First and foremost, I’ve got another book coming out soon. It is not fiction, but rather about writing, itself. If you’ve read my other background piece here, you’ll recall that I mentioned writing screenplays. That is actually my main interest and emphasis, though I have a few ideas for novels banging around, too. But since I have been writing screenplays since before I ever conceived "The Pandora Plague," I found I had developed certain ideas as to how they are done, and also how stories are conceived and written.
At the prodding of my wife, I took some of these notions and developed a class that I taught for a few years at three different Universities. This was enlightening, to say the least. I have developed new respect for teachers, as I learned how badly I was at the process. But I also was able to ponder certain ideas deeply and this eventually led to my forthcoming book on story creation and screenwriting, "Lateral Screenwriting: Using the Power of Lateral Thinking to Write the Great American Movie."
It is a big book—over 750 pages in manuscript. So I am at work paring it down. Soon I will bring it out from BookSurge. Unlike other books on writing, this one is about the idea-generation process itself, rather than writing technique or how to market your work. I have taken certain ideas business consultant Edward de Bono has developed for business, and applied them to story-creation. Essentially, he took a right-brain mental technique he observed at work in the creative process, lateral thinking, and codified it for use by left-brainers. When I became aware of it, I saw that it was a systematic approach to something I did naturally, but without consistency in my own creative process. So I took his "system" and techniques, and brought them back over to the right-brain world. From there, I adapted them and extended them, creating new ones in the process, for consistent idea-generation and story development.
After introducing and developing my techniques and methods, I then examine screenwriting in depth and relate lateral thinking to the entire process, from inspiration, through construction, to marketing. I use scores of examples and insights from screenwriters and directors from the dawn of film to the present. But as to the question of how writers created their works, we, of course, cannot speculate unless they tell us. So, I bring in examples from my own works and relate how they came about. This allows me to illustrate how the theories laid out up to that point actually have worked for me.
While the book may, at first, sound technical and dry, it is actually a fun read. It is full of great stories from Hollywood and elsewhere. It demystifies one of the greatest bugaboos of story development, structure, and in the process demonstrates how so many have gotten it so wrong. So, the book is a new contribution to the books-on-writing scene, offering something fresh and useful to a category that had grown stale.
I’ve also written several screenplays, some of which have done well in competitions, and one of which has been under option. Alas, none of these have found production—though most have not been sent to market, to any great extent, either. Industry convention holds that screenwriters introduce their works first via what is called a "logline," a one to two sentence description of the story or concept that hooks a busy producer into wanting to know more. That is then followed by a synopsis or description of one to several paragraphs that lay out the complete story with some detail, but without significant development. Beyond these there could follow an "outline" or "treatment," that tells the story in three to many pages, with full details, and even occasional snatches of dialogue. The term, "treatment," got its name from the days when Hollywood got most of its stories from plays and books, and so producers wanted to know how a screenwriter "treated" the pre-existing source. Treatments are not popular so much anymore as once producers know the synopsis, they usually are willing to either pass or go to a submission-draft screenplay. This may be the result of the Writers Guild installing minimum payments for each stage of the story development process. Producers then desire to reduce such costs. What follows is a partial list of some of my screenplays with synopses or descriptions:
THE SLEEP OF REASON
Note – To illustrate the kind of language used to market some of these pieces I have sometimes used material like the section marked, "persuasion," in pitches and/or letters.
Logline - How did the lunatic, Renfield, meet and survive his first encounter with Vlad Dracula?
Aye, therein hangs quite a tale...
A high-road roller-coaster ride of a prequel to Bram Stoker's "Dracula."
