Screenwriting & Simcity

March 9, 2013 at 7:19 am

Screenwriting Blog | Screenwriting & Simcity


Without a doubt, SimCity is my favorite game franchises of all time.  I’ve played every version and I’m still just as addicted as I was the first time I played the classic PC version long ago.

Recently, I purchased the brand new SimCity and despite some frustrating bugs, I love it.

Does this bring back memories?

SimCity was more than just a game to me.

I remember bringing paper, pencil crayons and rulers everywhere so I could plan out the cities I wanted to build.  If I wasn’t going to be home, I would simply draw them and recreate my drawings in the game later on.

I was obsessed with SimCity.

Screenwriting Blog | Screenwriting & Simcity

Note: I really wish I had kept some of those drawings…

What does Simcity have to do with Screenwriting?

A lot of it has to do with the creative freedom and power the game gives you.  It provides you with a set of tools and a blank canvas and it’s up to you to create your masterpiece.

In that way, starting a new city is just like staring at a blank first page.  The only difference is the medium and it’s all about creativity and letting your imagination run wild.

Build your world.

When I wrote stories as a child, I used SimCity to visualize the cities where my characters lived.

Why not?

For someone who couldn’t draw very well, it was a perfect way to figure out what these locations would look like.

  • Were they next to water?
  • Surrounded by trees?
  • In the slums?

Truthfully, these cities not only gave me an exciting reason to play my favorite game, it allowed me the chance to think about my story.

Have you ever engaged in an activity that lets your mind wander?  You go through the motions but really your imagination is somewhere else.  Your mind is occupied but your creativity is hard at work.

It’s that trance that I fell in love with.

I may not build the cities in my screenplays anymore but SimCity was around when I began to really take an interest in screenwriting.  I would constantly quit the game to write down whatever I came up with while setting down a police station or a brand new stadium.

Screenwriting Blog | Screenwriting & Simcity

For me, it’s like playing Basketball.  You can shoot a hundred shots in a few hours and plan out an entire script.  A creative ignition.

SimCity has those same qualities.  I can sit back and play for hours without really thinking about what I’m building.  I’m off solving story issues and building characters.  I’m creating stories.

I’ve evolved just as Simcity has over the years.  I may not lose entire afternoons in the newest version of the game but it’s nice to know my old cure for writer’s block is back.

What sparks your creativity?

Finding Your Muse: Creating A Short Film

February 4, 2011 at 12:34 pm

Finding Your Muse: An Interview With Screenwriter David Spies | Screenwriting Blog


“Inspiration is a funny thing”

It can be difficult sometimes to get a short film project off the ground.  There are thousands of elements that have to fall into place.  Crew, Locations, Actors, Schedules, Budgets, Equipment…

Above all else, you need to possess a high level of dedication to a project.  You have to believe in the film you are producing.  You have to be passionate.

Screenwriter and director David Spies has that passion and used it to produce a brand new short film.

A Musing

Synopsis:  Pete Matthews is a writer that hasn’t penned a word in three years. He’s under the pressure of his deadline-driven literary agent Bill Skinner to make a change for the better, or else… Pete sets out on a local journey to find the “muse” that will unlock his once-prevalent creativity. As his panic builds, he wanders through the streets of everyday life in Seattle and discovers that the key to reviving his imagination may just rest with a local liquor mart cashier. After several unsuccessful attempts to find personal inspiration through music, art and nature, Pete is forced to take a second look at the wisdom of this quirky character.

Finding Your Muse: An Interview With Screenwriter/Director David Spies | Screenwriting Blog

It begins with a screenplay.

“I spent several years living in Northern California, skiing just about every resort in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  I couldn’t tell you how many movie ideas I would brainstorm while riding a chair lift…”

David’s screenwriting journey literally took him to the mountains and back in a process he refers to as ‘self applied therapy’.  (I quite like that terminology.)  The Seattle based author enjoys writing horror and comedy with ‘A Musing’ being the latter.

“These were my two favorite genres when I was a kid. I figured the best course of action to fuel my creativity would be; write about what scares me and write about what makes me laugh.”

