Archive for November, 2012

Why you should be writing in Fountain

If you’re writing a short film script, chances are your main occupation is studying. You know, film school. Perhaps it is only a hobby, you want to put an idea out of the paper, shoot that bastard and exhibit to your parents at Christmas’ Eve. If you’re writing in a regular text editor, then i feel sorry for you, because your formatting is possibly wrong. Yes, are you aware that writing for movies rely on a very specific format? In the case you don’t, google “screenwriting formatting” or something similar, you’ll find plenty of options. I never wrote about formatting and this ain’t the moment, because you may download a screenwriting software to do the drill for you. Just like that.

If you owe a mac and is really committed to get into the industry, you could ask your parents to pay the trifle of 250 USD for Final Draft, which is the industry standard. But you don’t have that kind of money, do you? And if you had, you’d waste on girls and booze. Then you could use Celtx, which is a cross-platform production application, with screenwriting included, and FREE. Within Celtx you have a problem as it doesn’t export as FDX, which is the Final Draft extension, only PDF, but besides that, i have my own issues with both applications and these screenshots will illustrate to you.

Screen Shot 2012 11 30 at 5 31 08 AM   Screen Shot 2012 11 30 at 5 52 22 AM

Simply put: Celtx is ugly and clumpy. Besides that you don’t even have much of a choice to customize the layout. Final Draft looks better, looks essential, you may just start writing. Plus that its customization options are much better. When it comes to writing, i always prefer to keep it as clean as possible so i may focus on, you know, writing and shit. This is the best i could do to change the layout of these applications to let them as distraction-free as possible:

Screen Shot 2012 11 30 at 5 33 09 AM   Screen Shot 2012 11 30 at 5 36 31 AM

You can’t deny that Final Draft still looks much better, it is like an invitation to write. But do you wanna know how do i write my screenplays now? Like this:

Screen Shot 2012 11 30 at 5 37 34 AM

That’s an application called iA Writer, it’s not a screenwriting application, but a distraction-free tool. After all that mess about formatting your screenplays, as you may check, i couldn’t care less about it. That’s because i use Fountain, which is not an application, but a syntax. Think of it as a language, like HTML or bbCode, but it has its origins on Markdown. Due to his nature you may use Fountain within ANY TEXT SOFTWARE. I chose iA Writer, but you may write your screenplay on Notepad/TextEdit if it pleases you. You’ll spend less time learning Fountain than you did trying to make a SUM work on Excel. As long as it writes, it may write a screenplay. Fountain gives you the freedom to write a screenplay in the application that fit you mostly and this is important because you must use the software that makes you more comfortable as possible. One of the creators of Fountain, John August, has posted a workflow from one of his readers which uses iA Writer, Scrivener and Highland. I’ve been testing it myself and it is lovable. If you don’t know Scrivener, it is the writer’s Photoshop. Costs 45USD, but worth every penny. Highland converts Fountain files into FDX or PDF and vice versa. It is free while in beta, but John August himself stated that it will be charged fairly whenever it goes live.

Another advantage of Fountain is that as a plain text, you may write it from your mobile, your uncle’s house. If there is a computer there, you have good odds to dig up some screenwriting time. Thanks to its format, Fountain makes it easy to send your screenplay to your friends and crew.

Celtx may be free, but Fountain is freedom. Freedom to choose your software, your workplace, your workflow. It’s about the job fitting for you, not the opposite.

Successful Short Films – The Piano Tuner

Regardless of the length of your film, it’s rare to deviate from the chains of an event. Ever heard about the almighty inciting incident? It is nothing beyond an event that generates a situation which permeates through the story, changing the balance of the reoccurring routine of our characters. Often films end whenever the balance is reestablished. Sometimes an event is a conglomerate of circumstances. An orchestra would be a major situation, meanwhile each instrument would be a situation on their own, although part of the main event. This trigger will define your story, as there is a limited number of ways for certain events to restore balance. This is what makes you decide that an idea fits better as a short film than a feature one.

