THURSDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:
I have this term "Underhanded Pitch", which is something that sounds great...
until you try to script it. You can pitch the story and everyone loves it! They want you to write it!
Their business affairs department starts putting together a contract and they expect you to start on
the script (before anyone has cut you a check). You might even be able to work out some sort of treatment...
but usually that's where you hit the big stumbling blocks. An "Underhanded Pitch" is something that works
as an *idea* but doesn't work at all as a *story*. Sometimes that's because it's a "TWILIGHT ZONE story"
that has a beginning and a twist end, but no middle... and if you add a middle it just gets in the way of
the set up and the twist end punchline ("It's a cook book!") and now the idea doesn't work. Great for a 30 minute TV episode,
terrible for a 110 minute movie.
But sometimes it's due to a "Conflict Condom", where the idea sets up a story where the conflict happens
to someone else or someplace else or has some other barrier between the protagonist and the problem so
that the conflict just doesn't matter. These are the ideas that I throw away, because no good screenplay
can come from them. But after you pitch it, Business Affairs is still putting together than contract...
There was a lot of criticism about the scientific accuracy of THE CORE, but not much
talk about the obvious story flaw. In my Script Secrets *class* I talk about the importance of starting your script with a
good idea. There are two basic kinds of ideas: Producer Ideas and writer ideas. A
producer comes up with an idea, realizes it's brilliant, and hires a bunch of writers to try
and make it work. When the writers keep failing, the producer knows that it's the fault of
those writers... they just aren't creative enough to figure out how to make it work. The
other kind of ideas are Writer Ideas. A writer comes up with an idea, looks at it from
every angle and if they find a problem, they throw it away and look for another idea. It
may take a writer 100 ideas before they find one that actually works. Because the idea
works, when they go to script, the script will most likely work.
One of the most critical aspects of any story idea is the conflict - because story IS
conflict. Does this idea have a conflict that we can see? Is the conflict difficult enough to
resolve that the struggle to solve it will take at least 90 minutes? Is the conflict
emotional - will we care whether the protagonist solves it or not? Can the conflict
escalate... or is it a "flat-line conflict"? The core conflict in your story needs to work, or
the entire story won't work. No mater how great your characters, no matter how
fantastic your dialogue, no matter how amazing your visual story telling... it's all for
naught. The central conflict doesn't work.
The basic problem with THE CORE is that the concept avoids the conflict.
The Earth's core has stopped spinning, creating a bunch of natural disasters
threatening civilization. From crazy birds who lose the ability to navigate while in flight
and keep smashing into buildings and cars and people to killer lightening storms that
seem to seek out famous landmarks around the world and blow them to bits. Eventually
the weather will go so wacky that we will al die.
Okay - the stakes are high (one of the important things required in a script idea), but
what can a protagonist do to save the world? How do we deal with this conflict?
That's where the next part of the idea kicks in. A scientist played by Aaron Eckhart
theorizes that we can kick-start the Earth's core with a well placed nuclear blast. A
second scientist (played wonderfully by Stanley Tucci) concurs... but how do you get
the nuclear weapons to the Earth's core? Enter wacky inventor Delroy Lindo who has
created a submarine that travels through the Earth, using a high powered laser to melt
the rock ahead of the ship. They draft a couple of space shuttle pilots played by the
ever-toothy Hilary Swank and clean-cut-Canadian Bruce Greenwood, plus a family-man
weapons expert played by French actor Techy Karyo. So now we have our team of
protagonists, lead by Eckhart. These folks will save the world.
But here's where the idea kind of falls apart. When you put all of your characters into a tube and that
tube doesn't really interact with anything else, you have no real conflict. The "dirt-sub"
burrows into the Earth, and sometimes runs into trouble - they encounter a layer of
diamonds that damage the hull of the craft, they fall into a void and the craft is
damaged, etc. But these conflicts are between the "dirt-sub" and the earth - the
protagonists just sit behind controls pushing buttons. The conflict may end up killing
them, but the *struggle* part of the conflict is between the sub and the earth. We can't
really see it happening - there are no windows on the sub (all they could see is dirt,
anyway). So we have people sitting in chairs pushing buttons and yelling instead of real
conflict! This is a fundamental problem with the idea itself.