What fascinates me about other screenwriters is learning about their process.  Many stick to strict routines while others write only when the mood hits.  It all depends on what inspires you.

A Typical Screenwriting Day

“Most days start very early for me. I fire up the espresso machine and brew a triple grande mocha to get my morning started. My wife and kids are off to work and school and I take our dog Mazzy out for her morning walk. It’s during our walk that I brainstorm my current writing project and come up with several ideas around format, plot, characters and dialog. Once we return from our walk, I get on the computer and browse through news articles, local and current events. Believe it or not… I spend a great amount of time on twitter. I like to find those nuggets of information on screenwriting and filmmaking and share them with the world. In between tweets is usually when I start writing. I always write pen to paper until I have written several pages, then I type in Final Draft. A couple days out of the week I make a morning or afternoon trip to my local Starbucks and write for several hours. I like to people watch and pick up on conversations. This usually leads me to creating new characters and fielding ideas for fresh dialog.”

The Muse That Sparked… The Muse

What inspires a screenwriter?  It can truly be anything.  A casual glance with a stranger on the street or a moment of clarity while you stare at your ceiling before falling asleep.  When it came to ‘A Musing’, David found inspiration on a plane.

“I wrote the first draft of “A Musing” while in-flight from Seattle to Phoenix the first week of June 2010. Inspiration is a funny thing; you never know when it’s going to strike. That was the first thought I had while seated in the plane heading to Phoenix. I built off that thought by imagining the most unobvious place that one might find inspiration; a convenience store. Everyone has passed through a convenience store multiple times, but does inspiration strike while inside one? Probably not… What if the clerk at a convenience store was some kind of oracle of knowledge but he really wasn’t… it was at this point, I had the ending for the story before I had even begun to write. I knew I had something worthy to see on film.”

A Musing: The Film

Finding Your Muse: An Interview With Screenwriter/Director David Spies | Screenwriting Blog

David partnered with cinematographer and editor Phil Seneker.  The two combined forces to start gathering all the elements needed to get the film made.  The team took their project to Kickstarter hoping to leverage large twitter followings and savvy social media skills to secure the funding they needed.

It’s truly incredible what you can do when you use social media sites like Twitter to your advantage.  The filmmaking community online is extremely helpful and through many contacts, websites and other sources of traffic, they reached their goal.

“I built our website We received so much support from the filmmaking community on our project, we moved forward with “plan A” the entire duration of our campaign. Julie Keck and Jessica King provided outstanding support for ‘A Musing’ by creating a video just for us! Additional support came from being featured on Rex Sikes Movie Beat. During our radio interview with Rex, we met and exceeded our Kickstarter goal! It was awesome!”

Check out their successful Kickstarter campaign here.

XTRA: Read my 3 part interview with Phil Holbrook, Julie Keck and Jessica King for more on indie film, screenwriting, Twitter, Kickstarter and how they produced the feature film: Tilt.

Production Begins

A Musing Short Film David Spies Phil Seneker

Every film set is different yet they all share many similarities when it comes to scheduling, locations and various unforeseen challenges.  True, there are some nightmares every now and then but I truly believe if you surround yourself with passionate and dedicated people, the experience is unforgettable.

It’s what makes filmmaking so much fun.

The one thing that was clear from the beginning is how much David loved the experience of making ‘A Musing’.  It’s evident in the amount of detail he offered on the day to day adventures on set.

“I was very impressed with the punctuality and professionalism of the cast and crew every day on set. However, scheduling of scenes was heavily condensed on the first day. Thursday Sept 30th – Our call time was 6:30am at the Sloop Tavern on Market Street. This shoot was seamless and we captured a lot of great takes. Andrew McMasters, Stephanie Hilbert and Mark Carr were great! We wrapped just after 11:00am and had lunch. The cast and crew then made their way over to Greenlake Park for a 12:00pm call time. The backdrop of the park on this warm sunny day made for the perfect shoot. Andrew McMasters and Andy Tribolini were the perfect combination for the park bench scene. We wrapped about 4:00pm then a break for dinner.

