FRIDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:

IT'S ONLY A MODEL


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Imagine that you have walked into a fine art class. There are twenty five painters sitting behind twenty five easels with paints and brushes ready. In walks the model. She drops her robe, and lays on a sofa. The artists begin painting. Hours later, when the last brush stroke has been made, the model puts her robe back on and leaves. We have twenty five artists and twenty five paintings.

Or do we? All of the paintings are of the same model - do we have twenty five IDENTICAL paintings?

Of course not! Each artist has a different STYLE: some may be Impressionists, others Surrealists, or Fauvists, or Cubists, one may do Pointillism. Each artist also sees a different ANGLE of the model: those seated on the right side of the room will pick out different features than those seated on the left side, or the center. The right side of someone's face looks different than the left - sometimes remarkably different. The POINT OF VIEW of the artist changes what he sees.

By now you're thinking that you have wandered into the wrong classroom... isn't this supposed to be about screenwriting?

We can use models when we're writing our scripts. Pitching a film as "It's DIE HARD in a..." has become a Hollywood cliche. UNDER SIEGE is DIE HARD on a battleship. AIR FORCE ONE is DIE HARD on AFO with the President as the lead. My HBO World Premiere Movie CRASH DIVE! was DIE HARD on a nuclear submarine.

The plot synopsis for AIR FORCE ONE and DIE HARD, the characters, the basic conflict, the scenes, location... EVERYTHING is different. But they share the same plot archetype - A hero trapped in a confined location with a large group of villains who must fight them to survive. Each writer used his own style, point of view, characters, conflict, and story.

PLOT ARCHETYPES

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Hollywood often uses plot and story archetypes to model new scripts around. In the 1930s Warner Brothers used the boxing drama KID GALAHAD as the model for a drama about lion tamers called THE WAGONS ROLL AT NIGHT - both are "sports stories" about a washed up athlete mentoring his replacement. Disney has made a dozen films about adult screw-ups forced to coach a team of losers with both become winners in the process - using sports from soccer to ice hockey. The Pygmalion myth has been used as a model for about a hundred films, from MY FAIR LADY to this year's SHE'S ALL THAT. There are dozens of star crossed lover stories based on Shakespeare's ROMEO AND JULIET.

Are these formula films? Though WEST SIDE STORY is obviously modeled on ROMEO AND JULIET it tells its own story with its own characters, locations, and emotions. Zeffirelli's ROMEO AND JULIET (1968) and Ernest Lehman's WEST SIDE STORY may have some similarities, but they have more differences. Each film has its own perspective and its own style... though they share the same model. Formula is definitely in the eye of the beholder.

SOMETHING TO DRAW FROM

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When we use models, we aren't talking about using the ideas, but the essence or the structure. The skeleton, but not the flesh. I like to take a successful film apart and see how it works. The easiest way to do this is with a "beat sheet" or a "time line".

To make a beat sheet, watch a film and write a one sentence description of each scene. Identify the important story beats, paying attention to character turning points, act breaks, and plotting.

A time line is a beat sheet that focuses on the timing of incidents. Use the clock on your VCR to record not only the incidents, but when they happen in the film. I usually record when a scene ends: Frank and Helen go on a date/47 (minutes into the film). Now adapt the beat sheet into a time line by organizing the incidents into 5 minute increments. This allows you to study the timing of incidents... important for pacing. You can also use the page-per-minute rule of thumb to ball park what script page each incident can probably be found on. This isn't an exact science, but we're only using this as a model.

Once you've done time lines for several similar films you may notice patterns emerging. When I broke down 48 HOURS and RED HEAT I noticed that they share the exact same skeleton. Their character beats pop up at the same time, the action scenes run parallel, the plot twists occur at the same points. One film was a funny hit, one was a dull flop... but they are brothers under the skin!

I like to time line several films in the same subgenre, then look for the patterns and create an "abstract" time line for the subgenre. By finding the similarities between NORTH BY NORTHWEST, THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR, and THE FUGITIVE, I can make a model for a successful chase thriller. Identify the essentials that all of the films in the subgenre share.

Using models, beat sheets, and time lines can help us to study WHY a script works... and we can use this information to improve our own scripts.

