WEDNESDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:

THUNDERBALL THEORY


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In THE SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING Book, I have a thing that I call the “Thunderball Theory” which is kind of the reverse of Chekhov’s (Anton, not the STAR TREK guy) gun quote: “If in the first act you have a pistol hung on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise, don’t put it there.” Chekhov was talking about everything in a story having a purpose, and things that are planted paying off later. Things that pay off later need to be planted first - established. This removes coincidence. One of the things that I frequently say in my books is that “If you don’t show it, the audience can’t know it” - and the Thunderball Theory is about *demonstrating* that gun on the wall.

In the James Bond movie THUNDERBALL, the villain Largo steals *two* nuclear warheads, so that he can test one just to prove to the authorities that he’s not kidding. Hey, anyone can say that they are going to nuke a major city in the USA unless their demands are met, but how can we really know that they have a nuclear weapon? In the film, the second nuke is hidden somewhere in Miami, and James Bond must stop Largo before he kills all of the nice people in Miami. If that plot sounds familiar to you, it’s because it’s also the plot to James Cameron’s TRUE LIES, which also features a demonstration of the nuke on one of the Florida Keys before Ah-nuld has to save his wife and daughter and stop the villains from nuking Miami. What have these villains got against Miami?

But to reverse the gun on the wall thing, if your villain has some sort of high tech weapon, make sure he or she tests it earlier in the story so that we can see what it does. That will help us imagine what might happen to those poor people in Miami. In fact, any sort of weapon or device that the audience may not be familiar with needs to be demonstrated so that we understand how it works. In James Cameron’s ALIENS there’s a great scene where Hicks shows Ripley how to use a weapon, which not only explains how she knew how to use it later in the story, but gives us a chance to see the details of how the gun works.

But wait, Bill, I’m writing a serious drama - there are no evil villains with nuclear weapons set to blow up Miami! Can’t I just have stuff happen without being set up first? Mercy, what a question!


DEMONSTRATION BEFORE ACTION

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In JUST MERCY (2019) idealistic young attorney Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) sets up offices in Alabama along with Eva Ansley (Brie Larson) to help men on Death Row who may not have gotten a fair trial. The focus of the story is Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx) an African American man who was convicted of murdering a white woman in 1986 solely on the testimony of a convicted felon named Ralph Myers (a great Tim Blake Nelson) who may have lied.

McMillian is initially without hope, “My last lawyer sat exactly where you are sittin’ and told me ‘Everything’s gonna be okay’. Then I was sentenced to death. Then my family run out of money. And then he gone. What you gone do different?” McMillian may not be educated, but he’s an intelligent man, who knows that his situation is about as close to hopeless as you can get. When he is sent back to his cell, we meet the prisoners in adjacent cells, and they discuss this new lawyer who is going to try and help them, older prisoner Herbert (Rob Morgan) and younger prisoner Anthony (O’Shea Jackson, jr). This scene contrasts McMillain’s pessimism with the other two death row inmates' optimism - they think that this new young attorney might help them get stays of executions or possibly even new trials. But as the story progresses, we see just how difficult it is for Stevenson to accomplish anything within the system when the same people who worked to convict McMillian in the first place are still the key people in that system. The judge who Stevenson needs to look at new evidence is the same judge who presided over the trail where McMillian was convicted. The same police officers who have access to the evidence that might exonerate McMillian were the ones who initially arrested him. None of these people want some young (Black) Harvard lawyer proving that they made a mistake. So Stevenson's first big case ends up being the fight of his life to save the life of a wrongly convicted death row inmate.

This doesn’t seem like the type of story that would need to use the Thunderball Theory, but it is. Because the concepts of Death Row and McMillain’s execution sometime in the future are not something within the audience’s experiences, so these remain abstract ideas unless we show it to them. But McMilain has been on Death Row for a while, and hasn’t received his execution orders... and the story itself is about saving him from that impending execution. And (spoiler!) Stevenson is successful by the end of the film. So we will never see an execution, and it will remain an abstract threat instead of a real one...

Except...

Remember those other two death row inmates, Herbert and Anthony? They aren’t just sounding boards for McMillain as he deals with the frustration of his new found hope, one of them is going to be that island in the Florida Keys where the villain Largo in THUNDERBALL tests the nuke to prove that he actually has one, and to demonstrate to James Bond and the audience the massive destruction power of the warhead. Just over halfway through the story, Herbert gets his execution orders. A date has been set. Now the pressure is on Stevenson to get a stay of execution against the clock - and he does his best... but the stay isn’t granted. Tomorrow Herbert will be put to death in the electric chair...

