WEDNESDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:
AND THE DRIVING FORCE
Every time I do a tip about a wildly popular film like TITANIC or LORD OF THE RINGS,
I get a whole bunch of e-mails explaining how I obviously didn't "get" the movie, or that I
obviously didn't read the book, or that the reason they do that in film #2 is the great
scene that's coming up in book #7... if they ever make that into a movie.
I read the first HARRY POTTER book, thought it was okay (even wrote a tip about it)
and have seen all of the movies. I thought the first two movies had some
amazing things in them, but were slow going and by the time we got to the end I was
bored. Sure, I'm not a kid (target audience) and I didn't read the second book (so I
guess I'm not a rabid fan - also the target audience, it seems). But I'm a kid at heart and
I like fantasy stories. All I want is a great movie going experience, and the first two
POTTER films had plenty to go "gee whiz!" about, but seemed way too long. Okay, they
were trying to remain faithful to the books, and JK Rowling seems to have a major say
in what happens on screen. When I heard that the third film was "the good parts"
version of the book, trimmed down to 2.5 hours, and "darker" and "more adult" than the
other two, I thought maybe they were going to make a better POTTER movie. One that
had all of the amazing "gee whiz!" stuff, but was also exciting all the way until "Fade
Well, it was shorter.
But HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN still loses steam less than
halfway through... and ended up the least successful in the franchise. It starts out great, with Harry unable to bottle up his anger at being
treated like crap by his muggles guardians and using his magical gifts for evil. This is a
great moment because you're laughing at the spell, but you also realize the power that
Harry has... and how easy it is to misuse that power. When the story kicks in a few
scenes later and we discover that the evil wizard Sirius Black has escaped from wizard
prison and is coming after Harry, the film shifts into high gear. Sirius had been his
parents best friend, but he ratted them out to ultra-evil wizard Valdemort. Valdemort
killed Harry's parents, tried to kill Harry... and Sirius ended up in prison for his role in the crime. Now there are those who think Sirius will come after Harry, and those who fear
Harry might go after Sirius in revenge for his parent's murders. Now we are completely
revved up! I'm thinking this is going to be the best HARRY POTTER film ever!
And then it stumbles in a weird way. The title of the movie is THE PRISONER OF
AZKABAN, the story they've set up is about an escaped prisoner... and then the story
shoves the escaped prisoner plot aside for other stuff.
There's a great scene on the train where the wizard versions of Tommy Lee Jones from
the FUGITIVE, these ghost-like things called "Dementors", search the train car-by-car
looking for the escaped prisoner. But when they come to Harry, they seem to attack
*him*. As if he's the threat to Harry's future, rather than Sirius. And that's when the story
derails, because in scene after scene the escaped prisoner Sirius is treated as less of a
threat to Harry than the Dementors... whose purpose is to capture Sirius (which should
be *helping* Harry). Harry is more afraid of the Dementors than he is of the escaped
prisoner who is probably coming to kill him. And the subplots about horse-birds and
quidditch and the mysterious new teacher and Ron's missing pet rat push us farther off
the tracks into the sand and the story loses traction and stalls out.
For me, the film reached a point where I no longer cared about the story, I was
watching for whatever cool stuff might pop up before the closing titles. HARRY
POTTER had turned into FX porn!
I may not be the only one who feels that way. Warner Bros. Distribution dude Dan
Fellman predicted the film would fall off less than 50% in it's second weekend... But
AZKABAN's audience fell more than 63% - compare that to SHREK 2 which only fell
33% in it's second weekend or HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS
which only fell 52% in its second weekend or the first film (SORCERER'S STONE or
PHILOSOPHER'S STONE) which only fell 35% in it's second weekend. The repeat and
word-of-mouth audience seems to be shrinking with every film. There's something
about the films that isn't satisfying audiences, and here's my theory...
The first, and most important thing is: The film has to work as a film. Fans of the books
will fight this idea - they don't want the films to be different than the books at all. But the
way a book works and the way a film works are DIFFERENT, and what works in a book
may not work at all on film. The key to adapting a book for the screen, any book, is to
*adapt it* - to make a story that works on the page into a story that works on the
screen... and that means making changes to fit the medium.
My nieces call the HARRY POTTER novels "chapter books" - books divided into "bite
sized pieces" that you read one chapter at a time. And the first book works really well if
you read it one chapter at a time. JK weaves together a trio of stories, alternating
chapters, and creating either a cliffhanger or an exciting tease at the end of each
chapter to keep the pages turning. When you put in that bookmark after finishing a
chapter you can't help but wonder what happens next. That's what makes the books
real page turners, and so popular with kids and adults alike.
Each chapter has enough fuel to propel you into the next chapter.
That's a good thing in scripts, too - you want every scene to have enough fuel to propel
you into the next scene...
But films are not seen one scene at a time. You may read a novel over several days, or
even several weeks (the HARRY POTTER books aren't short). So a novel really only
needs enough fuel to get you to the next chapter. You can wonder what happens next,
and find out when you read that next chapter... which propels you to the next chapter.
Because a movie is seen in one gulp, you not only need enough fuel to propel you from
one scene to the next, you need a strong driving force that propels you from the
beginning of the film to the end...
And this is where HARRY POTTER movies run out of steam.
