WEDNESDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:
ARE THOSE REAL?
In SUNSET BLVD screenwriter Joe Gillis becomes the gigolo for a fading Hollywood movie star and gets to live in a mansion and have all kinds of adventures and winds up shot dead and probably on the front page of both Variety *and* Hollywood Reporter above the fold. Um, that kind of stuff has never happened to me. Mostly, I sit in coffee shops and write all day - it's kind of boring. In fact, it's *really* boring. Even though everyone says we're supposed to "write what we know" there are very few Hollywood films about screenwriters, and the ones that exist seem to feature murders and hot babes and all kinds of things that are not someone sitting in a chair typing all day. Though I may think Hollywood is Hell, in BARTON FINK it really is Hell.
Movies are not reality, they are fantasy.
Of course, there are different levels of reality even in the fantasy of film. A teenager in SPIDER-MAN can climb up walls and shoot webs and battle evil mutant super villains. A teenager in SUPERBAD can go on some crazy odyssey and encounter all kinds of completely strange people and situations just to get the booze to crash the party to get laid. And a teenager in ADVENTURELAND has to work a boring job and deal with very real situations and very real people in order to find love. All three movies are about teenagers in high school and deal with love, romance, and sex... but all have very different levels of reality...
And none are reality. They are all still fantasy. ADVENTURELAND takes place over a summer vacation, but it does not take three months to watch it. As that title card says on TV before a movie, it's been condensed for time. We don't get to see everything that happens over those three months, and characters may be composites and scenes may have been created for dramatic purposes. Our job as a screenwriter is to make things seem real, even if our story is about a teenager with super powers fighting a guy with mechanical octopus tentacles. We don't deal in reality, we deal in the *appearance* of reality. Actors play the roles, read the lines, and there are hundreds of crew members just off screen, and, well, we *created* the story and character and dialogue... but we never want the audience to think they are only watching a movie - we want them to believe the things happening up there on screen are *real* - even if they know what they are watching is impossible.
ADVENTURELAND is a *realistic* story, even though it is still a fantasy some writer made up. The film is a coming of age story, not a crazy Apatow stoner comedy; though it's *still* a comedy and makes sure there are plenty of laughs. Reality is not this funny, but this is a *movie*, not reality. The hero's crotch punching ex-best friend is always doing something funny and just plain wrong, and Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig manage to be funny and still remain "real" characters. One of the elements of comedy is exaggeration, and the more you exaggerate characters and situations the less "real" they become. Massive exaggeration leads to farcical characters and situations like the high school characters in those SCARY MOVIE movies, slight exaggeration produces the crotch punching best friend and the other funny characters in ADVENTURELAND. How many people do you know who greet you by punching you in the crotch? Okay, if you *did* know someone like that, would you still want to know them? And how often would they actually punch you in the crotch? Not every time you saw them, right? By slightly exaggerating this character, they are both "realistic" and entertaining. There is enough comedy to keep that SUPERBAD audience watching - because a script needs to be entertaining. It's still a fantasy that we spend $11.50 to experience, even if it seems like something that might really happen.
The difference between a "realistic" screenplay and one that is not "realistic" is the difference between whether Joe Gillis is driving on a busy freeway or a main drag like Sunset Blvd or some side street you've never heard of. The freeway is all about getting you there quickly, and there is no scenery to look at - just cement sound walls. There's some scenery on Sunset Blvd, but you have to go with the flow of traffic and see it in your peripheral vision. On some side street, there's no traffic and plenty to look at and you can cruise at your own rate and take in the sights. A "realistic" script doesn't seem to be in any rush to reach the destination (although it still gets there) and allows you to spend some time sight seeing (though you'd be surprised to know how many of those "sights" are important landmarks steering you to your destination). A "realistic" script seems like it's taking it's time, a script that is not "realistic" is all about getting there.
