Twin Peaks Muses and their Secrets.

Twin PeaksTwin Peaks: The Entire Mystery‘ is now out on Blu-ray DVD (including deleted David Bowie scenes.) To celebrate its release yesterday, I’m very excited to welcome UK film maker & screenwriter Zennis to my blog with his superb article.

WARNING: Some minor spoilers may affect your enjoyment of Twin Peaks.

Prior to its debut airing on 8 April, 1990, Television had never before known anything remotely like the show that co-creator David Lynch chose to set in the northwest logging town of Twin Peaks. Nearly quarter of a century on, Television hasn’t known anything like it since.

The inhabitants of Twin Peaks are rarely what they seem. For the most part they are, in themselves, manifestations of the secrecy that engulfs them like the town’s surrounding forest, itself darkly cloaking their illicit desires and fantasies played out in the local bordello, ‘One-eyed Jacks’ – reached only by a murky water crossing, as if to symbolize the elusive ‘truth’ lurking deep beneath the surface of all that is visible.

Washed up on the shore of this truth, the most mysterious Twin Peaks resident appears in the opening minutes: a beauty queen ‘filled with secrets’ and delivered to us plastic-wrapped (as opposed to the tight-sweater wrapping usually preferred by Lynch for his female twin-peakers).


Thus the series is furnished with its first and most compelling dramatic question: Exactly who – or what - killed Laura Palmer? Indeed it is this burning unknown that must be made known by the show’s seeker-protagonist detective, Dale Cooper, an FBI Special Agent with powers of perception to rival Sherlock Holmes. Simply put, ‘Cooper is able to sees things that other people can’t,’ according to one of the series episode directors, Lesli Linka Glatter.

Naturally our detective has his very own Doctor Watson sidekick – here in the form of the local Sheriff and all-round-stand-up guy, Harry Truman – but Cooper seems more ably aided (although as often hindered) by his three muses, all of whom are as intriguing as each other in the secrets stakes. If ever there were riddles truly wrapped in mysteries inside enigmas, they are these young women conceived inside Lynch’s Jungian mind.

stonefennFirstly, there is Audrey Horne (played by the circumflex-eyebrowed Sherilyn Fenn), who can knot a cherry stalk with her tongue and scare off a smörgåsbord of her wealthy father’s business partners with a one-minute performance of feigned grief for her brutally murdered friend – quickly prompting the audience to ponder on the deeper cause of such provocative behavior by this saddle-shoed minx.

As for the chemistry we feel instantly bubbling beneath the surface between Agent Cooper and Audrey (at their first meeting, she serves his breakfast table in her tight-form cardigan, prompting him to ask if the grapefruits are freshly squeezed), Glatter states: ‘Audrey knows what she wants and how to get it … There was definitely a kind of unspoken sensuality there.’

Later, when she turns up naked between Cooper’s sheets, he declines her offer, stating: “Secrets are dangerous things, Audrey”. But exactly what is Audrey’s mysterious secret?

According to Fenn it’s her virginity. For despite all indicators to the contrary it is intact: ‘She absolutely hasn’t been with anybody,’ Fenn has said of her character in interview. ‘She acts like she has. She wants to. That is her secret.’

Indeed, when Cooper asks Audrey how old she is at their very first meeting she stares him straight in the eye when replying, “eighteen”. Clearly no more blind than we are to the ‘old enough’ subtext here, Cooper replies without blinking, “I’ll see you later Audrey,” then exits with his heroic code of conduct established.

Of Fenn’s character, David Lynch, hints at what may be rooted in Audrey’s psyche: ‘Uh, well, she has trouble at home,’ whilst Glatter plumbs these depths further, commenting on Audrey’s decision to turn detective herself: ‘Audrey wants to know all the secrets. Because of her lack of relationship with her father, she lives in that darker world. If she has the secret she has the power.’

unnamedAnd then there is Agent Cooper’s second muse, Shelly Johnson (played by Mädchen Amick), a bad-boy magnet who does for her waitress uniform what Barbarella did for, well, every costume she ever wore, and who clearly knows how to do more than just pour a damn fine cup of coffee because she quickly teams up with Laura Palmer’s former boyfriend, Bobby Briggs, to shoot Shelly’s husband, Leo, who has a penchant for abusive behavior and an abundance of plastic sheeting in his unfinished house…

Summing up Shelley, episode director Tim Hunter says, ‘Mudchen’s character always knows what’s going on. She’s very manipulative in a very subtle way.’

unnamed-1Finally comes Cooper’s third muse in the form of Donna Hayward (played by Lara Flynn Boyle), the butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-my-mouth Miss goodie-two-shoes, set up early on when a policeman enters her class during morning registration. We effectively see the rest of the scene as if through Donna’s empathic eyes: first as she looks at the policeman whispering in her teacher’s ear, then at another female student screaming as she runs past the window outside, and then to an empty chair that we immediately understand to be Laura Palmer’s.

