Monday, March 5, 2012

Changing in Midstream

This is what happens when you don't do your homework. And worse, when your homework isn't working. This is bad news for a writer.

As you know, I started a new screenplay a few weeks ago and it started off great. I had 30 pages within 2 weeks. It was called The Christmas Train and had multiple storylines of 7 people. An ensemble piece as it's sometimes called.

I was beginning to realize that writing a story about a train voyage was harder than I expected. And that's because there's limited space. Kind of like a play.

I had researched trains by watching movies like Silver Streak and Orient Express and many others. This sometimes surprises people, that a writer would watch similar movies when he/she starts to write something.

I do it all the time, and most of the professional writers (those being paid for what they're doing) do it as well. Does it mean stealing ideas? Sometimes, but it just gives me an idea what other writers are doing so that I either don't do it the same way or I add a twist.

There's one thing I didn't consider and that was what became a problem. Along with something else. The problem was that my story is entirely on a train. You'd think that was easy, single location, most of which would be a train car either rented or built in a studio with greenscreen outside to show the passing scenery.

That wasn't the problem. What was, was that the other movies I watched all had something in common. There was a murder. Or another crime.

Either way it wasn't my soft Christmas story of strangers riding in a train. And without a murder, there really wasn't much to go with. How much can you do with talking for 2 hours. And since it was a Hallmark type movie, there are no murders. Not even someone stealing a newspaper.

But I still could do a screenplay based on my characters and make it work. In fact I had some great ideas for conflict without blood. Conflict is the heart of all drama. Without conflict there is no story.

And that doesn't mean fights and shouting and shooting. Conflict is best described as somebody wants something and somebody else is stopping that person from getting what they want.

But again, that wasn't the biggest problem with Christmas Train. What was the problem was something I completely overlooked.

I didn't do my homework. Because if I had I would have known that there was another Christmas Train story. Not a movie but a book. A novel called The Christmas Train. And it was written by a very successful book writer.

David Balducci.

He wrote Absolute Power, a political thriller that was made into a movie. He has also sold novels world-wide. And his Christmas Train is almost exactly like mine. Except for one thing.

He was there first.

Now I could probably still write a Christmas Train story, you can't copyright a title after all. But his lawyers could have a case even though I didn't know anything about his book.

So I decided to put the script to sleep for awhile as I could still make it as a movie, as Balducci's book is - at this time - still a novel.

But there was something else that struck me almost on the same day as I discovered Balducci's book.

I had written a suspense thriller set on a jetliner, ironically just like the train story but with real conflict on board. And I had a new idea as to how too make it work a lot better taking into consideration a new genre called "Lost Footage" stories.

And today I've started a new story from and old script with exactly that in mind. As with all scripts, you never really know if you'll finish it, sometimes it is too close to an idea already out there, sometimes it just doesn't work. Sometimes it's because you can't really figure it out.

Nobody said it's easy.

(Thurs: Lost Footage movies)


  1. Jim,
    Sorry. I didn't mean to put the kiebosch on your train thingy, I just happened to notice Balducci's book on a shelf and thought I'd advise you. My bad ?

    me here in SR.

  2. I'm glad you did, I should have checked it out myself. You saved me a lot of work for nothing.