How can anyone expect one scene to advance the story, give us character information, be entertaining...
I mean, can't a scene just exist because it's cool? Because it’s funny? Because things blow up real good?
Nope. Even in a comedy a scene has to pull its own weight. It has to advance the story and give us character information.
I thought of the silliest scene from the silliest movie I could think of and came up with this one from AIRPLANE!:
The Autopilot (a blow up pilot played by Otto) is flying the plane after the pilot, co-pilot, and navigator have fallen ill.
When the Autopilot begins to deflate and the plane goes out of control, the panicked Flight Attendant Elaine (Julie Hagerty)
radios the tower and they tell her to re-inflate the Autopilot by blowing into a valve on the Autopilot's belt. As she's doing this,
Doctor Rumack (Leslie Nielsen) walks in - thinks she's having oral sex with the Autopilot - and leaves. Once the Autopilot is
re-inflated, the plane stabilizes and the Flight Attendant and Autopilot are shown having a post-sex cigarette.
Okay - that's pretty silly. Does it advance the story and give us character information?
This scene tells us that the Autopilot is unreliable - they need an actual PILOT in the cockpit. Our hero,
Ted Stryker (Robert Hays), is a pilot with a drinking problem who is afraid to fly. This is the scene that makes him
*have* to fly the plane. We know that the Autopilot *isn’t* the answer after this scene - it may deflate again!
If you removed this scene the plot portion of the story would suffer - the audience would wonder why they needed
Stryker to fly the plane when they have the perfectly good Autopilot? The Autopilot doesn't have a drinking problem
and was *designed* to fly a 747.
From a character standpoint you also need this scene. Because Stryker and the Elaine break up in the first scene,
we need to show that she is getting on with her life and he is still stuck on her. How are we going to show her going on
a date when the whole film takes place in the plane? You know that post-sex cigarette gag? That's a character bit, too!
That shows that she has moved on. That Stryker is going to have to win her back. Without that scene the audience might
think she's still possibly in love with him - that he may have a chance to win her back. But this scene gives us the
character information that tells us otherwise.
So that silly scene has *critical* character and plot information. It's also funny. It's a scene that does it all!
Every scene in your script should be critical to the story. If you can remove the scene and it doesn't change the story -
get rid of it! Or find the way to make it work by combining it with other scenes or by finding ways to include important
information in the scene. That information doesn’t need to be obvious, and it *shouldn’t* be obvious.
The key to a good scene is that it gives the audience all kinds of information in a way that doesn’t make them
think they are getting information. They think it’s a silly comedy scene, but we know it’s a character and story scene.
In the Scenes Blue Book we look at that scene from FARGO where she meets with her friend from High School -
and how that scene is *critical* to the story. There isn’t enough time in a movie for a scene that has no purpose -
which is why we always want to find scenes that “do it all”. How do we create scenes like that?
Let's say you have a scene where we introduce our hero and his family. A loving wife and his kids
(including a teenaged daughter who is a real heart breaker). He's a real family man, still passionate about
his wife after years of marriage.
You have another scene where our hero's family surprises him with a 50th birthday party.
Singing "Happy Birthday To You". They have a cake with so many candles on top it looks like a fire hazard.
He tries to blow them all out, but it takes a couple of tries.
A third scene has own hero in the bathtub, noticing all of the gray in his beard. Does the beard make him look old?
Does it make him look all of those 50 years? He decides to shave it off.
Three scenes that show us aspects of our hero - but all are scenes we've seen before.
So why not combine all three into a single scene? Our hero is in the bathtub noticing all of the gray in his
beard when his family bursts through the door with a birthday cake, singing "Happy Birthday To You".
It takes him a couple of tries to blow out all of the candles... man, he really *is* old! His wife gives him a big kiss -
he tries to pull her into the tub. The kids are all over the place. His heart breaker daughter is obviously his favorite.
When they leave he realizes how old 50 really is... and shaves off his beard.
