5 things to remember when writing your scene:

While writing our scenes let’s remember these 5 things:

1. Action.

Everyone is doing something. No one is just sitting around talking. Look at Frank and Clare Underwood in House of Cards. They don’t just sit and talk. They share a cigarette. Their ‘secret’ habit. In a later season Frank takes up a new hobby of painting his little soldiers. What secret habits or little hobbies do your characters have?

House of Cards

2. Power Play.

Each scene is a battle of desires between Hero and Opponent. Either a battle of action of a battle of words. Sometimes both. Take The Confrontation scene in Les Miserables. In the musical this is a battle of words between Jean Valjean and Jalvert. The battle is verbal. The words are aggressive:

VALJEAN

I am warning you Javert.

There is nothing I won’t do.

If I have to kill you now,

I’ll do what must be done.

JALVERT

You know nothing of Javert.

I was born inside a jail.

I was born with scum like you.

I am from the gutter too!

But on screen we see a real, physical battle between Russel Crowe and Hugh Jackman. A good example of a battle of words and action.

Hugh-Jackman-and-Russell-Crowe-in-new-poster-for-Les-Misérables

Another great example of the power play between characters is between Ben Affleck and Jeremy Renner in this scene from The Town. Or study this scene between Dexter and Hannah for a strong example of power play.

3. Desire.

Everyone wants something. We want something in life and we want something now. Me? I just want to write this blog post without losing it. That’s now. This year I want to finish my novel. In my life I want to produce at least one of my feature scripts. We all want something. What do your characters want?

Every character in the scene has their own desire. Whether it’s a multi-character scene with more than two characters or a duologue we have to be aware of the desire of each character. If they have no desire, if they are just standing in the background doing nothing, cut them. However, if they speak, they have a desire. They have a desire for their life and they have a desire in that moment. What is it? What do they want 1. Overall in their life and 2. In that specific moment.

4. Conceal or Reveal.

David Mamet has often quoted the French writer Voltaire, saying, “words were invented to hide feelings”. Mamet believes we speak to conceal ourselves, not reveal ourselves. What is your character hiding? What truth is he or she concealing? Take these three lines of dialogue between Dexter and Hannah:

 DEXTER

How did you do it?

HANNAH

Is it really important?

DEXTER

Is life in prison important?

Dexter asks a genuine question. He wants to know how she killed someone. But Hannah doesn’t want to reveal the fact that she did it, or how she did it. She conceals the truth. Later in the scene, when she wants to draw Dexter in, she reveals the truth.

Dexter + Hannah

5. Subtext.

Nobody says what they really feel. Until we do. In her book To Be a Playwright Janet Nepris implies that when we cannot keep inside of us what we truly feel that we reach the highest point of drama in a scene. Until that point we speak in riddles. Check out the Dexter scene again. In how many lines does a character try to conceal their self? And in how many lines does a character reveal their self? In the Hannah / Dexter scene Hannah only reveals the truth when she wants Dexter in her arms, by her side, in her heart. It’s a transaction. Truth comes at a price.

HANNAH

Price liked to chew on his pens.

The last one had a little something on it…

Hannah doesn’t say “I murdered him with poison.” But she implies it. Subtext.

Usually we cover up the truth, for fear of being hurt. We conceal our true desire. Every word we say becomes a wall of defense – a defense mechanism.  What is your character hiding? Who does she want to reveal the truth to? Remember, everything a character says should seek to either: 1. attack or defend 2. conceal or reveal.

tom-and-jerry

A Sneaky Peak at Peaky Blinders: post 5.9 – Character & Plot.

We’re studying the 12 scenes in the opening ten minutes of the very first episode of Peaky Blinders.

We’re asking these 10 questions.

And we’re onto scene 9.

In this scene Steven Knight reveals the series main antagonist, the hero and the main plot.

Visually. With no dialogue.

“There’s trouble coming!” warns Arthur Shelby at the end of the previous scene.

CUT TO: A steam train approaches, screaming and whistling –

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 12.29.39 PM

CLOSE ON series main antagonist –

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 12.27.12 PM

CHIEF INSPECTOR CAMPBELL.

CUT TO: Campbell’s POV of the front of file he’s reading.

BSA munitions robbery

We’re given 4 seconds to learn 3 things about his mission:

1. It is Top Secret.

2. It is Special Branch.

3. He is hunting the ‘prime suspects’ of a ‘munitions robbery.’

Next, CUT TO a wide shot of the fiercely focused Police Chief in the train’s carriage.

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 12.22.59 PM

and then CLOSE ON the document he’s studying –

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 12.23.48 PM

CLOSER on the photo –

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 12.24.03 PM

It’s Arthur – in uniform.

We pan across to his name and read:

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 12.24.16 PM

Arthur Shelby.

Gangster. Racketeer. Bookmaker.

Leader of the Peaky Blinders.

Next, CLOSE once more on Campbell’s determined focus –

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 12.27.12 PM

– and he’s on to the next file.

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 12.25.43 PM

Thomas Shelby, also in uniform.

Pan across to the prime suspect’s profile –

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 12.25.56 PM

And drop down to see the words:

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 12.26.27 PM

Honoured for Gallantry.

CUT TO: Campbell’s intense thinking again

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 12.24.48 PM

A shot of his dual suspects – Thomas and Arthur Shelby.

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 12.27.24 PM

Finally, we watch from behind as Campbell’s train whistles and screams like a police siren.

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 12.28.27 PM

The series main antagonist has arrived!

So, to our questions:

What does this scene reveal regarding plot?

3 things.

1. Special Branch are pursuing Thomas and Arthur.

2. There has been a ‘munitions robbery.’

3. It’s Top Secret.

This munitions robbery is the main plot of season 1.

Next, what does this scene reveal regarding character?

Let’s take the three characters referenced in this scene one by one, in order of appearance.

