SCREENWRITING: THE FLOOR PLAN

Say you’re building a house… would you go to the lumberyard to buy wood before drafting a floor plan?  No.  That would be stupid.

Now, say you want to write a screenplay.  The same kind of thinking applies here, too.  Screenwriters who write with no idea where they’re going usually end up with a script that reads like it doesn’t know where it’s going.

I know several writers who sit down at their desks and stare at the blank screen (or sometimes, paper), dig deep for the inspiration and begin typing away.  It sounds romantic.  Maybe even the epitome of what it might mean to be a screenwriter.  Well, I hate to burst the bubble, but unless you write in front of a group, no one will see that moment but you.  Sure, that romantic way of writing can sometimes make magic.  But most of the time, many writers rarely make it to page three before starting over.  And those who make it past page three usually take months and months to complete a single screenplay.  Why?  Because they didn’t have a structure to follow.

Having a floor plan, or a clear outline, is a more efficient way to write a movie.  There is no right way or wrong way to make this structure/outline/floor plan.  A structure can be organized in any way so long as it helps you.  Note cards, computer document, etc.  I use a single sheet of notebook paper to begin outlining mine (in blue ball point pen).  There are roughly 25 lines on a single sheet.  First, number them 1-25.

Starting a new screenplay

Then, look at those numbers and imagine a time associated with them.  I say it’s somewhere between three and five minutes.  Then, you can begin to separate the outline into “movie time.”  Your single sheet of paper now represents somewhere between 90-120 minutes.  Of course, you can break it down even further, and use two sheets.  I like keeping my entire outline on one sheet, making it easier to spot certain moments.

Starting a new screenplay formula

I apologize if that’s bewildering.  If you aren’t ready to dive in and make your own outline or structure, my advice is to familiarize yourself with all the story structures you can!

One way to learn about a screenplay’s structure is by drafting one for an existing movie.  Any movie will do.  But, I’d suggest watching All About Eve and write down a brief description of what happens every three or five minutes.  Then, watch Showgirls and do the same.  When you’re finished, compare them.  You’ll discover they are basically the same movie.  It’s pretty obvious Joe Eszterhas studied the structure of ALL ABOUT EVE before writing SHOWGIRLS.  His writing style is pretty obvious, too.  But yours doesn’t have to be.

Before writing my first film PEP SQUAD, I studied the structure of 9 To 5.  Instead of setting the story in the corporate world, I placed it in high school.  And added some of my own special touches: drive-by shootings, campy dialogue, fun costumes, etc.  But, if you study PEP SQUAD and 9 TO 5, you’ll easily find the similarities in their structure.

There are scores of screenwriting books on the market, but the only one worth buying is Save the Cat!, which teaches you about structure and how to draft the perfect screenwriting floor plan.  One of the book’s examples: ALIEN is the same movie as JAWS, only it’s set in space.

If you have a structure, floor plan, or outline, you can write freely in any order you like.  That’s my favorite part about getting the structure down first.  If there’s a specific scene or sequence that’s really clear to me, I’ll type that out first—even if it’s in the middle of the story.  Or, maybe the ending is super clear—go write it.  Details and ways to combine sequences can be decided later.

By drafting a solid floor plan, you’ll have a lot of fun building your screenplay.  Chances are you’ll never get burnt out, you’ll never have writer’s block, and in the end, you’ll actually have a comprehensive screenplay.

The adventure to Fäviken

Our whirlwind trek to Fäviken Magasinet isn’t about filmmaking, per se, but it had a sensory impact on me that will influence anything I make from now on.

Getting there is half of it.  Fäviken is in the middle of nowhere.  The depths of Sweden.  Like my home in Wamego, Kansas.

We were in London for the premiere of my film CULTURE SHOCK at the Raindance Film Festival.  The morning after the screening, my partner and I flew to Stockholm and changed planes to fly an hour north to Östersund, near the Arctic Circle.  Then we rented a car and drove another 90 minutes deep into Sweden towards Norway.

The drive in autumn is gorgeous.  Vibrant oranges, cutting yellows and boiling reds.

When you arrive at Fäviken there is no sign to tell you where to park, where to check in, or what to do.  Only 20,000 acres of forests and wild grasses, several buildings and a sense you have arrived.  Somewhere.  Somehow.  And, now.

