“The Heart of a Good Story”
Posted on January 27, 2016 by Donald L. Vasicek
Donald L. Vasicek – Rabbit Ears Pass – Colorado
“The Heart of a Good Story”
By BOB GILLEN | Published: MARCH 23, 2014
“A Writer’s Passion”
“The heart of an engaging story resides in the heart and mind of the person writing the story. It is passion and where that passion takes you as a writer.”
Writer Don Vasicek
So says Don Vasicek, the founder and owner ofOlympus Films+, LLC, a global writing and filmmaking company. “This passion is reflected through the writer’s characters and the story. Each character, each location in the story, and each occurrence that takes place in, with and between the characters and in the story, should reflect that passion.
“The Crown, the first screenplay I wrote,” says Vasicek, “is a coming-of-age story about a boy who sets out to win $25,000 in a car race to use for an operation to save his Gramps from dying. The heart of the story emerged from within my heart and mind. I possessed a desire to show how vital love is.”
Driven by a Will to Succeed
“This desire was exacerbated by my will to succeed because I grew up in an environment that rejected my efforts to love and to be loved. The Crown shows how love elevates a boy to success and happiness. That passion still burns very deeply inside of me. It is like a roaring fire and it has been reflected in the heart of every engaging story I have written. Love is my passion. It always results as the heart of the engaging stories that I write.”
Indeed, Vasicek’s passion has lead him to teach, mentor, and consult on scripts for over 400 writers, directors, producers, actors and production companies.
“The Crown went on to win several screenplay competitions,” he says, “snared me a WGA agent, opened other writing doors for me, received a stage reading, and was purchased and produced by Incline Productions Inc. and aired on cable.”
Story: Beyond the Mere Telling to Magic
Vasicek believes all writers should be aware of the difference between showing and telling when writing a story. “The key here,” he says, “is the use of verbs. Write a sentence with a passive verb. For example, ‘The sky is blue.’ Well, that is something all of us know. But, where is the magic? It is absent because the sentence shows no action. The sentence shows no action because the verb in the sentence, ‘is’, is passive. So, what if, instead, the sentence was written with an action verb: ‘Space constitutes a vault over the earth that is blue in color.’ Here, the action verb, ‘constitutes’, imparts information about the sky that goes beyond blue.
“Look at the usage of verbs in a screenplay or story that you’ve written. What do you see?” Vasicek asks. “I would be willing to bet that those sentences that contain action verbs give you far more confidence that your writing is going where you want it to go than with sentences that contain passive verbs.
“For practice, if you want to improve your writing, take sentences you have written using passive verbs and change those verbs to action verbs. You will find that doing this is hard work. It causes you to think through what you are wanting to accomplish in the sentence.
“The resultant effect is that you will improve the sentence, which embellishes and dimensionalises your story, and you have grown as a writer. This, to me, is taking your writing beyond telling and making it magic because you’re adding heart/passion to what you have written by expanding upon what you have written. Making your writing magic through the use of action verbs deepens your ability to take your writing to the next level.”
Story Elements That Transcend All Media
I asked Vasicek if there are elements of story that transcend all media, even non-fiction and personal branding. “If you watch television commercials (how can we not these days?), you will notice that the good ones eclipse failures non-fiction and personal branding media exhibit because they have a beginning, a middle, and an end to a story.
“Effective TV commercials sustain a theme that holds the story, characters and action together. They contain a main character and they have an antagonist.” Vasicek clarifies that television commercials can have a person or persons or an inanimate or animate object opposing the main character, but unlike in fiction, not a villain because no one wants to involve evil in their TV ads.
“Both the main character and the antagonist are seeking the same goal, but the main character is going about achieving it via positive means while the antagonist is doing what he/she can do to succeed via negative means.”
Saving Animals With Detergent“Dawn soap’s ‘Saving Animals from Oil Spills’ is an example of a cogent commercial.
It contains a story, animals and oil spills. The story is oil spills. It has characters. The bad guy is oil spills. The good guy is the animals. The theme is oil spills. The goal of both the main character and the bad guy is to utilize the environment, the good guy for survival, the bad guy for survival (by getting rid of harmful oils into the environment).
“Elements of story that transcend all media, including non-fiction and personal branding, require a story, a main character with a goal, a bad guy with the same goal, a theme that holds everything together, a literal mixing of oil and water, e.g., ‘Saving Animals from Oil Spills’, which creates conflict, and without conflict, there is no drama, and without drama, everything you write falls flat and will not evolve. So, a mixing of dualities, the mingling of opposites, or a dichotomy seals together the story, the character and the action to take your writing to a level that exceeds what media, even non-fiction and personal branding, spend thousands of dollars striving to achieve.”
“Unsung Hero Come to Life”
Vasicek’s current passion is a feature film, titled “The Captain”, about Silas Soule, a US Army captain who refused to participate in the slaughter of native Americans at Sand Creek, Colorado, in 1864. When a treacherous massacre was ordered against Cheyenne and Arapahoe tribe members camped near a Colorado fort, Silas held his unit back from the killing. He became a symbol of heroism for his bravery in bringing the truth about the massacre to light. Later he paid the price as the victim of an assassination at the hand of one of the soldiers involved in the massacre.
