, I am no elitist who eschews the Hollywood formula; it has its merits and its uses. I've enjoyed many a formulaic movie and have no problem using those formulas when they work for me. However, I'd much rather have a movie like "Memento" to my credit than "Miss Congeniality"... even though, as Snyder points out, "Miss Congeniality" grossed far more at the box office.

The bottom line?

If you're like me, writing something a little outside the mainstream, I do actually recommend this book (albeit with a little hesitation): his "rules" might inspire some ideas and, among other things, his breakdown of the beat sheet is extremely useful (but be warned that you may find yourself a little annoyed at times). If you're a little more mainstream than me and want to write a Hollywood blockbuster, then I HIGHLY recommend this book for you; in your case, it may well be the last book on screenwriting you'll ever need. HOWEVER, if you have no intention of going the Hollywood route, or if you think that the Hollywood formula is cheesy, tired and/or a total sell out, I suggest that you avoid this book... you'll just end up quoting Dorothy Parker: "This is not a book to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force."

If you're looking for a simple book giving you a breakdown of the Hollywood formula, I would actually recommend Viki King's "How to Write a Movie in 21 Days." I know it sounds even more formulaic than "Save the Cat" but I never felt like throwing it out the window. And for a more in-depth screenwriting book, definitely opt for Robert McKee's "Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting." In my opinion, don't waste your time with Syd Field's "Screenplay." He may have been first but everyone else has said the same things a hundred times since then and usually better than he said it in the first place.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Screenwriting 101 - CSIF Workshop, part III

Originally posted 6.20.2006 on Limes with Orange

Now for the third and final installment of my writing exercise. This is the first person stuff, where all the breakthrough happens. In my case, it's a flashback for my character... possibly to be used in the script or maybe just backstory, don't know yet. But I learned a lot about my character while writing it:

I was fourteen when my brother died. When I watched him die in a car accident. I don't really remember what happened. Not as a continuous memory. What I see in my mind is a series of jumbled images. His face tight with pain. Rain on the windshield. Broken glass. The dashboard wedged impossibly where his pelvis should have been. Blood. Mostly I remember the blood. And the moment when his face relaxed. Not unconscious. Dead. I knew it right away, even though there was no one there to tell me. Not yet, anyway. They all came later. The lights, noise, people. People taking me away from Bernon, who was long past feeling pain, telling me it would be okay even though I knew it would never be okay again. And I was right.


If my dad had been there... but he wasn't. He'd won the big bronc belt buckle at the rodeo the day before so he'd stayed overnight to celebrate, leaving Bernon to drive me to the horse show. But Bernon was only sixteen and not used to hauling the horse trailer. We made it there all right, but coming home I guess I distracted him as I swung between joy and despair at my third place ribbon. I had so wanted to win but Elizabeth Bennet -- Lizzie, my pony -- had simply been outclassed. As if that matters now.

There is no sound in my memories. Except for Lizzie's scream. They told me she died instantly but I don't believe them. In my memory, the scream goes on and on. But maybe it was me. Memories are unreliable. Like my dad forgetting about the horse show. Unreliable.

I don't remember much about the months afterwards either. Well, maybe I could if I tried but I don't really want to try. Whenever I start down that path, the guilt and the heartache smack me in the face and I turn away again. I think maybe my parents feel the same way and that's why they split up... so they wouldn't have to look at each other and remember. I think it would have been easier for them if I could have disappeared. One less reminder.

But I didn't disappear. I'm still here. And I'm okay. I've always been okay. Really. I never broke down and bawled like my mom. I never got blitzed drunk like my dad. My grades didn't drop. I didn't act out. Everyone told me I was such a good girl, a brave girl, a comfort. I was the only thing that wasn't messed up back then. I was okay. I am okay. Really.

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Screenwriting 101 - CSIF Workshop, part II

Originally posted 6.16.2006 on Limes with Orange

So here's the very awkward second person, second section of my writing assignment to get to know my main character better. I opted to write it as two very short vignettes, rather than one cohesive piece. So here goes:

You walk into your first year anatomy lab, looking lost in your oversized blue lab coat, nose wrinkling and eyes watering as the formaldehyde fumes hit. You examine the cat and dog cadavers that have been assigned to your group and pronounce, to no-one in particular, that their names shall be Fluffy and Spot henceforth, even though they are neither fluffy nor spotted.


You then move over to the horse. Or, more precisely, a section of a horse. Each of the large animals (some groups have a cow) had been cut down the middle, so that one animal could be shared between two groups. Each half was further divided into front and back, one half to be dissected each semester. So there you stand, looking at the front, right section of your horse.

"I guess we've got a quarter horse," you deadpan.

Your remark elicits startled laughter from a few students and sour looks from others who seem to find it tasteless.

"I think I'll call him Trigger," you say quietly as you stroke the lifeless neck with tenderness.


You look up at him with your big, blue eyes, the dark circles underneath them like bruises against your pale skin. His surfer boy good looks are all but obscured by his bulky firefighter's gear. Pushing your hair off your dirt-streaked face, it never seems to occur to you that he might find your damsel-in-distress vulnerability attractive. Or that the obvious hero worship in your eyes is more powerful than any aphrodisiac.

You thank him for saving your life, your ironic half-smile showing clearly that you realize how trite that sounds. He smiles back, the sort of smile that typically melts women into puddles. And you are no exception. Your own smile broadens in response and finally reaches your eyes, something that doesn't happen often but is rather devastating when it does.

