Maybe it's because I'm a mystery guy and love John Dickson Carr and that old TV series BANACEK, but I love stories that explore seemingly impossible situations like the French thriller TELL NO ONE.

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TELL NO ONE is the story of Alex Beck and his childhood sweetheart Margot who are happily married. On vacation they visit the lake where they first met... and Margot is *murdered* and Alex is knocked out. He wakes up to find himself a suspect in his wife's murder... but the police eventually connect Margot's murder to a serial killer... but they never stop suspecting him.

Eight years later, Alex still hasn't gotten over her murder. He has never had another relationship, and visits Margot's parents on the anniversary of her death. Margot's parents think he should just get on with his life. Her father is a retired cop, and knows how traumatic an event like this can be (heck, it was his daughter who was killed), but even he thinks Alex needs to move on with his life. Problem is, Alex is still in love with her - always has been. Part of his lack of closure may be that he never saw his wife's corpse - he was in the hospital recovering. Her father identified the body, and Alex missed the funeral.

On that eight year anniversary of her murder he gets a strange e-mail... from his dead wife!

Meanwhile, the police have found two long-dead bodies at the lake where the wife was murdered... with evidence leading to Alex. The police want to re-open Margot's murder case, thinking that these two may have been Alex's accomplices (the guys who knocked him out to give him that great alibi). They want Alex to supply a DNA sample.

As Alex receives more e-mails from his dead wife, many containing information that only she would know, some witnesses and friends of his wife from the past are murdered... with evidence leading to Alex. Now Alex must go on the run to find proof of his innocence... and find out how his dead wife has access to a computer.

The first act creates all kinds of questions and no shortage of mystery. We need to keep watching to find out the answers! I love movies like this...

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The original version of D.O.A. is about a dying man who tracks his own killer. In Jon Cohen and Scott Frank's MINORITY REPORT, Tom Cruise plays the head of Washington DC's elite "Pre-Crimes Division" - with the use of psychics they arrest murderers BEFORE the commit the crime. When one of the "pre-cogs" (psychics) predicts that Cruise will kill someone, he must go on the run - evading his own highly-trained team - to find proof that he will NOT kill a man he doesn't know in 36 hours. The film is based on a story by Philip K. Dick, whose work was also the basis for TOTAL RECALL and BLADE RUNNER... and probably an inspiration for THE TRUMAN SHOW. Is Cruise DESTINED to kill this man? Can he escape his destiny? Or will fate conspire to lead him to the intended victim...and create a situation where he has no choice but to kill the man?

Let's say you come up with a kick-ass idea - A man who murders himself. You have a conundrum (always a great jumping off point for a script) but you need to know where it goes from there... And that's the hard part! You have to solve the riddle before you can write the script. The man could not have really murdered himself - or could he? With time travel he might have killed himself - or with multiple personalities. Or what if he faked his own murder, assumed someone else's identity, only to have that person be prime suspect in his killing? (kind of a play on Antonioni's THE PASSENGER). Once you know the solution to the riddle you can figure out your story.

But if you don't know the solution? You're in a heap-o-trouble! And here's the thing about stories like this - the closer the solution comes to the end of the film, the more simple it needs to be. You don't want a long, drawn out, denouement where a character has to spend five minutes of screen time explaining everything that happened and why it happened, like in the end of an Agatha Christie novel or that never-ending last scene in PSYCHO. All of that exposition just kills the story. What you want is the simple solution that makes everything that has come before make sense - like that twist end in THE SIXTH SENSE. If you *are* dealing with a complicated mystery, you'll want to resolve the mystery in pieces, so that the audience doesn't choke on a big chunk of exposition at the end. Look at THE BIG SLEEP, which solves part of the story at Art Huck's garage, part of the story in the car, part of the story while waiting for Eddie Mars to show up at Gieger's house, and the last part - the big mystery - at the very end in a simple bit of dialogue that's the final puzzle piece to the story.


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The most important character in a murder mystery is the victim (they are the hub that all other characters are spokes from). In the Man Who Murders Himself scenario our victim is also your protagonist - a bonus! There's a great novel by Ernest Lehman - I'm blanking on the title - about twins who switch places so that the healthy one can take the other's company physical. These guys get to live each other's lives for about a week. When one brother gets killed, his twin realizes that HE was the intended victim and must solve his own murder - while pretending to be his twin brother. And finds out what his friends REALLY think about him. He gets to examine his own life.

Once you've solved the problem - once you know how your story works, you'll need a protagonist. I'm a character arc guy - I like to figure out what my protagonist most needs to learn, and how THIS story will force him or her to learn that lesson. Then I work from that lesson - scenes and characters are designed to tell the story AND illustrate that lesson. You don't *need* a lesson or character arc, but you will need some sort of emotional conflict that humanizes your character - like still loving your long-dead wife.

Here's where you need a bunch of ideas. Ideas for characters and scenes and conflicts and plot twists. I always come up with many more ideas than I can use so that I can select the best ones. Then I order all of these ideas so that they form a story with a beginning, middle, end plus escalating threat/suspense/whatever fits the genre (might be escalating passion for a love story). I have to know where the story is going to go before I can write the scenes and the dialogue and the description that can take me there.


