MONDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:
BASIC EMOTIONAL INVOLVEMENT
You want a mystery? How about BASIC? The movie was directed by John McTiernan
who directed one of the best action movies ever - DIE HARD. The movie starred John
Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson in one of the most anticipated re-teamings of the
decade - the two will forever be famous for their work together in PULP FICTION. Cool
to see them in the same film again. The movie was a twisty military mystery - a popular
genre (THE GENERAL'S DAUGHTER and RULES OF ENGAGEMENT did well at the
box office). Hey - there's sexy Connie Neilsen from GLADIATOR kicking ass, plus a
great cast of supporting players from Giovanni Ribisi to Harry Connick jr to Tim Daly
from WINGS. So why did the film disappear from cinemas soon after it was released? Why didn't it connect with the audience?
The cinema lights go down and the movie begins. If the film is good, we jump into the
skin of the protagonist and live his life for two hours. We worry about him. We root for
him. We feel his pain. His joy is our joy. His anger is our anger. His fears become our
fears. When the protagonist is in trouble, it's as if WE are in trouble. We have made
that "skin jump" into the protagonist, and we are vicariously living his life. We have
stopped watching the movie as outsiders... we are living the movie.
BASIC is a mystery - designed for the intellectual participation of the audience. We get
to follow the clues, assemble the evidence and solve the mystery. John Travolta plays a
DEA agent and ex-Army Ranger called in to interrogate the survivor of a training
accident. Stern commander Samuel L. Jackson has sent his squad into the jungles of
Panama for a live ammunition training exercise... and only two men have returned.
Jackson is missing and presumed dead. It's up to Travolta to figure out what happened.
So far, so good. We have a great puzzle, a RASHOMON-like story where the two
survivors tell completely different stories and each time Travolta finds a new clue those
stories change drastically. We are never sure what the truth is.
The film also has lots of forward momentum, plus a wild-ass performance by Travolta
who is introduced drinking Jack Daniels from the bottle while taking a shower. Connie
Neilsen plays the Army investigator assigned to the case, and she locks horns with
Travolta from the git-go. She's an interesting character who gets to beat the crap out of
about three people (including Travolta) during the film. So, with both of these interesting
characters, plus Jackson in flashback, how come the movie ends up being dull an
From a plot standpoint, the film might be boring if you aren't trying to solve the puzzle. If
you were to look at the top 50 films of all time, you'll notice there aren't any mysteries.
Lots of sci-fi and fantasy, a few epic romances - but movies that require the audience to
THINK? Hey - that's work! We came to be entertained! And the story DOES get murky
in the middle - we see too many versions of the same scene with only minor
differences, and they cheat by withholding an important clue until about halfway
through the film. Plus, the film isn't leading us to a wrong solution like a good mystery...
it doesn't lead us anywhere. That's a major problem - a mystery film without plot twists
and reversals is just a puzzle. Though BASIC has plots twists - they don't have any
emotional impact on the audience. Nothing there like the twist in THE SIXTH SENSE or
even the twist a third of the way through PSYCHO. Nothing that effects the audience.
But the main problem with the film - we never jump into Travolta's skin. The film is
entirely an intellectual exercise - a mystery with characters we don't care about. There's
no emotional element to attract us. It's not "Travolta must discover what happened or
the world will end!" - there are NO stakes at all. We don't care if he solves the mystery,
and there is no reason for him to. He's been yanked out of the shower to interrogate
this guy because he used to be an Army Ranger. Several times in the film he says he's
had enough and tries to leave... but people talk him into sticking around to solve the
mystery. He's not emotionally involved in the story at all - and it's not even his job. It's
not "Travolta must solve the mystery to avenge his friend's murder!" - he's an outside
guy brought in to solve the mystery. And the guys who are missing? We don't know
anything about them and don't really care about them. The more information we learn
about Sam Jackson's character the less we care about him - he was an abusive jerk
who probably deserved to be fragged by his men. Justice was probably done before the
movie starts - the only thing Travolta can do is solve the puzzle of exactly what
happened. But KNOWING what happened will change nothing - so solving the puzzle is
Robert Towne's CHINATOWN also has a great puzzle at its heart, but Jake Gittes has
a personal stake in the outcome. Actually, two personal stakes. His career is on the line
because he screwed up and believed the false Mrs. Mulwray - if he doesn't solve the
mystery he'll end up the laughingstock of Los Angeles and will never get another client
again. But while investigating the case he forms a romantic attachment to the real Mrs.
Mulwray - the wife of the victim. As he uncovers evidence that points to Mrs. Mulwray,
he's forced to choose between the future of his career and the woman he loves. He has
EMOTIONAL stakes in the outcome. The solution to the mystery has both global stakes
(the water supply for the city of Los Angeles) and personal stakes (the woman he loves
may be the killer). This makes Jake a character that we can care about.
