MONDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:

CHESS MOVES


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Writer-director Alexander Mackendrick whose credits range from the Alec Guiness comedy THE LADYKILLERS to the brutal Ernest Lehman Film Noir THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS said, “In any scene of dramatic confrontation see that each of your characters comes to the ‘showdown’ having anticipated the counter moves of the other.” You don’t want your protagonist to succeed because the antagonist does something stupid, but because each is clever and intelligent and several moves ahead of the other... and the protagonist has anticipated the antagonist’s final move and countered it... and wins the game.

One of the techniques used in suspense stories is something I call the Chess Moves or Chess Dialogue - even though you may find it closer to Poker because it involves a little bit of bluffing. Trying to convince the other player that your plan is one thing when it is actually the opposite of that thing. You will find this technique in many thriller movies like Hitchcock’s I CONFESS (1953) and the Delmer Daves’ DARK PASSAGE (1947) as well as dramas and mysteries and any other genre where tension and suspense is created by a game of cat and mouse - where we don’t know who is the cat and who is the mouse. No actual chess is involved in this technique, so don’t worry if you only know how to play checkers.

The reason why I call it the Chess Move is that, like in chess, the player is several moves ahead of the game, and what may seem like a foolish move now is actually a brilliant move. You are watching a chess game, and one of the players moves his Queen into a very vulnerable position - and the other player takes the Queen. Now, that particular move may look stupid, but when the other player made their move to capture the Queen, they created an opening that two moves from now will result in their being checkmated. Now that seemingly stupid move where the Queen was moved onto a square where they were captured doesn’t look so stupid, does it? That player was thinking moves ahead of the other player, and without sacrificing that Queen could never have won the game. Just as a good screenwriter is always leading the audience, a good chess player is leading the other player - trying to make them anticipate your next move... and fall into a trap.

In a story this technique is usually used either to create a trap or to look innocent when the character is, in fact, guilty... which is why you often find it in Thriller and Mystery movies and many episodes of COLUMBO.


IT’S A TRAP!

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The trap version you’ve seen a hundred times and probably needs no explanation, but often a character will appear to be vulnerable in order to spring a trap. And sometimes a character will *actually* put themselves in a vulnerable position to spring a trap - they volunteer to be “bait” because it is the only way to make sure the adversary show themselves. Think of John McClane with that gun taped to his back raising his hands and giving up to Hans near the end of DIE HARD (1988). Or the Princess in John Woo’s RED CLIFF (2009) and her female archers when they fire on the enemy army even though they are outnumbered... and are chased into the desert... where the Princess’ much larger army awaits. You may think at first that it’s stupid for McClane to give up to Hans, but how else will he get close enough to attack him? How will he get Hans to let down his guard, thinking that McClane has lost? Though McClane *is* vulnerable - what if Hans just shoots him? - it is a calculated move where McClane is playing several moves ahead of Hans (who has no idea about that gun taped to his back). And even if the Princess in John Woo’s RED CLIFF ends up being killed by the enemy soldiers before they fall into the trap, she will have died so that the trap could be sprung on the enemy soldiers - and the plan still succeeds. Just without the Princess. Sometimes when you’re “the bait” the fish eats you - but you still hook them.

John Doe in SEVEN (1995) and Verbal Kint in USUAL SUSPECTS (also 1995) are both several moves ahead of the other player and use themselves as “bait” and be captured in order to spring their traps or escape. Serial killer John Doe shows up at the police station and *gives himself up* to Detective Somerset and Mills and says he will lead them to the final two bodies in his Seven Deadly Sins murders. Though it seems as if Doe has been captured by the detectives, this is actually all part of his elaborate trap - he is several moves ahead of them in this chess game. He leads them to a remote area outside of town... where a delivery van pulls up and delivers a box to Detective Mills. John Doe has sprung his trap, and the detectives have lost the chess match. Verbal Kint is one of two survivors of a massacre on a ship docked at San Pedro in Los Angeles - 27 men were killed and the cargo (cocaine) was destroyed... who is easily taken into custody by FBI Agent Jack Baer and US Customs Agent Dave Kajun, who interrogate him. Kint confesses everything! He was recruited by a master criminal named Keyser Soze as part of a team and ordered to pull several heists for him... including the cargo ship job. Soze showed up and killed everyone on the ship - the whole heist gang plus the only man who could positively identify him. Kint was a look out, and survived... but didn’t get a look at Soze. The two Agents decide to let Kint go and focus on finding the “big fish” - Soze... and then we get our twist ending that shows that Verbal Kint was dozens of chess moves ahead of either Agent. Kint was never really in custody, was he?

The character seems to be captured, but that is actually all part of their plan - and they lure their nemesis into a trap.


