WEDNESDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:

HOW YOU TELL THE STORY


It's not just the story we tell, it's how we tell it.

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You may have noticed the chapter titles in Tarantino's INGLORIOUS BASTERDS and wondered what kind of stange structure that is... and is it something you might want to use in your new screenplay. You know, so you won't fall into that cookie cutter trap of the standard Hollywood three act structure.

Maybe you've heard that screenwriting guru John Truby says Three Act Structure (which he believes was created by some story analyst) is the death of Hollywood... the reason why so many films suck these days. Problem with that is that the Three Act Structure was *not* invented by some Hollywood story analyst at all...

The Three Act Structure is only 2,400 years old. Everyone from those old Greek dramatists to Shakespeare (his plays were broken into 5 acts for printing purposes) to Checkhov (Anton, not that guy on Star Trek) to every classic film you can think of to that awful film with Adam Sandler you saw last week, uses the 3 Act structure.

And everyone in Hollywood uses it. Go to a script meeting, and the note you'll get will be about how Act 1 drags or Act 2 is soft or something. They're all about the Three Act Structure - it's been in Hollywood since the first feature. You may use some other method - but they won't really care. You will still get notes about beefing up Act 2.

I'm one of those people who believe it's so basic, it's hard not to use the Three Act Structure. When you tell a bedtime story, it uses the Three Act Structure. When you tell your spouse how your day went, it's probably in Three Acts. It's too basic to ignore.

Act 1: Introduces the conflict (a person has a problem).
Act 2: Conflict and escalation of the conflict (person struggles with the problem).
Act 3: Resolution of the conflict (person solves the problem, or the problem solves the person).

But what about those chapters in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS? Hey, and that Spanish movie TIME CRIMES where time gets all mixed up? Certainly a great movie like MEMENTO proves that Truby is right and 2,400 years of drama are wrong?

I'm glad you asked that...

Most stories are about WHAT happens, Chris Nolan's MEMENTO is about WHY things happen. Murder mysteries start with a crime and then the detective probes the past to find the events leading up to that crime... ending with the solution to the crime. MEMENTO begins with a murder and takes us back through the past, focusing on motives, until we discover WHY the murder occurred. In order to make the audience feel the confusion of Leonard's short term memory loss, the film opens with the end then goes BACKWARDS scene-by-scene to show you HOW that end came to be. We finally get to the spark that set off the story - and that's the end of the film!

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Though MEMENTO may seem like some bizarre structure because the story is told backwards, it's actually a traditional three acts. Act One introduces the problem: Leonard kills the man that he thinks murdered his wife. Act Two escalates the conflict: Piece by piece we learn about the wife's murder, the suspects, and we begin to wonder if Leonard shot the right guy! Act Three resolves the conflict: Because we're moving BACKWARDS we eventually get to the wife's murder and learn why she was killed. This answers the WHY question, resolving the conflict in a very unexpected way.

The backwards storytelling is a technique *in addition to* Aristotle's standard Three Act Structure, which I call the "story form". There are hundreds of ways to tell a story, and we get to decide which way works best for this particular story. We still have that underlying dramatic structure of introducing the conflict, struggling with the conflict, then resolving the conflict... but we don't stop there. We keep going and keep making creative decisions - including *how* we tell our story.

An episode of ER worked backwards scene-by-scene to show the result of sleep deprivation on a doctor... and how it leads to an operating room accident that results in the death of a patient. The backwards story-telling method not only disorients the audience (making us feel as punch-drunk as Dr.Luka Kovac (Goran Visnjic), it also makes us jump to several conclusions (just as the doctor will jump to some conclusions while diagnosing a patient which will lead to disaster). Did he sleep with Moria Tierney at the Christmas party? Did he sleep with the intern in his charge? Did he get into a fight with an elf? Did someone intentionally destroy Gedde Wantanabe's Menorah? Given only part of the information, disoriented because the story is told backwards, we keep jumping to the wrong conclusion... so we understand how Dr. Kovac could jump to the wrong diagnosis under similar circumstances. Like in MEMENTO the technique is used to put us in the protagonist's shoes.