It’s a common resource of short films to hold themselves within a single event. Sometimes they don’t, as our last review shows. So your starting point is a limited situation, that being one of the reasons you chose it for a short film. Every concept is restrained somehow within the course of dramaturgy, yet we might leave this for another article. This abstraction comes to reinforce the necessity of a great concept when working for a short film, as you can’t expand it endlessly, however it must feel complete whenever it is done. As every story has limitations, the first step to achieve a powerful script is to bring an awesome concept into the table. And now we may discuss The Piano Tuner, a film which showed up at Short of the Week two months ago and had an outstanding approval from its members.

The Piano Tuner, by Olivier Trainer is the tale of a failed pianist whom pretends to be blind to obtain the empathy of his customers. Until, at one of his client’s visits, he stumbles into the pool of blood. I won’t pretend it is a mastery of the craft, it ain’t, but this french short film is pretty well thought. It demonstrates how hard it is to setup an intricate story using a resource we’ve seen a lot lately: starting your story with a flash forward. I don’t support the abuse of flash forwards, however if there’s a lot of ground to prepare, it is an effective way to keep your viewer tuned in. And The Piano Tuner requires this previous briefing because we must learn, in natural terms, that our main character only alleges his blindness. So it is a pretty delicate setup and half of the movie is dedicated into it.

Technically, the inciting incident is when the main character trips on the recently murdered husband’s blood. The dead man’s wife (i assume) and also his executioner now has to deal with a witness, even a blind one. She asks for his blood-soaked clothes and he keeps his roleplaying, trying to remain calm. He tunes the piano and the woman points a nail gun to the back of his head. He starts playing and that gives him a few minutes, but he doesn’t own much choice and proceeds playing as if it would keep himself alive.

It’s quite the thrilling situation, but what this short film incites me is the discussion about endings.

Do you remember that Robert McKee’s line in Jonze’s Adaptation?

I’ll tell you a secret. The last act makes a film. Wow them in the end, and you got a hit. You can have flaws, problems, but wow them in the end, and you’ve got a hit. Find an ending, but don’t cheat, and don’t you dare bring in a deus ex machina. Your characters must change, and the change must come from them. Do that, and you’ll be fine.

It might not be a rule of thumb for feature films, but most short films rely on a great ending to be remembered. Specially if you’re aiming at film festivals, as several films are projected one after the other, one impression is swallowed by the following and if you want to stand out you have to hammer into the viewer’s head with your last utterance. You must reverberate.

As events are limited, you’ll often find yourself into a TICKING BOMB range of possibilities to conclude your story. Whenever you introduce a ticking bomb as your situation, there are only three ways to end your movie: the bomb blows, the bomb is disarmed, fade to black with the tick-tack. Whenever you place a main character in a situation like The Piano Tuner you’re starring at a ticking bomb. The ending not exclusively creates a visual impression the viewer will carry, but also expose the layers of the tone you presumed the spectator would take home with him. And how you handle with a ticking bomb is what commonly separates the good from the bad. How you twist your ending to lead into a very specific idea you want to transmit when the credits start rolling is crucial for a successful short film.

In the particular case of The Piano Tuner, we would wonder if the protagonist would getaway or die (we rarely expect the “open ending”). This kept me my attention while the credits rolled until the music ended. It was quite disappointing. If you felt the same way, stop reading and replay the short film until the title shows up, then come back here.

Got it? The sound of a nail gun shooting. This means we have a full-experience (the protagonist is killed), but our last impression is his despair and attempt to keep alive. As non-conclusive, it echoes in our head. I’ve pointed out previously how using non-linear narrative to change your ending is among the most effective ways to use of it.

So whenever you find yourself facing a ticking bomb situation, don’t panic and let it blow on your hands.

6 Steps into Successful Crowdfunding

If you’re writing a short film, often it means you’re accumulating several other functions in the later stages of the production. You might be directing, producing, casting, acting, editing, holding cables, all of them or even something else. That’s because it is hard to make a short film, specially due to the lack of cash. This means you have a small group, doing a lot, for little to none money at the end of the job.

Crowdfunding, is a collective effort by people who network and pool their money together, usually via the Internet, in order to invest in and support efforts initiated by other people or organizations.

