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Archive for the ‘screenwriting’ Category

“The last thing I want to be remembered as is an annoying blabbermouth.”
Del (John Candy)
Planes, Trains & Automobiles

It’s Thanksgiving here in the United States and one globally universal thing about holidays is the potential for conflict (drama) as family and friends get together. (At least one crazy family member per get together has probably been the standard since the beginning of the human race.)

This week I heard a great description of a destructive family member on the rebroadcast of This American Life:

“Like some kind of super villain who can’t control her super powers, my mother somehow leaves an accidental trail of carnage wherever she goes.”
Josh Bearman
Duty Calls

Earlier this year I wrote seven posts about Pieces of April (2003)—my favorite Thanksgiving time-related film. (Edging out Planes, Trains and Automobiles.) And it that Peter Hedges film, it is the mother who would basically agree that her daughter (Katie Holmes) is the one who “leaves an accidental trail of carnage wherever she goes.”

Here’s a simple exchange from the movie where the daughter April talks about her mother (Joy) and a Thanksgiving memory:

screen-shot-2016-11-24-at-11-09-39-am

May those of you celebrating Thanksgiving today have a conflict free day.

Pieces of April (Part 1)
Pieces of April (Part 2)
Pieces of April (Part 3)
Pieces of April (Part 4)
Pieces of April (Part 5)
Pieces of April (Part 6)
Pieces of April (Part 7)

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

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“A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.”
Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) in Annie Hall 

Have you ever had a boyfriend or girlfriend break-up with you?  Raise your hand if you’ve gone through a nasty and emotional break-up? Wow, look at all those hands.

The Social Network opens up with a scene that builds up to a break-up.

“You are probably going to be a very successful computer person. But you’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole.”
Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) in The Social Network

If your goal is to be in a healthy, loving relationship and the person you’ve been with calls you an asshole right before they break-up with you have three basic options:

  1. Work through those issues with that person (and perhaps yourself) and eventually kiss and make up.
  2. Shake the dust off your feet and move on to another relationship (or at least begin looking for one).
  3. Listen to the Phil Collins song I Don’t Care Anymore 426 times and swear off personal relationships as impossible and get a dog, throw yourself into your career, or travel to Tahiti and take up big wave surfing.

We could call those three options complications, roadblocks, and reversals. On Scott Myers’ screenwriting blog Go Into the Story here’s how he defines those three things:

Complications: A complication is an event or circumstance which slows the Protagonist’s progress toward their goal.

Roadblocks: A roadblock is an event or circumstance which stops the Protagonist’s progress toward their goal.

Reversals: A reversal is an event or circumstance which reverses the Protagonist’s progress toward their goal.

Now granted screenwriters/screenwriting teachers have plenty of confusing names for various writing techniques that can muddy the water. But I think complications, roadblocks and reversals is simple and helpful way to look at scenes you’re writing.

In the fictitious movie version of Mark Zuckerberg’s life, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin uses the break-up to change not only the computer wizard’s life, but the lives of quite a few people. In the movie, that break-up led to a major reversal that changed the world.

After the break-up Zuckerberg could have walked around campus and thought things over and then taken his ex some flowers and tried to make up. In that scenario the break-up was just a complication.

Or after the break-up he could have said “Fine,  there’s more fish in the sea” and spent a few days or weeks looking for a new girlfriend. The break-up was a roadblock in his quest for a healthy, loving relationship.

But what Sorkin had the Zuckerburg character do is head back to his dorm and with a little computer know-how, a few beers, a couple of friends, and a lot of bitterness launch the “hot or not” website to get back at the woman who broke-up with him.

That leads to he and his friends to starting The Facebook, now known as just Facebook. In that version the break-up led to a major reversal in not just Zuckerberg’s life, but in the way that over a billion people live their daily lives.

As of this writing there are over 1.79 billion active Facebook users and over a billion of those log onto Facebook daily. Talk about disruptive. Facebook is up there with Henry Ford’s Model T, and the birth control pill, as far as disrupting the way people live their lives.  (And according to some reports Facebook could be classified as a modern form of birth control.)

Ultimately when you boil it down, complications, roadblocks, & reversals—slow down, stop, back-up (or change directions)—  when done right are all in the family of conflict & emotions, and are part of engaging an audience in your story.

Related posts:
Conflict—Conflict-Conflict
Major Reversals (Tip #104)
What’s Changed? (TIp #102)?

Scott W. Smith

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“Reversals can work physically or emotionally. They can reverse the action or reverse a character’s emotions. In Ghostbusters, our unemployed university professors reverse direction and start their own business. In Jaws, the townspeople think that they’ve caught the shark and start celebrating….The down and out psychic professors in Ghostbusters suddenly change from disappointment to excited. In Jaws, Martin and Matt move from celebration to fear.”
Linda Seger
Making a Good Script Great
page 77

Below is the scene in Jaws of the shark being cut open and the scene proceeding it where Matt (Richard Dyfuss) says that he’s leaving tomorrow to do shark research on a ship at sea for 18 months. After they cut the shark open he reverses his decision because (as he tells Sheriff Brody) “you’ve still got a hellofa fish out there.”

