WEDNESDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:
SELL US ON THE LIE
When I was a kid I used to tell tall tales... also known as lies. My mom used to wash
my mouth out with soap as a punishment. We probably went through an extra bar of
soap every month because I continued to tell stories that just weren't true. As a
compulsive liar - someone uncomfortable with painful truth and brutal reality - I had to
find a way to tell lies without being punished... and even ended up finding a way to get
paid. Every script I write is a lie - I've never been the last of the vampire hunters or a
threat management specialist or a deep sea treasure hunter or an SEC investigator
tracking a corporate looter. Those are lies - some of which I was paid good money to
When the audience sits in the movie theater, they know that what the see on screen
isn't real - it's just a bunch of lies. They are naturally skeptical. They know that crop
circles are a scam created by pranksters with a piece of wood and a rope... not some
sign of an alien invasion. They know dragons never existed, aliens probably can't sing
Elvis songs and surf, and if a guy like Vin Diesel drove a senator's car off a bridge they
wouldn't make him a spy... they'd toss him in jail. At the center of every movie is a big
fat lie we want the audience to believe. Whether they believe our lies or not depends on
how well we sell it. If we give a detail description of how dinosaurs can be cloned from
DNA from mosquitos frozen in amber people will probably believe it. If we just say "We
cloned dinosaurs, how we did it isn't important" no one will believe us. To get away with
telling a lie you have to "show your work" - take the audience step-by-step using facts
and details to surround the lie with enough truth that we're willing to believe it for 2
When you're writing a script like VENOM or INCEPTION or AVATAR or INTERSTELLAR you know you need to sell the audience on the big lie in the center of the script. Problems pop up when you're writing something "realistic" like BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY or that sleeper hit from several years ago, MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING. Because the story is realistic or maybe even based on real people, we may forget that it's still a lie... and the audience still needs to be convinced that it's real.
Despite all kinds of problems in production, BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY became a hit movie and was nominated for a handful of Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actor. It’s an enjoyable film, mostly due to the great music and a story about a group of unpopular outsiders who became popular through their music (and the performance of that music). I think much of the success of the film is due to the Queen music itself, rather than the screenplay... which fails to sell up on the lie at the center of the story. The story hits all of the “biopic” moments, but often seems underwritten. The music saves the day, here, but what if we were to watch the film without the songs?
The big ending of the film takes place after the band has broken up, and comes together one more time to play the Live Aid Concert. There’s a great deal of animosity among band members, specifically aimed at Freddy Mercury - who basically dumped them for a solo career. What will bring them back together? What is the most important element of this band? That thing that defines them as a group? Why should they be Queen instead of just a group of musicians? That thing ends up being: “We are a family.” That is what sells us on the lie. That these individuals with their own unusual lives and backgrounds, all misfits of some sort, belong together - they are a family.
Now let’s look at how that is shown in the film...
Instead, we see Freddy’s family - father and mother and sister. We also have scenes with each of the band members and their wives and girlfriends and kids.
And we have lots of scenes with Freddy and his entourages, and some scenes with Freddy and his “wife” (a complicated relationship, because she marries another guy).
We have scenes with the band playing together and rehearsing together, but do we have any scenes showing them as a family?
No. All of the scenes are music related without any real relationship stories between all of the people in the group. They *say* a few times that they are a family, but we never SEE them as a family. We see them as musicians who play together. When you think of “family”, do you think of people who play instruments in a bar or recording booth? Is that the first image that comes to you?
Okay, what *is* the first image that comes to you?
For me, it’s eating together around a table. That’s an image that defines “family”. I think for the “We are a family” ending to work, we need to see them as a family who breaks apart... and that means scenes that the audience connects primarily with “family” rather than “band” or “friends”. Friends sit around and drink beer together, but family sits around a table and eats together. If this were my script, I would have had maybe three scenes of eating together to show the family element of their relationship and how it changes with fame. My first scene would have been with each of them as broke musicians who pool their food to create a meal - each brings something for the table that would have been only part of a meal, but combined it is a full meal for all. That’s how you use symbolism in a screenplay - not some artsy fartsy deep and meaningful way, but by simple things that the reader and viewers understand. Separately they each have part of a meal, together they have a full meal. They need each other. And they sit around a table and eat together. Later, when they have made it, they can eat in a fancy restaurant and order whatever crazy thing on the menu they want - shared success. And when they are breaking up, they sit around the table - but in their own little world. Separate checks. They don’t have to say that they are family because we see that they are family. And when they decide to come together at the end to play the Live Aid Concert, “We are a family” has a big emotional meaning.
We need to *demonstrate* that they are a family, not just say it. Seeing is believing - especially when it comes to establishing something this important in a story.
SHOW ME LOVE!
A few years ago we had Nia Vardalos' sequel to MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING, do you remember it? Before that we had her film called I HATE VALENTNES DAY, do you remember that? How about
MY LIFE IN RUINS? Okay, how about the Tom Hanks starring LARRY CROWNE (written by Vardalos)?
But you *do* remember her debut rom-com MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING was the little movie that could - while flicks like Diesel's XXX
rocketed to #1 then fell back to earth a few weeks later, MBFGW was
climbing every week. Instead of making less money every week, it was making MORE
money. The film had great word of mouth. It was funny, it appealed to all age groups, both
sexes, and you could recommend it to kids and your parents. But the film had a flaw. Like a zit on the face of a beautiful bride, it's easier to spot
the flaws in a good movie than list all of the flaws in a bad one - so forgive me if this
was your favorite film, I'm about to point out the thing that didn't work for
me... The movie might have really happened to Nia Vardalos, but she forgot to sell me
on the most basic part of the story - I never really believed the two were in love. I think that's
one of the reasons the TV show version died a horrible death... the romance at the center of the show (and the movie)
If you don't believe they're in love, the rest of the movie becomes less effective.
