Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The areas of his expertise

The Clive Cussler trial apparently resumed this week after some time on hiatus. Doing a little paralegal work on the side for a local attorney leads me to conclude that even the court system is not immune from the casual ethos that pervades Los Angeles. On the East Coast, the case would have been over in a matter of weeks; here, it began in late January and is expected to last into May. Whatever, Your Honor.

The fascinating development (at least screenwriters might find it fascinating, which is sad for us) to me was the producer's attorney calling Robert McKee as an expert witness. McKee, through his Story text and seminars, occupies a large (and polarizing) corner of the screenwriting universe. Some people swear by him, others just swear. Charlie Kaufman immortalized McKee by making him a character in Adaptation.

Philip Anschutz, the producer countersuing author Cussler for his share of the failure of the adaptation of "Sahara," called McKee to give his evaluation of Cussler's novel and screenplay version of the story. Anyone familiar with McKee's style can guess what the testimony was. Quoted in the LA Times on a 2002 draft of Cussler's script:

"The writing is very bad," he testified. "How bad? I have thought of phrases like 'seriously flawed' [or] 'fatally flawed.' But it is beyond all of that, because when something is flawed there is an implication that something else about it is good."

Ouch. Although, on cross-examination, Cussler's attorney, Bert Fields, got McKee to admit that he found Citizen Kane was "heartless," "emotionally empty" and "cold." Which I think was Welles's point about Kane's life but . . . okay. And while, as Fields notes, "McKee has been trying for 20 years to get a dozen screenplays made into a motion picture and he has never been successful," the $500/hour rate for his testimony ($60,000 total, or about what he makes for a single Story seminar) should make up somewhat for the industry's slight.

The New Yorker has an interesting feature on McKee from 2003 on their website.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Tools of the trade

If you're reading this, chances are you might be procrastinating instead of writing. Chances also are that I'm procrastinating rewriting my Nicholl scripts in writing this blog entry. I guess screenwriting is what happens between the procrastination. Except, in the case of one procrastinating London writer, he used the time that he wasn't working on his novel to learn Cocoa and write what appears to be a pretty good writing-outlining-storyboarding package for the Mac.

Scrivener is not a dedicated screenwriting program but does have several features that might make it appealing to Mac-based scripters looking for an alternative to Final Draft. First, according to the website, "it does have basic screenplay and stageplay formatting features." Allowing the user to then import the formatted text into a suite like Movie Magic (or a regular word processor) for fine tuning and cleanup. Second, important to the preparation stage, Scrivener has extensive outline, research, and storyboard tools. For writers who prefer the index cards method of scene arrangement, for example, the program has a virtual corkboard built right in. And you can dump all your related materials, in whatever digital format, into Scrivener to keep it at your fingertips. Other features include full-screen editing mode and document "snapshots," which make it handy to return to earlier versions of a work instantly. At only $34.99, it's also a fraction the cost of Final Draft or Movie Magic. I haven't tried it yet myself but it seems like things are moving in the direction of converging the outlining side of the process with the actual writing tools into a single program.

Also in the same vein is Montage, which I've been checking in on over the past year. Release 1.0, as John August noted, was not ready for prime time. But the Mariner Software folks have been welcoming of the criticism and implemented many of the suggested changes to subsequent revisions. Version 1.2.2 looks and feels much improved. The main stumbling block I had previously -- script formatting that was unwieldy, unpredictable, and not as seamless as Final Draft -- seems to have been resolved. I can type without interruption and the words are formatted on the fly just as I intended. I don't think they've solved the issue of tracking changes to revisions yet, but if you are a Mac user and want basic screenwriting combined with outlining and scene-based arrangement functions, you might give Montage a 30-day free trial now. I think it's close.