FRIDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:

STORY BY FORCE


Contrived, Adj.- showing effects of planning or manipulation; "a novel with a contrived ending" Forced.

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We are the creators of our screenplays - the puppeteers who control the characters and situations and stories. But we never want the audience to see us at work. The skill of a writer is making the characters we make up seem real, the story we create seem as if it is really happening - whether that story is about a boy who brings home a left-behind alien, or a girl swept up in a tornado and taken to Oz, or a political thriller about a Presidential assassination. Everything in a film script must seem as if it happens naturally - even if we (the writers) are making it happen. Everything a character does needs to be motivated, and Newtons's 3rd Law applies to film plots just as much as it applies to the real world - for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Everything is cause and effect - nothing should be contrived or forced to happen in a screenplay. We want the audience to forget they are watching something we made up.

VANTAGE POINT begins with a bunch of really clunky dialogue - the kind of stuff that needs to be fixed because it's right up front. "Real people don't talk like that!" When you begin with a patch of bad dialogue, you begin to look for it in the rest of the film... and you find it. That's why you always want to start your screenplay strong - make sure the first ten pages are great. Sigourney Weaver plays a TV news director covering a Presidential speech on terrorism in some South American country. Her dialogue seems forced and unnatural, but it's nothing compared to the pretty Newscaster covering the biggest event in history... who goes off on her own political rant while on live TV. Of course, any Newscaster high enough up the food chain to cover a major Presidential speech like this would know better than to do any on-camera ranting - that's forcing a character to dp something completely outside of their nature. It seems fake and the political rant seems scripted by some writer standing just off camera. We know this is not how a real person would behave in this situation - it's contrived. When she is scolded by Signourney, she goes back on page... and it sounds nothing like any TV news report I've ever heard - because it is a big steaming pile of exposition.

TV news broadcasts are tricky in scripts, because we see them all of the time in real life and know what they should be like - almost on a subconscious level. We've seen thousands of newscasts.... and know when it's wrong. We know when it's the writer trying to get information or a political point across. On TV news they don't preach, they report.

You always want to make sure your characters do what a real person in that position would do naturally. In this case, we have a TV reporter speaking and acting like no reporter we've ever seen before - and we've seen lots of TV reporters.

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Then the film starts to pick up steam and get pretty good for a while as Dennis Quaid and Matthew Fox play Secret Service Agents who are guarding the President (William Hurt). Except somewhere in the back of your mind a little voice nags you about things like holding a speech where a dozen world leaders including POTUS at a location with so many places where snipers might hide. In real life they would never put World Leaders on a stage in this location - it's a shooting gallery! But the story requires an assassination attempt, so instead of finding a logical and realistic location for the speech and a clever and realistic way for an assassination to take place - they give us this completely contrived situation. The President Of The United States is going to stand on a stage in front of a building with about 100 windows facing that stage and do a speech... and after he's done, a bunch of leaders from other foreign countries are going to give speeches. Look, if everyone in the US Secret Service had just been given a lobotomy, you'd think the secret service from one of the other countries would object to this location. It's impossible to control - and even though they say they've removed everyone from the building... guess what? The story requires for them to have missed an assassin! The problem with forcing the scene to take place at this location so that we can have a sniper is that it makes no sense at all... it would never happen in reality... and we've seen enough Presidential speeches on foreign soil to know how tightly controlled they are. Even if you don't figure out this shooting gallery is wrong consciously, subconsciously it just seems completely wrong.

So the President goes to make his speech... and gets shot! And then we zip back to the beginning and start again with another character...

RASHOMON EFFECT

And here's where VANTAGE POINT really goes wrong. Because the *concept* here is that each point of view is different, but they aren't. In almost every zip-back new POV we see the exact same things happening in the exact same way. Nothing different. And the film *cheats* as far as the "clues" are concerned - in two cases when Dennis Quaid looks at something we *do not see what he sees* just to hold back the information for the next POV. It's as if every other character's eye sight fails suddenly after Quaid sees what he sees... but we don't get to see it.