What 3 characteristics do we learn about each of them?

First, Chief Inspector Campbell:

1. He is “a thinker”.

2. He is determined.

3. He is fiercely focused.

Second, Arthur:

1. He is ex-military.

2. He’s a gangster, a racketeer, and a bookmaker.

3. Police consider him “leader” of the Peaky Blinders.

Third, Thomas.

1. He is ex-military.

2. He is a racketeer, involved in protection and an armed robber.

3. He is a war hero.

Stay tuned for the next sneaky peak at Peaky Blinders!

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 12.26.27 PM

A Sneaky Peak at Peaky Blinders – Post 5 Scene 6: plot and character.

In scene 6 of the opening 10 minutes Thomas enters the Shelby house and has a quick interchange with Finn, his youngest brother.

In the screenplay Steven Knight describes this short, 30 second scene in detail:

Thomas breezes through a hallway decorated with brass and fancy floral crockery. The Shelby home is compact, a typical terrace, but we might notice a surfeit of brass and flowery ornamentation around the place. The Shelbys are cash rich but without conventional good taste. The home is decorated like a gypsy caravan, or a boatman’s barge with lots of roses, elephants and castles.

We might glance a photograph of three brothers in military uniform, smiling (this is Arthur, Tommy, and John – all in Warwickshire Yeomanry uniform, with a freshly dug trench behind them).

Thomas tosses his coat aside and passes through a small kitchen, where a young boy (FINN, 10, Thomas’s youngest brother) is smoking a cigarette into the flames of a coal fire. A rabbit roasts on a spit. Finn hides the cigarette and calls out as Thomas passes…

FINN

Arthur’s mad as hell.

THOMAS

What does a ten year old know about hell?

FINN

I’m eleven Sunday.

Let’s have a quick look at how much of this is realized on screen.

The first paragraph –

Thomas breezes through a hallway decorated with brass and fancy floral crockery.

– is on screen.

However the first thing we notice when Thomas enters is a crucifix on the wall, illuminated by a shaft of sunlight as Thomas opens and closes the front door. This is perhaps a nod to the Shelby’s Irish – Catholic heritage. Aunt Polly is described as “half Romany, half catholic” and the city of Birmingham in the UK in 1919 had “a large Irish Catholic” community. (Sources: Telegraph/Guardian).

From Steven Knight’s description we do notice on screen –

 flowery ornamentation around the place.

– and the home is

decorated like a gypsy caravan.

It’s interesting to note Thomas is referred to several times as being a “gypsy.”

However, the rabbit on the spit, the action of tossing the coat, and specifically the photo of the three brothers in uniform are all absent from the screen.

(Note to self – not everything you write will make it on to the screen – even if you’re at the top of your game!)

So, to answer our two questions:

1. What is revealed in this scene regarding plot?

Nothing per se. However the line of dialogue from Finn prepares us for familial conflict between Thomas and Arthur – itself revealing one of the series’ major themes – the rise of a king – and this theme is itself revealed in plot – the various actions Thomas takes in order to achieve his ambitions.

And why is Arthur ‘mad as hell’ ? Because, as we soon find out, Thomas has been treading on Arthur’s toes. There’s a battle for leadership going on. A battle for kingship. Who is the King of the Shelby clan? Who is The King of Small Heath ? Is it older brother Arthur, or his younger, smarter, brother Thomas?

2. What is revealed in the scene regarding character?

Firstly, through Thomas’s action – a playful bash on Finn’s head with his cap (on screen not in the script – actor’s choice?) – and by his tone of voice – we see that Thomas is friendly to Finn.

He could curse and swear at him for smoking, but he doesn’t.

Thomas is revealed in this scene as friendly, gentle and playful – a stark contrast to the fear and reverence he evokes out on the streets.

Secondly, through dialogue, Knight cleverly and with subtlety reveals that Thomas has experienced ‘hell.’

Thomas asks what Finn, a ten year old, can possibly know about hell.

“Hell” here refers to the horrific war Thomas has just returned from – the blood, the bombs, the death, the injured and dying men screaming – portrayed to us later in his vivid nightmares.

Tommy Shelby is a paradoxical character: ruthless, yet with an almost angelic aura; youthful, but with the air of one who has already seen it all.

– The Guardian.

Stay tuned for the next post analyzing the opening ten minutes of Peaky Blinders!

 

1 thing Dexter & Peaky Blinders have in common: the hero’s screen time.

Out of 50 scenes, Dexter is on screen for 25.

Exactly half.

This adds up to exactly 23.06 minutes of screen time – just less than half of the 50 minute episode.

Approximately 50%.

Out of 42 scenes, Thomas Shelby is on screen for 20 scenes – just less than half.

This is 27.21 minutes of screen time – just less than half of the 56 minute episode.

Approximately 50%.

How long is your hero on screen for?

A Sneaky Peak at Peaky Blinders: 5 facts about scene length.

Here is a list of scenes and scene length from Episode 1 Season 1 of Peaky Blinders.

For an in-depth study of scenes and scene length of the opening ten minutes click here.

In this breakdown:

Scenes over 1 minute are in purple.

Scenes over 2 minutes are in blue.

Scenes over 3 minutes are in green.

Scenes over 4 minutes are in red.

