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The “Oh God, Now What?!” Stage: Ron Falzone on Writer’s Block

May 6, 2011 | By | Add a Comment

For more on Ron Falzone check out A Script In 2 Hours: Ron Falzone on “Typing”

Jordan Poast

For Chicago-area screenwriter Ron Falzone, the first step of the creative process is the most blissful. “To me, nothing is more exciting than a blank piece of paper. That inspires me like you wouldn’t believe.”

Yet for all its splendor, the unmarked page can often be a double-edged sword.  While in its ideal state it represents limitless possibilities for creative expression, at its worst it marks one of the most dreaded obstacles a wordsmith will face: writer’s block.

Falzone, a seasoned and award-winning scribe who splits his time serving as associate professor at Columbia College, is all too familiar with the inexorable menace of artistic stagnation.  In order to combat such a scourge, he has implemented a series of unique tactics that have helped to jump-start his imagination.

One such method is the “word play,” wherein Falzone will take a single word and exhaust every avenue of its potential meaning, weaving all definitions into a cohesive script.  The writer has even found enormous success with such a device, as one of his “word plays” was recently made into a short film, Typing, which was exhibited at last year’s Chicago International Film Festival.

Yet, while such exercises help Ron with starting a project, allowing him to overcome his “What do I Do?!” period, he employs other devices to work through a second form of writer’s block occurring in the middle of a script, what he refers to as the “Oh God, Now What?!” stage.  Falzone has come to conclude that this second form of blockage occurs when he is too rigidly structuring the narrative of the story, plotting its course rather than letting it organically flow from him.

To break himself from these habits, Falzone has constructed a distinctive and ingenious technique for character rejuvenation.  If he ever writes himself into a dead end with no way of progressing the story, Falzone throws a completely irrational or arbitrary item into play, then examines how his characters might react from there.  “I can be writing a scene between two lovers set in present-day New York and if I don’t know where it’s going, I’ll insert something like a zeppelin in the window.  It’ll be the first thing that pops into my head.  Now, since the characters are reacting, they become reignited in my mind.”

Still from "Typing"

Falzone finds that this unconventional method loosens the shackles he places on his story prior, forcing the scribe to follow the wild ride that he sets into motion rather than dragging it begrudgingly to its end. “Suddenly, I’m no longer thinking about a predetermined path that I’m trying to impose on the story.  I’m just following a whole new idea to its logical conclusion.  Instead of thinking how the characters will cleave to the path I’ve chosen, now they have to get out of a situation and I can’t help them.”  After the game has played itself out, Falzone will then simply go back into the script, cut out the arbitrary element, and stitch the piece back together.  The narrative then progresses seamlessly, with the reader unaware of the manner in which it was achieved.

According to Ron, this method not only facilitates a smoother development of plot and theme, but it also gives him a definite sense of how autonomous his characters are.  “If the characters are well enough constructed then they will have an internal logic that deals with the arbitrary problem in their own particular way.  If I haven’t appropriately built their logic then they will fall apart.”  Thus, the device serves multiple functions to Falzone.  Not only does it breathe new life into his story by eliminating contrivances, it also acts as a measuring stick for his characters’ development.

While in most cases, Falzone will cut out the arbitrary element before finishing the piece, the writer has found on a number of occasions that even a brief sojourn to the bizarre can cause his scenarios to spin out of his control.  Such is the case when Falzone wrote the script for his mob comedy, Safe and Affordable, in 2004. Towards the tail end of his story about a Mafia princess seeking to profess her hitwoman aspirations to her Don father, the scribe found himself slamming head-first into a figurative wall.

Still from "Typing"

Unable to find a way to get his protagonist and her father to an interesting location where they would have their resolution, Falzone implanted his random element: a miniature train.  He wrote in a final scene where the girl and her father board a children’s carnival train located in their back yard, and proceed into a comedic high-speed shoot-out with the FBI.

While originally meant to be a simple element best left on the cutting room floor, Falzone found that the incorporation of the train took his script out of his control.  The most significant action of the show collided with the emotional crux, a conversation between the girl and her father, leading to a crescendoing whirlwind of action and whimsy.

Finding the final scene’s comical climax perfectly in keeping with the farcical theme of the show, Falzone kept the scene in rather than alter it.  Now, according to Ron, everyone that reads the script points to that scene as their favorite moment, a fact that Falzone can’t help but find funny when considering its genesis.

“Sometimes you have to get out of your head, get out of the world, get out of everything you created and just throw something at them that’s completely unexpected.  99 out of 100 times it’ll work.  But [the train sequence] was a time where it took on a life of its own.  It’s the happiest accident I ever had writing.”

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