WEDNESDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:

VISUALS vs. VISUAL STORYTELLING

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BLADE RUNNER 2049 is a visually stunning movie that won the American Society Of Cinematographers Best Feature Film Award for Roger Deakins’ amazing work a few days ago, and even though critics generally appreciated it, the film suffered the same fate at the box office as its predecessor. I think it’s a mistake to believe that the sequel to a cult film will do any better business than the original.

I saw the original BLADE RUNNER either on opening night (probably a Wednesday back then) or at least within the opening week of release. I even remember who I saw it with. I thought it had amazing production design but a story so slight and vague that everyone seems to have a different idea of what it’s “really about” and there are dozens, or maybe even hundreds, of fan theories. Since then, I have seen every new cut and new version of the film in a cinema at least once, and it’s nice to finally have Joanna Cassidy’s face superimposed over that stuntman, but the story remains vague and slight, with some great performances adding to the amazing production design and visuals.

The sequel has a more coherent and less vague story, even though it’s completely preposterous; and thanks to CGI and modern digital effects - even more impressive production design and visuals, and that great cinematography by Deakins. It’s a feast for the eyes that really should be seen on a huge screen...

But it still has about 90 minutes of story stretched over an almost 3 hour running time. That may not be a major issue for those of us who can just appreciate it for the amazing eye candy and some pretty good performances, but the general audience seemed to reject it. It was one of the biggest flops of 2017. And how is that a surprise to anyone? The original was one of the biggest flops of 1982. It has a loyal following, but it is still a cult film - and a cult isn’t everyone, it’s a small splinter group. That small splinter group showed up for the new film, but there weren’t enough of them. This is the problem with any sequel or remake of a cult film - people think that everybody loves it because it has lasted this long, but it’s still that small group of mega-fans. So BLADE RUNNER 2049 may end up a mostly unseen film to mainstream audiences, when it really has some stunning visuals to offer.

But what about the title of this Script Tip? What is the difference between Visual Storytelling and Visuals? Is one better than the other? And can one *undermine* the other? I’m so glad you asked! I guarantee this Script Tip will generate hate mail from those of you in the Cult Of Blade Runner...


VISUALS Vs. VISUAL STORYTELLING

SPOILERS!

These are two completely different things which are supposed to work in congress with each other to tell the story.

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Visual storytelling is using the actions of the characters to tell the story - the way a Buster Keaton silent film does. "Actions" doesn't mean car chases - in fact, cars chasing cars are not really the actions of characters, but the actions of machines. We want to tell the story by having our characters *do things*. Both on a larger story level and on an individual scene level. So K’s story in BLADE RUNNER 2049 is to find the child born of man and machine. In the opening scene with the huge Protein Farmer, he discovers the bones of a woman who died in childbirth buried on his property, and we later find out these bones belonged to a replicant. Now, I thought replicants were more machine based than organic in the original film, but I decided to just go with the flow at this point in the story. The very idea that a replicant could reproduce is earth shattering and “dangerous”, so K’s job is to find the child and terminate it. The search for that child is what drives the story, and that is a *physical* action, ie: visual. We have a mystery and K finds clues along the way, which lead to other clues. So on a story level, there are actions which lead us from scene to scene.

By the way, love the name "K" - it’s Kafkaesque!

The other major visual storytelling element is that wooden horse. The horse is something that we can see, and it becomes a major clue to the child that K seeks. I think it’s interesting that it is a horse, because it is kind of a “trojan horse” - it looks like one thing but is in fact another. This is what I call a “two way clue” that seems to point to one character but secretly points to another character, and once our “primary suspect” is ruled out, we stop thinking of it as a clue for a while... until we realize it also points to a secondary suspect (who is the actual “guilty party” - in this case the actual child of man and machine).

This film also uses casting to help steer us towards suspects: we have one character who looks like the father of the child and one character who looks like the mother of the child, so when the character who resembles the father is removed from the equation the audience naturally jumps to the conclusion that it must be the character who resembles the mother... who happens to be the villain. This makes complete sense, because - SPOILER - the protagonist K resembles Deckard and our antagonist Luv resembles Racheal - are they two sides of the same coin? Is the connection between hero and villain that one is the child and the other is searching to destroy the child? (That works either way.) So, even though casting is mostly out of the control of the screenwriter, here it helps tell the story. That wooden horse is the only real element of visual storytelling that is part of the screenwriter’s job in the film, the rest of it is...