It’s interesting to note 5 things:

1. There are 42 scenes (the episode runs at 56 minutes.)

2. There are 24 scenes over 1 minute long.

3. There are 8 scenes over 2 minutes long.

4. There are 3 scenes over 3 minutes long.

5. There are 2 scenes over 4 minutes long.

  1. 0.18
  2. 1.00
  3. 1.05
  4. 1.35
  5. 0.17
  6. 0.30
  7. 0.52
  8. 1.28
  9. 0.54
  10. 1.21
  11. 0.22
  12. 0.18
  13. 4.33
  14. 0.10
  15. 0.57
  16. 1.52
  17. 1.02
  18. 3.11
  19. 0.38
  20. 1.35
  21. 0.24
  22. 2.01
  23. 3.49
  24. 0.46
  25. 3.28
  26. 1.21
  27. 1.43
  28. 0.07
  29. 1.01
  30. 1.14
  31. 2.09
  32. 0.45
  33. 0.15
  34. 1.46
  35. 2.04
  36. 0.17
  37. 1.53
  38. 4.03
  39. 1.10
  40. 1.14
  41. 0.18
  42. 0.36

In the next post on structure we’ll explore the significance of scene length and consider whether longer scenes punctuate major events or turning points.

Stay tuned!

Peaky Blinders. Theme: The Rise of a King

In the opening ten minutes, as Thomas Shelby rides majestically through the backstreets of Birmingham on a beautiful black horse, dressed immaculately in three piece suit, polished black shoes and a gold watch chain – it’s a stark contrast with the dirt and grime of the laborers and beggars around him.

As beggars, the preacher, and even policemen bow and tip their hats we see Thomas is revered by all.

Refusing to tip his hat in return to the police, Thomas is making a strong statement. He doesn’t see himself as subordinate to the police. And if he’s not subordinate, he must be above them. Above the law.

But in the UK only The King or Queen is above the law.

In the United Kingdom the Crown has never been able to be prosecuted or proceeded against in either criminal or civil cases.

– Wikipedia

This theme of Thomas as King runs through the series.

In scene 13, as communist leader Freddie Thorn examines the razor blades sown into Thomas’s cap, he says:

The crown of a prince. Soon to be king, I’d say.

Later, Freddie says to his girlfriend, Ada, Thomas Shelby’s sister:

Oh my Ada. The only princess of the royal family of the Kingdom of Small Heath.

But Freddie isn’t the only one to recognize Thomas as King.

When Thomas’s wealthy, aristocratic horse trainer visits him in the backstreets of Birmingham, she says:

I mentioned your name and it was like being led to a king.

But Thomas, when he leans down to drop a coin into the bowl of a line of begging soldiers, blinded in the war, he shows he shares status with them.

We might say Thomas is both king and beggar – a favorite theme of Shakespeare:

 

Your fat king and your lean beggar are but variable service – two dishes but to one table.

– Hamlet.

Also, Thomas leaning down to drop a coin in the bowl of the soldiers might be compared to King Henry V when he humbles himself to sit with his ordinary soldiers just before battle.

John Truby, in his review of another rise of a king story, House of Cards, says:

The struggle for power is one of the prime human motivations.

Just like Frank Underwood, Thomas Shelby has many enemies to overcome in his struggle for power.

Where else do we see evidence of Thomas as ‘King’ in Peaky Blinders?

Is your opening 10 mins a cool hand?

I asked multi-produced screenwriter Mark Sanderson aka @scriptcat this question:

What’s the most important thing you show in the opening ten pages?

This was his reply:

First ten eh? Get right into the action!  Definitely something with the character, who he or she is just from one thing they do or how they act — we know instantly… and their dilemma — and the important characters on the journey. Maybe open with a memorable image – definitely all set up stuff — fewer words the better and more images. Cut into the story in progress – definitely.

I always remember the opening scenes (first minute & a half) of COOL HAND LUKE – says it all about his character for sure.

 

Hell, I’m just trying to please my producer!  But he loved my opening scene in my first draft. The location, atmosphere, character in action doing something specific and “in character” that tells us some of her back story, the antagonist comes into scene and stops her, and we’re off to the races!

Mark Sanderson aka Scriptcat
Follow Mark on Twitter @scriptcat

3 ways to show character.

As I explore the opening 10 minutes of Peaky Blinders it’s clear that Steven Knight shows Thomas Shelby’ character visually, through action, in 3 ways.

1. How he acts.

2. How he reacts.

3. How others react to him.

By his actions we learn he is generous and humble.

By his reactions we learn he does not bow down to authority.

By others’ reactions to him we learn he is feared and revered, by both the common people and the police.

How are you showing character in your opening ten pages?

 

A Sneaky Peak at Peaky Blinders: Post 5 Scene 4: Showing Character.

We’re analyzing the opening 10 minutes of Peaky Blinders.

In the first post we asked 10 questions.

We’re on question 6:

What is revealed in the scene regarding character?

We’re up to scene 4.

Let’s get stuck in.

What are we going to discover?

Firstly, that this scene is a brilliant example of showing character through action as we learn 3 characteristics of series protagonist Thomas Shelby.

(You can read the scene in the actual script here.)

There are 4 major actions. I’ve taken the action directly from Steven Knight’s script.

1. Thomas rides through a dark, grimy, industrial street on a beautiful black horse.

Why a black horse rather than a white one?

The website Universe of Symbolism  says a black horse is:

A symbol of mystery and intrigue, power, independence, sexual allure and a strong sense of self.

2. Jimmy Jesus – an Afro-Caribbean street preacher – glances up and nods a greeting.

This is from the script. However, on screen he doesn’t nod a greeting, he fully removes his hat from his head – showing both social distance and reverence (more on this later).

3. Thomas slows to allow a line of men to cross the road. (These are men blinded in the war, now begging for pennies.) Thomas leans down in the saddle to drop a coin into their bowl.

Interesting phrase Steven Knight uses here – leans down. He could have just written ‘he drops a coin in their bowl.’ But he doesn’t. He says he leans down. When Thomas leans down he is equating himself with these beggars, showing humility.

So why show humility to a group of men who were blinded in the war and now begging ‘for pennies’? Does Thomas share an affinity with the beggars?

3. Two policemen see Thomas. They both look nervous and touch their caps. Thomas ignores them and urges his horse on.

This action of touching your hat is called a hat tip.

