Help! Epic Mining...

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  • Help! Epic Mining...

    OK - not sure if I am the only writer out there tackling ideas that are just too damn big.

    Outside of copious flashbacks how do I include what is turning out to be epic back story?

    First screenplay spanned 3,000 years, second a mere 40 and the latest looks like I've split the difference at 8-900 years.

    AAAHHHRRRGGGGG!

    My editor loves the ideas, concepts and overall stories, but the feedback is usually "This is too much for a movie."

    How do you find the best slice for a two hour feature?

    Best,

    Markerstone
    "The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely." ~Jung

  • #2
    Re: Help! Epic Mining...

    TV series.
    "A screenwriter is much like being a fire hydrant with a bunch of dogs lined up around it.- -Frank Miller

    "A real writer doesn't just want to write; a real writer has to write." -Alan Moore

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    • #3
      Re: Help! Epic Mining...

      What's the stuff we can assume? A little bit goes a long way; you don't have to tell us everything.

      Here's something you can try. Go through your story and write down every single scene on an index card. Then sit on the floor with your cards and pull out only the ones that are necessary. Put the scenes in order of necessity. Which ones are the absolute must-haves? Which ones could the story live without? Then nix the cards on the bottom.
      Chicks Who Script podcast

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      • #4
        Re: Help! Epic Mining...

        As harsh as that might sound, we probably don't care about your epic backstory unless it pertains to the main plot of your film.

        So, my advice would be to mention the past only as much and when the present demands it.

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        • #5
          Re: Help! Epic Mining...

          Originally posted by goldmund View Post
          As harsh as that might sound, we probably don't care about your epic backstory unless it pertains to the main plot of your film.

          So, my advice would be to mention the past only as much and when the present demands it.
          This.

          It's awesome that the world is so vibrant and full for you that it suggests all of these stories, but if you're writing a movie, you have to figure out the movie-sized story you want to write and write that.

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          • #6
            Re: Help! Epic Mining...

            Originally posted by markerstone View Post
            OK - not sure if I am the only writer out there tackling ideas that are just too damn big.

            Outside of copious flashbacks how do I include what is turning out to be epic back story?

            First screenplay spanned 3,000 years, second a mere 40 and the latest looks like I've split the difference at 8-900 years.

            AAAHHHRRRGGGGG!

            My editor loves the ideas, concepts and overall stories, but the feedback is usually "This is too much for a movie."

            How do you find the best slice for a two hour feature?

            Best,

            Markerstone

            The way you tame these big stories is by asking simple and precise questions.

            Whose story is it? The way you answer this question is to figure out what the central problem of the story is. Then figure out who has to solve the problem.

            Generally, the person who has to solve the problem also has the most at stake -- but not always. Sherlock Holmes is the one who has to solve the problem in Sherlock Holmes stories but often there are others who are more personally involved in the story and who have more at stake, personally, in the problem. But they lack the means to solve it. Holmes has the means.

            So the story is about the solving of the problem. The one who has the means to solve it and acts to solve it -- he's the protagonist.

            It's his story.

            Now, sometimes you can have multiple protagonists because a problem may be that big. Big across physical space or big across time.

            But whether you're moving across great distances of time or space you need to focus on those key issues.

            Are these scenes dealing with characters acting to solve the problem of the story -- because that's where the story is happening -- or are just having a good time exploring the neat world that you've come up with?

            When Indiana Jones talks to the Government men about Tanis -- the scene doesn't cut back to ancient Tanis. It stays with Jones and the government men -- because that's where the story is happening.

            When Gutman is talking to Sam Spade about the history of the Maltese Falcon, it doesn't cut to flashbacks showing the Knights of Malta. It stays with Gutman and Sam Spade, because that's where the story is happening.

            When Clarice Starling is telling Hannibal Lechter about her experience with the sheep as a little girl, it doesn't cut back and show it. It stays with the two of them -- because the story is happening there, between the two of them, not back in the past when Clarice was a little girl.

            That's what you constantly have to ask yourself -- where is your story happening? Sometimes, the story is happening in the past and there are reasons to move around in time. But often, there's just a lack of confidence in the present-tense story, or an inability to come up with a way to convey exposition about the past so the feeling is -- well, I'll just cut away and show it in a flashback.

            Obviously, not knowing any specifics about your stories, I don't know what the particular challenges are. Sometimes you just take too big a bite and you need to focus down onto something more specific. Look at something like Lincoln -- the whole movie revolves around only a matter of weeks in Lincoln's life. Yet the larger world, his past, his troubled childhood, the loss of his son, the burden of the war -- it all works its way into the story.

            NMS

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            • #7
              Re: Help! Epic Mining...

              Now that is some manageable advice. Thank you.
              "The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely." ~Jung

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              • #8
                Re: Help! Epic Mining...

                I'm curious to know why you always seem drawn to narratives with such epic spans of time. I couldn't possibly come up with a narrative that spans thousands of years myself. It would never even occur to me.
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                • #9
                  Re: Help! Epic Mining...

                  OK - here goes...I love history and sci-fi/fantasy. Always have and always will.

                  Fresh out of college moved to LA. Spent many weeks at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences reading screenplays. First script purchased was Princess Bride. Then wrote my first script. A period action piece that begins in the present (then 1990) and takes place in 1928. Timespan of 62 years.

                  Submitted it to a few agents...got a few passes...put it on the shelf.

                  Second attempt was a martial arts/horror/sci-fi piece that got optioned and made it into pre-production. Funding evaporated, wife got pregnant and I quit writing.

                  Two wives, three kids and twenty years of swimming through corporate America later I lost it all. Everything. So-- I started writing again.

                  The first work for hire I landed was a sci-fi/super hero retelling of the Bible that begins in the distant future, flashes back to the formation of the Earth, a bit of the Old Testament and most of the New before it ends in the future. Timespan of millions of years - but action really covers about 4000 years.

                  The fee for that gig was large enough to cover 6 months of expenses, so I sent out a query (a pitch actually) to a specific manager who requested the screenplay for one of their clients. Sounds pretty cool, but I had not written a single page. Thankfully it had been well outlined. During those 20 years where I was not actively writing I was outlining and creating backstory for several ideas including this one.

                  So-- I pounded out a first draft in nine days and sent it in. It is also a period piece that begins in 1818 and ends in 1874. More manageable timespan of 56 years.

                  Currently working on a sci-fi epic that begins in 2125 and ends 800 years later and a character driven drama that spans a mere 4 weeks.

                  Once the checks for God - The Final Power were cashed my imagination caught fire, self doubt evaporated (most days) and I started writing my own stuff again.

                  Over the past year I have had an ad on fiverr.com that has netted me about twelve very modestly paid writing gigs. Have adapted a novel, a short story and have edited and polished three more scripts.

                  Hmmm - did not intend to reply with a mini bio, but there you have it.

                  Back to work now.

                  Markerstone
                  "The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely." ~Jung

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