Third Eye Diary 2

Third Eye imageRecently I wrote a diary post about rewriting my teaser for my pilot.  Today, I finished my pilot.  I loosely structured the new pilot around an outline I did.  The odd thing about the is I didn’t follow it much.  Every time, I started working from the outline, a new scene popped in my head.  I followed that and got away from the outline.  However a large part of the outline is still in tact and can be used for episode two.
aborigeniI have plenty of flashbacks in this pilot, because they are all part of Drake’s backstory.  In one of he most important flashbacks I have a character named the Dreamkeeper.  He’s a spiritual character that enters through Drake’s dreams and they travel to parts of his past.  In this flashback, the Dreamkeeper takes Drake back to the time when he was given up to Father Mike to the orphanage.  Father Mike knows the woman, her name is Bridget.  We won’t know how Father Mike knows the woman until a season or two later.  Bridget is torn up about giving her son up, but she and her husband, Ronald are concerned for Drake’s safety.  His real father is a very dangerous, powerful man and would stop at nothing to have access to Drake. As I was writing this scene, something sparked inside Drake like it had never sparked before.  His emotional side came out.  He allowed himself to feel anguish watching mother give him up.  I suddenly felt myself feeling his pain and started to tear up myself.  Having lost my own Mother in December, I am not sure if that had anything to do with it or not, but I was there with Drake, I saw his pain and I really felt for him.
PI for diary 2About a year ago or so a friend of mine read the first few pages of the script and he gave me some very important notes.  Make us care about this guy.  Yes Drake had been too angry.  He wanted to see what a normal day was like for this guy.  I tried to do that as much as possible for him.  In his eyes, we didn’t root for him enough.  This latest pilot, there’s more of a human feel to Drake.  We see him coach a little league team in a championship game.  We watch him offer his hat to a curious Iraqi boy and of course the scene I just talked about.  I haven’t read this episode back to myself.  That will come tomorrow, then an edit and off to copyright it.  All in all it has been a pretty good week finishing up the pilot and moving Drake’s story along.  Now onto episode two.  Drake lands in Iraq to save a Navy Seal. Who knows what kinds of trouble he will get into with that.


The Bible.

bible-06  No the above image is not for the purposes of giving a sermon.  I used it to illustrate what this piece is about.  It’s about your script bible.  Every Script has it’s own bible.  Mine is created through the character sketch.  Here’s what I mean.
Privae Eye in the works 3 Drake Darrow has been living inside my head for the last thirty years.  In that time,  I have taken him through the soap process, to the movie process and now decided he’s a television character.  I have always listened to him.  He didn’t like being a lawyer, so I waited for him to tell me what he wanted to be.  He told me he wanted to be a Private Investigator on an adventure.  Later his ego got the better of him and he wanted me to change that and expand him into a television character.  From each process, Drake has been there to guide me and move him where he wanted to be.  He wanted to have these special telekinetic power, who was I to argue, so I went with it.  Besides, I’d never heard of a telekinetic Private Eye before.  It sounded cool.  Through Drake’s history,  I have kept stuff he felt was essential and tossed stuff he didn’t like.  All of this came from his character sketch.  If you refer to the character sketch post, you will see a questionnaire that allows the writer to get to know their character.  The longer you have spent with the character, the more in depth the answers become.  The more in depth, and the writer gets a sense of how ell they know their character.  With Drake, I have in depth answers about childhood,  his past work life,  his relationships with other characters, his marital history, his beliefs about religion and much more.  All these questions have been written out in such a way, that they have created Drake’s back story.  Drake’s back story gives me an idea, of what he has done and where his story will move in the future. He’s the center of the story and what happens to Drake, directly effects every other character in the arc.
PI for In the WorksMy character sketches often lead me to answers about the scrip and to the story arc.  The story arc is where the show is going from past history.  Because of x-y-z, this will happen.  Or maybe it won’t.  It depends on whether you decide to throw a few curve balls in along the way.  Believe me curve balls are always fun, watch 24 and you’ll see.  Once you have your character sketch, and the arc, your essentially setting up your show bible.  And by writing a show history, you have your bible. To do that I suggest you keep track of each episode.

Alex KrajekAlex Krajek the X-Files played by Nicholas Lea.

Keeping track of each episode is essential.  There is nothing more annoying, then writing a script and suddenly discovering that you’ve either repeated yourself or written an episode that makes absolutely no sense, because the show history dictates something different.  I have seen that happen to a number of my favorite shows and a number of characters.   It can be deeply disturbing.  One example I have is the X-Files.  When Alex Krajeck(Nicholas Lea) was introduced to the X-Files, he was probably the most despicable and vial human I’d ever seen portrayed on television.  I loved him!!!!  You had no idea whose side he was going to take or who he was going to back stab next.  Krajeck was out for one thing, Alex Krajeck.  He didn’t even care about the Syndicate or the Smoking Man.  He screwed them over more times than I can count, just to save himself.  As the series moved on, I began to see that the show had lost their way with his character and new writers were simply not sure what to do with him.  It became very frustrating to me, because they hadn’t looked through the bible and his character’s history.   The last season, I never understood why he was sending volts of electricity through Skinner.  There was a hint, that he was under Skinner’s control and knew something.  We never found out what. So when Skinner shoots Krajeck to save Muldar, no one knew what that history was about.  It’s a case of dropping the ball.  Don’t you drop the ball, write character sketches from there a story arc and then your bible is easy.



