Saturday, March 31, 2007

Failed to make the grade - Addendum

I'm over my rant now, I feel some vindication - though I won't say why.

What's more important is the emotions that spring from rejection - they're self indulgent, all-encompassing, depressive anger.

Why is that important? In order to harness an emotion, I guess, we need to understand it. In order to show a reader/audience the whys and wherefors, we need to have a true account... certainly so that we may understand its workings ourselves.

Bitterness. This is the strongest part of the emotion - the basenote, if you will. It clings in there throughout the other swinging emotions. How the hell could I be passed over? I need this! I'm there, really I am. I just need that little extra push, damn it. How can they be better than me?

Sadness. The midtones. Whilst not as overwhelming as the bitterness, or as strong and sudden as the highnotes, sadness brings on the real depressiveness. I want to throw in the towel. I'm never going to be as good as I want to be. I'm not up to the level that I'd hope I am. What's the point, when I'm passed over and I don't even understand what I'm missing.

Anger. The highnotes. This comes and goes the most, like a moth to a flame. It has me thinking that I should jack it in, complain, tear something up. Actually throw in the towel.

But, as I said, in the light of a new day, everything seems different. Life goes on, and so do we. The key to overcoming this is not just the understanding of new information, but the feeling of being understood and reassured, which takes me back to my discussion during Counselling Skills, now over a year ago, that people just need and want to be heard and understood.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Failed to make the grade

Feeling, suddenly, angry-upset-depressed about not making the grade to do the first masterclass at Birmingham with author Jim Crace. Apparantly they'll be doing some prose stripping (which sounds nice), but out of 13 of us who applied to do it, only 8 got through, and 5 of us have to go swing - which is fair enough...

... except it's not. I was certain my 300 word grovelling laid out my needs sure enough, so why didn't I get on. That's not a question. Why should it be?

I always reach these moments of rejection with immediate emotional response - and it's not to do with the person giving the bad news (though it is to do with the rejection itself). Questions bubble up from the super-heated froth fizzing around my brain - what was I missing? How could my 300 words have been wrong? What's wrong with me?

The response include thoughts on the losers' needs not being attuned to Jim's purpose: "creative spark, imaginative input, for example, which is not what the prose stripping sessions are actually about." Which wasn't what I need help with, so the problem is with the way I come across - and again, I doubt it was the humorous(less?) last line.

Wo what does that mean? 8 people will get to look in depth at what they need to do to spruce up their work... and I can go hang.

Self indulgent swear word coming up... FUCK IT.

And then... and then... the point is that as part of our Professional Development module we need to evaluate our masterclasses. And here is one, and I'm going to miss out on it. Jeesh, and there was me thinking I'd paid for this.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Professional Development - Collaborative Project

As part of the National Academy of Writing, we've got to do a Professional Development encompasing teaching, collaborative arts and maintaining a diary of learning. There's a lot of work involved (justly) as it covers up to two years. I've decided to take the bull by the horns and look into the collaborative element with respect to getting something done and ready for the New Generation Arts Festival (in June - whoah!).

I was wondering how I should go about linking my ideas together and getting some kind of ball rolling... perhaps I should mention what I'm considering:

I have written three 1,500 word short stories that can be turned into monologues. Their unifying themes are the 'trials of childhood':

  • The courtship of two sixthform students (my original submission for entry to NAW)
  • A bullied student seeks revenge on his classmates
  • A daughter pieces together her mother's reasons for hating her dead father (originally the 1,000 word Fanny and Alexander improvisation).

I'm thinking of writing a 4th to wrap it all up, but have yet to plan it. Each one takes roughly 10 minutes to read out and my thoughts so far on tying it all together would be one actor/actress to read each monologue a-la a kind of Alan Bennett "Talking Heads" with basic set pieces and possibly projections of images relating to what the actors are saying - either representing the truth of the words, visual metaphors, or juxtaposed imagery.

My tutor for this module has these thoughts:

This sounds interesting in principle and would be a good project to pursue with some student actors. I’d need to see the material you’ve written, though. The word ’link’ always arouses suspicion and I think you might need to find a sharper focus for what you want to do.

