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Posts Tagged ‘William C. Martell’

I know William C. Martell’s book The Secrets of Action Screenwriting is out of print but you can really track down a copy if you want one (and want to spend a little money) so this will be the last post from Martell’s book. I’ll leave you with some encouraging words:

“Now, it’s time for YOU to swing into action, and get to work on your script. Set aside a couple hours a day to work on your computer. Remember, it’s only one page a day at a time. If you write only one page a day, seven days a week, you’ll have a completed first draft in about three months. THREE MONTHS! You can write a page a day, right? So start tomorrow, and three months from now, you’ll have a new, exciting, action script…Maybe the next Face/Off or Die Hard!”
William C. Martell
The Secrets of Action Screenwriting
Page 208

Scott W. Smith

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Right now there is a hurricane out in the Atlantic Ocean and there is speculation on whether or not it will hit the eastern coast of the United States. A couple days ago was the five year anniversary of hurricane Charlie. Charlie made landfall in Fort Myers, moved directly over Orlando where I happened to be staying at the time, and headed back out to sea at Daytona Beach.

It’s estimated that hurricane Charlie caused $7.5 billion in damage and claimed 23 lives. There is a lot of suspense in tracking hurricanes because they can do so much damage.

Suspense is also a key element to action screenwriting as William C. Martell points out in his book The Secrets of Action Screenwriting:

“Keeping the audience on the edge of their seat is the function of SUSPENSE. Suspense is not the same things as action, nor is it the same as surprise. Suspense is the ANTICIPATION of action. The longer you draw out the anticipation, the great the suspense.
           Hitchcock explained; ‘Two men are having an innocent little chat. Let us suppose that there is a bomb underneath the table between them. Nothing happens, then all of the sudden, BOOM! There is an explosion. The audience is surprised, it has been an absolutely  ordinary scene, of no special consequence.
           Now let us take a SUSPENSE situation. The bomb is underneath the table, bu tthe audience knows it…Probably because they have seen the villain place it there. The audience is aware that the bomb is going to explode at one O’clock, and there is a clock in the decor. It is a quarter to one. In this situation, the same innocuous conversation becomes faccinating, because the audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen; There’s a bomb beneath you, and it’s about to explode!”

That’s suspence.

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“REVERSALS are little twists which occur within a scene. If the twists takes the STORY in another direction, it’s a ‘plot twist.’ The most common criticism of beginner’s scripts is that they’re too predictable. The reader KNOWS what’s going to happen next, so why read on?
      Already, you’re up against the genre in making your script unpredictable; We KNOW the hero will win and the villain will be vanquished. So our job as action writers is to make sure the story DOESN’T take a direct path from beginning to end, but corkscrew a little.”

                                                                William C. Martell
                                                                The Secrets of Action Screenwriting
                                                                Page 77

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“The key to a good action scene is reversals.”
                                           Shane Black
                                           Lethal Weapon 

William C. Martell says that action films have to be filled with action. But it has to be more than car chases and things exploding, right? In his book The Secrets of Action Screenwriting, Martell poses this question and then answers it; “How do you write exciting action passages?  Use reversals, suspense, ticking clock, rug pulls, and twists!” So what is a reversal? Martell defers to someone who as made millions writing action screenplays:

“It’s like a good news, bad news joke. The bad news is, you get thrown out of an airplane. The good news is, you’re wearing a parachute. the bad news is, your rip cord breaks. The good news is, you have a back up ‘chute. The bad news is you can’t reach the cord. Back and forth, just like that, until the character reaches the ground. He’s gonna die…no he’s not…Reversal, reversal, reversal.”
                                                                          Shane Black 

We’ll look at some of the other ways to write action in Part 6.

 

Scott W. Smith


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When you think of classic actions films a few of these might pop into your mind; Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, 48 Hrs., The Last Boy Scout, The Matrix. Those films all have at least on thing in common —they were produced by Joel Silver. Orphan currently in theater was also produced by Silver.  His first producing credit was back in 1976, so what’s his box-office secret?

Let’s once again turn to the book The Secrets of Action Screenwriting for part of the answer:

Action film producer Joel Silver says, ‘You’ve got to have a ‘whammo’ every ten minutes; an explosion, a car chase, a fight scene, to keep the audience interested.’ Silver believes this is the most important thing in action films, and he’s probably right. Silver has made the most successful action films ever, and launched Schwarenegger as an Action Lead in the low budget Commando. 
    
    Pacing and Timing are critical to action films.
         Long dead spots and an abundance of talk scenes will sink your script before it ever gets made. Action scripts contain action scenes and you’ve got to keep those car chases and shoot outs coming, or the audience will get up and leave.”
                                                                                          William C. Martell 

Of course, Martell’s book came out in 1998 and I don’t know how old the Joel Silver quote is but it seems like the whammo factor has been bumped up to every ten seconds in some action movies these days.

Scott W. Smith

 



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“Grab the script to Die Hard. Sometimes the script goes as long as three pages without a single line of dialogue. It’s all action.”
                                                           William C. Martell 

You have a villain who has a horrible plan and a hero (Superman or Everyman) who is out to stop the villain, so what more do we need for an action movie? Maybe a little action?  We return to Martell’s book The Secrets of Action Screenwriting to see what he says about action:

“Action films have to be filled with action. That’s what the ARE. Action scripts aren’t dialogue scripts. You can’t write: ‘There is a big car chase, and the villain’s car explodes.’ That’s boring. The trick of writing a good action script, is to fully describe your action scenes in ways that are exciting to read. Action scenes need to be thrill a minute page turners, where the reader can’t wait to find out what happens next. The average studio reader comes to a block of action and wants to skim it. Your job as a writer is to make them read every single word, then skim your dialogue to get your next action scene…Just like what YOU do in the theater.”
                                                                            William C. Martell

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Screenwriter William C. Martell in his book The Secrets of Action Screenwriting talks about the villain’s plan before he talks about the hero and how he plans on stopping the villain. Martell points out that there are two kinds of heroes in films which he calls “Superman Type”(Superman) and “Everyman Type” (Indiana Jones). Martell also points out that an important lesson is that the villain must be stronger than the hero.He also points out there is often a mirror image or the flip side connection between the hero in the villain.

“Heroes and villains are frequently linked. Belloq tell Indiana Jones: ‘You and I are very much alike….I am a shadowy reflection of you. It would only take a nudge to make you like me; to push you out of the light.’ and in The Empire Strikes Back (also written by Lawrence Kasden) Darth gives a similar speech to Luke.”
                                                 William C. Martell 

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