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Point Of Entry is a tricky one. Robert McKee, one of the original Script Gods, in his book Story, wrote about inclusion and exclusion. One of the most important skills a screenwriter will ever need is knowing what stays, and what goes.
So where do you start your script? Any rules that can help guide you?
Couple things. Events should be interconnected, not random. It’s not A happens, then B happens, then C happens. More likely, it’s A happens, therefore B happens, which in turn causes C to occur. Causality. We want the Point Of Entry to set off the chain of events that will become the movie.
I look for four things to be established in the first pages:
Let’s examine some pro scripts with excellent points of entry. I’m Southern Italian, so you know I’m going to The Godfather first….
A HIGH ANGLE of the CORLEONE MALL in bright daylight. There
are at least five hundred guests filling the main courtyard
and gardens. There is music and laughing and dancing and
countless tables covered with food and wine.
DON CORLEONE stands at the Gate, flanked on either side by a
son: FREDO and SONNY, all dressed in the formal attire of
the wedding party. He warmly shakes the hands, squeezes the
hands of the friends and guests, pinches the cheeks of the
children, and makes them all welcome. They in turn carry
with them gallons of homemade wine, cartons of freshly baked
bread and pastries, and enormous trays of Italian delicacies.
The entire family poses for a family portrait: DON CORLEONE,
MAMA, SONNY, his wife, SANDRA, and their children, TOM HAGEN
and his wife, THERESA, and their BABY; CONSTANZIA, the
bride, and her bridegroom, CARLO RIZZI. As they move into
the pose, THE DON seems preoccupied.
He’ll be here Pop, it’s still early.
Then the picture will wait for him.
Elegant sequence centering on Connie’s wedding. We set up the tone (drama), the world (40’s/period-piece), the key characters(above) and beginnings of conflict. Recall, the Sinatra character wanting the movie part, sets up the second sequence (Los Angeles) which sets up the classic horse’s head in the satin sheets scene. Sequence 1 leads naturally to Sequence 2. You just knew Frankie would get that part….
Read the rest of this entry »
Good Reader, not long ago I promised to open up the archive on the KILLER screenwriting articles I saved from 2014. This being a no-bullshit zone, I admit that there might be some mendacity in calling this a non-selfish act…
I’m working on distributing our micro-budget film Chat. We’re in post-production on Devolve, a web series about a stoner God starring the omniscient one himself, Chicago’s very own Rich Cotovsky. Also, pounding out articles for Script Magazine. Working on an adaptation of the novel Second Amendment. Lastly, finalizing a book coming out in May through Self-Counsel Press– The DIY Filmmaker, currently available for pre-sale on Amazon.
So, absent a cloning of your humble narrator, we’ll go this route. There is SO much good, free content online. I’m guessing you may have missed some of it. We’ll start with BASICS. Check it out:
Ok yeah, I’m starting out by cheating, this was written in 2012 by Danny Manus, but it’s a good starting point. Sure, some bullet-points on this reprinted list by L.A. Screenwriter put together seems self evident– the need for conflict/tension, an emotional goal, having the correct font, etc. Obviously if you’re going to be a pro you’re gonna want to dump that Celtx software for Final Draft. But this list is comprehensive and essential to making your script a clean, fast read. Check it out.
Many thanks to Craig Waddell for assembling this rock solid compilation of advice. Yeah yeah, it’s SO DRY! The whining becomes a wailing and gnashing of teeth of screenwriters when it comes down to actually incorporating the Elements-Of Style-proper-Queens-fucking-English! Has there been a single Screenwriting 1 or 2 class I’ve taught at Columbia College that I’ve not given Waddell’s first note about using Active Voice? And how about Rule 6 on Varying Sentence Patterns– think that might come in handy when writing those Action lines? Or Rule 7 about Choosing Words Carefully. Anyone who has ever done a consultancy with me knows I am an adverb and adjective HATER. Pick a better verb, you won’t need the damn adverb. Great advice here.
Recently, I posted quite a bit on the copyright process. It’s essential stuff, so for those of you who missed it here is the FAQ from the Copyright Office itself at www.copyright.gov. Also, an FAQ on Copyright in general, the basics all screenwriters need to know. If you have the money it’s best to do both, Copyright and register with the Writer’s Guild. If you can only go with one, go with the Copyright– far better legal protections.