Donna shares this establishing ‘non-dit’ moment by exchanging a look with Laura’s former secret lover, James Hurley, and then clasping her hand to her heart, mumbling Laura’s name before breaking down in tears. When the teacher tells the class there will shortly be an announcement from the principal, the scene’s end is punctuated by James’ pencil snapping in his hand. This is a sequence with all the power of an iceberg, revealing only its shining tip yet making us feel much, much more. Hemingway would be proud.

So here we are, not half way into the first episode and we could already be forgiven for wondering of Donna: surely nobody can be this sensitive and good in Twin Peaks? Indeed, only a few hours after this unspoken announcement of her best friend’s death, Donna promptly falls into the arms of the grieving James.

In narrative terms, if the ellipsis is about the gap (or the parts of the story withheld from us by the story-teller), then it is effectively about secrets – and Agent Cooper’s muses are nothing if not bundles of secrets; each one a key-keeper to doors that loath to be unlocked; each a majestic vessel positively brimming with the unknown.

If you haven’t watched Twin Peaks yet then you’re not just missing out on one of the best TV shows ever, you’re also missing out on one of the best examples of storytelling, fullstop.

Check out this interview with co-creator David Lynch. And for Zennis’ complete take on Twin Peaks, check out his essay here.

Formerly a Hollywood-based product placement specialist, in addition to all the major studios Zennis has worked closely with the producer partners of Tom Cruise, Steven Spielberg, and Michael Bay. Currently evolving from film marketer into film-maker, he is now on the last furlong of his Master’s at Newport Film School. Of his first award-winning short, ‘Drink?’, BBC programming chief, Sian Thomas, said: “This winning film had impact and style from the outset … It was targeted and hard hitting.” More recently, after 50,000+ online film viewings and giant screenings across the UK, the judging panel of the British Big Voice Festival (headed by Lord David Puttnam) awarded its 2012 Silver Prize to the first-cut of his most recent short, ‘Shine’. His film-making is now focused on a pilot adapted from the novel he has been writing for more moons than he can remember. All other things Zen can be found on his website at

on ze zen couch

Dissecting Dexter.

For those of you who missed my series of posts on Dexter, here is an easy access list.

The posts dissect one episode to see how theme is represented.

It checks dialogue tricks and techniques.

We see that the Climax is the longest scene, built up to with a series of shorter scenes.

We learn how much screen time Dexter has.

We see how many scenes have 2 characters, 3 characters, how many are ensemble.

We discover a 3 act structure, and much, much more.

Here are the posts. I hope you learn as much from them as I have.

1. Episode Breakdown: Scene by Scene.

2. Structure and Scene Length.

3. Characters in Scenes.

4. Interesting Script Facts.

5. Dexter’s Screen Time.

6. Titles and Meanings.

7. Old Cliches Die Hard.

8.a) Dialogue: Angel Batista.

8.b) Dialogue: Joey Quinn.

8.c) Dialogue: Debra Morgan.

9. Dialogue Technique: Answering Questions with Questions.

10. The Climax





Eli Gold

Want to write powerful dialogue? Context is all.

Great dialogue doesn’t have to be flighty and fancy. Sure, it’s great to come up with fantastic one-liners, like Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore‘s

I love the smell of napalm in the morning.

or Don Corelone’s

I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.

But often the most powerful lines come not from brilliant syntax and linguistic gymnastics, but from context.

Take Eli Gold’s words in the the final episode of season 5 of The Good Wife:

Why is everything so difficult?

Because we know Eli, we’ve seen him struggling, we know almost everything he does is self-less and to help other people, so when he says these words we really empathize with him. We feel his angst. We know what he means. It resonates with us and we connect with him.

Not only that, the line is delivered with such gravitas by actor Alan Cumming –  who exerts 100% energy, passion and emotion into every moment – that we really feel the weight of the world on his shoulders as he forces out these simple yet truthful, painful words.

So, when writing your script, don’t think all of your dialogue has to sing with florid extravagance or every line has to equal the genius of Colonel Kilgore or Don Corleone.

I forget which writer said ‘the lines you love the most are the ones you need to cut.’ But this is often true.

Sure, we all want to write the brilliant one-liner that will speak to a generation or a culture and there’s nothing wrong that. I do it myself and hate to let them go. Unfortunately sometimes we have to ‘kill our darlings.’