This resource usually gives a sensation of excitement. an eureka feeling, however it is not that simple. Crowdfunding gives the viability for any project to place itself out there and as any of these, it most be carefully planned to make most of it. Crowdfunding is not a certain solution, it is as intricate as regular funding and doesn’t make your job any easier, just possible.

1. Have a damn nice concept

Concept, story, those are the things that sell. If you have no idea what pitching is, go out and learn. Practice the hell out of it. If you’re checking this blog for the first time because you googled “crowd funding short film”, check the previous posts for an insight in how to develop a great short film script. The first step for your project is having a great starting point, this is basic market: it’s easier to sell a good product, or in this case, a product with clear potential to be good. Stop listening to your family when they say you should film that script, put the critic/bastard mask and knock your project down. Would you put money on this? Regardless of how grumpy you are, your project must be THAT good.

2. Do your budget

I hate doing budgets, that’s why i got a girl whom loves executive production. If you’re not as lucky as i am, grab your spreadsheet software and get things going. Budgeting is getting EVERYTHING you need to make your project turn into reality. Collect prices from at least three different places per product, not only important to get the cheapest around town, but also to have the sense that you’re doing it the best way. Place everything into a gorgeous, organized table. Separate it under stages of development and departments. Expect to spend money on office material and all these little things. Keep in mind that well fed crowd works better. Gas costs money too. You gotta hold tight and keep everything under control from this point on.

After budgeting is done, do the sum. Don’t freak out. That was possibly your ideal budget, start cutting what you feel as not urgent. Total is going down. Save as a different spreadsheet. Now you have your ideal budget and your risky budget. The situation here is that you have the budget you’ll look for and the budget you may expect. Still, don’t make your project on kickstarter yet. Or you expect that crowd funding is giving the value you want and see what happens? Don’t hold your breath, it’s a long road.

3. Decide your rewards

Seems really soon to do so, but it is time to decide what rewards you’re given away for your investors. I recommend you to start with digital things, stuff you may offer and which won’t cost you anything. Start low as well, don’t expect people to back you up if you begin by asking them to give away $25 at first instance. $5 is a good number. Commonly the first thing to offer is a “special thanks” credit in your film. Digital download of the film for $10? Good call. This is also the moment in which you start recalling all you may get by yourself. Is there a friend of you a great designer? Ask him to make a cool movie poster. $20 perhaps? Is your brother a tour guide? Ask him if you may offer a limited number of free tours around town. The rewards don’t need to be specifically movie related, so don’t fight against it. Know what you may afford.

Physical copies of the DVD is a must. But there’s a cost relevant to the budgeting. So does printing. Everything you decide here must go to your spreadsheet. Invite your investor to a lunch, a visit to the set, send a post card. T-shirts? Damn nice. IMDB Credits? That’s something to look for as well. Be creative, offer something symbolic from your film, an object. Wildplume offered bullet cases; Fishbowl had a limited sale for the fishbowls used in the movie. As you raise the prices, you must remember to make things more intimate, exclusive or appealing. Create rewards that only your crowd funding donors will be able to get. Give yourself the work to write some nice things in a postcard. As in a movie set, everyone there is necessary and important to keep things going, so are your donations: don’t make your attention exclusive to top offers, this will break your legs as most projects receive by small amounts. Each backer is important for your project to go on.

There are infinite possibilities, so you must use your surroundings and skills to create cool stuff for your backers. Also remember to never be cheap, always fair. Check successful projects in order to see what worked previously. This will give you a marketing perspective. Include EVERYTHING on your budget.

4. Search for local sponsoring

If you’ve never done any kind of financing for an artistic project, this will be a great experience. You’ll hate it, of course, but you’ll carry it forever. This will be the first moment where you’ll realize how hard it is to sell something people aren’t looking for. It will also tell you the weaknesses of your pitching. Time to break your face. Check on your budget what can you get from local stores. Does your uncle have a restaurant? You may ask him to sponsor the meals for your short film. Did you decide to give away a movie poster of the film for your backers? You need a good quality paper and good printing, so it might be a great idea to see if a Printer company doesn’t want to help you out. Be aware that your film might need furniture, so it is a good time to prospect for stores which you could borrow from. The objective here is lowering down your financial needs, so you’ll demand only the essential for your crowd funding project. Always remember to offer something in exchange of the sponsoring, it often is a placement of the logo in the project. Major sponsors get a logo in the beginning of the film, minor in the ending credits. Don’t sell yourself so easily, you must talk to the manager with everything structured, but with the flexibility to change if requested and negotiate properly. You can’t clutter your film with logos in the beginning of it.

