There's a quote that pops up over on the Wordplay site, I'm pretty sure from Nicholas Ray (one of my favorite directors) that says you can't teach directing. I think that's both right and wrong. You *can* teach techniques and technical stuff, what you can't teach is talent. This website is all about providing the screenwriter with all of the tools and techniques to write a screenplay. What I can't do is make anyone more talented.

The biggest problems I see in most scripts and movies are the basics. Those simple tools you learned when you first interested in telling stories. Maybe the professional writers and "professional" development people and professional producers have moved on to more complex tools and forgotten the basics? Whatever the reason, many movies these days fail due to something that wouldn't fall into a class for Advanced or Professional screenwriters - but something that might end up in beginners class.

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Which brings us to BASIC INSTINCT 2: RISK ADDICTION, which fails for so many reasons I could write a month's worth of tips using it as the bad example.... but that would be torture for me. So we're going to look at two major failings that fall into the category of Screenwriting 101 - Central Question and Boring Protagonist. The script was co-written by Leora Barish and Henry Bean (who is a good thriller writer on his own, responsible for INTERNAL AFFAIRS and DEEP COVER and THE BELIEVER) - neither are first timers, so the rookie mistakes are kind of shocking. The fact that neither was corrected in development (or the possibility that both were *added* in development) is even stranger.

Caution: Actually watching BASIC INSTINCT 2 may cause permanent brain damage. Yes, it's that bad! Here's why....


At the heart of every screenplay is the central question. It's what propels the story forward and keeps the audience involved. In a romantic comedy, the central question might be: Will they hook up or not? In a disaster movie it might be: Will they survive, and *who* will survive? The story begins with the introduction of the central question and then keeps us wondering how it will be resolved for the next 100 pages. Pretty basic stuff.


Joe Eszterhas, love him or hate him, knew about the central question and milked it for a long and profitable career. At one point in time, BASIC INSTINCT was the biggest script deal *ever* - he opened the door for the rest of us to dream about making $3 million bucks off one spec script. Then he topped that with some scribbles on the back of a napkin - the central question for an unwritten screenplay - that he sold for $4 million.

Eszterhas had one central question th he used in screenplay after screenplay: Did they or did they not commit the murder? Guilty or innocent? He used that central question in what is probably his best script, JAGGED EDGE. That film has workaholic attorney Glenn Close defending hunky Jeff Bridges on charges that he murdered his wealthy wife. Close, of course, falls in love with him... and the rest of the script explores that central question by bouncing us back and forth between believing that he's guilty as sin and a lovable hunk falsely accused of murder by an overzealous D.A. (the great Peter Coyote). We hope that he's innocent so that she can find love but fear that he's guilty. E-Z Joe manages to milk that question in interesting ways, including a great reveal of a previous murder and a likely suspect that isn't Bridges.

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Eszterhas used the same central question in the *Oscar nominated* art house film THE MUSIC BOX, this time with Jessica Lange defending her father, Armin Mueller-Stahl, against charges that he was a Nazi in World War 2 and did a whole bunch of evil things. Did he or didn't he? Guilty or innocent? Even though this time around it's a father/daughter relationship, the central question still works... in fact, I think it works better! We get to explore all kinds of family relationship issues, and zero in on that faith we all have in the goodness of our parents (and that point in our lives when we realized that they were human, too). Eszterhas would explore the same dynamics in his Payola script TELLING LIES a few years later.

But before E-Z Joe began his last ditch effort to reclaim some sort of post-SHOWGIRLS respect only to sink deeper into the muck of Hollywood failure... and burn, Hollywood, burn all of his bridges... he wrote a huge hit movie called BASIC INSTINCT.

In an ambitious search-and-replace of JAGGED EDGE, the film that changed Sharon Stone from that chick that played Ah-nuld's ex-wife in TOTAL RECALL into an actual movie star who would get to work with Scorsese and pick up an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, BASIC INSTINCT had a pretty strong central question. Michael Douglas is a cop living on the edge charged with investigating the murder of rock star "Mr. Boz" (like Boz Skaggs, who really lives in San Francisco and really owns a night club... just with a heavy metal rocker glaze). Number one suspect is smokin' hot writer Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone) who is every man's fantasy. Of course, Douglas starts a relationship with her, even though she's their #1 suspect. Central question again: Did she or didn't she? Is she a predatory female killer? Or innocent of murder but guilty of just about anything that can be done between the sheets?

We *care* whether she did it or not. If she did it, Michael Douglas is sleeping with a killer... if she didn't do it, Douglas might be arresting an innocent person. Eszterhas used his old standby central question to propel the story and keep us hooked and as emotionally involved as we can be in a story this surface and glossy. Even though Douglas was a flawed protagonist, we cared enough to worry that he might get killed. Sure, the film is silly (how can everyone Douglas knows have slept with Catherine?) but underneath it all is a central question that works.

(For the non-brain-dead version of this story, check out SEA OF LOVE.)

