THURSDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:

WELL BALANCED CONFUSION


Exotica DVD

Screenwriting is a balancing act. The more confusing the method of telling your story, the more simple the story you're telling needs to be. We can only process so much information in two hours, and if we're given too much to digest we'll just become confused. So a confusing story filled with plot twists and duplicity and things that aren't what they appear to be needs a straight forward method of storytelling to avoid information overload. By the same token, a simple story may require an unusual method of storytelling to avoid seeming dull.

We need to take special care when we are telling a story with multiple plot threads. Unless we find ways to link the threads so that the audience sees that they are all part of *one* larger story, they can easily become confused. We don't want that. Even the best reviews of SYRIANA called it confusing... and the film made #4 on Entertainment Weekly's WORST Films of 2005 list. Yikes! George Clooney and Matt Damon and a great cast! A screenplay by Stephen Gaghan who wrote TRAFFIC! How come it made Entertainment Weekly's *Worst* List for the year? The Hollywood Reporter's review said, "The character and geographical jumps leave you in a muddle with thinly sketched personalities and confusing plot points." Instead of using a "tag team" method of introducing characters to lessen confusion, we jump into each story thread without any idea who the participants are. Instead of balancing the potential confusion of multiple protagonists and multiple plot threads by finding ways to logically link each thread to an over-all story, SYRIANA bounces all over the globe, takes place over an indistinct period of time, and doesn't have any central event at the heart of the story threads. No "through line". In fact, each character seems to be in a different story! The poster says that everything is connected... But it's not!

The more confusing your story is, the stronger the connective tissue that holds it all together needs to be.

While SYRIANA was making Worst Lists in 2005, Paul Haggis' CRASH was making Best Lists (and Oscar wins) because the story strands really *were* connected - the film did a great job of showing how one persons bad day affects everyone he or she comes into contact with - and all of the characters were introduced through their relationships with each other. This is the "traditional" method of dealing with multiple protagonists in a screenplay. It may not make CRASH a better *story*, but it does make it a more accessable and easy to understand story. CRASH communicates its story better than SYRIANA, so the audience (and critics) have a better idea of what that story is. CRASH made 8.5 times its production budget - a financial success. A brilliant story that we can't understand is not a brilliant story. A great film that won numerous awards for its interlocking multiple protagonist screenplay is Atom Egoyan's EXOTICA, which uses the "tag team" method of introducing characters through scenes that actually *demonstrate* who the characters are through actions rather than use exposition. Here's how EXOTICA opens...

Exotica DVD

A seasoned Customs Officer is telling a young Rookie how to tell when someone is hiding contraband. They're watching a young man who owns a pet store (Don McKellar) dealing in exotic birds and fish. The Pet Store owner is one of our lead characters... and the Rookie will become a minor player later in the story. The Pet Store owner passes through customs, hails a cab in front of the airport, and a Businessman asks if he'd mind sharing. When they get to the Businessman's stop, he asks the Pet Store owner if he likes ballet... then "pays his share of the cab" with ballet tickets. Kind of stiffing the Pet Store owner. When the cab and Pet Store owner zoom away, we follow the Businessman into a strip club called "Exotica".

In the strip club we meet a Stripper (Mia Kirshner - who played Mandy on 24) who dresses like a school girl and the smarmy MC (Elias Koteas) who pays more attention to her than any of the other strippers. Two more of our lead characters. These characters are shown by the way they relate to each other (and their boss) at work. Then a bearded Suburban Man (Bruce Greenwood - in CAPOTE *and* WORLD'S FASTEST INDIAN *and* RACING STRIPES) pays the School Girl Stripper for a private table dance - and doesn't act like a typical strip club patron. He acts more like the stripper's father. Because their actions are unusual for a strip bar, you wonder what their relationship is (and you're learning about the characters).

Exotica DVD

We follow the Suburban Man as he takes his babysitter (a teenaged Sara Polley from DAWN OF THE DEAD) home - and kind of worry because of his relationship with the School Girl Stripper. We follow the babysitter, introducing her wheelchair bound Father (Victor Garber from ALIAS) - another lead character. The Father and Suburban Man used to be best friends, until *something* happened. Something mysterious. Something that connects all of the characters in the film. Well, our Pet Store owner has used the ballet tickets to cruise for men (he's Gay), and is late opening his shop... on the day the tax auditor is going to go over his books. The tax auditor? Our Suburban Man - he's the hub to this story. Now we learn more about both the Suburban Man and the Pet Store owner during the audit. You see, the Pet Store own has been smuggling in exotic bird eggs, and the tax audit might discover the extra income.

