FRIDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:

ACTION IS CHARACTER


You may have noticed that the latest FAST & FURIOUS movie, FURIOUS SEVEN, has landed at #4 in All Time Worldwide Box Office. Yes, All Time (which includes your ten favorite movies). Yes, Worldwide (which includes every film released in every country in the world... this film was popular all over the globe!). Yes, that's not adjusted for inflation... so GONE WITH THE WIND is probably still #1 and FURIOUS SEVEN is much farther down the list. But FURIOUS SEVEN (with it's new director to the franchise) (and unexpected stop in the middle of production when one of the stars was killed in a car accident) (so that the screenplay had to be rewritten and completely restructured) made a ton of money and is still the film to beat this year... and has managed to make more money than all but three other films in the world since the dawn of cinema.

WTF????

You may think these films are stupid, but actually they are very smart. From the very first film they have focused on *character* as well as the fast cars and hot women (and men). Audiences like the characters and keep coming back for more. The first film was never meant to be anything other than a basic popcorn film... not a "homerun" movie, more of a "double". Not a tentpole, just a typical genre film. But it made much more money than expected and those people who buy the tickets and secretly pay our salaries in the film biz loved it. So they made a sequel without Vin Diesel... which did okay, but not as much as they expected. At that point, it was decided to continue the series as Direct To Video features. Universal had done great business with the AMERICAN PIE film DTV sequels and thought this was a good fit.

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But the story for the third film was pretty good, even though it didn't have any cast members from the first two films. It was a father and son story where a teenager in Japan comes of age in the world of street racing (focusing on drifting) with some Yakuza criminals thrown in to add excitement. Though I don't know the backstory, my *guess* is that the film was made during Universal's ownership by a Japanese company and they were looking to make a film that would do well in Japan. My further *guess* is that it got a theatrical release in the USA in order to be more attractive to the Japanese theatrical audience. The film didn't break *any* box office records and the series would probably have gone to the Home Entertainment division except...

Vin Diesel wanted to come back... and so did Paul Walker... and so did the rest of the cast. So FAST & FURIOUS 4 would have "all the original parts", plus a screenplay by TOKYO DRIFT's Chris Morgan. Now, whether this was Morgan's idea or the producer's I do not know, but I'm going to credit Morgan because it's a story decision: instead of looking at FAST & FURIOUS 4 as a single movie, they decided to look at it as a chapter in a much larger story, and the first 3 films were also chapters. So each *chapter* might have its own individual plot, but it would also have part of the larger story... the way a TV series might have a crime that will be solved this week, but also a larger story about the protagonist's life. This turned the focus on the *characters* and kind of turned the FAST & FURIOUS franchise into a bit of a soap opera.

(Spoilers)

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The event that brings all of the characters together for FAST & FURIOUS 4 is the murder of Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) who was Dom's (Vin Diesel) girlfriend. This was probably done because I think she was on LOST at the time and couldn't be in the whole film. But it was a genius decision because it made the focus of that film about the loss of a "family member" (which is emotional). The other genius decision was to have Han (Sung Kang) from TOKYO DRIFT be part of the family... and make TOKYO DRIFT's story kind of a "flash forward" to *after* FAST & FURIOUS 6. They filmed that chapter out of order! Since Letty was dead, Dom gets a new potential love interest in FAST & FURIOUS 4, Gisele (Gia Gadot) who is on the villain's team, and then switches... but Dom is still hung up on Letty, so no romance blossoms... but Gisele does become part of the "family". That lack of romance may have been because Morgan knew that eventually Letty would come back (FAST & FURIOUS 6) and have amnesia (told you: soap opera) and would have to learn to fall in love with Dom all over again.

But the key to the success of this series is that we want to see the new movie to find out what happens in the character's *personal lives*. The ticket buyers love the characters! Each "chapter" is designed to give us that strong B story about the character's relationships with each other... the soap opera stuff. FURIOUS 7 opens up with Dom taking Letty to a street racing group in the Dominican Republic that they created... hoping that will jog her memory of their past relationship. We first see Brian driving his kid to school in a minivan, and wishing he were street racing. Is he bored with marriage and family life? Every character has an emotional journey in FURIOUS 7 that is all part of the larger story... but we only see part of it in this chapter. The character "B story" is the franchise's "A story"... and that's why people keep paying to see these films. Everyone says number five was the best, and I think that's when they first noticed that these were chapters in a larger story.

