MONDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:
Your story is going to be about a character who has to solve a problem. Which of your characters has the problem? That will be the protagonist.
I believe that character and story are connected. You can't paste a character into a story any more than you can paste a story onto a character. The character has some lesson to learn, some choice in life they have been afraid to make, a pivotal point they must reach in order to grow into a whole person. That's what makes them interesting. That problem is what makes them human. If your protagonist doesn't have an emotional problem, where are the emotions in your script coming from?
The story is the catalyst that forces the character to the surface.
If a Navajo Tribal Police Officer like Jim Chee from Tony Hillerman’s great series of novels, and have some little Amish boy witness a murder and point to a fellow cop as the killer, and now Chee has to hide out with the Amish, you don't really have a story. Sure, there's a culture clash and some wardrobe problems, but Chee comes from a peaceful background, is a peaceful man, and is forced to live among peaceful people. You can paste the character into the plot of WITNESS, but you don't end up with a story because there is no real emotional conflict.
But take a tough Philly cop like John Book and put him in Amish country and you have instant conflict. Book comes from a violent world. He's used to solving problems with his fists or his gun. He's not a peaceful person. He has to learn to be peaceful, learn to be part of the community. The WITNESS story needs to happen to this specific character, not just some random character. There is no emotional conflict and no drama without the specific character. Character and story are connected, and you want the most interesting character for whatever situation you’ve devised.
In LIAR, LIAR if one of those Amish guys had to tell the truth for 24 hours - no story! But the lying "bad father" lawyer having to go 24 hours without telling a lie makes a great story. The character has to learn how much his lying hurt others, has to learn that telling the truth is okay. You want the most dramatic situation possible.
Find the perfect character that fits your story... The character who will be forced to learn the most from the story. The character who will be *challenged* the most by your story. The character who is at odds with the story - who will milk the most conflict from the story. That's your lead. If the character who is at the center of your story's conflict is "the girl" (the romantic interest) - she's the protagonist and the guy is the romantic interest. You know, this is 2018, female characters can be the protagonist and male characters can just be “the boyfriend” who only talks with other male characters about the female lead and do some gratuitous male nude scenes. (Whatever the role reversal version of a Bectal Test failure is). “If you write interesting roles, you get interesting people to play them,” Paul Schrader.
THREE ENSEMBLES OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI
But what if you are writing an ensemble story, where every character is interesting? Hey, with a strong female lead that all of the male characters talk about. Can *every* character be interesting and dramatic and how can you tell who the protagonist is?
Martin McDonagh’s THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI won Outstanding Performance By A Cast at the Screen Actors Guild Awards because it provided big juicy roles for everyone in the ensemble - the smallest role in the film was a great role. McDonagh writes great characters, and as I note in a chapter in the Protagonist Blue Book, his specialty is creating characters who are at war with themselves like IN BRUGES. Characters consumed by anger who have no outlet for that anger... so it is eating them alive in scene after dramatic scene. Each of the characters in THREE BILLBOARDS are dealing with unsolvable problems and have no real outlet for their anger, so they turn it against themselves and each other. Because each of the characters has some involvement in another character’s problems, they rage against each other - creating no shortage of dramatic scenes and moments. You might call this conflict “Man Against Himself”, but it’s more like “Man Against The World” - no one is spared from their wrath. It’s like Thorton Wilder’s OUR TOWN but with really effed up people.
Mildred Hayes’ (Francis McDormand) daughter Angela was raped and murdered seven months ago and the police have not turned up a single suspect or person of interest. Frustrated that nothing has happened, she decides to rent three billboards on a mostly untraveled section of road outside of town accusing the police department, and Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) of dragging his feet. She is a ball of rage, with no real target. Until the man who raped and murdered her daughter is caught, she has no outlet for her anger.
Chief Willoughby is happily married with two little girls, and he has done everything he can to find Angela’s killer... but there are no leads. Plus, Willoughby has his own problems, which he has kept secret from everyone. He is dying of cancer and doesn’t have long to live. He will leave behind his wife and his two little girls, and that hurts him more than his illness. Though he is a calm man, inside he is consumed with anger over his illness... and Mildred’s billboards aren’t helping.
Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell) is another ball of rage. He’s trapped in this small town, living with his bitter racist old mother in a run down house, stuck as a low level cop with no chance for advancement (he’s not very bright - and at least some of his rage is against his own limitations). The world is just too complex for Dixon... he can’t figure it out when everyone around him seems as if they can. He lashes out at everyone, and in this part of the world the racism that he has learned from his mother is almost acceptable - so he has a reputation for hassling African Americans. He’s the first person to see the three billboards as Jerome (Darrell Britt-Gibson) is installing them. And Jerome is African American.
The company that owns the three billboards is run by young Red Welby (Caleb Landry Jones - who steals the show in AMERICAN MADE) who has inherited this struggling business and is barely hanging on. He’s kind of the opposite of Dixon, the bright young man stuck in hicksville where this job is the best he can do.
Mildred's son Robbie (Lucas Hedges) is traumatized by the rape and murder of his sister and the three billboards are not allowing him to find peace. He is now being picked on and beat up at school because of the billboards. He’s trying to keep it together, but it’s a struggle... and since his parents divorced he is now the “man of the house”. He is angry at his mother for putting up the billboards, but she’s in so much pain over the loss of her daughter that he can’t really argue with her.
Mildred’s ex-husband Charlie (John Hawkes) is an abusive jerk trying to be a good father, but that may not be in his skill-set. He is angry at Mildred because the three billboards make public that their daughter was raped, and that isn’t something he wants shared. He gets into a fight with Mildred (and in this story that means an actual physical fight) and Robbie has to make a choice between which parent’s side he is on... and ends up holding a knife against his father’s throat. Charlie says that Angela wanted to move in with *him* after the divorce, and if she had she would still be alive today.
And then there’s James (Peter Dinklage), a little person whose whole life in this town is conflict. He’s a nice guy, but Dixon and every drunk in the town bar makes fun of him, and what can he do? He just has to take it. He hits on Mildred in one scene, and the two become unlikely friends. Both angry with no place to put their anger.
Those are the main characters, but even the small roles like the police department’s Desk Sargent (Zeljko Ivanek) has some great character moments. This is a whole town filled with angry people, and there is no real solution to anyone’s anger. So they unleash on each other, creating more conflict. There are a couple of serious acts of arson, fights, at least one person is shot to death... and it’s *funny*! That’s the skill of McDonagh - he writes funny tragic people. You laugh and cry at the same time.
BUT WHO’S THE PROTAGONIST?
The SAG Awards gave away the answer... but so does the title. Who put up the Three Billboards? Mildred. Why did she put them up? Her daughter was raped and murdered and she needs closure - the criminal caught and tried and convicted. Mildred is the center of the story, and everyone else’s current conflicts come from her putting up those billboards. They are the trigger to other conflicts. Willoughby would still be dying of cancer without those billboards, but it would be on his terms. He wouldn’t suddenly be the center of attention and on the 5pm news. Dixon would still be a racist ahole, but he’d be some form of Barney Fife. The conflict in this story is triggered by those three billboards that Mildred had put up... though actually triggered by the murder of Angela.
So Mildred is out protagonist. And Francis McDormand won Best Actress In A Leading Role.
So if you are confused by who is the protagonist in a story with a bunch of great roles, look for the trigger that creates the conflict at the center of everything. The *deepest* cause and effect - dig down until you find the thing that starts it all... and the character who started it. Though you might think that is the murderer-rapist of Angela in this story, we don’t know who that is... so we are left with Mildred and the billboards.
McDonagh has a great dramatic technique when dealing with characters at war with themselves, and he used it in IN BRUGES and again here. Late in the story, after we think we have really gotten to know our protagonist and understand why they are filled with so much rage, we get a flashback that shows us an event that is unexpected and a hundred times worse than what we thought was behind the protagonist’s rage. These scenes are always heartbreakers. A punch in the audience’s gut. Mildred’s character goes from being interesting and Awards worthy to even more interesting. There is an additional layer underneath what we think is the final layer. Always think of your characters in layers, peeling back one layer to expose the next. You don't want characters who are just surface, where what you see is exactly what you get. That's boring.
One of the great things in this film is that every character steps up and does something unexpectedly noble. James saves Mildred from being arrested. Mildred makes peace with her ex-husband and the not very bright young woman he left her for. Dixon - who has the biggest “character flaw debt” to overcome, does some amazing detective work to try and solve the case.
