WEDNESDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:

THE STORY IS THE STORY


So this guy is pitching me his script. It's about a college kid who can't decide if he should go to law school or become an artist. One day the kid finds a wallet on the street and returns it to the owner - a powerful mobster. The mobster offers him a summer job working in a pawn shop that sells stolen merchandise. The kid meets the pawnshop owner's daughter and falls in love with her. When he goes away for the weekend with her, their car breaks down in a small town. The small town is filled with quirky characters and the couple has several adventures. The pawnshop owner's daughter has an affair with the mayor's son, and decides to stay in the town even after their car is repaired. Our hero drives back to New York where he becomes a successful painter.

This script sounded to me like a collection of unrelated scenes, but the end really confused me. It answered the question asked in the opening of the story, like a good ending should. Was I missing something? I asked the writer what his script was about, and he answered Art vs. Commerce. Okay... so what did the quirky small town have to do with that? Well, New York symbolized commerce and the small town symbolized art. Okay, so why did the guy leave the small town to go to New York if he was following his art? And why did the pawnshop owner's daughter stay? He didn't have answer for those questions, and several others I asked.

I liked the idea of New York symbolizing commerce and the small town symbolizing art, but I didn't understand what most of his story had to do with art and commerce.

He hemmed and hawed when I asked about scenes or characters in relation to Art vs. Commerce... he didn't know either.

If your story is about a guy who must decide between a future as an artist or a future as a lawyer, that's what the story will be about. The plot will be something that shows him both possible futures - the good and bad of each - and constantly forces him to decide between both possibilities. Each decision will bring him closer to his ultimate decision.

HOUSE BUNNY is a comedy that fails to explore its own story. Anna Faris is a Playboy bunny who lives at Hef's Playboy Mansion, but gets kicked out on her 29th birthday because she's too old... you see, that's like 59 in "Bunny Years". She ends up homeless, sleeping in her car, until - while looking for a place to live on the Westside - discovers a Sorority House for nerdy brainiac girls that needs a new house mother. And hijinks ensue... just not really funny hijinks.

But the biggest problem with HOUSE BUNNY is that the film screws up it's own premise. The story is not the story.

Okay, you have the hot-but-not-brainy-Bunny who moves in with the nerdy and brainy sorority girls. Each has something the other lacks - which makes this a good premise. So, you know by the end of the film that Anna will teach all of these plain-janes how to be hot, and the girls will teach Anna to be more than a bimbo. That is the story we get from the premise... Except, that doesn't happen.

There is a scene where Anna takes the girls out to shop and spa (how they pay for this is never explained), but there is really no instruction and no transformation. When the girls return from their day with Anna, we don't recognize any of them. I mean, we really don't recognize them. We don't know which plain-jane became which hottie. No step-by-step transformation, so it's almost as if they just cast some new girls. You spend most of the rest of the movie trying to figure out who is who.

When you look at a film about characters going through some sort of physical transformation, like Kim Novak in VERTIGO going from low-class shop girl to sophisticated lady - we see each step in the process, because to some extent that is what the film is about. Eliza Dolittle doesn't become a lady in a 30 second montage - the film is about her change. The story is *about* the transformation of these girls, so we need to see these scenes. Even if we have seen a million make over scenes before! Even if every movie that comes out this year has a make over scene! The *story* is the make over - the transformation from plain jane brainiacs to popular girls. If that is a cliche, then you need to change the *story*, not leave out the scenes that tell that story.

And when Anna feels she isn't intelligent enough for Colin Hanks (male lead who just drops into this story from nowhere), do the brainiac girls help her? No. They are not involved. We get a scene with Anna at the library reading a pile of books... and then she's smart! But even that scene is more of a two second montage, rather than a real scene where she learns. It's like shorthand instead of an actual scene. This goes back to that Egri thing about character change - you need to show all of the steps, or else it seems false.

I wondered why they didn't use the premise - and have Bunny help Brainiacs and vice versa. Did they think it was too obvious? Too expected? Well, then set up something less expected! Once you set up the story, that's the story. If you can't find a "Door #3" (DEJA VU co-writer Bill Marsilli's term for the completely original and unexpected choice or solution to the problem) then your only choices are following the logical lines of the story you've created... or create a *different* story. Change the premise so that your story is less obvious. But ignoring the premise you've set up? Completely unsatisfying. If you are looking for the *best* solution - it's the one where the story works, even if we've seen it before. The "solution" where the story doesn't work at all? Crap. In the case of a light comedy like this - I think we all know how it ends and what we expect from the story. If the script gives us something *better* than we expected, great! But if it gives us much less than we expected - um, I'm not buying the DVD and telling my friends that it isn't worth the ticket price. This is the kind of thing that can probably be traced back to a bad development note - hard to believe the writers who come up with the premise, then ignored it. Karen and Kiwi are too smart for that. Or it may have been in direction - the transformations may have been given enough time on the page, but the director didn't understand how important it was and just trimmed it down. That happens - directors sometimes don't know how stories work.

The story is the story. If you want some other story, tell some other story.

One of last year's big hits was FATE OF THE FURIOUS (8) - which continued to reinvent the FAST AND FURIOUS series and tie all of the previous films together. Every year we get a new car chase flick, and when the first film in the series came out, many people noted there were amazing similarities between THE FAST & THE FURIOUS, POINT BREAK and NO MAN'S LAND - three films about rookie cops who are recruited to infiltrate a subculture as they investigate a series of robberies. The rookie cop befriends the charismatic leader of the group, usually becomes romantically involved with the group leader's sister, and steps over the line into criminal territory when he discovers his new best friend - the group leader - is behind the robberies. Scene after scene that all three films have in common. It's as if the used carbon paper to create each script! But it gets worse - my favorite undercover cop movie HOUSE OF BAMBOO has all of the same scenes, as does the 1948 film STREET WITH NO NAME. There seems to be a formula for undercover cop films that all of these films follow. Why is that?

Because the story is the story.

Undercover cop movies are about young men searching for a family to belong to. After moving out of the biological family, they join a new family - the police force or the FBI. That family asks them to pretend to be a member of a criminal family. The story will test their loyalties, by creating situations where they must decide between the two families. One family typically offers love (the criminals) and the other family typically offers responsibility (the police). In order to tell this story, you will end up with scene after scene where the protagonist must decide which family he really belongs to... and those are the "formula" scenes all of those films share. It's not really a formula, it's the scenes which best tell the story you are trying to tell. If you were to try to tell the undercover cop story without using these "formula" scenes it would end up NOT exploring the emotional issues built in to that story. It would be avoiding the very story you are trying to tell - usually with filler material subplots like Pawnbroker's daughters and Mobster's wallets.

The story is the story, and to tell that story you'll need the scenes that tell that story. This may create a "formula" of sorts, but that doesn't make the story unoriginal. The art - the challenge - of telling a story like this is to find the unique and unusual scenes that illustrate the two families pulling at our undercover cop. That is where your creativity comes in - not in ditching the story for silly subplots, but in finding the way to tell this story that fully explores the story - yet is also original. That takes more creativity and talent than just "kitchen sinking" some quirky characters and scenes that have nothing to do with the story you are telling. There are a million different ways to tell a story about a man who must decide between a future in art or commerce - the basic decision is the same, but each scene will be an individual creation based on the specifics of YOUR story and YOUR characters.

Use the scenes that best tell the story and get rid of any scenes or characters that don't tell the story.

If the story is a cliche, fix the story... don't leave out the scenes you need to tell the story.


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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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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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