WEDNESDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:
Whether you start with dialogue, a visual, or action, the first ten pages of your script need to involve the reader, and later the viewer. To hook them and reel them in. Some writers make the mistake of believing that opening their script with a big action scene is the way to go. Sure, you start with a bang. But is the reader INVOLVED? Do they CARE about the people in your shoot out or car chase? The key in action openings is to create a situation that INVOLVES the viewer in the action - that makes them feel what your protagonist feels.
Disney decided to ditch doing a third in film in the NARNIA series (DAWN TREADER was made independently and released by Walden Media in the USA), and it's no wonder why... THE LION THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE was good, but the battle scenes were completely bland and unemotional... plus, kind of savage for a Christian film. PRINCE CASPIAN was even *less* emotional and more violent... and made much less money. You would think the producers would have known that you have to emotionally involve us from the first scene - then never let go.
THE LION had a great opening scene: World War 2 London. Suddenly, air raid sirens blare and the lights of the city go out. German bombers swoop down. In a typical house, a mother herds her four children down stairs and out to a bomb shelter... The teenaged daughter, Susan, grabs her little sister Lucy and they run down the hallway. The teenaged brother Peter pushes his little brother Edmund in front of him as they race down the stairs. Outside, as they run to the bomb shelter, Edmund, stops. As the others run for the safety of the bomb shelter, Edmund runs back inside the house... as the German bombers begin to lay waste to London. Edmund runs inside the house, grabs a photo of his father, and when he looks out the window sees – a plane shot down... hurtling RIGHT AT HIM! Edmund's older brother Peter grabs him, pulls him to safety, and then both boys dive into the bomb shelter... moments before the bombs drop. Bombs are destroying homes. People are being killed out there. It's an exciting, suspense filled action scene. Edmund is a kid with problems who would put himself in danger to rescue a photo of his dead soldier father. Okay, that is a great scene because it's all about character - and it's also exciting and involving.
PRINCE CASPIAN begins with a fist fight between boys - and we don't know what started it or even who these kids are. Our two lead boys, Peter and Edmund, end up involved in the fight in the subway (tube), but we don't know what it is all about... Meanwhile some geeky kid is hitting on Susan, and she tries to get away from him. That's when the subway train comes... and the four kids see Narnia. And they are suddenly, magically transported to Narnia...
That isn't nearly as cool as accidentally finding Narnia while playing hide & seek from the first film. No real magic in the train scene. And even though we open with action - the boys fighting - it doesn't *involve us*in any way. Nothing emotional about the fight, so we don't care. The worst thing you can do in the opening scene of a script is create a situation where the audience doesn't care what happens. We want an emotionally involving opening scene!
EMOTIONALLY INVOLVING MIDDLE
When you haven't grabbed them from the first scene, you may have already lost them... which makes it both critical *and* more difficult to involve them afterwards. In PRINCE CASPIAN, once they get to Narnia, they discover that Narnia runs on some sort of dog-year clock or something, and a whole bunch of time has passed. Narnia has been taken over by a bunch of evil humans who have killed all of the cute talking animals (can't really say I blame them). There is an Evil King, of course, and he has this evil plan to build a wooden bridge over this river. Much like Darth Vader, he kills people who get behind schedule... so I'm thinking this is the Death Bridge. No one ever tells us why this bridge is so important, or what the king's evil plan might be... so we just watch guys build a bridge and don't really care. It's not like they are going to use the bridge to destroy a planet or something - it's just a bridge! So we don't care - no emotional involvement.
In THE LION the problem boy Edmund was lured to the dark side by the Ice Queen, and a major part of that first film was the battle for that boy's soul. That's an emotional situation. In PRINCE CASPIAN no one is even tempted! None of the four kids has any emotional issues they are struggling with at all - that makes them boring. They are flawless - and characterless. Maybe they thought after the kids "found Lion" in the first film they had to be perfect... but no weakness means no strength. You can't get up if you have never fallen.
So PRINCE CASPIAN skips emotions to focus on silly plot things - when the Evil King's wife pops a boy, Prince Caspian is in the way of his evil bridge building plan, so he decides to kill him... but Caspian escapes, because the film is named after him. The film isn't called Narnia: Cute Talking Badger.
Prince Caspian does bump into some cute talking animals and some dwarves and our four kids, who are all legendary kings in the world of Narnia. Though the Evil King and his bridge-building-henchmen think all of the talking animals and dwarves in Narnia are dead, seems that some survived and are living in the woods.
The talking animals and Prince Caspian, who speaks with Chico Marx's accent, want the four kid kings to help them - even though this is barely discussed. This is a movie where things happen in the most boring and unemotional way possible - as if it's designed to put you to sleep. It never tries to include us in the story or involve us in any way... and none of the characters have any emotional conflicts at all ... so there is nothing to feel. They decide to attack the Evil King in his castle - because they'd never expect that - and we get a big, pointless battle scene.
EMOTIONAL ACTION SCENES
Any action scene is a *character* scene.. and should be an *emotional* scene. In one of those danged LORD OF THE RINGS movies, there's this great battle scene where one of the King-guy's daughters, played by Miranda Otto is in love with Viggo Mortensen's character. When all of the soldiers put on their armor and go into battle, she dons armor and tries to blend with the others. One of the short guys - I think the one on LOST - sees that this soldier is a woman... the Princess! Will he keep her secret? That adds an element of suspense, along with situation - this is the *Princess* in the battle, not a soldier. Of course, the biggest, meanest, most evil monster-warriorr of all kills his way to her. Now she is fighting the ultimate monster-warrior... and we know it's the Princess, not a soldier! The ultimate monster-warrior fights her - and it's one heck of a great fight, but she's completely out-gunned. The ultimate monster-warrior gets ready to kill her, "No man can kill me!" And she does an absolutely amazing sword move and kills the sucker, then takes off her helmet, lets down her river of golden hair, and says, "I am no man." That's a great moment in a huge battle scene! And that is only one moment out of *dozens* in that one battle scene. That's the key to a great epic battle scene - it's all about individual fights within the battle, and the amazing *emotional moments* in those fights. An action scene is a character scene.
