WEDNESDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:

YOU CAN'T DO THAT IN A MOVIE!


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Imagine a professional script reader. He or she may get paid as little as $45 a script (unless they are an intern, then they get paid nothing), but let's say they get paid $50 a script... and have to read 3 scripts a day, Monday through Friday, to pay rent and expenses every month. So they drive over to the producer's office once a week and grab 15 screenplays. Now they have this stack of scripts on their desk waiting for them to read them... and they *must* read three scripts a day. And the producer they work for makes action & thriller films, so all 15 screenplays will be in the same genre, and have lead roles for movie star types (imagine they are all aimed at Nic Cage and Keanu Reeves if you want), and all of them can either be filmed in Vancouver or Prague. (You can make them all rom-coms that are perfect for Sandra Bullock, if you'd like... or horror scripts that are all perfect for that Buffy chick - whatever producer this reader works for will probably specialize in a genre and the scripts they get will reflect this.) Okay, now that reader gets halfway through the week and has read 9 of the scripts and they all seem about the same. The big problem is that no matter how good script #10 is, it's going to seem like the same old thing... seem like the other 9 scripts they have already read and the five scripts they will read next and all of the other scripts they have read that year. There is nothing new under the sun. We've seen it all before.

So how do you wake up that reader? How do you make your script stand out (aside from great writing and great characters and great everything else)?

One of my tricks is to shock the reader by doing something you just can't do in a screenplay. Something you just can't do in a movie. Something that breaks all of the unwritten rules. Something that is just plain wrong. I'm not talking about playing with format, I'm talking about things that are forbidden to do in mainstream *stories*.

In NIGHT HUNTER I introduced the female lead, a reporter for a tabloid newspaper like the Weekly World News, set her up as sarcastic and funny and the perfect foil for our male lead - who was the last of the vampire hunters, on the run from the police who had falsely accused him of being a serial killer (?); and when he hijacks her and her rental car during a police chase, we all know what happens next. We've seen Hitchcock movies and all of the knock offs, we've seen THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR, we've seen enough movies to know she will think he's guilty for a while and then see evidence that he's innocent and reluctantly help him and they will fall in love and by the end of the film he will be proven innocent and no longer be on the run, and they will walk off together holding hands. Except at the end of the car chase, at the beginning of Act 2, the police shoot her and kill her. She is *dead*. Wait, you can't do that in a movie!

TAKEN TO THE EXTREME

Buy Taken one disk

The third TAKEN movie is playing at my dollar cinema, and I saw it last night... Why was the original a hit?

The great thing about the surprise hit TAKEN (2009) is that it is constantly doing things you can not do in a movie - and that element of shock and surprise is probably what made it connected with the audience. The ticket buyers are just like that studio reader - they get tired of watching the same completely predictable movie every Friday night, and want to see something that is the same, but different. Something that fits in a popular genre, but does unexpected things within that genre.

Liam Neeson is one of those actors with a foot in serious drama and the other foot in the DARKMAN costume - I think he likes movies like TAKEN. Great that he's playing the lead, here, because it turns a pretty much by-the-numbers revenge film into something better. It's not a great film by a long shot, but imagine if they had cast Ah-nuld (oh, wait, they did and called in COMMANDO). Neeson brings not only acting to the role, but *attitude* - he can be serious and playful at the same time. When Neeson is torturing somebody, his taunts are light and amusing.

Neeson is a divorced dad who seldom saw his daughter while she was growing up, and now that she's almost an adult, he has retired and put his life on hold to try to make amends. They get the divorced dad thing right - it's messy, with all kinds of unresolved issues. There is no happy ending - family gets back together feel in this film - this is a family torn apart and it's going to stay that way. Neeson has never missed her birthday, and is stressing over her birthday gift - a karaoke machine. He reads over the specs and keeps going back to the electronics store - showing that he's a guy who is all about the details and thinks through everything. When he wraps the gift, he carefully creases the corners of the wrapping paper - making them perfect. He is Mr. Precision.

At the birthday party we meet Neeson's ex-wife (Famke Janssen) who has married a millionaire (played by completely underrated brilliant actor Xander Berkeley) - the party is at this mansion with heavy security. Neeson wants to give the gift to his daughter personally, but security wants him to put it in the assigned place. He is a complete outsider here, and they seem to be doing everything they can to get him to turn around and go home. But he gets past them, because he's clever and determined (already setting up character traits that will be used later) and finds his daughter and ex-wife. Ex-wife is still needling him, and *she* wants him to put the gift in the assigned place. He refuses, and has his daughter (Maggie Grace) open the gift in front of him.

