Learning how to write a screenplay, then fitting my story into the format, is fascinating.
I haven’t actually started putting any text into the fancy screenplay-writing software I purchased yet. But, I’ve been going over the parts of the Syd Field book, “Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting” that I marked up in yellow highlighter, and have been figuring out how the story of little Buddy Schumacher fits into Syd’s suggestions.
“Murder in Wauwatosa: The Mysterious Death of Buddy Schumacher” contains the basic, documentary-style nonfiction stuff that I’m molding into another art form.
Here are a few items I’ve been working on and/or thoughts I’ve had about screenplay writing generally, and this project particularly, as I’ve been working:
- Figure out the ending. You have to know where you’re going before you decide how to get there. I won’t tell you that part. It would ruin everything. Besides, I can always change my mind.
- Figure out the beginning. You have to start somewhere. For me … for now … it’s the Hoffman family meeting Buddy’s father, Art Schumacher when Art sells Mr. Hoffman his house. From there, the next door neighbor lady tells a young Paul
Hoffman about “the Schumacher boy who was killed down by the river and the railroad tracks.” That sets the rest of the story in motion.
- Place and time: The movie primarily takes place in Wauwatosa, a suburb of Milwaukee, in 1925.
- Figure out who the movie is about: Art Schumacher, Buddy’s dad is the main character.
- What is the main character trying to do: He’d trying to remain strong for his family in the wake of his 8-year-old son’s disappearance and murder.
- Figure out what happens in the three acts of the movie: Act I sets everything up. We find out who the main characters are, what motivates them, how they interact, etc. At the end of Act I, Buddy disappears, changing everybody’s lives. In Act II, we see the main characters change as they are forced to endure all sorts of issues that crop up when a family member goes missing. Art’s quest to keep his family protected and sane keep meeting with obstacle after obstacle.The end of Act II may be when Edward Vreeland, a local hobo who had been identified as being with Buddy the day he disappeared, was let go after eye witnesses changed their stories about him. Act III resolves everything in a way you’ll just have to watch.
- Working title: Blackridge (the name of the swimming hole Buddy was heading for when he disappeared.
- Figure out everything I can about the main character: I have to know Art Schumacher (at least the screenplay version of him) inside and out so I know how he’s going to react when things happen in the movie. So, I needed to come up with answers to questions like: Who were his parents? What kind of socioeconomic status did they have? What kind of childhood did Art have? What are his attitudes toward love, family, work, politics, religion, etc.? What were his hobbies? Whom did he have conflicts with and why? What is he like at work, at home, in the community, when he’s alone? And then, figure out a lot of that stuff for the other main characters.
- Here are a few of the character traits I’ve decided Art has when the story begins in 1925: He lives simply, with very few extravagances, but allows for “treats” now and then. He drives a 1923 Ford Model T. He likes fresh veggies, hunting, singing, kids and God. He dislikes dishonesty, breaking laws and smoking. He likes meat and potatoes, creamed herring and a little stollen at Christmas.
- Art confides his deepest fears to his brother, Louis. He also confides to a lesser degree in his pastor, his wife and his boss.
- Figure out the dynamics between characters: Between Art and all the people he comes into contact with, between Buddy and his sister, between newspaper reporters and the community, the Wauwatosa chief of police and the suspects, etc.
- How to introduce all the different theories of what happened to Buddy: Nobody really knows what exactly happened to Buddy, but there are a few main theories. I’m thinking we may show some of those theories during nightmares Art has while his boy is missing or shortly after he’s found.
- Some of the themes that may come out: Even the best of men have their limits and do things they might not ordinarily do when subjected to intense stress.
- I studied up on what kinds of food and activities you might see at a Lutheran church picnic in 1925 Milwaukee; what household appliance were and were not invented, and which may have been in common use, at that time; what sorts of music might a 12-year-old girl listen to then, and how that might differ from her 40-year-old parents; and more.
- Noting that all people want to be loved, successful, happy and healthy. But that we have different ideas of just what these things are and how we achieve them. It is these differences that determine each character’s point of view, attitude and transformation (if there is one) during the screenplay.
When I was writing the book, I didn’t have to know a lot of these things; I simply presented as many facts as I could find, then added some questions that readers might want to ponder. So, I’ve been doing a lot more research.
And there’s lots more to do. Although I can see the time when I start putting words into the screenplay format isn’t all that far off now. I still need to read more screenplays of famous movies to see how the stories are written in that format before I really start writing in earnest.