When you transfer the three threaded plots to screen they become a bunch of minor
subplots that don't add up to a single driving force story. There's enough force to drive
the story from chapter to chapter (and keep the pages turning) but not enough force to
drive the overall story... and that's what's important in a movie.
So in AZKABAN, we have an escaped prisoner who ratted out Harry's parents and may
be coming to kill Harry. That would be good - it's enough fuel to drive a movie - except
that's not what the story is about at all. And it's not about that other fear - that Harry
might try to hunt down Sirius to avenge his parents' murder. That would have worked,
too. Instead, the story isn't even about Sirius! He doesn't show up until the end of the
film. Instead of the dangerous escaped prisoner being the antagonist, the Dementors
sent to capture him become the antagonists. So the bad guy in the film's title isn't really
part of the story! Instead, the *good guys* are the bad guys and those good guys seem
less interested in capturing Sirius than they are in causing Harry problems. That's
confusing on a basic level... and it also completely telegraphs one of the film's major
Story 101: The Antagonist is the character who comes in the way of the Protagonist
achieving their goal, or/and the Protagonist is the character who comes in the way of
the Antagonist achieving their goal.
Sirius isn't even part of the story, here, it's the Dementors who keep causing problems
for Harry - on the train, in the quidditch match, in his dark arts class, and at the end(s).
But why? Why do they go after Harry? How does Harry get in the way of their plan to
capture Sirius? Even if they are using Harry as bait, they're spending more time
damaging the bait than they are fishing.
If Harry's goal is to find out why Sirius, his parent's best friend, ratted them out (and
then get vengeance) then the Dementors should be on his side (they have a similar
goal). If the Dementor's goal is to capture Sirius, they're on the same side as Harry (or
have similar goals) - so why do they pick on him? I'm really not sure what Sirius' goal
for breaking out of Azkaban Prison at exactly this point in time is - why today and not
yesterday or tomorrow? I'm not sure what Sirius' goal really is in this story - he's not
actively coming after Harry (if he was, that would be enough driving force to power the
film). If his goal has to do with the Peter Pettigrew character - that has nothing to do with
Harry! And we still have the question: Why now? The Peter Pettigrew character had to exist in
the past two films, and he wasn't a problem for Sirius then... so why now?
So we end up with a story that has a million subplots, most of which seem like padding.
I though the bird-horse thing was amazing - but a moment of being amazed isn't
enough fuel to power the film... so it ends up being interesting padding. It's a subplot
that takes us away from the escaped prisoner story. It has nothing to do with whatever
the central conflict is (which I think ends up being Harry's self confidence when dealing
with Dementors). There never seems to be anything driving the story - if the story is
about the escaped prisoner, where the heck is he for 90% of the story? We spend a lot
of time not even thinking about him, not caring about Harry finding him to extract
revenge over ratting out his parents (or hiding from him - Harry goes all over the place
without ever bumping into Sirius!). For a film called THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN
there isn't much about that prisoner in the story - except every once in a while someone
mentions him, just to keep him in the story. That conflict should be the fuel that runs
the *entire* story - it should be all about Sirius and Harry. An escaped prisoner gunning
for Harry should be the driving force in the film, and any self-confidence problems Harry
has should be in relation to that escaped prisoner (not the guards sent to capture the
prisoner). The horse-bird thing? If that can't be worked into the escaped Sirius story
(maybe it used to belong to him?) it's a roadblock. The plot twists that are part of the
Sirius story become *stronger* if Sirius is the antagonist that Harry tangles with
throughout the story (instead of just popping up at the end - in the same scene as all of
the plot twists). The movie wouldn't be a carbon copy of the book, but it would tell the
same basic story... just with the accent on different elements.
Your Screenplay Checklist
1) So what is the driving force in *your* script?
2) Who is your antagonist? What is their goal? How are they *actively* working to achieve it?
3) Who is your protagonist? What is their goal? How are they *actively* working to achieve it?
4) How does the protagonist get in the way of the antagonist's goal, and vice versa?
5) What is that big engine of conflict that's
introduced in the beginning of your script that keeps that story zooming along until the
end of your script? Is it an escaped prisoner? A kid seeking revenge against his
parent's betrayer? What fuels your *entire* story?
A novel may be able to get by on enough fuel to propel the reader from one chapter to
the next, but a movie needs a driving force that will propel the viewer from the
beginning until the end. A central conflict with enough fuel to take us from fade in to
fade out. We want the film to work as a film, even if it means the film may be slightly
different than the book... even if it means there are things in the movie that were *not*
in the book, and things in the book that *don't* make it into the movie. That's what
adaption is all about - adapting. Changing the story from the book so that it survives in
it's new life as a movie. This isn't destroying the book - the book still exists as a book -
it's making the story work in a movie story form.
Okay - you can start sending me those e-mails now.
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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 SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING *** - For Kindle!
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*** STORY: WELL TOLD *** - For Kindle!
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I WRITE PICTURES!
*** VISUAL STORYTELLING *** - For Kindle! (exclusive)
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*** 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.
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THE SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING The Best Nuts & Bolts Screenwriting Book On The
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several sample scripts, my available scripts list... And MORE!
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!
Take classes on MP3!