MONDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:
WHO'S THE BOSS?
On a very basic level, a story is about a person with a
problem. Before the flood of popular fiction threatened to inundate your local bookstore,
stories were usually named after the person who had the problem - good old Will
Shakespeare wrote about JULIUS CAESAR and HENRY V and HAMLET and
OTHELLO and MACBETH and RICHARD III and that great buddy comedy TWO
GENTLEMEN OF VERONA. Cooper wrote about THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS (not "A Group Of Mohicans")
and Defoe about MOLL FLANDERS. Mark Twain wrote about TOM SAWYER
and did that spinoff novel HUCK FINN.
All of these stories are about a person with a
problem - Julius Caesar discovered that all of his friends were lying to his face, all the
time they wanted to take his place, the back-stabbers! Hamlet comes home for his
father's funeral, discovers he was murdered, then sets about to discover who done it... but worries that if he discovers his mom or uncle done it, he'll have to take the responsibility of becoming king... and he'd rather party. If
we go back further in time to another guy with a murdered father and a hot-to-trot
mother we bump into Oedipus Rex - a person with some really weird problems. It was
those Greek guys who came up with the word "protagonist" - the lead character in your
story. The person who has the problems.
The protagonist is the center of your script. The story is ABOUT your protagonist.
But who is your protagonist? Once the producer buys your script, he's going to
spend $15-25 million for the star of the film; then hire some character actors or
secondary names like Samuel Jackson or Julianne Moore or one of those Wilson brothers at $2
million to $500,000 for the rest of the roles. Is it obvious when reading your script who
gets the $25 million?
It's only ONE character, and the script will be about THAT character being forced to
confront and solve an EMOTIONAL CONFLICT (character arc) in order to solve an
EXTERNAL CONFLICT (plot). Your script is going to be ABOUT the lead character's
problems, so it only makes sense that he's in as much of the film as possible. Plus, the
producer will insist on it. They want to get their $25 million's worth.
Do you know who your protagonist is? It's only one person, and you will have to
chose who that person is. A story is character in conflict. Not a PLATOON in conflict,
not a FAMILY in conflict, not a CITY in conflict. All of these are abstracts. You can't hire
Tom Cruise to play a city... and no producer can afford to hire a city full of Tom
The word "protagonist" and the concept that a story only has one lead character wasn't the invention
of some Hollywood studio boss or story editor or script guru - it's one of those Ancient Greek words that
has been around since the beginning of dramatic works. One of those story basics since the beginning of time.
a: the principal character in a literary work (as a drama or story)
b: a leading actor, character, or participant in a literary work or real event
: a leader, proponent, or supporter of a cause : champion.
Though there are practical reasons for only having one lead character (cost factors, ego factors) the main
reasons are *artistic* and *quality* factors. The reason why those Greeks came up with the term "Protagonist" and
the concept of a single character as a lead wasn't Tom Cruise's paycheck... it was *what works best* vs. *what seldom works*.
They were only interested in quality. As I've mentioned in some other tip, when you have one lead character 110 pages is about them,
when you have 10 lead characters, 11 pages are about each - and that means we never get past the surface of
the character because there just isn't enough time. But, oddly enough, many new writers gravitate to multi-protagonist
stories for just this reason - instead of going deep into a character they can just skim the surface. They don't
*think* this, they just find multiple protagonist stories easier for them to imagine and easier for them to write. They
*like* them because (subconsciously) they are easier for them to imagine writing, easier for them to understand. It's
But what about MAGNOLIA? What about GOSFORD PARK? What about THE DIRTY DOZEN? What about INGLORIOUS BASTERDS?
Tom Cruise plays one of the roles in MAGNOLIA... a film from a
writer-director-producer. Writing a script like MAGNOLIA might make a great sample and get you and
assignment (writing a single protagonist star vehicle) but it's a tough sell and isn't likely to
end up on screen unless you plan on
same path to the screen as MAGNOLIA did - become a hot writer-director-producer (by first directing
HARD 8 - a single protag movie) and then
get Tom Cruise to work for pocket change. Though I like Paul Thomas Anderson's films, MAGNOLIA set no precedent for studios to
make more ensemble cast film, it made much less than the average film starring Tom
Cruise. MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 2 made $215.4 million in the USA and $545.4 million
worldwide, MAGNOLIA made only $22.4 million in the USA and a total of $39.2 million
worldwide. So if Tom is only in 1/5th of your movie you only make 1/10th of the income
in the USA... and it's even worse when you include the rest of the world! Outside the
USA MAGNOLIA only made $16.8 million - it was a major flop!
One of the things to keep in mind is that a film might be a critical success, an Oscar nominee, and a damned good movie...
but do awful business and be the kind of thing studios and most producers aren't interested in making. This makes it a hard sell. You
may end up with a script that gets shot down right out of the gate. "Who's the lead?" "Well, it has seven lead characters and..." "Not interested."
That may be a purely financial decision.
We think that because
foreign films often have multiple protagonists that multiple protagonists are popular
overseas - WRONG! Foreign audiences feel the same way about multiple protagonist films as domestic audiences do
- the most popular films in artsie countries like France are single
protagonist comedy films like WELCOME TO THE STICKS. The multi-tag films
are often produced through cultural programs and don't really have to appeal to an audience. American
Producers are looking for scripts where they can cast Tom as THE lead character... like NIGHT AND DAY...
