WEDNESDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:
ACT ONE FAKE OUT
I thought SKULL ISLAND was all kinds of fun - APOCALYPSE NOW meets KING KONG witha great cast.
Coming back from Hong Kong a few years ago, the Peter Jackson version of KING KONG was playing on the plane.
I didn't plug in the headset - I saw the movie when it came out. I thought it was a great 2 hour movie....
that was 3 hours long. There were some amazing moments, but often the film dragged, and the first hour
just went on forever! When I do the big 2 day class, I have this thing called the Golfing Goat Rule -
if your film is about a goat that learns how to golf, you need to *show that* in the first ten minutes,
because the audience will see the goat golfing in the trailer and the title of the movie is GERTIE THE
GOLFING GOAT. If you don't get to the golfing goat in the first ten minutes, the audience will become
impatient. "Hey! I thought this was a movie about a golfing goat!"
So when a movie is called KING KONG about a giant ape... that doesn't show up until an hour
into the movie... a very long, very slow hour... we have a problem. I kept asking myself, "When is that damned ape going to show
up? When is this movie going to *start*?"
Everything I disliked about that remake of KING KONG happened in that first hour, and I
suspect all of these things were padding created to make the beginning of the film and trip to Skull
Island even longer - for reasons I can't really imagine.
That stop-motion step-print stuff where the picture slows down at big dramatic moments, like when
they notice the place they are going is called Skull Island and when the (fantastic) evil natives capture
them and take Naomi Watts as their sacrifice to Kong. This stuff is so artificial it calls attention to itself -
and if turns what could be a dramatic moment into MELODRAMATIC moment. It also slows down an already slow
first act. What's strange - the moment Kong shows up, the technique is abandoned. Now we have real drama,
we don't need to artificially induce it.
Pre-Kong we also get endless shots of the ship in rough waters on the way to Skull Island and the ship's
crew worried, and some subterfuge with the ship's crew... and all kinds of other filler material that
would have been on the cutting room floor of any other movie. I felt *I* was taking the long ocean
voyage - and not in a good way.
And I can believe an uncharted island filled with prehistoric creatures, I can believe a giant
ape battling T-Rexes... but I can't believe the actress being in love with the screenwriter. That's
complete sci-fi. From the moment she's introduced Naomi Watts has a crush on playwright Adrian Brody - she dreams
of working with him. And he ends up being the shanghaied screenwriter of Jack Black's new movie that she's
the last minute replacement star of (because she's the same dress size as the other actress). They have this
"meet cute" onboard the ship where she thinks one of the crew guys is the playwright and tells him how
relieved she is that he isn't... well, she describes a typical writer. A cliche writer. A description that
might fit me, might fit those of you reading this, and completely fits Adrian Brody's character. Brody
hears it, and you just know they'll fall in love... and they do! The biggest problem with that long
voyage is there is no conflict - she loves him. Sure, there's vain, pretty boy movie star played by
Kyle Chandler who hits on her once... but she only has eyes for the geeky screenwriter.
Okay - the screenwriter being shanghaied by a producer who writes rubber checks, then being forced to
write a script and bunking in an animal's cage is completely believable. The hot starlet throwing herself
at the screenwriter - never happened to me. Of the screenwriters that I know, the only time hot women
threw themselves at them was when they just sold a script for seven figures. And that wasn't love.
But enough about the mating habits of screenwriters, let's get back to KING KONG....
LET'S BREAK SOME RULES!
I think there are two ways to "fix" act one of KING KONG. You could either cut the sucker down to
20 solid minutes of material that ends with them shipwrecked on Skull Island.... or keep the film at
epic length and add conflict by "breaking rules". Instead of artificially inducing conflict with the step-printing and crew subterfuges
and rough seas, why not add some real conflict? The unusual choice would be to keep Act One at around
an hour, but to create a non-Kong conflict that would make the audience *forget* that this was movie
about a giant ape - instead of Act One setting up the main conflict for the rest of the film, have it
focus on a subplot conflict that is part of the rest of the film. This is more difficult to pull off
than just cutting out the padding, but something
worth considering. What if we "broke the rules"? What if act one was a fake out? What if it *wasn't* about Kong at all?
What if it was a romantic comedy?