Marcinho Savant, the executive producer on the project, says of Vasicek, “His passion has become my own. I’m honored to play some small role in telling the truth for the benefit of the Cheyenne and Arapaho victims of this horrendous slaughter.”
See more on the Sand Creek Massacre film (https://www.facebook.com/TheCaptainMovie/)
About Don Vasicek
Don Vasicek serves on the board of directors of the American Indian Genocide Museum in Houston. He is presently raising money for Ghost of Sand Creek, a mini-series/documentary.
Vasicek studied producing, directing and line producing at the Hollywood Film Institute under Dov Simens and at Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute. He studied screenwriting at The Complete Screenplay, Inc., with Sally Merlin (White Squall), daughter of the famed Hollywood Merlin family of screenwriters and writers, as his mentor.
Vasicek has written and published over 500 books, short stories and articles. His books include How To Write, Sell, And Get Your Screenplays Producedand The Write Focus.
For more see Don Vasicek’s website (donvasicek.com)
– See more at: http://donvasicek.com/#sthash.lQHnERm6.dpuf
Interview with Writer/Filmmaker Donald L. Vasicek, The Filmmaker Lifestyle – “A Writer’s Passion”
Interview With Filmmaker Donald L. Vasicek on Post-Production Audio:
The Gigi Iam Show/Los Angeles
-Interview with screenwriter/director Don Vasicek by Genie Davis
Produced screenwriter/director Don Vasicek has sold an independent feature screenplay, worked as a writer/consultant on a high budget studio film, and written and directed several documentary film projects. He’s currently at work on a variety of projects, and has some insightful comments about selling his work and developing material.
Q: Don your first sale, a truism in the film industry, was a tough one – Tell us a little about your first screenplay sale – how it came about, and how it has led to other opportunities for your work?
A: My first screenplay sale was an action/adventure film titled THE CROWN about a kid who sets out to win $25,000 in a muscle car race to pay for an operation to save his Gramps’s life. I wrote it sixteen years ago when a friend told me Disney had launched a satellite for its cable channel and were looking for writers and scripts. It took me two weeks to write the script. Two weeks later, a New York agency took it to Disney. Even though they passed on it, I was hooked with writing screenplays.
THE CROWN went through several incarnations during the next sixteen years. Each time, it opened a new door for me. It was awarded screenwriting recognition in the “Writer’s Digest” Scripts Competition, Houston’s WorldFest International Film Festival, The Writer’s Network, the Chesterfield Film Company’s Writer’s Film Project and Sundance’s Screenwriter’s Lab Pool.
THE CROWN also played an integral role in helping me get work with American Pictures Corp, Inc. on two of their feature films, BORN TO KILL and THE LOST HEART, as a writer/associate producer. It also helped me develop a script consulting business that grew to over 200 clients.
THE CROWN also was optioned four times each time failing to get produced because Hollywood thought it was too small for them, or not large enough, whatever way you want to look at it. In 1996, I responded to an ad in “The Hollywood Reporter” advertising for feature scripts and sent the script to a producer in Arizona. Incline Productions, Inc. called a year later, told me that after reading about a thousand scripts, THE CROWN jumped out at them. They purchased it in 1997. It was produced in 1999 and the name was changed to BORN TO WIN. Although it was agreed by contract that I would receive single card screen credit for writing the screenplay, the producer breached the contract, gave me original story screen credit and gave herself the writing credit.
The sale has led to film industry interviews and requests for articles on screenwriting which have made me more visible in the film industry. It also helped me get a writer/consulting job on MGM’s $56 million WARRIORS OF VIRTUE. The sale has made it possible to get my other scripts into major studios and mainstream companies without agents.
Q: You’re working on a new project now, going into production within the next year. Let’s look a little closer at your pending production. Can you tell us a little about what you’re doing with the script, which you are directing yourself, and how you’ve gone about raising financing for the project?
A: The project is titled CATCHING THE FALL. It is an edgy medical thriller/drama about a guy whose past is catching up with him. I wrote the script and got it to a major studio. They told me it was a good read and a fine story, said to bring back strong attachments and they would talk. Since then, I’ve gotten a variety of people interested in the project including an entertainment attorney who wants to executive produce it and manage me. I went through a Canadian film development company and literary agency to put the project together with financing and distributing people who have a direct line into William Morris. They are still considering their options until I get someone major attached.
So, I am continuing to shop the project in hopes of finding a major producer who will lead me to a major star and back to the major studio. The major goals are that we get distribution, we make CATCHING THE FALL into an independent film and that I direct the film.
As we are doing this, I have implemented another strategy. I have signed a contract to write two large action scripts. One, that I co-wrote, WITHOUT WARNING, is making the rounds in Hollywood. We are getting a pretty good positive response with it. This is helping spread my name about and getting people interested in talking with me about doing work for them as well as considering CATCHING THE FALL. Major Hollywood players are waiting for synopses of the two major action scripts to see what they will do with me and CATCHING THE FALL.
