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“One of the most famous protagonist in contemporary pop culture is Superman. Now Superman is special because he’s not some ordinary human, he can do things nobody else can. But if he was completely unstoppable, he’d be boring, he would easily win every fight and that would not be suspenceful. So, his creators invented Kryptonite, the one thing that renders him helpless. Your protagonist may not be Superman, but you can treat them the same way. So, we’re going to develop them a little further by giving them a Unique Talent (Superpower) and a Unique Weakness (Kryptonite). In a nutshell, these two traits give your protagonist the capacity for both success and failure, and that creates suspense. You can do this with any of your other characters, too, as long as it’s relevant to your story.”
Mark Tapio Kines 
Screenwriting Fundamentals on lynda.com

Related Posts:
Character Flaws 101 (Tip #30)
Burns, Baseball & Character Flaws
The Superman from Cleveland
Postcard #53 (Metropolis)
Screenwriting Quote #95 (Nicholas Meyer) Will Hamlet kill the king? The job of the dramatist is to raise as much suspence as possible as to the outcome of that question.”
Creative Learning 2.0 (Here’s a post from 2008 where I talked about being an evangelist for lynda.com—I’m still a big fan of their online tutorials.)

Scott W. Smith

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“This is an obscure bit of advice I give writers, don’t write that first thing to sell it or get it made. I mean—that’s great, that’s why we’re all doing this—write it to show that you have a voice. So the first script that I sold, part of me knew that it was never going to get made. What I knew was that it was a great forum for me to flex a certain dialogue, and to get into people’s faces, and have a character that would be very verbose and articulate and do those things, to show yes I could write. Ultimately it’s the equivalent of sort of being the guy who dunks [in basketball] time and time again.  Ultimately as a writer you hope you show that you have a post game, and you have an outside game as well, but sometimes people only respond to the dunks.”
Screenwriter Sheldon Turner (who played football at Cornell University)
The Dialogue Interview: Learning from the Masters (Part 3) interview with Mike De Luca

Related Post:
Finding Your Voice
Finding Your Own Voice
Dif·fer·en·ti·ate Yourself

P.S. Here are a couple of unusual dunks early in the careers of two players that went on to have pretty good careers. Even if you’re not a basketball fan it’s not hard to see how that if you want to get people’s attention when you’re starting out you have to bring a little extra mojo to your game.

Scott W. Smith 

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Mike De Luca: How many screenplays did you write before the first one got produced?
Sheldon Turner: A good 15 probably. You have to be resilient.
The Dialogue: Sheldon Turner Interview Part 2
(Sheldon also mentions on The Dialogue that as he was finding his voice he wrote 11 scripts before he even showed one to anybody.)

“I think all too often now we as a society train ourselves to not have time to think. You get home—you turn the TV on. You get in the car—you turn the radio on. I think those moments [of inspiration] come in solitude. It’s themes—you don’t want to put somebody in a position to go down the hall and tell Amy Pascal (Co-Chairman of Sony Pictures) that Sheldon Turner has some wonderful themes he wants to explore in this movie— but I think that’s what makes for really good [movies]. Even something like The Longest Yard which is pabulum and a fun movie and all that, at least for me I’ve gotta know what the themes are.  Something like redemption or whatever it is, that’s what makes interesting movies.”
Oscar-nominated screenwriter Sheldon Turner  (credits on Up In the Air, X-Men, First Class)

Related Posts:

Writing from Theme (Tip #20)
Obligatory Scene=Story’s Theme
David O. Russell on Characters & Theme
Kelly Marcel on Theme
John Carpenter on Theme
Scott Frank on Theme
Diablo Cody on Theme
Shane Black on Theme
Lawrence Konner on Theme
Theme= What Your Movie is Really About
Theme=Story’s Heart & Soul
Michael Arndt on Theme
Sidney Lumet on Theme
More Thoughts on Theme 

Scott W. Smith

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“I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.”
Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) The Godfather

“Think you used enough dynamite there Butch?”
Sundance (Robert Redford) Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

“I think there are certain things that actors look for; everybody wants to say cool dialogue, that’s all there is to it. It’s a lesson that I’ve learned. I remember there was a script that I wrote and there’s a line about ‘hookers and eight ball’ and my manager at the time said—and we’re writing for an actor at this time— and he said, ‘Look you don’t want him saying that the first line in.’ Similarly I’ve written for an actress and I had a line description where I described her as haggard—in the scene, it doesn’t mean she’s haggard—but there are certain ways they want to be perceived.”
Screenwriter Sheldon Turner 
The Dialogue Interview: Learning from the Masters (Part 1) interview with Mike De Luca