Third Eye Diary

June 23:  8:00 am.
I am finding the hardest part of writing a television series is the teaser.  The teaser is that opening scene that sets the stage for what your episode is about.  If it’s a good one, then your audience will stay with you after the commercial break.  If it’s a bad one, then your audience will flip the channel and go watch “Game of Thrones.”  The teaser must be short, at least five to seven minutes, so that’s about five to seven pages.  michaelsnipes“Burn Notice” always had great teasers.  Usually the show’s teaser picked up the story arc, where it left off.  Here’s how it worked.  Michael Westen would have a secret meeting with some source.  This source had information about who burned him.  If it was dangerous, Michael would have his team tag along,  out of sight.  At this point, something unexpected would happen and that would set up Act One. For the opening of Act One, the team would get together and discuss what went wrong and they would put together another plan.  In the midst of that plan, Michael would get his next job and it always dropped on him at the wrong time.
Over the last few days, I spent time touching up my Pilot.  The teaser wasn’t working.  Monday night, I identified the issue and I set about to fix it.  The problem was,  the teaser takes place a month after a key element has occurred.  We meet Drake in the Iraq desert near Mosul outside an Isis compound on a high cliff face.  His mission is to retrieve a captured Navy Seal, this was the key element I left out.  I decided to take Drake out of the teaser and focus on the Navy Seal’s capture.
Tuesday night, I worked on the new teaser and found it too long.  So I cut the first two pages off it.  My other problem was the antagonist.  He wasn’t in the teaser.  I stuck him in on the back end of it.  I ended it with a puzzle and a cliff hanger.  My Navy Seal discovers one of his team is a mole.  Both of them are captured, while the fate of the rest of the team is left hanging in the balance, although through some foreshadowing, we pretty much know what will happen to them.  The result,  was a pretty strong teaser that I am  happy with.
Today I can begin my first act,  using my brand new outline.  Since, the teaser has changed, I have to tinker with Act One.  Act One, we will go through Drake’s normal day.  We learn his story through narrative and discover his past through flashbacks.  We discover he was the rising star in the Physics world, till the sabotage of his experiment.  We learn the experiment almost killed him, but through some miracle he survived and was forever changed with telepathic powers.  We will meet members of his team, such as Kitty, Father Michael Barry and of course his client Senator George Peters, who brings him the case of the AWOL seal.  Later in the episode we will meet Drake’s ex-wife Doctor Harriet Alfredsson, who will cause all kinds of headaches for Drake.  Now it’s off to write.

Third Eye Characters

When I recreated Drake Darrow, he was a movie character, but then I realized that he was the type of character you would never be bored with, so I turned him into a Television character instead.  In the transition, I took many of the characters from the movie and put them into show.
After watching Burn Notice. Burn Notice teamI decide that Drake should have his own team.  Many of those characters came from the movie.  It wasn’t because Drake wanted or needed a team, it was because they liked and cared for Drake and wanted to help him.   Some of them just fell into his life, like his partner Kitty Lange and some members of his team are hidden.   Meet the Third Eye Team.

                                                              THE TEAM:



      Father Michael Barry is in charge of St. Patrick’s orphanage for boys in Baltimore Maryland.  He’s Drake’s guardian, and the man who raised him.  He worries about Drake and constantly meddles in his life.  Sometimes his meddling has positive consequences.  At other times, the purpose is to keep Drake from discovering his dark past, that only Father Mike truly knows.

                                                                    KITTY LANGE.

fiona-glenanne-machine gun

Kitty Lange is a lot like Fiona Glennann  from Burn Notice, but instead of an ex IRA terrorist, she’s an an ex Boston Mobster.  Her real name is Barbara Faltagio.  She ratted out the mob and went into the Federal Witness Protection Program.  They changed her name to Kitty Lange.
Kitty used to work as Father Mike’s Personal Assistant, but Father Mike found, she didn’t have the necessary skills to do the job so he pawned her off on Drake. When she met Drake, he was fending off to thugs trying to break into the cabin of his yacht.  Kitty took command used her martial arts and kicked the crap out of them.  Drake was very impressed and hired her to be his partner.
The two work well together.  Kitty is Drake conscience and his most trusted ally.  She’s never afraid of giving her opinion and Drake listens to her.

Sheriff Joe Duncam
Sheriff Joe Duncam is a good old southern boy, who moved to Ann Arundel County Maryland from Tyband Georgia.(Tyband is a fictitious town in Georgia.)  Joe is a former Marine and high school Football star.
When Drake and Joe first met, they didn’t see eye to eye at all.  Most of the cases they worked on seemed to be connected and Joe felt threatened by it.  Eventually the two managed to find common ground and there is a mutual respect for each other.  However, sometimes Joe thinks Drake’s a God darned fool and sometimes Drake just likes to get under the good ole boys skin.

                                                     SENATOR GEORGE PETERS.

     capitol-hill-4     Senator Peters and Drake met many years ago when Drake was a Physicist.  Peters was impressed with Drake.  He witnessed the sabotage of Drake’s Quantum Physics experiment, and sensed that it had been tampered with.  When Drake’s special telepathic powers kicked in, Military intelligence saw to it that Drake was institutionalized.  Senator Peters, hired a good lawyer and managed to get Drake out, but not before some serious damage was done.
Once Drake became a Private Investigator, Peters hired him to blow the lid off some highly classified Government cases.  The deeper Drake travels into these cases, the more clues he finds to his past and Peters.  The cost could be a high price to pay for Peters and may destroy his Presidential ambitions.

                                                 CLAYTON HORATIO BAXTER.
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Drake’s former boss at Military intelligence and now a high profile NSA Agent.  Baxter is a self centered man, who thinks about only himself and his own future.  Drake and Clayton have a checkered past. After Drake’s sabotaged experiment,  Military Intelligence wanted to silence Drake.  He knew too much about what went on at Montauk New York.  They pressured Baxter into having him committed.  While Drake was institutionalized Baxter stole Drake’s wife.  Drake and Baxter are always at odds, but as the series moves along, they find they have to work more and more closely together.  The secrets that both dig up are shocking for both of them.

                                                    DOCTOR HARRIET ALFREDSSON.

Drake’s ex wife, Harriett is a well renowned archaeologist, whose passion for the dig always came before her marriage to Drake.  Drake met Harriet through her father Doctor Johan Alfredsson.  Harriett is hot headed, vain and thinks she is the center of everyone’s universe.  Harriett always manages to find an excuse to storm into Drake’s life. Usually there’s some stolen artifact she wants him to find, or her father is in trouble and she needs his help. Mostly because she still harbors feelings for Drake and would like him back in her life.

                                                DOCTOR JOHAN ALFREDSSON.

Harriet’s father and Drake’s mentor.  Throughout his whole life he has been trying to solve time travel and he always believed the answer lies with the Lost City of Atlantis.  When Drake was offered a position with Military Intelligence, Johan warned Drake not to take it, because the Government ruined his father’s life.    At the beginning of the series, Drake and Johan have not spoken in years.  As the series moves along they patch things up and whenever some sort of problem comes up, involving Science, Drake comes to Johan for his advice.