Heck, the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE TV show was an ensemble cast, but they changed the entire
concept for the movie so that they could have a single protagonist - Cruise. All five M:I movies were
Tom Cruise star vehicles... and I expect the new one to be a Tom Cruise star vehicle as well.
Similar story with GOSFORD PARK, and if you watch THE DIRTY DOZEN again
you can't help but notice that Lee Marvin is secretly the star. He's the commander of the squad,
he's in almost every scene, he's the guy with the problem (getting those criminals to act like soldiers)... it's his story! The other
guys are supporting roles - supporting Lee Marvin's story. INGLORIOUS BASTERDS,
even though it's about a *team* of Jewish commandos in occupied France, the team's
leader, Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) is the obvious lead character - he gets all of the speeches and
most of the close ups. The other guys are supporting characters... Even though one of the guys, Donny, gets his own flashback. It's still Aldo's show, he's the lead.
(In the PROTAGONIST Blue Book I have a chapter on writing actual ensemble cast screenplays and how they work.)
But what about that ROMEO & JULIET thing that Shakespeare wrote? Two names
in the title, is it about two people with problems? Sort of... In romantic comedies like MY
BEST FRIEND'S WEDDING, Julia Roberts
is the protagonist... she's also the protagonist in RUNAWAY
BRIDE, but it's Hugh Grant who plays the lead in NOTTING HILL. Even when it may
seem like the script is equally divided between two characters, usually one of them
carries the main arc of the story. Romantic comedies and buddy films are the closest we come
to an exception - where we might actually have two equal protagonists. But if you are
doing an ensemble piece about five friends who get into trouble, usually one character
will still be the lead... the others will be subservient to him.
Sure, there *are* rom-coms
where both characters have equal time, and there *are* buddy movies... but usually when there
are more than two leads, one character is the protagonits. In AMERICAN GRAFFITI,
Richard Dreyfus is the lead character of the ensemble... he has the main character
arc, same with BREAKING AWAY - Dennis Christopher is the lead character and the
other guys are his pals. Christopher is the one who has the physical problem (he's
stuck in this darned small town) and the emotional problem (he discovers that his idols
are jerks) - it's his movie. So often when you have what seems to be an ensemble story it is really
about a protagonist and his pals. His pals may have their own subplots and even character arcs, but
they are still supporting characters. Often reflecting other aspects of the protagonist's problem.
Your Screenplay Checklist:
1) Who is your story about? Who is the protagonist?
2) Who has the emotional conflict that they are forced to conquer in order to resolve the physical conflict?
3) Which character is the person with the problem at the center of your story?
4) How are the *emotional* conflict and *external* conflict connected?
5) How do you dramatize the protagonist's *struggle* with the emotional conflict?
A story is about a person with a problem - who is that person in your story? Focus the story on that person.
All About Endings!
GRAND FINALES Blue Book!
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The First Ten Pages Of Your Screenplay Are Critical,
But What About The Last 10 Pages?
Creating the perfect ending to your story! This 100,000 word book shows you how to end your story with a bang, rather than a whimper. Everything from Resolution Order to Act Three Tools to Happy or Sad Endings? to How The Beginning Of Your Story Has Clues To The Ending (in case you were having trouble figuring out how the story should end) to Falling Action to How To Avoid Bad Endings to Writing The Perfect Twist Ending to Setting Up Sequels & Series to Emotional Resolutions to How To Write Post Credit Sequences to Avoiding Deus Ex Machinas, to 20 Different Types Of Ends (and how to write them) and much more! Everything about endings for your screenplay or novel!
All About LOGLINES, TREATMENTS, and PITCHING!
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Making Your Own Movie?
Writing An Indie Film?
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If you are making your own movie, budget, is even more important - and you need to think about budget *before* you write your screenplay... or you will end up with a script that you can’t afford to make (or is a struggle to make). Everyone is making their own films these days, and even if you have done it before there are lots of great techniques in this book to get more money on screen - for less money! You can make a film that looks like it cost millions for pocket change.
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STORY IN ACTION SERIES!
THE MISSION IMPOSSIBLE MOVIES
NEW: Updates On Films 7 & 8 Casting!
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THE MISSION IMPOSSIBLE MOVIES - 347 Pages - Only $3.99 !
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*** THE BOURNE MOVIES
NEW: Updates on TREADSTONE TV show!
All five "Bourne" movies (including "Legacy" and it's potential sequels) - what are the techniques used to keep the characters and scenes exciting and involving? Reinventing the thriller genre...
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Over 240 pages!
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He's back! The release of "Terminator: Dark Fate" is set to begin a new trilogy in
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My New Script Secrets Newsletter!
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.
ALSO KINDA NEW!
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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*** HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE *** - For Kindle!
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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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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).
Click here for more information on CLASS MP3s!
THE BOOK THAT STARTED IT ALL!
*** THE SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING *** - For Kindle!
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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
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Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is over 400 pages!
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STORY: WELL TOLD!
*** STORY: WELL TOLD *** - For Kindle!
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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 around 170 pages!
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ADVICE FROM 1920!
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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.
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I WRITE PICTURES!
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*** 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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*** DIALOGUE SECRETS *** - For Kindle!
*** DIALOGUE SECRETS *** - For Nook!
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