But rest assured, it’s been proven over and over again that in the greatest drama the simplest lines are often the most powerful.

Context is all.



Is your criminal a hero?

Steve McQueenJohn Truby says the ‘Criminal as Hero’ sub-genre of the major Crime genre asks these 3 questions:

1. What is crime?

2. Is society’s view of crime too strict ?

3. In what way is the individual greater than the mass?

- and if he is greater should he be allowed to do what other people are not allowed to do?

-  should the social rules be applied to somebody who is exceptional?

Download John Truby’s Crime Detective Thriller audio class here.

Harry Brown

Moral Vision in Harry Brown

I think the problem with the moral vision in Harry Brown is that the writer – Gary Young – has Harry compare  the Troubles in Northern Ireland with social unrest on the council estates of England.
Harry states that those fighting in Northern Ireland were fighting for ‘a cause’, whereas the youth hurling petrol bombs at riot police on London’s council estates were doing it for ‘entertainment.’
I don’t believe lower class social unrest is ‘entertainment’ at all, but that this anger comes from deep-seated resentment at the rich, ruling classes and at capitalism. I agree with this statement:
“…self-destructive or antisocial behavior is a response to circumstances and not a moral failing.”

- from this article on the Open Democracy website about capitalism and drug legalization.

CHAVS – The Demonization of The Working Classes by Owen Jones looks like a good read on this subject.



Deconstructing Dialogue in The Town (part 3): exposition & theme

We’re analyzing a scene from The Town.

Read the scene.

Watch the scene.

For part 1 of this study, looking at the beats and power play between Doug and Jem, go here.

For part 2, looking at exposition, go here.

In this post we’ll explore how theme emerges from dialogue, thematic subtext from text.

Into the scene:

There’s people I can’t let you walk
away from.
What? Who?
Come on!
A beat. Doug realizes.
Are you serious, Jimmy?
She’s not my kid….
Cut it out. All you give a fuck
about is coke and Xbox and now
you’re trying to play it off you
care about Shyne, come on now!
You know what your fucking problem
You think you’re better than
Mister fucking clean, mister
fucking goddamn high and mighty,
Yeh, I’m better than all these
people, you’re right. I’m better
than anybody in this fucking
Yeah, that’s what you think, but
you grew up right here. Same rules
that I did.
OK. What else?
Who the fuck’s the father?
I know I’m not the father.
You were the one fucking her.
Yeh, and I wasn’t the only one, brother, OK?
She knew I knew I’m not the father
and I have enough respect for her
not to ask her. OK? Because I don’t
think she knows. Alright? Now I
don’t wanna shatter your illusions
here, partner, but there aren’t
enough free clinics here in
Mattapan to find out who the father
of that kid is…
DOUG (cont’d)
And I don’t know who the fuck you
think you are, either. You aren’t
letting me or not letting me do
shit. Alright? Here’s a little
fucking cheat sheet for you. Its
never gonna be me and you and your
sister and Shyne fucking playing
house up there. Alright? You got
it? Get that in your fucking head!
I’m tired of your one way fucking
bullshit. If you wanna see me
again, come down and visit me in


So, what’s going on here in the way of exposition? What are we being exposed to thematically?

Later, at the end of the scene, we find out that Jem’s family took Doug in when his dad went to prison. Doug obviously started to fuck Krista, Jem’s sister – who isn’t mentioned by name here. Krista got pregnant, had a daughter, and from this we learn that she doesn’t know who the father is. Next, Doug, in quite an eloquent way, basically tells Jem his sister was a slut:

…there aren’t enough free clinics here in Mattapan to find out who the father of that kid is.

But this section of the scene is working subtextually on two more levels – interconnected by theme.

1. Krista & Shyne.

Krista’s motherly love for her daughter Shyne is the  reason she later sacrifices her brother and Doug, giving them up to the FBI.

2. Doug’s mother.

When Doug asks his dad, on a visit to prison, why he didn’t look for his mother when she walked out on them, Doug’s dad says  ‘because there was ‘nothing to find.’

He infers because Doug’s mother was no different to all the other single parent girls he sees on  the projects ‘fucking around’ – was no different, in fact, to Krista.

So, underlying this section of dialogue, ostensibly conflict between Doug and Jem about the identity of Shyne’s father, is one of The Town’s major themes: parenthood and its absence.


write the story

“Feedback is a rite of passage” by Scriptcat

When you finish your precious screenplay you’re eager to receive feedback and this can be a vulnerable time for you and the script. This is why you never want to give out your script for a read before it’s ready—only when you’re confident it’s the best draft you can possibly write and you feel that you’re “written out.”  Feedback is an important part of any screenwriter’s growth on their journey, but make sure you don’t set your expectations too high and then become disappointed when you don’t receive the praise you expected.  I think Hemingway said it best:

All you need to do is write truly and not care what the fate of it is.