Visuals are "shots" - an amazing image. Though the directors call the shots - and will probably be responsible for most of the visuals in the film, we are responsible for *visual storytelling* and since we select the locations and many of the elements - we have a hand in those *visuals*. And sometimes, without overtly directing on paper or using camera directions, we can create a strong visual moment.

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BLADE RUNNER 2049 is filled with amazing Visuals, and the trailer is packed with them. That is the “bait” for this movie - you enter a fully realized amazing world for almost three hours. There are the neon signs and billboards from the original *plus* all kinds of hologram adverts that seems to look right at you. There are rainy crowded streets from the original, as well as disfigured landscapes - trash heaps and whatever is left of Las Vegas. This is a fascinating world to look at. There should e a coffee tale book! As writers, this is where our imagination kicks in, even if we are not writing science fiction. I’ve written about the world of JOHN WICK, and how that creates a unique experience in a crime film. But films like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and other epics use visuals to create a big screen experience for the viewer. As visual entertainment continues to fracture with streaming and other small screen options there is going to be more importance attached to the type of amazing visuals that are best viewed on a massive cinema screen.

Describing a house or a salt shaker in your script is not a visual. A good visual creates an image that sticks with the viewer long after the house lights are up. It haunts us. Creating an emotional experience without words. Touching us on a subconscious level to give us an experience stronger than the image itself. We want to use our *visuals* sparingly in the screenplay - and only use the most evocative and powerful images. If you spend all of your words describing a salt shaker or a house, you won’t have any left for images that are truly striking, like the ones in BLADE RUNNER 2049.

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In mystery writer Michael Connelly's great novel THE CONCRETE BLONDE, a prostitute's body is thrown into a vat of wet concrete. When the murder is discovered many years later, the body has decomposed... except for the silicon modified breasts which are in perfect condition. This image of the wasted body with unnaturally perfect breasts is haunting. It gives us a glimpse of the victim, who put physical attraction above all else. The image is filled with irony and tragedy, infused with emotion. Years after reading the novel, this image comes back to me with perfect clarity. That's good writing. We want to find images like this for our stories, not mundane images that do nothing to affect the viewer. Connelly’s image oddly creates sympathy for the long dead woman. Humanizes her.

Another memorable image comes from Sidney J. Furie and Rick Natkin's under rated Viet Nam War film THE BOYS IN COMPANY C. Stan Shaw plays a loner: A soldier who believes that depending on the other screw-ups in his platoon will get him killed. While patrolling a rice paddy, Shaw steps on a mine. The moment he takes his foot off the mine, it will blow up, killing all of those around him. "Do not go near that man, leave him alone. He is a dead man." All of the other members of the platoon reluctantly move away, leaving Shaw standing alone in the middle of the rice paddy... Waiting to die.

The lone-man image in HIGH NOON, where Gary Cooper steps onto the street, and the camera pulls back to show him alone. The streets deserted. The view of him from high overhead, seeming small and powerless, has haunted viewers since the film's initial release. And that image is *the whole movie in a visual* - the story itself is about one man against the world. It’s not just a striking image, it’s all about story! But does every visual need to be story related? Can’t they just be “cool”?


VISUALS & STORY

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The problem with Visuals is that "actions speak louder than words" and "seeing is believing" and many other homilies that tell us "what you see is what you gonna get!" * So even when we are just dealing with visuals, they also need to be telling the story. And this is where both the original BLADE RUNNER and BLADE RUNNER 2049 go off the rails. The original film is filled with amazing visuals... that make no sense. When it first came out, the special effects were amazing, but the story and over-production design aspects were disappointing. As years pass, the FX work (still great) has kind of faded - so many movies these days have *tons* of amazing FX work, that the novelty has worn off. That makes the over-production designed aspects really stick out - the over-the-top wardrobe and hair, the *indoor* rain and mud and filth in a building owned by a genius tech guy who is probably a billionaire. The anti-tech equipment that looked like an antique when the film came out. And just the *lack of logic* behind the production design and costuming. Rachael is dressed, hair styled, and made up to look like a freakin’ Mattel doll, and we’re supposed to be surprised that she’s a replicant? None of the other repicants look and act that fake. Every room is *filled* with dense smoke - even if the characters don’t smoke. There is junk and clutter everywhere - and even a small apartment has a piano! The top scientist dude lives in a dump where it rains indoors and dresses like an escapee from a Village People video. Brion James is wearing a hospital gown when he’s being scanned in the opening scene - but has managed to smuggle in a gun. Um, I don’t want to know how he did that, but if *I* were looking for dangerous replicants who had killed a whole bunch of people, I might have the suspects pass through a metal detector. None of the amazing production value or visuals or even cinematography makes much sense... but it sure is pretty!

