MONDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:
CHAPTERS & SPLIT SCREENS
Our screenplays aren't just stories - we're in charge of the method used to tell those
stories. I call this the "story form". Most scripts use a standard form - beginning, middle
and end, but some benefit from using unusual story forms. Films like RUN LOLA RUN
and MEMENTO turn standard stories into exciting new experiences by finding unusual
ways to tell the story.
Quentin Tarantino's ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD may be his best film, yet. His last film, THE HATEFUL EIGHT, like his previous screenplay and film INGLORIOUS BASTARDS, is broken up into
chapters hand written onto the pages (CHAPTER ONE: LAST STAGE TO RED ROCK)... and you may be wondering if
it's okay for you to do that. Sure! Remember, Tools Not Rules: if you find an unusual tool that helps to
tell your story, use it! But like all tools: you want to use the right tool for the job. You wouldn't use
a chainsaw to pound in a nail, it wouldn't make sense. Though a sledge hammer might work to pound in
that nail, it's still not the right tool (are you just showing off or something?). You want to use a regular
claw hammer to pound in that nail: the tool that fits the job. Same thing with writing tools: you don't want
to do something like Chapters or Split Screen or Reverse Chronology just as a gimmick, you want to use tools
like that because your story requires it... works much better with that tool than without. The reason why
MEMENTO is told backwards is not a gimmick, it's to put the audience in the shoes of the protagonist. He
can't remember what happened five minutes ago, and neither can the audience (because it hasn't happened yet). Tools
like this are all about the best way to tell the story. So use them if they are the right tool!
CITY OF GOD is a Brazilian film that was nominated for a whole bunch of Oscars a few years ago (and didn't win any) - a true story - about a kid who grows up in the slums,
kid brother of a big time gang-banger, who becomes a famous photographer. It's a
great little film, worth renting or adding to your NetFlix cue. This film uses
so many interesting storytelling techniques, it's a smorgy of cool tools we might want to
use in our own future screenplays... including Chapters, like HATEFUL EIGHT.
The movie opens with a bunch of heavily armed teenagers about to kill & cook a
chicken. But the chicken gets away, and they chase it through the streets - shooting at
it. A wild scene as a huge gang of kids chases the chicken down the street blasting
away and laughing. People on the streets dive for cover. Then we meet our hero - a
teen with a camera around his neck. He's talking to a friend... then the chicken runs
towards them. The gang-boss yells for him to grab the chicken. Hero misses it... and all
of the gang-bangers draw their guns and aim at him. Over a chicken? Then we see
behind our hero - a couple of police cars, doors open, armed cops spilling onto the
street. Our hero and his friend are trapped between gangbangers and cops in an all out
Now that might be enough - what a cool situation - but the story flashes back (like
SUNSET BLVD) to our hero as a little kid defending a soccer goal (same exact position
- trapped between a kicker and the net) and we see how he came to get the camera,
came to be in that dangerous position.
But the story is not told the way we are used to - it's in "chapters". Each chapter has a
chapter title, and each chapter focuses on one element of the big story. So there's a
chapter called THE FLAT that is all about how one apartment is the headquarters for
drug dealing in the favela (slum city). For that chapter, the apartment is the star and our
hero is a supporting player. That segment is about our young hero and his peripheral
involvement in the drug culture of the favela. Even though the apartment is the "star" of
that chapter, every scene is about the hero in the apartment. His first visit, hanging
around older kids, to the day he's given a camera so that he can become the official
photographer for the gang.
The idea of using chapters is interesting. Maybe something I can use - or use a
variation - in a screenplay of mine. That input stimulated my creativity and may result in
some completely different output... but seeing things done in a way I've never seen
before prodded my imagination.
After seeing TIMECODE I thought it was an awful story with an interesting device - the
split screen.I saw the film several different times with director Mike Figgis doing the
audio mix live to highlight one of the four frames we were watching. Unfortunately. all
four frames had people talking simultaneously, so there is no way an audience can
actually watch the whole film... we have to watch it one quarter at a time (depending
on how Mike switched the audio). In the cinema, the prints had audio chosen for us,
making the film very frustrating because there were always three conversations
we could not hear! Was that conversation important? The split screen here was just a gimmick, and
had nothing to do with telling the simple story. It added nothing... and actually took away
three quartesr of the story!