Until later - when the plot needs us to see it. Basically, they contrive the concept - and force us not to see what the characters see - which pulls us out of the story.

Everything else in that segment, which we get to see again, just from a different angle.

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The problem is that none of the different angles are that different - though we finally get to follow the President, and the trailer gives this away, so I don't think this is really a spoiler - the President doesn't get shot... a double does. Though this gives us a different POV, because the President watches the assassination on TV in a hotel room, it creates a massive problem...

Because this is a major meeting of world leaders to discuss terrorism. All of the other world leaders are there for real. The President's *double* is used, because of the danger of assassination... and that kind of makes sense considering they're holding this thing in a shooting gallery for no apparent reason other than the writer needed an easy way for a sniper to kill the President...

But once the fake President is introduced, what's he supposed to do? Address world leaders? Make a speech televised on every TV set in the world? This guy's a *decoy* - and he's going to make US policy in front of a world-wide audience? The writer tries to cover the gaping plot hole with this throw away line where the real President says he didn't plan to make a speech... but that makes no sense at all, because at the event he is introduced and walks up to a podium to make a speech. That is what the event is all about - it's a Presidential speech at a meeting of World Leaders. What else is he going to do? Dance? A person stands at a podium to *speak* - and all of those cameras from all of those news agencies are there to film the speech. So you wonder what would have happened if they *hadn't* shot the decoy? What if the threat was just a threat, and nothing happened? Would the decoy be making US policy? Would the decoy be talking to the other World Leaders? This whole thing is a house of cards!

The whole Presidential Decoy thing is contrived. Something that could not and would not happen in real life, but the writer *forces* it to happen to further the story. This is one of those rookie mistakes I see in new writer's scripts - they don't follow each plot thread to it's logical conclusion if the events in the story did *not* take place. The equal and opposite reaction thing. If a character sits down on a chair, and you remove the chair, the character doesn't hover where the chair's seat would be - they keep going and end up on the floor. So the only way the story works is if the characters do what the story requires them to do, and if something else had happened everything just falls apart. If *any* of the events of your story had not happened, the resulting story still has to make sense... and be possible! Or else you end up with something that's contrived. Your whole story falls on its ass.

CONTRIVED FROM 6 ANGLES

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But we get the same impossibly contrived things happening in the same completely fake way over and over again... except for one scene that actually works! In fact, because it works so well, it points out how the rest of the story doesn't work. One scene that lives up to the promise of the concept! (If you've seen the film - it's the lovers). Then we're back to the same scene seen again and again with nothing really different.

And part of the promise of the concept is that different POVs show us different versions of facts - that two people can see the same event and see something completely different - and maybe it even *is* something different. Maybe a different POV changes *history* or changes *facts*. That's an interesting point to make... But this film doesn't make any point at all (except for that heavy handed reporter's rant) - the film misses the point of its concept. We end up with a pointless film, and a completely pointless car chase that doesn't really do anything except give us some junk-food excitement at about the time we were nodding off.

IMPOSSIBLE ENDINGS

Then we come to an ending that ends up being a laugh riot. Every review has mentioned the unintentionally funny ending - and again it's rookie mistakes. The people who either allowed this end to remain in the screenplay or - and here's a frightening thought - added this crazy ending in development, need to be banished from Hollywood forever. Just kicked out. You know, maybe even the death penalty is called for in this case. So, without significant spoilers, here's where things get funny...

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First, we have an overly complicated answer to a bunch of little questions that require a criminal mastermind who has read the script and knows what every single character will do at every minute... making it contrived and silly. Characters can only know what they know - they don't have copies of the script, nor are they mind readers who can predict exactly what some other character will do at a specific time. Look at anything in your script that requires a character know something about some other character - how do they know this? Where did they get this information? One of the things that's kind of tricky are things that the audience will accept as things a character may have discovered on their own and things that are too difficult for a character to figure out on their own. This is often one of those story meeting questions you'll get - How does he know that? Look at the information - is it something a normal person could figure out? It's always better to err on the side of showing the character discovering the information... or having the character just *not* know. We don't want any psychic characters in our scripts (unless that's what the story is about).

