Sunday, February 3, 2008


Kismet is that wonderful property of fate that typifies successful projects. You know when a project has kismet. You definitely know when it does not. Kismet is probably what dragged me out from behind my desk and away from my very serious prose and brought me back into connection with actual human beings through screenwriting. Kismet means that everything works together. Everything somehow fits.

I fell into my first screenwriting job with next to zero experience. I knew how to write, but I didn't know how to write drama. I was used to being in complete control of what I wrote. I hadn't dealt with actors before. I hadn't had to describe every little thing I wanted to do to the director, and again to the producer who wants to be the writer, and the wardrobe guy. And so on. It's incredibly humbling. Your characters suddenly talk back to you. They have flesh. And you can't gloss over what you don't really understand about them. I was lucky enough to be fascinated by it and not overwhelmed or dismissive or lacking in confidence.

At the time, I really thought that kismet was something that just happened. You hoped it was there, but there was no way to invoke it. You had to patiently stand by and hope that the director saw the same thing the actors did. You had to hope that the production designer could figure it out. There was something both frustrating and magical about working with actors. They don't deliver lines the way they should. But then they'll just nail a glance, or simply be there, in a way that explains the whole scene.

Now that I'm a bit older, I've learned that kismet is something you do your best to lay into a script. You sow the seeds. I've learned two paths to kismet. The first is being obvious. Being incredibly obvious. Everyone is on the same page because everything is as simple and basic as possible.

There's something to this, of course. Things need to be simple and clear as they encounter a variety of different people doing a variety of different things to the script. But obvious is also boring.

The higher path to kismet has to do with finding a sweet spot where everyone can do their best work. Each individual, no matter how small his or her role, wants to shine. Knowing this fact about your reader is key.

If you write for a director, think about what will entice them to excel. Think about what they want to shoot. Nine times out of ten you'll find more action, more drama, and more entertainment for the audience. In the tenth instance, you're probably working with a director who likes boring, talky stuff.

This is where you sow the seeds of kismet for the other filmmakers to reap. Your job is to make the overall skeleton of the story deeply, profoundly dynamic. You are building the overall structure that keeps everyone's assumptions on the same page. The first block in the foundation has to be a strong and clear character desire. We know what the scene is for. We know how it fits into the overall plot. The second keystone is probably use of setting. Having the story present on the set in the shape of a prop is incredibly useful. The third keystone is probably a nice tight edit. I'm getting into the 'probably' range here. It's probably a little foolish to rank kismet-related tasks. Every aspect of a script deserves to be sown with kismet.

I try to do all these things with others in mind. I try to stay both in my own head, but open to other thoughts as I go along.

Many new writers don't have access to directors or knowledge of production. That's okay. Imagine you do. Build your own director in your head. Start using actors -- even the ones you'll never actually know. Very soon you'll stop worrying about whether to furrow their brow in an action line, and start worrying about making the story as dynamic, original, and enticing as possible.

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