     A mysterious man wearing bandages and speaking through a voicebox.  All we know about him is that he used to be a Physicist and he worked in Military Intelligence.  He knows a great deal about Drake and wants to help him find the clues to his past, but why?
The answer may very well be in Source’s past.


Lone gunman
     A Computer Hacker whose real name is Waldo Kasparsky.  Waldo as he hates to be called, once hacked into Drake bank account and stole his identity, causing Drake a world of trouble.  Rather than throwing Ringer in jail, he decides to hire him to hack into classified security agencies.

                                                        THE BAD GUYS.

                                               THE MAN IN THE SHADOWS.
 The man in the shadowsDoes the Man in the shadows walk the halls of Government, or is he someone who has far more power than Government?  No one knows for sure.  What we do know is that he is extremely wealthy and has Congress and the White House at his beck and call.  If they don’t jump, he will destroy them, because he has the means and the power to do it.  He knows all about Drake and will stop at nothing to thwart him from finding out about his past.

He is the Man in the Shadows, hired assassin.  A man who speaks few words.  He’s small with a receding hairline, a thick bushy mustache and dark beady eyes.  He has a long, dark history in Black Ops and would kill any man without thinking about it.  His weapon of choice, a needle dripping with powerful narcotics.



Emma Peel, Mom and Sis Saved me.

Patrick Macnee as Jonathan Steed and Dame Diana Rigg as Emma Peale in the Avengers.

I was about 5 or 6 when this really cool British woman walked into my life.  Her name was Emma Peel.  My mother introduced her to me.  She was on PBS one weekday evening.  It was a new show or at least new to me.  It was called the “Avengers.”  A really quirky British spy show with this Proper British Gentleman named Jonathan Steed.  He carried this gentleman’s cane and wore this proper British bowler.  He was just as cool as Emma.  However, Emma was far different than I expected.  The world was changing in the late 60’s and women were changing with them.  British television was the first to reflect this with a strong dominant female character such as Emma Peel.  Steed was like  James Bond, but he had  a partner and she happened to be a woman.  Steed didn’t mind at all.  In fact Jonathan Steed welcomed it.  Emma epitomized cool.  She was clever, witty and she knew martial arts.  No one wanted to mess with Emma.


Emma and Steed had the coolest relationship, built on honesty and respect.  Steed didn’t think of her as a woman sidekick and neither did the writers.  She was every bit Steed’s equal.  I became mini obsessed with this show, because of the gadgets they used, the adventures they were thrown into and Ms. Peel’s charm and wit.  She had some of the best lines in the show.  Years later, I found re-runs of the Avengers on BBC America and found that it still held up.  In a sense it’s Ms. Peel I have to thank for finally being able to conquer my biggest writing obstacle, a believable strong independent female character, who isn’t just the love interest or eye candy.
At the time I rediscovered Emma, I was having trouble writing my own female British spy, named Elizabeth Manning.  I was writing a soccer move called Derby Double(See previous post, Research, Research, Research.) and my Protagonist Seamus O’Brien has to come out of retirement to bring down this IRA thug named Albert Renneville.  He manages to pass a trial with a Yorkshire club, called Sheffield United.  Like Seamus, the owner of the club, Elizabeth Manning is an Interpol agent intent on taking down Albert Renneville after he had poisoned her father.   My problem with Elizabeth was that I couldn’t get her right. I wasn’t sure what I wanted her to be and she had no spine.  I had no composite to go by.  Then Emma popped up on BBC America and that changed everything.  I had my composite.  As I have mentioned in previous posts, my characters usually talk to me while I am writing them.  Elizabeth wasn’t talking.  She was screaming at me because I didn’t understand who she was at all.  She was telling me, that she didn’t want to be arm candy or part of the furniture.  She was a spy and she needed and craved the action.  “Oh bloody hell, you foolish writer, can’t you tell.  I don’t want to be saved by Seamus, I want to save him.  That’s what I do.”  I listened to Elizabeth.  In fact, she saves Seamus three times in the movie and he doesn’t save her once.  Since Elizabeth Manning, my female characters have improved vastly.  In the past,  writing a female character became a real struggle for me and it wasn’t much fun.  Since Emma Peel reappeared in my life, I have written a lot of strong female characters.
Many years ago, I finished writing the sequel to Derby Double and I had created this wonderful love interest for another character.  Her name was Audrey and she was a famous Snooker player and I was looking at her character and I began to ask myself where did she come from?  How was I able to write this incredibly strong amusing character.  I thought of Emma Peel a moment and realized it wasn’t Emma Peel.  It was the woman that introduced me to Emma Peel.  My mother.  I thank her for that.  Of course, it didn’t hurt to grow up with a strong independently minded sister either.  So now when I sit down to create a female character I think of my mom and my sister and draw and the woman that started it all, Emma Peel.

Research! Research! Research!

old-books-8967047Research!  Research!  Research!    We’ve all heard it since our first history or research paper in high school.  The teacher gave you that dreaded homework assignment.  You were told to back up your facts by using research, which meant the dreaded ibid, which included the book you got the fact from, the page it was on and if it was  a quote, who quoted it.  If the research is was not correct you get marked down, or accused of falsification.
The important thing to remember is that research is just as important for a script writer as it is for someone who writes fiction.  If the research is not correct, then someone is going to doubt your credibility as a writer.
This brings me to the next important question, is the golden rule correct?  Must you always write about something you know?  I don’t always feel that is the case.  However, we since school that notion has been pounded in our heads.  I don’t necessarily always write what I know.  I write what interests me.  If a writer always writes a topic they are knowledgeable about, then they could stagnate or get blocked. Writing about something you don’t know, allows you to learn something new and it gives you the perfect opportunity to stretch the bounds of your imagination.  However; once again if you are going to write about something you don’t know, (here’s that word again) research.
Here’s an example of what I am talking about.  The first screenplay I wrote was a sports action adventure drama called “Derby Double” about English Soccer.  This was an idea that germinated in my head since I was a little kid living in England.


