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“Reversals are a more compelling form of discoveries or revelations because they turn the story upside down.”
Karl Iglesias
Writing for Emotional Impact

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2016 Election Night/ New York Times

(Let me preface this post by saying that while I’ve been a registered Democrat and a registered Republican in the past, for the past 15 years I’ve been an independent. And though I did take part in this year’s election I did not vote for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.)

Politics aside, the 2016 United States Presidential Election was a great example of a major reversal. Up there with the grandaddy of cinematic major reversals— “I am your father.” And as divisive as this past election was, it’s simply too good a reversal illustration to pass up. (Plus what I’m talking about was already fair game for SNL Saturday night in their Election Night skit with Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, and others.)

But before I talk politics, let’s talk sports. On Saturday college football had its own set of major reversals as the #2, #3, #4 teams lost. Something that ESPN reported hadn’t happened on the same day in 31 years. (Both #2 Clemson losing to unranked Pitt, and #4 Michigan losing to unranked Iowa—each by last second field goals—were particularly dramatic.)

And just two weeks ago the Chicago Cubs had their own major reversal. Once down 3 games to 1 in the best of seven  games 2016 World Series, they came back to win three games in a row including game 7 in extra innings. That was not only a reversal in being down 3-1 in the series, but a major reversal because it ended 108 of losing out on winning a championship. High stakes. High drama.

But this week’s Presidential Election had even a bigger major reversal than all of those. One commentator called it the biggest upset in American politics since 1948 when Truman upset Dewey for the presidency, another commentator called it the biggest political upset in a century, followed by an NPR commentator yesterday calling it “the biggest political upset in American history.”  All I know is at least half the voters in the USA are upset. (Major reversals are emotional. That’s why you sometimes see tears flow following one.)

Perhaps filmmaker Michael Moore was the only person in the press in recent months who truly believed Donald Trump was actually going to become the next president of the United States. (And that includes the now President-elect Trump who seemed to be in excuse mode even the day of the election. Even sources in Trump’s camp said he was “surprised” he won.)

But regardless of your view of the outcome of the election, there is a great lesson here to improve your screenwriting and storytelling.

As I watched the election results unfold last Tuesday night it reminded me of watching a movie.

Act 1 (8:00 PM):  While the Major Dramatic Question was “Who is going to win the election?” the feel was “How big a margin is Hillary Clinton going to win by?” Basically echoing what Adam Nagourney wrote in The New York Times the Sunday before the election, “It’s hard to begrudge Democrats their gloating about the state of the Republican Party as the campaign enters its final hours. By most measures, Donald J. Trump appears headed for defeat.”

Act 2 (8:30 PM): As the Southern states started tilting red for Trump, TV commentators said things like “We expected this…” but then when Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Florida were all shaping up as too close to call one of the commentators said, “I’m not sure what’s happening.” Others said that it was surprising, but that Trump would actually have to win Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, AND Florida to have any chance at a path to win the election. Highly unlikely.

Act 3 (9:30 PM):
Trump did win Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, AND Florida. Now the talk flipped to “Hillary still has a path to the White House.” And that drama played out for about half an hour or so until Clinton appeared to be losing Iowa and Wisconsin and that Trump was actually going to pull off a major upset. In the early hours of Wednesday, Clinton conceded defeat. For the rest of your lives if you ever forget what a major reversal looks like you just have to recall the 2016 Presidential Election.

“A reversal changes the direction of the story 180 degrees…Reversals can work physically or emotionally. They can reverse the action or reverse a character’s emotions.”
Linda Seger
Making A Good Script Great
Page 67

Minor reversals (good and bad) are a daily part of our lives, but major reversals really get our attention.  It’s a divorce, a death, or the loss of a job. But it’s also a marriage, a birth, and a promotion. It’s been said that there really are only two emotions, happy and sad.

Movies are also full of minor reversals. Just about every scene has some kind of reversal in it.  The uncertainty holds our attention. But what sets a major reversal apart is scope and magnitude.

In Rocky, when Adrian finally accepts a date from Rocky that’s a reversal in their relationship up unto that point. When Rocky loses his locker, that’s a reversal. But when Rocky, a low-level, club boxer is chosen to fight the champion Apollo Creed, that is a major reversal in the story. It’s such a major reversal that five Rocky movies have flowed from the reversal.

If Rocky isn’t chosen for that fight, perhaps he realizes that boxing really isn’t his calling in life and takes a factory job where he ends up fighting the system like Erin Brockovich and Norma Rae. But Rocky fought for the championship and it resulted in a franchise that’s made over a billion dollars at the box office.

Robert Mckee says a film needs to have at least three major reversals to “satisfy the audience” and I’d agree with that. But I’d add that there are five places in script where major reversals are not only common, but needed:

  1. The inciting incident. (What others call the “Knock at the door.”) It’s the thing that sets your story in motion.
  2. Act 1 Turning point
  3. Midpoint conflict
  4. Act 2 Turning point
  5. Crisis/Climax toward the end of your story.

Many memorable movie scenes are major reversals that loosely fit in one of the above categories.

