Saturday, July 10, 2010

Adventures in Screenplays Part the Last: Know a Thousand People

“So, it really does pay to know a thousand people?” Crystal Sharp said to me many months ago. She said it, of course, because of some recent events involving Umbrella Factory Magazine. It seemed like the magazine, and the larger picture of it, was moving faster than light. She was speaking the truth, and she was one of the thousand people—and indeed, one among the first ranks. Crystal has, in many ways, been at the onset of many great projects I've done. She housed the Tea Room Writer's Workshops when I needed a location to host my graduate school teaching practicum. She also hosted the first round of Umbrella Factory Workshops. This relationship happened, I suppose for people who really do know a thousand people. In all reality, these things come to fruition to people who happen to know just one person who owns a hotel on East Colfax in Denver, Colorado.
Denver, Colorado. Colorado? Who would have thought it, right? When people think about Denver, they generally think of skiing or in recent months (to my fucking chagrin) of marijuana of the medical type. But of all the people in Denver, and of all the thousand who I know, I really do owe a debt of gratitude and admiration to a few of them. Crystal, and the good people at The Holiday Chalet Bed and Breakfast, as we already know are a few of them.
But Denver? Let me continue with these acknowledgments. Janice Hampton. If she is in the ranks of these thousand people, she is the first one I met. We were the best of friends for the first ten years of our relationship. In the last three and a half years she has been the most reward part of my life. I am grateful to have her as a friend, co-conspirator, lover, and partner. I am blessed to be with such a caring and supported person. She has and (I hope) always will be at my side. I love the old joke “What do you call a writer without a girlfriend?” The same would be true with an Anthony without a Janice. Anyhow, she listened to all the rants and raves about the state of affairs and the affairs of the state. As Umbrella Factory was forming first in my mind and later in actuality, her ideas and support were the foundations of much of this wonderful factory.
I will tell you about Mark and Oren and Jana and Sue and Corrie and Brian later on. They are all factory workers. I'm grateful to them too.
In my thousand people, many of you know Gio Toninelo. If you don't know him, you know RocketHouse Studios. If you don't know Rockethouse, you must know “Pastrami on Rye.” And “Pastrami on Rye,” is the reason why I'm here.
Being given the assignment to write screenplays at Rockethouse Studios is also attributed to the knowing of a thousand people. I just happened to know Gio who is an animator, a filmmaker, and a film festival curator. Likewise, of all the thousand people he knows, I was only one of them and perhaps I was the only writer he knew.
When I taught the Tea Room Writer's Workshops at Crystal's hotel in 2008, I didn't give Janice a choice, she had to attend. This makes it seem like she had some sort of reluctance to go which is not true. I know it was tough for her to work an eight hour day and then sit in a three hour writer's workshop. Sure, she surprised me by being able to function and write great stuff at the end of a long day. But she wasn't the only surprise. During the first few sessions I was pleased, and impressed if not somewhat baffled that Gio showed up with pen posed.
Before we move any further, I cannot stress how important community is to all of us. It starts at home, for me it is Janice, and it includes the whole real and social networks. These people are doing all sorts of things: Janice, corporate trainer/writer, Mark, freelance writer/web designer; Crystal, dressmaker/hotel owner, Jana, flight attendant/artist; Sue, teacher/mom... do you see where this is going? It's how Umbrella Factory Magazine developed and it's how Rockethouse Studios built it's sphere of influence. For many writers, they work in a bubble or in a vacuum oblivious to potential relationships and community. For all of us, and specifically for writers and filmmakers it really does mean success to simply know a thousand people.
For those of you out there who have been following “Adventures in Screenplays” for these last several weeks, and those of you who have taken part in the two Umbrella Factory Workshops on the subject, I hope you have learned the importance of community. And I hope you've learned a few things about writing and screenplays.
It may seem funny to bring the end up and shore it to the beginning. In this last installment of “Adventures in Screenplays,” I fill finally give you the course: the objective, outline; the assignments, the filmography and bibliography.

Course Objective:
To develop craft and good habits of storytelling by developing fiction into screenplays.

Course Outline:
A) The short-short story. Write a well crafted piece of fiction within the confines of the flash fiction genre. This flash fiction, or a short story under 1,000 words, must have a beginning, a middle, and an end and it will have plot structure, character development; conflict and resolution and literary devices like dialogue, exposition and back story. A discussion of negative space is key to the well crafted flash fiction piece. Literary examples and directed writing exercises begin this process. Every participant will write. The next step to avoid writing in the “vacuum,” is sharing and workshoping each writer's work.
B) The short screenplay. The short screenplay is defined by the joke, the cliché, and the anecdote. Specific films provide case studies and models for writing assignments.
C) Feature length film and the short story. The basic belief in “Adventures in Screenplays” is simply stated: The short story makes the best feature length film because filmmakers chose what to add rather than what to subtract.
D) Crafting longer short stories (From 1,000 to 7,000 words) and associated film screenplays puts study into action.

The Assignments
A) Three pieces of flash fiction, publication ready.
B) One short screenplay or the “Ten-minute Screenplay.” Development of this piece from the Joke, the cliché and the anecdote.
C)Two longer short stories: from 1,000 to 7,000 words. Each piece must be magazine ready. Use Umbrella Factory Magazine submission guidelines as a model. Each piece must have the required elements: Plot structure, character development, conflict and resolution and literary devices: dialogue, exposition, back story and negative space.
D)The whole process culminates in one feature length screenplay: 114-134 pages in length.

“Secretary” Mary Gaitskill
“Walk Well My Brother” Farley Mowat
“Things that Hang from Trees” T.A. Louis
“Kneller's Happy Campers,” Etgar Keret
“A Souvenir from Hell” Etgar Keret
Virgin Suicides Jeffery Eugenides
Planet of the Apes Pierre Boulle
“In the Heart of the Heart of the Country” William Gass
“A Country Doctor” Franz Kafka
The Club Dumas Arturo Perez-Reverte
The Talented Mr. Ripley Patricia Highsmith
Acting: The First Six Lessons Richard Boleslavsky
The Art of Fiction John Gardner
Writing Great Screenplays Dana Cooper


Death of the Tinman
Pastrami on Rye
The Snow Walker
Things that Hang from Trees
Planet of the Apes (1969/2001)
Virgin Suicides
The Ninth Gate
Coffee and Cigarettes

Course Conclusion:

A writer writes, we've all heard that. A smart writer learns by reading and watching and putting into practice all s/he learns. Only through practice, and perfect practice at that, will a product result. A safe “community” and a nurturing environment is of the utmost importance in a writer's development. The building of these thoughts and acquiring these tools: the network and the portfolio will build the knowledge and confidence in the participants. Happy writing.

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