I think too many aspiring screenwriters write new scripts and suffer under their self-imposed pressure of having to sell it. What are the odds? Astronomical. The safer bet is writing a new script for the sake of telling a story that you need to tell and making sure it’s the best example of your ability. Many times something does not sell but garners you meetings and eventually screenwriting assignment jobs—the bread and butter of working writers.

Many new screenwriters don’t take feedback well or don’t know how to execute the notes that are given.  As they say, “everyone has an opinion” and that’s true, but you need to be able to filter the good feedback from the bad and be open enough to use the good notes and push your screenplay closer to a better draft.  When you’re finally working at a professional level, you’ll need to be a team player and not a diva when it comes to feedback.  Screenwriting is all about the execution of the script and as you continue to write new material you will need to execute your ideas on a professional level. This is necessary to compete in a very crowded and competitive marketplace.

Be careful when open yourself up to feedback and set your expectations too high. We all have expectations after we complete a script.  You know the creative high that you felt during writing and now you might be coming off that high as you turn in your draft and await feedback.  Did you get notes and they are not exactly what you expected?  Were you disappointed they didn’t appreciate the work enough — or maybe didn’t understand it enough?  Maybe they felt your execution was off?  Perhaps you become down on yourself as the insecure voices scream in your head about your lack of ability?  You may even question what you thought was some of your best work only a week ago.  You are not alone my fellow screenwriters.

We all need a pat on the back or just a “job well done” when we finish a screenplay. Most of the time, the pat on the back will come from you alone.  Writing the script is one thing, turning it into your producer and waiting for feedback is entirely another.  It’s easy to take notes personally because your script is your baby and your writing exposes yourself and your talents to criticism.  If you can’t handle criticism, start to work on acceptance of feedback, as it will make your journey as a working writer a lot less bumpy.  Notes and changes are a given with a screenplay.  Perhaps it will make the process easier to always remember that screenwriting is all about rewriting. Detach from the material and expectation from any outcome.  Do not hang on every word or sentence.  You’re not alone.  A writer’s life is a tough job at best.

As screenwriters we must stay open to constructive criticism because screenwriting is all about collaboration.  We will always receive notes because a script is an ever-changing blueprint for a movie.  Once producers, a director and actors get involved there will be many changes and you should welcome the creative input from your co-creators on a project.  These fellow artisans will bring it to an entirely new level of creativity.  You can become frustrated and feel like throwing in the towel if the process gets dragged down by so many changes. Stay positive, focused and persistent at executing the notes and turning in a better script.   Find the passion you had for the first draft and put that energy into shaping a new draft that will please not only yourself, but also the talent it will eventually attract.

Along with the successes, I’ve had to deal with disappointments and frustration throughout my writing career from feedback, but I continue to love the craft of screenwriting.  I’ve been able to view the entire process from a larger perspective and focus on the task at hand — to get the script into better shape as a team player.  If you are lucky enough to be paid to write, it becomes your job.  You go to work, write all day, go home, come back tomorrow and wash, rinse and repeat.  Screenwriters have pages to write and without filling those blank pages there would be no script.

Take your feedback seriously, but don’t take it to heart.  Trust in your writing abilities and if you allow the disappointments to take you into a bad place, address your feelings but then focus on the task of executing your notes.  Stay out-of-the-way of the story and put your ego aside.  Everyone is here to serve the story to the best of their creative ability.  If you want to play with the big boys, at some point you’re going to be bruised and beat up.  It’s just the rites of passage necessary for the growth of a writer.

Part of the deal is that you want people to read and love your material, right?  If producers or executives agree to a read, give them ample time to get back to you.  A gentle nudge in a few weeks is completely acceptable, but if you contact them before, you’ll seem desperate and no one likes to be hounded.  I remember a producer warned me, “Stay on me about your project, because I tend to get busy.”  That’s fine.  But use common sense and put yourself in their situation for a second.  Your script is the most important thing in the world to you after you finish, but you have to understand that it’s not on their front burner at the moment.  One E-mail or text is fine to check up — four is not.

Be open to the entire process of writing — the feedback, rewrites and all.  No disappointments only triumphs when you complete a project.  There will always be creative highs and lows. Do your best not to allow your disappointment to be perceived as a failure and then sink into the morass of fear and insecurity in your creative soul. This will lead to the horrible act of chasing screenplay notes. Avoid this at all costs. A good discipline to follow for the long haul of a screenwriter’s survival is Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu’s advice:

Act without expectation.

