FRIDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:
ONE STORY - ONE CONFLICT
To keep your script focused, you need to
chose ONE external conflict. Your subplots will part of that
conflict... like splinter beams from a prism. Each beam
illustrates a different aspect of the main conflict or shows a
different step in the solution of the main conflict. Dealing with
each subplot moves your protagonist closer to the solution of the
Though you can't have too much conflict, you can have too many
conflicts... that's what leads to "Sub-plot-itis" - a script with
lots of subplots, but no clear main plot.
Those ancient Greeks knew this was a problem 2,400 years ago when
they came up with those Three Unities, one of which is Unitity Of Action/Event.
The "too many conflicts thing" isn't some Hollywood invention, it is a basic tenant
of dramatic writing... so you'd think everyone would know about it by now.
STREET KINGS is the first original screenplay by best selling novelist James Ellroy, and has
an all star cast, headed up be
Keanu Reeves as a cop very similar to Russell Crowe’s character in LA CONFIDENTIAL with Forest
Whitaker as his boss, similar to James Cromwell. Oh, and Chris Evans is kind of like Guy Pearce.
But STREET KINGS didn't burn up the box office when it was released and I wouldn't make any
office pool bets on it winning any Oscars. The film is just too confusing. Too many plots, too
many subplots, too many conflicts.
Keanu is a cop who knows how to plant evidence against bad guys who are smart enough not
to leave any evidence, and isn’t above killing a whole bunch of bad guys who *would have* killed
him, had they been armed. It’s a good role for Keanu, because he can seem vacuous and it works -
he’s like a big dumb attack dog... but he uses those puppy dog eyes of his to show that he may not
be completely at ease with killing people, even if they do deserve it. Add to that the minis of
vodka he chugs every few minutes and that dead wife in his past and you have a cliche cop on the
edge. I always joke that Keanu is the luckiest man in Hollywood - he stars in all kinds of hit
films and even some great ones like RIVER’S EDGE and MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO... but he’s really just
like any other star - he has a type of character that he plays really well, and crashes and burns
in roles that aren’t in his comfort zone. So he does a great job here - as do all of the others -
including Jay Mohr as the straight-arrow cop who keeps confronting Keanu.
I am a fan of James Ellroy, I’ve read most of his books and have
a stack of autographed books - which required that I stand in line at some book store for hours.
But Ellroy is an acquired taste - his stories are convoluted, scatter-shot, unfocused, dense,
all-over-the-place, and frequently seem like he’s making them up as he goes along. Having met
the guy and had a few brief conversations with him when he was signing books, he seems as if he
may have ADD or something - he’s got a ton of energy, he’s smart as hell, and he just kind of
erupts like a volcano. His books are kind of the same - and every time someone tries to adapt
one for the screen, they usually fail miserably. The exception being LA CONFIDENTIAL, which
STREET KINGS’ story liberally steals from. Ellroy is one of those writers that you love, warts
and all. And Ellroy fans are *rabid* fans - we’re kind of a cult. So when James Ellroy writes his
first original screenplay, someone is going to buy it and make it, even if the story doesn’t make
much sense. And every star in Hollywood who is a fan of Ellroy’s will be standing in line to play
Story has Keanu’s ex-partner, whom he hates, murdered moments before Keanu was going to beat him up.
Keanu is left at the crime scene with the guy he has publically said he wants to kill... dead.
When evidence pops up that his ex-partner might have been dirty, Keanu is told by his boss,
Whitaker, to just let it go. But Internal Affairs guy Hugh Laurie thinks Keanu might have killed
his partner, so to clear his name he has to find the killer... which exposes all kinds of police
corruption and all kinds of twisted plots and all kinds of side tracks and subplots and story
threads that seem almost random, and eventually gets us to the real killer... and if you’ve seen
LA CONFIDENTIAL, you know who that is.
Problem is, with so much going on there isn’t much time for anything - and we get sketches and
cliches as far as characters are concerned. And we’re never really let inside Keanu’s character -
we are kept at a distance. The story is pretty much third person - observing the characters instead
of allowing us to understand them. The film ends up being cold and emotional... and has no
*moments* - even the big end scene where Keanu finally catches up with the guy who killed his
partner... and it’s just kind of flat. No emotions, basically a scene like any other scene.
Too many subplots, too many characters, too much happening means that *everything* gets less time.
Instead of *more conflicts* you want to dig deeper into *one* conflict. Focus on the conflict... and
make sure even your subplots are part of that one conflict.
