Tag Archives: screenwriting

Films That Changed My Life

Someone recently asked me what three or four films defined my life – took it new directions, made a lasting impact, that sort of thing. Being a movie junkie, my first thought was that it would be impossible to narrow it down that far. However, in the next moment, three films came to mind. These films changed the course of my life, each in its own way:

AroundTheWorldIn80DaysAround the World in Eighty Days (the 1956 version with David Niven) – This is the first film I remember seeing at the theater – The Grand – and it began my lifelong love of movies. The heavy red velvet curtains framed the enormous screen and up on the walls were traditional theater comedy and tragedy masks. The music swept me away from the opening moment and carried me on down the sidewalk to Tony the Greek’s, where we went for ice cream after the show.

The Grand sent out a calendar each month with which movies would show which days. It was a one-screen theater on the corner of routes 20 and 17 in Westfield, N.Y. Eventually it was torn down, and Tony the Greek’s is long gone as well – but those memories are still strong, as is my love of movies and the movie theater experience.

badThe Bad Seed also came out in 1956, but I can’t imagine anyone took me to see it at the theater – I was a preschooler. I do remember watching it on television, several times. It began a lifelong fascination with how people work when things go off course and a love of well-constructed psychological thrillers.

HighPlainsDrifterHigh Plains Drifter (Clint Eastwood’s second feature film as director, 1973) changed the way I look at films. I’d never heard of Fellini or any other European filmmaker, but I came away babbling about the visual effects and realistic characters – and went back to the theater two more times to watch for details. That awakening led to my repeatedly participating in film appreciation classes at College of Marin – watching and discussing key films. (They showed different ones each semester).

So that’s the three that popped into mind immediately as shaping my life. And then there’s a fourth – which should have been obvious. Working on an early version of the script earned me my first paycheck as a writer and got me started on my current path.

EyeOfTheDolphinEye of the Dolphin ended up being written primarily by Wendell Morris, who had a solid record writing for television whereas I had no screenwriting credits and no major publishing credits. Since most of what I wrote ended up discarded when they got enough funding to change the setting of the film, I got a creative consultant credit rather than one as a writer – but it got me started on IMDb. And I still have a photocopy of that first check on my inspiration board.

What films have had a lasting effect on your life?

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www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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Short Term vs. Long Term

As I write this, I’m in the middle of negotiations to write another screenplay for the company that optioned and produced Running Away. This time I’m having an attorney look at the contract.

She immediately warned me that the company is known for making movies “down and dirty” as cheap as possible, and that while she could read the contract and give me advice, she couldn’t negotiate for me because the only union they deal with is SAG. However, they do produce and sell a lot of movies.

She advised me to think about whether I want to focus on the short or long term before hiring her to analyze the contract.

Well, she didn’t tell me anything I hadn’t figured out already. I know the contract they’ve offered is not reasonable by WGA standards. She’s looking over the contract.

But I did stop to consider her point: Will working for this company work against me in the long run?

Does it mean I’m a hack incapable of writing quality scripts? No. It means I want the validation of being paid for writing, even if it’s not the best pay.

Will other people decide it means I’m a hack incapable of writing quality scripts? Maybe, but if they take a closer look, they’ll see some benefits:

  • It shows I’m not a prima donna – I understand the final product is a collaborative effort and my words are not sacrosanct.
  • It shows I can get rewrites done and back in a timely fashion – or they wouldn’t ask me to do a second script.

I also consider it an opportunity to practice my craft and improve on it:

  • I’ll analyze each script against the movie to learn more about what works – as I already have done here with Running Away.
  • I’ll be practicing writing for a specific audience, which is a good exercise for any writer.

So, while accepting this contract may work against me somewhere along the line, I believe I can sell it as a positive growth experience if I do a few more movies for this company.

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www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

Press release:

Sheri McGuinn at Gold Country Writers Six-Author Event! Official release.

Event date: Sunday, March 25, 2018 – 1:00pm to 4:00pm Event address: FACE IN A BOOK, 4359 Town Center Blvd #113, El Dorado Hills, CA 95762

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Novel to Film: Looking at Change

Last week, I explained the major differences between my first novel Running Away and the Lifetime movie made from it. The movie did a great job with the suspense line but the backstory for the characters changed, which changed the dynamics between characters and the focus of the story. It works as a TV movie, but part of me would still like to see the theater version with my themes and characters as I’d intended.