Now we have all of our lead characters, and we know who they are through their interactions with each other. We don't know what the mysterious thing that connects them all is - but that puzzle is what the movie is all about. We will be given clues as the story progresses. Little flashback scenes that slowly-but-surely connect the cast. These brief flashbacks are similar to the brief "non-backwards" scenes in Chris Nolan's MOMENTO.

Memento DVD

Though Chris Nolan's MEMENTO was robbed of the Best Original Screenplay Oscar a few years ago, it cleaned up at the IFP Spirit Awards - winning Best Picture. Because the method of storytelling is challenging, the story itself is kept simple. It's a fairly straight forward revenge yarn, with the hero hunting the man who murdered his wife.

Because the narrative form is so unusual, Nolan takes special care to connect the pieces for the reader (and audience). Because the story is a puzzle and is told BACKWARDS, great care is given to logically connect the scenes. This not only creates a "flow" in the script, it prevents information overload by finding a way to connect scenes that may not (at first) to be connected. Here's an example:

INT. RESTAURANT RESTROOM - DAY [[COLOUR SEQUENCE]]

Leonard flushes the urinal then moves to the sink and starts
washing his hands. He notices the MESSAGE written on the back of
his hand:

"REMEMBER SAMMY JANKIS"

He stares at the message for a second, thoughtful, then tries to
scrub the writing off his skin. To his surprise, it is INDELIBLE.
Leonard looks at it, quizzical.

INT. MOTEL ROOM 21 - DAY ##BLACK AND WHITE SEQUENCE##

Leonard (IN BOXERS, BANDAGED ARM) talks on the phone. He resumes
SHAVING his thigh.

                    LEONARD
          I met Sammy through work.
               (listens)
          Insurance. I was an investigator. 
          I'd investigate claims to see which 
          ones were phony.

See - we go from the tattoo "Remember Sammy Jankis" to a scene where Lenny actually remembers Sammy Jankis. Nolan does this all the way through the script to keep the scenes connected when the time frame is constantly shifting. Usually CHRONOLOGY is used to connect scenes - one takes place after another. But in MEMENTO the chronology is backwards in some places, plus we have the Sammy Jankis story which is told forwards but runs parallel to the main story. When the form of your story is a puzzle, you have to work even harder to make the scenes flow so that you don't lose the audience.

Even chronological scenes are linked in the script, as in this scene where Lenny tells Burt (the motel manager) that he's misplaced his key.



                    BURT
          Probably in the room.

EXT. DISCOUNT INN - DAY

Burt, swinging a pass key on a chain, leads Leonard along the
GROUND FLOOR to room 21 then unlocks it.

The subject of the conversation is the misplaced room key, so when we go to the new location we have Burt swinging his pass keys - that links the scenes. And where are we going? The room. One scene flows logically to the next, and Nolan uses the keys to bridge the scenes - to create a logical link between scenes.

Here's another one a few pages later:


INT. NATALIE'S BEDROOM - NIGHT [[COLOUR SEQUENCE]]

Leonard enters, deposits his jacket and shirt, then slides into
bed next to Natalie.

INT. MOTEL ROOM 21 - DAY ##BLACK AND WHITE SEQUENCE##

Leonard lies on the bed (in boxers and bandaged arm) talking on
the phone.

Leonard gets into bed in Natalie's scene, but is also in bed in the flashback scene. This connects the two scenes which are in completely different time periods. In the previous scene that went from COLOUR to BLACK AND WHITE Nolan used a visual to verbal link - The "REMEMBER SAMMY JANKIS" tattoo to Lenny saying "Sammy Jankis". This time it's a visual to visual link - Lenny crawling into bed to Lenny in bed.

Something needs to link scenes together in a screenplay so that they flow. Usually it's a natural progression of story, but in a story with an unusual (and potentially confusing) narrative form like MEMENTO or SYRIANA or EXOTICA or CRASH you need to use links between scenes and focus the story on theme or that larger event. This will keep the story flowing smoothly and prevent information overload. Experimenting with story forms and alternative structures is great, but you need to make sure to balance whatever confusion with precision and logic. Make sure the audience can follow your brilliant story so that they don't get lost. The more confusing the story, the more you need to find the connections between the pieces.

You want your experiments to be *successful* so that you don't make EW's Worst List.

More on this in the *new* STRUCTURING YOUR STORY Blue Book.


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ARE YOUR SCENES IN THE RIGHT ORDER?
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DESCRIPTION & VOICE Blue Book.

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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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*** STRUCTURING YOUR STORY *** - For Kindle!


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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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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Over 240 pages!

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MAKING A SCENE!

*** SCENE SECRETS *** - For Kindle!

***

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50 Tips On Dialogue!

*** 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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FIRST HITCHCOCK BOOK!

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***

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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.

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***

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HOW YOU TELL IT!

*** 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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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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*** 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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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!

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*** 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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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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*** 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!

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