D is for Dialog…

April 4, 2012

The Script Frenzy A-Z challenge so far…

With screenplays, and most other kinds of scripts, dialog is king.

Yes, there’s a lot of other kinds of writing that goes into a good script. You describe what happens, you describe the settings, and you can give notes on how the words are spoken. But a good script writer tries to do as much with dialog as possible, and I think one of the reasons is, dialog is the only words in the script that (might) reach the final audience more or less directly. Of course, the director and the actor have their opportunities to tweak the dialog, put their own spin on it, but that’s a fairly minor change.

Everything else you write for your script, the audience is not going to have the faintest clue of the actual words you used. The director and cast and crew are going to read them, (you hope,) and use those words to guide the job that they do, and the audience is going to see the result of that, or hear it in ways other than words, (such as tone of voice, music, sound effects, etcetera.) But I think overall, those things can’t carry the narrative of a movie, or TV show or radio play, as well as the dialog does.

Many novelists or short story writers trying Script Frenzy as script writing newcomers find that writing script sharpens skills with dialog that they can take back to other kinds of writing. I certainly did.

If you’re a writer, then do you consider dialog a strong suit or a weakness?

‘Save the cat’ Beat sheet for Die Hard.

July 31, 2011

Yet another movie I just watched because it’s homework for my Storywonk revision class.

Opening image: John’s plane lands in LA, with John gripping both the armrests, and the guy in the next seat tells him to take off his shoes and socks when he gets somewhere with a rug and make fists with his toes.

Theme stated: Again, I’m having a hard time with this – when John talks about how he didn’t come out to LA with Holly because he’s a New York Cop?

Setup: John’s trip in the limo with Argyle, arriving at the party, everything up to the bad guys showing up at the party.

Catalyst: The bad guys crash the party.

Debate: John stays out of sight as long as he can, he tries to call the LA police, he uses every trick he can think of to alert the authorities instead of being a hero himself.

Break into two: When the first bad guy comes after him, John fights back, not trying to kill him – but when the guy ends up dead he takes his gun and sends his body back down the elevator as a warning.

B story: I think this is actually the friendship that develops over the CB radio between John and Al.

Fun and games: Oh, just what in this movie isn’t fun and games? Well, any scene where nobody’s being shot at, nothing’s crashing, and nothing’s exploding I guess.

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Blog the Cat, Chapter Seven – How to fix a broken screenplay

February 26, 2011

Blog the cat screenwriting index.

Okay, we’re drawing close to the end of Blake Snyder’s screenwriting book, ‘Save the Cat’, and chapter seven is about propping up a screenplay and fixing rough spots. Actually, more of the chapter is about diagnosing problems with screenplays, but he does offer some ‘fix-it’ tips as well.

Rather than my usual tack of going through the content of the chapter first and then tackling exercises, I think that this week I’m going to mix in my participatory content and evaluate my Script Frenzy screenplays with respect to each possible problem as I go. I’ll try to cover all three complete scripts for each point, and my one incomplete script I’ll only bring up if it seems particularly relevant.

Problem 1: The Hero is passive.

Symptoms: The hero is being dragged through the story by other characters or forces, his motivation is missing, his goal is vague. He might be lazy and get handed clues to the mysteries surrounding the plot instead of going looking for them. Other characters might always be nagging him and telling him what to do next.

Ideas for how to fix: Probably start with reviewing the goal motivation first, and then going through the plot to make sure that it’s being executed well, and that whenever there’s a possibility of the hero being proactive or just waiting on events, make him show some initiative.

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Blog the cat, Chapter Five – the Board.

February 12, 2011

Blog the cat screenwriting index.

Okay, in chapter 5 of Save the Cat, “Building the perfect Beast,” Blake Snyder waxes eloquent on The Board. I’m going to skip all of the superlatives, glowing praise, and industry anecdotes for now, and get down to describing the core idea.