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In TELL NO ONE, as strange plot twists mount and the bodies pile up, the mystery of Margot's e-mail form beyond the grave becomes more and more complicated... and you begin to wonder how the hell they're going to come up with a solution that covers everything that has happened... and that's when the film begins to go south. Because there are a half dozen crimes in the past that resulted in the murder of Margot... and the film sinks under the weight of too many backstories. There is so much going on, and so many complicated past relationships that lead to various crimes and crimes to cover up those crimes and crimes to cover up the cover ups that we have not only lost the great concept of the Dead Wife's E-mails, we now have so many complications that we can't possible dig ourselves out of this mess. We end up with kind of a Rube Goldberg explanation of what happened to a dozen characters who aren't even part of the present story which lead up to this twist ending... But it's like a half hour of backstory! The film just goes into reverse! Act three is all exposition!

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The film has two great stunt scenes are very realistic - when Alex runs across the freeway to escape the police causing a huge pile up - cars skidding close to hitting him - you wonder how they managed to get a crashing car so close to *the star* without killing him. Though CGI could have been used, it doesn't look like it. France has that great precision driving team from RONIN and the BOURNE movies, so maybe they were involved in this. This scene, by the way, is right from the novel. The other great, realistic stunt scene I don't remember from the book - and I suspect was an accident that they used in the film - Alex is running flat out, trips, and does a very realistic face plant on a sidewalk. You can't help but say "Ouch!" outloud.

The thing that elevates this from just being another just thriller is the love story aspect - and the end of this film is powerful due to the love story. Alex and Margot are soulmates - and the great flashbacks to when they were kids and first fell in love give this film a gravity and depth that stick with you long after the house lights go up. The tree where they carved their initials in a heart when they were kids... is still on that tree the night Margot is killed... and 8 years later when Alex is brought back to that spot at the end of the film. There are big emotions involved at that location - and using a location as a symbol of their love and relationship is a great idea. The film could have used more of this kind of focused storytelling in the mystery portion.

One of the elements in the story (book and film) is a MARATHON MAN subplot element with some local thugs who become Alex's little army when the police *and* the badguys are chasing him. A few of the reviews have mentioned that the actor who plays Alex resembles Dustin Hoffman - and that probably adds to the MARATHON MAN echoes.

British actress Kristen Scott-Thomas plays one of Alex and Margot's friends, and she speaks fluent French and *acts* French in this film... it takes you a moment to recognize her!


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You know, scripts are written in the present tense... and a film story should move forward and be about things happening now - not things that happened a long time ago that result in big chunks of exposition. TELL NO ONE gives us the exposition and flashback combo - so we see all of these long ago things... but they are still long ago events. And there are *so many of them* that the whole film seems to be moving backwards instead of coming to a conclusion - for about half an hour. And just when you thought the backstories were all over... we get a *different* version of one of the backstories exposing a character's lie. All of this is just too much - someone should have simplified all of this stuff and cut away all of the unrequired complications - there is one event that could have caused all of the present problems - we didn't need every bad thing that has ever happened to Alex throughout his life to be explained... and part of some conspiracy! Make sure your scripts are about what happens *now* - not what happens before the film starts. (Yeah, CITIZEN KANE and MEMENTO... but those are the exceptions). You want to keep the story moving forward... and keep the backstory to a minimum.

But the very end of the film is saved by a flashback to the lovers as children - showing just how strong Alex and Margot's love is... it has lasted beyond the grave. In a strange way, the end reminded me of another French film CACHE. That film had such a strong image (the suicide) near the end that you forgave all of the problems that came before... and here the unending love of two people makes us forget all of that backstory...

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TELL NO ONE is a riveting story with some great plot twists... and way too much backstory and a plot that needed to be streamlined and focused for the screen. Films like FLIGHTPLAN seem to come up with a great impossible hook, but don't seem to have the solution in place, so they fumble around at then end and just kind of fall apart. You want *everything* in your screenplay to be leading to that solution - and that means you know what the solution is as soon as you create the impossible situation. If you create a problem but DON'T know the answer, you run the risk of painting yourself into a corner... then all of those pages you have written will end up in the trash can instead of in a producer's hands. You want to know your end, not wander around trying to find it. You want to make sure the closer to the ending of the script you get, the more simple and focused the ending. You want the audience to go "Aha!" rather than "WTF?" Keep the exposition to a minimum! When Faye Dunnaway says "She's my sister and my daughter" those six words not only explain a huge chunk of the mystery, they have a strong impact because it's brief. The more words you use to explain, the less impact!

And whatever you do - no act 3 set ups for major plots that will have to be endlessly explained ten pages from now! Set things up in Act 1, resolve them in Act 3.

You have to know where you're going and how you're going to get there BEFORE you write the script. Come up with an impossible problem and then come up with the solution! You are the "pre-cog" for the world of your screenplay - you know what happens next. Every scene in your script is the next step to the end of the script - even if the audience doesn't know it. Just as Tom Cruise doesn't know his victim, the audience doesn't know what happens next - the script is constantly surprising them. But when we reach the end, all of those scenes add up - we realize why each scene needed to be there to bring us to this conclusion. That means YOU must know the end to your script. If a scene isn't leading to the end of your script, pluck it out.






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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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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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.

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