Once we're on the ship, we have all of the elements necessary. We're still going to Skull Island and
we can even have some of the crew subterfuge, but this time it's the background to one hour rom-com that
ends with a shipwreck and human sacrifice. Not the usual ending for a rom-com - but this is really something
different. We're secretly setting up the whole King Kong part of the movie. So we have our naive hot young
actress, we have our geeky screenwriter sleeping in the monkey cage, and we have our vain leading man movie
star on a ship together - a love triangle. But this time the actress isn't in love with the screenwriter - she loves his dialogue,
but doesn't see him as a romantic lead. Instead, she falls for the vain movie star. And the movie star
actually steals dialogue from the screenwriter to woo her. Kind of a Cyrano thing. The screenwriter loves
the actress, the actress loves the movie star, and the movie star loves... himself! Now the screenwriter has
to work to win her heart, but everything he does backfires. You see, he's just not romantic in real life.
He's not dashing, not handsome, and (like me) fumbles with his words when he's nervous. So the first act of
the film would be this funny rompish rom-com about an underdog writer trying to win the heart of the actress
attracted to the bad boy movie star. I would have made it stand on its own - sort of the first two acts of a
rom-com - and try to make the audience *forget* about that giant ape on the poster and in the trailer.
Make them forget the movie's golfing goat, because the "fake out plot" is so strong and entertaining.
Instead of wondering when King Kong is going to show up (as we do, now) we wonder if Adrian Brody will ever
get the girl. And just when it's looking like he may actually win her over? Shipwreck, capture by natives...
and the girl he loves is a human sacrifice to Kong.
This actually makes Act Two on Skull Island even better, because we've secretly set up all of the
characters in a different situation. Now, will Kyle Chandler act like a hero and lead the team to rescue
the woman he's been dating onboard the ship? Nope - Adrian Brody is the guy who steps up to the plate!
Now Chandler has to go along to avoid looking like a wimp, and Act Two (as is) plays out much better.
You don't have to change a thing, because the *new set up* has improved all of the existing *pay offs*.
Because the audience has been wondering if Adrian will even get the girl, ending up at Skull Island with
King Kong comes as a surprise. "That's right! This movie is about King Kong! I was so involved in
the rom-com I forgot!"
But also setting up the real love story triangle of the story: The Screenwriter, The Hot Actress...
and King Kong! When we "break the rules" and turn Act One into a rom-com, we set up the two important
characters in Acts Two and Three... so breaking the rules *works* in favor of the story.
OTHER THOUGHTS ON KONG
Once we got to the T-Rex battle, the film was a roller coaster. One amazing scene after another.
And there were some great emotional scenes with Kong before the big ending. I kind of liked the way
Watts made friends with Kong by putting on a show (though I'm not sure what entertains a vaudeville
audience is what entertains a giant ape). I giggled at Kong On Ice! I cried a bunch of times.
I was amazed at the sunset shots with Kong. This is one amazing film. Jack Black is perfect as the
charismatic jerk who screws over *everybody* (including himself). Kong is real - I never thought it
was a special effect, it was a *person*. That's the amazing thing with CGI, now - you can make a
creature look so real that the audience never thinks "That's just a special effect". The 70's remake
had a man in a gorilla suit that looked like... a man in a gorilla suit. The stop-motion animation in
the first film was more realistic!
One thing that I thought was interesting was the way society has changed since the first film.
Funny that of the various scenes cut by the Hayes Office (censorship panel overseeing movies since
the early 1930s) or not shot for censorship reasons, the Spider Pit is back in the 2005 version...
but the scene where Kong "gets the girl's scent" by stripping Faye Wray naked and sniffing her is
missing from this version. So, we can kill people in horrific ways in 2005, but we can't have a
big monkey smelling a girl's private parts? The scent scene may have been created just to add nudity
to the first version, but it also was an important story point - the scent is the way that Kong finds
the girl in New York City and the only way he knows that *this* blonde girl is the same blonde girl
on the island (the girl he loves). Take that away and how does Kong know which girl to go after?
Though this has nothing to do with our job as screenwriters, one of the other problems I had with
the film was the CGI... I can believe the big ape is real, but had problems with some of the camera angles.
The combination of the CGI character and the CGI camera work rang some bell in my mind. The camera moves
that we can *really* do, I'm used to (or maybe some quick logic chip in my subconscious zips through the
"how did they do that?" and stops at "Helicopter" so it doesn't alert my conscious that there's anything
"wrong") - but camera moves that seem impossible (things you don't normally see in movies) ring that bell.