Relate post:
Writing Actor Bait (Tip #64) “Producers and directors buy a property because they like the story. Actors buy it because they see them­selves in a part. “—Jerry Lewis

Scott W. Smith

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“My mantra is ‘just keep writing.’ If it’s not good throw it out.”
Screenwriter Sheldon Turner (X-Men: First Class, The Longest Yard)

“I still read five newspapers a day. I try to read a book week, a script a day, all those things. At the end of the day, I believe it’s like the 90 mph fastball—you either have it or you don’t. You can hone those skills…but that’s why I don’t get invited to those screenwriting conferences. Because ultimately my first question is ‘what are you guys doing here?’ Because in a way they’re teaching everyone to do the same thing. And if you look at it from the perspective of a producer, or an executive who’s gotta take home ten scripts in a weekend, or a night take home three scripts, you’ve got to do something to differentiate yourself.”
Oscar-nominated screenwriter Sheldon Turner (Up in the Air)
The Dialogue Interview: Learning from the Masters (Part 1) interview with Mike De Luca

P.S. Two things that differentiates Turner in Hollywood are #1 while he went to NYU like many screenwriters and filmmakers, he’s actually a graduate of the law school, and #2 he gets up everyday earlier than any other screenwriter I’ve ever read about.

“I have a very specific schedule. I get up at 3:57 [a.m.] everyday. I have my whole routine; I’ll write for an hour and then go to the gym and work out for an hour and a half or two hours. And it’s for no other reason other than self loathing, which I find to be the most productive part of my day. I always say I’m motivated by guilt and fear, and also because I don’t take the middle ground well. I’m an extremist. So if I’m not getting up at 3:57 I’m getting up at 1:00 [p.m]. And it’s one of the good things and bad things about being a writer, unless you’re disciplined it’s very easy to fall by the wayside and sort of be the ultimate procrastinator and put things off—So I go to the other extreme.”
Sheldon Turner

Related post:
Self-Study Screenwriting  “I never took a (screenwriting) course, what I did was read every screenplay I could get my hands on.” Sheldon Turner
Finding Your Voice
Shakespeare vs. Ira Glass (Quote for those who don’t have a 90 mph fastball; “I also think you can learn to be a good writer. Like I was a bad writer, actively bad, and I willed myself to get better.”—Ira Glass)
Preparing for an Oscar Speech (David Seidler-Style) Only took him about 70 years to hone his writing. 
The Breakfast Club for Writers (2.0) “I began training for the writing life in 1951, getting up at 5:00 A.M. and writing for two hours before going to work at an ad agency.”—Elmore Leonard

Scott W. Smith

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“At the core of Breaking Bad is family. It is what impels the show’s lead character, the cancer-stricken Walter White, to parlay his knowledge of chemistry into meth production. He wants to ensure the well-being of his wife and children after his death. No sin too great, no hell too deep. This faithfulness to family is the lifeblood of Albuquerque. Everything that lives in the desert has had to fight to stay alive, and survival requires banding together.”
Madeleine Carey
Albuquerque Really Is Like Breaking Bad

“I don’t know where the idea [for Breaking Bad] came from specifically, but I remember the moment it hit me. I was talking to my buddy Tom Schnauz, a guy I went to NYU film school with—who is now a producer on Breaking Bad and written some our best episodes—we’d both been on The X-Files together which ended about three years prior to this conversation. We were kind of bemoaning our situation of being working writers who at that moment were not working. And I said maybe we should get into another line of work while the gettin’s good, and I think I’d be a good greeter at Walmart. I think I’d be good at that—say hi to people, you know, wave. Talked about working at H&R Block and then he said, ‘What if we just pool our resources and buy an RV and put a meth lab in the back?’ And I laughed—obviously he was not serious. But the idea—as we were talking on the phone just BOOM! into my head was the inspiration. I don’t know what it was, but suddenly I was intensely intrigued by the idea of a guy who’d do such a thing. Suddenly it struck me that what would be interesting to me as a viewer and a writer, would what if it was essentially me? In other words what if it’s a guy who’s never broken the law, or littered or jaywalked,  suddenly finding himself being a meth cook. Doing something reprehensible and illegal. That idea, just BOOM! is the middle of this phone conversation, kinda hit me full-blown. Which is rare because ideas are usually much slower in coming, they don’t usually come in eureka moments, at least for me.”
Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan
Interview with Jenni Matz on August 9, 2011

Part of the fruit of Gilligan’s idea during a slow time in his writing career is the 2014 edition of Guinness World Records listed Breaking Bad as the Highest-Rated TV Series. 

