Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Project Wilson Phillips - The First Ten Pages

Today I want to go scene-by-scene with my ten pages from Project Wilson Phillips in an effort to explain how I attempted to give the different groups a wide latitude to go in different directions.

Writing these ten pages proved harder than I expected because they still had to feel like the coherent beginning to a story. As any reader will tell you, the first ten pages of the script are the most important pages. In theory, those pages will lay out the tone and set up the major characters in such a way that a reader will have a sense of the kind of story they’re in for, even if the inciting incident hasn’t yet happened. Everything in these ten pages should be setting up something that’s paid off later.

And conversely, major points later in the film need to be set-up early on. As an example, in Back to the Future, it’s not until the second half hour that we find out that the one thing capable of generating enough power to send the time machine back to 1985 is a bolt of lightning. That means that Marty and Doc need to know where and when a bolt of lightning will strike. Fortunately, Marty happened to get some convenient exposition in the first ten pages about an historic lighting storm that will strike Hill Valley one week from now.

Unfortunately, I don’t know what’s coming on p. 40 of any of the Project Wilson Phillips scripts, so I have to create a set-up that I have no way of knowing how it will payoff.

p. 1-2: This scene is specifically designed to hint at some kind of larger revelation without telling anything at all. By the end of it, all we really know for certain is that Young Man has some very important information that Viper wants. In fact, it’s important enough to beat him and torture him over it. Despite Viper’s threatening nature, I tried to write the dialogue in a way that wouldn’t preclude a later writer from deciding that Young Man was a minion of the bad guys, and that Viper was a good guy of sorts going to extreme lengths to uncover and expose the truth.

I was very careful not to give either character a “real” name because I wanted the door to be open for later writers to reveal that, along with their agenda. Also, I deliberately didn’t show if Viper actually killed the Young Man.

p. 2-3: I liked the idea of using a homeless man to set the scene. It wasn’t until the car chase was barreling down on him that I remembered that I hate writing car chase scenes. Besides, I figured that to do that chase justice would be to burn most of my ten pages on mindless action. With that, it hit me that it might be more fun to see the chase from the Homeless Man’s POV.

The line “Wasn’t like this before the Vegans got here,” was another deliberate ambiguity. You could take it as the ramblings of a crazy man, sure. I also figured on at least two interpretations of that line. He could mean “Vee-Gans,” as in “people whose diets cause a lot of complications at cookouts,” or “Vay-Gans,” as in “aliens from another star system called “Vega.”

p. 3-4: Newspaper city room. This is pretty much just me doing some transitional stuff while I introduce Doug. I figured a reporter was a natural main character in a story about conspiracies. There’s also a little Daily Planet flavor here, and the name “Jurgens” is a reference to “Dan Jurgens,” one of my favorite Superman artists.

p. 4-6 : I went out of my way to make Andi a contrast to the screaming editors-in-chief we’ve seen in Superman and Spider-Man. Giving her a quiet energy seemed more interesting. The “sunspot activity” was another throwaway I hoped people would pick up on, and I did my best not to make the exposition about Taylor’s position in the doghouse too on-the-nose.

When they discuss Taylor’s partner Kidwell, I did my best to make it natural that they didn’t use that character’s first name or refer to his or her gender. I really wanted to leave that door open, and my thought was that either Viper or Young Man from the early scene could be revealed as Kidwell by later writers.

p. 6- 9: The week I wrote these pages, I’d read at least three human trafficking scripts in the previous two weeks and all of them had the Russians as bad guys. I figured if I set a particular plot up to “zig,” the next writers would be compelled to “zag,” so I wanted to see what they’d do with a semi-cliched set-up. I can’t count how many times I’ve read a scene where Russian brothel owners show off their wares to some man in power.

I couldn’t resist giving a twist to the “big client.” A.J. Trenton proved to be a fun character to write. Tell me that the image of Bill Gates or Steve Jobs in a brothel doesn’t make you giggle a little. Obviously I amped up the nerd qualities he had and I tried my damndest to get in some exposition about his character without resorting to someone directly comparing him to Gates or Jobs just so the audience would get the shorthand. (Granted, the Simpsons joke and his reference to having a smartphone a year ahead of the rest of the market ain’t exactly subtle either, but I hope they seemed organic.)