NOT IDENTICAL COUSINS

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Dudley Nichol's THE LOST PATROL (1934) is about a French Foreign Legion platoon stranded at a desert oasis... surrounded by Berber warriors. This film seems to be the model for SAHARA (1943) about an American tank crew trapped at a desert oasis, surrounded by Nazis. The twist - the oasis is DRY! SAHARA was the model for the western LAST OF THE COMANCHES (1953) about Cavalry platoon stranded at a desert oasis surrounded by Indians. SAHARA also seems like the model for HELL IS FOR HEROES (1962) about a platoon of soldiers in WW2 left to guard a section of the front lines... against an army of Nazis! I combined SAHARA and STAGECOACH (1939) for my ANDROID ARMY script about a rag tag group of humans and aliens who must learn to work together to fight an army of killer androids. The twist - they are running out of oxygen!

These films may be "cousins", but unlike Cathy and Patty they aren't identical. They all have different stories to tell, different characters, and different incidents. It's all a matter of perspective and style. Who would ever guess that the Charles Bronson film THE MECHANIC has any relationship to the Bette Davis movie ALL ABOUT EVE?

HEY! THAT'S MY PAINTING!

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The key to using models is to make deep, core changes that turn it into something completely different, and something that is *your* story. Cosmetic changes aren't enough. Recently there was a movie called GUESS WHO that had the same basic premise as GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER. They swapped the races and made it a comedy, but the basics are the same. That's because it is the official remake. When a studio hires a writer for a remake, they ask them for "their take" - the writer's little spin on the story that makes it different from the original. If you looked at GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER and thought - that's a cool idea, but what if it's a comedy and we swapped the races?... you'd just be in remake territory - you need to make *extreme* changes. Swapping the races, too similar. If you made the guy from Israel and the gal a Palestinian, you may be okay... but it's still the same story. It would still be too similar - you need to make core changes. If you made one Jar-Jar Binks and the other Queen Alamadamadingdong's hand maiden (Keira Knightly) and set it on some other planet, you might have something that's far enough removed from GUESS WHO'S COMING that security isn't going to tackle you on the way out of the store.

So, no matter what - engage that imagination and show your creativity. If you are using models, use your imagination as well. Here are some methods for changing the model to become something different...

SUBSTITUTION

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One way to flex the idea muscles is to take a story and change important elements of it... and watch the dominos of change wash through the rest. Change genre. Change characters. Change location. Change time period. Change tone. Keep changing elements until you have something unique.

ALL ABOUT EVE is about an aging Broadway star who fears her young, beautiful understudy is going to steal her job away from her. When we change Broadway Star to Hitman and cast Charles Bronson as an aging hitman who fears his young protege Jan Michael Vincent is going to take his job... and kill him first. That's THE MECHANIC. Different characters, different location, different genre, different everything except that basic mentor/student relationship part.

Now let's change it Trapeze Artists at the circus, or Code Breakers for the CIA or Test Pilots or Lion Tamers or Gunslingers in the old west or Psychic Cops who can communicate with animals or ... see, just change the job and you have a new idea. So make sure you come up with a really interesting job - the more weird the better.

Or change some other element - It's HIGH NOON in outer space.

FLIPPING

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Basically, taking an idea and turning it upside down. You may have a story about a boy who pretends to be a pirate... and turn that into a story bout a pirate who must pretend to be a boy. This changes the dynamics of the story... and once you have made these changes, you need to start from that new idea and build a whole new story - nothing from the model remaining, so the copyright cops won't be slapping on the cuffs... and so the story will be unique to *you* and your imagination.

Whether we are studying what makes a specific subgenre tick, or the relationship between characters and location in a low budget movie; using models can help us understand how a film works, and we can use that knowledge to improve our own scripts. I like to have a couple of nude models sitting around the office while I write.

"I'm almost finished, you can start putting your clothes back on if you want."

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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 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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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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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 160 pages!

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SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING

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Over 460 pages packed with tips and techniques. How to write a plot twist, the four kinds of suspense (and how to create it), reversals, ten ways to invent new action scenes, secrets and lies, creating the ultimate villain, five kinds of love interests, MORE! CLICK HERE!

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Naked Class 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.
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bluebook 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.
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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.
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