Description - Taking place before the events in Bram Stoker's novel, "Dracula," this is the story of how the lunatic, Renfield, originally met and survived his encounter with Vlad Dracula. On their honeymoon, Renfield's bride, Elsbeth, vanishes inexplicably from a hotel room. Shattered, Renfield sets out to find her, eventually tracing her to a castle ruin in the mountains, and, after gaining entry, he meets its undead residents, including Elsbeth. Armed with certain gypsy safeguards, he is able to confront his adversaries: Vlad Dracula and the vampire's disaffected concubine, Elizabeth Bathory, history's Blood Countess. Their measure taken, he is then able to manipulate the complex sexual politics which have come to hold the castle in thrall. In a wild denouement, he escapes with his life if not his sanity. #
A classic, yet innovative tale of terror, THE SLEEP OF REASON delivers a story both, riveting and cutting-edge; intelligent, yet action-filled; erotic and obsessive; paranoid and disturbing. Within the literature of the fantastic, this screenplay stretches the boundaries into the surreal.
The goal was to tell a new vampire story in classic terms. Forget the stakes. Cut the bats. Get back to that castle in Romania. Expose the sexual intrigues, the terrors lurking within. The aim was to put it into human terms, framed within an immense and tragic story of a love which is lost and the desperate quest to get it back.
This screenplay deals with the real stakes in such a tale: the destruction of humanity, the crown of creation; the vying of ultimate evil with ultimate good. And in the end, the battle is well and truly joined.
"One of the best screenplays I have read... a real page-turner."
"What a wonderful read... I couldn't put it down."
--- Readers, American Zoetrope Virtual Studio
This was based on a short story by 19th Century writer, J. Sheridan Le Fanu. Of course it was updated and extensively altered for a modern audience.
Logline - When a man comes to a psychiatrist claiming to be pursued by a haunting, erotic woman he believes to be a demon, the psychiatrist investigates and becomes drawn into the man’s pursuit and a maelstrom of obsession and madness.
Description - A celebrated psychiatrist finds his career in jeopardy due to unfounded charges of malpractice after a tragedy involving a patient's treatment. As his practice falters under the notoriety and bad press, a man comes to him in desperation, claiming he is losing his sanity. He explains that he is having delusions in which he finds himself being chased, even hounded... by a demon.
Exploring his patient’s case, the psychiatrist begins to believe that the man hasn't been deluded. He suspects that somehow, something more may be going on. Shadowing the man relentlessly, the psychiatrist comes to believe his patient is not insane but instead in the grip of some external and very real evil. The man is plagued by a bizarre and strangely erotic woman. Violating his own ethics, the psychiatrist continues watching his patient and begins to see the strange woman himself.
As the man’s case becomes weirder, the psychiatrist finds himself in the grip of obsession, desperate to unravel the mystery. He falls in love with the man’s wife, sinking further still. In a series of twists in the final act, the psychiatrist confronts his patient’s problem along with his own obsession, but the demon may, in fact, now be his. #
This was entirely written at night in the projection booth of a huge old movie palace, where I worked just after college. Stephen King took the haunted house tale and put it into a hotel; I’ve taken it and put it into a theater.
Logline - A family hiding from criminals re-open an old movie palace. As their pursuers close in, their fear awakens something worse lurking in the theater itself.
Description - When Corporate Accountant Jason Bradley-Ross discovers his boss’s ties to the mob and learns that he has been keeping double books, the accountant decides he must turn State’s Evidence and testify against him.
Immediately after his testimony, Jason, his wife, Lauren, and their two children, Christopher and C.C., are whisked into the federal Witness Protection Program. Secretly relocated to a small midwestern town, they hide under another name as mob killers scour the country looking for them.
Jason is placed in a large theater chain’s corporate administration, but only after he completes his own re-opening and operation of a theater which had served the small town for more than 75 years. The theater, the Jupiter, is a spectacular old movie palace and, unknown to Jason and his family, it is built on a site with a "past".
Aided by certain "official" sources, the killers begin to hunt down the family, now caringly restoring and re-opening the old theater. With it finally up and running, they embark on learning the secrets of movie exhibition.
But fear of discovery by the criminals stalks them, and, in particular, Lauren is haunted. Their fear, in turn, awakens something in the theater, something worse than their human pursuers, something ancient and terrible. It is something which begins to feed off their mounting terror, first in their dreams, and later in...other ways.
