FRIDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:
I like the sequel to SIN CITY... and you may have noticed that the original SIN CITY has voice over narration. It fits the film's pulpy roots - the old Film Noirs of the 1940s and Roman Noirs of the 1930s and 1940s. Tough guy stuff. But wait - isn't Voice Over Narration one of the two big no-nos in screenwriting? Shouldn't someone from the Film Police take Robert Rodriguez out and shoot him? Shouldn't he at least be kicked out of Hollywood (or Austin)?
The reason why everyone says "Never use flashbacks or voice over narration" is that
most of the time they are used wrong. 95% of the scripts they read with
flashbacks and voice over narration suck because the writer used both techniques to
plug plot holes with a big chunk of verbal or visual exposition. The problem is, some of the greatest movies ever made have voice over - what would SUNSET BLVD be like without that "typical monkey funeral" narration?
One of my all time favorite undiscover flicks, PULP starring Michael Caine, uses voice over narration. It's about a novelist who writes tough guy action books, who takes a job writing the memoirs of a real mobster... and the narration is pure tough guy pulp - all of the cliches. What makes the film funny is that the tough guy narration is at counterpoint to the reality of the wimpy novelist. Like every other bookworm, he's not exactly an action hero. Often the narration describes him beating the heck out of the bad guys, while the picture shows the bad guys beating the heck out of the hero! And that's where the much of film's humor comes from. To remove the narration would remove much of the humor and kill the film! The story would still work, it just wouldn't be *funny*. The resulting film would be a semi-serious movie about a writer who gets in over his head with the mob... and a mob hit man - the late, great Al Letari dressed as a nun - is tracking him down.
So - is voice over a good thing or a bad thing? If Billy Wilder can use it in classics like SUNSET BLVD and DOUBLE INDEMNITY, why can't the rest of us? Is it something that only working pros can use? Or must we give up our DGA & WGA cards and move to Texas if we want to use VO narration?
It's much easier for some Screenwriting Guru to
say "Never use voice over narration" than it is to explain WHY you shouldn't use
voice over in most cases but SHOULD use voice over in other cases. This
is complicated, may be difficult to understand at first, but here goes:
1) Voice Over and Flash Backs are STYLES - that is, they don't just pop
up here and there in the story. The entire story uses flashbacks or voice
over. SUNSET BLVD is a narrated movie - the whole thing has a voice
over. Same with Don Roos' darkly funny THE OPPOSITE OF SEX. The voice over doesn't just pop
up in the middle of the film. Look at any of those great films that use voice over narration and you'll note that the *whole film* is narrated. One of the indicators that VO is being used to plug a plot hole is when it only pops up here and there - right where the plot holes are. Hmm, that's kind of suspicious! If you find yourself only needing the narration here and there, you are probably using it for evil rather than good and you should probably just get rid of it. Are there exceptions? see #6!
2) Voice Over isn't used to tell the story, it's used to comment on the
story already being told through actions and dialogue. Remember, film is a *visual* medium. That doesn't mean dialogue is unimportant. But if you aren't using the picture part to tell the story, you're wasting film. You don't want a big chunk of narrative exposition telling your story, you want the audience to *experience* your story through what the characters SAY and DO. If the narration is telling us the story, what makes it a movie? Why don't you just stand in front of an audience and *read* the narration? Skip the whole film thing. Moving pictures are stories told through *moving pictures*. Don't tell us with the narration, show us - let us see and hear what happens.
3) You should be able to remove Voice Over Narration and the entire script still makes perfect sense. We still understand every character's motivations, we still
understand the connections and relationships between characters, we still
understand what happens. The script doesn't *need* the voice over narration - you aren't using it as a crutch or to cover up story problems. Narration is often mis-used as a way to get inside a character's head - it's thought balloons. The problem with using narration to get inside a character's head is that it isn't *visceral* - it's intellectual. Words have to be processed by the audience - we have to convert the words into feelings. They aren't actual feelings. If I show you a man kicking a puppy, *you* create the feelings yourself. *You* experience the feelings. No processiong required. So you want to find ways to convert thoughts and feelings into *experiences* rather than just have the character tell you about them. Make the story FIRST HAND instead of something related verbally. You want to make sure you are using the narration for the right reasons. If you're using narration to hide lazy writing, you're better off just getting rid of it. If you *can't* get rid of the narration and still have a script that works, your script doesn't work... fix the danged script!
4) Voice over is never used to plug plot holes... One of the reasons why Voice Over Narration has a bad name is that it's often used to "fix" screwed up films. When they used to have a film where the story didn't make any sense, or they had to chop a half hour out of the middle of he story for running time, or the film had some other big problem; the studio would try to fix it with narration. They were plugging holes. So Voice Over Narration became one of those signs thaat a movie sucked, along with no critic screenings and the words "Starring Ben Affleck". Though so many *great* films use narration, there are probably many many more bad ones that do. So when a producer sees narration in your script they may worry the narration might be seen as a negative. Why buy a script with a negative element?
5) Voice Over adds an ADDITIONAL LAYER to the story. Think of it as the icing on the cake. It's not the cake. You can eat the cake without the icing, but it's even better *with* the icing.