I believed that Michael Constantine, an actor I grew up watching on the TV show
ROOM 222 as an inner city high school teacher, was a Greek immigrant who believed
in tradition. She sold me on that by giving us dozens of details about the character that
were "real". But for the romance we got a "meet cute" where John Corbett gets hit by an
old woman and Vardalos forgets she's wearing her phone headset. A very funny scene.
Sure she's cute and he's handsome, but we know from our experience that you can't
base a relationship on physical attraction.
When you think of "love", what do you think of as the thing that defines it? Physical attraction makes me think of "lust" rather than love. For me, "love" is having shared interests. Yes, it's more compliacted than that, but we are looking for that essence - the thing that we can *deomstrate* on film. If you have a different idea of what love is, use that! Maybe it's better than mine.
So, what did these two have in common?
After the film's "meet cute", we are just supposed to believe that they are in love. Nothing is
done to build the romance - to take us step-by-step through the relationship so that we
see the little pieces of "truth" that convince us that these folks love each other enough
to convert from another religion. Love at first sight is hard to believe. Most of us may be
initially attracted to someone by their appearance, but we really don't fall in love until we
get to know them better. We discover that we have things in common, similar views of
life, we compliment each other (we find our differences pleasant), and we have similar
goals. These are the important things, the initial physical attraction really doesn't matter.
There are hundreds of Hollywood movies about people realizing they are in love with
someone they aren't initially attracted to... the "nice girl is the right girl" was the lie we used to be sold four
times a year with Freddie Prinze jr as the Prince Charming who realizes best friend
Clea Duvall is his Cinderella. Those films spent a whole 90 minutes on scenes and
situations devised to make us believe the lie. MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING wants us
to instantly believe they are in love. I wanted to believe they were in love, but never
really bought it. In the back of my mind I was worried that it was just infatuation.
Even love requires "evidence" in the court of cinema. You can't just say "they fall in love", you
have to *show it* - demonstrate it - to take us step by step through the relationship. And the more different the lovers are, the more you need to show us where they find common ground.
The best thing to do with a romantic story (or subplot) is to get the audience ahead of the lovers - to
give us all that evidence that these two are meant for each other... before they figure it out. That
gives the audience something to root for ("I sure hope they hook up by the end"). Look at WHEN HARRY MET SALLY - for most of the
film they *don't* hook up, even though you know they belong together. Every time they find some reason
not to go out with each other (it will ruin the friendship) we want them to get together even more. We
keep thinking that because they're friends, they would make good lovers. We're given "evidence" that
they are compatible. By giving us that evidence and keeping the audience ahead of the couple,
we are cheering for them to get together. (And that's a trick in romance on screen - when you come to the scene
where the audience *knows* they will kiss... have something happen so that they don't kiss! Now
the audience has been given the "evidence" that they want to kiss, and when they finally do kiss, the
audience says to themselves "it's about time" instead of "that man-slut - why is he kissing her when he doesn't even know her?". The
same method works for bedroom activities, too.) Set up the relationship so that we *understand* why they would have a relationship and so that we believe these two belong with each other... are destined for each other.
Make a list of all of the reasons why your couple belongs together - and be specific! The audience is less likely to believe a vague connection - they both love jazz music - as they are to believe a *specific* connection, they both love The Yellowjackets "Open Road"... and Mark Russo's amazing sax work. That's a connection! The more you can show how much the couple has in common, the more we believe in them as a couple.
When you're writing something like INCEPTION about thieves who steal your dreams you KNOW you'll
have to convince the audience that those dream thieves really exist. You can get into trouble when
you're writing something that isn't an obvious lie, because you may forget that you
STILL need to convince the audience that your story is true. If your story is a biography of a famous singer or a romance,
you have to convince us that the group is a family or that the couple is in really love. Too bad Vardalos film MY LIFE IN RUINS
didn't connect with the audience, and her Tom Hanks movie LARRY CROWNE was the biggest flop of a couple of years ago
- she's funny and deserves to be more than a one hit wonder. BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY has a great performance by Rami Malek
and it's hard not to leave the cinema singing those Queen songs.
If your story is a thriller you
have to convince us that your protagonist is really in jeopardy. If your story is a comedy,
you have to convince us that the situation that creates the humor is real. Whatever the
basic situation of your story is, you've got to sell it to us... make us believe that the lie is
really the truth. Think of what the "evidence" is, ways that you can *demonstrate* the "lie"
in the center of your story so that the audience believes it no matter what the genre.
Do you really want everyone in the audience to wash your mouth out with soap?
All About LOGLINES, TREATMENTS, and PITCHING!
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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.
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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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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*** 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 MP3 is $10.00!
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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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Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is over 400 pages!
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*** STORY: WELL TOLD *** - For Kindle!
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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!
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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
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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!
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*** 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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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 CDs
The NAKED SCREENWRITING CLASS ON CD!
The 2001 London Class on 8 CDs! Recorded *live* the morning after the Raindance Film Festival
wrapped. The two day class on 8CDs, plus a workbook, plus a bonus CD with PDFs.
The 2 Day Class on CD!
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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 CD
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!
Take classes on CD!