Apr 19 2013

VBS Development Diary #11: Act 3

This week marked 4 months since we started working on this year’s VBS. Typically at the 4 month mark we are getting ready to perform, but we haven’t even created any props, sets, or costumes, and haven’t rehearsed a line. In fact, the performers don’t even have the script yet.

The reason is this: despite a good plot and a good first draft, the script wasn’t really that great. It didn’t stink–but when I finished the story, even as the writer, I felt kind of let down. Not quite end-of-a-Michael-Crichton-novel kind of let down (I’m looking at you, Sphere), but definitely underwhelmed.

So by mid February I knew the final act needed some work. The problem is, the last night has a lot of action, and I kind of stink at writing action scenes–I’m more of a story-and-dialogue guy. The funny thing is I’ve been listening to a podcast about screenwriting, and both screenwriters on the show mentioned that they hate writing action scenes as well. So I knew it was going to take some focused time and attention, which is always hard to come by.

Then the last two weeks of February blizzards hit mid-Missouri and I got three free snow days from work. Now, how to do this? Thankfully, I still have about a bazillion action figures–some I’ve had since I was a kid. Allison and I busted out the WWE wrestling ring playset, assorted G.I. Joe, Star Wars, Total Justice, and Lord of the Rings figures, as well as a tub of Jenga blocks.

We set up the Jenga blocks to roughly simulate the set for the last night’s action scenes, then placed the figures roughly where they would start. Then we basically played with action figures until we worked out the placement of the actors and how they would interact, then performed the scene while describing what was going on and filmed it with the iPhone. Within probably 90 minutes we had solved our last night’s plot problems and worked out all of the action scenes.

It was a good thing we filmed them, too. When I finally sat down last week to transcribe the voice notes from those video storyboards, I realized that I had forgotten almost everything we had recorded–I guess my brain didn’t feel the need to remember since we had filmed them. I wrote the first of three action scenes the other day.

The reason I am spending all of this time when I already had a finished script in hand is that there is no fix for a bad script. You’ve probably seen movies that tried to compensate for a bad script with special effects, sex, or explosions, and in the end, it was just a sexed-up, impressive-looking, explosion-filled bad story.

There’s no fix for bad writing other than good writing. Hopefully the extra effort will in fact prove to be an improvement.

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Jan 8 2013

VBS 2013 Development Diary: #3: Refinement

The story and script are constantly refined through every stage of the process. The greatest refinements are earliest in the process, and the finer ones later–providing no glaring story problems are discovered.

When we first plotted this story we had three villains, each with specific attributes. I had an idea for one of the bad guys to be kind of a really intelligent, master tinkerer who had made his own clockwork/steampunk armor/exoskeleton, kind of an ancient China version of a cross between Iron Man and Kroenen from Hellboy (wihout the massive crewpy factor). Then we played around with him being a master archer, armed with a drum-equipped repeating crossbow.

However, the character wasn’t so much a character as he was a gimmick–he had no personality, no motivation, and he wasn’t interesting at all.

Then, immersion made an impact.

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