The TV show BURN NOTICE is a good example - you could strip away all of the voice over and still have a great show. If you have never seen it, the series is a variation on the private eye show, but instead of a PI we have ex-spy Michael Weston (Jeffrey Donovan) who has been "burned" by his agency: his identity erased, his credit history erased, his credit *cards* and bank accounts gone... along with his passport and birth certificate. He can not get a job or drive a car or leave the country or do anything that requires him to have an identity. He is stuck in Miami, Florida... so he rents himself out to people who need problems solved but don't want to go to the police, as he tries to find out who burned him and why. The "B Story" in every episode has Weston finding some clue to who burned him,
and the "A Story" has someone in trouble coming to him for help, and he had his two friends - Hard-as-nails sniper / ex-girlfriend Fiona (the always hot Gabrielle Anwar) and Boozy ex-military guy Sam Axe (the always funny Bruce Campbell) - and sometimes his retired mom (the ultra-mom-like Sharon Gless) help them out.
The show would work perfectly without voice over, because the VO is the icing on the cake - in this case, footnotes. So the dialogue might be Weston saying, "Let me get a gun" and the visual might be him opening a drawer with 5 guns inside, grabbing one and shoving it in his pocket... But the VO gives us the technical details - the footnotes - on the gun. Make, model, stopping power, range of accuracy, muzzle velocity, and anything else that makes us feel like insiders in Weston's world. We don't just get the story, we get the detailed footnotes that are cool to know, but not really required. You could read a whole book and ignore all of the footnotes - most people do. So the VO on the show is not required... not the cake, but the sweet icing that makes the show unique and really cool.
6) Voice Over is often used with book ended stories - where we begin
after the story is over and flash back to the story in progress. AMERICAN
BEAUTY does this very well. Again - you could remove the Voice Over from
AMERICAN BEAUTY and the story would still make perfect sense.. We just
wouldn't have Lester's funny commentary on the story.
Same thing with PULP: we'd still get the whole story of novelist Michael Caine writing a gangster's tell-all biography and meeting up with other mosbeters who would rather he not *tell all*, but we'd miss the comedy that comes from the contrast between the tough guy Caine imagines himself as, and the wimpy writer he really is. SUNSET BLVD would work perfectly... but we wouldn't get William Holden's sarcastic commentary on the film biz. That commentary is
an additional layer - it's icing on the cake.
7) Your Voice Over better be damned funny... who wants a cake spoiled
by crappy icing? If the Voice Over doesn't make an already great script
even better, it's best to just leave it out. If the narration isn't making a great story even better, it's just taking up space, isn't it? Because Voice Over is never
REQUIRED TO TELL THE STORY a Voice Over that doesn't really kick ass
is adding weakness to a perfectly good story. It will drag your whole script
down! So make sure your narration *rocks*! Make sure it's as good as Billy Wilder's narration in SUNSET BLVD. If it isn't as good as Wilder's - get rid of it!
Voice Over Narration isn't evil. It can be used by new screenwriters as well as old pros. The problem is, narration can be used for good or for evil. Using it the wrong way makes your script suck really bad - and we don't want that. So use it with caution. Make sure you are using voice over narration for the right reasons - to add that additional layer to your script. Don't give in to the dark side!
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It's my birthday month, so why not put a bunch of Audio Classes on sale?
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THRILLER CLASS: Around 160 Minutes - SALE: $10
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ENDS JULY 31!
Can You Make It bigger?
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GRAND FINALES Blue Book!
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The First Ten Pages Of Your Screenplay Are Critical,
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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.
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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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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LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!
*** 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!
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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!
*** THE SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING *** - For Nook!
Why pay $510 for a used version of the 240 page 2000 version that used to retail for $21.95? (check it out!) when
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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
know for your screenwriting career: from thinking like a producer and learning to speak their language,
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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!
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STORY: WELL TOLD!
*** STORY: WELL TOLD *** - For Kindle!
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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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!
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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*** SUPPORTING CHARACTER SECRETS *** - For Kindle! (Exclusive)
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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ADVICE FROM 1920!
*** 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!
ONLY $4.99 - and no postage!
*** 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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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.
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E BOOKS PAGE
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.
FIRST STRIKE PRODUCTIONS
Producing my own scripts, investment possibilities, pipe dreams.
NAKED SCREENWRITING MP3s
The NAKED SCREENWRITING CLASS ON MP3!
The 2001 London Class on 8 MP3s! Recorded *live* the morning after the Raindance Film Festival
wrapped. The two day class on 8MP3s, plus a workbook, plus a bonus MP3 with PDFs.
The 2 Day Class on MP3!
Every screenwriting book in the world!
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From the latest screenwriting book to
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BOOKLETS & PRODUCTS
FIRST STRIKE BLUE BOOKS
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!
THE SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING The Best Nuts & Bolts Screenwriting Book On The
nineteen produced films, interviews with me in magazines,
several sample scripts, my available scripts list... And MORE!
CLASSES ON MP3
CLASSES ON MP3! Take a class on MP3! GUERRILLA MARKETING - NO AGENT? NO PROBLEM! and WRITING THRILLERS (2 Full length classes on MP3). Now Available: IDEAS & CREATIVITY, WRITING HORROR, WRITING INDIE FILMS, more!
Take classes on MP3!