Here’s a cool short video from Vimeo Video School that explains the roles of, yes, Who’s Who on a Movie Crew. It does so with some pretty cool animation. For all of you who skipped paying $500 a credit hour plus accrued interested to Columbia Film and Video Department, this is a worthwhile four minutes.
In the following weeks we’ll check out articles with a more advanced slant on the state of the biz. Meanwhile, never let the bastards tell you NO.
Stay warm, and don’t eat, or slip, on that yellow snow!
This one’s for you, action movie writers. Let’s check out some pro script action movie sequences. Before we do, read this rant on the often-attributed Picasso quote: “Bad artists borrow, great artists steal”. The best part of the rant is as follows:
“To me, it means the difference between aping and assimilating; between copying and internalizing; between being unoriginal and innovative…every artist of every stripe builds on that which was done by his or her predecessors. It’s only the great artists who manage to take things to new heights, in new directions.”
Here at Script Gods I sample pro scripts in the hopes of good writing being assimilated. The hope is you, Good Reader, get stronger by expanding your catalog. Like looking at the brush strokes of great painters, writing a kick-ass action movie sequence that grabs the reader-agent-manager-actor-director-producer-Studio Head by the throat is a rare talent. Let’s make a study of those who do…
Want to hear the voice of Chicago?
Here’s the greatest scene you’ve never seen in a movie, because it isn’t from a screenplay at all.
It’s a call from the current resident of Littleton, Colorado Federal Minimum Security prison and former Governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich. On the other end is former Barack Obama Chief of Staff and current Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel. Talk about ships that pass in the night!
Enjoy this RAHM-ROD DIALOGUE and savor all that is Chicago!
This is not fiction. This is a 100% REAL LIFE conversation, secretly taped, the transcript of which was played at the Blagojevich trial.
This conversation is already part of public lore. Here’s an animated version of this conversation:
Look at the dynamic of this conversation and marvel, Good Reader. Here you will find a lesson in how to write any scene in any genre of any screenplay.
I’m not talking about the Mamet f-bombs that rain down– though it might be some kind of record, even for Chicago politicos.
No, I’m talking about the power dynamic here. I’m talking about beats and who owns them.
Two characters, both of whom want something very badly. The scene itself is warfare, both characters attempting to manipulate and control the other for their own gain.
In any scene that you draw, you should do several things. 1-The scene exists because it must. It advances character or plot. You know ahead of time what the scene is there for, what it must accomplish. Get into the scene late, accomplish what you have to accomplish, and get out.
The best way to accomplish what the scene must is to understand character motivation. What exactly do the characters want at this moment in the story? What do they want from each other? What will they do to get there?
A beat, by definition, is the smallest actable moment. Every scene has beats. If the scene has two or more characters you need to figure out who owns the beat. Every scene, at its essence, is one character attempting to impose their will on the other…to control, manipulate, or dominate the other. Sometimes this is done with subtlety; sometimes it’s done with a silver Thor hammer. Other times it’s done with Chicago-style politics and Mametesque f-bombs.
What do the characters want in this scene?
Here, Rod calls Rahm. Rod wants to get paid. Rahm takes the call out of professional courtesy. Rahm, at the start, does not control the beat. Rod wants to get paid and pushes the notion of selling a Senate seat. From that point the beat shifts. Rahm now wants something too…he wants off the phone. He wants distance between himself and Rod. Rod doesn’t much care, pushing Rahm’s buttons. Rahm pushes back hard, the f-bombs start to drop. This is two Type A bull rams bashing each other. Who owns the beat in the end? Hard to say, both are attempting to control things, though Rahm might get the decision, ignoring Rod’s threats and hanging up the phone with the classic “Have a great life, Fatso!”
When you write your scripts remember that each scene must accomplish what it was intended to accomplish. Get in late, get out early, and do what you need to do. Within the context of the scene there are characters each of which needs or wants something. It is the battle for beat ownership that supplies any movie with much of its tension or comedy or horror.
A simple but important lesson brought to you by the best in the business of politics—Chicago style!
We have met the enemy, and we are them.
Don’t ever categorize people–it’s a no-win landscape of ignorance. Orson Wells in Lady From Shanghai said, “it’s a bright, guilty world.”– I hear that as I type on in this perpetual 4 degree Chicago February. My stance on screenwriting consultants has been a tough one to rationalize since day one at Script Gods Must Die. I assure you I meant to put no whammy on Syd Field’s head. But, if not Syd, who are the Script Gods I wanted crushed out?
