Getting Started

Yesterday, when I should have been thinking about my Master’s paper, or some other important school-related thing, I was thinking about how in just a few hours I could start writing my script.  I had wandered away and was thinking of doing a different thing entirely, but as often seems to be the case in life more generally, I came back to Buffy.

So I was thinking.  I’d been struggling with how to introduce the whole Slayer thing.  In the original screenplay Joss has this montage of slayers throughout the ages.  It didn’t end up exactly as written, once it was filmed, but it was still close.  And his big “reveal” was that the thing in the girl’s hand at the end of the sequence was not a stake, but a pom pom.

I have two major criticisms of the original screenplay: the first is that it tends to deal on a surface level with pretty much everything – plot, characterization, mythology.  And the second is that it belies a distaste for teenagers that 25-year-old Joss must have had.

As a former high school teacher and future high school librarian, I have great respect and affection for teenagers.  So I necessarily am going to write them differently than Joss did.  I didn’t want to start with Airhead!Buffy, even though her change from cheerleader to superhero is important.  I decided to give the audience a glimpse, from moment one, of the young woman she’s about to become.

It’s a little bit Ferris Bueller, a little bit American Pie – it begins with a voice over from Buffy herself of the Slayer prophecy, as we watch her handily dispatch a vampire.

It’s always key to remember this quote from Joss’s letter at the end of Buffy Season 8:

No matter how interesting the world stage or mystical dimensions can be, Buffy’s best when she’s walking that alley, dusting vamps, and nursing a pouty heart.

And I know the journey to that place is important, but imagining that the audience for this will only be partly new folks, I wanted to start there – and then work backwards a bit, and then perhaps jump forwards – the timeline might be a bit confusing, but we’ll worry about that later.

Over on the Script Frenzy site, they offer this advice:

Outline your script. In Viki King’s book How to Write a Movie in 21 Days she refers to something called, “The 9-minute Movie.” This is a way to de-mystify the screenwriting process. She suggests getting nine 3×5 cards, and writing on each card what happens on page 1, 3, 10, 30, 45, 60, 75, 90, & 100. Once you do that, you have your “9-minute” movie. Post these cards near your computer, and voila! You’re ready to get started.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the common things that happen to characters on those pages:

Page 1 – Set up story, mood, tone, and place.

Page 3 – Introduce the central question your characters will explore.

Page 10 – Tell us what the story is. Tell us what the hero wants.

Page 30 – An event occurs that moves the hero into a new territory.

Page 45 – We see the initial growth of your character. You’ll tell us where we’re headed from here on.

Page 60 – Middle of Act Two, your hero is in big trouble, he reaffirms, and makes a deeper commitment to what he wants

Page 75 – It looks like all is lost, and there’s even a scene where the character is about to give up.

Page 90 – The resolution of the problem begins.

Page 120 – The audience gets the resolution they deserve, and the audience is satisfied that you gave them the story you promised.

So here’s what that looks like for me:
Page 1 – Slayer prophecy & Buffy are introduced, but then we flash back.
Page 3 – Buffy meets Merrick.
Page 10 – Buffy fights her first vampire.
Page 30 – Buffy learns that her friend Cassandra has died at the hands of a vampire.
Page 45 – Buffy seeks Lothos out for the first time.
Page 60 – Buffy sets about some serious training.
Page 75 – SPOILER ALERT! Merrick dies.
Page 90 – Buffy decides to balance being a normal girl with slaying.
Page 120 – Buffy and Pike ride off into the sunset.

Obviously, stuff happens in between those points, but it’s a nice set of dots to connect. (Some of the stuff that happens: Buffy refuses to be the Slayer TWICE! Buffy goes dress shopping, in there somewhere she’s gotta, you know, meet Pike, who kinda but not really has his own B story going on.)

Stay tuned – wackiness and hilarity are both guaranteed to ensue at some point in this process!

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