A Musing Short Film David Spies

Our next location was the Locks Deli & Grocery on Market Street. We had a 9:30pm call time. This is when it started getting interesting… After being up all day and night, we stretched our production into the following morning. Things were getting a little fuzzy… washing down Baklava from the display case with convenience store drip coffee is what kept most of us going… There were multiple takes due to framing, blocking and lighting. The lighting technicians did a fantastic job on toning down the hard fluorescent light with a mix of incandescent bulbs and filters. By the end of this shoot, I did learn that one aspect of the AD’s position is like a parrot with a stopwatch. It always followed me around… We wrapped an hour over schedule at 3:30am.

Our next location was 1 Union downtown Seattle for the office scenes. We had a 10:00am call time. I recognized some little issues while on set, such as improvising scene shots due to location space, lighting and props. During an office scene an actor’s RF MIC disconnected. There were about 10 of us in a 12×14 office. The audio tech was picking up the ambient as well as the direct sound from the other actors MIC, so we didn’t notice until well after the shoot. It wasn’t anything that couldn’t be fixed later in post. Paul Eenhoorn and Andrew McMasters performed exceptionally well during the office scenes. They really seemed to hit it off and that created a perfect dynamic for the scenes.

Finding Your Muse: An Interview With Screenwriter/Director David Spies | Screenwriting Blog

My favorite of all scenes was at Art Forte in Pioneer Square, downtown Seattle. The lighting was warm and inviting and the artwork was perfect for our shoot. Andrew McMasters and Tonya Yorke were the perfect match for the art gallery scene. You could feel the chemistry in the air. We wrapped our final scene about 10:00pm. It was a wonderful experience working with the entire cast and crew of A Musing.”

The Finished Film

“Phil and his sound team have been working on editing and music for some time. It became a long process as there were several changes to the film edit and music along the way. In addition to editing A Musing, Phil also dedicated his time to color correction and has indicated that A Musing Film is complete as of Feb 2, 2011!”

‘A Musing’ will now take on the festival circuit.

What’s Next?

“I’ve written another short and currently laying the groundwork to fund this project. I plan to cast two of the main roles prior to releasing any details.”

What’s Your Muse?

“My muse is all around me. It’s a collection of thoughts, ideas and experiences that I come into contact with on a daily basis. It’s when serendipity strikes that my muse is born. It’s being in the right place at the right time, developing your thoughts and building off experience. It’s a matter of recognizing those unique moments in life and capturing them, writing them down on paper before they are lost.”

Finding your muse can be difficult for some and easy for others.  No matter which category you fall into, what really counts is the incredible rush of creative energy you feel when inspiration hits.  It’s all built on a foundation of passion and belief that you can create anything you want.  You just have to do it!

Special thanks to David Spies and the ‘A Musing’ cast and crew.

PS: Follow David Spies and Phil Seneker immediately.

How Diddy’s COMING HOME Inspired My New Screenplay

January 10, 2011 at 10:17 pm

Why Diddy's COMING HOME Inspired My New Screenplay

I haven’t touched on music much on this blog but it’s an extremely important aspect in my screenwriting process.  Absolutely vital.

Forgive the expression but I believe you need to ‘hear the music’ in your script as you write it.

Experiment:  Think about your latest screenplay.  Picture each scene with whatever soundtrack you have in your head.  Lets say you’re writing an action adventure with hard rock blasting in your mind.  Now picture the same scenes with something completely different like opera or jazz.  Changes things doesn’t it?

Subconsciously, I think every screenwriter has a basic idea of the kind of music they feel would fit in their movie.  These songs inform your decisions and can help you pace the story in your mind.

But there is another way to use music to your advantage.

Sometimes, a song that has no business in your story keeps popping up.  You know it will never fit and yet you can’t stop playing it while you work.

It inspires you.

Diddy – Dirty Money is a perfect example of a random tune that inspired me.  I’m not sure why but I’m happy it did.

‘Coming Home’ has virtually nothing to do with the style of story I’m currently developing.  Or does it?  I suppose you can never really know when you are in the development stage. 

Maybe it’s perfect?

Essentially, this leads me to two conclusions:  Either the song really does have a place in this movie and I just don’t see it yet or it’s fate that the song came along right when I needed a source of inspiration. 

Inspiration that will ultimately make my screenplay better.