Daniel Day Lewis “In the Name Of The Father” A movie about the Guildford Four.

Every night The BBC nightly news was filled with stories about the conflict in Northern Ireland and I would see it constantly.  I was horrified with stories about the bombings in Birmingham, and angered about the injustice of The Guildford Four, falsely accused of terrorism.  The war in Northern Ireland was England’s Vietnam.  And even though I watched all these events unfold on British television, I must admit I never understood what it was all about.  The only thing I knew was that it had to do with Protestants and Catholics and in the eyes of the English, the Catholics were the bad guys and in the British press that’s exactly how they were portrayed.  Years later, I would learn a whole lot about what was known as the troubles.  I would learn that it was Northern Ireland’s civil rights issue, filled with politics being influenced by an imperial country that had lost it’s footing in the world.  A conflict that had it’s roots all the way back to Henry VIII. Henry VIII0001

I think I was about 13 when I was watching “Match of The Day,” I am not sure of the match, but one team had a heavy predominance of Northern Irish players on the club and a few of them Catholic.  I posed the question to myself, “What is it like to be a Catholic Northern Irish Footballer playing in England?  Do the crowd get on them?(And English crowds could be very brutal back them.) Do opposing English players or their own teammates give them, as the English would say stick?  It was a similar question that is asked now about racism in the English game.  I kept that question in my head for many years.

After college, I read a biography of soccer greats.  The last biography in the book was George Best, the greatest Football player to ever don the green and white of Northern Ireland.  He was considered the Northern Irish Pele, because of the way he could jinked a defender with his magical dribbling skills.  The passion this man had for the game was like none other than I ever saw and when you watched Manchester United play, you were riveted to him, because you had no idea what he was going to conjure.

With the question still in my mind and having read the George Best bio and idea came into my head.  Now George was the son of a Protestant Belfast dock worker, not Catholic.  I knew I wanted to create a character just like him, whose passion was the game and not the sectarian violence.  I decided to change my Protagonist to the son of a Catholic Fisherman whose passion was the game of Football.  Instead of Manchester United, he supported the enemy, Manchester City.  His name was Seamus O’Brien and he lived his dream of playing for his favorite Football club, but there was a cost.  The cost was a career ending injury and the assassination of his fiance Hannah Loughlan at the hands of the IRA. Hannah’s dream had always been peace in Belfast.  Her vision was to bring Protestants and Catholics together in a sign of unity against the factions of armed destruction, the UVF(Protestant) and the IRA.  She wanted a real future for Belfast, without war, Belfast’s economy would improve.  Hannah wanted to be a member of the Northern Irish Parliament to bring about that change.  She was the next Bernadette Devlin.  220px-Bernadette_Devlin_(1986)It was the big Christmas boxing day fixtures in England.  Seamus is in an FA Cup tie against Arsenal, performing his magic, while Hannah is the main speaker at a large peace rally in Belfast with Catholics and Protestants in attendance.  That same day, Colm Rourke, the leader of the IRA Political wing, Sein Fein meets an IRA Lieutenant named Paddy Cleary to receive his backing with a peace proposal.  The meeting was a set up from the start.  Paddy was part of the hard line faction that wanted nothing more than English soldiers out of their country for good. There were IRA all over on rooftops and in trucks ready to pounce.

Hannah gives a rousing speech and leads the crowd into the street with signs and chants about taking Belfast back from years of sectarian violence.   As she reaches the top of the street, the attack is set into motion and both Hannah and Colm are gunned down, by gun fire coming in all directions.

At the same exact moment, Seamus challenges an Arsenal defender for a ball in the air.  He wins the header but his knee gives way and shatters into pieces.  Seamus’ career is over and when he returns back to Belfast, he discovers his future with Hannah is over too.

Bitter and angry about the sectarian violence, Seamus vows revenge.  Others would rather he seek justice.  A documentary film maker from the American Television show Front Line, was filming a documentary on Hannah and he offers Seamus the tape of the attack.  Seamus is shocked to discover that his best friend Roary Riordan was the getaway driver.  Now Seamus wants more than revenge he wants justice.  He joins Interpol.   Interpol train Seamus and then they utilize him in many undercover operations.  Eventually Seamus’ life comes full circle and he is brought a case that will put him in the path of the man who ordered the assassination on Hannah Loughlan and Colm Rourke, the catch is that to bring the man down, he has to play Football again.

The opening scene of the movie, we see the attack happen at the same time as Seamus’ injury and I started this scene with a narrative from Seamus, explaining his situation and the history of how the troubles began.

In order to make sure my script was authentic, I had to do a whole lot of research on The Troubles.  I started by reading a fictional account of the IRA by Leon Uris, called “Trinity.”  Then I hopped off to Borders and bought two books on the subject and read them cover to cover.  “The Troubles” by Tim Pat Coogan and “A Secret History Of the IRA” by Ed Moloney.  I scoured the internet.  Google search after google search brought me to names and events I had heard about but never read.  I learned about the history of the Easter Uprising and some history long ago which went back to the 1700’s.

Liam Nesson and Alan Rickman in Michael Collins.


I learned about the O’Neill Clan, Michael Collins,  Eamon de Valera, Tom Barry and moved on to names more recent that were prominent in the eventual peace that was brought about in Northern Ireland.  I learned about names that were more recent, Gerry Adams, Bernadette Devlin, Bobby Sands and Martin McGuinness.


Once I got as much information as I could, I was ready to put together the first quarter of the movie, which all took place in Belfast.  Because of all the research I had done, Seamus’ narrative flowed like poetry.  I could hear his voice and I could visualize a particular actor I had in my head playing him.

In the opening we see Paddy Cleary preparing the assassination. We see Roary waiting out in the car.  We see the tension and sense Roary does not want to be there. He grips the steering wheel as if he is choking a chicken and he smokes one  cigarette after another.  His only distraction is Seamus’ cup tie.  Anytime Seamus creates some magic, Roary is in his corner, screaming at the top of his lungs.  We see Hannah give her speech, we watch Seamus in the match. We watch Hannah march down the street.  There’s a cutaway to Roary, he recognizes Hannah and he panics.  He tears out of the car, determined to take her out of there.   He ends up being too late.  The whole scene culminates in the attack and Seamus’ injury at the same time.  We watch Colm Rourke go down, Hannah goes down and Roary tries to save her, and pleads for her to hang on until he can get help.  Seamus is stretchered off the pitch down the tunnel screaming for Hannah.  Hannah dies in Roary’s arms.  The last shot in the scene is an intercut shot with Roary screaming Hannah’s name in anguish and Seamus doing the same as he is carried off the pitch.  This opening scene is an example of what good research can do to enhance the plot of your movie.