GO AHEAD AND LOOK

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The other version of the Chess Move is also one you’ve seen a hundred times - it’s when a character does something that will make them look innocent when they are guilty. There’s a bluff involved in this - and a “poker face”. There’s a great example in DARK PASSAGE... Humphrey Bogart escapes from San Quentin Prison, and there’s a huge manhunt for him. Lauren Bacall offers him a ride - knowing that he is an escaped prisoner. This seems like a bad move on her part... but she has a reason for picking him up, which we won’t know what that reason is for several more scenes. Bogart doesn’t know her, but there are a million cops looking for him and this woman has offered to help him escape.

When they come to a roadblock, Bogart hides in the back seat which is full of paining supplies, including a tarp. He’s hidden under the tarp when Bacall pulls up to the roadblock. A Policeman tells her there is an escaped prisoner, and asks if she has seen anyone on the road. She says no. The Policeman notices the tarp covering... something... in the back seat, and asks what it is. Bacall says it’s painting supplies, and if he would like to search the car that’s okay with her. She has nothing at all to hide. That line is a great Chess Move. Though Bogart is hiding back there, and she *encourages* the Policeman to search! Is she crazy? Is she double crossing Bogart? Does she want him to get caught? Why would she ever *encourage* the Policeman to search the exact spot where Bogart is hiding?

Well, let’s look at the alternatives...

A) She could jam on the gas, crash through the roadblock, and speed away! Okay, if that’s her chess move, what does the other player do? Well, now everyone will be chasing for her car and searching for her car and eventually she *and* Bogart will be caught.

B) She could *refuse* to let the Policeman search her back seat, tell him he needs a warrant or a court order or something. Okay, if that is her chess move, what does the other player do? Well, the Policeman will *know* she has something to hide and detain her and get that search warrant and find Bogart and then they both end up in jail.

If you can come up with a C that would fit a 1947 movie maybe you are a few chess movies ahead of me. She can’t use sex to distract the Policeman, because that will also make him suspicious. This is a beautiful woman, why would she come on to him? Because he is a Policeman, his nature is to be suspicious - so she kind of has to use jujutsu - using the opponent’s powers against them. If he is naturally suspicious, she needs to avoid anything suspicious and invite him to search her car. Stripping or showing her legs or anything sexual as a diversion isn’t going to work for many reasons (it’s a 1947 movie) and it also looks suspicious. I can’t think of any other good alternative that doesn’t make her look like she’s trying to hide something.

And that’s the reason why she has to make the Chess Move - she needs to look innocent, even though she’s guilty as hell of hiding an escaped convict in the back seat. She must do exactly what an innocent person would do, so that the Policeman doesn’t become suspicious, even though that puts her in potential peril. If the Policeman *did* search the backseat and find Bogart, she is in no more trouble than the other alternatives, right? But because she acts innocent and encourages him to search the backseat, the Policeman figures there must not be anything under that tarp. Why would she *want* him to search if there was someone hiding there? Guilty people have something to hide, innocent people do not - she isn’t trying to hide anything, therefor she must be innocent and not hiding anything. By *encouraging him* she is actually causing him to not search. Jujutsu. Hey, still an element of chance, but this is a calculated risk.


I CONFESS

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In Hitchcock’s I CONFESS a man named Keller is discovered stealing from a man named Villette... and kills him. Afterwards he goes to church and tells Father Logan that he has done a terrible thing, and needs to make a confession. In the confessional, Keller tells Logan that he didn’t mean to kill the man Villette, but he was frightened at being discovered, frightened by possibly having to go to jail... so he killed the man. He manages to justify his stealing by saying that Villette had so much money... it just seemed fair to take some. The nice little twist here, is that Keller’s wife works at the church and he was disguised as a Priest when he was doing his burglary and murder... so Father Logan will end up the man wrongly accused of the crime.

Now we get a swell bit of Chess Match Dialogue, which not only creates suspense with dialogue, but is also realistic. Verbal chess matches are where each person is playing several moves ahead and trying to outsmart each other... if you haven’t seen this film you have seen Chess Match Dialogue in a COLUMBO episode. I CONFESS is filled with this type of dialogue exchange, and has some of the most interesting dialogue jousts of any Hitchcock film. The morning after the murder and confession, Mrs. Keller is serving all of the Priests breakfast... and she wants to know whether Father Logan has told the other Priests about her husband’s confession (and the murder), and will tell the other Priests, and will he tell the police about the confession? But she can not overtly ask this question without giving it away to the others... so as she serves breakfast her focus is on Father Logan, and she mentions that her husband is at Villette’s house today. Wednesday is the day he tends to Villette’s garden... and she watches Logan’s reaction. What will he do?

Now, a dopey story studio executive note might be that Mrs. Keller would never mention Villette, she would want no one to think of the murder victim. Why even bring him up? But for Mrs. Keller to learn anything, she must take that chance and mention the murder victim’s name... to gauge Logan and te other Priest’s reactions. She must make a chess move for the opponent to make a move. She must take a risk to be rewarded with information. It’s not stupid if it’s the only way to slyly get the information. Which brings us to the big problem with Chess Move scenes...