Remember, we want to give the audience an emotional experience, and the method we use to tell our story is critical. HOW we give the audience information is just as important as the information itself. You may conceal information to create suspense and reveal it later. In my script for THE BASE the base commander blames our hero for the death of his son during Desert Storm. The most interesting way to give the audience this information was in a series of flashbacks parceled out a bit at a time throughout the script so that the backstory ran parallel to the main story... and made the hero's responsibility in the death a mystery. PETULIA (1968) intertwines past and present stories in a love story about an abused wife's affair with her doctor... holding information until the exact moment when it will have maximum impact on the audience.

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Nic Roeg films like DON'T LOOK NOW throw chronology out the window, bouncing through time from event to event, using the impact of each scene on the protagonist as the basis for its three act structure. Lem Dobbs' THE LIMEY scatters chronology to show the way memory and emotions play off each other - the same short scene has different emotional impact depending on where we see it in the story. Atom Egoyan's EXOTICA gives us several seemingly unrelated characters and reveals their relationships as the film progresses, surprising us when we finally learn the connection between a stripper and her favorite customer at the end of the film. My unproduced script THE LAST STAND begins in the middle of the story and alternates flashbacks and present day scenes to work simultaneously towards the beginning and end of the story from that middle scene. This was the best way to tell the story.

HOW you tell the story is just as important as the story itself. By using a backwards scene-by-scene form (like that episode of SEINFELD where Elaine's bra-less friend gets married in India) MEMENTO gives the audience Leonard's short term memory loss - we have no idea who these people are or whether we can trust them or how we came to be here. The FORM of the screenplay helps to tell the story...

Just as using the chapter titles in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS makes the story seem different and interesting. Finding the form in which you tell your story is an important choice.

Just as having a great idea does not insure that you have a great script... or having great dialogue doesn't insure that you will have a great script, or having any other single element will insure that you have a great script - having that very basic Three Act Structure doesn't make your script suddenly brilliant. It's one of *hundreds* of elements you need to get right. Blaming the Three Act Structure is exactly the same kind of generalization that Truby criticizes when scoffs at the Hollywood belief that all successful films must a happy ending. (Which no one in Hollywood actually believes - see CASABLANCA or the latest horror sequel for proof.) The problem isn't the Three Act Structure, it's *stopping* at the Three Act Structure. It's not using your creativity to build on that structure, and find an interesting way to tell your story. Chapters? Backwards? Non-chron? Multiple Points Of View? Rewinds? Skipping Ahead? Fantasy Scenes? Use your imagination! Find the best way to tell your story!

You don't have to use any of these strange storytelling techniques, but you *do* have to make your script interesting and exciting to read. You want to make your script *memorable*.

Are you using the most interesting method to tell your story? Does the FORM of your story add to the audience's experience?


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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.

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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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"SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING is the best book on the practical nuts-and-bolts mechanics of writing a screenplay I've ever read." - Ted Elliott, co-writer of MASK OF ZORRO, SHREK, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN and the sequels (with Terry Rossio). (ie; 4 of the top 20 Box Office Hits Of ALL TIME.)

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Your story doesn't get a second chance to make a great first impression, and this book shows you a bunch of techniques on how to do that. From the 12 Basic Ways To Begin Your Story, to the 3 Stars Of Your First Scene (at least one must be present) to World Building, Title Crawls, Backstory, Starting Late, Teasers and Pre Title Sequences, Establishing Theme & Motifs (using GODFATHER PART 2), Five Critical Elements, Setting Up The Rest Of The Story (with GODFATHER), and much more! With hundreds of examples ranging from Oscar winners to classic films like CASABLANCA to some of my produced films (because I know exactly why I wrote the scripts that way). Biggest Blue Book yet! Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is over 100,000 words - 312 pages!

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HOW YOU TELL IT!

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*** SUPPORTING CHARACTER SECRETS *** - For Kindle! (Exclusive)


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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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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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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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 160 pages!

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