Thursday, June 17, 2010

Another Way to Write a Screenplay



For the unfamiliar, a "reveal" in screenwriting parlance is the placement of key, revelatory information in a story. Most times, the last reveal is the most important revelation of all.

FADE IN:
In the previous post I described how I approached conceiving and developing the story for my first original screenplay. I had written other scripts before this, but they were either adaptations of pre-existing stories, shorts, or collaborations. The point of the post was to try to show how to “get one’s head around” the challenge of conceiving a feature film from scratch.
In the modern age, it was Syd Field who first identified how narrative operates: that plots require structure for their narratives, and that structure is a function of the protagonist. What? You don’t recall that last part from your reading of Field? That’s because he only implied it, and, only once, in his first book, and he never again returned to it. What he wrote was that the two major plot points in Acts 1 and 2 "are a function of character." Those two moments in every story are the turning points in the story's structure. So it meant that structure itself is a function of character. And the only character whose story is being told is the protagonist.
For me, the light-bulb came on when I read that. He linked character, specifically the protagonist, to the transformation points of the plot. It showed that plot changed because of character. Plot is what happens. Character is why... what it means. In essence, it explained how stories work: through transformation. Put your hero through a trial that changes him or her (or the audience--more on this in a moment). The rest is all just fine-tuning and personal preference. 
Wm. Goldman said screenplays ARE structure. He meant they’re closer to girders and beams than they are the Sistine Chapel. Screenplays are structure because they can be. In fact, they have to be. Collaborating artists supply all the stuff (and more) that the novelist would otherwise put in. In no special order, they include: location, special effects, lighting, costumes, sets, character-attributes, sound, performance, dialogue-interpretation, action-specifics, pacing, camera angles, direction, and editing. So screenplays are able to get away with merely telling what happens, what is said, who is doing it all, and in what order. If screenwriters wrote all that other stuff nobody would read the script because it would be too boring, and packaged in such a way that it would be the worst reading experience conceivable. Remember, novelists don’t actually tell you everything. Talking motion pictures “kinda” do... or, until Star Trek’s Holodeck, they are the closest thing we have to it.
As for that case of the audience changing rather than the hero, it’s because many stories succeed just fine, with the hero remaining the same at the end as at the beginning. Nevertheless, we, as the audience, have gone through changes, both in our understanding of what happened, and in what it means in terms of both the plot, and our larger world. So, the transformation is still present, it is just not shared by the protagonist and the audience as it normally is. Instead the transformation occurs solely within the audience. Critics of the protagonist-transformation requirement in stories have claimed such a requirement is unnecessary because of stories like Death of a Salesman and the James Bond films where they are the same at the end as at the start. These critics are, themselves, wrong. Transformation is there, the result of the protagonist's experiences, but only in the audience, rather than both audience and hero.
So, having a grasp of how story operates, I could now look at my ideas and see, at a glance, if they had the potential to become stories worthy of an audience. Let me tell you, that’s HUGE for writers! It helps edit out bad ideas. It gets to the good ones and only the good ones. It saves LOTS of time. Simply identify whose story it is, and zero in on the transformation points. The protagonist may be a person, a group, a town, a society, or even just an idea or metaphor in rare cases. Where does the challenge to the protagonist get accepted or taken on? Where does the protagonist take final action to resolve it? If you have those, and can tell them clearly and in an entertaining way with wide appeal, you have a movie.
Today, when I conceive my stories, I see immediately how they need to hit their transformation points. From there it’s just a process of finding great ways to get to them. It’s still hard work, but with the spine in place, it is also fun work, work from which I can feel I’ll succeed.
So now, when I develop those remaining ideas that I now know are capable of becoming good stories, I can focus on great scenes, great pacing, character development, etc. I know where and when to “hit my marks” as a writer. So I make notes for scenes, play with them, throw in dialogue, order them into interesting progressions, develop sub-plots, etc. It becomes a present-tense short story with dialogue where and if I have it.
It grows, becomes as detailed as I can make it, or as sketchy as it still is until later. I think about it. It grows more. In some case this happens in a week or a month. But it has also happened over more than a decade and in as little as 48 hours. At the end of the process, I have a 40-60 page, single-spaced story. It’s my version of the James Cameron “Script-ment” (hybrid treatment and screenplay). Then, I just paste the thing into a screenplay style document that I have and re-format it to screenplay standard, cleaning up what needs cleaning, and adding what needs to get added. In one case this last part took only a single day, and I had a first draft script.
Screenwriting books and gurus focus mostly on techniques and marketing. If you want to know how to build a scene or create tension or write subtext, they’re all out there in books. What’s missing is the inspiration, and an in-depth look at the process of conception. If you’re a writer looking to begin, but struggling, what you need is that spark, that igniter that shows you that you have a story and you have it in you to do it. #     
FADE OUT
Lee A. Matthias