Check out what Wikipedia has to say about it:

In Western societies of the 19th and early 20th centuries, a hat tip was a common non-verbal greeting between friends or acquaintances. Typically, two men would lift or tip their hats to each other.

But Thomas doesn’t lift or tip his hat. This is not to each other.

Wiki continues:

Where the ritual was used to emphasize social distance the subordinate was obliged to make the more elaborate gesture, for example fully removing his hat while the superior merely touched his.

Who fully removes his hat? Jimmy Jesus – the  street preacher. Jimmy’s full removal of his hat shows social distance. As well as showing reverence he is admitting to Thomas that he is his subordinate. Jimmy’s preaching echoes this social distance:

God does not care if you live in a slum or in a mansion.

Back to the policemen then. Not only does Thomas not tip his hat to them, he doesn’t even respond. Steven Knight makes a point of this:

Thomas ignores them.

So why do the police look nervous? And why do they tip their hats? Isn’t Thomas Shelby a criminal? Why are the police tipping their hats to him? The fact that Thomas doesn’t tip his hat reveals a lot. Wikipedia says:

The subordinate was obliged to make the more elaborate gesture…

But Thomas doesn’t even touch his hat, let alone make a more ‘elaborate gesture.’ He doesn’t make any gesture. As Steven Knight states:

He ignores them.

So Thomas doesn’t see himself as subordinate to the police. And if he’s not subordinate, he must consider himself as above them. Does Thomas consider himself above the police? Above the law?

But isn’t this pride?

Summing up then, in addition to the power, independence and sexual allure symbolized by the black horse, which 3 characteristics of Thomas Shelby are we shown through action?

I suggest respect, humility and pride.

Will his pride be his downfall?

We’ll soon see. His chief antagonist is fast approaching – Chief Inspector Campbell – sent by the Crown to bring him down.

Stay tuned for the next post analyzing the opening 10 minutes of Peaky Blinders!

 

 

 

 

 

A Sneaky Peak at Peaky Blinders Post 5 Scene 3: Plot and Character.

So, we’re we’re looking at how plot and character is revealed in the opening ten minutes of Steven Knight’s superb historical crime series, Peaky Blinders.

We’re onto scene 3.

(Catch up here with Scene 1 and Scene 2).

So, what happens?

The Man on the Horse (series hero Thomas Shelby, but this hasn’t been revealed yet) rides through the street and comes to a standstill.

The Chinese Man and Girl from scene 1 come running and stop in front of him.

CHINESE MAN

Sir, this is her.

This is the first time we hear the Man on the Horse speak.

A shadow  blinds us to his eyes by the peak of his cap.

But we hear his deep, warm voice.

MAN ON THE HORSE

The girl who tells fortunes?

He takes money from his pocket and gives it to the Man.

He accepts it.

Then, the Girl takes out a small, red, Chinese purse and tips out a handful of red dust.

The director cuts to different villagers watching from their hiding places: grown women, young boys.

We also get our first CLOSE UP of The Man on the Horse, almost revealing his eyes, but not quite.

Then, the Chinese Girl blows the red dust into the horse’s nostrils.

Cut to three young boys peeking out from their hiding place. One Boy speaks.

BOY

They’re doing a magic spell to make him win a race.

Then, the Chinese Man and Girl both bow, and, holding hands, turn and run away.

The Man on the Horse then speaks, loudly, to all of the hiding villagers.

MAN ON THE HORSE

The horse’s name is Monahon Boy. Kempton, 3 o’clock, Monday. You ladies have a bet yourself but don’t tell anyone else.

The horse and rider trot off, the women and children come back out to the streets.

Theme music kicks in. And we get a title insert:

End of scene.

The first interesting thing to notice is the scene is 1.05 in length, yet there are only 4 lines of dialogue.

However, let’s answer question 5 of our 10 questions: what is revealed in this scene regarding plot and character?

First, Plot:

Both the Boy’s line and Thomas’s final lines of dialogue reveal he’s in the horse racing business, and he’s trying to get the locals to place bets.

Is this a race fix?

Is this a story about a bookmaker who fixes races?

Could be. We’re not sure yet.

However, we find out later that this is NOT the main plot, but it is related to Thomas’s main goal – to build a horse racing / gambling empire.

Next, Character:

A lot is revealed regarding character. Let’s have a look in detail.

1. When the women and children run to hide we learn that Thomas is feared.

2. When the Chinese Man calls him ‘Sir’ he seems to be revered. When the Man and Girl bow as they leave we could also say that Thomas is revered (but this of course could also be fear.)

3. We see that Thomas is well dressed: a three piece suit, a waist coat and a gold watch chain. Wealth, or at least the appearance of wealth.

4. When he pays the Chinese Girl we learn that Thomas is not a tyrant, expecting people to do things for him for free.

Does this symbolize generosity?

5. Thomas gives the locals a racing ‘tip’ – telling them that the horse will win.

Again, generosity, or a scam and therefore an unscrupulous man?

We’re not yet sure.

6. Thomas’s voice is warm and friendly.

To sum up then, regarding plot – the main plot has yet to be revealed but we do have a hint at the hero’s goal.

Regarding character, however, we have the following 5 characteristics:

1. By his dress he seems wealthy.

2. By his voice he sounds warm and friendly.

3. By his action and dialogue he seems generous.

4. From the Chinese characters’ reactions to him he seems to be revered.

5. From the local villagers’ reactions to him he seems to be feared.

But we’re not yet sure.

Is he sincere?

Or is he unscrupulous?

Positive and possible negative qualities.

Questions still to be answered.

And we’re intrigued.

How are you intriguing your audience?

What are you revealing regarding plot and character in your opening scenes, and how?

Stay tuned for the next post analyzing the opening ten minutes of Steven Knight’s Peaky Blinders.

A Sneaky Peak at Peaky Blinders post 5. Scene 1.