Buy Basic Instinct 2 DVDs

BASIC INSTINCT 2: RISK ADDICTION opens with Catherine Tramell in London... in a really expensive spots car with famous soccer player... indulging in sex, drugs, and rock & roll at speeds over 100mph. Of course, you can't focus on driving with Sharon Stone climbing all over you, so the car ends up crashing into the Thames. The soccer star drowns, Stone walks away without a scratch, the police arrest her.

Okay, now what is the central question in this scenario? In the first film, we knew a hot blonde chick killed Mr. Boz in the bedroom with an icepick - and Tramell was a hot blonde chick. In the first few minutes of the movie, we had set up that central question that would fuel the rest of the flick. In RISK ADDICTION we *know* Stone didn't murder the soccer star - it was an accident. We can debate whether distracting the driver caused the accident or not, but it wasn't *murder*. As for "did she or didn't she?" - we know exactly what she did, no question about it. That's a mistake.

The police require her to see a shrink, played by unknown at the time actor David Morrisey (now hot in WALKING DEAD). And here's where the whole film goes way off track. Because the shrink has a deep dark cloud over him due to a previous patient who died named Cheslov. There were police involved and the press and it almost ruined his career. Was the shrink responsible for Cheslov's death? Unfortunately, that becomes the central question of the film. The problem with that as a central question:

1) It's an incident that happened in the past, so it can't really propel the story forward.
2) It has nothing to do with Sharon Stone's character.
3) If he was responsible or wasn't responsible... nothing changes *now*.

You might think this situation is like Bruce Willis in THE SIXTH SENSE, except his past mistakes had a direct relationship to his current case. The central question there was "Will he make the same mistake twice or will he be able to help *this* kid?" We spend the movie hoping that Bruce Willis will break through and find out what's wrong with the kid and help him... but worry that he will fail. That involves us emotionally in the story and propels the story forward. It's a good central question.


RISK ADDICTION doesn't use that as a central question at all. Instead, it focuses completely on the past, with Sharon Stone's character being kind of a subplot. The whole film is about Morrisey's past screw up on the Cheslov case! Whether he screwed it up or not doesn't matter now (except in some internal way - should Morrisey feel guilty or not?). It has nothing to do with Stone... or even risk addiction. Every once in a while Stone shows up for an appointment, and there's even a scene or two where she has sex with Morrisey. But these things have nothing to do with Cheslov and Cheslov has nothing to do with Stone or the dead soccer player or anything else. Which brings us to the next problem...


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David Morrisey is a good actor, but wasn't a movie star - no one was paying just to see him. Sharon Stone is the star of this film... but it's not about her character. Now, I've watched many films where the star is an actor I'm not familiar with. David Thewlis is in RISK ADDICTION as the possibly crooked cop, and I "discovered him" in some movie where he did an amazing job and now I go out of my way to see movies that he's in. But to "discover" an unknown actor, you need to see them in a role that is interesting or flashy or emotionally involving. Most people "discovered" Sharon Stone in TOTAL RECALL, where she completely steals the show. If Morrisey had been a supporting role in RISK ADDICTION with some great dialogue and an interesting character, we might have "discovered" him here... but he's the lead. The story is all about him and his past with the Cheslov case. He's the whole focus if the film...

And they've given him the dullest character ever to be put on screen.

He's an uptight, boring, civil servant.

He even wears boring *clothes* and because this whole film is about some incident in his past, his dialogue is one huge chunk of exposition after another. Instead of showing us things as they happen, the film is about things that happened long ago - so he's forced to *explain* the past again and again - booooring!

Now, I'm sure that someone was thinking that by making him *dull* hooking up with Catherine Tramell is a huge "risk" on his part... but we don't care about him and we don't care about his past with this Cheslov case and we don't care whether Tramell screws him to death or lures him into a speeding sports car or whatever. We don't care about him, we don't care about anything else. Characters have to be interesting enough that we want to hang out with them for 2 hours, and this guy? When will he ever get over his sad-sack past and get on with his life?

This script has so little to do with Catherine Tramell that I suspect it began life as a non-BASIC INSTINCT script and they just shoved her character into it to make the deal. I know that this was supposed to be one of the worst scripts in Hollywood before it was made - they actually had to sue Stone to star in it! I know that Stone had issues with every star they tried to cast in the shrink role - my guess is that she knew the script was not about her and was trying to get them to rewrite the script by casting a non-star. Didn't seem to work. Instead, we end up with a movie that's not about Stone's character and has a bland lead character.


Since the central question is about incidents in the past, *all* of the dialogue ends up being expositional. The story is obvious, the dialogue trite, and no matter how hard they try... no one can act their way out of this script.

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Plus we have weird logic-defying scenes. Tramell has been sleeping with a reporter... who asks Morissey for *basic* information about her for his story. Wait? Wouldn't he know this stuff just from pre-sex small talk? Even if he didn't, can't he use his position (sleeping with her) to coax a couple of answers from her? None of the Tramell plot stuff makes any sense, which is why I think she was added to an existing screenplay.

If the script was going to be about the Cheslov case... why not just make it about the Cheslov case and take place as Morissey is working on the Cheslov case?