And we get a chilling sequence as they prepare the electric chair and test it...

But that isn’t enough for the Thunderball Theory - if we don’t show it, the audience can’t know it - so Herbert asks Stevenson to be a witness to his execution. The only friend the old man has is this young lawyer.

Another chilling scene as Herbert says his goodbyes to Anthony and McMillian before being taken to his death... And we see the whole horrible execution. The audience *experiences* the execution. We like Herbert, he’s a nice old guy, a war hero, who made a terrible mistake in anger, and is now going to be executed in front of us.

After the execution, both Stevenson and the audience know exactly what they are fighting to prevent. We have seen it, experienced it, felt the horror... and we don’t want that to happen to McMillian. The abstract concept of a man being executed has been shown to us, so that we can fully understand it... just as Largo blew up that island with one of the stolen warheads.


PREMISE PROMISE

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Another aspect of the “Thunderball Theory” is fulfilling your promise to the audience. If Dennis Hopper in SPEED says he’s going to blow up that bus, the audience wants to see the bus explode. We’ve been thinking about that bus exploding for almost half the film - if it goes under 55mph it’s gonna blow - so the only way we will truly be satisfied is if it explodes. We’ve been thinking about it for too long to have it *not* explode. There was a time when an action movie could get by with the hero completely preventing the Villain’s Plan, but we live in the time of big spectacle entertainment. In AIR FORCE ONE, we want to see the plane crash into the ocean and disintegrate. You don’t want the hero to prevent all of the excitement! We want to see things blow up on screen! So, instead of cutting the red wire (no - the green one) you might have the hero thwart the Villain’s Plan by removing the bomb from a populated area to someplace where it can still blow up real good... just not hurt anyone. The threat of an explosion is kind of a promise you need to pay off - whether it’s having the villain demonstrate the bomb, or having the bus or plane or villain explode at the end. If you promise us an explosion, we want to see it... and I guess the same goes with an execution in JUST MERCY.

Because summer movies rely on spectacle, things tend to explode. In the films of yesteryear, the brave hero would stop the bomb before it went off. In modern films he's always a few minutes too late. Just like in THUNDERBALL and TRUE LIES, Graham Yost's BROKEN ARROW has terrorists steal two nukes from a stealth bomber. Even though Christian Slater and spunky Samantha Mathis scramble to disarm the first nuke, it goes off anyway. Why?

Two reasons from the story stand point:

1) To show the destructive power of the bomb, so that we know what will happen if the second bomb reaches Denver on that train.

2) Spectacle. The audience gets to experience a nuclear blast and live to tell about it. Wow!

Don't short change the audience by promising a nuclear explosion then not delivering. In the original script for my HBO World Premiere Movie CRASH DIVE! I blew up the Empire State Building and a Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan-like couple embracing on top of it... in the film, the Empire State Building still gets exploded real good, just without the rom-com couple. But I needed to fulfill the threat of the missile fired on New York City in order to satisfy the audience... and show them that the villains had a real threat that needed to be stopped by the hero.


UNFAMILIAR DEMONSTRATION

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Another place where “Thunderball Theory” comes in handy is dealing with things that the audience is not familiar with. Just like the electrocution of a prisoner in JUST MERCY, most people have no idea what the Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator does in a science fiction movie, unless you have a scene that demonstrates it. Science fiction films are often filled with devices and concepts that are completely abstract to the audience unless they can see them in action. If you are writing a science fiction screenplay, make sure you show us how things works. Luke Skywalker practices with the light saber blindfolded at one point in STAR WARS, and we see what the device can do. Unfamiliar weapons or devices need to be demonstrated so that the audience can understand what they are. If you don’t show it, the audience can’t know it.

But it doesn’t have to be science fiction, any device from future or present or past that the audience may be unfamiliar with should probably be demonstrated in an earlier scene. My favorite episode of the 60s TV series THRILLER is similar to JUST MERCY in that it’s about a man on death row awaiting his fate... and hoping for a miracle reprieve. GUILLOTINE takes place in France is the past where a man accused of murdering his wife’s boyfriend is in his cell, soon to be executed. His cell mate is also waiting for his date with the blade. The rumor is that they come in the middle of the night and take you away - where you are cleaned up, given a last meal, and a shave and a haircut... before you get your neck cut. The barber is supposed to draw a line on the back of your neck while cutting your hair, to show where your neck needs to be in the stockade for the perfect beheading. Since the audience in 1960s America probably wasn’t familiar with death by guillotine, our hero and his cell mate are interrupted in the middle of the night by a pair of guards who sneak into the cell while both are asleep, and grabs one of them - pulling him out kicking and screaming! Not our hero, but the cell mate. Just like in JUST MERCY, we get a “preview” of what might happen to our hero... as the blade slices down on the cell mate’s neck! Later in the episode, to remind us, they test the guillotine on a cabbage before our hero has his date with fate! So whether it is the past or present or future, anything that the audience may not be familiar with should probably be demonstrated earlier in the story.