This is just as true in comedies as gritty cop dramas. ANALYZE THAT has a dozen different conflicts fighting for our attention. Someone is
trying to kill Robert DeNiro in prison, so he begins singing showtunes from WEST SIDE STORY in
order to be released into the care of his psychiatrist Billy Crystal. Is the film about DeNiro trying to find
out who is trying to kill him? Well, that's one of the plots. Some other plots include DeNiro and Crystal
living together in a strange version of THE ODD COUPLE, DeNiro trying to find a legit job that
matches his skills set, the death of Billy Crystal's father - the funeral and the grieving process, a ruthless
Godmother played by Cathy Moriarity who is trying to take over the family, the relationship between
Moriarity and her HIMbo assistant, we also have the other mob bosses who have relationships with
DeNiro and all of the mob politics that come from that, a SOPRANOS-like TV
show with an egotistical star played by Anthony LaPaglia and a hysterical director who seems to
always say the exact wrong thing, an armored car heist that DeNiro becomes involved with, Crystal
and his nagging wife, that strange WEST SIDE STORY thing, and others too numerous to mention.
The problem is, many of these conflicts don't seem to be connected to the story in any way. The
SOPRANOS plot seems tacked on to create
a few laughs... but so little time is spent on the rivalry between the fake mob boss and the real mob boss
that no actual humor is generated. Instead we get a quick scene where LaPaglia imitates DeNiro - that
isn't really funny. You could make a whole movie about a real mob boss who becomes the advisor to a
TV series about the mob... and by focusing on that conflict there would be more humor. You could
have done a whole film about a ruthless Godmother - a role reversal comedy where the bimbos are
HIMbos. That would have been funny. But when you have all of these conflicts fighting EACH
OTHER, they all lose! We have so many little plots that we have no time to focus on any one plot - and
no time to really mine the humor. Instead of deep belly laughs from one story, we get surface gags from
a dozen stories. Too many conflicts spoil the comedy!
To keep your script moving you need a strong external conflict
- an obstacle that comes between the protagonist and their goal.
That may sound obvious, but most of us probably take conflict for
granted. We know our scripts need it, and we just assume that our
ideas have it. Big mistake. The source of most script problems
is a weak conflict or an unfocused conflict... or no conflict at
all! Without conflict there is no plot, no way to expose
character, no drama or comedy. If your story doesn't have a
problem, your whole script has a problem!
The conflict needs to be part of your concept. Built in rather
than built on. You can't go back and add it later. If you tack on
a conflict, it's going to look tacked on. Your script will end up
contrived and manipulative and you will be struggling to keep
things exciting. You characters are the ones who are supposed to
Your Screenplay Checklist:
1) What is your story's *external* (plot) conflict?
2) What is your protagonist's *emotional* conflict?
3) How can we see your protagonist *battling* the external conflict?
4) How are the *emotional* conflict and *external* conflict connected?
5) How do you dramatize the protagonist's *struggle* with the emotional conflict?
For your script to work, someone has to want something and
someone else wants to keep them from obtaining it. One conflict
per story... But a BIG conflict and an IMPORTANT conflict.
Scripts are about the most important decision your protagonist
will make in their entire life.
More on this in the STORY Blue Book!
All About Endings!
GRAND FINALES Blue Book!
The Perfect Ending For Your Story!
The First Ten Pages Of Your Screenplay Are Critical,
But What About The Last 10 Pages?
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If you are making your own movie, budget, is even more important - and you need to think about budget *before* you write your screenplay... or you will end up with a script that you can’t afford to make (or is a struggle to make). Everyone is making their own films these days, and even if you have done it before there are lots of great techniques in this book to get more money on screen - for less money! You can make a film that looks like it cost millions for pocket change.
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THE MISSION IMPOSSIBLE MOVIES
NEW: Updates On Films 7 & 8 Casting!
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*** THE BOURNE MOVIES
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Over 240 pages!
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My New Script Secrets Newsletter!
OUTLINES & THE THEMATIC!
OUTLINES & THE THEMATIC Blue Book.
ARE YOUR SCENES IN THE RIGHT ORDER?
AND ARE THEY THE RIGHT SCENES?
Your story is like a road trip... but where are you going? What's the best route to get there? What are the best sights to see along the way? Just as you plan a vacation instead of just jump in the car and start driving, it's a good idea to plan your story. An artist does sketches before breaking out the oils, so why shouldn't a writer do the same? This Blue Book looks at various outlining methods used by professional screenwriters like Wesley Strick, Paul Schrader, John August, and others... as well as a guest chapter on novel outlines. Plus a whole section on the Thematic Method of generating scenes and characters and other elements that will be part of your outline. The three stages of writing are: Pre-writing, Writing, and Rewriting... this book looks at that first stage and how to use it to improve your screenplays and novels.
DESCRIPTION & VOICE Blue Book!
DESCRIPTION & VOICE Blue Book.
IS HALF OF YOUR STORY IN TROUBLE?
