FRIDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:
REVERSALS IN ACTION
You want your action scenes to be exciting and unique -
if you have seen a similar action scene in a script, find a way to make yours different.
I have lists of car chase ideas, hand to hand combat ideas, strange
shoot out ideas, and just about any other kind of action scene that may pop up in a
screenplay. I like to find an action scene that is thematic as well as unique. On my blog a while back
I posted script pages from the car chase in BLACK THUNDER as well as video of the chase itself. The
theme in that script was concealment for purposes of deception, and the action scene featured the
hero hidden in a fruit truck who bursts out from under the mellons and kicks some butt. The scene
was kind of a joke - Roger Ebert always complained that car chases always find a fruit vending cart to
crash into, and I thought it would be funny to do the opposite - have a fruit truck as part of the chase
crashing into things. I had never seen that in a film before, and thought it would be fun to have the
hero use the fruit and mellons as weapons.
But once I came up with a car chase I hadn't seen before, my job has
just begun - now I have to make the chase exciting to read and exciting to watch... and for that I used reversals.
Reversals are like Good News/Bad News jokes
- they keep
action scenes exciting and actually help to infuse action scenes
with emotions by
adding suspense and surprise. In the new version of SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING
I use a scene from RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK as an example of reversals, and in the new "Story In Action: Mission Impossible" book I use the most recent film "Fallout" as an example. When I was a guest speaker at the
Festival a few years ago, I used this scene from ROAD WARRIOR to
reversals work. Here's the set up: Mad Max and the Feral Kid are
in a tanker truck
being chased by all manner of scumbags in dune buggies and pick
* * *
* * *
BAD NEWS: Three scumbags, including the mohawked WEZ, jump
onto the back
of the tanker truck!
GOOD NEWS: Max swerves the tanker, ramming their dune buggies-
trapping them on the tanker truck.
BAD NEWS: Scumbag #1 climbs onto the roof of the truck, fires
through the roof at Max.
GOOD NEWS: It misses.
BAD NEWS: Max has to reload his shotgun.
SUSPENSE: Who will finish reloading first? Max or Scumbag
GOOD NEWS: Max reloads first. Swings his shotgun up to the
BAD NEWS: Scumbag #2 is on the running-board, pokes his gun
truck window right at Max's face!
GOOD NEWS: Max changes aim, BLASTS Scumbag #2 with his
down, two to go!
BAD NEWS: Scumbag #1 has reloaded his crossbow by now...
GOOD NEWS: Max's shotgun is a double barrel... he has another
presses the gun barrel to the roof and FIRES! Blasts Scumbag #1
right off the roof!
BAD NEWS: Mohawked Wez swings his spiked mace through the back
the truck cab... it slices into Max's shoulder. Ouch!
WORSE NEWS: The shotgun is empty. Time to reload!
GOOD NEWS: The Feral Kid BITES Wez. Wez lets go of Max, pulls
out of the
BETTER NEWS: This gives Max time to reload the shotgun.
BAD NEWS: Mohawked Wez swings his mace through the truck's
CRASH, spraying glass!
GOOD NEWS: The spiked mace barely misses Max's face.
BAD NEWS: When Max swings out of the way, he spills the
WORSE NEWS: Onto the hood of the truck, where they begin
rolling to the
EVEN WORSE NEWS: Mohawked Wez swings his spiked mace through
broken front window again, right at Max's face!
GOOD NEWS: Max hits the brakes! Throwing Wez right off the
roof of the
BETTER NEWS: The truck runs over him when Max starts moving
BAD NEWS: While the truck was stopped, more scumbags in dune
up with him.. Including the ultra-badguy, DARK LORD HUMUNGUS
(who wears that
WORSE NEWS: The last of Max's shotgun shells are rolling
around on the hood
of the truck, out of reach.
GOOD NEWS: The Feral Kid is small enough to crawl out of the
window of the
speeding, swerving, truck... onto the hood... where he can crawl
to the very edge of
the hood and grab the shells.
THIS IS GOOD NEWS? Wait a minute! We have watched the
between Max and the Kid grow throughout the movie, the Kid is
like Max's son at this
point. We really care about the kid, and we really don't want to
see him fall off the
edge of the hood and have Max run over him in the truck. This is
BAD NEWS: Dark Lord Humungos zips past the truck in his dune
preparing to block the road.
GOOD NEWS: The Feral Kid climbs to the edge of the hood,
stretches his fingers,
grabs the last shotgun shell.
BAD NEWS: You remember mohawked Wez that Max ran over? Well,
he held on
to the front bumper of the truck. He s climbed up the truck's
grille, and now he
SPRINGS UP and GRABS at the Feral Kid!
GOOD NEWS: The Feral Kid pulls away... back into the truck
BAD NEWS: Without the last shotgun shell!
WORSE NEWS: Mohawked Wez starts to climb up the hood to attack
has no shotgun shells, no weapon, nothing! He is completely
GOOD NEWS: The dark Lord Humungus is speeding RIGHT AT THE
his dune buggie.
WAIT A MINUTE! How can this be GOOD NEWS? Well, mohawked Wez
is still on
the truck's front bumper.
IMPACT! Mohawked Wez is CRUSHED! The Dark Lord Humungus'
is SMASHED to bits!
GOOD NEWS: All of the badguys are killed!
BAD NEWS: After running into the dune buggie the truck goes
out of control and
overturns, spilling all of it's precious cargo!
See how the Good News/Bad News aspect of reversal works?
ask a question: will Max get the shotgun reloaded before Scumbag
#1 gets his
crossbow reloaded? Then giving you an answer that creates a brand
Max gets the shotgun loaded first, but Scumbag #2 aims his gun
through the window
at him. The new question is: will he be shot by Scumbag #2? Each
solution creates a
brand new problem. A reader can't put the script down - there's
unanswered question, and unsolved problem. Before the reader
happening they have been drawn into the protagonist's problems.
They are hooked!
* Here's another example, the opening scene from THE MATRIX.
* Here's another example, an action scene from THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT.
Though this Script Tip focuses on action scenes, the tool of Reversals works in every genre - comedies often use
reversals in scenes, as do thrillers and rom-coms and dramas and science fiction and fantasy films and traditional
nudist westerns and westerns where they wear more than just spurs and hats and sports films and superhero movies
and dark comedies and musicals and... well, Reversals are one of the great tools to keep a scene interesting and
exciting and unpredictable. You can use Reversals in *dialogue scenes* too - by leading the audience to believe
one thing and then twisting it into something else. Misunderstandings in dialogue are a form of reversals.
Often the difference between a good screenplay and a great one is in the details - the small things. Just
telling the story is step one, you need to make every single moment of that screenplay exciting and interesting
and involving, and reversals are a great tool for that.
Note: This scene was "edited" for the tip, the actual scene is much much longer and contains even more reversals!
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