I note in my Secrets Of Action Screenwriting book that the bigger the Villain's Plan the bigger the movie. The greater the conflict, the more exciting the story and the more satisfaction the audience gets from the protagonist resolving that conflict. Audiences love it when people they care about get into trouble. The deeper the trouble, the more we love it!

Let's take a scene where our hero changes a flat tire on his car in his driveway. He pries off the hubcap, he loosens the lug nuts, he jacks up the car, he removes the wheel, he puts on the spare tire, he replaces the lug nuts, he lowers the car, he makes sure the lug nuts are tight, then he replaces the hubcap.

Boring. Do we care about the hero? Do we thing he's skilled? Do we think he's heroic? Do we think he's accomplished anything by changing the tire? Are you emotionally involved in the story?

Now let's take that same scene - but this time the car with the flat tire is on the side of a very busy freeway with trucks zooming past at 60mph. The trucks come within inches of our hero. And it's raining... hard. The rain is coming down so hard that our hero can hardly see the lug nuts... can the truck drivers see him on the side of the road? He pries off the hubcap, he loosens the lug nuts, he jacks up the car, he removes the wheel, he puts on the spare tire, he replaces the lug nuts, he lowers the car, he makes sure the lug nuts are tight, then he replaces the hubcap... while dozens of trucks zip past, almost hitting him. He's splashed with water again and again.

That was the exact same scene - just with more conflict. Do you worry that the hero will get hit by a truck? Do you think he must be skilled to change the tire in these conditions? Are you emotionally involved in the story? When he gets back in his car and drives off, do you feel like he's really accomplished something by changing the tire... and surviving? Was this a victory?

The second scene is more satisfying and emotionally involving because our hero has to overcome a greater challenge in order to succeed. The bigger the problem, the more we want to cheer when the hero resolves it.

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I really liked SCHOOL OF ROCK - it's the rock and roll version of DEAD POETS SOCIETY. Jack Black is a funny force of nature, and the movie gives us some genuine emotions. You don't expect to cry at a film like this, but it manages to really tug at your heart strings. But the film could have been even better, if they had made the hurdles in front Black's character even more difficult. We got a flat tire on the driveway instead of the raining-freeway version of the story.

We didn't need an evil villain with a plan for world domination or higher stakes or explosions - the story could be exactly as it is now. The same exact conflict, just no easy way to resolve it. The film has a bunch of easy solutions to difficult problems. The main sources of conflict in SCHOOL OF ROCK are the principal and the parents - and both just melted. Instead of Jack Black having to struggle to solve these problems, they instantly disappeared. The mean dad - I kept thinking of Kurtwood Smith in DEAD POET'S SOCIETY - hears the band play at the end and stops fighting. This makes no sense! That conflict was underdeveloped in the first place - it would have made the story better by really beefing it up, and it should have been resolved in a logical way. Not just - he hears the music and the kids are alright. The Parent's Night conflict and the Principal conflict and the Teaching conflict (unusual teaching methods) - all just disappear without much work on Jack Black's part. The problems are too easy to solve!


Let's look at the story as it is and see how we can intensify the conflict by going DEEPER into the story (instead of just grafting on explosions or car chases). In SCHOOL OF ROCK Jack Black is a slacker musician who gets fired from his own band and is about to be kicked out of his apartment by his Substitute Teacher roommate (screenwriter Mike White) because he's behind in his rent. What Jack needs is a job! But he has no skills at all.

He's saved by the bell when he gets a phone call for his roommate from a snooty prep school looking for a substitute to fill in for a few weeks. Pretending to be his roommate, he takes the job. Now we have a great fish out of water scenario where sloppy Jack Black has to pretend to be a well organized and well educated teacher. But what does he know? Nothing!

I did a free class at the Screenwriter's Showcase a couple of years ago - I didn't get paid to teach the class, no one had to pay to take it. So what's in it for me? You learn by teaching. The reason for this website and script tips like this one is that I have to analyze films and scripts and then find a way to explain why something works or doesn't work... and *I* learn in the process. I think this is the key to improving the conflict in SCHOOL OF ROCK and making it more satisfying to the audience. Have Jack Black learn from teaching... and actually become the intelligent, well educated teacher the prep school thought he was when they hired him.

They had one quick mention of rock history, but why not a scene where Black explains how music history parallels political history? It's not like THE WILD ONE where the answer to what are you rebelling against is "What have you got?" - rock music has been a voice of the people - discussing issues and taking on actual targets. He could have easily done a quick scene where someone asked what Kent State means in the lyrics - and he has to explain...

And that means Black has to hit the books, too.


