WEDNESDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:

DEUS EX CRASHINA!


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

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In DRIVEN the young race car driver hero has become distracted by the fame and business aspects of racing. He's surrounded by money and women (who were raised by frogs - really!) and endorsement deals and a brother who is training to be Darth Vader (he wears only black and has gone over to the dark side of formula one auto racing). The Hero needs to learn how to "use the force", so his manager Burt Reynolds hires Yoda... er, Sly Stallone... to show him the Zen path to winning races.

But even with Sly Stallone helping, the hero can't keep his head in the race and keeps screwing up. This leads to the hero starting the BIG RACE in the last position - his rival (who also took the frog woman away from him) is starting in first position.

In order to get into the lead and go mano-a-mano with the rival, the hero 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 haven't seen 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 the hero and his rival still standing, and (coincidence #1,954 in this script) also manages to leave Sly Stallone's car unscratched. Talk about luck!

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!

GOOD COINCIDENCE & BAD COINCIDENCE

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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!

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.

Coincidences are arbitrary plotting. Creating a convenience instead of digging in and finding out what would really happen and why. Of course, even if you removed ALL of the lucky breaks from DRIVEN you'd still have a BAYWATCH episode on wheels... what's with those music montages and constant shots of girls in short-shorts?

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.


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