Screenwriting : Research/ Field trip! by Lisa Clemens

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Lisa Clemens

Research/ Field trip!

Wondering what's the most interesting research anyone here has done to help write a script. Because sometimes you can't always "write what you know." I've recently been asked by Johnny Martin, to write another film for him. This one is going to be fun because this time he really doesn't have the story, just the premise. After he worked on a project filmed on the USS Alabama, he let me know what he had in mind. Long story short, I'm off to Buffalo soon to check out the Naval Park so I can get to know the inside of a battleship and what I can work with. Last time I set foot on one of these floating museums was a battleship in San Diego back in the 80s!

Jan Evans

I travel all over for research. I write period pieces, American Civil War, American Indian Wars, and now Ireland 1840-1860. For one script that takes place in West Virginia during the last year of the Civil War, then continues on across the United States, I stayed for several weeks in a period log house in the West Virginia mountains to get a feel for how my character would have lived, then I drove her path along the Oregon/California trail to her eventual destination near Monterrey, CA. For a U.S. Cavalry officer, I visited all of his postings, where he was during a ten year period across the West, and also walked his Civil War battlefields. Now I'm living in Ireland to find the "Irishness" of a man who was born here, and left in 1860. As you can see, I'm huge on research. So far as to use the period pens with which to write, the inkwells, I collect the weapons of the time, and I read scads of books. Enjoy your battleship! That's fantastic!

John Garrett

Lisa, Just so you know, I served in the Navy and have seen combat aboard a US Navy fighting ship. Let me know if I can assist in any way.

Brian Shell

For my first script, after writing 2 acts of it, in 1997, I moved to Seattle to scout locations (I set it in Washington to give it that eerie Twin Peaks feel)... traveled all over the state and finished it with specific locations... then moved to LA in 1998 to try and sell it... in person. Didn't work out, yet now, in 2015, I have 32 books published and wouldn't trade the Seattle experience for the world.

Lisa Clemens

Cool, John. I will be in touch!

Eoin O'Sullivan

Hi Lisa, I've been living with a screenplay idea for about 14 years and have been researching it on and off over that time. I have no idea how many hours I have spend, but I have read and collected all manner of books, interviews, scientific papers, video footage etc. I optioned a script earlier this year which required some period research in 1840's Ireland, so that along with a love of whiskey is another thing Jan and I share in common :) Best of luck with your research and script Lisa!

Bill Costantini

I wrote a scrpt about Gwen Gordy of Motown fame. While Berry Gordy was creating the hits (a true artist, Berry is), Gwen was creating "The Motown Look." She was a real amazing woman before joining her brother's record company. She was the the first black model to appear in Harper's Bazaar magazine; the first female songwriter to own her own record companies (before Motown); and the first person to record Marvin Gaye, the Spinners, and the Temptations (before Motown). And she did all of this as a young black woman dealing with racism, classism and sexism in 1950's/1960's America. So a few years back I got to interview a lot of the artists and people associated with Motown. But the most memorable interview I ever did - and I've done a lot of them over my life - was with Miss Maxine Powell, who ran Maxine Powell's Charm and Finishing School in the 1940's/1950's/1960's. She helped thousands of black women gain confidence/charisma/charm with her teachings. She was 92 years-old when I met her, this physically frail, yet still amazingly elegant, charming and marvelous woman . She was probably the most positive person I have ever met. She told me so many great inspirational and uplifting stories that went beyond the Motown years. Back in 1962, it took a year or so, but Berry finally agreed to Gwen's demand to hire her as a charm school teacher for Motown's young inner-city artists. By this time, Gwen was working at Motown after her record companies failed. So by 1963, Berry created the hits; Gwen created the look; and Miss Powell made Motown artists confident and charismatic enough to perform for kings and queens. They really helped to change not just America, but the world. Even to this day, people like Diana Ross say "I owe everything to Miss Powell." Everybody always call her "Miss Powell." She was an amazing woman who passed on a few months after I interviewed her, and she changed me a bit, too. She made me appreciate everything I have gained and been given in this life, and made me cherish every day that I have left. In turn, my influence on others over the last couple years is a result of her influence on me. She was a direct influence and inspiration to the thousands who knew her and learned from her, and an indirect influence to hundreds of millions of people who came after. RIP, Miss Maxine Powell - your influence on the world will always be felt; you helped change the world; and you will always be a shining star in our beautiful sky.