I know the director, not sure his cut is a salespoint

Now, we expect this to be the greatest gift ever, because he has spent so much time and effort selecting it... but the great thing about TAKEN is that again and again it does the unexpected. A boom box - because she wants to be a singer. Janssen snipes that she wanted to be a singer years ago... but Grace gives him a big hug anyway... and then Berkeley comes in with his gift - a Thoroughbred horse! She goes crazy, runs to the horse... leaving Neeson's gift on the ground. Heart breaker. Major heart breaker. That's not what happens in a movie - in a movie the daughter is supposed to love her father's cheap gift most of all, right? In a movie, love wins over money, right? Um, not here.

The most OTN scene in the film is the barbeque with Neeson's ex-spy guys. It's a huge exposition dump disguised as guy banter - but the banter isn't funny enough to make it work. At the end of the night they ask Neeson if he'd like to do some security work with them - these ex-spies now guard rock stars for a living. Neeson has always said no, but says yes this time... and helps guard this Shakira-like singer at a concert. Before the concert, he tells the singer that his daughter wants to be a singer and does she have any advice... and she just *slams* him. Again, in the Hollywood version she might have given some advice or at least not been so brutal. But when this movie comes to a situation where the standard Hollywood movie would have something nice happen, they do the exact opposite.

After the concert, when they are hustling the singer off stage, someone opens a door and a bunch of fans charge at her. The rest of the guys control the flood of fans, while Neeson gets the singer to her waiting car... but someone is waiting in the dark with a knife and attacks. Another unexpected event - we thought this was all about the fans, not an attack on the singer with the fans as the diversion. Neeson is prepared, takes down the attacker, stomps him, and gets the singer to the car and the car the hell out of there... in almost one fluid move. This guy is a badass!

Now the bitchy singer thaws and gives Neeson a business card with all of her contact info, and says if his daughter really can sing, she'll do everything she can for her. Neeson realizes this is something rich stepfather Berkeley can't do for his daughter - the business card is his big chance to connect with her. He arranges to have lunch with her, no ex-wife to ruin everything... but when Grace shows up, so does Janssen. But no matter what his ex-wife says, it can't beat the business card, right? Maybe it's *good* that Janssen showed, he can kind of rub her nose in it... But before he can get to the business card, his daughter asks a favor - she wants to spend the summer in Paris with her friend, and because she's under 18, needs Neeson's signature on a permission slip. The summer Neeson was going to spend getting closer to his daughter? She's going to be in Paris. The whole conversation turns to allowing his 17 year old daughter to go to another country - where she could get into all kinds of trouble. The business card - which is what we expected the scene to be about - is forgotten.

YOU CAN NOT BE SAVED

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When Grace and her friend get to Paris, they split a cab with a cute guy... and Grace discovers that the relatives of her friend they were supposed to be staying with are on vacation for the summer - so it's just two boy-crazy girls in a Paris apartment. While she's on the phone to Neeson, admitting that there is no adult supervision - some guys break into the flat and grab her friend. It's sudden and unexpected and the struggle knocks over half the furnishings. Neeson tells her to find a bedroom and hide under the bed, then talks her through what will probably happen. We are sure that ex-spy dad will be able to save her by phone - because we've seen that he's a badass, and this is his cute underaged daughter.

But instead, he says: "You will be taken". Hey, we though ex-spy dad would have some sort of plan to prevent that from happening! Nope. It's inevitable. The guys come into the bedroom, do a search, and leave without finding her... we are sure she's safe! Then - YANK - someone grabs her feet and pulls her from under the bed. That's not what's supposed to happen in a movie! In a movie, the bad guys don't win!

She screams, one of the badguys finds the phone, Neeson makes his threat... and the phone is *smashed*.

But Neeson has recorded the phone call, takes the recording to one of his ex-spy buddies for analysis. Now, when they introduced all of these guys, I was sure they would end up part of the movie later on... but they don't. The guys were played by recognizable character actors, so you think they will come back later in the story, Nope, This is it. One of the guys uses voice print technology and finds out that these guys are from Albania and even the exact village, based on their accent. Neeson packs his bags and jets to Paris to kick some Albanian ass.

