Writing by ‘Feel’

Writing an episode of Boardwalk Empire is proving to be the most challenging thing I’ve ever taken on as a writer.  I knew what I was getting myself into when I decided to take it on, but damn – it’s one thing to know what you’re getting into, and quite another to experience it.

The step outline didn’t take very long to complete.  Once I figured out the beats of my five stories, plotting them into the series’ template wasn’t difficult.  In fact, I was quite surprised at how well these five stories juxtapose next to each other.  This script will be a gooder when it’s complete.  Unfortunately, this script ain’t writing itself.

Dialogue is the trickiest bit.  I know what I want the characters to say, but the specific words they use, requires quite a bit of thought.  1920s vernacular, sub-divided by class, education, and ethnic background.  All of this needs to be reflected in the dialogue of the individual characters.

Some dialogue is trickier than others.  I have a scene between Chalky White and Dunn Pernsley – two very strong black characters.  Their dialogue is a whole other language.  The cadence, their choice of words, and their punctuation is completely foreign to me.  To get a handle on it, I actually watched an episode where they appear together – and I transcribed every word of their dialogue.  It’s helped quite a bit.

Getting a handle on someone else’s characters is really quite intimidating.  I keep second guessing myself.  These characters belong to Terrence Winter and I’m just borrowing them for a spell.  He’s spent years with them.  I’m doing a one-night-stand.

I’m about a fifth of the way through the script.  Not a very great pace, but I expect I’ll be moving faster as I get a better feel for everyone’s dialogue.  I’ve taken to watching parts of different episodes while composing my own script.  It gives me confidence to feel the series, while writing it.

Gonna wrap this up now.  I have a shitpile of scenes to write in a very short period of time.

Drawing Upon History to Write the Future – Except in the Past

My research is about done and I have a good idea for what lies ahead of me.

An episode of Boardwalk Empire typically consists of one A Story of 7 scenes, two B Stories of 5 scenes each, and two C Stories of 3 scenes each.  Each scene runs slightly more than two pages.   Each story has an Inciting Incident and a Climax, and in the case of a C Story, a reversal.  The A and B Stories are more complicated, but continue to follow a classical plot structure.

At the end of the day I’m still looking at approximately 54 pages of script, but it’s no longer an intimidating mountain to climb.  I’m writing five short stories, the longest of which will run 16 or so pages.  I weave these short stories together in a manner that best permits a flow.  If I eat my Wheaties, I can unify them all under one overarching theme – each scene representing a positive or negative reinforcement of that theme.

Research has been key, and that research has also followed two streams of thought.  The first stream involved understanding the series on a deeper level.  Season 3 remains unavailable on DVD, so I’ve been left to read summaries of each episode to see what happens to the series’ central characters (and perhaps guess what lies in their future).  I have been reluctant to hitch my wagon to any particular story idea until I’ve had a chance to learn more about these characters.

I have researched in-depth a typical episode structure, and gained insight into what drives the series as a whole.  I’ve read countless interviews and articles.  I read the book that the series was based on, and reread a couple of key chapters.  Made notes.  Took names.  Drew conclusions.

I have concluded that I won’t worry too much about how my episode will fit into the producers’ plans for Season 4.  If anything, mine could take place in Season 5.  I base this decision on a pattern I’ve seen emerge from my research.  Seasons 1 & 2 took place in 1920 & 1921.  Season 3 jumped ahead to 1923.  Nucky Thompson, the series’ main character, is based on the life of Nucky Johnson, who reigned as Boss of Atlantic City from 1913 – 1941.  Key events of his life were dramatized for this series (with certain creative liberties taken for dramatic effect).  Other historical figures and events have also been woven into the series (with creative liberties also taken).

My A Story will focus on a key event in the life of Nucky Johnson that happened in 1926.  Though his reign in Atlantic City had 15 years remaining, this event marked the beginning of the end for him.  I can also tie this event into the fiction of the series’ backstory, giving the story an ironic twist – in righting a wrong that continues to haunt him from his distant past, Nucky Thompson sets the wheels in motion for his own eventual downfall.

It sounds like a daring move – writing a key event in the series’ arc – but I think I can get away with it, because I have historical events on my side.  By setting my story three years into the future from where the series left off, I can safely navigate past anything the producers are currently working on.  They’re going to reach 1926 eventually, and maybe upon their arrival, through some strange form of happenstance, they may encounter my script waiting for them, ready for use in whole or in part.

As for the B and C Stories, I am content to leave those self contained, not relying on anything that came before in the series.  These stories won’t have much of an influence on the series’ future direction either.  One mustn’t be too bold or ambitious.

Instead, I draw upon history.  I’ve have previously researched and produced a documentary about the KKK and fraud in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan in the 1920s.  I’ve also researched and produced a documentary on the Willow Bunch Giant.  Both of these stories will fit well into the world of Boardwalk Empire.  What remains is for me to figure out a couple more minor stories, and then I can begin.

I’m excited to see where I’ll be in my progress by this time tomorrow.

Climbing a Mountain in Familiar Surroundings

Being in Regina for the singular purpose of finishing my script for Boardwalk Empire has been both refreshingly simple and complexingly complicated.  Professionally, I have a mountain to climb, and I need to summit by May 15th or so.  The deadline for the CFC’s Prime Time Television Program is May 17th and I find myself a bit nervous thinking about where I am, and where I need to be with this script.  It’s a big part of my application.  It’s the only think I need to worry about for the next 10 days.

Personally, there are all these people in my life whom I desire to spend time with because I don’t get to see them all that often.  I walk Jazzy to school every morning.  I hang out with her in the evenings and soak up being with my beautiful little girl.  I’ve been spending time in coffee shops with PJ, doing research for the script, and slipping in a bit of talk time.  We’re ex-husband & wife, but we remain best friends.  Mom and Dave are mom and Dave.  I’m sleeping in my old room, and eating from their table.  It’s really great to be home.

I hung out with the guys from the Romanian Syndicate and got myself into our annual hockey pool.  When Benji walked in, he was shocked to see me.  Funny.  I’ve been away for 18 months and it feels like I never left with this bunch.  I’m tracking Shawn & Cheryl down later this weekend and lining up drinks with other friends over the coming days.  So many people to see, in so short a period of time.

It’s Orthodox Easter tonight – the one time of year I go to church.  We have a service that starts at 10pm in candlelight and wraps up two hours later.  Afterwards, we’ll be heading back to mom’s for a meat orgy.  I’ve been fasting since March 18 – no meat or dairy – so I’ve had cabbage rolls on the brain for some time.  Jeff, Benji & Monica are coming over after Church.  It’ll be a late night.

Jazzy has a job working in Nadia’s store.  She’s been there two months now.  I phoned Nads up asking if she wouldn’t mind spending time with Jazzy in the shop for a few hours. She’s one of my most favourite women in the world, and I figured she’d be a great role model for Jazz.  Hanging out in the store, turned into a regular weekend job.  It was more than I could have asked for – and Jazzy loves it!

I’m going to be driving Jazz to work in a few hours.  I figure I’ll hang out for a bit, then plunk myself down at my usual spot in Atlantis to get some serious mountain climbations accomplished.