Most screenplays are about a 50/50 split between dialogue and description - which means your description is just as important as your dialogue. It just gets less press because the audience never sees it, the same reason why screenwriters get less press than movie stars. But your story will never get to the audience until readers and development executives read your script... so it is a very important factor. Until the movie is made the screenplay is the movie and must be just as exciting as the movie. So how do you make your screenplay exciting to read? Description is important in a novel as well, and the “audience” does read it... how do we write riveting description?
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William Goldman says the most important single element of any screenplay is structure. It’s the skeleton under the flesh and blood of your story. Without it, you have a spineless, formless, mess... a slug! How do you make sure your structure is strong enough to support your story? How do you prevent your story from becoming a slug? This Blue Book explores different types of popular structures from the basic three act structure to more obscure methods like leap-frogging. We also look at structure as a verb as well as a noun, and techniques for structuring your story for maximum emotional impact. Most of the other books just look at *structure* and ignore the art of *structuring* your story. Techniques to make your story a page turner... instead of a slug!
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LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!
*** HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE *** - For Kindle!
Alfred Hitchcock, who directed 52 movies, was known as the *Master Of Suspense*; but what exactly is suspense and how can *we* master it? How does suspense work? How can *we* create “Hitchcockian” suspense scenes in our screenplays, novels, stories and films?
This book uses seventeen of Hitchcock’s films to show the difference between suspense and surprise, how to use “focus objects” to create suspense, the 20 iconic suspense scenes and situations, how plot twists work, using secrets for suspense, how to use Dread (the cousin of suspense) in horror stories, and dozens of other amazing storytelling lessons. From classics like “Strangers On A Train” and “The Birds” and “Vertigo” and “To Catch A Thief” to older films from the British period like “The 39 Steps” and “The Man Who Knew Too Much” to his hits from the silent era like “The Lodger” (about Jack The Ripper), we’ll look at all of the techniques to create suspense!
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WRITING HORROR - The essentials of a horror screenplay - what do ROSEMARY'S BABY, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, THE EXORCIST, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE OTHERS and OPEN WATER have in common? This class will tell you! All of the critical elements necessary to write a script that scares the pants off the audience. Writing Horror is $10.00 (plus $5 S&H).
Click here for more information on CLASS MP3s!
THE BOOK THAT STARTED IT ALL!
*** THE SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING *** - For Kindle!
*** THE SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING *** - For Nook!
Why pay $510 for a used version of the 240 page 2000 version that used to retail for $21.95? (check it out!) when
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"SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING is the
best book on the practical nuts-and-bolts mechanics of writing a screenplay I've ever read."
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READY TO BREAK IN?
*** BREAKING IN BLUE BOOK *** - For Kindle!
Should really be called the BUSINESS BLUE BOOK because it covers almost everything you will need to
know for your screenwriting career: from thinking like a producer and learning to speak their language,
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networking, to the different kinds of meetings you are will have at Studios, to the difference between
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are working under contract, to contracts and options and lawyers and... when to run from a deal!
Information you can use *now* to move your career forward! It's all here in the Biggest Blue Book yet!
Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is over 400 pages!
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STORY: WELL TOLD!
*** STORY: WELL TOLD *** - For Kindle!
This book takes you step-by-step through the construction of a story... and how to tell a story well, why Story always starts with character... but ISN'T character, Breaking Your Story, Irony, Planting Information, Evolving Story, Leaving No Dramatic Stone Unturned, The Three Greek Unities, The Importance Of Stakes, The Thematic Method, and how to create personal stories with blockbuster potential. Ready to tell a story?
Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is over 85,000 words - 251 pages!
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MOVIES ARE CHARACTERS!
*** CREATING STRONG PROTAGONISTS *** - For Kindle!
*** CREATING STRONG PROTAGONISTS *** - For Nook!
Expanded version with more ways to create interesting protagonists! A step-by-step guide to creating "take charge" protagonists. Screenplays are about characters in conflict... characters in emotional turmoil... Strong three dimensional protagonists who can find solutions to their problems in 110 pages. But how do you create characters like this? How do you turn words into flesh and blood? Character issues, Knowing Who Is The Boss, Tapping into YOUR fears, The Naked Character, Pulp Friction, Man With A Plan, Character Arcs, Avoiding Cliche People, Deep Characterization, Problem Protagonists, 12 Ways To Create Likable Protagonists (even if they are criminals), Active vs. Reactive, The Third Dimension In Character, Relationships, Ensemble Scripts, and much, much more. Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is once again around 205 pages!
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ACT TWO SOLUTIONS!