5. Prepare yourself for the project

It’s about time to start developing the content of your crowd funding presentation. Always keep in mind that you’re selling something. Call it pitching as it looks less capitalist until you lose your naivety. Usually the sites offer you plenty of space to include text, pictures and video, so it’s not time to be lazy. You must make people fall in love for your project and, much more important, make clear that you’re passionate about it. The first questions to answer are:

  • What is this all about?
  • How important is this to the world?
  • Why should i help you funding this project?
  • What makes this short film unique?

Crowdfunding is not about charity, is about making people believe that you have something great in hands. Is convincing them that YOUR project is what is missing on their lives. What you have right now? Is there a cool location you’ll shoot at? A storyboard? Some graphic design? Is it based on a real story? Is there a social influence on your project? Take the time to make a great video to introduce your idea, there are better odds people will watch the video instead of reading your description (doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put effort on the writing, don’t be lazy). Be creative, effective and simple. Sharp as a brand-new paper sheet. Make a micro-documentary of what inspired you to develop this story or a testimonial of your reasons. Remember that sincerity is the best call, ALWAYS. You must declare yourself, drag from the bottom of your careless heart, that this is something to commit for. Showing people what made you interested in this project is always the most effective way to make them interested too.

Cutting the emotional crap, you must also organize yourself. Based on your budget, you must draw your crowd funding goal. Thanks to your local sponsoring, your expenditures dropped, yet you’re never comfortable to ask for the full budget. Trace a value you’re cool with. Thinking about the midpoint between your minimal-budget and your maximum-budget is commonly the way to goal. Keep both feet on the ground.

Your backers will spread the word to their friends, whom might back you up and increase your network. So you must keep in check that they have the maximum amount of information available for them to sell your project. All the informations about it; Pictures, anything people may visualize; What’s your financial goal? How is your schedule? How will you spend the money? Everyone whom support your project must know these things. As Maxime Leroy says:

What crowdfunding offers is to see your project supported by individuals who really believe in it. Who are ready to pledge anywhere from a symbolic to a substantial amount of their own money to make your idea happen. They all have a reason to do it: they will get a nice example of your product, they will brag about it to their friends, you blackmailed them, or it is your mom. Their common goal is to get your project crowdfunded or their investment will have had no impact, even if they get their money back. So they are not just backers, they are ambassadors. They will talk about your project, share it through their networks, and in the end, convince their friends to support it too. What you should be working on is helping your first backers, giving them the tools and materials (information, visuals, goal, agenda) to efficiently convince their friends. They will reach them better than you will with your random, send-to-all tweets.

6. Develop your network

After making your crowd funding project, you must review your environment. You need a crowd to fund your project, anyway. It’s time to inspect your project and your connections to make the best of them into your project. Use your social network to spread the word, still, you need closer contact to get all the support you need and you may not manage to do all of that by yourself. Make your best friends aware of your idea, they can’t be short of information as they’ll be selling your project to their closer friends. Tell everything to your family, they’ll talk about your venture to their friends at the bar or yoga class. A network you possibly wouldn’t be able to get otherwise.

Improving your network is the work you must keep after releasing your project. Dedicate a few hours of your day to update your project with pre-production status. Keep your hypothetical supporters posted. This will make clear that you’re really dedicated to this project, as your crowd funding platform is the place where they’ll find you mostly. And don’t give up, as said here:

Many people, including in your close circle, will wait ‘till the end of your campaign to support your project. They will wait until you have reached 50%, or will only seize the opportunity to support you because there’s only 2 days left before the deadline…we continually see projects take off like a rocket, then enter into a slow phase, and then pick up again at the last minute, until finally reaching the target.