The value of research is that it makes the dialogue and the action believable.  It doesn’t matter whether you know a subject matter or not.  If you don’t research it.  By adding some touches of realism through research, your script is  apt to be read by someone.  If I hadn’t spent a few months doing research about the conflict in Northern Ireland, I don’t believe I would have have as strong an opening in my movie.  I would rather have a strong opening filled with research than a weak one without it.  Research!  Research!  Research!  A valuable tool for any script writer.

The Character Sketch

Your movie, television series or play is nothing without a character sketch.  I find the  character sketch the most essential tool to writing a script.  When I write something new, I don’t put any lines or action to a page, unless I have that character sketch first.  I feel I cannot move forward without one, because nothing would make sense.  It also helps me to keep track of my character.  Snakes. Jaque I hate snakes.Imagine if George Lucas sat down and just started writing “Raiders of the Lost Arc” without knowing anything about Indiana Jones.  He would have had nowhere to go. Even if he scratched Indiana Jones fear of snakes on a notebook somewhere, it was part of his character sketch.

The character sketch gives you an idea of who your character is and what his motivation is within the script.  It’s a questionnaire you ask yourself of the character.  The first few questions deal with what your character looks like, such as age, height, weight and where and when he was born.  You learn about your character your character’s backstory.  The back story doesn’t necessarily come in the form of one question, it can come in the form of three or four.  For instance, I have a question on my character sketch about religious denomination.   Buddha

When I was putting together Drake Darrow’s character sketch, the religion question, became an interesting part of his back story.  He grew up an orphan in a Catholic Boys school and remained Catholic until he worked for military intelligence.  Once his experiment failed, his whole life changed.  His powers needed to be harnessed.  In a dream he meets a long lost Atlantean, who tells him he is the only one that can save the earth from mankind.  The Atlantean directs him to go on a pilgrimage to the far east, where he will meet Tsu Li, Dojo Master who has lived many past lives.  Under Tsu’s tutelage, Drake becomes a Buddhist.  Buddhism becomes an essential part to mastering his telekinetic powers.

Another portion of Drake’s backstory was a question about whether he had been married or not.  I answered the question by saying that Drake had been married to his mentor’s daughter and then I elaborate in the question about where and when the marriage went wrong.  I even put together some interesting tidbits of how they met and what their first encounter was like.

Many years ago I was given a book for Christmas called “Successful Script Writing.”   The character sketch was the most important part of the book.  I have utilized it.   I found that not all the questions are relevant and have removed some.  I decided to add other questions that I felt I wanted to know.  Here is an example of the questionnaire I work from.

1:  Name:

2:  Sex:

3:  Age include year born.

4:  Astrological sign

5:  Physical Appearance:

6:  How does the character’s Physical appearance reflect their personality?

7:  Describe the Character’s childhood, in terms of where they grew up, how their background effected them, their lifestyle and childhood activities or hobbie.

8:  Describe the character’s relationship to his parents.

A:  Father

B:  Mother.


9:  Describer the character’s relationship to siblings.

10:  Describe the character’s relationship to other key people in their youth.

11:  Describe the character’s education, include anything higher education, or whether they finished school, dropped out, of grammar school, high school or college and any relevant military education.

12:  Describe the character’s history after any schooling.

13:  Describe the character’s current relationship to parents.

A:  Father:

B:  Mother.

14:  Describe character’s current relationship to Siblings.

15:  Describe the character’s current relationship to any key people, whether be growing up, or people that had an impact in their life after any education.

16:  Describe the character’s romantic life.

17:  Is the character married.

18:  How does the character feel about Marriage if he is, if not married how does the character feel about the idea of marriage or relationships with significant others.

19:  Describe the character’s sex life.  How does the character feel about sex.  Is the character passionate in bed and to what degree if they are.

20:  Does the character have children?

21:  If so, what is their relationship to their children.

22:  If not how does the character feel about children.

23:  What is the character’s religious background.

24:  What is the character’s current religious belief.

25:  Describe the character’s moral beliefs.  Does the character’s actions reflect their moral beliefs.  Does the character do what they believe is right or wrong due to certain circumstances.  Does the character’s moral beliefs coincide with their religious beliefs.

26:  What is the character’s occupation?

27:  Describe the character’s relationship to their boss.  Is the character their own boss.

28:  Describe the character’s relationship to their co-workers.

29:  How does the character feel about their job?

30:  What are the character’s hobbies or non work activities.

31:  Describe the character’s philosophy of life.

32:  Describe the character’s political views.

33:  Sum of the main aspects of the character’s personality.

34:  Describe the character’s state of health.

35:  Summarize the character’s relationship to other characters in the script.

36:  What is the character’s goal in the script?

37:  Why does the character want to achieve this goal?

38:  Who or what is trying to stop the character from reaching their goal?

39:  What strengths does this character have that will help them achieve this goal.

40:  What weaknesses does the character have that will thwart them or hinder them?

41:  Does the character have an accent or a dialect?

42:  Does the character use slang or professional jargon?

Not all of these questions may suit what you need and you don’t even have to know the answer to every one of these questions.  If I don’t know the answer to a question, I skip it and move on to the next.  Chances are as I am working on the script, the answer comes to me soon enough and I answer it later on.

So my advice is to work on a character sketch of your own and discover who your character is before you write them.  You’ll be fascinated as to what you learn about your character through a simple thing as the character sketch.











Visualizing The Character.