Naturally, once I had an uber-geek as the customer, it only made sense to dress the prostitutes as sci-fi sex-symbols. Vitaly’s line about not having a Princess Leia, followed by A.J. pointing out one is a pretty clear indication that girl isn’t supposed to be there. I figured I could set her up to be revealed as Kidwell too, working undercover.

Also, though this really is something that you shouldn’t do, I made sure not to specify if this “Leia” was wearing the slave girl outfit and braided hair from Return of the Jedi, or the white dress and bun hairdo of A New Hope. I wanted to leave that open to the interpretation of the latter writers. Obviously, in a “real” script, the character’s appearance should be clear to the reader as soon as they show up on-screen.

p. 9-10: I’ve always wanted to write a car chase that ended up smashing into another illegal deal, and use that to kick start the plot. I also like the image of the Russian bad guys taking out a guy we presume the police consider a big enough deal to chase all over the city.

This seemed like an appropriately over-the-top entrance for Jackson Mack. I was trying to ride the line when it came to tone. I wanted it to be just big enough so some groups could go broad with their story, yet grounded enough so if the next writer wanted to make it gritty, the tonal shift wouldn’t be completely inexplicable.

Download the Team Carnie draft of the script.

Tomorrow: Let’s hear how the first half of Team Carnie approached their pages.


  1. Ooooh that what the "Vegans" were about :) I thought about the first option, the second one is waaaay out of my comprehension range :) I was like: "What do Vegans have to do with anything?!" lol

  2. Ditto on the "Vegans" reference! Thanks for the insight into your choices. The next project should defiantly involve aliens...or hell, even Vegans (the anti-animal product type) as the protagonists would be interesting.

  3. Evan, what's to say our project didn't?! Ha, we won't find out till it's uploaded.

    I also appreciate the insight, Zuul. Only basing this on one full script for Team Carnie and about 50 pages from Team Chynna, I think you accomplished your goals of allowing the writers to interpret the first 10 pages differently.

  4. Carlos - Touche! And I agree that so far, both scripts appear to be very different.

  5. As a member of team Wendy, I have to comment on just how disorienting it is to read a script this different from ours but with the same beginning. I am wondering how far off Team Chynna ended up.

  6. Patrick - I can understand that. It eventually became very disorienting for me to read installments of three very different scripts each week and try to keep straight what had happened in each script. This is part of the reason I'm staggering the release one at a time. I figure that it'll keep the discussion more focused and reduce that confusion.

    Even now, my head still spins trying to remember which twist went with which script.

  7. As a member if Team Carnie I just wonder twice as much, because I haven't seen anything, but our script. So next week will be real exiting for me. What do you, members of fellow teams, feel, reading a script, that is sort of like yours, but, isn't?

    P.S. And as a Russian, I keep wondering, why are the Russians always the bad guys in movies? Even in Russian ones... Not all Russians are evil. Take me, for instance :))))

    P.S. "Vegans vs Russians", does it sound like a good idea for a future project? :)

  8. mekarka - I'm sure, like the others have said, it was disorienting. There were times last night that I had to go back and reread sections of the script because I tried to remember if a piece of dialogue or action was from the original 10 pages, Team Chynna's following pages, or Team Carnie's.

    Instantly, right after Bitter's 10th page, a particular character is dramatically different in Team Carnie's script compared to Team Chynna's. Balancing the differences as I read was the most difficult part.

    Once all three scripts are out, there are a few things I do want to comment on that I found intriguing. I'm not sure what Team Chynna did after my pages, but Team Carnie, while involving a very different plot, did not sway too far off the same path as Team Chynna with some characters - even down to some of their actions and dialogue.

  9. Lol Carlos I noticed that too. I think the island storyline is pretty cool though. Chynna was more centralized in that from the beginning of the story we took deviations in characters like every ten pages but not setting really.