But the case remains unsolved, which would make our story unresolved... unless they pick Door #3 - the unexpected resolution to the story.
This is a movie where every character is given a meaty dramatic role. Just because one character is the "protagonist" doesn't mean the others can't have their own character arcs and learn their own lessons. In SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE many of the secondary characters learn little lessons. The competing theater company gets into fights with them. But when the government closes the theater, they join forces to put on the show. Guys who were beating each other up shake hands and work together. The show must go on. Even your smallest character is still a *character* and needs to be interesting.
Interesting characters make for interesting scripts. Emotional problems make characters interesting. Characters with complex emotional problems not easily solved can win awards for the actors who play them... and as Paul Schrader said, “If you write interesting roles, you get interesting people to play them.”
THE MISSION IMPOSSIBLE MOVIES
All Six Movies analyzed! All of the mission tapes, all of the “that’s impossible!” set pieces and stunts, the cons and capers - and how these scenes work, the twists and double crosses, the tension and suspense (and how to generate it), the concept of each film as a stand alone with a different director calling the shots (broken in the sixth film), the gadgets, the masks, the stories, the co-stars and team members (one team member has been in every film), the stunts Tom Cruise actually did (and the ones he didn’t), and so much more! Over 120,000 words of fun info!
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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.
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!
*** THE BOURNE MOVIES
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NOIR & MYSTERY80 minute CD 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.
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IDEAS AND CREATIVITY - 80 minute CD 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)
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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).
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THE BOOK THAT STARTED IT ALL!
*** THE SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING *** - For Kindle!
*** THE SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING *** - For Nook!
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READY TO BREAK IN?
*** BREAKING IN BLUE BOOK *** - For Kindle!
Should really be called the BUSINESS BLUE BOOK because it covers almost everything you will need to
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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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STORY: WELL TOLD!
*** 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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MOVIES ARE CHARACTERS!
*** CREATING STRONG PROTAGONISTS *** - For Kindle!
*** CREATING STRONG PROTAGONISTS *** - For Nook!
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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ACT TWO SOLUTIONS!
*** ACT TWO SECRETS *** - For Kindle!
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Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is well over 200 pages!
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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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Over 240 pages!
*** THE TERMINATOR MOVIES *** - For Kindle!
He's back! The release of "Terminator: Genisys" (now on BluRay) is set to begin a new trilogy in
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years? This book looks at all five Terminator movies from a story standpoint - what makes them work
(or not)? What are the techniques used to keep the characters and scenes exciting and involving? How
about those secret story details you may not have noticed? Containing a detailed analysis of each of
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box office and critical statistics for each film. This book is great for writers, directors, and just
fans of the series.
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ADVICE FROM 1920!
*** VINTAGE #1: HOW TO WRITE PHOTOPLAYS *** - For Kindle!
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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I WRITE PICTURES!
*** VISUAL STORYTELLING *** - For Kindle! (exclusive)
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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PRO DIALOGUE TECHNIQUES!
*** 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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SCRIPT SECRETS STORE
SCRIPT SECRETS STORE
From Typing Monkey coffee cups to messenger bags to T shirts - everything a screenwriter needs to look sharp while working on that Oscar nomination!
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E BOOKS PAGE
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
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 CDs
The NAKED SCREENWRITING CLASS ON CD!
The 2001 London Class on 8 CDs! Recorded *live* the morning after the Raindance Film Festival
wrapped. The two day class on 8CDs, plus a workbook, plus a bonus CD with PDFs.
The 2 Day Class on CD!
Every screenwriting book in the world!
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From the latest screenwriting book to
guides for finding agents and producers... all with at the
BOOKLETS & PRODUCTS
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
nineteen produced films, interviews with me in magazines,
several sample scripts, my available scripts list... And MORE!
CLASSES ON CD
CLASSES ON CD! Take a class on CD! GUERRILLA MARKETING - NO AGENT? NO PROBLEM! and WRITING THRILLERS (2 CDs). Full length classes on CD. Now Available: IDEAS & CREATIVITY, WRITING HORROR, WRITING INDIE FILMS, more!
Take classes on CD!