Notes: for Screenwriting I and II Professor Evergreen KeeferTHE LEGEND, SUNSET BOULEVARD, REQUIEM, THE JERK, AMERICAN BEAUTY, DOGMA, FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF, THE FIGHT CLUB, SWINGERS, BETTER OFF DEAD, BIG, A BEAUTIFUL MIND, EXCALIBUR, MEMENTO, THE HOURS, OFFICE SPACE, BLADE RUNNER, THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY, TRAINING DAY. Use new ones every semester.
How to Analyze a Dramatic Scene
A good dramatic scene is a microcosm of a good
script. If you have ever been on a movie set, you realize how much time, effort
and MONEY are devoted to each second of filmmaking. You must make every second
count. Write down your central dramatic question and the objective of the scene
and see how they match. What does the scene accomplish? What happens before
and after? You must make the action proceed but you can't resolve the story
or let the audience know the outcome. It's a tease-- like foreplay. You can't
give it all but you have to keep renewing interest and stimulation. The main
difference between a DRAMATIC SCENE and the script is that the scene should
be full of secrets and lies, rich in subtext. People never say exactly what
they want and need-- sometimes they don't even know. Don't do "on the nose"
or literal writing, although you are writing literally in your treatments, query
letters and outlines. As you start to write for real, you must mask and complicate
things, provide roadblocks with humor, insights, lies, secrets, beautiful images--
anything to pull us into this world and its characters. But you should make
sure you are still fulfilling all the dramatic requirements of the scene--
Whose scene is this?
What do they want?
What are their obstacles?
What is the main conflict?
How are characters orchestrated?
How do they appear and disappear?
What happens before and afterwards?
How much time has passed before during and after?
BUT MAKE SURE YOU ENTER SCENE AT THE LAST POSSIBLE MOMENT. Don't write stage play scenes, with literal action from beginning to end. Sequencing is like a stone skipping over a pond. Pick all the best places.
Look at your characters:
Are they consistent, quietly transforming, or having epiphanies?
Are their actions clear and motivated, albeit masked in the subtext?
Does the dialogue reflect the charcter's personalities and motives?
Are you allowing for nonverbal communication?
Do you use action and activity as much as dialogue to tell your story?
Are you overwriting?
Is there any use of dramatic irony? Suspense, mystery, foreshadowing or surprise?
How does this scene relate to the theme?
How plausible is this scene?
Have you done your research if you are dealing with law, government, medicine etc?
If fantasy, have you suspended disbelief in the creation of your world and is your visualization in this scene consistent with the rules you have set up?
S L O W .... We slow down in a scene to zoom into the microcosm of the story. We slow down with Secrets, Lies, Obstacles and Wishes. Is that what you are doing in your scene?
Ideally you come to a workshop with ideas for a scene and a group of professional actors improvise to help you make it more dramatic and realistic. We have no pro actors at SUNY (although we will try to act out scenes as best we can) and the online students are alone in their offices with "inner voices." Therefore you must use your imaginations even more than studio writers and really hear the voices inside your head. You could also use a tape recorder and tape aloud to yourself. Everyone try to write a fabulous scene, a showcase for your script.
The Screenwriter's Personality
I hope you all suffer from multiple personality disorder: The Screenwriter's 10 Personalities: 1) Articulate, confident, collaborative, funny, charming person who gives the pitch, and listens to the producers with respect and patience; 2)The highly literate, grammatically correct, logical, clear, concise writer of the query letter; 3)The imaginative recluse who has the vision and focus to bring her/his world to FD; 4)The logician who can organize all action into a viable, fresh dramatic structure, whether they conform to Hollywood dramaturgy or create a new form of their own; 5) The stand-up comic who can whip out one liners at the right time for the right character, sparing no one and nothing; 6)The psychiatrist who can see into human behavior to create complex, interesting, plausible characters; 7)The musician who can sequence the scenes with just the right rhythm and dynamics, all the while moving the story forward; 8)The workaholic who can meet deadlines and write for ten hours at a time if necessary; 9)The researcher who makes the imaginative world plausible; 10) The serial killer who brings the "evil doers" to life so they have other sides to them besides evil.
