20 March 2014

Let's Start At the Very Beginning -- Even If It's Really Not That Good

I wrote my first feature-length screenplay in 2002.  I had written two short scripts before that -- and produced one of them -- and honestly had no idea what I was doing beyond formatting elements (dialogue, action/description paragraphs, etc.) correctly.  Well, that's not entirely true:  I had read Syd Field's screenwriting book and another book about how to write a movie in three weeks, so I knew about Three Act Structure and "show, don't tell" and how certain plot points should happen on specific pages*.

So with that knowledge in hand, as well as Microsoft Word Processor on an early 2000s HP desktop, I set forth to write what would become the screenplay I don't really talk about:  California.

It's called California because I thought Hollywood would be too obvious. 
Plus, I was in love with the Tom Petty song of the same name.

Okay:  Yes, I am making my first feature-length screenplay available to anyone who happens to access this blog or from anyone (for some reason) who shares it.  A few things up front:  Other than the contact info on the title page, the screenplay is as I wrote it back in 2002; and I had to re-type the script (I otherwise only had a hard copy) into Final Draft so there was a PDF of it -- scanning wasn't an option since there were some handwritten notes throughout.
This is the only draft I wrote of the script, so it's going to be rough and loosely structured.  There's going to be redundancies and repetition and scenes that don't advance the story/plot or reveal more about the characters.  Basically, on top of being a first screenplay, it's also far from being presentable -- yet here I am...  Presenting it.

It's neat to see the title page in Final Draft.
The rest of the script... yeah, not so much...
For anyone who actually delves into the pages, one thing I had wanted to do when writing it was to make it as low budget and producible as possible.  I had access to a house, an apartment, a pseudo-factory, a video store (archaic, I know), etc.  My plan was to get my friends together and just shoot it when we could.  I was going to find stock footage of L.A. for the California scenes and cheat with those scenes as much as I could, which is why there aren't many exterior scenes in the third act.

And this is probably the final thing -- unless something comes up in the comments (though based on previous posts, that's unlikely) -- but, yes, the script is semi-autobiographical.  I suppose that's more than obvious, but there's no point in no owning up to it.  Hell, the main character's name is Jack.  That's just one letter away from a misspelling of my name.

Now then:  I'd suppose the question on everyone's minds is, "Zach, my dear friend (so long as we're not in public), why on the gracious green globe of Earth would you post this... script seems too nice, but we'll go with; why would you post this script if you think so low of it?  Why humiliate yourself and potentially ruin your reputation as a screenwriter?"

I'm sure there are many reasons why I'd do this.  One is because I do have an inkling of pride in the script.  It's an incredibly simple story that's easy to follow and populated with well-enough written characters.  In other words, it's relatable.  While re-typing it, I was finding myself drawn into the lives of the characters and seeing myself in them. (Yes, I wrote the script and all, but still.)  One interesting thing I noticed with the script is how its ending is thematically similar to most of my current work.  This goes back to the pride aspect, but I was proud of how I ended the script and proud that even back then I wasn't looking for the easy way out (again, I'm talking about how I feel about my writing).

Another reason is for those who've read my more recent features** (my second, third, and fourth features were written in 2011; I finished my seventh three weeks ago) to compare and see how I've progressed as a writer.  In that regard, I'm hoping that doing this will help others struggling with writing their first feature that it's okay for that script to be lacking.  It's okay if your plot is clichéd and you borrow heavily (and heavilier, if that's a word) from your life.  The point is to write that script.  In 2002, this was the script I was compelled to write.  It wasn't necessarily the one I wanted to write, but it's the one that my brain vomited unto my fingers.

But the impetus, the point of publicizing this script, is because I believe this is true:

I honestly don't know how many scripts I've written since California.  I know it's seven and a half features (see the 12 in 12 for more on that), but I couldn't say how many short scripts I've penned.  Looking at what I have on hand, there's about 60 or so.  But I also wrote a helluva lot that were saved on tossed out hard drives or outmoded 3.5" floppies.  Nevertheless, I've written a lot (and I'm not even counting the prose I've done (and had published)), and I think, I believe, that I'm closing The Gap.  And that's a great feeling.
I consider California the beginning of my screenwriting career.  The feature I'm writing now is the (temporary) end, because, hey, I could quit tomorrow.  The thing is, I can see that my work is getting closer and closer to the work of writers I admire.  I'm still a stone's throw or more away, but California is the proof that even though I started way, way back, there is hope, there is a chance, to reach the other side.  There is a chance that I could be as good a writer as my idols. 
In the end, there's hope.
*While I no longer subscribe to this "specific page" theory, a well-written script's plot points almost naturally fall in or around the same areas of the script/story.

**If you want to read my most recent script, Bake Sale, just drop a line at f.no.but.theres.a.poster[at]gmail[dot]com

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