harmon and dawber

Dude, what’s your secret?!

Mark Sanderson aka ScriptcatMark Sanderson aka @scripcat has had 7 films produced and has written 27 feature screenplays.

I asked him:

Dude, what’s your secret?! What’s the single most important factor you keep in mind when writing your screenplays?

This was his awesome reply:

I think there are many important factors that I keep in mind before I ever go down the pathway of taking an idea to a story and eventually a fully realized spec screenplay. After graduating film school it used to be if I could sell the script or not — that’s a fool’s endeavor trying to play the Hollywood spec, big budget screenplay sale game and trying to figure out if they will buy my genre or not. Chasing a big sale will deliver nothing but frustration and grief.

In addition, it will take years of bouncing the script around town and it may never sell. You’ll need to be working a job to pay your bills during this time and it gets difficult to hang on with the hopes to sell every spec that you create. The reality is that just because you write it doesn’t mean anyone will “love it.” You need to write from your heart and it will show in the work.

My buddy is writing a romantic comedy and it’s not a personal story so he’s obviously trying to make it as commercial as possible to sell it to Hollywood and play in the “big leagues.” And now I read that the romantic comedy is dead in Hollywood. The genre has not done well lately and they are not making them anymore so I ask him, “Why are you writing this movie genre?” Is the spec going to be a writing sample or is it something you actually think you can sell to the studios as an un-produced writer?  I believe it’s the second reason so he’s chasing an illusive ghost and in my opinion not utilizing his limited writing time properly.

I told him he should be writing a spec that is near and dear to his heart as he’s not going to be able to compete with known writers with a script that is a long shot at best. It’s a high concept commercial Hollywood script that will not sell because of the genre. Sure, it may get him meetings…but why waste time on a script that has limited potential? Write something personal and from the heart and it will showcase your writing ability.

Try writing what you care about and that will come through in the screenplay. Your passion will shine through and attract interest in quality work. Back when I was first pursuing my career, I did this with my original script I’ll Remember April and it placed in the top 20 of all Nicholl Fellowship entries that year and later went on to be optioned, purchased and produced and distributed globally.

I'll Remember AprilI don’t write specs much anymore as my jobs are screenplay assignment work. I just had my seventh film produced and I try to please my boss the producer who is paying me so he can hire me again. It’s the nature of building a career to write films that get produced and to build a great working relationship with producers. Those writers who have lofty ideals about writing something that will compete with top screenwriters who already have credits and relationships with studios and producers — it’s a big dream and a big risk of time. Carve out your own unique brand and sell them on “you.”

I don’t think there is only one important factor, but many.  I think to myself before I start: “Is my idea commercial and can it translate to the most people possible so a producer/director will see the potential and want to make it?”  I recently consulted on a project for a screenwriter who asked for my honest opinion on his script. He recently had been getting a lot of rejections by producers with it and told me, “They just don’t get it.” I shook my head in silence. Maybe when four different producers “just don’t get it” — it could be that the screenwriter just didn’t get it. Repetitive notes from different sources must be considered. I told him that his movie was not big enough or commercial enough to go into 4,000 screens on opening weekend.

That’s the reality of the business. It’s actually a smaller film, maybe indie art house film or a something for TV, but he is aiming for the top of the mountain. And that’s okay, but that comes with a lot of risk, just like writing a spec that can only be produced for $150 million and being an unknown writer with no attachments on the project. Seriously?

Write a kick-ass script that can be produced for about $1.5 million and IT COULD ACTUALLY GET MADE! Find an actor who loves it and will tell you to attach them while you find the money. Go out and do it and make it happen. Stop trying to chase the brass ring of Hollywood studio films and constantly coming up short and rejected. Ah, but who wants a small film, right? We all want the summer blockbuster with the “A-list” career, the home in the hills and the millions in the bank.

Sure, I wanted the same just out of film school and then after about six or seven years of getting knocked around and brutalized, I realized just how fucking hard it was to reach the “A-List.” I have close friends on the “A-list.” They suffer the same trials and tribulations like everyone else just at a bigger level.  Hell, since I was a kid I just wanted to just make a living anyway from what I loved to do — making movies. My dream has been realized over a dozen times with getting paid for assignment jobs and one spec sale. Seven of those dozen scripts were produced and made it to little and big screens around the world. I’m living my dream.

So, there are many factors that I ask myself before writing a spec screenplay:

WHY AM I WRITING THIS PARTICULAR STORY?
IS IT FOR ME? MY PASSION PROJECT?
IS IT FOR THEM? AM I CHASING A BIG SALE?
IS IT TO SHOWCASE MY ABILITY AS A TALENTED WRITER?
IS IT TO ACTUALLY PRODUCE MYSELF OR DIRECT?
OR IS IT BECAUSE I AM DRIVEN AND MUST TELL THIS STORY?

Honestly consider why you are screenwriting and why you are writing your particular story. How you write it is as important as what you write. Keep the faith and filling your blank pages.

Mark Sanderson aka ScriptcatMark Sanderson (aka @scriptcat) is a veteran of the screenwriting game with over fifteen years of experience and has worked with Academy Award® winning producers, veteran directors, and Academy Award®, Emmy® and Golden Globe® acting nominees. Mark’s indie and TV films have been distributed globally and have opened and premiered at major festivals. His seventh produced film “Sara’s Choice” is in post production and stars Franchesca Eastwood. Check out his popular screenwriting blog MY BLANK PAGE and look for his new book “A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success” coming in November on Amazon. 

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).

laura-palmer

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 Ze-Hub.com

on ze zen couch

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.

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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

or

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?

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?

127-hours-7

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. 

Midpoint

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 Scriptadvice.co.uk'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 http://www.charles-harris.co.uk

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

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

 

 

 

 

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.
e.g.
‘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

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.

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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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