By combining the scenes we create a brand new scene - one we've never seen before.
Okay... maybe you have seen it... it's Danny Glover's introduction scene in LETHAL WEAPON.
Another scene that does it all. You may not have realized how much information was in that scene when you saw the movie,
but it’s packed with things we need to know about this character. By combining scenes, we save valuable screen
time for more important scenes and we are able to create scenes that have more *weight*, even though they may seem
light as a feather. Our scenes are like suitcases packed for a vacation, we want to get as many things into those
suitcases as we can, so that we aren’t lugging around a half dozen suitcases. We want one suitcase that has been
carefully packed so that it contains everything we need, and has wheels of entertainment so that it glides through the
airport and doesn’t seem heavy. The audience only sees the "glide" - they don't realize how much you have packed into that suitcase!
Combining scenes is also a great way to manage our script length - if we create one scene that does three things that means we
won’t end up with a 300 page screenplay!
IS THIS SCENE NECESSARY?
A novel has an unlimited number of pages to tell its story, a screenplay has no more than 120. That means there's
no room for meandering, no room for any sequence, scene, page or even *word* that doesn't move the story forward.
The average finished film is going to cost about a million dollars per page by the time it gets to the screen - so you
don't want to waste any pages on unimportant scenes.
Is every scene in your script required to tell the story, or are you wasting the audience's time?
There isn't enough room for a scene that has nothing to do with the story. There are no scenes in a
screenplay that are *only* about character - not enough room for that. A scene about character must
also move the story forward as well as being entertaining in some way- it must do three things at once.
Is that difficult? Of course! Nobody ever said screenwriting was going to be easy! We have to tell a
story with one tenth the words of a novelist! That requires concise writing. Every scene matters.
Take a hard look at each of your scenes. Does the story *require* this scene? If you can remove the
scene with no damage to the story, get rid of it. Even if it is an action scene or a comedy scene. It may be
the greatest scene in your script... but you are wasting the audience's time with it. The audience isn't there to
watch a collection of great scenes, they are there for the story - they want to know what happens next.
Here are a couple of ways to test your scenes...
House Of Cards:
Make sure each individual scene is focused on the objectives of the script. The small objectives have to
lead to the big objectives. Think of your script as a house of cards. Each scene is a card. If you can remove
any scene, and the house remains standing, that scene shouldn't have been in your script.
Not only should each scene move the story forward, each scene should also be a microcosm of the story.
Every scene should contain the DNA necessary to clone the entire script. You should be able to read any scene
from your script and have some idea of what the whole script is about. What is the central conflict of your screenplay?
How does *this* scene explore that conflict? Does this scene explore the theme? If you were to read *only* this scene,
could you tell me what the entire script is about? This is part of what I call Organic Screenwriting - Each scene has to be
integral to the story, not just filler material. Each scene should expose character, move the story forward, and deal with
the central conflict of the screenplay... the script's DNA.
The MEMENTO Challenge:
A script should like a shark - always moving forward. Each scene "creates" the next scene. Think of it as cause and effect.
Scene 1 causes Scene 2, Scene 2 causes Scene 3, etc. A great way to find dead-wood scenes in your script is to work backwards -
start with the very last scene and make sure it was caused by the scene right before it. Work your way backwards through the script -
if you come to a scene that didn't create the scene that comes right after it, you should probably cut that scene. Any scene that doesn't
have anything to do with the *central conflict* of the story should be removed - it's not part of the story you are telling.
A script that isn't moving forward - a script that gets stalled by a scene or series of scenes that don't move the story - is a dead shark!
Subplot scenes often end up major offenders and need to be cut, because your subplot may not have anything to do with
your main plot - and that’s a problem. Notice how in AIRPLANE! Elaine’s silly sex scene with Otto the Autopilot *seems* like it has
nothing to do with our main story about Ted Stryker the pilot with the drinking problem, except it actually does.