As shown by Leroy’s article, particularly using Kiss Kiss Bank Bank as subject, there’s no linear fundraising, this means that even if things are running low, you must not give up, because these tiny amount you get at midpoint will make the difference later.

Gap crowdfunding

Read other articles:

Crowdfunding sites:

Hope you enjoyed and best of luck with your projects. See you next time!

Is it worthy to work on narrative?

On May, 2010, the LA Times released an article speculating if “Short films can be a shortcut to Hollywood success“. Overall it claims that short films are receiving more attention nowadays and opening gates at Los Angeles. It selects a few examples of short films which caught the eye of several producers and closed important deals for the filmmakers. Yet, you shouldn’t expect this kind of talk in this blog, what i actually want to point out is the selection of short films chosen to illustrate the aforementioned movement. Here’s the list:

The article might look dated, but the timing is important here. The deals suggested by the LA Times, if had gained texture, might be possible for checking the outcome by now, two and half years later. Mamá became a feature film. Panic Attack‘s director is finishing the remake of Evil Dead. Tim Smit has been working on videoclips, not much news on the feature film for What’s in the Box?. Alma is an upcoming featured animation for Dreamworks. Patrick Jean doesn’t seem to be doing anything lately. Ricardo de Montreuil left the Sundance world and is attached to the next Zorro movie. Blomkamp, as we’ve seen previously, have directed District 9 and is nowadays finishing Elysium.

If you haven’t seen these shorts until now, you must. It won’t take much of your time and it is really important for the following discussion.


Did you watch them all? Really? Which one is your favorite? I’d like to know but it actually doesn’t matter. These short films made me wonder where is the boundary between a situation-driven and a concept-driven short film. I consider each one of them besides Alma as concept-driven. The animation is the only one with a clear introduction, development and conclusion. Mamá is the one which gets closer to not being so rooted on concept, yet the own declaration of the Muschiettis in the LA Times’ article suggest that they were guided by the concept solely.

“We didn’t even have an outline,” says Barbara Muschietti. “We just wanted to do something scary.”

The main concern here then is: what’s the point on working at narrative if the hollywood executives are glazing at concepts to turn into big screen feature films? Experience has proven that the narrative of a short film doesn’t prepare for the work on a feature film directly, they’re very distinguishable forms of storytelling (we’ll visit this subject a bit further when discussing web series). People seem to be more pleased by sneak peaks of possible projects. The excitement of waiting over the experience of completeness. Great special effects to close the package and create a visual impact instead of a visual continuity of story. Every image is a story, if i deny that i’d have at least three university teachers bashing at my door with shovels, nevertheless we must evaluate the priority in the creation of that image to understand what is being discussed in here.

Here’s my piece of advice: even though these concepts have brought attention to their makers, is not a guaranteed pass to Beverly Hills. A great narrative short film is going to bring buzz, perhaps you won’t adapt it to a feature film, most short films can’t migrate anyway, however a shot as a Hollywood director is not something to refuse. I’m honestly anxious to see what Blaas is going to do with the solid story of Alma. As in concept-driven short films, they’re expandable by nature, because they’re more an environment than anything else. Above everything said, you must respect your idea, don’t distort something good the way it is to achieve a long-distance dream. Baby steps. Most of the short films related here had a pretty similar theme and Hollywood can’t drink from the same wheel for too long (unless it turns into a franchise), thematically speaking, so i believe some of the concepts listed here are, unfortunately, going to find eternity only in the fifteen minutes run length.

There’s a solid chance concept-driven short films will become the pitching for shy people. Let’s hope it keeps moving that way, otherwise our introspective fellows are screwed.

Successful Short Films – Lemonade Stand

Our regular post submission just began, here we gonna check out some great short films. To start with, i’ve chose Lemonade Stand, by Alethea Jones. It won the Tropfest Film Festival 2012. Besides being a really well-made short film, Lemonade Stand will bring some interesting subjects to our discussion as we’ll see.

