BIZ TIP TUESDAY:

DYING GRANDMOTHERS


The Independent Feature Project (IFP - now FIND) is an organization set up to support indie film projects. It's a fantastic organization that helps connect writers, directors and crew people. They screen indie films for members with Q & A sessions afterwards. When IFP members make films, they are often screened at a nice cinema in Hollywood, followed by a reception for the film makers. Because these receptions often feature free beer, I'm usually there. My friend Kris and I have seen hundreds of Indie films that have never found distributors at IFP screenings.

People who think that Hollywood movies are formulaic ought to see a hundred IFP screenings. The average film is about a misunderstood artistic boy (often a painter, poet, sculpter, playwright) whose parents think he should grow up and find a real job, but his grandmother understands him and knows that he is really a genius... then she dies. Leaving him alone against the entire world! The protagonists in many of these films are agoraphobic - not only does the world misunderstand them, they actually fear the outside world. Sometimes when the grandmothers die they become more withdrawn, sometimes that's what gives them the strength to venture out into the world. But usually once the grandmother is dead, the parents ramp up the pressure to give up painting or playwriting or sculpture or poetry or whatever and get a *real job*. And the misunderstood artist usually becomes more withdrawn... until some art critic wanders past, sees their work, and brands them a GENUIS and some hot girl throws herself at him and he rubs his parents noses in his sudden success.

Um. that's the plot of THE FAREWELL isn't it?

I've seen a hundred of these movies, and they are all the same - some have better focus than others - and all are some crazy form of fantasy for the filmmaker. Secretly, *they* are the misunderstood genius with the parents who want them to get a real job (but often funded the film where they are the villains!) and these filmmakers hope once people see their amazing talent on screen, they will be branded a genius and given $100 million to make some self-indulgent art film that is never expected to make a cent.

This type of story has become such a cliche that there was even an IFP movie that was a parody of the typical IFP movie called THE BASEMENT AND THE KITCHEN about a misunderstood boy who has been living in the basement since his father died (father thought he was a genius) and the boy believes that the woman who claims to be his mother is an imposter. After 45 minutes of typical self-indulgent indie film cliches, it's revealed that the mother IS an imposter, and the kid has reason to feel misunderstood - they think he might be half alien. Of course, by the time this is revealed (and we finally realize they were making fun of the cliches) I had already dozed off a couple of times. The problem with making fun of boring movies is that sometimes you end up with a boring movie. When I finally realized it was a parody of all of those Dying Grandmother Movies (rather than just another one of them) I had a good time. It was really a clever flick.

These "Dying Grandmother Movies" are all very personal stories - too personal!

WHAT'S IT ABOUT?

It's important for your script to be emotional and personal - if you don't care about your story, how can you expect 20 million people to care? But in order to get those 20 million people to show up and shell out their $12 in the first place it has to be a story they are interested in seeing.

It has to be something they want to see, BEFORE THEY HAVE SEEN IT.

Your script about a guy hiding in his basement may be the most amazing, emotional script ever written. It may grab the audience from page one and never let go. It may tell the secret of life... But 20 million people are not paying $12 to see a self indulgent movie about a guy in his basement. They want to be ENTERTAINED. They won't stand in line unless they believe your story will be something that will take them away from their troubles for two hours. A story that will be passionate and heartfelt... and fun.

You have written the most amazing story - one that has the reader crying - but an audience doesn't know the film is good until AFTER they've seen it. That's the problem.

What attracts them to see it in the first place?

In the case of a movie, you have a poster and a trailer. The problem with a trailer is that it is only 2 minutes and 30 seconds. That is the maximum time allowed by the MPAA. So we aren't going to get much character depth or that amazing dialogue or that big dramatic scene... we are just going to get the *idea* of your story. The concept. And that will either attract people to see the movie... or not. You may not think that is fair, but it's a fact of life. Want an intteresting experiment? Write a two and a half page "trailer" in screenplay format for your screenplay. Oh, and don't forget to include the title in that "trailer" - you want to make sure people remember what to go see. Two and a half pages (minus the title mention(s) - oh, and the cast and director mentions (they won't be mentioning the writer's name) - isn't much time at all! You'll be *lucky* to get the story idea across!

So that story idea better be interesting.

WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW?

This is a problem with many straight dramas about small stories - they have a small idea *and* small execution. They are low key concepts told in a low key way. You often hear that old advice "Write what you know" - but I think that is the worst advice ever when it comes to movies. You can write CATCHER IN THE RYE about teen angst, alienation, and rebellion and maybe strike a chord in readers. Books are a personal thing - we read them alone, and they speak directly to us as an individual. But a movie is a different medium, designed to be viewed by a large audience at the same time. You might read a book in bed or in the tub, but would you see a movie while sharing a bed with 350 strangers? Would you ever share a tub with 350 strangers, even if a movie wasn't involved?

Some of you may have answered yes - if you did, you might be the kind of person who should write what you know.

But for the rest of you, the kind of story that may appeal to you in a novel may not appeal to you on a cinema screen... and writing what you know may not be a good idea. Though I have had a variety of day jobs in my past, none were all that interesting... and my current job is to sit on my ever-expanding butt all day typing words. Even *I* don't want to see that on screen! If I were to Write What I Know it would bore the heck out of everyone...

So I add imagination.

Lots of imagination... since I sit on my butt all day.

Instead of Writing What I Know, I *Write What I Feel*. I have felt heartbreak, I have felt alienation, I have felt unappreciated, I have felt like rebelling, I have felt betrayed, I have felt love and joy (just so it isn't all downer stuff). I have had emotional experiences that I can explore in a screenplay - but I don't write the story that way it actually happened (which might satisfy me, but I doubt would satisfy 20 million ticket buyers). So instead of writing a self indulgent story, I take those emotions and find a way to explore them in a more interesting concept. Something that explores the emotions I have felt in a character with a much more exciting life. That way, the excitement attracts the audience to pay their $12, and the emotions (hopefully) give them an experience that was worth the money.