*** ACT TWO SECRETS *** - For Kindle!
Expanded version with more techniques to help you through the desert of Act Two! Subjects Include: What Is Act Two? Inside Moves, The 2 Ps: Purpose & Pacing, The 4Ds: Dilemma, Denial, Drama and Decision, Momentum, the Two Act Twos, Subplot Prisms, Deadlines, Drive, Levels Of Conflict, Escalation, When Act Two Begins and When Act Two Ends, Scene Order, Bite Sized Pieces, Common Act Two Issues, Plot Devices For Act Two, and dozens of others. Over 67,000 words (that’s well over 200 pages) of tools and techniques to get you through the desert of Act Two alive!
Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is well over 200 pages!
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Expanded version with more techniques to flesh out your Supporting Characters and make them individuals. Using the hit movie BRIDESMAIDS as well as other comedies like THE HANGOVER and TED and HIGH FIDELITY and
40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN and many other examples we look at ways to make your Supporting Characters come alive on the page.
Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is around 170 pages!
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ADVICE FROM 1920!
*** VINTAGE #1: HOW TO WRITE PHOTOPLAYS *** - For Kindle!
Screenwriting books have been around as long as films have. This series reprints vintage screenwriting books with a new introduction and history, plus new articles which look at how these lessons from almost 100 years ago apply to today’s screenplays. Anita Loos book is filled with information which still applies.
In addition to the full text of the original book, you get the full screenplay to Miss Loos' hit THE LOVE EXPERT, plus several new articles on the time period and women in Hollywood.
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I WRITE PICTURES!
*** VISUAL STORYTELLING *** - For Kindle! (exclusive)
Show Don't Tell - but *how* do you do that? Here are techniques to tell stories visually! Using Oscar Winning Films and Oscar Nominated Films as our primary examples: from the first Best Picture Winner "Sunrise" (1927) to the Oscar Nominated "The Artist" (which takes place in 1927) with stops along the way Pixar's "Up" and Best Original Screenplay Winner "Breaking Away" (a small indie style drama - told visually) as well as "Witness" and other Oscar Winners as examples... plus RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 200 pages!
ONLY $4.99 - and no postage!
*** YOUR IDEA MACHINE *** - For Kindle!
*** YOUR IDEA MACHINE *** - For Nook!
Expanded version with more ways to find great ideas! Your screenplay is going to begin with an idea. There are good ideas and bad ideas and commercial ideas and personal ideas. But where do you find ideas in the first place? This handbook explores different methods for finding or generating ideas, and combining those ideas into concepts that sell. The Idea Bank, Fifteen Places To Find Ideas, Good Ideas And Bad Ideas, Ideas From Locations And Elements, Keeping Track Of Your Ideas, Idea Theft - What Can You Do? Weird Ways To Connect Ideas, Combing Ideas To Create Concepts, High Concepts - What Are They? Creating The Killer Concept, Substitution - Lion Tamers & Hitmen, Creating Blockbuster Concepts, Magnification And The Matrix, Conflict Within Concept, Concepts With Visual Conflict, Avoiding Episodic Concepts, much more! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 175 pages!
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PRO DIALOGUE TECHNIQUES!
*** DIALOGUE SECRETS *** - For Kindle!
*** DIALOGUE SECRETS *** - For Nook!
Expanded version with more ways to create interesting dialogue! How to remove bad dialogue (and what *is* bad dialogue), First Hand Dialogue, Awful Exposition, Realism, 50 Professional Dialogue Techniques you can use *today*, Subtext, Subtitles, Humor, Sizzling Banter, *Anti-Dialogue*, Speeches, and more. Tools you can use to make your dialogue sizzle! Special sections that use dialogue examples from movies as diverse as "Bringing Up Baby", "Psycho", "Double Indemnity", "Notorious", the Oscar nominated "You Can Count On Me", "His Girl Friday", and many more! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 175 pages!
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E BOOKS PAGE
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
MY OTHER SITES
B MOVIE WORLD
Cult Films, Exploitation, Bikers & Women In Prison, Monster Movies.
FIRST STRIKE PRODUCTIONS
Producing my own scripts, investment possibilities, pipe dreams.
NAKED SCREENWRITING MP3s
The NAKED SCREENWRITING CLASS ON MP3!
The 2001 London Class on 8 MP3s! Recorded *live* the morning after the Raindance Film Festival
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BOOKLETS & PRODUCTS
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 The Best Nuts & Bolts Screenwriting Book On The
nineteen produced films, interviews with me in magazines,
several sample scripts, my available scripts list... And MORE!
CLASSES ON MP3
CLASSES ON MP3! Take a class on MP3! GUERRILLA MARKETING - NO AGENT? NO PROBLEM! and WRITING THRILLERS (2 Full length classes on MP3). Now Available: IDEAS & CREATIVITY, WRITING HORROR, WRITING INDIE FILMS, more!
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