It’s the story about Benny, his grandpa and their lemonade stand being harassed by Kevin, the neighbor whom just got a job at the City Council. As the stand has no business license, Kevin threats to shut their business down unless Benny hits a distant beehive with a lemon.

The film starts with a quick montage of events and voice over to show us the world. As we’ve seen previously at O’Keefe’s The Ghosts, this works really well to introduce the characters and the background of the story. I must remind you that voice-over is not an enemy, it should narrate elements far away from the story, but be a complement of the image. It’s the bond of sound and vision that makes cinema what it is, those elements should not drift apart (in most cases). If you work well with voice-over and it fits your concept, it’s a great method to save quite a chunk of time.

Following this introduction we have the event, when Kevin challenges them to hit the beehive. There’s a clear goal and urgency into this, the obstacle being the defiance itself. Afterwards, Benny wanders through the woods only to find his natural inclination at throwing objects on long shots. He’s just the perfect guy to win the challenge and save the day. However, this is the moment in which Lemonade Stand remains steady. We, viewers, are confident that Benny is going to nail the beehive and redeem the lemonade stand. It’s breaking this expectation what makes this short film great. Because that should be essential to every short film ever.

Coming clean, i’ve chosen Lemonade Stand to show up an example of a well-rounded structure that works perfectly on short films with a comic tone. It goes as something like this:

1. Introduction of main character, antagonist and the background savior*;

* this kind of structure relies on this background savior, which is an element you introduce in the beginning of your story (grandpa’s dirty socks in this case),  let it lay down and bring it back to resolve your story at the ending.

2. The Challenge (hit the beehive with this lemon or i shut down this joint!);

3. High Expectations: raising the expectations of the audience, make them believe the main character is going to beat the challenge.

4. The Failure: the main character fails to beat the challenge his way;

5. Raise the undead! The background savior comes back alive and saves the day.

This is not a masterpiece of an outline, but screw you, i’m not Syd Field. Basically, what matters here is using this background element previously introduced to effectively seal your story indirectly. If Benny had simply hit the beehive, it wouldn’t be fun, after all, we love to have our expectations broken apart, that’s why we engage with other people, no? But dealing with our issue through an unorthodox method is great, as it surprises us, yet as the elements were already introduced we don’t feel like the author is cheating on us (farewell, deus ex-machina).

Just remember that this is not a formula, if you EVER start a story by a recipe, you’ll fail, i guarantee. The viability for a specific, functional structure must emerge from the story, not otherwise. You can’t fit the story in a box (if it doesn’t want to).

Short of Stories returns!

Almost four months away from these lands i adore. But for good reasons: 1) i was too busy working; 2) there wasn’t much left to talk. There’s nothing to talk about the first, yet the latter demands some sort of attention. Short of Stories has a theme, but wasn’t planned, there was no schedule and soon the well went dry. Writing about the craft of screenwriting is hard, when you reduce the niche to short films it gets even harder. There are several great screenwriting blogs around, yet they don’t DISCUSS the craft all the time, most of them post news about the screenwriting business scenario, inspiring quotes. It’s talking ON screenwriting, not ABOUT. I’m certainly not criticizing this way to build a screenwriting blog, sincerely it’s the way it has to be in order to keep a regular flux of posts, however it doesn’t mean that i’m going for it.

After all these months, i’ve prepared some sort of schedule to keep Short of Stories going. What follows is a list of subjects i’m willing to approach in the upcoming weeks:

  1. Successful short films: this will be our regular posting, covering great shorts films and what we can extract from them. Expect Pixar;
  2. Short Formats – Web Series: returning to my series to fix this huge mistake. How could i miss web series?
  3. Feedback: what it REALLY is and how to get the proper one;
  4. Funding: How to get the money to produce the short film. Crowdfunding anyone?
  5. Apps to help you develop your story: Covering some applications to make your life easier (unfortunately this will be mac only).

Remember that i’m really open to dialogue. I would love to review reader’s scripts or watch their short films. And write about it, obviously. Use the contact form or the comments’ section to send suggestions and whatever you feel that this blog is missing.

Overall, i hope this is a good pick-up point. Stay tuned.

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