You set up a big, flat, vertical working space – Blake prefers a corkboard that he can pin index cards to, and use this to arrange your story ideas on. It’s a way of working with the screenplay structure that’s visual, tactile, and ‘a great time-waster’, except that the point is that the time isn’t actually wasted, in the end. It’s just being put to a use that isn’t immediately obvious, because as you play with the board and keep rearranging things, the ideas are being arranged and correlated by your subconscious mind in a way that you could never achieve with conscious disciplined hard work staring at a blank Celtx screen.

Like a lot of Blake’s notions, the Board is fairly structured. He sets it up in four rows of approximately ten scenes each, (plus or minus one spot per row, but still to come up to a total of forty scenes per screenplay.) The timeline of the movie gets arranged on this board a little like a really huge Fan expo autograph line, going left to right across the top row for Act One, then turning the corner, going back the second row and across the third for Act Two, then back the bottom row for Act Four.

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Blog the cat, chapter Four: Beat sheets, revisited.

February 5, 2011

Beat Sheet for ‘Serenity’, in which I first described the concept.

Other Beat Sheets from the Kelworth files can be found on the Subject Index, as well as the Blog the Cat series so far.

Okay, so I went back and forth on this, and decided that I was going to spend another week with beat sheets, even though I’ve already said most of what the book has to say about them – well, not really, but about as much as I feel comfortable with saying without ripping off Blake’s words. And I’ve done Beat sheets for three of my favorite movies. But this time, I’m going to look at the three complete movies that I did for Script Frenzy, and see how closely they match the Beat Sheet structure, talk a bit about that.

One bit from the chapter that I haven’t mentioned here, is how a strong screenplay structure can serve as a movie blueprint and a guarantee of writing credit – which I think isn’t meant as a guarantee that when a final movie gets made, you’ll definitely have the credit, but that if somebody changes it enough to get the credit, they’re really changing the guts of the story, doing their own work on it, and not really taking what’s yours. But anyway.

Script Frenzy 2007 – Antarran Holiday.

Opening image – Aerial view of the desert, Liz Parker resuming her diary voice-overs, slow day at the Crashdown Cafe.

Theme stated – “If we find the people who think that they’re our friends, they might still ask things of us that we’re not ready for.” This is late by Blake’s breakdown, around page 18, but I remember that I was going some different material about the three-act structure that was up on the Script Frenzy site that year that suggested page 16 or so for this, not 5.

Setup – introducing all of the regular gang, and the basic situation, is all covered in pages 1-7.

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Blog the cat, chapter 3 – Characters

January 29, 2011

Blog the Cat post index.
In Chapter Three of Save the Cat, “It’s about a guy who…” Blake Snyder talks about how important characters are to a movie idea and pitch. I’m starting to like these offbeat chapter titles, by the way.

I’m certainly predisposed to the idea that well developed characters are central to telling a story, and that the characters should fit the plot well. Blake starts by telling how good characters give the audience somebody to identify with, somebody to experience the story for them. He also covers how descriptive adjectives for your characters can make the logline more compelling, which is interesting especially since I’ve been hearing a lot about how important it is to avoid overusing adjectives in prose fiction, but a script logline is certainly a very different kind of writing, so it’s not too surprising that the rules should be different there.

He gives this checklist for character-related elements to look for in the logline:

  • A hero
  • An adjective to describe the hero
  • A bad guy
  • An adjective to describe the bad guy
  • A compelling, identifiable goal for the hero

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Blog the Cat, Chapter 2 – Story Genres

January 22, 2011

Blog the Cat post index.

So, in Chapter 2 of Save the cat, “Give me the same thing… only different!” Blake Snyder talks about how to dance with cliche – you have to be in the vicinity of a cliche, because otherwise your script is probably so out there that most viewers won’t be able to relate to it at all, but not too close. He ties this back into the scenario of pitching your movie – that not only do you have to be able to explain what your movie idea is, but also what it’s most like – and that you have to be very familiar with other movies in your genre, so as to know what the specific cliches are and put your own spin on your story.