Quote of the Post:


"Structure is a function of the protagonist."
---Derived from Syd Field's observation that the two major plot points in a three-act screenplay are a function of character.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

One Way to Write a Screenplay



For the unfamiliar, a "reveal" in screenwriting parlance is the placement of key, revelatory information in a story. Most times, the last reveal is the most important revelation of all.

FADE IN:
Seems like every screenwriting blogger has, at one time or another, done a post on “How I Write a Script.” I find them interesting reading, if for no other reason than that they are always so different from my way. In some cases, remarkably so.
It might be interesting, as another entry in the conversation, to offer mine. But it takes a little preamble:
I started writing screenplays when I was on a crew for a friend’s film, and became intrigued with his script. It was an adaptation of a classic Nineteenth Century novel, and I thought it approached the adaptation process wrongly. He wanted to stay faithful to the source, so he basically just typed the novel in a modified stage-play format with shots indicated at the top of each scene, completely out-of-sync with the dialogue underneath. This was before the web allowed us to see actual scripts, and even before Syd Field opened up the screenwriting genre in publishing. We had no idea how scripts were formatted. But I thought they had to be smoother reads than what my friend had done.
Through some trips to Hollywood (and visits to Hollywood Book and Poster) I managed to get my hands on some real scripts, and finally saw for myself the correct format. I was off and writing. The format has changed some over the years, but not by much. The guiding principle is to avoid all tech-speak, make it a fast read (short dialogue speeches and action descriptions; lots of white space), open much stronger than movies used to open, and pay off big by the end.
Then, along came Syd. I read his book as soon as it came out, and, no matter what anyone says, he de-mystified the craft. A LOT of people--especially academics and gurus who have an interest in keeping the craft mystifying--have ripped Field with charges of teaching formula, and stifling creative freedoms. What he showed with examples in those first books is pretty accurate. It’s just not the whole story. Nor need it be. But a light went on for me when I read Field’s first book, and I suddenly understood story construction, or at least one proven approach. That got me to my method.
I had this idea to write a road comedy. It was inspired by (some would say derived from) the late Colin Higgins’s films, Silver Streak and Foul Play along with earlier stuff by Hitchcock, Stanley Donen, and the writer, Peter Stone.
I had met Higgins at a screenwriting conference at Sherwood Oaks Experimental College (long gone), and remembered him describing a project he was working on that he called The Man Who Lost Tuesday, about a guy who is going along just fine in L.A. on Monday, but then suddenly finds himself in Paris on Wednesday with a whole bunch of baddies after him. His description just fired me up with doing a film like that and others such as North By Northwest, Mirage (a little-shown classic), and Charade.
Taking a cue from Hitchcock, I titled my project, The MacGuffin. I knew I was flirting with the D-word (derivative), but I was determined to write enough fresh turns on older tropes that it would accomplish giving them what they want in Hollywood: the same thing only different.
I liked the combination of the light romantic comedy with the mystery or spy story. As a kid I had loved the television series, Rocky and Bullwinkle, particularly the Cold War humor and the characters of Boris and Natasha. I also loved the southwest, and all those movies John Ford made in Monument Valley. I’ve visited it several times.
The title was a reference to the story Hitchcock told many times about the device that drives many of his films. He called it the “MacGuffin,” and defined it as the thing in the story that everybody was after: the microfilm, the missing Crown Jewels, the secret plans, etc. So I designed a silly little story in which my spies (ex-Soviets without a state looking for a way to regain sponsorship from the new Russia) had roots in Boris and Natasha. There was a spy story at the heart, the movie industry itself figured in, there was a cross-country chase, and it all ended in some hot air balloons over Monument Valley.
The story was set up so that the Russians knew what the MacGuffin was, but not where. And the young couple knew where it was, but not what it was. Then it became merely a problem of finding a way into the storyline so the chase could begin, creating sufficient interest for a story-long pursuit, and bringing it all to a climax with a visually stunning and thoroughly exciting ending.
I chose to do this by forcing my characters to have to keep changing “horses” throughout the chase. This was not unlike the way Gene Wilder keeps getting thrown off the train in Silver Streak, and it opened up all sorts of visual, action-packed, and comedic possibilities. So the method I used was to merely list all the ways one might travel, and to-where, from the normal to the bizarre. When I had a diverse-enough list, I simply sat down and designed connective bridges from one to the next, creating set pieces or sequences commonly called, as we’ve described elsewhere, “whammos,” by Syd Field and others, essentially sequences of scenes built around successive mini, three-act movies within the larger story.
My Russians consisted of four agents in total: Mushkin (the Boris character), Valnya (the Natasha character), a small and sadistic fellow named Alexi (modeled after Artie Johnson’s nazi from Laugh-In crossed with Roman Polanski as the knife wielder in Chinatown, now with a Russian accent), and Khan, a giant Mongol modeled after Lurch in The Addams Family.
Once I had ideas for my scene sequences, I drew a diagram. I wanted to see my movie on one piece of paper. This was very important for me at the time, just starting out, because I wanted to see that I had a whole narrative. I think it was Churchill who said, “Never jump a chasm in two leaps.” I wanted to see that I had a single leap from start to finish.
But listing the sequences wasn’t enough. I wanted to convey the progression of the narrative, and indicate the turning points or act breaks. So I drew a horizontal line at the top left, going right to about half-way across the page. This would be Act 1. From the line, I dropped vertical lines, an inch or 2 long, each, which would, between them contain the sequences. I had 4 or 5 for Act 1. Then, below them, I drew another horizontal line across the page starting about 2 inches in from the left, and ending about 3 inches in from the right. This would be Act 2. I dropped several more (8-10) vertical lines as in Act 1. These would be the middle act sequences. After that I drew a third line below it starting about 4 inches from the left and going to about 1 inch from the right, and dropped lines for 4 or 5 more sequences. Then, writing as small as I could, I described each sequence as briefly as possible. Allowing for my keyboard (adjust the sequence count accordingly), it looked something like this:

|ACT 1---------------------------à
|XXXXXX |XXXXXX |XXXXXX |XXXXXX |      
|XXXXXX |XXXXXX |XXXXXX |XXXXXX |      
|XXXXXX |XXXXXX |XXXXXX |XXXXXX |      
|XXXXXX |XXXXXX |       |XXXXXX |
|       |XXXXXX |       |XXXXXX |
|       |XXXXXX |       |XXXXXX |
       /
     /ACT 2-------------------------------------------à
     |XXXXXX |XXXXXX |XXXXXX |XXXXXX |XXXXXX |XXXXXX |
     |XXXXXX |XXXXXX |XXXXXX |XXXXXX |XXXXXX |XXXXXX |
     |XXXXXX |XXXXXX |XXXXXX |XXXXXX |XXXXXX |XXXXXX |
     |XXXXXX |XXXXXX |       |XXXXXX |XXXXXX |XXXXXX |
     |       |XXXXXX |       |XXXXXX |XXXXXX |XXXXXX |
     |       |       |       |XXXXXX |       |XXXXXX |
                            /
                          /ACT 3---------------------------à|
                          |XXXXXX |XXXXXX |XXXXXX |XXXXXX |
                          |XXXXXX |XXXXXX |XXXXXX |XXXXXX |
                          |XXXXXX |XXXXXX |XXXXXX |XXXXXX |
                          |       |XXXXXX |XXXXXX |XXXXXX |
                          |       |XXXXXX |       |XXXXXX |
                          |       |       |       |XXXXXX | 