Scott W. Smith

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“Sometimes your convictions are the greatest stumbling blocks to fixing a story problem. It’s that thing that you’re certain of, that you don’t challenge — that you just know is right about a scene — that stops you from finding the inventive solution. It’s a good idea to have this general rule: challenge everything. Go through the problem scene step by step and consider the effect of doing the exact opposite of your story decisions.

“The audience will come to ‘know’ the character through their actions. When characters can make decisions that run counter to expectations, bringing immediate reversals into the story, that’s of immediate interest. (When Indiana Jones ties up Marion instead of releasing her [In Raiders of the Lost Ark], it’s a marvelous reversal, and we gain huge insights into Indy’s character by that one action.”
Screenwriters Terry Rossio & Ted Elliott (Pirates of the Caribbean)
Wordplay Columns/ Plot Devices

I couldn’t find the Indy/Marion scene online, but the classic opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark is a great reversal that goes from positive to negative.

And speaking of Rossio & Elliot, how about this reversal from their Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl script“You are without a doubt the worst pirate I’ve ever heard of” to “That’s got to be the best pirate I’ve ever seen.”

P.S. If you’re not familiar with Rossio & Elliot’s Wordplayer screenwriting columns you’re missing out on some of the best free screenwriting advice on the Internet—for almost 20 years!

Scott W. Smith

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“In the entire history of theater, it would be difficult to think of a play that’s more purely American than Bleacher Bums.”
Los Angeles Times review 

If the Chicago Cubs lose tonight there will be some happy Cubs fans. That’s not a typo. Yes, the Cleveland Indians fans will be happy if there team wins game 6 and become World Series champs for the first time since 1948.

Why, you may asked, would some Chicago Cubs fans be happy if their team loses another World Series? That is a rational question. But you see, the Cubs haven’t won a World Series game since 1908. Part of what’s baked into being a Chicago Cubs fan is your team is a perennial loser.

Several generations of Cubs fans have a shared camaraderie that their team is not going to win a World Series. I doubt there is anyone in Chicago (maybe in the world) who was alive and remember the last time the Cubs the World Series.

And, Yahoo! Sports reports that while the majority of Cub fans (91%) would like to see the Cubs finally win the World Series, that “1 in 4 Cubs fans will miss their identity of losing if they win the World Series.”

An identity of losing—that’s a theme worth exploring dramatically. And in fact, if I recall correctly, that was the basis for the play and TV movie Bleacher Bums. According to Wikipedia the 1977  play was “written collaboratively by members of Chicago’s Organic Theater Company, from an idea by actor Joe Mantegna.

I saw the play at a small theater in Los Angeles in the early or mid-80s and actually don’t remember much about it except it was enjoyable to watch. The play takes place in the cheap seat, outfield bleachers during an afternoon game at Wrigley Field as the ensemble cast of Cubs fans interact with each other.

Two Tv versions were made based on the play including this one from 1979 which aired on PBS:

If the Cubs lose tonight (or tomorrow night) Cubs fans in Chicago can still “celebrate” by catching the tail end of an updated Bleacher Bum run at the The Broadway Theater of the Pride Arts Center in Chicago. (According to the Chicago Tribune the play closes November 6.)

P.S. Back when the Indians won in 1948 one of their pitchers was Satchel Paige who on October 10, 1948 became the first black pitcher to to pitch it World Series history. That’s 45-years after the first World Series game was ever played. Which reminds be of another baseball film, The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976). Hal Barwood and Matthew Robbins wrote the screenplay based on William Brashler’s novel.

Related Posts:
Screenwriting, Baseball & Underdogs
Burns, Baseball & Character
‘The Battered Bastards of Baseball’
Baseball, Bergman & Bull Durham
Moneyball & Coach Ferrell

Scott W. Smith

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In less than an hour these hand picked videos I found on the Internet give you a sweeping overview of sound recording (mostly from the perspective of boom operating) for film & Tv—as well as webisodes, and video production in general. And, of course, it covers one of the most iconic pieces of equipment found on an set—the boom mic set-up which normally consists of a shotgun mic, boom pole, shock mount, windscreen/windshield, and an XLR cord or plug-on wireless transmitter.

And few things are as recognizable on a set as a boom operator with headphones on a set holding the boom set-up in the air. It’s a hard job— even when the boom poles these days are lightweight carbon fiber—and a learned skill. And on electronic news gathering (ENG), documentary, short films, corporate work, and low-budget features the audio person is often working solo meaning they are working the mixer as well as operating the boom.

It’s work that’s tough on the arms, hard on back, all for the sake of making the sound sweet to the ears. Hug a sound guy or gal today.

Scott W. Smith

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In keeping with Sydney Lumet’s quote that “moviemaking works very much like an orchestra” today’s post is a video that looks a little more into cinematography. Beyond having an appreciation for those that help translate screenplays into visual images, this video will help you think cinematically.

With an army of film schools grads, others workshops trained,  and perhaps even more self-taught all over the world—with their own cameras—teaming up with one of them is a great way to get your  words turned into short films, websiodes, and features.

Everyone aspires to do better work so keep an eye out for a cinematographer who has honed his or her craft working on award-winning corporate videos and commercials but would love to team up with someone like you to mix up their reel and help them move into more narrative work.

P.S. And for good measure here’s look at a few more lights and shadows by cinematographer Roger Deakins.

Related post:
10 Cinematography Tips by Roger Deakins

Scott W. Smith

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