THURSDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:

CHALLENGING THE ELEMENTS


In my Secrets Of Story Blue Book I break down story in 10 key elements - Ideas, Conflict, Concept, Character, Plot, Location, Time, Tone, Genre and Arena. You may be wondering why anyone in their right mind would ever do such a thing - shouldn't we be FEELING story rather than THINKING about it? I think we should be doing both. Using our hearts to make sure our screenplays have emotional resonance and our minds for craft. So we're going to look at the craft side of your story (I trust you have a heart, and I implore you to get in touch with your emotions and use them when writing scripts). Craft is all about effective storytelling... and telling effective stories. Our screenplays aren't only written for ourselves, they are written for a global audience of 600 million people. How can we get all of those people interested in our stories?

One way to make sure your story works is to take it in for a tune up. When you take your car to a mechanic, the first thing he's going to do is pop the hood and examine the engine. Your car trouble may be spark plugs, carburetor, the electrical system, the distributor, the computer, the cooling system, the oil & lubrication system, or any number of other elements. The mechanic is going to check out each element starting with the most likely to cause whatever problem you may be having. We're going to do something similar with our stories - we're going to examine each element to make sure it's in optimum working condition before we spend a big chunk of our lives writing the script. If any piece of our story can be improved, we want to do it before we've written 110 pages. The more pre-writing, the less rewriting.

BEST LEAD ACTOR?

Our story is about an ex-police detective living in a retirement home who investigates the death of a fellow resident and discovers it was murder.

The bad news about this good idea: it's a movie for old people, and movie audiences tend to be between 15-25 (dating age). So a script has to appeal to that age group. It doesn't have to be ABOUT 15-25 year olds, but it has to be about something they understand. Retirement? Old folks homes? Adult diapers? I'd suggest you either find a way to tell this story so that it appeals to people under 65, or make the film yourself independently.

So let's recast the lead - instead of Kirk Douglas our story is going to star Michael Douglas - the character element is going to appeal to more people, so we'll be able to get our story to more people. A recurring theme in many of my scripts is the "has been" who gets back into game - that's basically what this story is. We have a detective who has been put out to pasture by society - forgotten or disgraced - who has the chance to return to his old job and takes it. He's been beaten down but he's picking himself up. Once we realize that's the essence of the story (it's a personal theme for me) we can find the way to recast with Michael Douglas...

Our story is about a drug addicted ex-detective in rehab who investigates the death of a fellow resident and discovers it was murder.

BEST LOCATION?

Hey - it doesn't have to be Michael Douglas, that could be Mel Gibson or Russell Crowe or Gerard Butler. I'm still telling the same basic story and exploring my personal theme but we aren't alienating the core film audience. Plenty of 15-25 year olds see Gerard Butler movies - and so do people my age and people my parent's age (retired). You may not think this is an improvement on the original story, but by making the character younger many more people will understand his problems - our story will touch more people. From a pure business perspective - the old version didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of ever selling, this version does. (Actually, it did - the script was called D-TOX and Stallone plays the lead).

But let's look at another element - location. Though we've already changed it from an old folks home to rehab, is "rehab" the most exciting location we can come up with? What makes this location interesting? Okay, there is the murder - but that's part of PLOT not LOCATION. There are hundreds of rehab centers, what makes this one special? What if the rehab center was a huge old mansion that was rumored to be haunted? Or if the mansion was built by an eccentric millionaire and has secret passages and trap doors? Or what of this is the "rehab center of the stars" and our victim and the suspects are all famous? Here's a better idea along those lines - what if it's the rehab center for government employees with Top Secret clearance? We can't have these guys detoxing someplace where they might accidentally spill a secret while going through withdrawals, so they ship them here. The Betty Ford Center For People Who Know Too Much - I think that's a great location!

BEST SUPPORTING ACTORS?

Our ex-detective probably becomes an ex-FBI agent... and think of the fun you'll have with all of the other residents/suspects! In our old folks home scenario we probably had ex-car salesmen and ex-insurance salesmen... here we have ex-Senators and ex-spies and ex-astronauts and maybe even an ex-President! These are more interesting characters to write about - and more interesting characters to see on screen. I'd pay to see a movie about the location even if there wasn't a murder mystery!

Which is the point of breaking your story down into elements and trying to improve each element separately - if every element of your story is intriguing and interesting it's another reason for the audience to see your film (and another reason for a producer to buy your script). I think Location is the most mundane of these elements, but that simple improvement has made our script more exciting. The most important element is probably Conflict - that's the engine for your story and if it's not running at optimum power your whole story will break down. Look at each element of your story and make sure it's exciting and involving before you type up the 110 page version. A little brain work up front will save you a lot of rewrite work later... and insure that every element of your script is exciting.

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