I wanted to know that I had “a movie.” This diagram gave me the confidence to plunge into the actual writing. It made all the difference. It was like a roadmap. And it was fascinating to see by the time I typed FADE OUT (on page 118) how faithful I was to the diagram, even though I invented all sorts of new stuff for the story as I went along. My diagram kept me on track, and everything I created after that was conditioned by my knowledge that it had to hit the major points along the way.
For me, it’s not about “how many pages you write each day.” Nor is it about placing “butt in chair.” It’s about feeling good about your story. It’s about knowing you’ve got something that can go a hundred pages or more. Until I know that, I don’t write anything other than little notes. Once I do, I can’t stay away from the keyboard. I’ve written a complete 105 page script, from start to finish, in only three sessions, from Friday night to Sunday night. How? By knowing just enough about where I was going, yet not enough to know where I’ll have gone. By knowing the map, but wanting to see the country.
I used my diagram method two or three times more before I finally was able to put the approach aside as unnecessary. Today I have a different method that works just as well. But I’ll always look back with nostalgia at the diagram that got me started, and showed me I really did have a story, after all. For me, the whole thing was an exercise to teach myself how to write a movie narrative from scratch.
I got a referral to an agent at the Swanson agency on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. They were Raymond Chandler’s agents, William Faulkner’s agency, and they rep’d most of the other greats of the golden era in Hollywood. So, I figured, it couldn’t get any better than that. But it didn’t work out so well. The agent had just come from an Academy screening of a major contender that year, a drama, with a stand-out role that won the lead actress an Oscar a month or so later. He handed me my script and said it wasn’t for him, and that, instead, I should write something like (the actress’s movie). I thanked him for his time and crawled out.
Later, I wondered if the people who wrote Animal House, Used Cars, Ghostbusters, or one of the National Lampoon movies—all cleaning up at the box-office in those years—ever had their scripts handed back to them while being told to write Out of Africa, Steel Magnolias, Beaches, Norma Rae, or Places in the Heart. Then I remembered Preston Sturges’s Sullivan’s Travels. Making people laugh is a noble pursuit. And this is true even after one hob-nobs with members of the Academy at a screening of one of those serious movies they like to think puts them up there with Shakespeare, Eugene O’Neill, and Tennessee Williams. As for me, I went back home and wrote another script.#
Addendum to this post: Carson at ScriptShadow just posted an article on the 5 1/2 Scripts You Don't Want to Write. So, after reading it, is my script above, The MacGuffin, one of them? While it sounds like it, it was a core intent throughout conception and drafts to make it fresh and unique while still working within the homage arena--"the same only different," in other words. I still think I did this, over 20 years after the fact.  

FADE OUT
Lee A. Matthias


Quote of the Post:



I wanted to see my movie on one sheet of paper.
---Lee Matthias

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Studio Stories XI – Train Wrecks & Horseshoe Nails

For the unfamiliar, a "reveal" in screenwriting parlance is the placement of key, revelatory information in a story. Most times, the last reveal is the most important revelation of all.

FADE IN:
There’s an old maxim in Hollywood that goes something like: great scripts can yield bad films, but the reverse is not true, bad scripts can never make for great films. Can anyone name a terrible screenplay, judged so by many, the film of which was even passably good?
Two stories from screenwriter Lem Dobbs of how films can “go off the rails”:
Dan Schneider - In 1991, two films of yours came out. The first was a Michael J. Fox and James Woods action comedy, The Hard Way. Never saw it, but in Googling about, this seems almost a step down from Romancing The Stone. Within the film, too, there seems to be a thread of a tv show that is Indiana Jones-like. What was your contribution to this film, and was it just a paycheck?  
Lem Dobbs - Sometimes everything is rewritten except that which ought to be. The Hard Way is, apparently, about a self-serious action-adventure movie star of the Indiana Jones/Die Hard type -- and yet the part is played by diminutive comic pipsqueak Michael J. Fox. The viewer’s immediate experience is completely at odds with what the script is describing. (Kevin Kline was originally cast in the role.) It was my first job after my Fox contract finally came to an end, and I was happy to get it. They’re all just paychecks if they’re not self-generated.  It was old-time Hollywood scriptwriting with a marvelous veteran writer-producer named William Sackheim. Just me and him -- pacing -- in his office. No other jerks or intermediaries; Bill kept me totally protected from whoever they might have been, just the way I like it. He had developed an initial comedy called Tech Advisor, about a real cop on the set of a cop movie -- I suppose in the hope of emulating prior Sackheim success The In-Laws. But he decided he wanted to take it in a different direction, so my contribution was to re-tool this “buddy” pairing as more of an action movie -- the actor in the cop’s world. My version got terribly convoluted and Bill very politely (usually they don’t even call) moved on to another writer, Dan Pyne. The movie was going to be made with Kline and Gene Hackman as the cop, with Arthur In-Laws Hiller directing. Then the studio decided they wanted it to be lighter, after all, and they thought they had two serious dramatic actors -- that Kevin Kline wasn’t funny.  So it fell apart and Kevin Kline promptly won an Oscar for being funny in A Fish Called Wanda. Sackheim was subsequently able to resurrect it with John Badham as director -- and a team of comedy writers were brought on to improve it even more.
Dan Schneider - The other film was Steven Soderbergh’s previously mentioned Kafka, your first film with Soderbergh. Again, I’ve not seen it, but in listening to some offhanded remarks on the DVD commentary on The Limey, the later Soderbergh film you worked on, you seemed to not have been pleased with the results on Kafka. What were that film’s flaws, and since, on The Limey, you often complained of Soderbergh’s editorial decisions- from the way a shot was framed to its editing, were the problems in Kafka mostly directorial decisions? Or were you simply not allowed as much elbow room with the script as you would have wanted?  
Lem Dobbs - They’re always directorial decisions, if the director is left alone to do whatever he wants. Kafka is quite beautifully “directed” if you mistake direction for mere photography or production design. Many films go off the rails from day one; everything is just wrong. They’re made for the wrong reasons; nobody really cares about the script, just the perceived “heat” of the director or cast, there’s no command or control -- a multiplicity of producers, none with any authority. There are crippling casting mistakes, dimwitted actors who sense weakness and turn destructive. The script was no masterpiece, but there was a script -- it just wasn’t followed or respected. So the main flaw of the movie is, to intents and purposes, the script. It doesn’t make any sense at all -- the story, the plot, so far as anyone can tell, or even individual lines of dialogue, many of which are just awful if not laughable. Conceptually the script was changed completely; it was originally a supernatural horror film. Steven dropped the supernatural aspects, preferring to make a more supposedly rational mystery in the manner of The Third Man -- which makes the horror elements that remain seem even sillier. I went along with this to a certain extent because I was still too young and eager and not quite ready to retire from the movie business. It’s what screenwriters do, they go along, hope for the best. You’re so often in the hands of luck and fate. What if Polanski or Cronenberg or Terry Gilliam on a good day … and Steven feels he’s so much more capable now of making it what it might have been. Timing. Just once I’d love to be fired immediately, paid off handsomely, and rewritten by Tom Stoppard. Y’know, the flip side is that there have always been bad writers with their names on good movies, but somehow they never complain about how their scripts were changed!
---Lem Dobbs, Interviewed by Dan Schneider 
In an earlier post we quoted Dobbs’s recounting of how, in Kafka, Ian Holm’s line delivery changed the meaning of just one word and that, in turn, altered the meaning of the entire film. “For the want of a nail...”



