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Shoot to Suit

PART IV: More Than Just a Scene

You've written a couple of great 30- or 60-second scenes, got a place to shoot, and a couple of people to act with, you've put in a few hours learning about your camera, lighting, and sound, and you know a couple of reliable folks who will show up to crew for your scene. Here's a thought: why stop there?

Why not create a 3-minute short instead of just a 60-second scene? Yes, it's contrary to the idea of making it as simple as possible, but think about, say, the first "story" in Sin City. Josh Hartnett and Marley Shelton out on a terrace having a conversation. The whole thing takes place in one location, is four or five minutes long, and is just a conversation between two people. But it could still be a "movie."

Screenwriting 101: A movie has a beginning, a middle, and an end, or to put it another way: setup, conflict, and resolution. Go back to the first article in this series and examine the sample scene.

Setup: "What do you think?"
Conflict: "It's good, but..."
Resolution: "Capitalize the damn, 'S'".

I wouldn't submit it as a movie, but I never wrote it to be a movie. I spent about 15 minutes thinking about the ways I could expand on what I had and came up with the following, "mini-movie":

MARCY
So, what do you think?

STEVE
It's good, but you forgot to capitalize the "S" in "Sunday."

MARCY
That stuff doesn't matter as long as people know what I'm talking about.

STEVE
No. It does matter. It matters that "Sunday" is a proper noun and proper nouns have their first letter capitalized.

MARCY
E.E. Cummings never capitalized his stuff.

STEVE
E.E. Cummings studied and taught the rules of English for 20 years before he started breaking them, and he only broke them in poetry and only for effect.

MARCY
Yeah, but–

STEVE
Tell you what...if you're E.E. Cummings, you don't have to capitalize the "S" in "Sunday." If you were born someplace like Uzbekistan, or you're a five-year old, you don't have to capitalize the "S" in Sunday. But guess what: E.E. Cummings is dead, you were born in Long Beach, and your favorite drink is a Mojito, so capitalize the damn "S."

MARCY
I'm going to leave it as is.

STEVE
Jesus! Why do you ask my opinion if you're not going to take it!

STEVE throws the piece of paper down on the ground.

MARCY
Maybe because I keep hoping you'll stop being such a tight ass about everything, and just once say, "It's good as is."

STEVE
Oh, god. Marcy, I fucking hate it when you do this.

MARCY
Do what?

STEVE
This! Use stuff like this as metaphors for us. If you want to talk to me, talk to me. If you're unhappy, say so. (beat) Christ, if you want to leave, leave.

MARCY
You'd just let me walk out the door.

STEVE
Why would you stay if you weren't happy?

MARCY
Maybe I keep hoping that you'll care enough about me to–

STEVE
–To what? Change? Maybe I'll care so much about you that I'll stop being me.

MARCY
That's always your excuse. Stop being a bastard, and you'll stop being "true to yourself."

STEVE
You only call me a bastard because it conveniently supports your point.

MARCY
This isn't a logic game, Steve. This isn't debate class, and you don't get points for...No, I don't want to do this anymore.

STEVE
Fine by me.

He reaches down and picks up the paper and hands it to Marcy.

She ignores it.

MARCY
No, this. This relationship.

STEVE
Hey, if that's your choice. Just don't tell anyone I threw you out or anything like that.

MARCY
No. I wouldn't want to say something that wasn't correct. I'll get a, a moving truck...

STEVE
They're called moving vans.

MARCY
I'll get a truck tomorrow, and move all of my stuff out. The lease and utilities are in your name, so...

STEVE
Aren't you the professional. Sounds like you gave this some thought ahead of time.

MARCY
Goodbye, Steve.

MARCY walks to the front door. As she's about to open it, she turns back to STEVE.

MARCY
Very little good ever comes from being right all the time.

MARCY opens the front door and walks out.

STEVE
That's what people who are wrong say to keep from feeling bad.

STEVE stands there for a moment, and then looks down at the paper, and balls it up and throws it in a corner.

STEVE
Stupid "S".

Okay, so maybe William Goldman and Charlie Kaufmann aren't worried about losing the Oscar to me, but another hour or two worth of work, and I bet it'd be ready to go. And notice that it's still just two people, it still takes place in one location, and you could still shoot it on a Saturday, which would leave Sunday free for another group, and thus rental costs could be shared by at least four people.

Spend an hour or so working your way through such sites as IndieExpress www.indieexpress.com, iFilm (www.ifilm.com), AtomFilms (www.atomfilms.com), MySpace (www.myspace.com), and YouTube (www.youtube.com), or check out some of the award-winners at places like the Portland International Short-short Film Festival (www.zonkerfilms.com). I think you'll quickly realize that with a little more work your scene could easily stand beside much of what's already up there. The process of entering film festivals is beyond the scope of this article, but Without A Box (www.withoutabox.com) is an online festival-submission aggregation site, and MovieMaker magazine (www.moviemaker.com) is an excellent resource for learning more about festivals.

You and your scene partner–now "co-star"–can still use the best 30-60 seconds of your movie to serve as demo reel material, but with a movie under your belt, you can submit it to festivals, and if it gets accepted, you can then list it on IMDb, and be credited as the star and producer. You can post it at the same places you used for research, send out a bunch of e-mails to friends and family, and watch as first tens and then hundreds and thousands of people watch a movie wherein you're the star.

That's what you came to Hollywood for, right?

Back to Getting Started.