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How many coincidences are you allowed in a script? What's the magic number?

FORD V FERRARI (2019) is over two and a half hours long, but speeds by due to a great story, fantastic racing scenes, and great performances by Matt Damon and Christian Bale. It’s the true story of the 1966 Le Mans race where a disgruntled Henry Ford 2nd (Tracy Letts) hires wild man car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) to build a build a revolutionary racing car in 90 days to be driven by completely anti-social Ken Miles (Christian Bale) in order to get revenge against Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) for using Ford as a tool to get a better deal with his struggling company. Wait, I left out the maverick auto executive who is secretly guiding all of this - Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal). Yeah, sounds complicated, but it’s all about crazy guys who race cars at insane speeds and don’t play well with others. So when there aren’t insane racing scenes, there’s lots of conflict between the crazy creatives who feel the need for speed and are anything but corporate, and the giant corporation that hired them. It’s an exciting film, gritty and realistic (the car wrecks look real rather than CGI), with big juicy dramatic scenes, and I would not be surprised if there were Oscar nominations. No coincidence there..

We’ll get back to FORD V FERRARI in a moment....

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But in a previous racing film, 2001's DRIVEN, the young race car driver hero Jimmy Bly (Kip Pardue) (who?) has become distracted by the fame and business aspects of racing. He's surrounded by money and women like Sophia (who were raised by frogs - really!) (played by swimmer Estella Warren) and endorsement deals and his brother Demille (Robert Sean Leonard) who is training to be Darth Vader (he wears only black and has gone over to the dark side of formula one auto racing). Jimmy Bly needs to learn how to "use the force", so his version of Henry Ford 2nd, Carl Henry (Burt Reynolds), hires Yoda... er, Sly Stallone (playing “Joe Tanto”)... to show him the Zen path to winning races. That sounds even more complicated that FORD V FERRARI!

But even with Sly Stallone’s Yodaesque Tanto helping, hero Jimmy can't keep his head in the race and keeps screwing up. This leads to Jimmy starting the BIG RACE in the last position - his rival Beau Brandenburg (who also took the frog woman away from him) (Played by Til Schweiger) is starting in first position. Can Jimmy win?

In order to get into the lead and go mano-a-mano with rival Beau, our hero Jimmy must pass something like fifty cars which are travelling at speeds up to 200mph. He passes those fifty cars by:

a) Concentrating on his driving & "using the force" to pass other cars.
b) A clerical error puts him in the #2 position.
c) A big wreck takes out all of the other cars except his rival.

Well, if you didn't see the film I'm about to ruin it for you (actually - the film ruins itself... it's from Franchise Films). The answer is c) - there's this Deus Ex Machina crash that leaves hero Jimmy and his rival Beau still standing, and (coincidence #1,954 in this script) also manages to leave Sly Stallone's car unscratched. Talk about luck! Oh, did I forget to mention that due to some other coincidences Stallone also ends up in the race? This film has so many coincidences, it would take a dozen Script Tips to list them all!

So now, the answer to our question about how many coincidences you can have in a screenplay...

Audiences will usually tolerate ONE coincidence - the one that gets the story started. After that, they want everything to make sense. You might slip in another coincidence or two without making them angry, but you're gambling - the audience may begin to wonder why your hero has such good luck.

The worst part about the Deus Ex Crashina in DRIVEN is that it removes any actual drama and suspense from the film. It provides an easy way out instead of making the hero WORK for it. The problem with lucky heroes is twofold:

1) Audiences hate them - they get the rewards handed to them on a silver platter instead of earning the victory.
2) You strip the EMOTIONAL DRAMA from the story! It becomes bland instead of exciting.

We all want to see Rocky work his way up to fighting the Champ... that's an emotional struggle! It tests his character and creates a series of dramatic moments where Rocky must decide if he's good enough to beat the Champ - if he DESERVES to beat the Champ. Rocky goes through some real emotional growth in ROCKY - if we cut from Rocky being chosen to take on the Champ to the big fight at the end we'd be cutting out all of the good scenes! The way DRIVEN cuts out any potential good scenes by having a coincidence take the hero from the back of the pack to the #2 position!

What if DRIVEN and FORD V. FERRARI were in a race against each other? The obvious winner would be...


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But, Bill, in FORD V FERRARI there is also a crash that eliminates some of the competition, why is one crash okay and the other crash a coincidence? I am so glad that you asked.

How do you remove coincidence: Motivation.

Where DRIVEN’s massive car crash is just a plot device that allows our hero to win the race, in FORD V FERRARI the crash is the result of a logical and understandable action. Though the story focuses on the love/hate relationship between Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and Ken Miles (Christian Bale) as they work together to build the perfect race car in 90 days and then attempt to win the 24 hours of Le Mans race (it’s 24 hours of driving - no breaks, so it’s about the car’s endurance and the driver’s endurance), the title of the film gives us the larger stakes. Ford Motor Company is suffering from declining sales and needs a way to be relevant again in the changing times of the 1960s. Ferrari is a sexy luxury car company that *always* wins races, but its cars are too expensive for the average person to afford... so they are having financial problems. When Ford throws together a car in 90 days and then enters it in Le Mans, it’s a joke to Ferrari - not a threat. But Shelby and Miles have created a great car, and found ways to work within the rules and still find crazy creative solutions to problems.