I wear the disguise of fiction - and write about an interesting world populated by people we can identify with... instead of a normal world populated by normal people... which you could see just by looking out your front window.

You can tell a story of an ordinary man in an extraordinary world... or an extraordinary man in an ordinary world. But extraordinary and extraordinary cancel themselves out to create boredom, as do ordinary and ordinary. That's why Superman has to be launched as a baby to Earth, and why typical city cop John McClane has to take on 40 storeys of international terrorists. Imagine a whole movie that takes place on Krypton where everyone has the same power as Superman (I think there's a line from THE INCREDIBLES that explains that), or a whole movie where John McClane just writes speeding tickets and answers loud music complaints? We need the contrast between extraordinary and ordinary - no matter which way that goes. The problem with "Write What You Know" for most of us, is that we end up with ordinary and ordinary.

The "Dying Grandmother Genre" adds the wrong kind of wish fulfillment - instead of imagining that extraordinary thing might attract those 20 million people, it adds the extraordinary thing that only the filmmaker cares about - being called a genius. And that is a fail.

GREAT BUT SMALL?

But do all films need to be big? Can't a film just be *good*? Very few people went to see GHOST WORLD in the theater - and it was a great film! A film that made me laugh and cry. That's because that summer everyone went to see the Marky-Mark PLANET OF THE APES in the theater - a lousy film.

GHOST WORLD is kind of a "dying grandmother". It may be a great film, but it's about a girl who graduates high school and realizes she now must be a part of the world she despises in order to survive. It's small. Personal. Ordinary and ordinary. Not interesting to 20 million people with $12 to spend who want to escape their troubles for a couple of hours. The story has no cool hook, no amazing idea... it's just a good story.

Sure, after they see it, the audience would have liked GHOST WORLD... but they just never wanted to see it. The SUBJECT MATTER seemed uninteresting. I don't know many people who liked THE DaVINCI CODE after they saw it, but they sure lined up to pay $12 to see it... and now they may line up to see the sequel. Part of that was hype - but there was something to hype. You have Tom Hanks stumbling on a huge conspiracy - that Jesus got married and had kids! Now the church has sent this monk-assassin to kill him. Hey, I'd pay $12 for that! I *did* pay $12 for that - cool idea, bland execution. Even an indie film needs a hook - something to attract the audience at the *idea stage* - something to put in the trailer. GHOST WORLD made every critic's Ten Best List that year... but only made $6 million *total* in its entire theatrical run. Here's the problem - the film cost over $7 million to make, plus a big chunk of change to market. You not only need a great film - you need to give the ticket buyers a reason to want to see the film. (Yes, Scarlett Johansson was in it, we didn't know who she was then.)

Your concept is one of the most important elements in a script. And one of the most difficult to get the hang of. If a producer can't see the POSSIBILITY of making money on a film made from your script, why buy it in the first place? If your subject matter is something that seems like it would have no trouble attracting 20 million people with $12... you may have a sale.

This doesn't mean you should hack up some idea you don't care about, it means you should find the story that YOU want to tell that an AUDIENCE wants to hear. That's the difficult part - finding the story that is both.

By now some of you may be yelling "SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK!", and that's fair... except I would argue one of the things that made that film interesting to the initial ticket buyers was that this was *not* about an ordinary person in an ordinary world, but a guy who is downright *crazy* trying to make it through an ordinary world. And that's the *concept* of the movie - the story idea. It's about a bull in the china shop of life. This isn't a story about a guy who is shy or has some mild anger management problems - this guy can't read a book in the comfort of his bed without going crazy violent and yelling at his parents and everyone else in 100 yards. He's an *extreme* character. Extraordinary. He can't fly like Superman, but he wears a garbage bag outfit. The story is *about* this guy who probably should not have been released from the mental institution trying to navigate the ordinary world - and that's a story hook. Some other writer may have tried to make the protagonist in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK more ordinary - but that would have killed the story. You *can* write a small story, as long as you focus on what makes it interesting.

The audience won't know how brilliant your script is until AFTER they've paid to see it. Why are they paying to see the movie? What interesting world does your (personal) story take place in? How is this PERSONAL story also going to interest those 20 million people with $12 to spend on a Friday night?

And that personal story you just have to tell about the misunderstood genius? Um, that "Dying Grandmother" story is more formula than anything Hollywood is making. Just an *indie* formula. Just because something is small and personal doesn't mean it's good. Don't write what you know, write what you *feel* and add your imagination and creativity. We aren't *journalists* we are *screenwriters*. Creative people!

Extraordinary and Ordinary - you need a combination of both, not just one or the other.

If you haven't seen GHOST WORLD, it's dark and witty and probably worth a rent. SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK is also out on DVD and BluRay. You know who plays the best friend character???




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OUTLINES & THE THEMATIC!

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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.

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DESCRIPTION & VOICE Blue Book!

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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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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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READY TO BREAK IN?

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NEW!

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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!

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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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*** 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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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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SUBPLOTS?

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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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He's back! The release of "Terminator: Genisys" (now on BluRay) is set to begin a new trilogy in the Terminator story... 31 years after the first film was released. What draws us to these films about a cybernetic organism from the future sent back in time? Why is there a new proposed trilogy every few 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 the five films so far, this book delves into the way these stories work... as well as a complete list of 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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*** 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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BEST SELLER!

*** 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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copyright 2019 by William C. Martell


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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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