Robert MitchumVisualizing the character is an essential tool I use to understanding who my character is. Once I visualize the character, I know how they’re going to act, on the page. Drake Darrow is one of those guys that dropped into my mind, straight off the page of a Dashiell Hammett novel. I see him as tall, about 6’2. His build, rugged with matinee idol looks. The type of guy, you’d never believe was a Physicist. He has a strong hard jawline, built much like his chiseled nose. If his week has been rough, he has two or three days of growth on his beard, which can be intimidating to a potential criminal. His eyebrows are thick and bushy. Women are drawn to his deep blue eyes. I had him in a fedora, but I ditched it, when(as stated in a previous post) he came to me and talked to me about it. “Hey kid, ditch the fedora will ya. I’m not Indiana Jones. Besides, hats cut off the oxygen to my brain and I need my brain for thinking.” Or as his sidekick Kitty Lange would say, (And yes she talks to me too.) “Hey Murray, what have you got nuts for brains. Drake, don’t wear a fedora.”

Orson WellesThere’s not an ounce of fat on Drake’s body. The man definitely works out, not in the gym, but with his nun chucks and a pull up bar.

Once I had Drake’s physical makeup in my head, the personality and his back story were easy. Just by the way he looked, I could tell, he had some sort of a sordid past. I came up with a story line revolving on what happened at Montauk. His experiment was similar to the Philadelphia Experiment. Back then, Drake was a different man, more congenial. He had a sense of humor. He wore glasses and looked more studious. Things changed when his experiment went badly and he almost died. His best friend betrayed him, his ex-wife betrayed him. Military Intelligence had him committed to a mental institution. When he recovered, he was bitter, cynical and angry. This personality came from how I visualized him.

Stacy Keach-Mike Hammer

magnum-pi (1)Visualizing a character doesn’t always come to me. Sometimes I need to write a character sketch down. Of the principal characters in my television series I knew what four looked like before I put them to paper. The others I had to figure out through a character sketch. have a good visual image of two characters for future episodes. One is the most sinister assassin you would ever meet. So before you write that first bit of dialogue visualize your character, it helps to figure parts of them, you haven’t already decided yet.

Three Shows That Inspired Me.

As a writer, I am always looking for something to watch, something that inspires me to write, whether it be a good movie, a good play or a good television series.  Television has been my latest obsession.  The three shows that have had the biggest influence on my writing have been the X-Files, Burn Notice and 24.  All these shows had long runs on television because they had strong action packed story lines, they kept the viewer on the edge of their seat, the acting  was impeccable,  and all three of these shows revolutionized television in some way.   They brought a fresh look to the TV Drama and a fresh look to Television as a whole.  The change in the television drama began with…


is (1)

“I want to Believe.”


The X-Files is the 90’s version of “The Twilight Zone”.   The show revolved around aliens and the paranormal.  It was the type of show that “Project Blue Book,” should have been.  Fox Mulder and Dana Scully are two FBI agents assigned to a department called the X-Files.  The X-files are unsolved cases of a paranormal nature.  Some of the cases involve extra terrestrial activities, some of the show revolves around some strange monster of the week and others revolve around  Government cover ups.  The stories, are crisp and sharp.  The characters well-developed and the suspense kept me coming back for more.  And best of all, the show had a villain you loved to hate, “The Smoking Man,” played splendidly by William B. Davis.

The Smoking man-2

I always find some of the best villains, don’t say anything.  They are just observing what’s going on, trying to determine how much the other character knows and if they are threat or not.    It makes you wonder who the character is and what is going through their mind.    After the Pilot, that’s exactly what I did wonder about this mysterious Smoking man, and why he was so interested in Fox Mulder.  Toward the end of the pilot, Mulder and Scully come back from a case on ET abductions.  Mulder wants to continue.  The FBI doesn’t.  Orders came from up top.  Orders that perhaps the Smoking Man knows about.  The last shot in the Pilot, we see the Smoking Man, with a lit cigarette in his mouth, carrying a box of evidence, that Mulder and Scully have retrieved from their investigation.  He calmly walks down this long warehouse hall, we hear the sounds of his perfectly polished shoes, along the asphalt floor.  He has the evidence in the box and enters a room, where he files it, never to be seen again.  Now the Smoking man, never utters an entire line in the pilot, but you know, just by the way William B. Daniels plays the part, he is pivotal and you know you’re not going to like him.

Most episodes were stand alone episodes and you might think there wasn’t an arc, but Chris Carter never intended for the X-Files not to have an Arc.  He brought it in at the beginning of a season and at least two to three episodes towards the end of a season.  Usually it appeared in the last three episodes of the season with a giant cliffhanger.  If you’ve never seen the X-files, here are some of my favorite episodes.

Blood, a monster of the week.  The story is ingeniously crafted about a Pizza boy, who is suspected of being a blood sucking vampire.  The episode doesn’t take itself seriously and each character has a different perspective on the story.  The guest star in this is Chris Wilson, Owen Wilson’s brother.

Drive, about a guy, who hears some electronic sound wave in his head, which cause incredible migraines.  In order to get any sort of relief, he and his wife(Suffering from the same affliction) must drive fast or he’ll die. Some guy named Bryan Cranston stars in this episode.  Yeah that guy from Breaking Bad and Seinfeld.  His acting in this is incredible.  It’s almost as if this was an audition for breaking bad, because Vince Gilligan had a hand in this episode.

Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man.  This tells the tale of the Smoking Man and how it all began for him.  Watch the episode and you will see Chris Owens as a young Smoking Man.  Chris later plays the Smoking Man’s son in the series.  It’s an episode that humanizes our villain and you almost might find yourself feeling sorry for our chain-smoking nut. You’ll also feel sorry for our next protagonist in….

                     BURN NOTICE


The series started out every week, with this opening narrative, which came from the pilot.

Michael Westen: [voice-over] My name is Michael Westen. I used to be a spy. Until…

voice on phone: [phone rings] We got a burn notice on you. You’re blacklisted.

Michael Westen: [voice-over] When you’re burned, you’ve got nothing: no cash, no credit, no job history. You’re stuck in whatever city they decide to dump you in.

In this case, he was dumped in Miami Florida, not a bad place to be dumped, unless you happen to wake up with some c4 strapped to your chest, by your ex-girlfriend.  Yes meet Michael’s ex, the lovely Fiona Glenanne an ex IRA terrorist with a love of c4.  The previous scenario didn’t actually happen in the pilot.  I just used it to illustrate one of the best female characters I’ve seen on television, Played by Gabrielle Anwar.