Okay, let the hate mail begin!

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BLADE RUNNER 2049 makes the same error. When we see those crowded streets in Los Angeles - in some scenes so packed with people that K has difficulty navigating them (yet in others people seem to be able to approach him without issue - like the hookers) this undercuts the reason for replicants. Even though replicants are built to do the jobs that humans will not do, there are obviously so many desprate broke humans on the street that it seems only logical that all of these jobs could actually be filled. The overcrowding element goes against the need for workers. Yes, I know that replicants are only used off-world, but in other science fiction films like OUTLANDER and TOTAL RECALL they have no problem getting humans to get their asses to Mars for a job. Why is it a problem in this story and none of the others? And if there was some modification to replicants - they can breathe some other planet’s atmosphere that would kill human workers, how are they able to survive on Earth? The crowded streets are a visual element that doesn’t hold up to a moment’s thought.

And if there is a *reason* besides environmental reasons to use replicants rather than humans, let’s say cost issues, why isn’t that part of the story? Replicants are talked about as “slave labor” in the film, but with streets that crowded someone has to be willing to do that off-world work. The problem is, we can easily compare this story to today’s reality where farm workers are usually immigrants who do hard work for low wages. Are none of those hundreds of people trying to survive on the streets in BLADE RUNNER 2049 not interested in those jobs? And if they aren’t interested - isn’t that a more interesting story to explore? If minimum wage for humans is so expensive that they have to manufacture artificial people to do these jobs, that’s a much more interesting story than an artificial person giving birth, no matter how often people in the film say it’s a game changer that will bring down society as we know it. It’s like if SOYLENT GREEN focused on a story about a store selling cans of soylent green that were past their “use by” date. Hey, these replicants are past their “use by” date, too! That’s why Blade Runners exist - to eliminate the old replicants. So these crowded streets look great on film, but they undercut the story.

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K’s holo-girlfriend is another great visual creation that doesn’t really make any sense. I love that he’s saved up to by the portable holo gizmo so that she is no longer attached to that arm in his apartment, but how does this connect to the story or even explore the theme (whatever that may be)? How is she connected to the replicant baby? The scene where his holo girlfriend hires the hooker so that K can make love to her is great... but it belongs in some other film... maybe a remake of CHERRY 20000. Why does K need a holo-girlfriend when there’s a zillion hookers on the street, at least one of which doesn’t want to screw for a living and might want to live in a nice apartment with K? The more you think about the holo girlfriend the less sense she makes in this story. Cool, but not helping to tell the story.

And why are the holographic adverts in destroyed Las Vegas still running?

Like the holo-girlfriend stolen from CHERRY 2000, I loved the way K gets into Las Vegas buried in sand stolen from A BOY AND HIS DOG. This story steals from the weirdest! But, what does that have to do with the story? How is it connected thematically? How is buried Las Vegas a part of this story? Because it’s buried, like the dead mother of replicant baby? That’s a huge stretch, and doesn’t connect to the actual replicant baby once they are found. This movie is a lot of cool visuals that aren’t really connected to the story. The images are not organic. Instead of beginning with the story and finding visuals like Michael Connolly’s that help tell the story on a deeper level, they are just surface cool. We want to find ways to explore the story itself though images. To use those images in service of the story, not in service of "cool". Hey, they can be cool, too! But anything that isn’t taking us deeper into the story is some form of porn.


EVERY PICTURE TELLS A STORY

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Visual Storytelling is actually telling the story through moving pictures rather than words, and Visuals are amazing pictures that leave an impact on the viewer... and also help tell the story.