So, we’re on to post 5 of this series analyzing the opening 10 minutes of Steven Knight’s superb historical crime drama Peaky Blinders.

So far the info we’ve gleaned from the first 4 questions has been quite technical:

1. How many scenes?

2. How long are they?

3. How many characters?

and

4. Do the scenes contain action or dialogue?

This post tackles question 5:

What information is revealed in each scene regarding plot?

Obviously, some scenes reveal more info than others.

So, let’s explore the 12 scenes one post at a time.

Scene 1. 

A CHINESE MAN runs through a busy market, followed by a GIRL, (15ish) carrying a baby.

CHINESE MAN

Hurry up, or they will kill us all.

The Man and Girl reach another girl. Girl 1 hands the baby to GIRL 2 who looks about 12.

The next line is brilliant. It both surprises us and makes us laugh. Yet it also shocks us as the girls are so young.

We hear the Chinese but see the English subtitles.

GIRL 1 (to Girl 2)

Do your tits still have milk?

Girl 2 nods. Girl 1 hands her the baby.

(What?!! We are thinking. This 12 year old girl has milk in her breasts? She has had a baby?)

The Chinese Man looks desperate and worried at an OLD CHINESE MAN.

OLD CHINESE MAN

Where are you going?

CHINESE MAN

They have asked for her.

Zoom in close to the concerned look on the Old Chinese Man’s face.

So what 3 things do we see being conveyed through the action and dialogue?

1. The Chinese men are scared.

2. We hear that those they are scared of are killers.

(We are not yet sure who ‘they’ are. But we assume he means the gang, The Peaky Blinders.)

3. “They” have asked for a girl.

Which begs the question – why?

Bang!

That’s the opening 18 second scene of Peaky Blinders.

And we have to watch the next scene to find out why.

We’re in.

Is any info revealed regarding plot?

I don’t think so. But it’s high energy, surprising and original.

Think about your opening scene.

How are you surprising your audience and keeping them glued to the screen until the next scene?

A Sneaky Peak at Peaky Blinders post 4: Action & Dialogue.

Exploring the opening 10 minutes of Peaky Blinders in earlier posts we already noticed the following 5 facts:

1. There are 12 scenes.

2. The hero, Thomas Shelby, dominates 75% of screen time.

3. We are introduced to Thomas’s 3 brothers in consecutive scenes, in age order: Finn, John and Arthur.

4. The series antagonist – C.I Campbell – is introduced taking 10% of screen time.

5. The exact 10 minute mark brings us face to face with Thomas Shelby as he enters his local pub The Garrison.

This post, No.4 in the series, will answer this question:

Do the 12 scenes contain action, dialogue or both?

Let’s go.

Scene 1. 

A Chinese man runs to find a girl, saying “Hurry, or they will kill us all.”

Scene length: 18 seconds.

Action and dialogue – but mostly action.

Scene 2. 

Thomas rides a horse through the streets. People run to hide.

Scene length: 1 minute.

Action only.

Scene 3.

The Chinese Girl does the ‘powder trick’ on the horse.

Scene length: 1.05

Action and dialogue – but mostly action. Only 4 lines of dialogue in 1.05 minutes of screen time.

Scene 4.

Thomas rides through town.

Scene length: 1.35

Action and dialogue –  but mostly action – only one line of dialogue in 1.35 of screen time.

Scene 5.

Thomas walks across a normal busy street and enters a house.

Scene length: 17 seconds.

Action only.

Scene 6.

Inside, youngest brother Finn warns Thomas that Arthur is angry.

Scene length: 30 seconds.

Action and dialogue.

Scene 7.

Thomas enters and walks through the gambling den and speaks to his younger brother John.

Scene length: 52 seconds.

Action and dialogue.

Scene  8.

Thomas and Arthur have a fiery duologue.

Scene length: 1.28

Dialogue.

(There is basic action: the pouring of a glass of whiskey signifies Arthur’s drinking but mostly this is a dialogue-driven scene displaying the power-struggle between the two oldest Shelby brothers . We’ll study this scene in detail later).

Scene 9.

Introduction to series antagonist C.I Campbell on a moving train studying files on Arthur and Thomas Shelby as well as a document about a ‘munitions robbery.’

Scene length: 54 seconds.

Action only.

Scene 10.

Introduction to ‘communist’ Freddie Thorne.

Scene length: 1.21

Dialogue – a political speech by Freddie rallying workers to strike.

Scene 11.

C.I Campbell studies a file on Freddie Thorne.

Scene length: 22 seconds.

Action only.

Scene 12.

Thomas walks along a street towards a local pub.

Action only.

To sum up then, I think it’s interesting to note these 3 things:

1. In the opening 10 minutes, only 2 scenes are driven by dialogue:

i) Scene 8 – Arthur and Thomas’s power struggle. (1.28)

ii) Scene 10 – Freddie’s political battle cry. (1.21)

N.B Not including the Opening Credits, these are the two longest scenes in the opening 10 minutes.

2. C.I Campbell’s scenes (the series antagonist) have NO dialogue. They are visual only.

3. In total there are approximately 3 minutes of dialogue.

So, this means that the opening 10 minutes of Peaky Blinders is:

30% dialogue. 70% action.

Stay tuned for the next post!

 

A Sneaky Peak at Peaky Blinders – post 3: How many characters?

In the first post in this series we asked 10 questions about the first 10 minutes.

This post answers question 3:

How many characters in each scene and who are they?

Scene 1. A Chinese man and a Chinese girl.

Scene 2. Thomas riding a horse + extras.

Scene 3. Thomas + the Chinese girl and man.

Scene 4. Thomas + two policemen + extras.

Scene 5. Thomas + extras.

Scene 6. Thomas + youngest brother Finn.

Scene 7. Thomas + younger brother John.

Scene  8. Thomas + older brother Arthur.

Scene 9. Series Antagonist C.I Campbell alone.