Lisa Clemens

Very cool, Bill! Wonderful memories.

Bill Costantini

Thanks, Lisa - I was very fortunate to be chosen by the Gordy's to write that story. Unrelated to film, I also got to interview billionaire insurance tycoon and philanthropist W. Clement Stone, who also created the Positive Mental Attitude self-help era, and Bill Johnson, a legendary business tycoon who pioneered leveraging a company's assets to purchase additional companies. He turned a $300 million dollar railroad into a $5 biillion empire by leveraging assets. They were two really amazing men, and very genuine, giving and humble in private life. And I must add....Lisa....YOU are one exceptionally talented, cool-headed, and determined writer. You have succeeded in this film business that many people who frequent these forums here can presently only dream about. Only a few people here that I'm aware of have as many actual credits as you do. I really have to tip my hat to you - are a writing stud. You should be giving webinars on Stage 32 about writing, and maybe even a webinar about how you persevered to get where you are. Berry Gordy, Gwen Gordy, Miss Maxine Powell, W. Clement Stone, Bill Johnson and yourself have a lot in common, and they would all tip their hats to you, too. I saw the trailer for your first script, Case Number 13, and plan to see it soon. Good luck with your next two upcoming films, "Project Exposure", and "Blue Hole." One of W. Clement Stone's many famous quotes applies most appropriately to you: "There is little difference in people, but that little difference makes a big difference. The little difference is attitude. The big difference is whether it is positive or negative." Great blessings to you, and congratulations on your successes thus far. I hope you have many, many more.

Lisa Clemens

Thank you Bill! To be fair, Case #13 is the only one produced so far. And I had to rewrite it to change it from a found footage when they could not find a distributor - reshoots wrapped last month and hopefully it will release by the end of the year - It may be retitled as "Delirium", last I heard! Movies don't happen as fast as they do in the movies, haha! I think I handed in the first draft of that one in 2011! Blue Holes never got funded, but at least I was paid. Hoping for bigger things with "Project Exposure" and "Dead Wake" which is the title of the one that takes place on the battleship! I wish I could say I persevered for years before breaking through, but to be honest I was very lucky. I didn't even have it in mind to BE a screenwriter! I was writing for a small fan magazine in 2004 and was asked to interview Jackie Chan's stunt double. We became friends and by 2009 he challenged me to try screenwriting by giving me one he had been working on, to rewrite. He liked my work, mentored me and got me started with Johnny Martin, who then gave a recommendation to the director/producer of Blue Holes. Johnny also likes how I work and thus, hired me again. So it happened quite fast compared to those who have been trying for years and years to break in. My hat is off to those who pitch and pitch and never give up despite how many "no thank you" letters are sent back!

William Martell

I've done a submarine tour (touched nuclear missiles and sat at the launch console... and was able to ask a sub crew whatever I wanted, since I'd done a pile of book research, I asked about personal things), I've also done an Aircraft Carrier tour and bought beers for Navy SEALS and UAW auto workers and all kinds of other folks. I've done ride alongs with police, got some fascinating instruction on "garbology" from a detective who specializes in looking through trash for clues, and without trying: have been a witness in a couple of murder trials (co workers who solved domestic disputes permanently). Field trips are fun.

Bill Costantini

Lisa, That's a great backstory. Success happens when opportunity meets preparation, and you obviously had both. I can't think of their names of the top of my head, but there were a couple other magazine writers who successfully transitioned to screenwriting under similiar circumstances. Have a great weekend, Lisa!

Philip Sedgwick

Biosphere II was one of my favorites. Have it written into a horror script. Also Kitt Peak and Lowell Observatory... any observatory is a recommended field trip. You never know what might come to mind when in those amazing sky watching places. Really every place you go is location scouting. And every conversation you eavesdrop upon might have that perfect dialogue morsel.

Lisa Clemens

Yes, Phillip. I love getting great dialog ideas by listening to things said around me!

Brian Shell

A great example of listening to others speak is in the film "32 Short Films about Glenn Gould." It's one of the "later-in-the-film" vignettes about his Unique life as a pianist and radio producer. It's a DVD I own and cherish.

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