You can't get the people out of the tube without losing the audience - space suits don't
work in dirt, and the one time when they try to get the crew out of the sub is so silly and
contrived that every critic has mentioned it in their reviews. The sub is made out of a
high tech material that can withstand the heat and pressure of being deep inside the
earth... but when the crew throws on space suits to go out and repair the ship you
wonder how the flimsy suits can withstand the heat and pressure that only moments
previously was crushing sections of the ship. Taking the crew OUT of the tube violates
the concept... but keeping them inside the tube removes them from the conflict!
Many scripts (including my own ANDROID ARMY) work by trapping a group of people
in a confined space, forced to battle a conflict outside while they deal with conflicts
among the group. Though THE CORE can't have its characters battle the conflict
outside (without being burned by lava) they could have created conflicts within the
group. But, with the exception of the arrogant Stanley Tucci, everyone in the tube tends
to get along and work as a team. They almost have to - they've been hand picked for
this mission. Most "pressure cooker" stories trap their characters through external
events - the zombie plague forces people to take shelter in a farm house in NIGHT OF
THE LIVING DEAD, a riot forces people to take shelter in an abandoned police station
in ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, there's a swell Stephen King story about people
trapped in a grocery store when a killer storm breaks out, the scientists are trapped by
an arctic blizzard and a shape-shifting alien in THE THING and the passengers are
surrounded by angry Native Americans in STAGECOACH. In each case, these people
don't VOLUNTEER to be trapped, as the crew does in THE CORE. Being FORCED to
deal with people you don't like is different than ASKING to deal with them... so THE
CORE can't really use the conflict within the group. Plus the conflicts within the "dirt-sub" aren't as interesting or important as saving the world. Who cares if Stanley Tucci is
an arrogant ass when billions of people are dying?
When you cut away from the people sitting in the "dirt-sub" pushing buttons, the only
thing to cut to is a hacker sitting (D.J. Squalls) in a chair typing into a computer or some
guy at Mission Control watching a screen... where's the conflict in that? The hacker and
the guys at Mission Control are still just pushing buttons... but they're even farther
removed from the conflict than the "dirt-sub" crew!
No conflict we can see.
No conflict that has interaction with the protagonists.
The minute they get into the ship, it's boring (into the earth, and snooze inducing).
In FANTASTIC VOYAGE (which this flick "homages" several times) the sub was cruising
through the human body - which was cool. Seeing anti-bodies at work or blood flowing
or trying to get through the human heart without being pulverized are exciting things to
watch. Tunneling through rock is not exciting at all. In FANTASTIC VOYAGE the
human body is one of the stars of the movie - it's fascinating. But dirt? Not that
fascinating. A big problem is that to *make* it fascinating would require giving everyone
a geology lesson that would be dull as all heck. We don't need an anatomy lesson in
FANTASTIC VOYAGE, we all own human bodies and have a basic idea of how they
work. Using earth as the location kills the film at the concept stage - it's just not an
interesting environment. It's dirt & rock & lava.
Plus, in FANTASTIC VOYAGE they could go outside and explore! The protagonists
could put on dive suits and interact with the conflict outside. Several times when the
submarine was damaged, the crew had to go outside and fix it... while battling anti-bodies or blood currents or some other faucet of the conflict. This created action and
dramatic situations. Can't do that in lava... so they're basically stuck in the ship. When
they do venture out (to clean the crystals from the ship - scene lifted from FANTASTIC
VOYAGE) we don't believe it for a minute.
Someone early on should have asked - where's the action in this concept? How do we
SEE the struggle between these guys and the earth? How do we get them DOING
SOMETHING instead of just sitting there in their chairs for that last two thirds of the
movie? Make sure the core conflict in your idea is something that we can see.
Something that involves the protagonist in DIRECT STRUGGLE rather than just sitting
at a control panel pushing buttons. If the core conflict doesn't work, the story won't
work... toss that idea aside and look for an idea that works!
Hey, THE CORE didn't hurt these writers... they went on to create the great show CHICAGO FIRE and CHICAGO PD and now CHICAGO MED.
Remember: No conflict condoms!
BRAND SPANKIN' NEW!
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ARE YOUR SCENES IN THE RIGHT ORDER?
AND ARE THEY THE RIGHT SCENES?
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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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Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is around 210 pages!
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The Noir & Mystery Class is only $15 (plus $5 S&H). First 20 on Limited Black Disk!
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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)
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IT STARTS WITH CHARACTERS!
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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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*** 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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MY OTHER SITES
B MOVIE WORLD
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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.
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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.
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Each Blue Book is 48
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THE SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING The Best Nuts & Bolts Screenwriting Book On The
nineteen produced films, interviews with me in magazines,
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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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