EMOTIONAL ACTION

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Our job as writers is to give the audience an emotional experience, whether it's fear from a horror movie, sadness from a tragedy, romance from a love story, joy and laughter from a comedy, excitement from an action movie. Our job is to create those emotions in the audience through our scripts.

Without emotions what we end up with is one of those boring science movies from high school where the dispassionate narrator drones on and on and on. Those things put me to sleep. You want your action script to have juice, excitement, sparks. Big drama, big emotions... move that audience gear as much as you can. Action films are all about life or death situations, and those are about the most emotionally charged situations I can think of. When you are writing an action scene, remember to make it emotional as well as physical... we're exploring character through actions.

We not only want to create a balance between action and character, we want to use action to *explore* character. We want the action scenes to be ABOUT character - to demonstrate character through actions and reactions to events. In the revised version of THE SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING I have two chapters about showing character through action scenes. If your action scene tells us that your tough cop is tough, um, we already knew that. We want to dig below the surface of characters and use the action scenes to explore the character's emotional (inner) conflict. Okay, he's a tough cop - but why? And what is that thing tearing him apart inside? What is that flaw that he is wrestling with? If the purpose of your action scene is to give the audience character information, make sure it's something we do not know... and something that is more than just surface. Find ways to *test* your character through the actions - force them to make tough decisions that define them. Force them to deal with their personal problems... while firing a gun with a never-ending magazine.

THEMATIC ACTION

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In FACE/OFF the central conflict is FBI Agent Sean Archer's (John Travolta) pursuit of the man who killed his son... at the expense of the rest of his family. Archer believes that the way to be a good husband and father is to track down his son's killer and waste the sucker... even if it means completely ignoring his wife and daughter. This is his character flaw, and the film creates action situations that force him to deal with that flaw. Most of the action scenes have a family-based emotional component in them, whether it's Archer rescuing his daughter from the villain Castor Troy (Nic Cage)at the end, or Archer rescuing the Villain's son in the middle of a massive shoot out, or the henchman taking a bullet so that his sister (Gina Gershon) can live. There are family ties to almost every action sequence - they are *thematic* scenes. Theme can be a point, an issue, or just some aspect of the human condition that your script is exploring; but you should be able to find it in every scene... including the ones with giant fireballs. One of the signs of a bad action screenplay are action scenes that are interchangeable - they could be from any movie. You want your action scenes to be *specific* to this character and this story. (Are you listening Michael Bay?)

The *choices* that Archer makes in each action scene shows his character's growth. He is battling his own emotional problems as he battles Castor Troy or the prisoners or his own agency. These scenes are designed to make Archer make a choice between family and his revenge. All of the action scenes are *designed* by the screenwriters to show character by setting up situations involving families... and firearms!

Remember that action is character. Action scenes *expose* character. That is one of the primary purposes of any scene - to expose character. Scenes should also advance the plot, illustrate the theme (if possible) and entertain the audience. Yes, that's a lot of work. But if your action scene isn't telling us anything about the character, isn't emotionally involving, it's just a high school science movie. Our job is to provide emotions, to keep that audience gear moving.

Once you have your hero's emotional problem (character arc or flaw), come up with a list of action scenes that will force him or her to deal with that problem. Scenes that force them to solve that emotional problem in order to survive. If two people are running away from an escaped tiger, and one trips and falls... does the other go back to rescue them (and put his own life in peril for a stranger)? By creating a situation where *physical actions* show decisions we can explore character through actions.

EMOTIONS INTO ACTIONS

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But what about movies like THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS (original)? Glad you asked! Though TF&TF may have tied with POOTIE TANG for Oscar nominations the year it was released, it still uses its action scenes to *tell the story* and to *explore character* through decisions we can see. Our protagonist Brian O'Conner (played by the late Paul Walker) is a rookie cop searching for a family. He's joined a brotherhood of policeman, but that's not providing what he's looking for - it's all stern fathers... But when he goes undercover and joins "The Team", the hoods treat him like a brother. Leader Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) welcomes him into his home and later confides to him about the death of his father. The crooks have family barbecues. They take care of each other. When Brian asks Mia Toretto (Jordanna Brewster) about the team, and she tells him that Dom went to school with a couple of them and just adopted the others.

