THURSDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:
You want to grab the reader with the very first WORDS if you can. If you think that's
because modern audiences don't have patience, you'd be wrong - Edgar Allan Poe said
if you don't grab a reader with your first sentence, you've failed. That was in the 1800s.
You can't expect anyone to read your whole script, you can't expect them to read the
first act, you can expect them to read the first ten pages, you can't expect them to read
the first page or even the first sentence - you have to EARN their attention. You have to
grab them with something interesting right away.
Best thing to do is to start with some sort of conflict or mystery. The conflict doesn't
have to be a car chase or shoot out - it could be a guy trying to get across a crowded
club to ask a girl to dance. You might start on a guy seeing a girl on the opposite side of
the dance floor - she's beautiful, and he's staring at her. She catches him staring
(busted!), but she smiles at him. He smiles back. Hey - this could be his dream girl! He
squeezes his way across the crowded dance floor, lots of people getting in his way - he's got
to *struggle* to get around them, get past them... but some other guys gets there
seconds before him and starts dancing with her. His dream girl is lost!
Okay - our guy who just missed dancing with the woman of his dreams - do you care about
him? I think you will, even though he has no name, yet, and we really don't know much
about him. That's one of those important things - movies are about people. So put
someone in a conflict - even something simple like trying to get through a crowd to
reach a girl he finds attractive. But make sure the conflict is about *someone* rather than someTHING.
Why can't scripts be like the old days? Good question! In my Script Secrets Class
I use a clip from THE GODFATHER PART 2 (from those edgy, indie, anti-Hollywood 70s) to illustrate how quickly a
good script hooks the audience and sets up the story. The opening *minute* is a sniper killing young Vito's family members at a funeral procession for his *father*.
Mourners scrambling for cover! Vito's older brother is killed. The great thing about this scene is that it contains all of
the elements of the film: Family, Pageantry, Violence. It doesn't just involve us, it sets up the rest of
the film. The first ten minutes of GODFATHER PART 2 are amazing - things just keep building!
I use a clip from VERTIGO (from the 50s) to show how the first MINUTE of a script can involve the audience.
You read that right - minute. With our page a minute ballpark, that is your very first page. You need to hook
us on page one... then don't let go!
You don't need snipers and roof-top chases to engage the audience's interest. A few
weeks ago I caught an old movie on Turner Classics called FAST COMPANY (1938 - I think
the script was by the great Harry Kurnitz) that managed to grab me right away without
any car chases or shoot outs. This film was so popular it spawned a couple of sequels - yes, there
were sequels and remakes in the 1940s!
The story opens with married rare book dealer JOEL SLOANE entering his New York
office. His secretary GARDA is typing a letter.
Good morning, Mr. Sloane.
My wife around?
I'm the only one here.
Sloane looks over her shoulder at her typing.
What's this? Two mistakes in
Sloane puts his arm around her.
Mr. Sloane! What *are* the duties
of a secretary in this office?
Sloane pulls her into his arms and tries to kiss her.
No! No! A thousand times....
His lips meet hers, and they kiss. One heck of a kiss.
She gets weak at the knees. She can't help but kiss back.
The office door is right behind them - will Mrs. Sloane arrive
and catch them making out? When Sloane releases her she smiles
I'll take that out of your salary.
Okay, we have this married guy lip-locking his secretary in the opening minute of the
film! Im intrigued. I want to know what happens next. Will his wife return? Will she catch
them fooling around? The first minute of the film creates a potential conflict - we have a
married guy who expects his wife to show up at his office tongue-kissing his secretary!
The next minute escalates the conflict by having Garda sit on Sloane's lap...
Now I feel like a secretary.
Now I feel like a boss.
You just know the door is going to open and Sloane's wife will catch them! But we find
out soon after this that his wife is already knows about their relationship... even knows
that they are sleeping together! Garda is not only Sloane's secretary, she's also his
wife (twist!). The film could have just opened with Sloane and Garda coming to work, or
already in the office, but that wouldn't have been INTERESTING. Our job is to find the
most interesting way to tell our stories, and here the writer found a way to grab us while
establishing Sloane and Garda and their relationship. They may be married, but they
are still hot for each other.