For the audience to be emotionally involved in the story, the protagonist needs some sort of
personal stake in the outcome. They need to be involved in the story instead of outside the story.
The problem with traditional mystery stories is that the detective has no stake in the story:
they are just doing their job. If they fail to solve this mystery, there is another one waiting
for them... and another one after that. It is their job. This is why films with mysteries tend
to have the protagonist be the lead suspect or use some other method to them inside the story
(instead of having them outside the story as an impartial character just doing their job). If you wonder why
detective shows work on television but not so much in feature films, this is the reason. Movies are
*emotion pictures* and if the protagonist has no personal/emotional stake in the outcome, you
don't have a movie!
SEVEN does a great job of *making it personal* for the protagonist, and many other films raise
the stakes through the tired trope of the kidnaped loved one. But BASIC is about military folks
without any loved ones on screen. Just Travolta and Neilsen solving the crime. You want protagonists
who are *inside* the story rather than outside!
WHAT'S AT STAKE?
A script either needs GLOBAL stakes or PERSONAL stakes. If the protagonist doesn't
resolve the conflict it must either screw up the world or screw up the protagonist's life
forever. Movie stories have to be big enough to fill the screen - that means the conflict
in the story is either going to be something so big it effects the world, or the most
important event in the protagonist's entire life. Not the second most important or one of
the important events, it has to be that big life-altering event that changes the
protagonist forever. By the end of CHINATOWN we know that Jake will never be the
same again... no reason for a sequel (though, they made one anyway).
Solving the mystery in BASIC is more of an intellectual exercise than a story: Travolta
has no stake in the outcome, nor does Neilsen... so we really don't CARE if they solve it
or not. The film has no heart, only a brain. We sit in the theater and watch what
happens, but we don't make that jump onto the screen to live the story. We just sit
there and watch, instead of participate. The story can't "make it personal" or make the
stakes seem high... so the story comes off as an intellectual exercise. A puzzle that we
can solve, but doesn't involve us on an emotional level because Travolta has no stake
in the outcome.
(By the time you get to the end of the film, it becomes apparent that Connie Neilsen's character
was supposed to be the lead, but due to *casting* we believe that Travolta is the lead.
Casting is not part of our job, so we have no control over it; but I'm sure if you were to ask
the producer of this film - the lead character should have been male... Male stars usually open movies.
I think the moment they cast Travolta, the film was in trouble because we *expect* the biggest star
to be the lead. In a film with partners, like this, we automatically assign the lesser star the
"sidekick" role. To add to our confusion, the first character we see is *Travolta*! So we
just assume he is the dominant partner and that the movie will be about him.
But even with Neilsen as the lead, we still don't have a *personal* reason for her
to solve this crime - it's still just a job for her.)
A story with a great puzzle isn't much more than a math problem unless the characters
have some stake in the solution - and the more emotional their stake, the more we will
care about the character and the more we will want them to solve the puzzle. What are
the EMOTIONAL stakes for your protagonist? If there's no reason for the protagonist to
care about solving the problem, there's no reason for the audience to care. Remember,
we are writing EMOTION pictures.
Your Screenplay Checklist:
* What are the stakes in your story?
* Are those stakes personal or global, and how are they personal for the protagonist?
* Why will the audience care whether or not the protagonist succeeds?
* Is it obvious who your protagonist is?
* Do you create a way for the audience to jump into the skin of the protagonist?
* Have you created an *emotional* experience for the audience?
The audience needs to be emotionally involved in the story for that story to work!
All About LOGLINES, TREATMENTS, and PITCHING!
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Making Your Own Movie?
Writing An Indie Film?
Writing A Low Budget Genre Script To Sell?
Writing A Made For TV Holiday Movie?
You will be writing for BUDGET. On a standard spec screenplay, you don’t have to think about budget, but these types of screenplays writing with budget in mind is critical!
If you are making your own movie, budget, is even more important - and you need to think about budget *before* you write your screenplay... or you will end up with a script that you can’t afford to make (or is a struggle to make). Everyone is making their own films these days, and even if you have done it before there are lots of great techniques in this book to get more money on screen - for less money! You can make a film that looks like it cost millions for pocket change.
STORY IN ACTION SERIES!
THE MISSION IMPOSSIBLE MOVIES
NEW: Updates On Films 7 & 8 Casting!
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Over 240 pages!
*** THE TERMINATOR MOVIES *** - For Kindle!
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My New Script Secrets Newsletter!
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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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!
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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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)
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 CDs!
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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"SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING is the
best book on the practical nuts-and-bolts mechanics of writing a screenplay I've ever read."
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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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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!
$4.99 - and no postage!
NO KINDLE REQUIRED! Get the *free* app (any device, except your Mr. Coffee) on the order page on Amazon!
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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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!
Every screenwriting book in the world!
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From the latest screenwriting book to
guides for finding agents and producers... all with at the
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!