He then starts going into detail about his own working list of ten genres or categories, which aren’t organized along traditional lines, because a term like ‘Romantic Comedy’ or ‘Hard Science Fiction’ doesn’t explain anything about the storyline, which is a good point. To run down the story genres quickly, we have:

Monster in the house: Dangerous ‘monster’, (who could be a person,) and people trapped inside an enclosed ‘house’ with it. Lots of running and hiding, usually at least one of the people is morally responsible for the monster being there, and they die while others manage to escape at the end.

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Blog the cat, Chapter One – Loglines

January 15, 2011

Blog the Cat post index.

The first chapter of Save the Cat, ‘What is it?’ is mostly talking about loglines for a screenplay idea. (The fact that the character of The Cat on the British show Red Dwarf, played by Danny John-Jules, had a great comedy bit in one episode centered around repeating the words ‘What is it?’ when confronted by a bit of Star-Trek-ish technobabble – is completely irrelevant.)

Blake starts by talking about pitching a movie idea, with a lot of different examples from a group of friends trying to pick a movie to see on a Friday night, to movie executives at the height of show business. His central premise is that you need to be able to sell other people on a movie idea quickly, not after ten minutes of explanation, and tell them quickly ‘What is it about?’

He presents a few examples, including Four Christmases, (which was probably still in development when the book was written?) and breaks down his four critical elements for a good logline pitch:
– Irony: A good logline must show something that is unexpected and emotionally intriguing, which is pretty much the same thing as having an element of dramatic irony.
– A compelling mental picture: A good logline should present the potential for the entire movie to blossom in your brain, from one or two sentences.
– Audience and cost: A good logline should convey a sense of who would be interested in watching the movie, and a rough idea of how much it might cost to make.
– Killer title: Not really a part of the logline proper, but the title also plays a part in the logline pitch, and the part the title needs to play is to say what the movie is, as clearly as possible, and with an ironic punch of its own. (He mentions ‘For Love or Money’ as an example of a vague title that really tells as little as possible about what’s going on in the movie.)

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Beat Sheet: The Princess Bride

October 3, 2010

I’m still not quite clear on what the theme of this great movie is. Any better ideas?

Opening image: The little boy playing video baseball in his room. Or, if you ignore the grandson/grandfather frame, Buttercup riding her horse into the stable and ordering Westley about. (1-3)

Theme stated: “Hear this now. I will always come for you. This is true love – do you think this happens every day?” (6)

Setup: Buttercup and Westley’s love story, Buttercup’s grief, Prince Humperdink making her a princess, and the abduction all count as setup to me. (The abduction could have been a catalyst, but I don’t quite think so, because there’s one critical element still missing. (4-10)

Catalyst: “I just happened to look behind us, and something is there.” This is the first hint that the Man in Black is setting himself against Vizzini’s plan, meaning to rescue the Princess from the Prince’s clutches. (11-12)

Debate: Hmm… I’m not sure, but I think that the ‘debate’ part of this movie’s plot comes as we get to know the Man in Black as a person, and come to wonder if he’s the villain or the hero of the piece. This starts when Fezzik leaves Inigo – ‘People in masks cannot be trusted’… and ends when Inigo and the Man in Black begin their duel in earnest. (18-22)

Break into two: The Man in Black defeats Inigo in the duel, but spares his life, professing his respect, and charges off in pursuit again. (25-26)

B story: This would be Inigo’s quest of revenge, which is fist mentioned at (20), and isn’t resolved until ()

Fun and games: Plenty of this all around, from the shrieking eels and the cliffs of insanity around (13-17), and including the sword duel with Inigi, (23-24), the wrestling match with Fezzik, the battle of wits with Fizzini, Humperdink’s tracking, and the
Fire-swamp. (27-49)

Midpoint: Everything collapses for Westley and Buttercup at (50), when Buttercup surrenders to save his life, and the Prince breaks his word to her.

