Adventures in First-Time Screenwriting

So this was my weekend:

Matt, Shamayel, and Elena drove up to San Jose (from San Diego) and over the course of two days we filmed a video. Just a little humorous joke thingy about my being an Omeganaut. Matt’s going to be doing the editing, and we’ve got near 25GB of footage, so all I can say to him is godspeed. Hopefully it can be completed and uploaded before PAX.

We got the idea prettymuch on the day it was announced. Matt made an offhand joke, I heartily supported the offhand joke, we semi-joked about free weekends, there was that long moment of “Shit we’re both actually totally willing to do the work to make this happen, aren’t we?” and then suddenly I threw together a script and Matt threw his gear and some friends in the car, and here we are.

The highlight of the whole thing, for me, was the script. I’ve never written a script. I’ve never written comedy. I managed to pull something together that I think largely worked. And then — this is the writergeek part for me — on Saturday morning before we started filming, we sat around the script and tweaked it, and discussed what worked and what didn’t and why things worked and other things didn’t.

I dunno, maybe it’s just me, but I seriously geeked out over it. I’m still kind of bouncy over the whole thing. I’d love to do this again (you know, in my copious spare time).


I know very little about writing stories outside of my own process, and I know even less about screenwriting, so bear that in mind while I ramble. Seriously, I know fuckall about writing for screen. I had to look up proper screen formatting. I was proud to remember the rule of thumb that one page of script = one minute of show.

I attacked this like I attack most stories, mostly because I don’t know any other way to do. I first thought about what I wanted the main character(s) to become at the end of the story. I work on what pieces are needed to make that happen, what events best show that growth that I want to have happen. Slowly, plot crawls its way out of that mess, and then I agonize over it, because I am awful at plot. I frame up the scenes on a high level at first (“in this scene, we discover that so-and-so is really the killer”) and then I start blocking out the scenes and throwing down the lines. That’s where I stopped for the screenplay, but if I were writing a prose story, I’d be filling everything out, hanging meat on the bones.

(As an aside, I did not do this method for the novel I’m currently revising. I wrote that one by the seat of my pants, with no goddamn clue where I was going the entire time. Which likely explains why I’m struggling so much with it right now.)

I guess I kind of take a programmer route, to be honest. When I code, I start on a high level, thinking what I want this program to achieve, then I drill down at what components are required, and how do they best compartmentalize in a way that makes sense. Then move deeper to individual classes, algorithms, etc, which, in the case of writing, translates to blocking out scenes. Then I fill in the code, aka the actual text. (Then debugging/revising.)

But like I said, with the screenwriting, I stopped at blocking out scenes, and worked on revising that part. I knew that this was going to be read aloud, so I went over the lines verbally, making sure they worked as well as I could get them to work, trying to hear them in the voice of the people who would be playing the characters. (I encouraged Matt and Shamayel to go with it, that the core idea of the line was more important than the actual wording, that it should feel natural. We ad-libbed a bit.) I worked on the beat of words, thinking about when sounds had to punch versus fade softly, the rate at which information was presented, etc. There’s a musicality in performing words that I don’t really consider much in my writing for prose. I consider it a little — especially since I read all final drafts out loud — but not to the extent that I worried about it with this.

I don’t know if that answered the question about how screenwriting and prosewriting differed for me. I have only some experience with the latter and effectively zero with the former, but it was a really fun exercise. I want to write All The Things, and this was so awesome that I’m likely to do it again.

In my copious spare time.

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