Also be patient.  A career does not happen overnight and part of your journey is becoming a better writer and finding your unique voice — one that producers will grow to love, trust and hopefully employ!

Keep filling your blank pages and keep the faith.

Scriptcat out!

Mark Sanderson (aka @Scriptcat) is a Los Angeles based veteran of the screenwriting game with over fifteen years of professional experience and has worked with Academy Award® winning producers, veteran directors, and Academy Award®, Emmy® and Golden Globe® acting nominees on his produced films and screenwriting assignments.  Mark’s films have been recognized and distributed around the world and have opened and premiered at major festivals.
His popular screenwriting blog MY BLANK PAGE was Script Magazine’s pick for “Website of the Week” and had over 50,000 reads last year.  He also offers screenplay consultation services and workshops on his website:
Dexter + Hannah

DEXTER part 9: Questions with Questions.

We’re studying the explosive climax from DEXTER Season 7 Episode 7 – ‘Chemistry’.

This post will look at the way the writers use the technique of answering questions with questions and how questions form part of the power play between characters.

WATCH the scene:

Now read the scene.

So, let’s look at the way questions are used:

Dexter, angry that Hannah’s latest victim died in his apartment, asks Hannah how she killed him.


How did you do it?


Is it really important?


Is life in prison important?

Hannah bats Dexter’s question away. But Dexter counters with force.

3 questions in a row.

Note the way the number of syllables increase: 5, 7, 8. As the tension increases, so do the number of syllables.

Now this is really interesting: when Hannah finally answers, she tells the truth.


I’m never going to prison.

Price liked to chew on his pens.

The last one had a little something on it…completely undetectable.

Another section of the script where Dexter responds to a question with a question is the break between Beat 2 and Beat 3.

Hannah attempts to make Dexter aware they have a ‘spiritual connection’, to draw him in:


I could feel you watching me while I was being interrogated.

You saw the whole thing didn’t you?

But Dexter refuses to go with her, still needing more information before he commits to this spiritual partnership, to this bond Hannah is convinced they share. Dexter responds to her question with a completely unrelated question – a question that pierces deep:


Is it true about your husband?

Did you kill him because you didn’t want a family?

Hannah answers this question, telling the truth. It’s as though she knows what Dexter needs, and she’s willing to make herself vulnerable to him, to allow herself to be known. She’ll do anything to draw him in to her world, even tell him the truth.


It was the opposite.

I wanted a family and he didn’t. 

He threatened to leave me unless I got an abortion.

Hannah also answers Dexter’s next question directly:


What happened to the baby?


It was a miscarriage.

Sometimes life subtracts, sometimes it adds…

So what do we see here? Hannah answers truthfully when she believes doing so will draw Dexter towards her.

And when Dexter refuses to be drawn in, refuses to give up power, he bats the question away with a question of his own.

Questions are part of the power play between characters.

Hannah’s next and final question is a rhetorical one, which she answers herself, not giving Dexter the chance to bat it away, she answers for him in order to draw him into their spiritual bond:


Do you see what just happened? We were looking out for each other…

In the next post I’ll consider the goals and needs of both characters as they enter this Climactic scene.

Dexter + Hannah

Need & Revelations

Screenwriting teacher Chris Soth, in his Million Dollar Screenwriting podcasts, discusses how the hero, as a direct result of understanding his inner need is able to either-

a) achieve his outward goal


b) discern that his original goal isn’t important after all.

Either way the character arc is complete.

John Truby splits ‘need’ into 2 categories: ‘psychological’ and ‘moral’.

Let’s break this down:

A psychological need is something the hero must achieve in order to stop causing harm to himself.

A moral need is something he must achieve in order to stop causing harm to others.

Truby says the best stories have both.

In order to realize these needs, for the subconscious to become conscious, the hero must have a revelation, either psychological, moral, or both.

However, it’s not always as simple as that.

In some stories the hero may be incapable of a revelation. For example, in The Godfather, Truby explains, the writers give the revelation to Kay, Michael Corleone’s wife (read Anatomy of Story for the full analysis.)

Truby explains how a hero should take new moral action to prove the change has taken place.

What about your hero? What is his psychological and moral need? Is he capable of having a revelation? Is he capable of change?

If so, what action does he take to prove it?

127 Hours: what are your characters saying ?

SPOILER ALERT – watch the movie before reading this post.

