“You don’t know what the story is 30 pages in, you don’t know who the main character is going to be, scenes that go on too long and don’t get buttoned, the scene ends but it drags on for three lines more—or starts three lines earlier [than it should], lack of momentum, lack of pace, tone that’s all over the place—saw a lot of that kind of stuff.”
(On common problems he saw reading screenplays when he was a script reader)
“I have like five basic rules that I try to follow:
1. No book-ends. Meaning like an old man is sitting down by a fire saying, ‘Let me tell you a story,’ and then coming back to a guy at the end. Really bugs me. I think you can always take them out and it means nothing.
2. Rule number two is no book-ends—for emphasis.
3. You don’t kill the dog. If there’s a dog in the film you don’t kill it.
4. Four is saving the kiss until the end. That last moment.
5. Feel free to disagree with the above four. Because at the end of the day there are really no rules. It’s just what you feel is a good story. And take all the experiences of all the films you’ve seen, and all of your life experiences and put that in as objectively as you can.
Pulp Fiction broke tons of rules, I love that. Just in terms of structure, and character, and time, and all that stuff. I thought The Usual Suspects broke rules. You think Keaton is going to be the main character and it’s not. Breaking rules—I’ve often thought it’d be great to write a serial killer film, a cop chasing a serial killer you’ve seen a thousand times, and have the serial killer killing the cop half way through—and who are you left with? I’m left with a serial killer the rest of the film? Well, that’ll be interesting, wouldn’t it? And seeing how that comes about. That’s breaking a mold. The most exciting, innovative storytelling kind of stuff. Trying to be on that cutting edge. Not just for the sake of being on that cutting edge, but because it’s interesting. It’s different, You haven’t seen it before. I think audiences are craving originality. I know I am in films. Just something different that I haven’t seen before. That’s at least worth the price of admission.”
Screenwriter Stuart Beattie (Derailed, Australia)
The Dialogue: Learning from the Masters (Part 3) interview with Mike De Luca
P.S. Hard to believe that interview has been online for almost a month and only has 51 views as I type this. It’s also hard to believe that audiences accept people getting killed all of the times in films, but killing a dog in a movie really disturbs people. You can show a character kicking a dog to show he or she is a villain, but if you shoot and kill a dog the odds are good you’ll have to edit that out or reshoot (like Beattie said they had to do in the movie Payback). I’m sure psychologist can tell us why. (And, for the record, dogs are the only animals that seem to get this immunity in Hollywood.)
“A lot of people die in Seven Psychopaths. It is brutal and it is bloody and it revels in its own excess: throats are slashed, people are burned alive, women are shot in the stomach, men get blown to pieces. CBS, which funded the film, was delighted when it read the screenplay, director Martin McDonagh’s follow-up to the much-loved In Bruges. Delighted, except for the bit where someone kills a dog. Hollywood doesn’t like dog-killing, and the studio suggested it would be prudent for him to remove that bit. Not a word about the women who die horribly and slowly, but a dog? You can’t kill a dog. ‘Of course,’ says McDonagh. ‘It’s rule number one.'”
Alex Godfrey, Seven Psychopaths: ‘You can’t kill dogs in Hollywood’
Of course, dogs do die in movies—sometimes gracfully in old age, and sometimes they are killed—and you could probably spend a whole day tracking down threads about it on internet. But I think the general consensus (at least in the United States) is that killing a dog in a movie hits people at such a gut level that it takes them out of the film going experience.