But like all big families, there's a little sibling rivalry - Brian doesn't get along with one of the guys on the team named Vince (played by Matt Schulze). They are like rival brothers looking for Dom's love... and Brian has taken Vince's place as Dom's right hand man. So Brian and Vince get into a fist fight the moment they meet. This is the one guy in the family he doesn't love.

Emotional Decisions are the key to great actions scenes. And there needs to be consequences for these decisions. And the we must continue to create difficult decisions with serious emotional consequences.

Cut to the big action scene at the end of F&F, where Brian discovers his family is going to pull a heist that's really a trap set by his old family, the police. Our hero is now torn between his duty as a policeman and his family (the crooks). Which side is he on? What will he decide to do? It's a dilemma where either decision has serious consequences. Does he betray his police family or does he betray his criminal family? He decides to go warn the criminal family and prevent the heist before it even begins...

By the time he gets there, it's too late. The robbery of a big rig truck is in progress - two of the family's cars have crashed and a family member is trapped on the side of the truck as the driver fires a shotgun at them. This family member will DIE unless our hero saves them. Will our hero further cross the line into criminal activity by saving this person? Another big decision with emotional consequences.

To make it a better decision, instead of it being Mia, the woman he loves, or his new best friend Dom, it's Vince: the one family member he hates. The one guy who he always fights with. Will he risk his life to save the least liked member of his criminal family? See how difficult this decision is? And it's in the middle of a *moving* heist scene filled with racing cars and a shoot out! It's an emotional decision, a character scene, in the *middle* of the action scene.

What do you think he decides?

The entire action scene is filled with decisions that pit our hero's job against our hero's survival against our hero's need for family against past problems with this family member. The scene *shows* the emotional struggle through the physical struggle. It's a situation designed to *show* our hero's emotional problem through actions and shotguns and big trucks and fast cars and cool stunts. Start with the character, start with the emotions... then find the action scene that illustrates these things.

MAKE IT VISUAL!

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Right after that truck hijack scene there's another good example of visual storytelling. Our hero radios for a medical helicopter - burning his job as a cop *and* his friendship with Diesel at the same time. Diesel storms off to his car. When the helicopter comes, our hero carries the wounded guy to it... leaving Jordanna Brewster between Diesel and our hero. Both call out to her: Love or family? She must decide which to go with. This turns an *emotional decision* into a *physical action* - she has to run to Vin Diesel and the car or our hero and the helicopter. She picks family, and runs to the car.

Remember to make your action scenes emotional. To use them as a way to show decisions. The conflict in an action scene is the conflict in the screenplay is the emotional conflict that your protagonist is struggling with. They're all connected.

An action scene is a *character scene* - what does this scene tell us about the character that we did not know? Or what *decision* does this action scene force the character to make? We want to use those car chases and shoot outs and explosions to *explore character*.

An action scene is also a *story scene* - if you can remove an action scene and the story still works - get it out of there! What you have is very exciting filler. If this action scene can be used in some other screenplay - get it out of there! What you have is a *generic* action scene that has nothing to do with your story and screenplay. If the action scene just gets character from A to B, but doesn't *change the direction of the story* - it is filler material.

FAST FIVE also uses action to explore character... more on that in a later tip!

FAST SIX... no so much. But it has a great protagonist/antagonist face off about how each has a moral code which is at odds with the other.

FURIOUS SEVEN... uses action to *show* character! There's a great scene after the rescue of Ramsey where she identifies each individual character based on *how they drove* in the rescue scene. Ex cop or ex military (Brian), Tech nerd (Tej), Mr. Alpha (Don), Mrs. Alpha (Letty), and Joker (Roman).

FAST EIGHT... we'll have to wait and see!



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bluebook E BOOKS: New Blue Books and Novelettes!
I am expanding all of the Blue Books from around 44 pages of text to around 200 pages! Some are over 250 pages! See what is availabale and what is coming soon!Also, I've been writing Novelletes and there will soon be novels.
E BOOKS: BLUE BOOKS & NOVELLETES

BOOKLETS & PRODUCTS

bluebook FIRST STRIKE BLUE BOOKS
Each Blue Book is 48 pages and focuses on a different aspect of screenwriting. Dialogue. Visual Storytelling. Your First Ten Pages. Act 2 Booster. Protagonists. Great Endings.
Seventeen Blue Books now available!

THE SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING OUT OF PRINT!