What most impresses me about 127 Hours is, although it’s an intensely visual film, the dialogue is deep with subtext. Take the Friday 13th joke in the opening sequence. Aron is out exploring on the Grand Canyon, and sees two girls, obviously lost. He bounds down the canyon and offers his assistance. We know he’s charming and likeable, but his face is covered by a dust mask, and he’s wearing a cap and shades. He looks scary – like Jason.

“Sorry about the Friday 13th thing,” he wisecracks.

Joke, right? Throw-away line, simple. Actually it’s very cleverly foreshadowing the fact that this family wilderness drama is going to suddenly twist genre in the final act to a gruesome slasher movie as Aron slashes off his own arm to free himself from the rock. It’s horrific to watch, terrifying and extremely bloody. The pain is excruciating. In this throw-away ‘joke’ the film makers are actually apologizing to us, the viewer, for the excruciating horror they’re about to endure.


Also, look at the line when Aron makes a joke about the insects crawling beneath him waiting for him to defecate. Although a simple joke, coupled together with the bird circling above, which feeds on insects, this seemingly irrelevant line is pointing to the film’s theme – that all living creatures are interdependent, that our world is interdependent, that no man is an island – that we, as people, as human beings, depend on each other.

This is the lesson Aron must learn, in Truby terms the ‘moral and psychological revelation’ he must have in order to change and become a better human being. This is his character arc: if Aron hadn’t been so selfish, if he’d have answered his mom’s calls, and told her where he was going, he wouldn’t be in this nightmare. He wouldn’t be suffering alone between a rock and a hard place.

Aron goes through an intense furnace of change – a terrifying, horrific experience.

It’s his –  and therefore our – Friday the 13th.

How about your script? Have you foreshadowed the climax with a seemingly throw-away line?

What are your characters saying?

I’ve written a more extensive post here. Also, check out the article on symbolism & motifs.

Dialogue in 127 Hours

The opening lines in 127 Hours (screenplay by Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy) are an answerphone message from Aron’s sister:

“Hey, Sonia here…again… I know you’re probably gonna be away this weekend, but listen… just think about what we’re gonna play, ‘cause we have to decide if we need to practice, it will be fun, anyway…oh…and, please call Mom, ‘cause, you know, she worries…”

These lines refer to 3 things:

1. Aron’s Character Arc.

Why doesn’t Aron answer the phone? We see he’s super-busy preparing his trip, grabbing the bits and pieces he needs. And we all know how annoying phone calls are when we’re trying to get stuff done. But this preoccupation with himself shows us he is more focused on his own needs than his sister’s. The fact that Sonia emphasizes again tells us this isn’t the first time she’s called. And so Aron’s character flaw is illuminated – the flaw that will not only cause his extreme suffering but will also cause him to grow and change.

2. Foreshadowing.

‘Think about what we’re gonna play’ foreshadows a line of dialogue at the Act 2 Turning Point paid off when Aron apologizes to his sister for not being able to play the piano at her wedding. This apology tells us something way deeper and more important: that he has lost the battle. He is defeated. Michael Hague calls this the All is Lost moment. Blake Synder the Visit to Death.

3. Theme.

Sonia reminds Aron to call Mom as ‘she worries’. Later Aron realizes that if he hadn’t have been so selfish, if he had returned his mom’s calls, he would’ve told her where he was going and he would’ve been rescued. Major theme: interconnectedness + familial love.

So these opening lines not only foreshadow the Act 2 Turning Point before Aron’s do or die drive to survive, but they immediately point us to both theme and character arc.

SPOILER alert – please watch the movie before reading the rest of this post.

However, one of my favorite lines of dialogue comes where Aron meets the two lost female hikers. Aron rocks down the hill, superhero to the rescue, to help them with their map-reading. Realizing his mask is high on his face and he must look pretty scary, Aron jokes:

‘Sorry about the Friday 13th thing. I’m only a psychopath on weekdays.’

Not only is this funny, and, as Michael Hague tells us in Screenwriting for Hollywood, funny always endears us to a hero, but it’s oozing subtext, hiding a much deeper and far more sinister meaning. It prepares us for – or foreshadows – the sudden Act 3 genre twist from family adventure drama to bloody, gruesome and gory horror.

‘I’m not usually a psychopath,’ he’s saying (my paraphrase) ‘but stick around and later you can watch me hack my own arm off, Saw style.’

Are your opening lines of dialogue:

1. Pointing us to Theme?

2. Foreshadowing the Climax?

3. Illuminating a character flaw?

4. Endearing us to your hero?

5. Harboring hidden meaning?

How deep is your dialogue?


3 Act Structure in 127 Hours

127 Hours runs at 90 minutes and adheres to perfect 3 Act Structure:

Act  1: 15 minutes.