They break the reality of the moment.
I wished the "camera moves" looked more like helicopter shots or crane moves or something from the real
world so that I wouldn't keep getting pulled out of a great CGI shot. Several years ago I tried a motion
control ride that simulated a rollercoaster. I thought it was great, because it replicated the rollercoaster
experience. But I wonder what someone who had never seen or heard of a rollercoaster would think? So much of
the ride was bringing back memories of specific feelings and motions of riding a rollercoaster. Without any
rollercoaster experience, would that banked curve even be understandable? I think some of the same things
are at work, here. I see a camera move that I know is not possible in the real world, and suddenly the whole
shot becomes fake. Maybe in 20 years I'll get used to the "digital language" but until then I wish they would
limit the shots that can't be replicated in real life. Making the *shots* realistic helps make the giant ape
in those shots seem realistic.
Though it seems silly to "Monday morning quarterback" a hit movie like KING KONG, trying to find ways to
solve the problems of one movie can give us the tools to solve the problems in our screenplays. Though Act One is
*supposed* to set up your conflict, the only "rule" is that your screenplay has to work. Maybe using
the "First Act Fake Out" - creating a mini story that sets up the characters and conflicts for the rest of
your story that is so involving and exciting that the audience *forgets* the concept of the rest of your
story - is a tool that may come in handy on your epic adventure script.
Your Screenplay Checklist:
* Is your Act One exciting and involving?
* Does it set up the characters and conflict for the rest of the film?
* Does your script work better because you broke the "rules"?
* If you use a "fake out" does it work as another genre?
* Don't give the reader a reason to put your script down!
I believe in Tools Not Rules. The "rules" are just methods that work almost all of the time. But sometimes the
only way a particular screenplay can work is when you break some "rule". So know the reason for the "rule" - know why that
rule exists and what its function is, so that whatever you "remove from the story" you can "replace" with
something else that fulfills that "rule"s purpose... and not make the story worse. Blindly breaking "rules" is just as
dangerous as blindly following them!
But don't be afraid to do whatever it takes to make your screenplay work.
All About LOGLINES, TREATMENTS, and PITCHING!
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THE MISSION IMPOSSIBLE MOVIES
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My New Script Secrets Newsletter!
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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William Goldman says the most important single element of any screenplay is structure. It’s the skeleton under the flesh and blood of your story. Without it, you have a spineless, formless, mess... a slug! How do you make sure your structure is strong enough to support your story? How do you prevent your story from becoming a slug? This Blue Book explores different types of popular structures from the basic three act structure to more obscure methods like leap-frogging. We also look at structure as a verb as well as a noun, and techniques for structuring your story for maximum emotional impact. Most of the other books just look at *structure* and ignore the art of *structuring* your story. Techniques to make your story a page turner... instead of a slug!
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*** HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE *** - For Kindle!
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This book uses seventeen of Hitchcock’s films to show the difference between suspense and surprise, how to use “focus objects” to create suspense, the 20 iconic suspense scenes and situations, how plot twists work, using secrets for suspense, how to use Dread (the cousin of suspense) in horror stories, and dozens of other amazing storytelling lessons. From classics like “Strangers On A Train” and “The Birds” and “Vertigo” and “To Catch A Thief” to older films from the British period like “The 39 Steps” and “The Man Who Knew Too Much” to his hits from the silent era like “The Lodger” (about Jack The Ripper), we’ll look at all of the techniques to create suspense!
NOIR & MYSTERY80 minute MP3 packed with information on writing Film Noir and Mystery scripts. Using examples from CHINATOWN to OUT OF THE PAST to DOUBLE INDEMNITY you'll learn how to create stories in this dark, twisted genre. How to plant clues, red herrings, suspects, victims, spider women, fallen heroes, the funhouse mirror world of noir supporting characters... and the origins of Film Noir in literature Noir dialogue and how noir endings are different than any other genre. All of the critical elements necessary to write in this critically popular genre.
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WRITING HORROR - The essentials of a horror screenplay - what do ROSEMARY'S BABY, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, THE EXORCIST, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE OTHERS and OPEN WATER have in common? This class will tell you! All of the critical elements necessary to write a script that scares the pants off the audience. Writing Horror MP3 is $10.00!
Click here for more information on CLASS CDs!