“Reversals go a long way toward helping writers confront the twin-edge sword of predictability.”
Richard Walters
Essentials of Screenwriting
Page 74

Off the top of my head here are some major reversals:

—”I see dead people.” (If you don’t know the reference I won’t spoil it for you.)
—”She’s my sister and my daughter.” (Ditto the above note.)
—The tornado in The Wizard of Oz.
—The plane crash in Cast Away.
— The super posse shows up in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
—Matt Damon gets stranded on Mars (The Martian).
—Sandra Bullock gets lost in space (Gravity).
—A command module malfunctions (Apollo 13).
—Jerry Maguire gets fired.
—Zoltar grants the young boy Josh his wish and he wakes up as a man (Big)
—The warden throws a rock through a Raquel Welch poster in Shawshank.
—Woody in the box at the end of Toy Story 3. (Yes, I shed a tear or two.)
—The ______ in the box in Se7en.
Both Fight Club and A Beautiful Mind have major reversals where the audience learns the main character has a mental illness.
—When Tom Cruise learns who the Rain Man is (Rain Man).
—And the Keyser Soze ending to The Usual Suspects:

Scott W. Smith

There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
Leonard Cohen (1934-2016)
Anthem

Sometimes it just takes a few words to say a lot. Can I get an amen? How about a hallelujah? Leonard Cohen died last week and here’s one of his most well-known songs (Hallelujah) written and recorded by himself, followed by several covers of that song. (It’s a song that I’ve read took 10 years to write. )

Related posts:
‘More Light’  (Goethe & Chris in the Morning from Northern Exposure)
Screenwriting Quote #182 (Richard Krevolin) “All characters are wounded souls, and the stories we tell are merely an acting out of the healing process.”
Broken Wings & Silver Linings
Character Flaws 101 (tip #30)
Burns, Baseball & Character Flaws
After Darkness, Light

Scott W. Smith

“Today, on Veterans Day, we honor those who served our country. You who once wore the uniform of our Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or Coast Guard, we owe you our thanks, we owe you our respect, and we owe you our freedom.”
President Obama
Veterans Day Ceremony 11/11/16

flagsiowa-scottwsmith

©2007 Scott W. Smith

Today is Veterans Day in the United States, a time to “honor American veterans of all wars.” I took this photo several years ago in Cedar Falls, Iowa on one of those perfect blue sky, windy days at AMVETS Post 49.

Here are some thoughts of former Navy SEAL Jocko Willink responding to a question about if he had any considerations on being a “pawn” in the U.S. military. (To hear the full question and answer listen to The Tim Ferriss Show podcast #187.):

“The fact of the matter is I’m actually honored to have served as a so-called ‘pawn’ in that system. America is far from perfect. We have committed some horrors in our history. Even today we make mistakes in the world. But when you travel the world and you see how much of the rest of the world lives—how much they live in disarray. And you see the oppression, and you see the poverty, and you see the corruption, and see the abject violations of basic human rights, then you realize how blessed, or lucky, or maybe even spoiled we are to live in America.

“Let’s just start with potable tap water. Drinking water. In America we just have that everywhere. Any home, any apartment, even the prisons you turn on the tap and you get good, clean, disease-free drinking water. That is not the norm in the rest of the world. And on top of that we have power, got electricity going in just about every home. That means just about every home has heat in the winter time, and they have air-conditioning in the summer time.”

“Let’s take that just a little further, what about access to the internet. Access to the internet here is widespread. Something like 70% of adults have a smart phone. Seventy percent…. Seventy percent. So you can gain access to knowledge here unlike any other time in human history. And our healthcare system—I know it’s not perfect, but I’ll tell you what, if you view our healthcare system from a third world hospital which often don’t even have the simplest of medical gear, you’d realize it’s not perfect but it’s pretty damn good.”

“And beyond that let’s look at the food that’s available.  Never mind starvation and malnutrition, our issue in America is actually too much food. And much of the world still has people literally people starving to death. And America offers an amazing opportunity to build, and to create, and to be what you want to be and to be who you want to be. And unlike anywhere else in the world, the ability to pursue happiness. And all those things, all of it, is possible because of the unbridled individual freedom that America offers.”

“And you know what else? It’s also possible because of industry, because of the incredible corporations, and businesses, and individuals. Because of people that took advantage of that freedom and worked their asses off to build this nation. So to have been a pawn in that, to have done my small share of work to allow this beacon of light and of hope and of freedom to continue—I’m honored to have had the chance [to serve in the Navy]. Would I do it all over again? You’re damn right I would, without question.”
Jocko Willink  (@jockowillink)

Scott W. Smith

 

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On this 2016 election day here in the USA I wanted to uniquely captured the presidential race in one photo and here is the results. I used my Nikon D800 in multiple shot mode to take a picture of a Hillary Clinton/ Tim Kaine sign and one of a Donald Trump/Mike Pence sign and the camera merged them together and liked the artistic results.

It’s about as united as the United States of America can get this election.

Scott W. Smith

To paraphrase what David Mamet once said about the theater—Baseball is always dying and always being reborn.

The Chicago Cubs winning the final game of a best of seven game World Series was the stuff of high drama. A couple of years ago I wrote a post called Screenwriting and the Super Bowl. This post could be called Screenwriting and the World Series.