Act 2a : 30 minutes. 


Act 2b: 30 minutes.

Act 3: 15 minutes

NB: The Midpoint or Point of No Return happens at 45 minutes – exactly half way through the movie.

Each act break + plot point is not only marked with a Turning Point  but is also marked with the end of a musical sequence.

Watch the film carefully paying attention to what happens at these exact times.

So, what happens at each Turning Point?

SPOILER ALERTwatch the movie before you read this analysis!

Act  1 begins by foreshadowing the moral revelation the hero will have in the climax – Aron’s selfishness – as he refuses to answer his mum’s phone calls or tell his work mate where he’s going. Next we’re shown an excited young man off on an adventure. He’s a daredevil. When he spectacularly falls from his mountain bike he simply smiles, snaps a pic of himself and he’s ‘back on the saddle’ foreshadowing his tenacity and resilience displayed in extremis in the Climax.

After exactly 15 minutes, Aron falls: the film’s inciting incident. He’s trapped by the rock. Danny Boyle inserts the film’s title 127 Hours here, telling us the movie, the real story, starts now. Like any Act 2 this is the new world, the upset Status quo which must be re-balanced.

So Act 2 begins at 15 minutes.

Then, 15 minutes into Act 2 (30 minutes into the movie) we have Plot Point 1 which points us towards the film’s major Theme.

So what happens here? Well, we see Aron as a small boy sitting on the Grand Canyon in his father’s loving embrace as they both stare out at the rising sun. (Theme: interconnectedness + familial love).

Between 30 minutes and the midpoint at 45 minutes we witness Aron beginning to make his video diary. He addresses his mom and dad – we hear his mother’s voice saying ‘call me – lots of love’  (Theme reinstated: connectedness + familial love).

The Midpoint or Point of No Return comes at exactly 45 minutes: Aron takes his pocket knife and tries to cut his arm – foreshadowing the Climax. Why is this the Point of No Return? Because Aron is considering another option, if all else fails.

And we’re into the second part of Act 2 which we’ll call Act 2b.

Immediately after the Midpoint we’re back with the video camera and treated to the hilarious spoof radio show and Aron’s self-examination. This is a superb blend of comedy and tragedy. He reveals the fact he’s always seen himself as a ‘big fucking hard American superhero’ who can do everything ‘on his own’. This is writing of the highest quality; the hero’s moral / psychological revelation that his ‘supreme selfishness’ – his character flaw – has led him to this place of captivity and isolation, later to become a place of extreme suffering, is delivered with a ‘spoon full of sugar’ as this self-revelation is presented to us by the writers gift-wrapped in brilliant dialogue as Aron attacks his own flaws with  scathingly funny self-deprecating humor.

Then, 15 minutes after the Midpoint at Plot Point 2 Aron rams the blade into his arm. Danny Boyle takes us visually inside his arm and we see the blade ‘close to the bone.’ An idiom often used when remarks cut close to the truth. And the truth Aron has just revealed to us? He has been living life selfishly. In fact, he apologizes to his mom and dad into the camera for being ‘unappreciative.’

After another 15 minutes, at around the 75th minute of the movie – leading towards the End of Act 2 Turning Point Aron apologizes to his sister that he won’t be able to play piano at her wedding. Another apology. This dialogue tells us he has accepted his fate and that fate is death. Michael Hague calls this the ‘All is Lost’ moment. Blake Snyder the ‘Visit to Death’.

Then, still at the 75th minute mark, we enter ACT 3 as Aron makes one last ‘do or die’ drive to set himself free, and, as a mirror to the Midpoint – BANG! – he rams the blade back into his arm and drags us, screaming and terrified, feeling every nerve of his tortuous pain, into the bloody, horrific Climax.

The next 15 minutes are the Resolution as Aron is rescued. Here Aron’s learning curve – his character arc – is clear as the ‘big hard fucking superhero’ who can do ‘everything on his own’ screams for help from strangers – a changed man.

127 Hours sticks to perfect 3 Act Structure as taught by Michael Hague and also adheres to John Truby’s teachings on Moral and Psychological Revelations in his book Anatomy of Story.

click for trailer

THE AMBER BLOG – How To Break The Rules And Get Away With It

Mark Dark:

I just watched AMBER and was not so much disappointed but confused over the writing choices. Charles Harris guest blogs on Yvonne Grace’s blog Script Advice on the problem with AMBER.