Oh, and there's a great bit of unexpected plotting here - two *wealthy* American girls are kidnaped. So, when the girls are kidnaped, we immediately think there will be a call to Xander Berkeley with a ransom demand. But there is no call. After being lead to believe this will be about ransom, it's not. It's a "white slave" ring - kidnaping tourist girls, getting them hooked on drugs, forcing them to work as prostitutes. Not what we expected. After setting up how rich Berkeley is for the first third of the film, the story does something else. That's the thing I liked most about this film - whenever you thought you knew what would happen next, they did something you'd never expect.

YOUR DAUGHTER IS A WHORE

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These nasty Albanian kidnappers can turn a carefree American girl on vacation into a drugged out whore in 96 hours - which gives us a ticking clock. Neeson must find his daughter and rescue her... before she has been emotionally injured in ways she will never recover from. That's a ticking clock with major consequences, and not only makes us care about Neeson, it gives him license to be brutal... because they are going to brutalize his daughter in ways we'd rather not think of. What if they *do^ turn her into a drug addicted whore before he can get to her?

We get a couple more fairly clever scenes - one where Neeson walks through the Paris flat while listening to the phone call recording and matching destruction to sound. This helps him find clues in the flat. He finds the bedroom his daughter hid in, finds the smashed cell phone... and pulls out the chip. Takes the chip to a prints digital photos in some shopping area, and clicks through all of the cell phone photos his daughter took - including one of the two girls taken by the cute guy - and Neeson finds a reflection of the cute guy, blows it up, prints it...

And starts up the ladder of bad guys until he gets his daughter back.

Every time you think he's finally found her, he hasn't. We keep coming to that end scene where he kicks down a door, kills a bunch of scumbags, and rescues her... only she isn't there. She's been sold to somebody or transferred or moved, and Neeson must start all over again.

There are many more completely unexpected things: A scene where he begins bothering a streetwalker to flush out her Albanian pimp - you expect Neeson to kick the pimp's ass and force him to give information... but he just apologizes and leaves... after planting a bug on the pimp.

A scene where he's kicking ass in a make-shift whorehouse at a factory - blankets hung on clotheslines to create rooms - and searches each "room"... spotting his daughter's jacket (set up in earlier scenes) on the floor near a girl with long brown hair (like his daughter's) who has just taken a conga-line of factory workers. You steel yourself for the heartbreak when he turns the girl's face so that he can see it... not his daughter. But a clue to her - the drugged out girl remembers a street name and the *distinctive* color of the door to the building where they got her hooked on heroin.

The best *you can't do that in a movie* scene, the one that everybody talks about (and I will try not to completely spoil) is when Neeson is more or less cornered with another character - a completely innocent character. A character Neeson has a personal relationship with who is not part of this kidnap plot. Someone on Neeson's side, helping him to find his daughter. And, to escape the predicament, Neeson pulls a gun and shoots this innocent person! WTF? You *really* can't do that in a movie. But it does make some sort of warped sense - like that advice on what to do if you and a friend are being chased by a Grizzly Bear - trip your friend. Shooting this completely innocent person creates a diversion which allows Neeson to get his information and get away. He doesn't shoot to kill - he just wounds them. Not even a serious wound. It's completely shocking, though, because this person he shoots is a completely innocent person. You can't just shoot another good guy to get away, can you? Well, not in a movie! Completely unexpected and brutal.

UNEXPECTED VIOLENCE

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The film may be a straight ahead revenge flick, like GET CARTER or POINT BLANK, where the protagonist kills his way up the ladder until he gets to the person ultimately responsible, but even though the story itself is linear the scenes within the story are not. Unexpected things happen, and *anything* can happen. Neeson doesn't win some of the fights, bad things happen to innocent people, and we are often lead to believe one thing will happen in a scene and then the exact opposite happens.

This unpredictability makes many of the scenes seem like they were made up on the spot, but really the opposite is true. These things take planning. As a writer, you either have to know your genre inside out so that you know exactly what the audience expects to happen in any given scene - so that you can do something completely different... or you have to create the expectations in the audience by leading them down the wrong path. Here we are constantly lead astray - after building up how wealthy Xander Berkeley is and dropping all of these clues that the girls were kidnaped for ransom... that's not the case at all! After creating the expectations that Neeson is going to kick everybody's ass - he just walks away from the pimp like an idiot tourist (after planting the bug). After setting up a relationship between Neeson and this innocent person, he shoots them! Screenwriters Besson and Kamen had to create these expectations in order to subvert them. They had to know all along that Neeson would shoot this person so that they could make it seem like that would be the last thing Neeson would ever do.

