The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Green Room Advice

The election is coming up on us rapidly, and time for voter registration is ending soon.  Regardless of your political affiliation, please remember to participate in our democracy…I think we can all agree that the importance of active, informed citizens has never been more important.  Ultimately, we get the government we deserve.
Someone commented that Barack Obama’s father cut out on him, and therefore wasn’t there to pass information and empowering myths to his son.  Well, anyone who knows me would know I’d agree that an absent father is non-optimal (mother and father were divorced, and at this time I don’t know much about the circumstances of his leaving.  I cannot comment on whether I would personally consider this an honorable or dishonorable thing to do.)

What I can say is that if my father was absent, I would rather believe he was in Africa, descended from a noble line of warriors, than believe he was just another descendant of slaves.  To have one’s history dead-end in shackles is simply horrid.  I need to read more of Obama’s thoughts to know what he, personally thinks about this.

I’ll say another thing: I really believe boys need their fathers.  I have nothing but respect for widowed or divorced single mothers, and lots of empathy for those accidentally impregnated who decided to raise their children (although I might prefer that they give those children up for adoption to an intact family).  But I’ve known women who deliberately went out and got knocked up, because they felt it was time to have a child. 

I think that this is incredibly selfish.  I’d tell them to adopt.  But I have to admit that if I had the power to change the law, I would not make such actions illegal.  They just stick in my craw, and the number of times they later complain about the staggering work of raising a child alone…and when I watch those sons twisting in the wind seeking some kind of emotional limits or masculine center to their lives…it just makes me weep.
Well, I’m certainly glad George Bush was never in favor of “Staying the Course.”  What a relief!  Now, if only someone would arrest that impersonator I heard say exactly that at least a half-dozen times, we’d all be safe.  Wow.  Anyone who complained about Clinton’s  “I did not have sex with that woman” but not this is…well, let’s just say a very political animal indeed.
Looking forward to the new season of “24” (I just saw the first sneak preview, and it looks terrific.   It was kinda interesting on a recent news show when a Conservative from the Wall Street Journal stated   in defense of torture, that America wants Jack Bauer.  Wow.  I thought adults knew the difference between fantasy and reality.  Obviously, I’m living in a fog.
“The greatest trick the devil ever did was convincing the world he doesn’t exist.”—The Usual Suspects.
It’s taken me three days to recover from the weekend completely.  I really pour everything I have into my teaching, and Sunday was kinda weird.  I taught one workshop until noon, and the next wasn’t until six in the evening.  I sat around in the green room talking to the other instructors (always great fun!) until then, but wasn’t really able to eat anything decent until I got home.

While there, I had the chance to speak to a gentleman who is considered the best script reader in Hollywood.  I always like to dig out the gems from such people, and when he seemed receptive, asked questions.  He said that he goes through the script multiple times, but there are two things that he inspects most carefully.

1)     Does every scene further the action?
2)     Does every word in the script describe something either visual or auditory?  In other words, something that the viewer will either see or hear?

It’s amazing, but still common that people write scripts and tuck in all kindsa internal stuff, stuff about a character’s past or feelings THAT CANNOT BE PHOTOGRAPHED.

This instantly drops the studio reader out of the reality of the story, and makes them remember they are reading a script.  And that, my friends, means you just lost the sale.

I think that this might be one of the reasons I enjoy writing my books as scripts FIRST, and then flesh them out.  This ensures I have a very strong visual line to the story, holding the core of the meaning and emotion.  Then, when I add internal monologue, interpretations of facial expressions, kinesthetics, etc, I am building upon an already sound foundation.

But whatever approach you take, if you are working on something for television or film, this bit of “Green Room” advice should be taken to heart:  Every scene should advance the story. Every word should paint a picture, or make a sound. Believe it.

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