Here’s a quick overview of why the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series captured the attention of so many here in the United States with an estimated 40 million viewers watching on TV. And because this is a screenwriting blog, I’ll talk about it in terms of the theatrics. (And I’ll just limit it to 11 points)

BACKSTORY: Chicago is third largest city in the United States. And even as the 2.7 million population is not in growth mode there are millions of others scattered throughout the country with roots in Chicago. And part of those roots is being a Chicago Cub fan. The fact that the Cubs had not won a World Series since 1908 meant to be a Cubs fans meant generations of being perianal losers. The quintessential “This wasn’t out year/Wait until next year” fan.

Toss in the legend of the Curse of the Bill Goat where the owner of the Billy Goat Tavern was asked to take his Billy Goat out of Wrigley Field because its smelled bother other fans  so he allegendly cursed the team and it’s not hard to see where even the non-baseball fan was pulling for the Cubs.

And because of labor strikes by players and steroid drug scandals over the years Major League Baseball isn’t quite the national pastime it once was. The NFL and NBA are the glamour models of professional sports in the United States. And everything from UFC, smart phones, video games, etc. don’t make the culture at large as interested the slower game of baseball as popular as it once was.

But last Wednesday night people sat up and paid attention to baseball.

So game 7 of the World Series—winner take all. The series tied three games a piece. The odds are against the Cubs for several reasons and of the main ones is the game was played in Cleveland. But the twist is because of the historic chance to win a World Series, Cubs fans from around the world pay on average $2,700 per ticket. (But actor Bill Murray gave an extra ticket he had to a Cubs fan.) So a healthy amount of Cubs fans are in the stands so it’s not a typical away game. In fact, behind the Cubs dugout it probably felt like a home game.

STAKES: For all the reasons above the stakes are high for the Cubs.

DYNAMIC OPENING: The very first batter of the game, Dexter Flower, hit a home run for the Cubs. A lead off home run in game 7 had never happened in World Series history.

GOALS: Each team/fan has a simple definable goal—to win game 7 and the World Series. There’s no real bad guy/bad team here, just two equally matched teams. Though because the Cubs haven’t won in so long the are seen as underdogs and people love to root for underdogs.

CONFLICT—There’s contant conflict throughout the game as teams fight to score runs and prevent the other team from scoring.

CRISIS-In the next to the last inning, the Indian get a two run homer to tie the game. The tide appears to be shifting for the home team. NBA champion and MVP LeBron James is in the stands and does a Hulk Hogan impression of power. After the regulation 9-innings the game is tied 6-6. But in the tenth inning the Cubs score two runs to take a 8-6 lead.

CLIMAX: All the Cubs need is three outs to finally win a World Series after 108 years. They get two outs, but the Indians also score a run and have a man on base meaning a home run by the next batter would result in the Indians winning 9-8. But he grounds out and the Cubs win. Celebrating begins and doesn’t stop for a couple of days.

RESOLUTION: The celebration continues as the Cubs return to Chicago for a old school downtown parade. (The kind astronauts got after the returned safely from space.)

IS IT A MOVIE? Sure it was an exciting World Series, but does that make it worthy of a movie? Time will tell. There definitely will be long and short documentaries on the 2016 Chicago Cubs. But chances are if the first feature dramatic film made about the Cubs winning will probably be a quirky indie film set around the events of the memorable 2016 team.

Take for instance the man who made a promise with his dad that if the Cubs were ever in the world series that they’d listed to the game together. The problem was his dad was dead. So the 68-year old man drove 650 miles from his home in North Carolina to a cemetery in Greenwood, Indiana where father was buried after he died in 1980. Sitting in a chair next to his father’s headstone he listened to the game. That’s the stuff of great drama. The Straight Story meets Field of Dreams.

EMOTIONS-After the last out in game seven, I bet there hasn’t be so many grown crying in the USA over something athletic since Brian’s Song first aired back in the 70s. (By the way, another Chicago-based movie.) And there were plenty of women and children caught up in the celebrations and mixture of emotions.

WHAT’S CHANGED?: The world is different now for Cubs fans. They are winners now.

It’s a little sad that we’ve lost The Bad News Cubs, but congrats to the 2016 Chicago Cubs for bringing a jolt of life to baseball—especially in light of a time when American politics appears on life support.

P.S. And since this blog is titled Screenwriting from Iowa I should point out that the Chicago Cubs have a minor league team in Des Moines, Iowa. And one of the millions of subplots surrounding the Cubs win 85-year-old Darel Sterner, a life long Cubs fan and Iowa resident, watched the Cubs finally  win the World Series and died three hours later.

Related posts:

Screenwriting da Chicago Way
Postcard (Wrigley Field)
Bleacher Bums

Scott W. Smith

The Cleveland Indians host the Chicago Cubs tonight in the deciding World Series game. The Indians haven’t won a World Series since 1948 and the Cubs since 1908. And both teams also have a bit of Hollywood history with Major League (1989) written by David S. Ward and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) written by John Hughes.

Scott W. Smith

 

‘Bleacher Bums’

“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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