I caught this gem by accident.   I was working on a play and I was flipping channels.  I ended up on USA and I let it run.  I was unsure what season or what episode it was.  I wasn’t paying attention.  I lost my train of thought and my attention turned to Burn Notice.  Michael Westen’s narrative caught my attention. It lead into a segment on how to divert your enemies with a road block.  I was fascinated and thought to myself, “Hey wait a minute, this is a how to on how to be a spy,” or in Michael Westen’s case, a spy turned Vigilante.  It was something I’d never seen before and it worked.  What set these narrative’s apart from any other’s I had seen, was when something went wrong, Westen had a quip.  It broke the tension.

Burn Notice - Season 7
BURN NOTICE — “Things Unseen” Episode 710 –Pictured: (l-r) Gabrielle Anwar as Fiona Glenanne, Jeffrey Donovan as Michael Westen — (Photo by: Glenn Watson/USA Network)

Throughout the series, Michael’s main goal is to find out why the CIA burned him and who was responsible.  To make ends meet, he takes on clients.  These aren’t your ordinary clients in trouble.  These are clients threatened, by the mob, drug smugglers, terrorist groups and loan sharks.   So in this series, Michael is pretty much dealing with the worst of the worst, but he’s dealt with them before in his CIA work.  This is precisely why, Michael can help them.  Many of these situations involve blackmail or the client is worried if the police find out what they are doing, they will be thrown in jail.  Most of these cases are brought to him, by his team, his meddling Mother(Played with a great touch of humor by Sharon Gless) , or his brother Nate.  Michael solves these problems vigilante style, using his spy tools.   He’s lucky he has his former CIA friend Sam Ax (Played by Bruce Campbell) on the team, so he can run an idea by him.

It was a unique idea. I never looked to see if where the show stood in the Nielsen’s, but I liked it.

The format for each episode was interesting.  The teaser, dealt with some intel Michael picked up or he was going to meet someone who had some intel that would lead to the person who burned him.  Something bad usually went down at this point, or something unexpected.  At the beginning of Act One they either solve the issue, retreat and come back to it, or Fi, or Sam bring him a client.  As soon as the case is solved, Michael returns to his own obsession and some climax happens at the end, no one expected.   Something not expected is the perfect explanation for….


24 on FOX, was created by Robert Cochrane and Joel Surnow.  This show broke the ground rules for television, tossed them in the trash and then…re-wrote them.  I had heard about this show and the phenomenon, but was never able to watch it.  Then I found time and believe me I was glad I did.  I couldn’t believe what I was watching.  The concept was brilliant. Take one hour out of a government agent’s day and see what happens.  What happened was nothing short of mind-blowing.  Kiefer Sutherland plays Jack Bauer an agent for CTU, the Counter Terrorist Unit.  In the Pilot we find Jack at home having a quiet evening with his wife and rebellious daughter.  Nina Myers, the second in command at CTU calls him back to work.  Terrorists are planning to assassinate President Palmer.  The clock is ticking.  They must find out who these terrorists are and stop them.  What started out as a quiet evening at home, becomes increasingly worse.  The same terrorists planning to assassinate the President, kill Jack’s boss and kidnap his wife and daughter.  That just gives you an idea of what this show is about.  A whole day lasted a season.  Most of what unfolded for Jack Bauer, was not good.  He always ended up bringing the terrorists to justice, but it costs him his family, his own sense of self and even his sanity at times.  By the time we get to the last season, Jack is filled with rage and the only person he can trust is a former CTU Commander, named Chloe, who has become a computer hacker.  During the run of the show, Jack loses two wives, three girlfriends and he is betrayed by another.   While trying to get deep undercover with a group of terrorists, he develops a heroin habit and becomes addicted.  His relationship with his daughter is constantly tested, till he decides it’s safer to stay away from her all together.

Jack Bauer 24-1

Each week, you never knew what was going to happen.  The CTU organization usually had a mole in it, or some power-hungry, inept guy took over.  Jack was usually taken out of play.

Out of play became a very common catch phrase.  It perfectly describes the show in a nutshell.  It was as if you were watching a highly tactical chess match, not ever being able to figure out what Jack’s next move was, or the terrorists.  Jack was in the center, with very little wiggle room.  In some cases, he was a pawn.  Each act was tense and had its own cliffhanger.  You always second guessed yourself.  If you thought you knew who the mole was, forget it, you didn’t.   Just when you thought Jack, had stopped some terrorist attack, he didn’t.  Just when you thought Jack had caught the terrorist, you found out that the person he really caught was a small fish in a larger governmental conspiracy.  Just as you became close to one of the characters, they were killed off.  I think Game of Thrones took a few ques from this show.  

Intrigue, suspicion and action was not limited to CTU.  Each season, Cochrane and Surnow, found a way to bring the White house into play.  There was always something going on in the White House, that affected the story line and the country.  The President was either threatened with assassination, trusted people who would try to usurp his power, or in some cases, the President was a villain.  President Logan comes to mind.    

This is the perfect show for a writer to watch.  The writing was hard, crisp and quick.  The character development is some of the best I’ve ever seen on TV.  The pace of this show, moves at an electrifying pace and you’re never bored.  I watched the entire series on the edge of my seat and didn’t even know I was doing it.  One rainy weekend day, I watched ten episodes.  Careful though, this show can be emotionally draining.  It can also be extremely addicting.  24 goes down in my top ten list of greatest Television shows of all time.  

I feel with these three shows, you can’t go wrong as an aspiring writer.  Watch them and see if you can’t learn a thing or two from them.  I know I took away some valuable lessons from these shows.  If the Third Eye can meet the standard of these three shows, then I know I am moving in the right direction.  I see a bright future for television.  As more and more fresh shows are being created, more and more gifted writers are turning to television.  That means the competition is going to be fierce, but I see that as a win for everyone in the end.  


The Evolution of a PI Character.