The “Thunderball Theory” also holds true with Odd Job’s derby in the James Bond film GOLDFINGER - there’s a swell scene at the country club where he demonstrates what his razor rimmed hat can do by throwing it at a statue - and beheading it! From that point on, the audience is waiting for the scene where James Bond and Odd Job fight, and Odd Job takes off his hat and zips it at Bond’s neck! As with anything that you plant in a story so that it can pay off later, it’s important that the “plant” be motivated and part of the story that you are telling - so that it isn’t obviously just to set something up for later. Why the heck is there a gun on the wall in the first place? You need to make sure that the gun on the wall in Act 1 is an important part of that scene. You don’t want the audience to think that you are just using it to set up a later scene - you need it to be important in *this* scene!

Whether your story is about James Bond preventing Largo from nuking Miami or an idealistic young lawyer trying to prove that a man on death row in Alabama is innocent in JUST MERCY, the “Thunderball Theory” is an important part of your story - if there is a gun that goes off in Act 3, you need to show the audience how that gun works in Act 1 or 2. If you don’t show it, the audience can’t know it!




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STORY IN ACTION SERIES!

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All About LOGLINES, TREATMENTS, and PITCHING!

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Distilling Your Screenplay!

Loglines, Treatments, Pitching, Look Books, Pitch Decks, One Pagers, Rip-O-Matics?

You have written a brilliant 110 page screenplay, but how do you get anyone to read it? You need to distill it down into some form of verbal moonshine or story rocket fuel that will ignite that bored development executive or manager or agent and get them to request your screenplay. But how do you shrink those 110 pages into a 25 word logline or a 2 minute elevator pitch or a one page synopsis or a short paragraph? This 100,000 word book shows you how! Everything you need to know! From common logline mistakes (and how to solve them) to how your pitch can reveal story problems to the 4 types of pitches!

272 Pages - ONLY $4.99!


READY TO BREAK IN? bluebook

THE BUISINESS SIDE

*** 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, to query letters and finding a manager or agent, to making connections (at home and in Hollywood) and networking, to the different kinds of meetings you are will have at Studios, to the difference between a producer and a studio, to landing an assignment at that meeting and what is required of you when you 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!

$4.99 - and no postage!




hcd

FINAL DRAFT SOFTWARE

Use your creative energy to focus on the content; let Final Draft take care of the style. Final Draft is the number-one selling application specifically designed for writing movie scripts, television episodics and stage plays. Its ease-of-use and time-saving features have attracted writers for almost two decades positioning Final Draft as the Professional Screenwriters Choice. Final Draft power users include Academy, Emmy and BAFTA award winning writers like Oliver Stone, Tom Hanks, Alan Ball, J.J. Abrams, James Cameron and more. * * * Buy It!

copyright 2022 by William C. Martell


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SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING

bluebook IT'S BACK! SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING
Over 460 pages packed with tips and techniques. How to write a plot twist, the four kinds of suspense (and how to create it), reversals, ten ways to invent new action scenes, secrets and lies, creating the ultimate villain, five kinds of love interests, MORE! CLICK HERE!

CLASSES ON MP3

Class MP3s CLASSES ON MP3! Take a class on MP3! GUERRILLA MARKETING - NO AGENT? NO PROBLEM! and WRITING THRILLERS (2 MP3s). Full length classes on MP3. Now Available: IDEAS & CREATIVITY, WRITING HORROR, WRITING INDIE FILMS, more!
Take classes on MP3!

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

Naked Class The NAKED SCREENWRITING CLASS ON MP3! The 2001 London Class on 8 MP3s! Recorded *live* the morning after the Raindance Film Festival wrapped. The two day class on 8CD worth, plus a workbook, plus a bonus CD.
The 2 Day Class on MP3!

ONLINE CLASSES
Furious Action Class
BILL'S CORNER

My nineteen produced films, interviews with me in magazines, several sample scripts, my available scripts list... And MORE!
...............................BILL'S CORNER


Available Scripts

E BOOKS PAGE

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!