     For want of a nail the shoe was lost
            For want of a shoe the horse went unshod
            For want of a horse a rider walked
            For want of a rider the battle was lost
            For want of a victory the kingdom fell
            And all for the want of a horseshoe nail

FADE OUT
Lee A. Matthias
Quotes of the Post:
Sometimes everything is rewritten except that which ought to be.


Kafka is quite beautifully “directed” if you mistake direction for mere photography or production design.
Many films go off the rails from day one; everything is just wrong. They’re made for the wrong reasons; nobody really cares about the script, just the perceived “heat” of the director or cast, there’s no command or control -- a multiplicity of producers, none with any authority. There are crippling casting mistakes, dimwitted actors who sense weakness and turn destructive.
It’s what screenwriters do, they go along, hope for the best. You’re so often in the hands of luck and fate. What if Polanski or Cronenberg or Terry Gilliam on a good day … and Steven (Soderbergh)  feels he’s so much more capable now of making [Kafka] what it might have been. Timing. Just once I’d love to be fired immediately, paid off handsomely, and rewritten by Tom Stoppard. Y’know, the flip side is that there have always been bad writers with their names on good movies, but somehow they never complain about how their scripts were changed!
---Lem Dobbs

Saturday, June 5, 2010

R.I.P. Mystery Man on Film - Less in NOT More

For the unfamiliar, a "reveal" in screenwriting parlance is the placement of key, revelatory information in a story. Most times, the last reveal is the most important revelation of all.

FADE IN:

Reports are that Mystery Man has left us. That's a loss. And that's an understatement. And that's one of Mystery Man's insights. Less is more.

But less is NOT more. We are less without him, and we are not more because of it.

His insights were SO good. So RIGHT.

Are we up to the challenge of filling this void?

Let's become MORE. #

FADE OUT

Lee A. Matthias

Quote of the Post:

You can sleep when you’re dead. And you can start having a life after you master the craft.
---Edward Copeland

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Screenwriting “Rule of Threes”

For the unfamiliar, a "reveal" in screenwriting parlance is the placement of key, revelatory information in a story. Most times, the last reveal is the most important revelation of all.

FADE IN:

Carson Reeves over at ScriptShadow has a great article about the 13 things screenplays need to have in order to become great. He’s asked for additional ideas toward getting to the most complete list there could be. What about this...

In business presentations (and sometimes in certain forms of advertising), there is a concept called "The Rule of Threes":

Business professionals understand that people often have other things on their mind when they’re watching or reviewing a presentation, so they take steps to ensure that the key messages are heard and retained.