In ADVENTURELAND James (Jesse Eisenberg) has to skip his summer Europe trip and get a job when his parents run into hard times. Before the hard times, his family was upper middle class, so James has never had a real job... his resume consists of editing his school literary magazine and mowing a neighbor's lawn when he was a kid... Which means he ends up working at a crappy theme park where he learns just about everything important in life. Oh, and it's a comedy so he's also trying to get laid.... since he is branded with "The Scarlet V".
James would like to work Rides, where the cool kids work... but ends up working Games with all of the other social misfits. There he meets uber-geek Joel (Martin Starr) and troubled Em (Kristen Stewart) ... and they become the three musketeers of the rigged games at the theme park. This isn't a "wish fulfillment" movie where the geek gets what he dreams of, he gets the worst thing he can imagine. He doesn't want to work a summer job in the first place, and he doesn't want to work at the theme park... but he *really* doesn't want to work games. If there is a best case scenario available, this script does the other thing.
And that is one of the elements of creating realism in your script - remove the "wish fulfillment" elements and focus on the everyday bad things that happen. "Hollywood movies" give us clean, pretty, good things happening... "realistic movies" make everything worn out and a little ugly and complicated. Em is not the idealized hot chick at the park, she's the moody girl with all kinds of problems both known and unknown, and if James hooks up with her those problems may end up half his. She is not some fantasy woman like the girl in SUPERBAD, she's a mess. That adds realism.
In a standard romantic comedy, after the couple has been brought together, something pulls them apart. Often it's another person, a "Bellamy" - a fiance who is solid and dependable and dull. ADVENTURELAND does a great job in showing us that James and Em have a lot in common, so that we think they should become a couple by the end of the film... but then they make Em's moodiness and unknown problems one of the main things that drives them apart. She is not an easy person to love. She is not idealized as the love interest might be in some less realistic film. Instead of taking the freeway and making Em the perfect match for James, we take a side street - she's no one's fantasy girlfriend... she's a real person with all kinds of messy real problems.
Even though James and Em may not seem like they have much in common socially, they seem to be at the same place in life at the same time... and a relationship begins to build. James may be able to lose that Scarlet V if he plays his cards right. Even though this is a "realistic" story, we never lose track of the goal and the story. We are taking side streets but still on course for our destination.
Ryan Reynolds plays studly rides repair guy Connell, who becomes Mentor and Friend and... antagonist... to James. Instead of making Connell a Bellamy who gets in the way of James and Em, he is James' mentor and teaches him how to deal with women and romance... Making the guy who is helping James hook up with Em the same guy who is preventing James from hooking up with Em. That creates a confusing relationship between the two, which is realistic. Most scripts would have the mentor and antagonist be two different characters, because that's "cleaner" - you know who is wearing the black hat and who is wearing the white hat. But ADVENTURELAND combines Darth Vader and Obi Wan Kenobi, and Connell is neither good nor bad - he's a real person. James and Connell will not be fighting to the death with light sabers - instead they will take the side streets and we will get a low key confrontation.
Instead of just giving is the exterior of Connell, we continue to get more and more information about the character, peeling back layer after layer until we see the things that make him the antagonist are the demons he is struggling with every day. The more we understand about the antagonist, the more realistic the story becomes. There are no clear solutions in real life, so creating a story with no clear solutions helps make your script seem real. Connell is rumored to have once jammed with Lou Reed. He's married to a hot waitress at the local night club, and all of the gals think he's dreamy. What's interesting about this character is that he might have easily become just a good looking villain, but instead he becomes a tragic figure by the end. When you feel sorry for the antagonist, that's a great movie! That's also "realistic" - the character is not just some two dimensional jerk, the story digs deeper than that and shows various layers of Connell. Realistic characters are not all good or all bad, they are shades of gray.
ADVENTURELAND is deceptively well written - it seems like things happen naturally, just like in real life, and seems there is no larger plot... except every single scene in the film is there for a reason and every character and moment are actually leading somewhere. This script is so tightly written, so precise, that you can not see any of the plot points. They are there, and once we get to the end of the film, those little moments you thought were throw aways are revealed to be important parts of the overall plot.