Had anyone actually been watching, the moment between the two of you would have been obvious. But the bustle of firefighters, vet students, faculty, paramedics, et al merely swarms around you, oblivious that your life just changed.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Script Frenzy

For those of you familiar with NaNoWriMo, the same folks are bringing us Script Frenzy! For those unfortunate souls who are not familiar with NaNoWriMo, that refers to National Novel Writing Month which happens every November, bringing writing communities around the world online together as each of them tries to complete a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. Phew!

I've participated twice and "won" once. I may not be thrilled with my completed manuscript but I'm thrilled to HAVE a completed manuscript and I certainly learned a lot about myself as a writer in the process. I highly recommend it to anyone who is having trouble committing themselves to a writing project and staying the course to the end. Or anyone who is struggling with finding their voice and their genre. It certainly taught me that I didn't want to write novels and I don't do light and fluffy!

So I've finally figured out that I am meant to write edgy screenplays. Hence the long format screenwriting workshop that I'm taking. And our summer "break," when we start to stare at blank pages or blank computer screens write, happens to correspond with Script Frenzy which will take place in June. The goal of Script Frenzy? To write a 20,000 screenplay or stage play. I figured I might as well sign up since I'm gonna be writing anyway and I could definitely use the moral support. Maybe I'll see you there!

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Screenwriting 101 - CSIF Workshop, part I

Once again, I have signed up for a screenwriting workshop at the Calgary Society of Independent Filmmakers. This year, it's a long format that spans both the spring and fall sessions of the CSIF workshop schedule. The intention is for us to finish the first draft of a feature length screenplay. So I've dusted off the screenplay that I was working on last year before I got sidetracked into filming shorts.

So, since it's still the same project as last year and I'm planning on moving a certain number of my writing posts off of Limes with Orange, my personal blog, I figured I'd start with my posts about last years course.

Originally posted 6.14.2006 on Limes with Orange

I've been all wrapped up in my screenwriting workshop that I took through the Calgary Society of Independent Filmmakers (CSIF). It finished tonight, so I thought I'd share some of the results of my writing exercises. My homework assignment was to get to know my main character better. To that end, I was supposed to write for one hour (the sort of timed writing that I always associate with Natalie Goldberg and Writing Down the Bones).

The first third was to be written in third person as an outward description of my character. The middle third was to be written in second person (holy crap, that's hard!) as I step closer to the character. The final third was to be written in first person, from the character's point of view. That last part flowed really well. My instructor, Jason Long (co-author of Turning Paige), said that he hears that a lot about this exercise. The third person stuff may be dry or judgemental or somesuch, the second person stuff is hard for almost everyone, but those are the necessary hurdles for the first person stuff to just flow and allow you to discover things about your character that you never knew before.

So I decided to be bold and post the various sections of my writing assignment on this here blog. Today's post shall be the third person section...


Katrina Jones walks down the hall in her blue scrubs that identify her as a vet student, distinct from the green scrubs of a faculty vet or the red of a volunteer. Her mousy brown hair is in a convenient ponytail and her mildly pretty face is devoid of make-up. Her expression is pleasant but just distant enough to deter anyone but her closest friends from more than a casual hello.

She tugs at the long-sleeved T-shirt that she wears underneath her short-sleeved scrub top, even though the building is well-heated and nobody else appears cold. That long-sleeved shirt is the only thing about her that stands out. It's as if she's perfected the science of being average.

She walks past a lecture hall where first year students drowse in the darkened room as the physiology professor writes incomprehensible notes on the overhead. Past a group of third year students huddled around a bulletin board, searching the notices for the perfect summer externship. She nods a polite greeting to two of her fellow fourth years heading in the opposite direction in their blue coveralls, coming off of a large animal rotation.

Kat pushes through the swinging doors of the small animal surgery suite, then through another set of doors into the scrub room. She again nods her standard polite greeting to a vet and two other students who are already scrubbing up. Stepping up to one of the sinks, she removes her watch from her left wrist and an elastic band from her right. With a quick glance at the others to make sure no one is watching, she pulls up the sleeves of her long-sleeved shirt enough to allow her to scrub properly. Then she begins the meticulous process of scrubbing for surgery, one side of each four-sided finger at a time. A slight smile turns up the corners of her mouth, almost as if she were enjoying the feeling of the hard plastic brush on her sensitive skin.

Once finished, she enters the operating room, back first through the swinging doors, hands clasped together and held up as if in prayer, carefully not touching anything. One of the technicians helps her gown and glove up before she steps up to the table to perform her first feline spay. The instructor that she's assisted so many times before is now there to assist her.

He hands her a number 3 scalpel to make her first incision, which she does with none of the hesitation typically shown by students performing their first surgery. Something else about her that isn't average. This unexpected confidence is evident throughout the rest of the surgery.

Afterwards, she celebrates her first successful surgery in the cafeteria with Lorne, her best friend and fellow fourth year. They "clink" their Styrofoam cups of bitter coffee as Kat relates the details of the surgery. As she talks, Lorne notices a rare, unselfconscious animation of her features that is really quite becoming to her. What a pity he was gay.

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Film Screenings

Coda in G Minor

July 22, 2009
CSIF presents ImagineNATIVE
The Plaza Theatre
1133 Kensington Rd. NW
7:00 p.m.
Calgary, AB

Coda Blog Feed


Calgary, Canada

1 part shy intellectual, 1 part edgy chick, 1 part sophisticated woman, 1 part mental patient (after all, sanity is a type of conformity)... what's your mix?