THE BOOK THAT STARTED IT ALL!
*** THE SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING *** - For Kindle!
*** THE SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING *** - For Nook!
Why pay $510 for a used version of the 240 page 2000 version that used to retail for $21.95? (check it out!) when
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"SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING is the
best book on the practical nuts-and-bolts mechanics of writing a screenplay I've ever read."
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READY TO BREAK IN?
*** BREAKING IN BLUE BOOK *** - For Kindle!
Should really be called the BUSINESS BLUE BOOK because it covers almost everything you will need to
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networking, to the different kinds of meetings you are will have at Studios, to the difference between
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are working under contract, to contracts and options and lawyers and... when to run from a deal!
Information you can use *now* to move your career forward! It's all here in the Biggest Blue Book yet!
Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is over 400 pages!
$4.99 - and no postage!
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STORY: WELL TOLD!
*** STORY: WELL TOLD *** - For Kindle!
This book takes you step-by-step through the construction of a story... and how to tell a story well, why Story always starts with character... but ISN'T character, Breaking Your Story, Irony, Planting Information, Evolving Story, Leaving No Dramatic Stone Unturned, The Three Greek Unities, The Importance Of Stakes, The Thematic Method, and how to create personal stories with blockbuster potential. Ready to tell a story?
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MOVIES ARE CHARACTERS!
*** CREATING STRONG PROTAGONISTS *** - For Kindle!
*** CREATING STRONG PROTAGONISTS *** - For Nook!
Expanded version with more ways to create interesting protagonists! A step-by-step guide to creating "take charge" protagonists. Screenplays are about characters in conflict... characters in emotional turmoil... Strong three dimensional protagonists who can find solutions to their problems in 110 pages. But how do you create characters like this? How do you turn words into flesh and blood? Character issues, Knowing Who Is The Boss, Tapping into YOUR fears, The Naked Character, Pulp Friction, Man With A Plan, Character Arcs, Avoiding Cliche People, Deep Characterization, Problem Protagonists, 12 Ways To Create Likable Protagonists (even if they are criminals), Active vs. Reactive, The Third Dimension In Character, Relationships, Ensemble Scripts, and much, much more. Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is once again around 205 pages!
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*** ACT TWO SECRETS *** - For Kindle!
Expanded version with more techniques to help you through the desert of Act Two! Subjects Include: What Is Act Two? Inside Moves, The 2 Ps: Purpose & Pacing, The 4Ds: Dilemma, Denial, Drama and Decision, Momentum, the Two Act Twos, Subplot Prisms, Deadlines, Drive, Levels Of Conflict, Escalation, When Act Two Begins and When Act Two Ends, Scene Order, Bite Sized Pieces, Common Act Two Issues, Plot Devices For Act Two, and dozens of others. Over 67,000 words (that’s well over 200 pages) of tools and techniques to get you through the desert of Act Two alive!
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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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ADVICE FROM 1920!
*** VINTAGE #1: HOW TO WRITE PHOTOPLAYS *** - For Kindle!
Screenwriting books have been around as long as films have. This series reprints vintage screenwriting books with a new introduction and history, plus new articles which look at how these lessons from almost 100 years ago apply to today’s screenplays. Anita Loos book is filled with information which still applies.
In addition to the full text of the original book, you get the full screenplay to Miss Loos' hit THE LOVE EXPERT, plus several new articles on the time period and women in Hollywood.
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I WRITE PICTURES!
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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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PRO DIALOGUE TECHNIQUES!
*** 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 CDs
The NAKED SCREENWRITING CLASS ON CD!
The 2001 London Class on 8 CDs! Recorded *live* the morning after the Raindance Film Festival
wrapped. The two day class on 8CDs, plus a workbook, plus a bonus CD with PDFs.
The 2 Day Class on CD!
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BOOKLETS & PRODUCTS
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 The Best Nuts & Bolts Screenwriting Book On The
nineteen produced films, interviews with me in magazines,
several sample scripts, my available scripts list... And MORE!
CLASSES ON CD
CLASSES ON CD! Take a class on CD! GUERRILLA MARKETING - NO AGENT? NO PROBLEM! and WRITING THRILLERS (2 CDs). Full length classes on CD. Now Available: IDEAS & CREATIVITY, WRITING HORROR, WRITING INDIE FILMS, more!
Take classes on CD!