Archive for July, 2018

“Sometimes people will say to me, why do you always have these characters act so badly? Why are they behaving terribly? Why do they think this way? And I always say because they need to learn a lesson. If they’re smart, and self-actualized, and kind, and compassionate there’s no story. Stories are about people who are messed up, and need to figure out a way through it. Or a way to grow.”
Writer/Director Judd Apatow (Knocked Up)


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“I like to think about sequences. I really believe less in a three-act structure and much more in sequences that are sort of eight-to-12 pages. Roughly about ten-minutes that work almost like chapters in a story. Nobody is better at building a story this way than Steven Spielberg… The sequences have their own beginning, middle, and end that are satisfying—it really pulls you along.”
Director Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind)

Related post:

Sequence Writing (Tip #105)

A look at Chris Soth’s sequence version called the “mini-movie method”—mixed with a little Blake Snyder

Scott W. Smith

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Screen Shot 2018-07-11 at 1.52.55 PM

Yesterday I picked up the Blu-Ray of A Quiet Place. I haven’t bought a movie on the day of its release in years. I wanted to fit in another post about it and landed on this first frame from the movie—DAY 89.

That’s minimalistic exposition at its best. It hooks the audience and forces them to wonder, “Day 89 of what?” And the mysterious part is we’re not given the answer. No tired voice-over of someone explaining what happened. Just “DAY 89.” It pulls the audience into the story and makes them put together the puzzle.

The opening scene of an abandoned town and a family of five having an unorthodox shopping spree would work without DAY 89—but I don’t think near as well. Don’t know if that came from writer/director John Krasinski, the other credited screenwriters Scott Beck & Bryan Woods, or someone else, but good choice.

It reminds me of another minimal bit of exposition from Sicario (2015) where a fellow tells Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), “Sorry for your loss.” But were not told what that loss is until much later in the film, where that information will have it’s most impact.

Until then we just have Del Toro’s face and body language to tell us that this is a man who has had a hard life. At the 2:29 mark of the video below, you’ll find Taylor Sheridan’s writing, Denis Villeneuve’s direction, and Emily Blunt’s acting—before her role in A Quiet Place—keeping us intrigued about what mystery man Alejandro lost.

“You’re asking me how a watch works.”= Mysterious Minimal Exposition

Related posts:
Screenwriting & Exposition (an oldie from 2008 post)
“Exposition is BORING unless…”
10 Solid Exposition Examples
‘A Quiet Place’ Meets ‘Screenwriting from Iowa’

Scott W. Smith

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“Water can be very violent, and this is a very difficult [cave rescue] because of the extreme high flow, the zero visibility, the boulder pile chokes, restrictions.”
Edd Sorenson in Vox article about daring cave rescue 

Now that the 12 young soccer players and their coach have been rescued from a cave in Thailand, we can address why their story captived the world.


Conflict is always a good place to start. Here you had young boys and their coach who accidentally got trapped 2.5 miles inside a cave.


It’s monsoon season in Thailand and the timeframe was closing to get the boys out alive.

What’s At Stake? 


The major questions on everyone’s mind was some version of, “How are they going to rescue those boys?” It’s a simple and primal question that is clearly understood. Often movies/screenplays fail on this basic storytelling tool.

The Major of Central Dramatic Question

Goal. Stakes. Urgency. 

No need to explain why this was an emotional situation.


This was mostly a happy ending. It was tinged with the loss of life of one of the volunteers. That death reminded us of how dangerous a mission it was to rescue the boys. The fact that the boys had been in the cave since June 23—more than two weeks—built the tension with the world watching. That made their resue all the sweeter. Check out the VOX article by Radhika Viswanathan to see a solid example of multimedia journalism that’s only a couple hours old, but shows what it took to bring the boys and the coach out alive.

Earn Your Ending

Insanely Great Endings 

Happy, Sad, Ironic, Ambiguous Endings

P.S. You could do a nice list of the best movies written around the concept of a search and rescue. I’ll start a list here and keep adding to it until I get 20:
Saving Private Ryan
Die Hard
Captain Phillips
Black Hawk Down
The Martian
Apollo 13
Toy Story

Scott W. Smith



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“The last 15 minutes of any movie are the most important, but the first 15 pages of any screenplay are the most important just from the standpoint of getting the movie made. I’m talking to young writers now who want to get their foot in the door. They want their scripts made. If you have a kickass first 15 pages, a studio executive will forgive the crummy 110 pages that follow. It’ll need to be re-written. But those first 15 pages, if they really hook you—someone’s going to be interested.”
Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin

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“I always think people should think of comedies as dramas when you’re writing… They should work just as well if there aren’t any jokes.” 
Writer/Director Judd Apatow

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Making connections—that’s what I do. Today I’m connecting the Judd Apatow/James L. Brooks grace note concept to two films that had basically the same grace note. (If they qualify as grace notes.):

“You don’t need everyone to love you. Just a few good people.”
Charity Baily to her husband P.T. Barnum in The Greatest Showman (2017)
Written by Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon

“Maybe you don’t need the whole world to love you. Maybe you just need one person.”
Kermit the Frog to Miss Piggy in The Muppets (2011)
Written by Jason Segel & Nicholas Stoller

To keep things in perspective remember that Robin Williams once said that basically winning an Oscar does changes your life—for about a week or so. Then everyone starts thinking about next year’s Oscar Awards.

P.S. If you know someone who used the term “grace notes” before James L. Brooks let me know.

Scott W. Smith



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