Whether you are writing a romantic comedy or a drama or a thriller or an action flick, the key to making things seem random and unpredictable is to plan them. To set up one thing with the purpose of doing something else. To create expectations in the audience and then subvert those expectations. If you are working in a genre this becomes easier because the audience has built-in expectations of what happens in that genre. Make a list of audience expectations for the genre you are working in, then find the way to subvert those expectations while still satisfying the needs of the genre. Neeson is still kicking ass and climbing the ladder of bad guys to find and rescue his daughter - the main elements of the genre are all still there - but the *way* he does it ends up being unexpected. When the audience expects the standard method or scene, Neeson ends up doing the opposite. The big picture is the same - he rescues his daughter - but the small picture is unpredictable and unusual.

I LIKE TO KILL

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These shocking scenes don't only wake up readers who have been hypnotized by a million scripts that all do what is predictable, they wake up the audience. The reason why we have Nicole Kidman as a star today is a little Australian film called DEAD CALM and a little scene where she accidentally shoots her cute little puppy with a speargun. You can't kill a dog in a movie! You also can't kill children - in Hitchcock's SABOTAGE (1936) the deep cover terrorist gives his step-son a box to deliver by a specific time. Inside the box is a ticking bomb, but the kid doesn't know that. The kid gets distracted by some street performers and some other things in the big city and ends up wasting time... the whole while suspense builds. We know the bomb is in the box, and we know why it must be delivered by a certain time - that's when it will go off. But, we also know that you can't kill a cute little kid on screen, right? Wrong! Hitchcock believed this so shocked the audience when the film came out that they disliked it. But we are still talking about it today...

And Brian DePalma did a riff on that scene in THE UNTOUCHABLES when a man leaves his bag in a bar and a little kid grabs it and tries to return it to the man. Blam! Shocking way to open a film! And it worked fine - if they'll kill a kid in this film, anyone might die! UNTOUCHABLES was a hit... and they have since remake SABOTAGE. In my NIGHT HUNTER script, I not only killed the female lead, I had a nice little speech by the vampire hunter hero (or anti-hero, as the case may be) about seeing some cute little 5 year old sleeping, probably dreaming of dancing sugarplums, then having to pound a stake into the kid's heart because it's one of them - a vampire - and it will infect hundreds, maybe thousands of other kids if you don't kill it. That was the first scene everyone talked about after reading the script, because they just could not believe I had my lead character killing a child - even a vampire child. That was just shocking! It was the scene that sold the script... and the first scene to be cut once the script had sold. Same thing happened in HARD EVIDENCE when my hero was forced to kill a bad guy, and told his pal he didn't feel guilty about taking another human being's life, he felt... great! It solved his problem forever. The guy was causing him problems, he killed him, no more problems. He felt bad because he did not feel bad. He kind of liked killing the guy. The scene everyone talked about after reading the script, the scene that sold the script, the first scene to go once the script had sold. Gregory Harrison is not going to be enjoying killing people on the USA Network. They had me give that dialogue to his buddy - which wasn't shocking at all.

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Though the scene may be the first thing they cut, it may also be the thing that sells the script. Sometimes you really can't do that in a movie. These shocking and unexpected scenes are not so big that they derail the entire story or subvert the genre so much that the script becomes unsatisfying or even insulting to the audience who loves these films. The script still has to work. Nor should the shocking or unexpected element be just a detail - though having someone's head explode and spray bits of brain and skull and an eyeball or two over a Nun and a baby is shocking (and unexpected), it's also going to land the film an NC-17 rating and create all kinds of problems for the producer. You want the *concept* of the action to be unexpected and shocking, not the details. The bomb blowing up the kid is PG-13, yet still shocking. Describing parts of the kid splattering against a wall is just going too far, and will probably *hurt* your chances of selling the script because the producer may think you are a psycho. You want to make the *idea* of the action what is shocking, not the details.

When you come to a place in your story where every other story in the genre does one thing, do something completely different. Logical, sensible, but unexpected. Set up your story going in one direction so that you can go the opposite way (which still leads to your destination, but takes the road no one has ever taken before). Consider the forbidden - don't just "kill your darlings", kill a cute little puppy while you're at it. Do the things that you just can't do in a movie. Wake up the reader and wake up the audience. Worked for TAKEN.

We also look into this in SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING...



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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!

Only $4.99 - and no postage!


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STORY IS CHARACTER!

*** 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!

Only $4.99 - and no postage!


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TOP DIALOGUE TIPS!

*** 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 $4.99 - 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!