THE BAD NOTES

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For me, the sort of Chess Move in DARK PASSAGE often results in a note from a Development Executive asking me why the character would be so stupid as to invite the Policeman to look in the back seat. Is she stupid? Heard that dozens of times, and I wonder if they actually think through their notes? Here we have a character - a fictional person - who is more intelligent than the Development Executive. The character is several moves ahead, the Development Executive is several moves behind. And if they looked at the alternatives, they would see that there are not any. The only way scenes like this can play is if the character makes that Chess Move. Because everything in a screenplay (and in life) is cause and effect, you need to be able to see all the way down the line - several moves ahead - and understand that the *best* possible move at this point might be one that seems stupid on the surface - sacrificing that Queen - but is clever when you see a few moves ahead. The problem with using the Chess Move technique is that your are often playing chess against Development Executives who are several moves behind you... and have severe cases of Dunning-Kruger. This often results in the script being dumbed down.

There’s a great scene in THE GRIFTERS (1990) where the master con man played by the late great J. T. Walsh *insists* that a reluctant investor follow him to the back room to look at all of the expensive computer equipment... which does not exist! The back room is completely empty. But Walsh must make it clear that he has nothing to hide and that the computer equipment actually does exist - and no one would ever *insist* that someone look at it unless it were actually there, right? Again, calculated risk - what if the guy went back there to look? - but the worst case scenario remains the same no matter what Walsh does... but only by making the Chess Move does he have a chance at success. Often, the only smart move a character has is something that may seem like a dumb move at the time it is made... but the character is a few Chess Moves ahead and this is really a clever move.

When Development Executives are unable to see that it is a clever move is when they should probably be replaced. Unfortunately in my experience, instead it is when the clever move is removed and the script gets dumber. I hate when that happens. But some Development Executes understand what you are doing, and love it. Those are the guys and gals that I live for. They know that sometimes a character needs to take a big risk in order to be rewarded... that John McClane needs to raise his hands and give up to Hans Gruber in order to get close enough to him to rescue Holly. This is a great technique that builds suspense and tension and creates the kind of clever screenplays that win Oscars.


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*** HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR! *** - For Kindle!

***

Contained Thrillers like "Buried"? Serial Protagonists like "Place Beyond The Pines"? Multiple Connecting Stories like "Pulp Fiction"? Same Story Multiple Times like "Run, Lola, Run"?
HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

This book focuses on 18 of Hitchcock's 52 films with wild cinema and story experiments which paved the way for modern films. Almost one hundred different experiments that you may think are recent cinema or story inventions... but some date back to Hitchcock's *silent* films! We'll examine these experiments and how they work. Great for film makers, screenwriters, film fans, producers and directors.

Only $5.99 - and no postage!



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!

Only $5.99


The new  MP3s are available now!

AUDIO CLASS!

NOIR & MYSTERY80 minute MP3 packed with information on writing Film Noir and Mystery scripts. Using examples from CHINATOWN to OUT OF THE PAST to DOUBLE INDEMNITY you'll learn how to create stories in this dark, twisted genre. How to plant clues, red herrings, suspects, victims, spider women, fallen heroes, the funhouse mirror world of noir supporting characters... and the origins of Film Noir in literature Noir dialogue and how noir endings are different than any other genre. All of the critical elements necessary to write in this critically popular genre.
The Noir & Mystery Class is only $15 (plus $5 S&H). First 20 on Limited Black Disk!

PAMDEMIC SALE! $5 OFF!

IDEAS AND CREATIVITY - 80 minute MP3 packed with information. Tools to find ideas that are both personal *and* commercial. Hollywood wants scripts with High Concept stories... but not stupid scripts. Developing *intelligent* high concept ideas. How to turn your personal story into a blockbuster - or find your personal story in a high concept idea. Brainstorming and being creative. Ideas and Creativity is $10.00 (plus $5 S&H)

WRITING INDIES - Writing an Indie film? This class covers everything you need to know - from Central Locations to Confined Cameos. Using examples from SWINGERS, THE COOLER, STATION AGENT and others, this 80 minute MP3 is packed with information. How Indoe films challenge the audience (while mainstream films reassure the audience). Structures, using BOYS DON'T CRY, RUN LOLA RUN, HILARY & JACKIE, and others as example. Writing for a budget, writing for non-actors, getting the most production value out of your budget. Writing Indies is $10.00 (plus $5 S&H)

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!




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 2021 by William C. Martell


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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

ONLINE CLASSES
Furious Action Class
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 8 MP3s, plus a workbook, plus a bonus MP3 with PDFs.
The 2 Day Class on MP3!

THE BLOG!

A Whole Week Of Programming!
SEX IN A SUBMARINE
(no actual sex is involved)
From Trailer Tuesday to Film Courage Plus to THRILLER Thursday to Fridays With Hitchcock and more! My blog has all kinds of great stuff! Check it out! Lots of cool stuff every day!

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 The Best Nuts & Bolts Screenwriting Book On The Market!

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

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!