Humprey Bogart

Thee origins of Drake Darrow are very interesting.  I had been writing a soap opera in college.  In the soap opera I had this character named Drake Darrow.  He was a Defense Attorney.  His story line dealt with helping a troubled kid out of jail.  The Soap Opera didn’t last and Drake was dropped from my mind.  When I graduated from college, I started working in radio and Drake started to speak to me.  His name kept coming back to me.  It was if he was trying to say to me, “Kid, you got the name right, but you were using me all wrong.”  I loved the name and I had to find a way of creating a character around the name.  Once again, Drake spoke to me at the St. Albans Vermont Library.  I found a book on Atlantis.  Atlantis had always fascinated me.  My mind began to race and I came up with a story that revolved around the lost city of Atlantis.  Drake was now a Private Investigator.  He was hired by his ex-wife Harriet Alfredsson, an Archaeologist, to find this stolen Atlantis gemstone from the Florida Antiquities museum.  Now I had something.  I had always been a big fan of Indiana Jones and  the Mike Hammer series.    I wanted the character to be a combination of the two.  It didn’t work out quite the way I wanted, but then again Drake was leading me somewhere.  He became more Sam Spade then Mike Hammer and that was fine with me.  I liked Sam Spade.  He and Sam had a kindred spirit.  He was full of himself and he didn’t take any guff from anyone.  As much as I like the new Drake, the drafts I wrote were crap.  I tossed it and moved onto something else.  Now, what I learned about Drake,  is that he is a determined son of a bitch.  In 1999, that damn PI came knocking at my door again.  “Okay kid, you have the right idea, but you really need to do your homework on your story.  Research kid.  Research.  The Atlantis thing is fine, but you don’t know enough about it.  And for that matter, you have no idea who I am or what I am about.  You need some history on me kid and I’m going to give it to ya, but first research.”  He was right, I needed to do research.  I didn’t have the internet before, but now I did.  I began to research Atlantis so much I was with it.    A website called Crystalinks became my research guide.  Sometimes till 2 or 3 in the morning.  I just kept finding stuff and I kept saying, “Okay, I’m gonna use this and use that and use this….Some of the theories on Atlantis took me to Egypt.  Supposedly, when Atlantis fell into the sea, the survivors moved to Egypt.  A further theory is that they built the pyramids.  Whether I believed that or not, didn’t matter, it was good enough for an awesome story.  I took the next movie to Egypt.  As I am writing this new story, Drake’s talking to me, telling me about himself.  “Kid, I grew up in an orphanage, with a 160 IQ.”  He was raised by a priest, who became like his real father.  Drake became a Physicist.  And there was always this mysterious man who used to visit Father Michael Barry, who wore the ring of the Yale secret society, Skull and Crossbones.  Drake’s mentor was Harriett’s father Dr. Johan Alfredsson, who taught him everything he knew about Quantum Physics and the idea that time travel could exist.  Drake’s work got him a job with Military Intelligence, but during a time travel experiment, there was an accident that almost killed him.  He managed to survive, but the accident suddenly left him with the power of telekinesis.  He was able to read people’s minds, move and bend things, disappear and levitate. I must have written about 8 different drafts of a movie called “The 12 Keys to Knowledge.”  The title came from something I learned about a higher consciousness.  I was happy with it and it really worked.  And the best part is I created a new character along the way.  A character named Kitty Lange, AKA Barbara Faltagio, a former member of the Boston mob, who is in the Federal Witness Protection Program.  She started out as his secretary and now is his partner.  She is secretly in love with Drake.  She is hard-nosed like Drake and doesn’t take any guff.  Her catch phrase, is “Have you got nuts for brains?”  And just to let you know, Kitty speaks to me too.  A lot.  Sometimes she won’t shut up.  After I had gotten a draft I liked, I sensed there was more.  So I started a sequel, but I got blocked.  Drake kept talking to me as I was writing it.  “Do you really want to do this kid.  If you want more of me write a TV. Series.  I’m game for it.  Believe me kid, I am a character that has plenty of stories to keep you going for years.”  So Drake got his wish.  The two of us are stuck with each other.  He’s like a little birdie that talks to me every so often.  I feel I know Drake very well now.  He’s evolved through the years.  Drake has told me things these last two years that are quite enlightening.   He is no longer in Florida, he said it wasn’t right for him, instead he’s in Baltimore Maryland. Through meditation, and his Buddhist faith, Drake now has a third eye.  Which helps him to piece broken parts of a puzzle together.  His third eye helps him to sense when things are not right, or when impending doom is about to happen.  It’s his Spidey sense.  We see his third eye on the screen.  It’s  to let the audience know there is something not right.  Drake’s weakness is any type of drug, which includes Alcohol.  Kentucky Bourbon is his weakness and he drinks that when he is depressed.  Because of his sabotaged experiment, Drake is electrically charged.   There is only one thing that can revive him and it is something odd, water.  The water recharges his batteries. Drake has also toned down some.  He is not so much the Sam Spade type I portrayed him in the beginning and I believe that is a good thing, since times have changed and I want this to be as modern as possible.  He is a very bitter and angry man about his circumstances.  As Drake would sum it up, “The third eye, isn’t something I asked for, it’s my curse.”  Through this series, Drake’s one goal is to know who he really is.  He can’t know who he is until he finds out who is parents are and why he was abandoned.  He will get some help along the way.  Like Michael Weston from Burn Notice, Drake has his own team. A high-ranking Senator from Massachusetts to help stamp out corruption in Washington.  His partner, the tough as nails ex mobster Kitty Lange, his surrogate father Father Michael Barry,  Johan Alfredsson the retired mentor, a no-nonsense Sheriff of Ann Arundel County, named Joe Duncam, originally from Tyband Georgia,  (Don’t look that up on a map, I made it up.)His ex wife, Harriett, a neurotic self-absorbed woman who believes Drake is still in love with her, a mysterious man named named Voice Box, who leaks important government secrets to the Senator, and a strange computer hacker, who goes by the name of Ringer.  He also has his enemies, the chief one a man named Shadow, who has a very strange henchman named Morphine.  As the series moves along, I have a myriad of twists and turns in store.  This is a series that is a little “Burn Notice”, a little 24 and a whole lot of x-files.  So as I continue to write this series I will refer to it from time to time.  And please be kind to Drake if he shows up.  Say hello, he’s had a rough life and he needs some nice cheer.