You’ll knock at all the doors, like we did, and hear no answer.  Until you make your way to the big barn and simply walk in, hoping to find anyone.

And there they were to show us to our room.  You don’t have to stay at Fäviken, but I’d advise it as there is nowhere left to go.  And the accommodations are better than 4 star, except the shared bathroom down the hall (of which there are three, so although shared, they are located just outside of your sleeping chambers).  I know there were other people staying there, but never once did I see anyone when using the loo or shower.

Once settled, we went to the main room downstairs.  For champagne.

After all guests arrived (the dining room seats only 16 people per night) we were gathered in the lodge with fireplace swelling.

Here is a report, course by course, of the experience.

Amuse Bouche: Linseed crisps with blue shell mussels dip

Amuse Bouche #2: Just-made fresh cheese served in warm whey and lavender.

Fäviken amuse bouche

Amuse Bouche #3: Wild trout roe served in a warm crust of dried pigsblood pastry.

Fäviken roe and dried pigsblood

Amuse Bouche #4: Pigs head dipped and fried, topped with gooseberry and spruce salt.

Fäviken amuse bouche

Amuse Bouche #5: Crisped lichens with fermented garlic cream.

Fäviken lichens

Amuse Bouche #6: Cured pork belly.

Fäviken pork belly

After the parade of Amuse Bouche to prepare our palates, we were ushered upstairs into the rustic dining room.

dining room at Fäviken

I didn’t photograph every wine pairing, but this Mead is made at Fäviken and was delicious.

Mead at Fäviken

The fresh baked wheat sourdough.

The best butter you’ve ever tasted.

Fäviken butter

Then, the procession of main courses began.

Scallops from Hitra island served over juniper embers:

Fäviken scallop course

Scallop in shell with juice:

Fäviken

Poached trout with shallot:

Fäviken trout with shallot

Monkfish with kale cooked for 20 seconds and some kind of spruce sauce:

Fäviken monkfish and kale

Blue shell mussel with pea flower:

Fäviken mussel with pea flower

Turnips harvested while we ate, buried in autumn leaves:

Fäviken turnips in autumn leavesFäviken turnips with butter

Cauliflower in mushroom thing, mead cream and salted cod row:

Fäviken cauliflower

Then, Chef Magnus Nilsson came up the stairs carrying a large cow bone with his Sous Chef.  They put the bone on a stand between the tables and began to saw it ferociously.  You’d be able to see it better if it weren’t for the annoying Frenchman who felt he needed to stand over it to take a photo.

Fäviken and the annoying frenchman

Then, the Chef scooped out the fresh marrow and prepared a dish of raw heart and flowers, with the fresh marrow on top.  It was meant to eat with the bread.  Surprisingly it was delicious.

Fäviken raw heartFäviken raw

Then came the Goose with fresh lingen berry:

Fäviken goose with ligenberry

Black radish with reduced whey and cows milk cheese:

Fäviken radish

Wild raspberry ice and water soaked lingen berries with cream:

Fäviken raspberry ice

Frozen yolk over pine tree bark cookie.  Ice cream with field weeds:

Fäviken dessertFäviken ice cream in field weeds

Raspberry compote, duck egg, milk sorbet:

Fäviken delicious

Then, we were sent downstairs for wild herbs tea near the fireplace:

Fäviken wild herbs tea

And house-made wild herbs liquor and black currant liquor:

Fäviken Fäviken

And a finale of sunflower seeds, birch sap, dried reindeer meat:

Fäviken

Then, it was up to our room at the inn for bed.

Breakfast the next morning was equally brilliant.  House-cured ham, preserved trout, cheese, fresh eggs (we had ours scrambled):

Fäviken breakfastFäviken

Chef Magnus Nilsson worked in Paris before returning to Sweden to reinvent eating.  That’s right.  He has reinvented the idea of sitting down to dinner.  A new Viking legend, combining what we could forage for on the forest floor, and carve up to sustain life in Scandinavia.  And he’s done it better than any Michelin starred restaurant in Paris.  He’s done it because it’s natural.  It’s in his blood.  Like my films are to me, and the way I go about making them.  It’s what we have to do.  And what we most enjoy.