The Dialogue of Noir

Two weeks ago four members of my writing group and I did the very first table reading of Cleveland City. We read a critical Act 1 scene out loud, in character. I mostly listened. And for the first time I heard the words of my 10-year project come to life.

Dialogue is very tricky. I once read somewhere that if you nail your dialog, then you can remove the character names from the script and be able to know who is saying what based on the words themselves.

That is how important language is. Each one of us speaks just ever so differently. The language of characters on screen is not the formal written language most of us learned in school. No one really writes how they speak or speaks how they write. And as a screenwriter, my job is to write the dialog that's authentic to each character's personality, backstory and actions. It must also be conversational. It must flow.

The first table reading of Cleveland City helped me realize that as is the dialogue is too clinical. The cadence o…

68 Scenes of Gritty Noir

This evening I finished the first full draft of the Cleveland City treatment - 68 scenes of gritty noir. 

It's a mixed bag of emotions. As a writer you work and you write and you think and you revise and you question and you write more and more and more and more. And you think the finish line is some absurd and abstract concept that never materializes.

And, really, no one ever finishes a screenplay. Because a screenplay never really reaches a final point. A book, on the other hand, can begin or end in any way the author sees it. She can hire an editor and graphic designer to complete the work and prepare it for an Amazon upload. And voila. It's ready for its audience, the readers.

A screenplay, on top of many revisions, requires many people to say yes to it before it reaches its audience, the viewers. The screenwriter next needs to start pitching it - contests, agents, friends, agents, actors, agents, producers, agents, investors and more agents.

Just because one of those key de…

Crawling Out Of The Sewer

Each time I watch The Third Man I discover something new. This past weekend, while catching the third act of this classic Noir, I came across two new observations:

          1. Scorsese paid homage to a key post-funeral scene by replicating the same scene in The Departed (more on that in a upcoming blog)
          2. The physical and visual intensity of our protagonist running around and then trying to get out of the post-war Vienna sewer while he's being chased by military police is a beautiful metaphor for many of our favorite Noir characters: even if they are not in the sewer itself, their moral compass certainly is.

Orson Welles, as Harry Lime, who waters down medicine that then kills the very children whose mothers survived the bombs, is both monster and charmer. Charming monsters are the scariest. Because they live their lives keeping one foot in the sewer while the other (to paraphrase Ruth Bader Ginsburg) on our necks.

I thought about that, and the theme of water in Chinato…

The Soundtrack of a City

Back in late Autumn, 2008, as the last of the tree leaves descended onto the thinning grass, I struggled to figure out the third act of the story. How does it end? I kept asking myself. So I took two steps to help me:

1. I printed out color headshots of all the actors I wanted in the roles, with their character names included and then taped them all up on the wall that faced my writing desk.
2. I made a soundtrack off all the songs that sounded like what I wanted the film to look like.

Once I did both, thus cementing the tone for the story, finishing the script came much easier: looking into the eyes of those faces and listening to those songs inspired my sense of sight and sound.

A decade later, as Jacob and I work on finishing the most current version of the story, I was thinking of revisiting the soundtrack to see if it still fits. But couldn't find that list of songs anywhere. And, yet, just yesterday, while going through some boxes of my older projects, I just happened to come…

Annabella Sciorra - The Perfect Actor to Play Esti, the Lead

I've been thinking about who could possibly play Esti, the lead character in my film. She'd have to be in her mid 50s, have an ethnic look and be able to deliver both subtlety and intensity. Yes, she's a mother but she's not the supporting character to a child or a spouse. She's a woman in her own right - beautiful, successful, courageous and smart. She calls the shots in her life.

Esti is the subject of the story. Not the object.

When I was watching the Oscars last week and I saw Annabella Sciorra come out with Ashley Judd and with Selma Hayek, I had tears in my eyes. These three women, among others, have been through just way too much. And when the three of them held each other and physically supported Sciorra, who for the past decade has had minimal opportunity to hone her craft on the big screen thanks to The Monster, I could tell just how nervous she was to be there.

She started by stating something simple and elegant: “It's nice to see you all again, it…

Cleveland City Screenplay: The Central Characters and the Matriarch

"Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars."  - Khalil Gibran 
I'm thrilled to share with you the central characters of Cleveland City! Most first originated a decade ago and but they just now coming to life, telling me their backstory, their motivation, their struggles and their secrets. All families have secrets and the lives we mortals live, keeps of these secrets, at a certain point understand that either we risk bringing the truth to life or those very secrets destroy us, from within. 
Whether Patricia Arquette, who won Best Supporting Actress for Boyhood or Julia Roberts for her Best Actress Oscar portrayal of real life single mom Erin Brokovich, in both films, these two mothers went digging for an honest life, not just for themselves, but also for their children. That's what true character is about.
I love my characters. They are flawed yet motivated, broken yet strong,  brutal yet kind. They are, mostly …

Cleveland City: The Pitch, The Treatment & The Poster

A lot of development on the Cleveland City script treatment. 

We have a logline.
We have a tagline.
We have a poster.

And the first sequential 13 scenes - ie Act 1 - is now damn near close.

Once Jacob and I nail this sequence, truly the backstory of this dark, dark tale, that's when the rest of the scenes can flow. We will have our structure.

Next? Getting all 52 down on paper and then resequencing them in the order we want the story to unfold.
The way we want to audience to make their discoveries. 
And not one reveal more.

We gotta keep y'all in the dark. Because it's Noir.