Originally posted on's Blog:

Amber Ending Has Viewers Red With Rage: How Not To Break The Rules! Lauryn-Canny1-as Amber

I have Charles Harris, writer-director and director of Euroscript, on my blog today. Charles has made award-winning programmes for TV and cinema. His blog is at

You may have noticed a great noise on social media over the ending of RTE’s successful mini-series, Amber, which finished on UK TV last week. And here’s a massive SPOILER ALERT. Because many people took great exception to the ending of an otherwise powerful four-part series about a missing teenager, while others (the producers included) defended it strongly as being a refreshing change, and to discuss it properly I’m going to have to refer to what happened and what didn’t happen. So, if you haven’t finished the final part yet, you may not want to read the rest now.

For those of you who are still with me, Amber broke…

View original 827 more words

Dave Freeman’s Dialogue Tips.

Quick recap of Dave Freeman’s dialogue techniques:

Types of Dialogue:

1. Someone’s answer reveals their character.

2. Interrupting each other.

3. Answer a question with a question.

4. Different ways of speaking around different people.
eg. how you speak to your boss
eg. how you speak to your child

5. Own track – A ignores B and continues on their own track

6. Tangent – a question or remark sparks a tangential answer.
‘Have you read the DaVinci Code?’
‘Damn. I’ve got to go to the library to return those books!’

7. Left-field – a question or remark sparks a totally unrelated reply.

8. Sentence fragment – when you drop more than one word.

9. Underground river – where the topic is raised, left, returned to later.

10. Delayed answer – A asks question, B talks about other stuff before answering A’s question.

11. Starts again – A starts, then stops and starts again differently
e.g. ‘There’s a technique I want to… Let me tell you about a particularly effective technique…’

12. Response implies answer, e.g.
 ‘How was your day, honey?’
‘Is our car insured?’

13. Silence is dialogue.
eg. ignoring question or comment
eg. meaningful silence
eg. action instead of verbal reply

14. External interruptions – doorbell rings, waiter arrives, etc
e.g. In Shrek, every time Shrek and Fiona are going to kiss
Donkey arrives. This is good. Builds suspense.

15. Displacement – you put your anger, affection, passion on someone or something nearby because it’s too scary to do it to the person with you…

16. Subtext – what the character is saying or feeling below surface.

17. Action is a form of dialogue.

eg. slamming doors/driving recklessly/touching someone…

18. Dialogue is about hinting at emotion, not stating it bluntly.

Thanks Dave Freeman.

Mark Dark

Writing a Film Script

I’ve been working on this film script for 4 years now. It started as a short story which got optioned. Then, my producer and script consultant thought it would make a good feature, so I started the journey of writing the screenplay.

Writing on your own is great because you’ve got full control. But when you get script consultants involved they’ve got their own ideas which, in the beginning, I felt obligated to incorporate. I tried to please everyone. Which, as we know, is impossible.

Enter story problems.

Story problems are good because they force us to think hard and deep about everything, character, plot twists, need, want, outer journey, inner journeys etc. etc.

Now, after 4 years of thinking (and writing) I’ve finally got a story I think works. What was the process? I think 3 things.

First, I was brutally honest with myself. I asked myself ‘if this script landed on your desk, would you make it? Would you invest six months to a year of your life  finding a budget, casting, working with actors, crew etc and then post-production editing, soundtrack, distributors and sales agents. Does this script warrant that amount of work?’ My answer was No, I wouldn’t make it. Because there was too much plot. It was too wishy-washy. There was too much happening.

Next, I asked myself if I was moved. Did this story affect me emotionally? Again, the answer was No. I was bored. And I knew why. If I changed the script in a way to improve it I would have to ditch an idea from the script consultant, which I was scared to do for fear of losing interest or being accused of not being able to take feedback. But the fact was the script wasn’t working. And I couldn’t write it with the current plot. If I wanted to keep working on the script I had to make major changes.

Thirdly, I asked myself if the concept was original. Had I seen it before? And I answered No, it wasn’t. And yes, I had seen it before.

So, what could I do? Scrap it, put the last 4 years down to experience? A  learning curve? Or attack the script’s issues. I was faced with 3 problems, which, through a glass-half-full lens, was three opportunities:

How could I give the story 1. a strong plot 2. emotional power and 3. an original concept?

I brought out the hatchet. I hacked off all the dead branches from a sprawling, tangled tree and left myself a solid, strong oak.

So my advice to writers just embarking on a story journey is this. Explore every avenue. Write hundreds of drafts of shite. Listen to everyone’s advice. Then forget everything everyone has told you and get back to the reason you write. What makes the story personal to you? Get angry.  Get emotional. Dig deep.

A screenplay seems to be a fusion of research, imagination and experience. So throw these three into the mix. And…

write the story








studying the craft of writing


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