Now that the show has concluded its five year run it’s worth glancing back and asking if even though Breaking Bad was a gritty look at the meth industry,  did it some way glamorize the drug and even increase usage. According to the article Was Breaking Bad Good for the Meth Business by Brian Braiker the numbers actually indicate that there were far less meth users at the end of the shows run than before it started:

“According to the most recent data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 440,00 people age 12 and older were users of methamphetamine in 2012. That represents just 0.2 percent of the population and a significant drop from 2006, two years before ‘Breaking Bad’ premiered, when the number of users was 731,000. ‘The numbers go up and down and up and down over the years, but generally speaking, it’s never reached the 2006 levels,’ said SAMHSA spokesman Brad Stone.”

P.S. It’s a good thing Gilligan created Breaking Bad, because that Walmart greeter position he was thinking about became a casualty in 2012 when they first eliminated the 10 p.m. to 7 a.m third shift greeters and I’m not sure they have any greeters now. Or if they do their role has been diminished. Experts said it had to do with a mix of the down economy and competition from Dollar General stores and Internet shopping. If your options are to work at Walmart or create an Emmy-winning TV, go with the latter.

But if you do work at Walmart (or H&R Block) I’m sure there is plenty of inspiration surrounding you for at least enough material for one screenplay. Maybe you saw the photos that went viral this year that were supposedly signs from Walmart management to an employee named Shane.

walmart-shane

Related post:
Where Do Ideas Come From?
Don’t Quit Your Day Job (2.0).

Scott W. Smith

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Breaking Bad Y’all

“Anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.
Flannery O’Connor

“A glance at the bevy of definitions at user-sourced Urban Dictionary reveals that different contributors think the words possess a wide variety of nuances: to ‘break bad’ can mean to ‘go wild,’ to ‘defy authority’ and break the law, to be verbally ‘combative, belligerent, or threatening’ or, followed by the preposition ‘on,’ to ‘completely dominate or humiliate.'”
Lily Rothman
Breaking Bad: What Does That Phrase Actually Mean?
Time.com

“I come from Virginia [and the phrase 'break bad'] is very much southern regionalism, but I thought everybody knew. It means to raise hell. So it’s like, ‘I was out the other night at the bar and I really just tied one on and I really broke bad. Oh man, I just woke up in the back of a squad car…'”
Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan

Vince Gilligan was born in Richmond, Virginia and raised mostly in Farmville (about an hour east of Richmond). He won an award for an 8mm film he made as a youth, and received a partial scholarship to attend NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.

“Gilligan’s big break came in 1989. Shortly after he graduated from NYU, he won the Virginia Governor’s Screenwriting Competition for a script titled Home Fries, which nine years later would become a film starring Drew Barrymore and Luke Wilson.”
Jim McConnell
Our Man in Hollywood

One of the judges of that Virginia screenwriting competition was Oscar-winning producer Mark Johnson (Rain Man). Johnson facilitated a meeting with Gilligan and The X-Files creator Chris Carter, who offered Gilligan a freelance opportunity to write for the The X-Files and eventually hired him as a full-time writer on the show. (Johnson would later serve as producer on Breaking Bad.)

Despite seven seasons writing on The X-Files, pitching Breaking Bad was not an easy sell for Gilligan:

“They said, ‘If we bought this we’d be fired. Literally fired. We cannot put this on TNT. It’s meth, it’s reprehensible. Can’t the guy—we’ve got to asked half-heartedly— can’t the guy be a counterfeiter instead?”…People are doing you a service by passing [on your project]. It’s like an at bat in baseball. You’re amazingly lucky in baseball if you bat 300 which is two times out of every three you strike out. That’s the job of the baseball batter.  That’s the job of pitching a TV show or a movie in Hollywood. Most people are going to turn you down.”
Vince Gilligan on pitching Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad found a home at AMC and the result after its five-year run was a total of 16 Emmy Awards.

P.S. Traditionally writers with southern roots are steeped in Bible-belt culture even if they don’t embrace the Christian faith.

“Until recently,  sin was something the southern writer did not have to send his hero in search of. William Faulkner, Erskine Caldwell, Robert Penn Warren, and Flannery O’Connor portray characters who choose evil and are blamed for it.  The whole southern tradition, Donald Davidson suggests, confronts us with ‘the ancient problem of evil and its manifestations.'”The Art of Walker Percy: Stratagems for Being, Edited by Panthea Reid Broughton

Here’s another common southern phrase that via R.E.M. out of Athens, Georgia found its way into pop culture. (Actual conversation I once heard in the South, “Girl, you keep dating that boy and you’re going to lose your religion.”)

Related posts:

Screenwriting Quote #190 (Vince Gilligan)
Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus“The most ordinary conversation in the south has a theological basis.” Novelist Harry Crews
Robin Swicord & ‘Stock Cars for Jesus’

 Scott W. Smith

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