Q: With a sale under your belt, the experience of a writing/consulting job with a major studio, the numerous contacts you have made and the exposure you are getting and the focus you have placed on your new project, CATCHING THE FALL, what would you say has been the watershed project in terms of being able to get your work made the way you want it to be?
A: Without doubt, THE CROWN has gotten me to where I am today. And I’ll tell you something about that project particularly after having written eleven other feature scripts, I wrote THE CROWN from my heart. There was passion in the writing. I was driven by my desire to show the love between a boy and his Gramps.
CATCHING THE FALL has the same passion in it as THE CROWN. I wrote it from my heart. My passion to show the love a father has for his son and his brother transcended the drive to write a commercial script and I have succeeded again. Mainstream and independent film people who have read CATCHING THE FALL give me the same kudos I received with THE CROWN.
Q: What would you say has been the best project for you so far, in terms of creative fulfillment, and in terms of that elusive substance screenwriters are really after. Financial gain? If they’re different projects, do you think that says something about the film industry as a whole, or just in terms of your experience?
A: That is a very astute and perceptive question. I have to say that CATCHING THE FALL has fulfilled me more creatively than any other project I’ve worked on. It is more fulfilling than THE CROWN, for example, because I have grown as a human being since I wrote THE CROWN. I am more mature and I have gotten rid of some trash I was carrying inside of me. I can visualize the images I want to put on film more vividly and more graphically, with a keener and more experienced eye. I can hear the sounds in CATCHING THE FALL better. I can smell the smells and touch the hearts of the characters and feel their reactions to what I have given them.
In terms of “that elusive substance screenwriters are really after”, I have to say that I believe the TRUE screenwriter gives no thought of financial gain. They think in terms of letting something out from inside of themselves that is tearing them apart inside. To get it out on paper in a coherent form eradicates that pain, that agony, that fear, that something that rips at them like the razor sharp claws of a panther.
Q: Can you tell us about your upcoming projects? Do you feel that you write to one particular theme, or in a specific genre? If so, what and why?
A: You have the ability to reach down inside and pull the best out of me, Genie. My upcoming projects consist of developing CATCHING THE FALL as a writer/filmmaker, writing two action scripts, writing a romantic comedy and writing a film noir script.
I have a propensity to write about love, family and relationships even though I incorporate other themes around those. I have written several suspense thrillers, a psychosexual thriller and an action drama that are intense and fit the genres very well. However, love, family and relationships appear in them as well.
The reason why I’m attracted to writing about love, family and relationships goes back to my childhood. I had bad parenting. It reflected outwardly in relation to the community I grew up in. I tried to earn love by excelling in sports. I felt this gave me a better chance for love, family and relationships within the community rather than in my own family.
Q: Any writing advice for newbies out there in terms of the creative process–and tell us a little about how often you write, how you plan your work, what your future plans are.
A: Writing screenplays requires dedication, commitment, courage, endurance and perseverance. There is no accomodation. It is a highly demanding craft. My advice to newbies is to look inside of yourselves for the best stories. You cannot write effectively unless you can write with passion and the way you can write with passion is to explore those issues that make your heart boil inside of you. This approach will bring out the best stories that you can write, by far and drive you through the challenges of writing screenplays.
I write everyday, usually early on in the morning until mid-to-late afternoon.
I plan my work just before I go to sleep. I lay it out and then focus on visualizing images of what I want my characters to be like and how I want my story to move forward. Soon, I am sleeping and when I awake, I am ready to implement my plan for the day.
My future plans are to write and direct feature films. I have written, directed and produced a couple of documentary films that I found to be very rewarding. So, I am also planning on doing more documentaries as well.
Q: How does it feel to direct your own work?
A: My, what a wonderful question. Directing my own work is a feeling of excitement, wonder, happiness and terror. It is a feeling of total control. It is a feeling of no control at all. It is a feeling of walking into a surreal world where reality consists of putting images on film that originated in my mind and heart in the solitary confinement of my office where it was safe and secure like being in the womb.
The excitement is knowing that I control my destiny with respect to my screenplay. The wonder is being aware that so many other people are dependent upon me to do their jobs, and it all comes from the script I wrote and the images I have in mind to get them on film. The happiness is that I am able to breathe life into my characters and story working with so many others so that others can share the experience. The terror is fearing that I will miss something crucial because of the immense responsibility directing a film requires.
Directing my own work is a feeling of focus so intense, so concentrated that if anyone touches me, they burn their finger or hand. The thrill of making my written work come to life on film transcends life itself for me. When I write a screenplay, I can see, hear, touch, smell and feel my characters. I get inside of the story and live it as the characters live it. Directing it, then, results in taking this intimate and passionate experience and making it come to life through the magic of human beings and film.
Genie Davis has completed twelve feature film scripts, five in partnership. Represented by Shapiro Lichtman Stein, she’s currently writing for ABC Daytime Television.