At the start of the presentation: tell them what you’re going to tell them. Then: tell them. At the end of the presentation: tell them what you just told them. This will greatly increase the chances that your audience “gets it.”

So, let's adapt that to screenwriting. To me, at least at first glance, it works for your theme.

The screenwriter would first present the need for the theme in some primary way, not "preach" it as a statement or piece of dialogue, but "present its need in action," so that it's communicated, but not stated. This should likely fall in act 1, probably in the first 10 - 20 pages.


Then it would be presented in action, again, not directly through statement, but rather through metaphor or allegory or implication. This would fall in act 2, probably in the 50 - 80 page range.


Then it would be re-stated in a concluding epiphany tied to the climax at the end of act 3.


This has the effect of driving home that elusive quality in stories that make them relevant to audiences, worthwhile as stories to which they want to go back, again and again. But if the theme is merely stated, as in "the moral of this story is..." it becomes overstatement. Only as indirect implication, something to be inferred or never really even seen at all, does it gain its power.


And that recalls Robert Mckee's concept from his book, Story, regarding "image systems" in films. Once you see it, it has failed. But if it is there yet its value and function are unseen, it has the effect of boosting the story itself, giving it a quality of unity, making it an organic whole. And that, in turn, moves it toward greatness. #


FADE OUT


Lee A. Matthias

Quote of the Post:

          When your work speaks for itself, don't interrupt.

          ---Henry J. Kaiser

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

People Will Talk VIII - Getting Good Notes

For the unfamiliar, a "reveal" in screenwriting parlance is the placement of key, revelatory information in a story. Most times, the last reveal is the most important revelation of all.




FADE IN:

"Good Notes"? Isn't that an oxymoron? Well, no. Other people can have good ideas, too. I know... as Wallace Shawn said in The Princess Bride: "Inconceivable!!!"

Look at it this way. Your script is a road trip down Route 66, and the car has some hitchhikers aboard. They have ideas on how to get there differently. One says it's prettier if you go on the back-roads through the mountains and "see a little country." Another says there's a short-cut using the Interstate. You've chosen Rt. 66, because, well, it's a classic. But that doesn't necessarily make it right for today. Rt. 66 was built before speed was an issue. And it also predated "vogues" like stopping and "smelling the roses" made for a better quality of life. Who's right?

My wife likes to tell the story of the Zen master who was traveling with someone on a long journey. Mile after mile, the companion complained about one thing after another. But the master never lost his smile, nor his patience. Finally after this had gone on for days, the companion shouted, “What’s wrong with you? Haven’t I made you angry?” The Zen master replied, “If someone gives you a gift, but you don’t take it, whose is it?”

You're still the driver. Consider your riders' ideas, but choose your route of travel yourself. And if your riders drop away, well, there'll be other trips.
 
From Tales from the Script, Edited by Peter Hanson and Paul Robert Herman, HarperCollins, p. 133, screenwriter Billy Ray on studio development notes and the revision process:

You have to listen to their problems [found in your script] but ignore their solutions [for it]. Their solutions, just by definition, will make your movie more like other movies – that’s how studio executives think, and that’s not gonna help. I think writers have a knee-jerk response to any notes, which is that they’re just stupid, and that knee-jerk response is folly. Not all notes are bad notes. Some notes are enormously helpful. The development process is there to make movies better, and sometimes it does actually work. I’ve seen scripts of mine get better. Here’s the thing to look out for: Sometimes your screenplay – as you go through the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth draft – will get smarter and tighter. Development always works in that way. However there is a certain raw, organic energy to that first draft – even a certain messiness – that has value. Sometimes as movies get tighter, they get less passionate. You have to guard against that.
Screenwriter, David Hayter adds:

You can fine-tune a script down to the nth degree, and it’s uninspiring. It doesn’t move. It’s too constructed. Sometimes you just need to break all that, and try to re-infuse some of that chaotic energy into it. As William Goldman said in one of his brilliant books, a screenplay is a series of little surprises. If your script has become too solidified in terms of structure and form, then you’ll have fewer surprises, just because your average movie-going audience is pretty film-savvy at this point. So you need to find a way to break it up, and to create things that will surprise you as the artist, and thereby surprise the audience as they watch the film.
Listen. Then drive. #

FADE OUT

Lee A. Matthias


Quote of the Post:

[With studio notes] You have to listen to their problems but ignore their solutions.
---Billy Ray