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One of the interesting things about SCHOOL OF ROCK is that there isn't much schooling (learning) and there isn't much about Rock & Roll music! Hey! That's false advertizing! I've said before in a Script Tip that it's helpful to tape your logline to your computer monitor to make sure your story stays on course, and the same is true with *titles*. You screenplay's title is the story in a handful of words, so if your script is called THE OLD MILL, you want to make sure that it's about an old mill. Though SCHOOL OF ROCK takes place in a school, it manages to gloss over any actual learning... and gloss over Rock music as well!

How about a scene where one of the kids makes up a tune that sucks and Black has to explain WHY it sucks? Which means he has to study music and explain chord progressions in mathematical terms... and Black learns why his songs suck in the process and learns to be a better song writer. Even have the Song Writing Kid explain part of it to Black, so that Black must learn about the music/math connection just to keep up and communicate with grade schoolers.

And I would have had a scene or two about lyrics. There are some amazing lyrics in rock music - some tricky rhymes and unusual meters. So why not have Black break down some rock lyrics as poetry and show how clever the words can be? Again, he learns how to be a better musician through teaching. I don't know about you, but I have sat around drinking with friends and talked about the meaning of song lyrics before. This is something that occurs "naturally" in real lifem, so why not make it part of the story?

When we get to Parent's Night things look bleak, then Black saves it by showing how much the kids really have learned. They do a "poetry recital" and explain how the poetry works - all with rock lyrics... which make the highbrow analysis funny as hell. The parents might not even know it's music related until the end of the scene (where it twists and everything goes wrong).

The principal was also won over too easily. Again - the scene where he uses his "unusual teaching methods" was unbelievable - that song about math wouldn't fool anyone. She needs to put up more of a fight so that HE needs to put up more of a fight. Instead of being won over by a pitcher of beer and a Stevie Nicks song, he would have had to fight to succeed. Instead of the dumb math song, how about having the kids show what they have learned about math from studying music? This would have not only been amazing to the audience, it might have even amazed Jack Black a little. These kids actually learned something from playing rock and roll music.


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The police arresting Black at Parent's Night allowed a cop-out as far as story was concerned. A way to by-pass the real conflict by creating a Deus Ex Machina conflict. What they should have done is made parent's night into a real conflict that Black must actually deal with... by using rock music to teach his kids actual lessons in math, poetry, etc that would help win over the parents. Parent's Night becomes the big scene... THEN twist it with the police/fraud thing - so that the concert becomes the icing on the cake - the kids love him and the parents loosen up.

If you look at the story, the big conflict is Black pretending to be a teacher, so that conflict can only be resolved by Black BECOMING a teacher and PROVING that he's a teacher. We already know that he's a musician, so the concert at the end can only resolve the "kicked out of his own band" conflict (a minor conflict). By turning the Battle Of The Bands into the big Act 3 conflict, the main conflict in the film is completely avoided.

This type of conflict avoidance where the main conflict is swept under the rug and a secondary conflict is resolved in the end seems to be more prevalent in scripts these days: one of the big problems with the BEAVER screenplay was that the lead character's problem was not resolved at all, just pushed to the background in hopes that we'd forget it when they resolved the son's conflict. The son gets a the big end scene... except the script wasn't about him! The son is in a handful of scenes, but the focus of the story is Walter (Mel Gibson) - and he is even the first character we see. Development execs seem to not notice this fake out/cop out ending, but I think once these scripts hit film the slight of hand ending diminishes the emotional impact... and make what could have been a great film into something merely good or okay.

When the parents start rocking out at the concert at the end of SCHOOL OF ROCK, it's nice... but nothing to cheer about. Because it's emotionally based (parents accepting their kids) it still brings a tear to your eyes, but we could have had those tears AND some big cheers if he had shown what a great teacher he had become at Parent's Night. Just because the parents think he's a good teacher doesn't mean they'll let their kids play in a rock band. In fact - I think the better the kids did at Parent's Night the more their parents would try to prevent them from playing rock music.

SCHOOL OF ROCK is a fun film, a good film... but just as every script could use a rewrite, even good films have flaws that we can learn from.

Your Screenplay Checklist:

1) Stories are about characters, so make sure the *character's* (emotional or internal) conflict has been resolved - not just the plot conflict. People are more important than *things*.
2) Don't leave the main conflict unresolved unless that is the point of the story!
3) Does your story reflect your logline and title... or hide from it?
4) No "easy outs" or "cop outs" or other ways that problems solve themselves - that makes the *people* your story is about *unimportant*!
5) Remember: the more difficult the challenge, the more satisfaction we feel from the victory.

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