I think you run into trouble with sequels like this because the killer ends up the star... and you're just remaking the first film. The central question from the first film no longer works, because if Catherine Tramell is again accused of a murder, we don't wonder if she is guilty or not... we saw the first film and *know the answer*. So we'd just have the dumbest cop in the world who can't keep his pants zipped. The key to a good sequel is to give us the same characters in a similar-but-different experience (like ALIEN and ALIENS). Sequels fail when they give us the exact same experience or go so far off track that it has nothing to do with the first film at all. THE FUGITIVE has Agent Gerard chasing an innocent man accused of murder, Dr. Richard Kimble, and eventually discovering that he really is innocent and (sort of) teaming with him to find the real killer. The big problem with the sequel U.S. MARSHALS is that it has Agent Gerard chasing an innocent man accused of murder (Wesley Snipes), and eventually discovering that he really is innocent and teaming with him to find the real killer. Been there. Done that. A better FUGITIVE sequel would have had Gerard chasing a *guilty* man and maybe uncovering a much larger conspiracy behind the gulty man.

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A more inventive sequel idea for BASIC INSTINCT might have been to rip off THE FUGITIVE and have mystery novelist Catherine Tramell framed for a crime, on the run, trying to figure out who the killer is before the police catch up with her. Who would believe that she's innocent? We've seen the first movie - she's guilty as hell! But we've seen the opening of the sequel and know she is innocent of *this* crime. Wow, knowing her past - how's she going to get out of this one? She would be portrayed warmer and sympathetic (Sharon Stone is a star, now) and we might wrap the story around her work as a mystery novelist - did she discover something by accident while researching her new novel? And what if she has no idea *what* she has discovered? The woman who knows too much... except she has no idea what she knows! It would be a totally different movie - and that might alienate some audience members who came to see Sharon Stone as a bad girl who doesn't wear underpants. But I prefer the ALIENS type sequels over a complete rehash of the original. I'd rather see something I didn't expect, than something I've seen before. I like the idea of changing the central question to: will she be able to prove that she's innocent by finding the real killer *before* the police catch her? There's a kick ass Robert Young movie called THEY WON'T BELIEVE ME! about a guy accused of murder once being accused of a second murder he didn't do... and struggling to convince people that he's innocent. I would have looked at that as a model.

Now to the stuff you really want to know: Does she get nekkid and does she look okay? Well, I think you see more in the original than in the sequel... and that's a good thing, because Stone is about the same age as I am, and even though she has taken care of herself, you can't beat gravity. You won't be seeing *me* naked any time soon. I'm sure Stone is proud of how good she looks, now (though she seems to have had some face work done) but she should be trying to find roles that play off her hard-edged persona, not her rack.

There - now you don't even have to rent it!




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You have written a brilliant 110 page screenplay, but how do you get anyone to read it? You need to distill it down into some form of verbal moonshine or story rocket fuel that will ignite that bored development executive or manager or agent and get them to request your screenplay. But how do you shrink those 110 pages into a 25 word logline or a 2 minute elevator pitch or a one page synopsis or a short paragraph? This 100,000 word book shows you how! Everything you need to know! From common logline mistakes (and how to solve them) to how your pitch can reveal story problems to the 4 types of pitches!

272 Pages - ONLY $4.99!



*** BREAKING IN BLUE BOOK *** - For Kindle!

Should really be called the BUSINESS BLUE BOOK because it covers almost everything you will need to know for your screenwriting career: from thinking like a producer and learning to speak their language, to query letters and finding a manager or agent, to making connections (at home and in Hollywood) and networking, to the different kinds of meetings you are will have at Studios, to the difference between a producer and a studio, to landing an assignment at that meeting and what is required of you when you 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!



Use your creative energy to focus on the content; let Final Draft take care of the style. Final Draft is the number-one selling application specifically designed for writing movie scripts, television episodics and stage plays. Its ease-of-use and time-saving features have attracted writers for almost two decades positioning Final Draft as the Professional Screenwriters Choice. Final Draft power users include Academy, Emmy and BAFTA award winning writers like Oliver Stone, Tom Hanks, Alan Ball, J.J. Abrams, James Cameron and more. * * * Buy It!

copyright 2021 by William C. Martell

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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.

Furious Action Class

Cult Films, Exploitation, Bikers & Women In Prison, Monster Movies.

Producing my own scripts, investment possibilities, pipe dreams.


Naked Class The NAKED SCREENWRITING CLASS ON MP3! The 2001 London Class on 8 MP3s! Recorded *live* the morning after the Raindance Film Festival wrapped. The two day class on 8MP3s, plus a workbook, plus a bonus MP3 with PDFs.
The 2 Day Class on MP3!


A Whole Week Of Programming!
(no actual sex is involved)
From Trailer Tuesday to Film Courage Plus to THRILLER Thursday to Fridays With Hitchcock and more! My blog has all kinds of great stuff! Check it out! Lots of cool stuff every day!


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 Market!


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

Available Scripts


Take classes on MP3!