Finally locating them, the killers move in. That night at the theater, Jason and Lauren are forced to preside over a tremendous tragedy: 24 kids inexplicably jump off the balcony to the seats below. As a result, the presence within the theater has grown sufficiently powerful, and is able to emerge, to manifest in physical forms, to come for Jason, Lauren, Chris, and C.C.
In a riveting and relentless night of horror, Jason and his family confront both their human pursuers and their fear-sated demon, loose and hunting them within the Jupiter Theater. #
This was as the result of wondering how I could find a fresh take on an alien invasion movie.
Logline - In a near-future world shattered by an alien invasion, a lone group of disabled military vets hold their abandoned VA Hospital as the invaders lay siege.
Description - In a prologue, we learn that a kind of nuclear winter has destroyed most of the earth’s civilization after a world-wide bombardment by comets. It is hinted that this was artificially-caused by someone... out there.
Years pass as the world sinks into chaos. Civilization is all but lost. It’s survival of the fittest again. When a loner, Miklovitch, stumbles across a group of variously disabled war veterans still surviving in a V.A. hospital, led by Lynch, their former unit commander, he helps them battle the nomads and their warlord, Jeremy. The nomads, or "normals," as they’re called, surround the huge former medical complex, determined to take it for themselves.
The hospital is a prize, filled with drugs, shelter, its own power and water supplies, and vast amounts of food and other essentials, even now, several years after "the end of the world".
On a "night run" with his new comrades, Miklovitch arrives just after an attack by... something. The bodies are eviscerated, somehow nearly digested by their attackers, yet left scattered across the scene like an afterthought. Then they see the attackers.
Barely getting back to the hospital, the vets must prepare for a battle they’ve never imagined. Having defeated their human adversary: Jeremy and his "normals" time after time, Lynch and these "half-men" must prepare for something beyond the "whole men" they’ve fought up to now.
As the invaders move in, the vets must learn the nature of their adversary, creatures whose culture is unlike anything they could imagine. In a fierce series of fire-fights in the bowels of the main hospital complex, they begin to understand their foe.
Put to the ultimate test, their training is nearly overcome. But Miklovitch is able make a key discovery, and, as the aliens close in, the vets prepare for a last stand in the one remaining part of the complex still under their control.
In the final battle, they meet their adversary with everything they’ve learned, and after a withering struggle, Miklovitch, Lynch and the others destroy their invaders. #
As an after-note, I should add that I have set up the ending in such a way that the story can move right into a sequel that amplifies the premise exponentially. This, then, makes it a "franchise" prospect, or first in a potential series.
While the above are all squarely in the horror, suspense, and science fiction genres, I do have wider interests as a writer. My first original screenplay, THE MaCGUFFIN, was a romantic comedy inspired by films like CHARADE, NORTH BY NORTHWEST, SILVER STREAK, and FOUL PLAY.
Others in development include:
THE 'SPEC,' a caper tale, sort of a combination of THE STING, BODY HEAT, and THE PLAYER, set in contemporary Hollywood.
THE DARK MAJESTIC, a contemporary sci fi-thriller with elements of paranoia.
MYSTERY SPOT, a very off-beat comedy involving UFOs, time travel, and a town on the loneliest road in America—think NORTHERN EXPOSURE meets THE X-FILES.
FORCE MAJEURE, a paranoid political thriller in the vein of ENEMY OF THE STATE, THE PARALLAX VIEW, and THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR.
THE CHIMERA, a modern-day twist on the VERTIGO story.
WILD JON, a period thriller about the greatest criminal in history, the model for Arthur Conan Doyle’s Professor Moriarty.
I am considering at least two other novels. One is a novelization of the story from THE ‘SPEC’, listed above. And the other is a new Holmes pastiche mentioned in passing in the front of THE PANDORA PLAGUE. This one involves Holmes, Watson, and various other characters, real and not, including Nicola Tesla, Thomas Edison, Matthew Brady, and (believe it or not) Abraham Lincoln. The working title is THE ARCHIMEDES DECEPTION, if that isn’t too “Robert Ludlum” for its own good.
I welcome hearing from individuals who want to discuss these sorts of stories.
Inquiries to Lee A. Matthias: LateralTao@gmail.com