Scene 10. Freddie Thorne + workers.

Scene 11. C.I Campbell alone.

Scene 12. Thomas + extras.

So, an interesting opening with the Chinese characters considering this is Birmingham 1919.

Then, we follow Thomas as he rides a horse through town. Local women and children run inside to hide.

Thomas keeps riding and meets certain members of his community including two uniformed policeman who ‘tip’ their hats (more on this later).

Next, we meet Thomas’s 3 Shelby brothers in succession, in age order:

Finn, John, then Arthur.

Next we meet series antagonist C.I Campbell.

Then we meet Freddie Thorne.

Then we’re back with C.I Campbell.

Finally, we follow Thomas to the Peaky Blinders’ local pub, The Garrison.

Interestingly, we are yet to meet the Shelby family matriarch. It will be fascinating to see at what point we are introduced to Steven Knight’s major female character – Aunt Polly.

Aunt Polly

Have you noticed anything interesting about Peaky Blinders’ opening 10 minutes?

A Sneaky Peak at Peaky Blinders – post 2: Scene Length.

So what have we noticed so far about the opening 10 minutes of Peaky Blinders?

1. The longest scene is the Opening Credits (1.35) which conveys action and creates the story world as well as signals status of series protagonist Thomas Shelby (more on this later).

2. The second longest scene is the fiery conflict between Thomas and his older brother Arthur (1.28). Again, we’ll explore this scene in detail later.

3. Out of 12 scenes, 7 are approximately 1 minute.

4. Out of 12 scenes, 5 are less than 30 seconds.

5. I find it interesting that chief antagonist  C.I Campbell has two scenes (9 + 11) which are a total of 1.16, roughly 10% of screen time. In contrast Thomas, series protagonist, takes about 75% of screen time.

Finally, here’s a list of scene numbers and scene lengths.

Scene 1 (0.18)
Scene 2 (1.00)
Scene 3 (1.05)
Scene 4 (1.35)
Scene 5 (0.17)
Scene 6 (0.30)
Scene 7 (0.52)
Scene 8 (1.28)
Scene 9 (0.54)
Scene 10 (1.21)
Scene 11 (0.22)
Scene 12 (0.18).

 

Anything else you notice about the way Steven Knight has structured the opening 10 minutes?

Stay tuned for the next post!

 

A Sneaky Peak at Peaky Blinders – post 1.

In this series of posts we’re going to analyze Steven Knight’s superb TV drama Peaky Blinders.

To begin, we’re going to explore the first 10 minutes.

How often do you hear the first 10 pages are the most important?

If you don’t grab ’em in the first 10 pages, you lose ’em.

Well, let’s see how what a master of his craft does with his first 10 minutes by asking these 10 questions:

1. How many scenes are there?

2. How long are the scenes?

3. How many characters in each scene and who are they?

4. Do the scenes contain action, dialogue or both?

5. What information is revealed in each scene regarding plot?

6. What information is revealed regarding character?

7. Which main characters are introduced ?

8. What outward goals and inner needs are revealed?

9. What external and internal conflicts are revealed?

10. What subplots, if any, are revealed?

OK. So, a lot to get through. No time to waste! Here goes:

1. How many scenes are there in the first 10 minutes?

Answer: 12.

2. How long are the scenes?

Well, let’s break the scenes down:

Scene 1. 

A Chinese man runs to find a girl, saying “Hurry, or they will kill us all.”

Scene length: 18 seconds.

Scene 2. 

Thomas rides a horse through the streets. People run to hide.

Scene length: 1 minute.

Scene 3.

The Chinese Girl does the ‘powder trick’ on the horse, or, as one boy says, ‘casts a spell.’

Scene length: 1.05

Scene 4.

Thomas rides through town. OPENING CREDITS. (We’ve included this as a ‘scene’ as important information is revealed and the story world is created. (More on this scene later).

Scene length: 1.35

Scene 5.

Thomas walks across a normal busy street and enters a house.

Scene length: 17 seconds.

Scene 6.

Inside, youngest brother Finn warns Thomas that Arthur is ‘mad as hell.’

Scene length: 30 seconds.

Scene 7.

Thomas enters and walks through the gambling den and speaks to his younger brother John about bets for the horse Monahan Boy.

Scene length: 52 seconds.

Scene  8.

Thomas and Arthur have a fiery duologue (more on this great scene later).

Scene length: 1.28

Scene 9.

Introduction to series antagonist Chief Inspector Chester Campbell on a moving train studying profiles of Arthur and Thomas Shelby, as well as a document about a ‘munitions robbery.’

Scene length: 39 seconds.

Scene 10.

Introduction to ‘communist’ Freddie Thorne as he rouses workers to strike.

Scene length: 1.21

Scene 11.

Back to the moving train as C.I Campbell studies a file on Freddie Thorne.

Scene length: 22 seconds.

Scene 12.

Thomas walks along a street towards a local pub.

Scene length: 18 seconds.

Then, at exactly 10 minutes the doors to the pub swing open and we are face to face with the leader of the Peaky Blinders – Thomas Shelby.

10 second shot Peaky Blinders

Bang on 10 minutes and we’re face to face with our hero!

Perfect timing!

Anything else you’ve noticed about the first ten minutes of Peaky Blinders?

Stay tuned for the next post…

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

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.

Image

 

“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:
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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?

5 things to include in your opening dialogue.

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 5 things:

1. 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.

4. Endearing us to the Hero.

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 something about looking like Jason from Friday the 13th. 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. Which brings us to –

5. Subtext.

Aron’s lines hiding a much deeper and far more sinister meaning. Check out his line:

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

We don’t read much into it on first viewing. But actually it’s preparing us for – or foreshadows – the sudden Act 3 genre twist from family adventure drama to slasher/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 character arc?