We don't want a gimmick: that's a sledge hammer to pound a nail. What we want is the
right tool for the job. So how about doing a rom-com with a split screen? Her side and his side?
Or a cops & robbers movie with a split screen - one side showing the bad guys pulling
their heist, the other side showing the cops trying to prevent it? Guess what? There's a
Don Westlake novel that alternates chapters between bad-ass crooks pulling a
kidnaping and inept crooks trying to pull a copycat kidnaping (using the bad-ass guys
plans). That's kind of a split screen. There's an Ed McBain book (CANDYLAND) where
the first half is about a normal guy who becomes a crime victim and the last half is
about the cops trying to solve the crime. Kind of like LAW & ORDER but with the victim
& the cops. That might be an interesting thing to do in a script. All of that Tarantino
playing with time stuff comes from novels - the flashbacks within flashbacks in OUT OF
In fact, the split screen rom-com idea was done in the third season of the British sit-com
COUPLING (a zillion times better than the cancelled Americanized version). In the episode, called
THE SPLIT, the couple at the center of the series gets into an argument and breaks up.
As they do, the screen splits and the rest of the episode is split screen - one side
following the guy and the other side following the gal. Humor is derived from the
different ways they deal with the exact same issues. Both are sitting by the phone
waiting for the other to call... their friends come over to console them, and each side
has a different method for dealing with the situation. When the guy breaks down and
dials her number, she almost answers... but her friends say she should give it a few
rings in case it's him. Meanwhile he realizes calling her so soon is a mistake and hangs
up. When she picks up the phone there's no one there. But now there's a huge
problem - if she *69s, she'll know he called. So he has to get one of his pals to call her
on their cell and then hang up. This creates suspense because her friends are trying to
get her to *69 and find out who called her. The split screen adds a source for contrast
between the two camps, creating humor. The split screen ADDS humor.
Brian DePalma is the king of split screen - and it is used for a specific purpose in his films.
Basically, he created suspense cross cutting where the audience did the editing by looking back and
forth between both sides of the screen. In the movie SISTERS one side of the screen shows a man cleaning
up a crime scene - after his estranged wife kills a guy she’s spent the night with. The other side of the
screen shows a witness to the crime calling the police and the police arriving and approaching the crime scene.
Will he get all of the blood cleaned up before the police arrive? Split screen creates a form of cross
cutting for suspense, except the viewer does the cross cutting by looking from one side of the
screen to the other. The perfect tool for this scene!
In the STRUCTURING Blue Book we look at how to format this on the page, but if you want to save $5,
just do what I did - find some scripts with Split Screen and see how they did it. I used the Paul
Scrader screenplay for DePalma's OBSESSION as my example in the Blue Book. Things like this are
unusual, so there will be variations from script to script. Which means there is no perfect way to do it.
No right ways, only wrong ways (confusing ways that take the reader out of the story). Find a bunch of
scripts with split screen scenes and see how they do it if you don't want to buy my book.
These are all tools - put it in your tool box and use it if you need it. you aren't going to
use an unusual story form on every script, but "Chapters" and "Split Screens"
may be the storytelling method that makes your script idea work better. MEMENTO
uses backwards chronology to put the audience in the protagonist's shoes. It wasn't just
a gimmick - it was the best way to tell the story.
Think about your story. Think about what you want the audience to feel. Find the way to
tell the story so that the audience feels/reacts the way you want them to. It is not just the story, but how you tell it.
More on Split Screens in STRUCTURING YOUR STORY Blue Book!
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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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THE BOOK THAT STARTED IT ALL!
*** THE SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING *** - For Kindle!
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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.
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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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*** 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 MP3s
The NAKED SCREENWRITING CLASS ON MP3!
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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 MP3
CLASSES ON MP3! Take a class on MP3! GUERRILLA MARKETING - NO AGENT? NO PROBLEM! and WRITING THRILLERS (2 MP3s). Full length classes on MP3. Now Available: IDEAS & CREATIVITY, WRITING HORROR, WRITING INDIE FILMS, more!
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