Bad guys close in: Westley in the Pit of Despair, Buttercup’s nightmares, continued reveals of the Prince’s nefarious plans, the machine. Fezzik finding Inigo drunk, (and helping him sober up a little,) and Buttercup’s sudden defiance against the Prince which prompts him to turn the Machine up to its highest setting. (51-67)

All is lost: Fezzik and Inigo find Westley dead, at (69-70) The despair here is underscored by the little temper trantrum the grandson throws about who’s going to kill the bad guy.

Dark night of the soul: There’s some comedy thrown in here, with the quest for the miracle. Even after Westley has come back to life, as long as he’s bitter and hopeless we’re still in this beat.(71-76)

Break into three: ‘If we only had a WHEELBARROW, that would be something!’ The plan is hatched, and our three heroes give it their all. (77-78)

Finale: The wedding, the attack of the ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’, Inigo’s duel with the Count, Westley’s confrontation with the Prince, and their escape. (79-92)

Final image: The four good guys riding off into the countryside, the kissing stuff, and even the grandson doesn’t mind so much now. And the grandfather leaves him with ‘As you wish.’ (93-94)

Beat Sheet Analysis: The Simpsons Movie

September 19, 2010

Based on Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet Structure

Numbers are minutes, based on the Showcase canada airing of the movie last weekend, after I trimmed the commercials out.

Opening image: Green Day playing on their barge in Lake Springfield. I’m dismissing everything before this as throaway gags that have no bearing on the theme or the plot of the movie, and thus can’t feel that they qualify. (3)

Theme stated: This is tough. The closest I can figure from before the catalyst is just sneaking in under the wire… (15)
Homer: Hey, what’s with you?
Bart: You really wanna know?
Homer: Of course I do. What kind of father wouldn’t care about… (gets distracted by the pig.)

Set-up: The church scene, Homer doing chores, and Lisa meeting Colin. Grandpa’s experience at the church is a foreshadowing of the catalyst, but it doesn’t catalyze anything itself. (4-15)

Catalyst: Homer takes the pig home from Krusty burger, and Marge recognizes the twisted tail from Grandpa Simpson’s ravings. (16-17)

Debate: All the general town hubbub about pollution in Lake Springfield would seem to fit here. More relevantly, when Marge finds out about the pig silo, and warns Homer that he has to dispose of it properly, this is a clear debate and lead-in to act two. Of course, if Homer does it right, there wouldn’t be a movie, would there? (20-23)

Break into two: But there are free donuts at stake, so Homer can’t wait in line at the waste processing factory – he drives through the no dumping signs around the lake and tosses the silo in. Things start to go bad. (24-25)

B story: Here, I’d say that the B story has to do with Homer’s relationship with his family, and particularly Bart’s disillusions and friendship with Flanders. This starts quite early, at (18) and eventually pays off at (72)

Fun and games: President Ahnold, the Dome, Russ Cargill, Trappucino, Maggie in the sinkhole. Even the mob of ‘peasants’ coming after them seems to fit under ‘the promise of the premise,’ and the Simpsons on the run. (26-41)

Midpoint: The simpsons starting over in Alaska, a false peak (42-50)

Bad guys close in: Operation Blow up Springfield, Marge and the other Simpsons want to go to stop them. Homer refuses. (51-54)

All is lost: Homer finds out that his family has left to go back to Springfield, and Marge has lost all faith in him. (55-58)

Dark night of the soul: This is the Inuit Boob lady part, and Homer’s vision. (59-60)

Break into three: Homer’s epiphany, about other people being more important to him than himself. (61)

Finale: Marge, Bart, and Lisa are captured by Russ Cargill and thrown back into Springfield, along with the bomb. Homer refuses to give up in the snow, climbs his way up the dome, and spoils the rest of the town’s escape plan by accident. He gives up again, but is shown the way by the ‘epipha-tree’… and stops by the church to reach out to Bart. They manage to throw the bomb out of the dome and shatter it, and Russ Cargill tries to take revenge for his scheme being foiled. (62-66)

Final image: All of Springfield is cheering for Homer, and rebuilding his house. With Lisa and Colin working off-screen to clean up the lake, after they get ice cream. (67-68)

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