Many of you are getting bogged down around midpoint
because your protagonist has not been changing incrementally in relation to
decision, action, plot. If you have ever worked as an actor on a full length
set you know how difficult it is to keep track of the subtle ways your character
changes in each scene, especially when scenes are shot out of sequence, as they
are. If you can visualize your character's body language and behavior as it
reveals and/or hides deep motivations and desires in every scene, you will keep
the flow going and intensify the impact of your plot points. Last night a member
of www.eiconline.org gave a presentation on truth in storytelling as it relates
to addictions, gun control and other social issues. Obviously all naturalistic
dramas should be carefully researched at that URL is a good place to go for
free help in those areas as well as referrals. They also offer awards and fellowships
to writers-- info is on site.
But what intrigued me most about the presentation were the seesaws used to chart the demise of an addict whose brain was slowly hijacked by drugs, whose job, family, interests etc were incrementally replaced by the passion and pathological behavior of a being who craves artificial substances. www.eiconline.org then showed us carefully edited clips of Dr. Carter's demise (from ER) after being stabbed. Lucy dies and he becomes more and more dependent on drugs until his colleagues force him to choose between rehab or expulsion. This transformation was depicted through 4 seesaws. In the beginning, the person has their life, and drugs seem like an exciting enhancement. Slowly the seesaw tips until the life is gone and the drugs take over. You don't have to write about drugs and addictions to use these seesaws. Shakespeare makes brilliant use of the seesaws to show Macbeth's transformation from a triumphant, well respected warlord to a ruthless murderer who becomes King at all costs. Throughout the play the seesaw tips. List all the qualities, quirks, behavior and chemistry of your character at the beginning of the script and then at the end. Draw 4 seesaws and show what changes at II, PP1, Midpoint, PP2 and crisis/climax. The transformation does not have to be meticulously linear-- it can be like a roller coaster ride, but show how it changes.
Links for Research, Contacts and Competitions:
dsiegel.com/film/Film_home.html wordplayer.com/columns/wp32.Plot.Devices.html geocities.com/Hollywood/Academy/5698/adramaturgy.html hollywoodnetwork.com/hn/writing/swls/columns/pov.html hollywoodnet.com/Trottier/idea.html screenwriters.com/Hauge/
1. EXPERT SERIES: Secrets of the Three-Minute Pitch by script
consultant and workshop leader Michael Hauge
The opportunities in Hollywood for 20-minute pitch meetings are fairly rare, especially for newer screenwriters. But as soon as you complete your first screenplay, you'll repeatedly face the challenge of having less than 60 seconds to convince the people in power to read it. Every time you phone an agent or production company to discuss your story or script, you must be prepared to answer the question, 'What's your movie about?' Your response will often make the difference between getting rejected and getting your material read.
The recent advent of pitch marts has further increased both the
opportunities to market your work and the competition you face, making the need
for a succinct, powerful, 1- to 3-minute pitch imperative. So! here are the
best techniques for convincing an agent, manager or executive that your script
is worth considering, plus a free bonus tip at the end:
~~ Secret #1: ESTABLISH A RELATIONSHIP WITH THE BUYER
Prepare for your pitch by thoroughly researching the people you're approaching. Using the web, your contacts, the Hollywood Creative Directory- Producers guide, the Spec Screenplay Sales Directory and the biographies in the pitch mart catalogues, learn as much as you can about your buyers' backgrounds and film credits. When you first meet an agent, manager or production company executive, briefly acknowledge him for what he's done -- or at least what his company has produced or whom they represent. Thank him for giving up his Saturday to be at a pitch mart, or his willingness to take your call. Tell him how much you liked a specific film his company was involved in. Better yet, ask a question that shows you really liked it, and aren't just being polite: 'Before we begin, I have to ask you something. You know that moment in ICEPICK IN THE EYE where she slaps the killer even though he's holding a jackhammer? Was that scripted, or did the actress improvise it?' Risk sharing something genuine about yourself as well -- your passion for writing, or how much getting to share your story with him means to you (more about this later). I know of many situations where people were persuaded to read a script that didn't sound all that good just because they felt a connection to the writer. It doesn't matter WHY they want to read it, only that they do.