Compare the rainy neon Los Angeles from both BLADE RUNNER films to when Godfrey Tearle lifts his hand to expose a missing little finger, and we know he's the villain in THE 39 STEPS. Or Jimmy Stewart looking from window to window in the darkness after hearing a scream in REAR WINDOW. Or that windmill in FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, with it's massive sails which catch the breeze one way, then move in the opposite direction... and tell us that the sails are moving *against* the breeze, so something is weird there.

In fact, I could fill several pages with strong images and sequences from Hitchcock films. From Beaky being pushed off the cliff in SUSPICION to the cigarette lighter just out of reach in the storm drain from STRANGERS ON A TRAIN. Though Hitchcock as a director deserves some credit for putting these images on film, it should be noted that they came directly from the pages of the screenplays. From NORTH BY NORTHWEST:

* * *


EXT. SECLUDED ROAD - A FEW MINUTES LATER

A lovely wooded glen securely hidden from the main 
road that cuts through the Black Hills. The Mt. Rushmore 
Monument can be seen in the distance through the trees.

Thornhill and Eve regard each other uncertainly as she 
starts moving toward him.

In a way, they are meeting for the first time. After 
all that Eve has done to Thornhill, and he has said to her, 
neither can be certain of the others' true feelings. It 
is a time for uneasiness, caution, and tentative probing. 
Eventually giving way to what has always been apparent: 
the fact that they do like each other more than somewhat.

A moment of silence. They move closer.

***

This is a very strong moment from the film, a purely visual moment, and it began as words on a page written by Ernest Lehman.

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In William Goldman's "Adventures In The Screen Trade", he quotes Rosalind Russell as saying, "Do you know what makes a movie work? Moments. Give the audience half a dozen moments that they can remember, and they'll leave the theater happy."

These visual moments, whether they be single images or sequences of images, are one of the most important elements of your screenplay... and often one of the most ignored by screenwriters. Far too many screenwriters believe that the visual part of the film belongs to the director. But the director can only interpret what's on the page. If your script doesn't contain strong visual images which create an emotional response in the audience, the best a director can do is to add a peripheral, unrelated image, which doesn't come from the story or characters. Hollow images which will not emotionally move the audience. You want to create string visuals for your story - but visuals that help to tell the story. When Tearle lifts his hand and it is missing the little finger in THE 39 STEPS we know that he is the villain and our protagonist has allowed himself to be captured - that’s story, but it is also one of the most striking images even put on film.

Film is a collaborative medium, but that collaboration begins with our scripts. If we have not written strong, emotionally charged visuals in our screenplays, it's doubtful that those "moments" necessary for a happy audience will end up in the film. Instead the director or production designer or storyboard artist will create those images, and they may not be the right ones to tell the story. Story is our job. I have no idea whether those images were in BLADE RUNNER or BLADE RUNNER 2049's screenplays, but they seem to undercut the story in both films - making them beautiful to look at, but unlikely to draw a larger crowd to the cinema the way TOTAL RECALL and other more story-based science fiction films did.

The success of your screenplay hinges not only on plotting, characterization, and dialogue; but on your ability to create strong visuals which haunt the audience long after the house lights have removed the shadows from the screen. Visual "moments" which touch a chord with the viewer. A half dozen of those moments, and you've got yourself a movie... which will move the audience.

* Flip Wilson, if you were wondering.


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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 160 pages!

Only $3.99 - and no postage!



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FINAL DRAFT SOFTWARE

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 2018 by William C. Martell


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SCRIPT SECRETS STORE

Script Secret Store SCRIPT SECRETS STORE From Typing Monkey coffee cups to messenger bags to T shirts - everything a screenwriter needs to look sharp while working on that Oscar nomination! Get your Script Secrets Coffee Cup today!

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

ONLINE CLASSES
Visual Class
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

Naked Class NEW! 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!

BOOKSTORE

Every screenwriting book in the world!
SCREENWRITER'S BOOKSTORE
In Association With Amazon.com
From the latest screenwriting book to guides for finding agents and producers... all with at the Amazon.com discount!

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 The Best Nuts & Bolts Screenwriting Book On The Market!

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

CLASSES ON CD

Class CDs 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!