They are the gurus. The pompous, all-knowing self-anointed experts with fabulous websites and zero IMDB cred. They are Hollywood finochios with a gift of gab or pen who can manipulate the neophyte and newbie screenwriter for their own financial gain. They who promise mucho, and deliver zero.
Script Magazine seemed to be the place where they hung out. But a funny thing happened on the way to the Forum– your Humble Narrator started working there. Here’s what I saw: Sure, some overplay their hands, in it for the almighty $$$. But the revelation is this… once I actually took the time to READ the articles and blog posts that have been accumulated by my editor, Jeanne Bowerman–I saw that a lot of her 60+ contributors are teachers like myself. They actually care. Several are flat-out far better writers than I’ll ever be. Sure, there are ruthless self-promoters, but that one-size-fits-all crap had to go.
Not all screenwriting consultants are scumbags. Imagine the notion!
The folks at Script Magazine don’t need this plug. They’ve got 60 or 70K monthly visitors to their website. You, Good Reader, and the rest of my noble band here at Script Gods, number considerably less. Still, I want to direct you toward some of the excellence that is to be found at Script Magazine.
So today we’ll start a new series based on writings there. Maybe something will resonate for you. Vamos!
Seriously? You got Guillermo Arriaga to write an epic piece about how he wrote 21 Grams? That’s a COUP, capital everything. This, the same guy who wrote Amores Perros and Babel, two other favs of mine. This guy not only strikes savage emotional chords, he also produces some of the most intricate non-linear structure you’ll ever see.
Here’s a taste: “The next step was to build the structure carefully, trying to have large narrative ellipses, but with an emotional continuum. So, in order to achieve that, I needed to create a balance within the scenes, a kind of narrative yin yang. I combined passive scenes with active ones; scenes that posed questions with scenes that answered them. Sometimes in one scene I presented the facts in a certain way, and then, in another scene, I changed those facts completely. I was looking for a way to make the audience be much more participative—to have a constant dialogue with the film, to create and recreate the story. There were themes that could improve this involvement: love, death, life, hate, revenge, forgiveness. So I tried to use scenes with contrasting emotional themes; for example, scenes of love and then scenes of revenge.”
This is the carpenter you want to study when building your own house. Take the time, check it out.
Here’s another guy with an IMDB profile–to the tune of three major Studio released movies (Die Hard 2, Bad Boys, Hostage). Sure, I’d take Arriaga’s poetry over Richardson’s thriller explosions, Die Hard 2 ain’t Shakespeare, but it’s more than solid for the genre, even inspired. I like the guy’s voice. He’s been in the room. And he makes me laugh, like in this article, where he gives us the “behind the lines” POV on how agents and movie executives actually read scripts:
“How do you get through all those scripts in just a coupla days?” I innocently asked a development pal, whose backpack was so weighed down with his weekend reading that I worried it would permanently injure his already out-of-kilter back.
“Easy. Read the first ten pages,” said an agent friend. “Then the last five. If those are any good, I’ll double back and maybe read the whole thing. Otherwise, I know it’s crap.”
A valuable look from a guy who was on the inside of the biz- right here.
For those of us without agents or managers, looking for a way INTO the room, we might be looking into shooting a web series. I’ll be posting on the web series Devolve that we wrapped production on in late January shortly. Meanwhile, this excellent article by Rebecca Norris recently appeared on Script Mag. It’s an interview with the creative team behind the web series Snobby Robot, and details their specific plan for drumming up press and subscribers in the crowded web series landscape.
“One of the biggest hurdles creators face is creating legitimacy, it’s all those little things fully professional productions have to convince people to watch. So many of us started out with the assumption that if we make it people will watch, but the truth is, getting people to watch is a lot harder than making the content in the first place.
Snobby Robot’s goal is to help creators to understand the need for creating a marketing plan and the steps they can to take to promote a professional outward facing image, all while doing the best we can to help in that process.” The full article is here.
Lastly, a shout-out to my editor Jeanne Bowerman, who writes her own column Balls Of Steel as well as playing Mother Hen for 60-some odd contributors. A mighty burden! One wonders how she has time to write anything herself but she’s doing just fine these days. Her script for Slavery By Another Name making Tracking Board’s Launch Pad Top 25. Her article on Script Mag about Overcoming Overthought is something I’ve considered for quite awhile, reminding me of a post or two of my own.