~~ Secret #2: SHARE YOUR PASSION!
When I coach writers and filmmakers on their pitches, both one-on- one and in my seminars, this is the skill ! I focus on more than any other. You can't possibly expect a manager or producer to get enthusiastic about your project if you're not. Yet, I've heard pitches that sound more like grocery lists than something the writer or filmmaker wants to devote years of his life to. Why is your story burning a hole in your soul? Why does it simply HAVE to be told? Why does it have special meaning for you? And why will audiences flock to see it? Does it explore themes the world needs to hear? Does it grow out of your own personal pain, or longing, or ideals? Is it the type of film that made you want to be a screenwriter? Maybe you love this screenplay simply because your mission in life is to scare the shit out of people, or to make them laugh so hard that snot comes out their noses. Fantastic! Passion is contagious. I've known of many stories whose ! plots sounded like two hours at the DMV, but the writers were clearly so excited by them that an agent said, 'OK, let me take a look.' Passion is also the best possible means of establishing a relationship with your buyer (see #1 above). The people who areturned on by what they do are the fun ones to hang out with, the ones we all want to support and attach ourselves to. They're also the ones who get deals
.~~ Secret #3: DON'T TRY TO TELL YOUR STORY!
By far the biggest mistake most writers make is to try to cram an entire plot into a three-minute pitch, rather than emphasizing only
those elements that will captivate an executive. The writers take up too much of their listeners' time, and (at a tightly timed pitch mart) they get cut off with no remaining opportunity to get the
buyers' reactions, or even to reveal the good stuff about their scripts. Be clear about your objective: to persuade the person in power to read your script. That's it.
~~ Secret #4: ELICIT EMOTION
As I repeatedly emphasize in my book, tape and seminars, audiences go to the movies to FEEL -- to participate emotionally in the
story. It's no different with a development executive hearing your pitch. You must convey the elements of your story that will give her an emotional experience (or at least the promise of one). If your
buyer believes that reading your script will make her pulse race, her eyes tear up or her heart swell, she'll want to read it. Emphasize the CONFLICT in your story. Whatever your hero is
trying to do, tell the listener why that seems impossible. It might be the brilliant cunning and awesome power of your villain (as in 'Red Dragon' and 'Spiderman'), the fact that your hero's background
never prepared her for the challenges she faces ('Erin Brockovich' and 'Legally Blonde'), or the sheer emotional terror your hero feels over leaving the comfort of her identity in order to find love, passion
and fulfillment ('Titanic' and 'Sleepless in Seattle').It's the anticipation of your hero facing insurmountable obstacles that will keep the audience, and the buyers, wanting more.
~~ Secret #5: EMPHASIZE THE KEY TURNING POINTS
Just because you're not taking the listener scene-by-scene through your entire plot doesn't mean you won't reveal anything that happens.WHAT IS YOUR HERO'S SITUATION AT THE BEGINNING OF THE FILM?
What is her everyday life like before the story gets rolling? What is the unusual, interesting or compelling world she occupies? What is the unusual, interesting or compelling world she occupies?
What wound from the past is she still, consciously or subconsciously, struggling to resolve? Most importantly, how will this introduction to your hero create empathy and identification with her?
WHAT OPPORTUNITY IS YOUR HERO OFFERED BY PAGE 10, AND WHAT NEW WORLD OR SITUATION DO WE NOW ENTER?