2. Foreshadowing the climax?

3. Reflecting the theme?

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. 

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

A Sneaky Peak at Peaky Blinders post 5:7 – Plot and Character

We’re studying the opening 10 minutes of Steven Knight’s superb historical crime drama Peaky Blinders.

We’re up to scene 7 which kicks off at 4 minutes 50.

Remember we’re answering questions 5 & 6 in our 10 questions.

What is revealed in each scene regarding plot and what is revealed regarding character?

In this scene Thomas has just entered the family home, had the short exchange with younger brother Finn, and now walks through the doors of the pantry which opens us up to his illegal gambling den.

First, let’s see how Steven Knight describes the scene in his screenplay:

INT. BETTING SHOP – CONTINUOUS – DAY

…To our surprise the pantry gives out onto a secret world.

We find two hole terraced houses have been knocked through to form a single open plan space with the windows boarded. It is a fully functioning (illegal) betting shop and it is buzzing with activity.

The large room is dominated by a huge blackboard on which bets and odds are being chalked by two RUNNERS in shirt sleeves. They stand on stepladders to reach the top of the board. The room swirls with cigarette and cigar smoke and there are half a dozen men queuing silently at a desk to lay bets. A heavy looking man (a gang enforcer known as SCUD-BOAT) is taking the bets in the form of coins wrapped in scraps of paper.

Scud-boat unwraps the pieces of paper and drops coins into a hat as he unrolls the next bet. Thomas pauses and peers up at the blackboard. We see twenty bets, all for Monaghan Boy. The sight doesn’t please or displease him.

One of the men at the blackboard is young and pretty and immaculately groomed. This is JOHN Shelby (Thomas’s 24 year old brother). When he sees Thomas, he looks up from his ledger and hisses with delight…

JOHN
Tommy, will you just look at the board. Will you just look.

At that moment, at the far end of the room, a door opens from a small office, partitioned by glass and curtains. A man in his late thirties puts his head around the door. We will learn that this is ARTHUR. He calls out angrily.

ARTHUR

Tommy! Get in here!

Arthur slams the door. John smiles as Thomas sets off towards the partitioned office (we sense Thomas is in trouble he can handle). Through reflections in the glass of the partitioned office, we see Arthur’s angry, anxious face, waiting.

The next scene with angry, anxious Arthur is studied here and here.

But now, to this scene.

Firstly, we have to again note the incredibly close detail Steven Knight employs.

On screen is almost identical to the script with minor changes in dialogue:

John says “Look at the book” instead of “look at the board” and Thomas commends his younger brother with a “Good work, John.” Arthur says “Tommy! Get in here! Now!” for emphasis. Apart from these minor changes the scene is almost exactly the same as the screenplay.  Which leads us to our questions:
What is revealed in this scene regarding plot?

There is an absence of information in this scene regarding the main plot except perhaps the final words from Arthur which points to conflict between the Shelby brothers and Thomas’s desire to rise to power.

What is revealed in this scene regarding character?

I see 3 revelations regarding character:

1. Thomas is admired by John, his younger brother.

2. Thomas shows leadership skills, positively reinforcing his younger brother with a pat-on-the-back “Good work, John.”

3. Arthur barks an order at Thomas, displaying superiority.

So, to sum up then, this scene is absent of information regarding the main plot but regarding character we learn that Thomas is admired by his younger brother, that he demonstrates leadership skills, and that Arthur sees himself as Thomas’s superior.

In the next scene we’ll see how the two older brothers – Arthur and Thomas – battle for power and position as King of the Shelby family.

Stay tuned for the next sneaky peak at Peaky Blinders!

Let’s Ingrain

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

At drama school we were taught that the role of the clown is, every time he falls down, to get up and try again.

That’s the role of the clown.

And that’s our role, as well, isn’t it?

When we fall, or fail, we are to get up, and try again.

Applies to our writing, too, right? Short story rejected by a magazine? Try again. Don’t get placed in a competition when you worked hard on your story? Try again. Not quite the feedback you were expecting? Still things to work on? Try again.

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

That’s the thing with our heroes and heroines, too

When Carry holds down her stressful job while living with bipolar, because she can do it, may be I can cope with the stresses of my job, too.

If Billy Elliot can become a ballet dancer, he can achieve his dream with all of the social forces fighting against him, then surely I can achieve mine.

If they can do it, so can I.

I can win that place at art school.

I can learn the piano.

I can pass my exams.

If Rocky can make a comeback aged 60, then I can make a comeback, too.

Whatever the story world, every hero exudes the same quality: resilience.

resilience

  1. the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

Whether it’s Billy Elliot or Rocky Balboa, the quality is the same:

Resilience.

Resilience is the characteristic we must ingrain in our characters.

And resilience is the quality we must ingrain in ourselves.

ingrain
verb
  1. firmly fix or establish (a habit, belief, or attitude) in a person.

Resilience.

Let’s ingrain.

Billy Elliot

A Sneaky Peak at Peaky Blinders post 5.8b – Character through Dialogue.

We’re analyzing the opening 10 minutes of Peaky Blinders, scene by scene, line by line, action by action.

We’re onto scene 8, the intense first fight between the two oldest Shelby Brothers – Arthur and Thomas.

In the previous post we studied this scene’s action to see how character was revealed.

In this post we explore the dialogue.

First, let’s read the scene.

(For the purpose of this exercise I’ve cut most of the action and direction from the original screenplay. However, to get a feel for Steven Knight’s clear, stylish and detailed writing read the screenplay here: Peaky-Blinders-S1-Ep1).

OK, to the scene:

INT. BETTING SHOP,  ARTHUR’S OFFICE – CONTINUOUS – DAY.

ARTHUR
You was seen doing the powder trick down at Garrison court.

THOMAS
Times are hard. People need a reason to lay a bet.

ARTHUR

There was a Chinese.