For instance, the hottest girl working at the theme park is Lisa P (Margarita Levieva), every guy wants to sleep with her. She knows she's hot. She shoots down guys right and left. There's a little throw away scene where James and Lisa P have a conversation at work. It seems like one of those small, natural, not plot oriented scenes.
Every guy in the park - both employees and customers - hits on Lisa P... but James asks about her parents. She tells him about her dad, who lost his job and is depressed. The conversation has this great built in suspense, because James is a major dork and will eventually blurt out something stupid. He's terrible with women. His awkwardness is funny (and this situation is designed for humor as well as character, it just *seems* like it is only about character). Even if James doesn't say something stupid, Lisa P *knows* she's hot and *knows* James is a dork, and she will probably just shoot him down for practice. As they keep talking about Lisa's dad, the audience keeps waiting for James to say something stupid or Lisa to realize she's talking to a loser...
And that tension is entertaining.
What they are talking about is their parents, their relationships with their parents, and themselves. It's all about character. And the most amazing thing about this scene and a few others between the two characters is that Lisa P's dad is a very real character in this film - even though we never see him. The scene seems casual - something that just happens by accident, but the Lisa P. character exists for a reason. The writer *created her* and *created this scene* for a reason that has nothing to do with small talk about their parents.
The scene seems like a throw away, but it really is all about the plot - it secretly sets up romantic possibilities between the dork and the hot chick. The key to a realistic scene is that it's not about what it's about. We think the scene is there to serve one purpose - or maybe seems to serve no purpose at all - but it has a secret mission. That throw away scene is *planned* and is not what it appears to be at all. The romantic possibilities between James and Lisa P throw a major curveball into the story and the relationship between James and Em.... this little scene creates a *major* change in the story... but we won't know that until later.
This scene, and all of the dialogue in it, moves the story forward, is entertaining, and reveals character big time. The film is deceptive - you think it's just a collection of scenes, but really it is tightly plotted and even the smallest moment is there for a reason.
What isn't said in a film is another way to create realism. There's a scene with James and his father after James gets drunk and in big trouble... where the father says nothing, but he is the focus of the scene. Instead of some Hollywood speech, we get a meaningful silence. Another great scene has James and Joel in his backyard while the kid is mowing the lawn with some important things are not discussed, but are still in the scene. Hollywood films feel the need to spell everything out, but to give the appearance of realism you can leave some things implied and unsaid... just using the situation you have created to get the information to the audience.
IS THAT REAL?
To create the appearance of realism, you will need conflicted, layered characters who are not all good or bad but a combination of both; with problems that we understand. Not end of the world problems, but serious problems. The script is about the most important event that has ever happened to the character - for Peter Parker that involves fighting Doc Oc or Green Goblin, for James in ADVENTURELAND it's the summer that changed his life forever, the summer where he learned all of those things he never really wanted to learn. The problems may seem small scale, but they are the ones that really matter to him. The story will be more character driven, but that does not mean it wanders aimlessly from scene to scene or that scenes have no purpose - the scene with James and Lisa P. *appears* to have no purpose but is secretly to further the plot. The pacing is casual,
no hard deadlines like that party they are racing to attend in SUPERBAD... but James is trying to lose his virginity by the end of summer. That is not an urgent deadline, but he'd like to get the virginity problem solved before going off to college. The dialogue will include misunderstandings and might get sidetracked by something (that will probably pay off later on). Scenes are not obviously conflict driven, and probably deal with small needs and minor conflicts... but nothing is pressing the scene to a conclusion or decision. The story will have twists and unexpected events that make it seem less linear, less like taking the direct route on the freeway and more like taking those scenic side roads. Writing a script that seems real requires careful planning... that doesn't show up on the page.
There's some dried puke over there, could you clean it up?
All About Endings!
GRAND FINALES Blue Book!
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The First Ten Pages Of Your Screenplay Are Critical,
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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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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!
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THE BOOK THAT STARTED IT ALL!
*** THE SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING *** - For Kindle!
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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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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!
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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!
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*** 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.
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I WRITE PICTURES!
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*** 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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*** DIALOGUE SECRETS *** - For Kindle!
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