(Example: the brakes overheat on the car and have a habit of failing - not a good thing if you are driving at 200 miles per hour. So they create modular brake assemblies that can be changed in the pits - which no other car has. The race rules say that parts (like tires) can be replaces in the pits... but nobody has ever replaced brakes before. Everyone seems to think that it is against the rules, but it isn’t. This is a great example of characters who don’t play by the rules coming into conflict with the rules and finding a work around - the theme of this film in a way.)

So Ferrari doesn’t see Ford as a threat... until the Ford car driven by Miles starts passing their cars. How is that even possible? Miles is a a couple of laps behind due to some unexpected problems, and uses his skills and break-the-rules insanity to catch up to the Ferrari lead car... in the process, he sets a track record for a lap. Enzo Ferrari is suddenly worried - this Ford car is *faster* than his cars. What if he loses? Ferrari never loses! So Ferrari panics (without ever showing it) and has his drivers take more chances in order to beat the Ford car. But those chances are in cars that have worn out brakes (because they can not change them in the pits, like the Ford car can) and this leads to a crash which helps the Ford car to win.

Because we are given this information along the way, the crash doesn’t seem like a forced coincidental plot point, but like the natural and logical result of characters making decisions based on their motivations. If you were going to lose the race would you take a few chances to try to win? Of course. The break replacement element is a “two-fer” - it shows how our rebellious team of Shelby and Miles find a way to break the rules and get away with it (a great scene) and later it becomes their “superpower” that allows them to avoid crashing and win the race. Because it was set up much earlier, when it pays off it seems natural.

Hey, we will look at setting things up in a moment, but first...


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Some writers think it's okay as long as the coincidences create problems for the hero. But bad coincidences create comedy - when bad things keep happening without reason, you end up with a Buster Keaton film. In Keaton's THE GENERAL he's pursuing a stolen train in another train, and has no end of bad luck. When he sets a cannon on the his train to fire on the stolen train (this is a Civil War movie) he hits a bump and the cannon swings down to aim at *his* train. No matter what Keaton does, it always seems to backfire! We laugh at the character's bad luck - it's so bad it's unrealistic. Bad luck is just as unrealistic as good luck - it's all luck (and not realistic). Whether your coincidences are positive or negative doesn't matter because they're still coincidences!

Again, how do you remove coincidence: Motivation.

A script is like one of those Superballs that just keep bouncing - one bounce creates the momentum for the next - one bounce creates the MOTIVES for the next. So make sure there is a motive for every plot bounce in your script. Trace it back and find out what happened to cause it. If there's a REASON it's not a coincidence, it's what happens as the result of a series of incidents. It's logical. In the Action Screenwriting Book we look at “tennis plotting” - how one incident in your story creates the next under Newton’s Third Law (for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction).

In FORD V FERRARI the event that causes Henry Ford 2nd to plunge a bunch of money into building a race car to win at Le Mans is Enzo Ferrari using him and then insulting him. Ford Motor Company’s sales are sluggish and Henry Ford 2nd is afraid that his father’s company is dying (and maybe it’s his fault) - that gives us the initial motivation that triggers everything else. Lee Iacocca comes up with a plan to make Ford cars “sexy” by winning a big international race. Everyone wants to drive a Ferrari... and if Ford can be the new Ferrari? The first plan is to *buy* Ferrari - they are having financial problems. We get an interesting thematic comparison between Ford’s assembly line approach to building cars and Ferrari’s hand built approach - where one man builds the entire engine himself, and another builds the entire transmission himself. Handcrafted cars. Iacocca makes an offer to Ferrari, and we get back and forth bidding until Ford is making a very generous offer... and Ferrari turns it down! Why? Well, Ferrari was also negotiating with Fiat, and *used* Ford to jack up the price so that Fiat would pay more and have better terms. Enzo Ferrari was *never* going to sell to Ford. Enzo calls Henry Ford 2nd “fat”. This makes Henry Ford 2nd angry - and now he will do anything to beat Ferrari at Le Mans. Motivation! Often coincidence is just not showing the reasons behind the actions. Not showing WHY that Superball bounced in the first place. You have the “pay off” but not the “plant” or “set up”. Things just happen for no reason.


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One of the reasons why FORD V FERRARI is a great movie and DRIVEN is terrible are all of the subtle set ups throughout. You want to set things up in a way that they audience doesn’t realize it is a set up. There’s a great scene between Ken Miles and his young son Peter (Noah Jupe) where they walk down the test track at night and he talks about “the perfect lap” - where the driver becomes the car and every acceleration and brake comes at the absolute perfect moment. It’s the Zen thing from DRIVEN, but explained in a poetic and beautiful way. This is a great father and son scene, and a scene that shows us why Miles loves racing. It’s a freakin’ Oscar worthy speech, too. This scene does so many things in the story - from building the father-son relationship, to making racing more than just driving fast cars, to setting up breaking the one lap record at Le Mans (which is a perfect lap). When we get to that record lap in the race, that scene is filled with reminders of this scene, so that we understand that it’s that perfect lap that he was talking out - he was one with the car and one with the track. No coincidence that he broke the record. The audience doesn’t think “How did he do that?” because it was set up beforehand. He was in the groove!

