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GREEK UNITY OF EVENT


Buy The DVD - Twilight

As the last TWILIGHT movie fades into the twilight, and like the others it was about werewolves and vampires with teen angst. Not the first time we've had teenaged werewolves, by the way.

In case you've never read book on writing drama, there are these three "Greek Unities" which, with that three act structure thing, are about as close to "rules" as you can get in writing dramatic material. Of course, there are no real rules of drama, there are only tools - techniques that have been proven time and time again to work. Because these tools are "sure things", you avoid using them at your own peril. Hey - this stuff *works*! The Three Greek Unities are about two thousand four hundred years old, and they were originally applied to dramatic works on the stage... but they are still the most important tools for screenwriting. These three "tools" are:

Unity Of Time: a dramatic story usually takes place in a single time period. This is especially true of stage plays, where changing time periods may be close to impossible. On film, we can easily change time periods, but the Greek Unity Of Time is still a good tool - most films usually only have one time period, and a few have two (the present and a single past time period). Very few films have more than two different time periods, because it becomes confusing.

Unity Of Place: dramatic stories usually don't have a whole bunch of different locations. This Unity is more important when we're dealing with stage plays, because every location change means you have to drop the curtain and change the set. Less important with film, but too many locations can still become confusing. Most films have a handful or two of locations... and those locations are connected to the story. No globe trotting just for the sake of globe trotting. When a film does globe trot, it tends to be *directional* - the story leads the characters in a line from place to place (think of NORTH BY NORTHWEST or even GOLDFINGER).

Unity Of Event (action): this is the one that's still as important as it was over two thousand years ago. It's just as important in stage plays and screenplays. And this is the Unity we're going to be taking a look at today. A piece of drama is about a single event. If it's about more than one event it becomes confusing. Imagine JAWS if there was not only a great white shark, but an armed robbery of a famous diamond on display in the town of Amity. Would that confuse the story? Chief Brody would be running back and forth between Quint's boat and the diamond robbery crime scene! The Unity Of Event is the closest thing to a "rule" you'll ever see in screenwriting, because it basically says: If you're telling story, tell one at a time.

CAUTION: CURSED SPOLIERS

Buy The DVD - CURSED

Which brings us to CURSED, that teenaged werewolf film from Kevin Williams and Wes Craven, the team behind SCREAM. The movie starts out pretty good: Two girls (one's Shannon Elisabeth) at the Santa Monica Boardwalk go to get their palms read (to find out if one's boyfriend is cheating) and the palm reader *freaks* and says "I see blood! Lots of blood!" The two girls get the heck out of there.

Cut to: Christina Ricci and her high school student brother Jesse Eisenberg are driving down twisty Mulholland drive and hit an animal... the car goes out control, slams into another car. The other car crashes through the guardrail and rolls down the hill. Once Ricci and Eisenberg realize they're okay, they check on the other car... where he driver (Elisabeth) is trapped. Once they get her out of the car, a wild animal (the one they hit?) grabs her and pulls her into the woods. Eisenberg and Ricci try to rescue her, get scratched by the beast and retreat as the thing *eats* Elisabeth. Pretty scary stuff!

But then the film gets bogged down with silly subplots. When there's a major subplot about whether Scott Baio will be the first guest or the third guest on the Craig Kilborn show, something is wrong. When more of the film is about Baio and/or Kilborn than about werewolves (the curse of the title), something is *really* wrong!

Buy The DVD - AMERICAN WEREWOLF

And if it only stopped with the Baio / Kilborne subplot! There's a major subplot about Ricci's boyfriend (Josh Jackson) racing to get his night club decorated before opening night - we keep cutting back to guys working at warp drive installing lights and displays and making sure the music and DJ system works.. A lengthy and involved Gay subplot that starts with the brother being accused of being Gay by a jock, then the jock coming out of the closet as Gay, then the jock misinterpreting the brother's acceptance of his sexuality as romantic interest, and the brother worried that he's going to break the jock's heart when he tells him he really is straight. A huge subplot about Jackson possibly being unfaithful to Ricci (seems he slept with Shannon Elisabeth, the girl she was with at the boardwalk, and Scott Baio's publicist!) which leads to a big cat fight between Ricci and the publicist (Judy Greer). Plus there's a TEEN WOLF subplot where Eisenberg goes from geek to high school wrestling star, a subplot about Ricci & Eisenberg's dead parents, a subplot about their dog who has gone rabid, a subplot about PETA fund raisers, a subplot about the girl at school that Eisenberg has a crush on, and a couple of other subplots that I've forgotten - how could I keep track of all of them?

The problem with all of these subplots is that they have nothing to do with anything. They aren't connected by theme (if the film even had a theme, I missed it) and even though a couple are peripherally connected to the werewolf plot (like that TEEN WOLF wrestling thing) most have nothing to do with being a werewolf (Scott Baio's slot on Kilborn's show). They seem like random ideas drawn from a hat. The film seems like a year of DAWSON'S CREEK episodes edited down to 90 minutes with a werewolf thrown in for good measure!

Buy The DVD - THE HOWLING

With so little time left for the werewolf plot thread, the film ends up not scary at all (after the opening attack). It's just a zillion soap opera plots.

Though this has nothing to do with our job as screenwriters, I feel compelled to mention the special effects in the film. When we finally get to see the werewolf, it's a CGI cartoon. Too thick, too plastic, not scary at all. Werewolves are thin and sinewy, like real wolves. Same problem as in VAN HELSING - CGI just doesn't work for werewolves. The werewolf from the classic Universal WOLFMAN movie was more realistic (and frightening) and nothing has ever surpassed the transformations and werewolves in THE HOWLING and AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. For some reason, those two films from the early 80s had the best effects and the best transformations - and both were "practical effects" (not CGI or visual tricks - the transformations were mechanical effects photographed without camera tricks).

And that brings us to another huge problem with CURSED. It's just not scary at all.

Buy The DVD - TEENAGED WEREWOLF

Werewolf movies work either of two ways: The werewolf is a monster attacking our heroes (THE HOWLING and DOG SOLDIERS) or the story is a variation of JEKYLL & HYDE and the hero *is* the werewolf - afraid of what he or she might do when the moon is full (AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON and THE WOLFMAN). It's either fear of the beasts that prowl the woods, or fear of the beast that dwells inside all of us. CURSED tries to have it both ways, and ends up having it neither way. After Ricci and Eisenberg are attacked, they have the mark of the beast on their palms... but haven't become werewolves, yet. So the werewolf is stalking them... at the same time they are slowly changing into werewolves. Problem is - we never fear what they might do as werewolves, and we don't really fear what the werewolf might do to them because they're werewolves, too! The story manages to negate the fear from both types of werewolf stories by combining them into one big mess.

So, not only is the story an unfocused mess of subplots, it's not even scary!

The reason why the Greek Unity Of Event is important: it focuses your story. Instead of a sprawling mess of subplots, you need a single story with a single central conflict. One conflict per story, one story per movie. All of the subplots are PART of that central conflict... they GROW from that central conflict.

What's your central conflict?

What is the SINGLE event your story is about?

(By the way, the guy who plays Lex Luthor on SMALLVILLE is in CURSED, but I still haven't figured out exactly what he's doing in this movie or why he keeps popping up in every scene. It's like he's a subplot in all of the subplots!)



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