But with PRINCE CASPIAN we just get this big battle - lots of long shots of fighting, but no *moments*. These are the most boring film fights since the last Narnia movie!
Once they have retreated from one pointless battle scene and fallen back to their crumbling hide out in the woods, the Evil King decides to follow them and kill them all. All cute talking animals and half horse / half men will be destroyed! And you know how they get to the Narnian hide out? You guessed it - the Death Bridge!
This makes no sense at all, because they thought there were no more talking animals, so why would they build the Death Bridge over the part of the river that leads right to the Talking Animal Hide Out? They Evil King would have to have flipped to the end of the script to find out where the hide out would be (it wasn't a hide out until there was a reason to hide out) so this makes no sense at all. The writer may know what comes next, but the characters don't. And in this case, the Evil King is building the bridge before they discover that there are still cute talking animals and before our Kid Kings return.
Eventually the Evil King and his army cross the Death Bridge and we get to another big pointless battle scene - with no character and no drama and no moments and no *emotions* in between - this film is flat and boring and long. For some reason which they do not tell us, they send young Lucy on horseback into the forest. Oh, and there are bad guy soldiers in the forest. Why is she riding in the forest? What the hell is this all about? Instead of letting us in on the story - including and involving us, so that we can worry that she won't accomplish her mission in time or whatever - we're kept completely outside the story and have no idea what the heck is going on. They keep cutting back to Lucy evading the soldiers, and we wonder why they sent a little girl out into the woods in the first place. Are they trying to get her killed? Did she piss off her brothers and sister and they want her to die?
The film excludes us and confuses us.
And we don't care.
And that is the worst thing you can do in the opening scene of your script... and any scenes that follow - allow the audience to not care. We want to grab them from the very first scene, the very first *sentence* - not with pointless and emotionless action, but with emotionally involving scenes. We need to create situations and characters that make the audience care what happens next... and what happens for the next hour and a half.
EMOTIONAL ACTION OPENINGS
It isn't just fantasy films that can stumble by not emotionally involving the audience, comedies and dramas and indie films and rom-coms and action films often screw up by not emotionally involving us in the story from the opening scene. Skip Wood's action film SWORDFISH opens with terrorist Gabriel (John Travolta) sitting in a Starbucks telling computer hacker Stanley (Hugh Jackman) and FBI Agent Russo (Don Cheadle) how the movie DOG DAY AFTERNOON would play out today.
What if they'd started killing hostages?
No mercy, no quarter, meet our demands or
the cute blonde in the bell bottoms gets
one in the back of the head, bam, splatter.
What? Still no bus? The young woman with
the kid takes one in the face, pow, splatter.
How many innocent victims would they let get
sprayed across the windows before the city
reversed its policy on hostage situations?
Stanley tells him it would never work - audiences like happy endings. Gabriel shrugs, stands up... and we see a SWAT Team at the Starbucks' door aiming guns at him. He holds up a bomb detonator, tells them to "Move - I won't ask again." They get out of his way and he strolls across the street to a bank, where two dozen hostages are wired with explosives. Gabriel phones Russo and reiterates his demands, explaining that the hostages are wired to explode and can not be rescued - they're wearing electronic dog collars that will set off the explosives if they stray too far from the transmitter in the bank.
Russo's boss decides to send in the SWAT Team.
A SWAT officer grabs a hostage that has been placed at the front doors of the bank, to take her from harms way.
Stanley and Russo watch in horror as the SWAT officer takes her farther from the bank - they yell to let her go. She fights the officer, but he subdues her. Each step takes her farther from the transmitter. She looks in the window at the other hostages. Stanley looks out the window of the Starbucks in horror - yelling at the SWAT officer... who isn't listening.
At this point, we are *emotionally involved* in the scene. We are helpless bystanders, just like Russo and Stanley. We are yelling at the screen for the SWAT officer to just put her down. We know what will happen if they get too far from the bank. There is a human component to the action scene - the hostage. An emotional component - we can save her, if only we can get the SWAT officer to listen. The scene puts us right in Stanley's shoes. Makes us feel the helplessness that Stanley feels.
Then we feel the horror and tragedy.
Compare this to the unemotional opening of BASIC INSTINCT 2, where Sharon Stone is driving a sports car at high speed with a drugged out soccer star on the passenger seat. The guy is practically comatose, so he just sits there. When Stone drives the car off the road and into the Thames and it begins sinking, we don't care about the guy at all. In fact, we don't care about Stone, either. We don't care about anyone. That makes the opening scene a complete waste of film.
And from there, it gets *worse*!
If the audience isn't *emotionally* involved in your opening scene, they won't care what happens. In the audience doesn't feel what your protagonist feels, they are outsiders to the story. Remember, our job is to make the audience *feel* - to give them an emotional experience. The greatest special effects slow-mo explosion is meaningless if we don't care about the people involved.
How does your opening scene *emotionally* engage the audience?
More on this in the HOOK 'EM IN TEN Blue Book!
All About LOGLINES, TREATMENTS, and PITCHING!
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THE MISSION IMPOSSIBLE MOVIES
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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.
ALSO KINDA NEW!
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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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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THE BOOK THAT STARTED IT ALL!
*** THE SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING *** - For Kindle!
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*** 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?
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*** 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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