THOMAS
The washer women say she’s a witch. It helps them believe.

ARTHUR
We don’t mess with Chinese.

THOMAS

Look at the book…

ARTHUR

Chinese have cutters of their own.

THOMAS
We agreed. I’m taking charge of drumming up new money.

ARTHUR

What if Monaghan Boy wins? You fixing races now Tommy? You have permission from Billy Kimber to be fixing races? What’s got into you Tommy? You think we can take on the Chinese and Billy Kimber? Billy’s got a bloody army!

THOMAS

I think Arthur. That’s what I do. I think. So you don’t have to.

Thomas leaves. Arthur hurries after him.

ARTHUR

There’s news from Belfast…

Thomas is already walking away. Arthur comes to the door and calls out.

ARTHUR (CONT’D)
I’m calling a family council tonight at eight o’clock.

I want all of us there.

You hear me?

There’s trouble coming.

CUT TO:

A train’s whistle screams as it speeds through a station.

The next scene reveals what Arthur means by his lines “There’s news from Belfast” and “There’s trouble coming” as we meet series antagonist Chief Inspector Campbell for the first time.

However, back to this scene.

What do we learn about Arthur’s character from the dialogue?

1. He fears Billy Kimber and the Chinese.

2. He’s worried about trouble from Belfast.

What do we learn about Thomas’s character?

1. He is morally corrupt, not adverse to ‘fixing races’ in order to make his money.

2. He sees himself as “taking charge”.

3. He believes he is smarter than his older brother. “I think…so that you don’t have to.”

4. He is fearless, not even flinching to his older brother’s warnings about Billy’s “army.”

NB – the word ‘army’ will have different connotations for Thomas, fresh back from the trenches of World War 1.

In the next post we’ll explore what this scene reveals about plot.

Stay tuned for the next sneaky peak at Peaky Blinders!

A Sneaky Peak at Peaky Blinders extra: 3 Opponents.

In studying the opening 10 minutes of the very first episode of Peaky Blinders I was enthralled to discover that in one scene, around 6 minutes into the episode, Steven Knight reveals to us not one but THREE opponents!

And, what’s even more startling and impressive is that the opponents, like Shakespeare’s great plays, work on 3 levels:

Personal. Social. Political.

And Steven Knight points to these opponents – not only in one 1 minute scene – but also in order of power.

Let’s explore.

1. Personal:

Arthur Shelby – personal because he’s Thomas’s older brother and current ‘king’ of the Shelby family.

2. Social:

Billy Kimber – social because he is in Thomas’s social class – the criminal class. He is Thomas’s gangland foe.

3. Political:

Chief Inspector Campbell – who represents the police, the government and The Crown.

Let’s sneak a peak at them one by one:

1. ARTHUR

Arthur kingly holds bottleArthur will be easy to depose. He’s a drunk. He can barely keep himself together let alone run the family business. Plus, he doesn’t share Thomas’s intellect. He will be the first to fall in Thomas’s rise to power.

 2. BILLY KIMBER

Billy KimberBilly is a season opponent. Billy will be more difficult to defeat. We learn from Arthur’s dialogue that in order to “fix” races Thomas would need to get permission from Billy. He is powerful in the world of horse racing and gambling – Thomas’s world. Thomas aims to take him on. But Arthur’s afraid of him, as we learn when he warns his little brother “Billy’s got a bloody army!”

3. CHIEF INSPECTOR CAMPBELL

C.I Campbell is the series opponent. The most powerful of the three, Campbell goes to the very top of the food chain – representing the police, the government and The King.

So, to sum up, in one scene Steven Knight reveals 3 opponents – representing the personal, the social and the political and he reveals them in order of power!

Now that’s economic screenwriting for you.

A Sneaky Peak at Peaky Blinders post 5.8a – Character through Action.

We’re analyzing the opening 10 minutes of Steven Knight’s powerful crime drama Peaky Blinders.

We’re onto scene 8 and answering this question:

What is revealed in this scene about character?

First we’ll focus on action. In the next post we’ll explore the dialogue.

ACTION

The only real action in the scene revolves around Arthur and his bottle of rum and Thomas’s cool, controlled presence in the face of Arthur’s blustery anger.

As the scene begins, Arthur slumps drunkenly into his seat.

In the screenplay, Steven Knight describes:

The office has a photograph of the King dominating the wall. Beneath it sits the King of the Shelby gang, Arthur Shelby.

Even though we don’t actually see this photograph until later in the scene, Steven Knight is making a strong statement about the story genre and one of the major themes:

The Rise of a King.

Read more about this here.

However, back to the scene. Let’s see how Arthur’s character plays out visually.

First, we see him sitting back on his ‘throne’ full of pride, as Steven says, The King of the Shelby’s – yet with his right hand on the bottle.

His leaning back might show us he is on the defensive. As Steven Knight describes in his screenplay, he “feels threatened.”

Next, Arthur pours his rum.

Arthur pours rumThe director pulls us in close on the sauce of Arthur’s weakness:

Close rumThen, Arthur drinks.

Arthur drinksAgain, the director brings us in close:

Arthur drinks closeFinally, we see the fruits of Arthur’s labor, as he becomes – as the writer describes – angry and blustery.

Arthur blusteryThomas, however, remains calm, cool and self-controlled as his brother erupts into drunken anger.

Thomas looks at glassSo, from this action, what do we learn about Arthur’s character?

1. He has a problem with alcohol.

2. He feels threatened.

3. He is defensive.

4. He is angry (and blustery.)

What do we learn about Thomas?

1. He is cool.

2. He is calm.

3. He is self-controlled.

4. He looks down (literally) at his brother’s drinking, possibly with pity and disappointment, but also full aware that his brother doesn’t have the self-control or thought process to build the business empire Thomas dreams of.

Stay tuned for the next sneaky peak at Peaky Blinders!

studying story

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