Is he taken away to a school for wizards ('Harry Potter')? Or does she meet a young man who offers a relief from her dead-end life ('The Good Girl')?
WHAT SPECIFIC, VISIBLE DESIRE GROWS OUT OF THIS SITUATION ANDDEFINES YOUR STORY CONCEPT?
In other words, what finish line are we rooting for your hero to cross by the end of the film?
WHAT MAJOR SETBACK WILL THE HERO FACE AT THE END OF ACT 2?
Does he break up with his true love, or does he discover the psychotic killer isn't really dead after all and is coming after his family?
Again, don't try to reveal ALL of these; pick the ones you can succinctly convey that will elicit the greatest curiosity and anticipation in your buyer. And notice I didn't include revealing the climax of your story.
If they want to know how it ends, make 'em read it.
~~ SECRET #6: THINK LIKE A BUYER
As she hears your pitch, every buyer is silently asking the same question: 'Can I sell this?' The more commercial potential your script has, the better your chances of getting it read. So be prepared to mention antecedents -- box office successes that are
similar in genre, tone, theme or style. And describe your heroin such a way that your story's appeal to bankable stars will be apparent.
~~ SECRET #7: ASK THEM TO READ IT
This may sound obvious, but most writers end their pitches by just letting them fizzle out, and then wait awkwardly to see if their listeners realize they're done. My favorite exit line for any pitch is to say, 'So would you like me to send you a copy, or do you have some questions about the story?' This gives them two options, both good for you. This is also why you NEVER want your pitch to exceed three minutes -- and why one minute is even better. You have to leave time for them to discuss the story with you. And if it's not a story they're interested in, you still have time to ask if they'd like to hear the other project you're working on.
~~ SECRET #8: NEVER TELL YOUR ENTIRE STORY! I know I already used
this one, but believe me, you needed to hear it again.
~~ SECRET #9: PRACTICE
Once you've formulated your pitch, rehearse, rehearse, rehearse! Try it out on friends, members of your writers group, other writers at the pitch mart, and your inflatable doll. Know it well enough that it will sound natural and conversational, rather than
memorized. Don't be afraid to use notes, but never read your pitch. Passion and dry recitation are mutually exclusive. And don't worry about nervousness. The fact is, you're going to be nervous. This phone call or meeting is an important opportunity for
you, you have a lot riding on it, you're way outside your comfort zone, and you feel like the buyer holds all the power. So nervousness is natural. But here's an extra little secret: NOBODY ! CARES! The people hearing your pitch have heard a thousand stories, mostly from scared writers, and the truth is, they just don't give a shit. I've heard all kinds of reasons for rejecting projects in my
career, but never once have I heard an executive say, 'What a greatstory! That movie would make a hundred million bucks! But unfortunately, the writer was so nervous we had to pass.'
~~ ADDED BONUS SECRET: HOW TO BEGIN YOUR PITCH
The most difficult moment in the meeting will usually be right after you've had some brief personal interchange to acknowledge the listener and establish some connection. Then there'll be an awkward pause, nobody will say anything, and you'll be wondering, 'Should I start? Dive right in? Ask their permission? Wait for them to say go? Go home and become a pharmacist like my mother wanted?' This makes it tough to overcome your own nervousness and pull them into your story. So now I'm going to share my favorite way of opening your pitch: Don't wait for the buyer to do anything. Once the introductory connection is made, simply say, 'Let me begin by telling you how I came up with this story.' Then tell the buyer what led you to write your screenplay. This accomplishes many of your objectives: it puts you in control of the meeting; it reveals the commercial, artistic and thematic elements that make your story strong and unique; it pulls the listener into the story in the same way you were drawn to it in the first place; and by the time you hit the key character elements and turning points of your plot, it gets the buyer fully involved in your pitch. Best of all, this is a powerful way to immediately convey the mostimportant element of all: your! passion for your story.