Second, there is a plot twist where a villain is revealed... and this character could never be a villain. There is nothing in their character that would ever indicate they are a bad guy - and their occupation requires so much screening and so many background checks that it's just not possible for this person to do the twist. The relationships involved in the story also prohibit this person from being a bad guy - other characters would have known or figured it out long before any decoy President gets shot. In THE ART OF DRAMATIC WRITING Lajos Egri points out that "no honest man will becomes a thief overnight; no thief will become an honest man in the same period of time." He points out that good drama requires a character to go from one state to another (to grow, to change), but the change must be gradual. Here we have something slightly different - a character who hides their true nature from everyone around them. The problem is - their "true nature" is impossible given who they are. How would this character ever *become* this character? It seems impossible - and that yanks us out of the story. We know this could never happen - that it is not realistic. The character's "true nature" is contrived - forced upon them for the sake of a plot twist and the plot. So when this is revealed, we automatically reject it. It can not be real. This destroys the reveal - and, like a house of cards, destroys everything else in the film. Contrivance has been placed on contrivance - and the story just falls completely apart. But wait, there's more!

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Third, a character who we have seen (again and again and again) with a certain character nature - the evil terrorist villain, suddenly, and for no apparent reason, completely does a 180 and does a nice thing that destroys them. They capture themselves! They do the exact opposite of what is their established nature. This goes back to the Egri thing - radical character change takes *time* and every step must be shown in the story - but in VANTAGE POINT the villain character does a 180 change in the blink of an eye... which brings about the event that ends the film. It's so out of character that you can't help but laugh. It's ridiculous. Silly. Contrived. A terrorist who would kill hundreds of people just to make a point... allows themselves to get caught because they can't hurt *one* person that they do not know. Even if this were a nice character, their actions are against the basic human instinct for survival. But given they've just killed a whole bunch of people, it really plays false. Again, this isn't the same as a character changing - redeeming themselves. This is a person suddenly doing something really against their nature for the sake of the story. We can see the writer pulling the puppet strings - making this character do what they would never do - just so the writer can have an ending (that makes no sense).

I can't imagine reading the completely contrived ending of this script without saying "WTF?" Unless maybe there was some fancy writer footwork where things we *can not see or know* are used in the action lines to cover the complete 180 this character does. But even then, shouldn't someone have pointed out the writer's cover up? Or was there a conspiracy involved? Were the development people involved? Did they help with the cover up of this crazy ending... or just look the other way? You know, this conspiracy is more interesting than the one in the film!

You don't want to force things to happen in your story, you want it to seem as if things are happening naturally. Make sure none of your characters do something just for the sake of the plot - everything must be motivated by the specific character and the specific situation. Be careful to follow through with actions and plans to make sure they are logical - you don't want to have some Decoy President making speeches that change foreign policy! If this plot point didn't happen - would the story still make sense? Your characters should always be motivated, and all of their actions and dialogue should be what this character would do in real life... even if they are an alien stranded on Earth. The funny thing about VANTAGE POINT is that ET and THE WIZARD OF OZ are more "realistic" - the characters in those movie behave as real people would behave in those situations - and the situations themselves are "realistic". Nothing seems forced in either film. Nothing seems contrived just to move the story in a certain direction.

You don't want to write a screenplay that seems "manufactured" or "false" or "impossible" or "forced" - you want the audience to believe what they are seeing up there on that big screen is really happening.


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BILL'S CORNER

My nineteen produced films, interviews with me in magazines, several sample scripts, my available scripts list... And MORE!
...............................BILL'S CORNER


Available Scripts

E BOOKS PAGE

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.
E BOOKS: BLUE BOOKS & NOVELLETES

BOOKLETS & PRODUCTS

bluebook 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 OUT OF PRINT!