I mentioned the brakes overheating and giving out, which leads to creating modular brakes that can be swapped out in the pits - which gives them an advantage in the 24 hour race and also shows them finding ways to break the rules and get away with it. But that was also a great set up, that worked in a different way. They discover that the brakes overheat and give out on the test track while Miles is driving the car... and the brakes stop working at high speed. This is a very exciting scene. The “victory” of building a car that can hit 200 miles per hour is clobbered by this set back of - the freaking brakes don’t work and Miles may crash and die! And his son is there watching that day. He may die in front of his son! So we have an exciting and emotional scene as the car is driving at high speed with no brakes on a test course with unbanked corners. The car ends up on fire, and Miles ends up on fire! Because he gets out of the car, he lives... when the car explodes into a fireball. But his son becomes worried from that point on that the brakes will cause a fire that will kill his father. And we are worried about this, too. This is a great plant. It’s the reason why they build the modular brakes, which gives them the advantage in the race at the end... but it also creates suspense for every driving scene in the rest of the movie. When the brakes heat up (they actually begin glowing orange in the film) we worry about fire. This is a great way to take an already exciting racing scene and escalate the conflict. Throughout the Le Mans race, there are times when the brakes need to be swapped out, but that would put them behind - so Miles drives with brakes that might fail at any moment. Suspense! And because we have seen what might happen in this early test track scene, we worry.

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Another great set up connected to this is: when he first gets into the car at Le Mans, he can’t get the door to close. He drives the first lap holding the car door closed. It just won’t latch. When he pulls into the pits, there is no quick way to fix it, other than sledge hammering it shut behind him. He is now stuck in the car. And we know from that early scene where the brakes caught the car on fire that the only reason why he survived is that he could get out of the car. Now he can’t. So this also builds suspense.

Plants not only remove coincidence, they can also create suspense.

Coincidences are arbitrary plotting. Creating a convenience instead of digging in and finding out what would really happen and why and setting it up properly. Of course, even if you removed all of those lucky breaks from DRIVEN you'd still have a BAYWATCH episode on wheels... what's with the music montages and constant shots of girls in short-shorts? FORD V. FERRARI doesn’t have any of that!

The only coincidence an audience will accept is the one that kicks off your story - When Buddy jumps into Mr. Incredible's car, begging to be his side kick, or when Cary Grant signals the Western Union guy in NORTH BY NORTHWEST at the same time the villains have sent a telegram to mysterious spy George Kaplan, or when Bruce Willis shows up to the same Christmas Eve party as Hans Gruber. After that initial coincidence, everything else needs to be motivated. Caused by something. Look at everything in your script and ask yourself: What is the *reason* that this happened? What *caused* this to happen? Trace all of the bounces that Superball makes back to the first bounce. Or trace the tennis ball to the serve.

But skip watching DRIVEN and make sure you see FORD V FERRARI in a cinema - it’s the winner of this race! A big screen movie that puts you right inside a car doing 200 mph, and you feel every curve!

Some of this Tip is used ion a chapter of the GRAND FINALES Blue Book.


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The First Ten Pages Of Your Screenplay Are Critical,
But What About The Last 10 Pages?

Creating the perfect ending to your story! This 100,000 word book shows you how to end your story with a bang, rather than a whimper. Everything from Resolution Order to Act Three Tools to Happy or Sad Endings? to How The Beginning Of Your Story Has Clues To The Ending (in case you were having trouble figuring out how the story should end) to Falling Action to How To Avoid Bad Endings to Writing The Perfect Twist Ending to Setting Up Sequels & Series to Emotional Resolutions to How To Write Post Credit Sequences to Avoiding Deus Ex Machinas, to 20 Different Types Of Ends (and how to write them) and much more! Everything about endings for your screenplay or novel!

Only: $4.99

NO KINDLE REQUIRED! Get the *free* app (any device, except your Mr. Coffee) on the order page on Amazon!




Distilling Your Screenplay!

Loglines, Treatments, Pitching, Look Books, Pitch Decks, One Pagers, Rip-O-Matics?

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 2022 by William C. Martell

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Over 460 pages packed with tips and techniques. How to write a plot twist, the four kinds of suspense (and how to create it), reversals, ten ways to invent new action scenes, secrets and lies, creating the ultimate villain, five kinds of love interests, MORE! CLICK HERE!


Take classes on MP3!


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 8CD worth, plus a workbook, plus a bonus CD.
The 2 Day Class on MP3!

Furious Action Class

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

Available Scripts


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.


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!