Just because a scene doesn’t *seem* to have any bearing on the main story at first glance doesn’t mean that it isn’t critical to the story.
LOOK CLOSER! This subplot scene is required for the main plot to work in a couple of different ways.
You want scenes that are filled with information, but aren’t banging the audience over the head with that information.
Scenes that do it all... but may just seem silly or suspenseful or exciting or scary or whatever *juice* required for whatever
genre you are working in. Stealth scenes... that do it all!
More of creating complex scenes in the SCENES Blue Book!
Loglines, Treatments, Pitching, Look Books, Pitch Decks, One Pagers, Rip-O-Matics?
You have written a brilliant 110 page screenplay, but how do you get anyone to read it? You need to distill it down into some form of verbal moonshine or story rocket fuel that will ignite that bored development executive or manager or agent and get them to request your screenplay. But how do you shrink those 110 pages into a 25 word logline or a 2 minute elevator pitch or a one page synopsis or a short paragraph? This 100,000 word book shows you how! Everything you need to know! From common logline mistakes (and how to solve them) to how your pitch can reveal story problems to the 4 types of pitches!
Making Your Own Movie?
Writing An Indie Film?
Writing A Low Budget Genre Script To Sell?
Writing A Made For TV Holiday Movie?
You will be writing for BUDGET. On a standard spec screenplay, you don’t have to think about budget, but these types of screenplays writing with budget in mind is critical!
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.
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!
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...
or following the "formula"? Five films - each with an interesting experiment! A detailed analysis of each
of the films, the way these thrillers 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.
He's back! The release of "Terminator: Dark Fate" is set to begin a new trilogy in
the Terminator story... 35 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.
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.
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?
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!
*** HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE *** - For Kindle!
Alfred Hitchcock, who directed 52 movies, was known as the *Master Of Suspense*; but what exactly is suspense and how can *we* master it? How does suspense work? How can *we* create “Hitchcockian” suspense scenes in our screenplays, novels, stories and films?
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!
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. The Noir & Mystery Class is only $15 (plus $5 S&H). First 20 on Limited Black Disk!
RECESSION SALE! $5 OFF!
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)
WRITING INDIES - Writing an Indie film? This class covers everything you need to know - from Central Locations to Confined Cameos. Using examples from SWINGERS, THE COOLER, STATION AGENT and others, this 80 minute CD is packed with information. How Indoe films challenge the audience (while mainstream films reassure the audience). Structures, using BOYS DON'T CRY, RUN LOLA RUN, HILARY & JACKIE, and others as example. Writing for a budget, writing for non-actors, getting the most production value out of your budget. Writing Indies is $10.00 (plus $5 S&H)
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).
Why pay $510 for a used version of the 240 page 2000 version that used to retail for $21.95? (check it out!) when
you can get the NEW EXPANDED VERSION - over 500 pages - for just $9.99? New chapters, New examples, New techniques!
"SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING is the
best book on the practical nuts-and-bolts mechanics of writing a screenplay I've ever read."
- Ted Elliott, co-writer of MASK OF ZORRO, SHREK, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN and the sequels (with Terry Rossio). (ie; 4 of the top 20 Box Office Hits Of ALL TIME.)
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!
Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is over 400 pages!
$4.99 - and no postage!
NO KINDLE REQUIRED! Get the *free* app (any device, except your Mr. Coffee) on the order page on Amazon!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!
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!
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!
Use your creative energy to focus on the content; let Final Draft take care of the style. Final Draft is the number-one selling application specifically designed for writing movie scripts, television episodics and stage plays. Its ease-of-use and time-saving features have attracted writers for almost two decades positioning Final Draft as the Professional Screenwriters Choice. Final Draft power users include Academy, Emmy and BAFTA award winning writers like Oliver Stone, Tom Hanks, Alan Ball, J.J. Abrams, James Cameron and more.
* * * Buy It!
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.
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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!
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!
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