The contract was for one production, so a remake is a possibility, or utilizing parts of the script in a film version of the mother’s story – the novel Peg’s Story: In Search of Self is coming out later this year. With those possibilities in mind, I did two things:

  • I asked the screenwriters at Capital Film Arts Alliance in Sacramento to review my original script. As always, they gave thoughtful feedback.
  • Before the movie went to the director, I did revisions to make it more affordable to shoot. I watched the movie again with that script to analyze the later changes.

Pertinent observations and conclusions I took away from CFAA and my own analysis:

  • Some of the changes were great. I knew going in that there would be changes over which I would have no control. I really liked some of them. For example: 
    • The director’s version of the climax is more visual and dramatically satisfying than the version I’d written.
    • The film has a better, more logical basis for the friendship between Maggie and Chip (the boy who helps her get away).
  • It’s important to grab the audience quickly. Director changes immediately show Richard as an aggressive jerk and expand on his villainy. People who’ve seen the film talk primarily about his character, so yeah, that worked, but that emphasis lost one of my main themes, that sexual predators are not always obviously bad guys, that they are often masterful actors. However, CFAA feedback on my original script included that it started slowly, so I’d need to find another way to begin. 
  • It doesn’t take much to dramatically alter a character and how the audience perceives them. Most of the scenes are still from my revision, but there were a few brief additions that made major changes in Peg and her girls. For example:
    • The first time Peg appears, she’s on the phone pleading for more time to pay a bill. Shortly after that, she tells Maggie that going out with the contractor working on the house didn’t count as dating because she only did that so he wouldn’t overcharge… In just a minute or two, I saw her as weak and someone who used men, so when Richard turned out to be rich, the entire relationship was suspect. I didn’t like her until the climactic scene.
    • In contrast, my Peg was strong and financially secure – she had a good job and owned the house she’d grown up in without a mortgage. She went camping with her girls alone. Her vulnerability came up when she was hospitalized on a camping trip and Richard flew to her side to take care of her. That scene was deleted and Richard went camping with them, adding another creepy bit.
  • The collaborative effort made a better film.  Even with the added scenes and an added thread expanding on the villain, most of the lines spoken were in my script. However, those scenes were trimmed. This wasn’t just to make room for the additions – it also kept the action moving better. Honestly, a film made rigidly by my original script probably would not have held a TV audience as well as this one does.

The bottom line:

“The movie is different from the book” does not mean one is better than the other; it just means they’re different. What matters for each is: Does it work?

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Does it work?

My next novel, which will come out later this year, is Peg’s Story: In Search of Self. It’s the story of the mother in my first novel, Running Away. After that book came out, I wrote and sold the screenplay – the selling part took a few years. You may have seen the movie Running Away on Lifetime, and it’s been pirated to YouTube as well.

If you’ve read the book and watched the movie, you know that the movie did a great job with the suspense line but the backstory for the characters is different. That also means the dynamics between characters and the focus of the story changed.

This is how the changes look:

The novel is about the relationship between mother and daughter and how a subtle predator manipulates both of them to the point where Maggie (the daughter) ends up running away. The emphasis is on the mother-daughter bond – that’s why the hands are reaching for each other on the novel’s cover. My original script stuck with that emphasis, as did the re-writes I did to make it more affordable to shoot.

I’m still the only screenwriter on the credits, however the director added short scenes, including some up front to establish the stepfather as a bad guy quickly. The filmmakers explained that was essential to hold the audience. With several short scenes, the director also added a storyline making the stepfather evil beyond what he does to Maggie. As in the movie poster, he becomes the focal point.

Film is a collaborative medium and the final measure is always: Does it work?

  • Whenever someone tells me they’ve seen the movie, their comments center on the creepy stepfather – no one talks about the girl or her mother. My central theme didn’t survive, but the film does grab people and hold their attention.
  • I sold the script to a production company with a track record for producing and marketing films to television and computer movie markets. They sold the film successfully to French-speaking European television and then Lifetime. They knew their market.

So yeah, the film works. I got paid, got my credits at the beginning and end, and it’s added to my IMDb page. I’m happy.

Next week I’ll take a closer look at the film and how it compares to my screenplay.

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www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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