The point is, you can never predict which tunes will fit or which will inspire you.  You just need to be thankful that they exist.

I’ll never know why this song makes me think of my new script.  Perhaps I never will.  But years from now, I’ll randomly hear this song and it will remind me of my story and my passion for writing screenplays.

You can’t ask for a greater impact from a song.

Movies That Changed Everything: Pulp Fiction

August 15, 2010 at 11:02 pm

Movies That Changed Everything: Pulp Fiction

I’m an aspiring filmmaker.  Like every filmmaker out there, I have a lengthy list of films that have inspired me along the way.  This series will examine twelve of the films that changed the way I looked at movies forever.  Films that have greatly influenced the filmmaker I hope to become someday…

Pulp Fiction

Movies That Changed Everything: Pulp Fiction

My favorite filmmakers come up with their own stories and usually write the screenplays themselves.

This is where Quentin Tarantino shines.

I definitely love his movies.  Pulp Fiction, Resevoir Dogs and Inglourious Basterds are among my all time favorites.

Yet it’s his unbelievable command of the screenwriting craft that inspires me.

I love original tales and when I saw Pulp Fiction, I saw one of the most original and entertaining movies ever produced.

Pulp Fiction literally changed the way people structured their movies.  Since it was released, countless writers have stated their new scripts have a ‘Pulp Fiction Style’.

Broken time lines became common place once Tarantino made it cool.

Everything he does is cool.  Pulp Fiction is cool.

It’s impossible not to be impressed by the simple nature of the story and the complex way it’s presented. As a screenwriter, it made me pay more attention to the way I structure my screenplays.  Not to make them more like Tarantino’s films but to truly ask myself:

“How can I make this better?”

It’s an important question and a lesson I’m thankful I learned.  You have to constantly ask yourself if there are ways to make the story better. You have to create new elements that raise the bar.  Screenwriting exists eventually to entertain an audience.

Pulp Fiction definitely entertains and it’s entirely thanks to Quentin’s incredible imagination and vision.  The risks he takes truly shows the confidence he has in his knowledge of film.

Take the brief case for example.  Inside is a strange orange glowing light.

I have no idea what that is.

Yet somehow, Tarantino was secure enough to leave that information out.  It’s fascinating to watch. It’s seems simple but leaving out information like that could back fire so easily.

It’s a testament to his immense knowledge of movies.  The man is an encyclopedia.

His attention to detail literally changed the way I looked at my own work forever.  I now consider every little detail I can.  Every line in a screenplay should accomplish multiple things.  Tarantino taught me that a single line of dialogue can move the story forward, tell us about the characters and be entertaining.

I feel like writing now just thinking about all of the genius lines in Pulp Fiction.

Countless people have studied and written about his skills as a writer and director.  I just happy I have legendary movies like Pulp Fiction to turn to when I need inspiration.

Movies That Changed Everything: Pulp Fiction

The Importance Of The Screenwriter’s Notebook

June 17, 2010 at 9:41 am

The Athletic Nerd: Screenwriting

I was in Walmart a few days ago picking up a few things when I passed the “back to school section”.

Rows of pens, books, rulers, erasers and most importantly…  Notebooks.

I like buying notebooks. Especially when I’ve just filled one up with movie ideas and I need a new one.

It’s no secret I consider myself a nerd but honestly, there’s something exciting about a blank notebook isn’t there?

It’s inspiring.

Every screenwriter is loyal to their method of writing down ideas for films.  We all collect our thoughts somewhere.

  • Some people have folders full of stories on hard drives or in filing cabinets.
  • Some people have bins full of napkins, post its and bits of paper.
  • Some people, like me, enjoy a blank page and a good pen.

My new notebook is going to be home to two specific projects in the coming months.

  • A new feature script I want to write in the fall.
  • An eBook I’ve been planning for a long time.

I think one of the advantages of writing it down first is you eventually have to type it up.  It’s almost like a forced rewrite.

I also love going back and reading notes I wrote long ago for forgotten stories.

Sometimes, those stories make come backs.  Sometimes, they bring back memories.

Either way it’s good news.

The Importance Of The Screenwriter's Notebook | Screenwriting Blog