Make us care about the character - by creating a conflict that we want him to overcome.
That hooks us. Even if you just create a silly little grabber conflict like FAST COMPANY
does will pull us into the story WHILE you are establishing the characters and situation.
Find the most interesting way to tell the story.
You could also begin with something mysterious - make the audience wonder what's
going on. The script for BLACK THUNDER opens with a pair of Airforce pilots chasing a
plane... that literally disappears. It just vanishes. Now you have the audience wondering
how that's possible - and they're going to stick around to find out. That may have been a
silly Showtime movie, but it was a cool enough story that Sony Pictures remade it ten years later at six times the budget.
MORE OLD GRABBERS
Another film from the good old days I caught on Turner Classics is THE FALCON IN DANGER (1943) with a
screenplay by the amazing Craig Rice. The film opens at an airport. Though I'm not sure, the airport looks a lot like Burbank, where
CASABLANCA was shot and where I fly out of when I'm headed to Vegas or the Bay Area - they still have roll up stairs in 2012! A group of people
are waiting for a plane to arrive. Husbands, wives, mothers, fathers - a typical group of
people waiting for their loved ones' plane to land.
The plane starts to land and someone notices the wheels aren't down.
The tower radios for all emergency vehicles to prepare for a crash landing.
Those husbands, wives, and mothers watch as fire trucks and ambulances roar onto the runway.
The plane lands... hard... flipping over once and crashing at the end of the runway.
The fire trucks and ambulances roar to the wreckage.
Firemen hose down the plane as ambulance rescue crews tear open the plane's passenger door and rush inside to help the injured...
But there are no injured in the passenger section of the plane - it's empty!
They race to the cockpit and open the door to ask the pilots what happened to the passengers...
But the cockpit is empty, too.
The entire plane is empty!
Where did everyone go?
How could the passengers and flight crew disappear in mid-air?
That's the opening couple of minutes of the film, and we're already intrigued. The next
scene has a beautiful woman who was at the airport to greet her father asking
gentleman detective The Falcon (played by the suave Tom Conway) to help her figure
out where her father disappeared to, how he (and the other passengers) were taken off
a plane in mid-air, and why anyone would go to all of this trouble to snatch her dad.
After that opening scene, don't you want to know the answers too? The movie was
showing at about 2am on Turner Classics - I was getting ready to go to bed - but I
stayed awake to find out how the bad guys did it (and why). That opening scene
grabbed me and wouldn't let me go! It creates the mystery The Falcon must solve... in
the most interesting way possible. You no longer need to stay up until all hours - Warner Archives now
has a great boxed set of the
first 7 FALCON films including this one!
Hook the reader right away, then once you have them hooked you can fill in the details.
A big mistake is starting with the dull stuff and then getting to the interesting stuff on
page 2 or 3. Do the opposite - START with the interesting stuff. If your story is about a
housewife who moonlights as an assassin, start with her as an assassin (interesting)
then show her baking cookies with her kids. You get the same information as if you
started with the housewife stuff and then showed she's an assassin - but it's a hundred
times more interesting. This killer has kids? She's baking cookies? Does her husband
know her secret? You want to grab them right away! Then, don't let them go!
Remember - grabbing the audience is about involving us in the problems or mysteries of *people*. An explosion is not involving - it's just an explosion... a thing. We want to focus on the *people* in our opening grabber scenes.
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Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is around 210 pages!
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SCRIPT SECRETS STORE - Do you have a monkey mug yet?
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!
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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).
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)
Click here for more information on CLASS CDs!
Makes a Great Gift!
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*** ACT TWO SECRETS *** - For Kindle!
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IT STARTS WITH CHARACTERS!
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*** 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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Over 400 Pages!
*** 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,
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!
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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!
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
Every screenwriting book in the world!
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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!
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