Maybe I should say they're "Three separate stories on the trials of childhood".

If it’s to work as a performance there has to be a strong thread, and looking at your pieces individually I’d say you will need to do a lot of filtering to pitch your work for speaking actors. On this, I recommend two books, both of which you can order from Amazon: Anne Hart’s How to Write Plays, Monologues and Skits and Laura Harrington’s 100 Monologues. The latter is an anthology designed (if memory serves) for drama school auditions but it’s a great source of examples and ideas. At the moment you need greater economy in indicating space and time, and you need to pace the pieces around what playwrights call ‘beats’ – the changes of direction which give a performer a clue to mood and keep the audience on their toes. Think of a beat as lasting about 30 seconds! I’d start with the bullying piece.

So, more to think about, on top of planning my screenplay. Perhaps this module should wait till next year.


Holy-cripes. Next week we look at Casablanca and Amelie in relation to the Dramatica theory.

Casablanca is an Oscar-winning 1942 romantic film set during World War II in the Vichy-controlled Moroccan city of Casablanca. The film was directed by Michael Curtiz, and stars Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine and Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa Lund. It focuses on Rick's conflict between, in the words of one character, love and virtue: he must choose between his love for Ilsa and his need to do the right thing by helping her husband, Resistance hero Victor Laszlo, escape from Casablanca and continue his fight against the Nazis.
The film was an immediate hit, and it has remained consistently popular ever since. Critics have praised the charismatic performances of Bogart and Bergman, the chemistry between the two leads, the depth of characterisation, the taut direction, the witty screenplay and the emotional impact of the work as a whole.

Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain (The Fabulous Destiny of Amélie Poulain), also known simply as Amélie, is a 2001 French romantic comedy film directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and starring Audrey Tautou. Written by Guillaume Laurant (also dialogue) and Jeunet, the film is a whimsical and somewhat idealised depiction of contemporary Parisian life, set in Montmartre.
The film was released in France, Belgium, and French-speaking western Switzerland in April 2001, with subsequent screenings at various film festivals followed by releases around the world.
Amélie won best film at the European Film Awards; it won four César Awards (including Best Film and Best Director), two BAFTA Awards (including Best Original Screenplay), and was nominated for five Academy Awards. It is the highest-ranking French movie in the IMDb's Top 250. (See below for other awards and recognition.)

Dramatica is a theory of story that was developed by Melanie Anne Phillips and Chris Huntley in the early 1990s. Dramatica is also a computer program based on the theory and published by Write Brothers, Inc. (formerly Screenplay Systems Incorporated).

Dramatica theory is based upon the idea of the "story mind." The theory posits that every complete story is a holistic model of the problem solving process of the mind. Stories must examine all significant approaches to resolving the central problem of the story to be complete. The theory provides a systematic and complicated framework for creating and analyzing stories that are published in film or print.

The theory involves identifying the main character and an "impact character." A protagonist is often, but not always, the main character of a story. "Impact characters" have an ideology that conflicts with the main character. The story is divided and analyzed across four perspective "throughlines":
  • Overall story
  • View of the main character.
  • View of the impact character.
  • Relationship of main and impact characters.

Theory terminology has shifted gradually. Impact characters are still referred to as "obstacle characters" in some instances.

Screenwriting 104 - TV Drama

TV Drama has changed, and is still in the process of changing. The six types of television drama or converging and swapping places in an effort to cater for greater viewing audiences. Take Entourage, for example, it is a drama but has lots of comedy moments and is slotted into a sitcom style 30 minutes. Desperate Housewives is a drama but has lots of comedic elements. Currently there are 6 types of fictional television:

  • Single - This is a 1 or 2 hour, one off drama (not very profitable for the channel because it doesn't get repeat audiences).
  • Sitcom - The standard 30 minutes situational comedy, or the new strain of off the wall vignettes slotted into a 30 minute time frame.
  • Series - Your standard television dramas (Lost, 24, Battlestar, Heroes, Life on Mars, Doctor Who). In the UK a series is roughly 8 to 13 episodes in length. In the US a series is roughly 20 to 24 episodes in length.
  • Mini-series - UK series' are classed as mini-series in the US. In the UK, a mini-series would be classed as Prime Suspect, or Cracker (which runs for 6-8 weeks, but has separate storylines which run for 2 to 3 weeks and are self contained).
  • Serial - Serial means spread over a number of episodes. A series has serial elements (character of plot arcs). Programs such as Doctors, Casualty, Holby City and the suchlike (not to just name the medical ones) cover one off events (patients) during a program which are wrapped up by the end of the show, but the serial elements come in with characters' relationships with one another.
  • Soap - Long running stories with little resolutions.

In a TV series, each episode is a single story or issue that is resolved by the end of that episode (broadcasters want to allow as many people as possible to pick the program up, preventing viewer drop offs if any episode is missed or viewers don't start watching from the beginning).

There is a main story (A story) and other arcs can take place (B story, C story, etc). There are also serial arcs, or 'serial elements'.

Single Episode

Each episode is roughly 40 to 60 minutes in length (usually 42 minutes). The US has generated a basic structure of a Teaser and 4 Acts:

  • Teaser [6 Mins]
  • Act 1 [9 Mins]
  • Act 2 [9 Mins]
  • Act 3 [9 Mins]
  • Act 4 [9 Mins]

Dramatically, plot points must fall at the end of an act to hold the audience over the advert break. Act 1 is usually a bit longer than the other acts to help develop the chracters and threads of the story, whilst Act 4 sets up the serial elements for the rest of the series or sows the seeds for the next episode.

A move to 5 Acts was made in the last few years - an increase in stakes, pace, and the number of adverts.

House: Season 3. Episode 1

[Section] [Teaser] [Act 1] [Act 2] [Act 3] [Act 4] [Act 5]
[Cumul.] [ 7 ] [ 13 ] [ 23 ] [ 29 ] [ 36 ] [ 43 ]
[Mins. ] [ 7 ] [ 6 ] [ 10 ] [ 6 ] [ 7 ] [ 7 ]

Heroes: Season 1. Episode 18

[Section] [Teaser] [Act 1] [Act 2] [Act 3] [Act 4] [Act 5]
[Cumul.] [ 7 ] [ 15 ] [ 25 ] [ 30 ] [ 35 ] [ 42 ]
[Mins. ] [ 7 ] [ 8 ] [ 10 ] [ 5 ] [ 5 ] [ 7 ]

Now, broadcasters are looking for the Teaser and 6 Act stories, to fit in ever more advert breaks and climaxes to hold the audience in place. It is for this very purpose that new writers of TV Dramas should put in their Acts into their screenplays to show that they are aware of the structure.

The Teaser

We looked at two teasers to two very different TV Dramas, to see what was presented to the audience.

1. Life on Mars
The episode opened with a Starsky and Hutch chase through the back streets (sans boxes), ending up on a football pitch, interupting a match. The cops got the badguy and setup the banter between the protagonist and his boss, comedic elements in the use of language and a bit of slapstick. A call comes in over the radio - a body has been found. Then we flick into the title sequence, where the protagonist sets up the premise for us in a few sentences whilst the music plays - after an accident, our hero finds himself back in 1973 on the Police force... or is he in a coma? (a kind of Buck Rogers in reverse if you will).

The episode is all about Football violence, and in the teaser we specifically end up on the football pitch as an element of foreshadowing. The audience are now into the frame of mind required to follow the episode. It's the football episode, everybody!

2. Battlestar Gallactica
Battlestar opens completely differently, setting up dual timezones: A) Starbuck in a freefall spin, her Viper is burning up as it enters the atmosphere of a planet and she is unable to get to the controls to pull out of it. B) A pilot has survived 1000 flights and is being congratulated, whilst a small set of festivities are being planned.

A) occurs for only seconds, and is a reoccuring element throughout the rest of the episode. It reappears at the beginning of every act as a reminder of what is to come, as well as setting the second set of events into a flashback in the minds of the audience. B) Is the flashback element, but comprises of the majority of the story. Whilst everyone sets up for the festivities, the 1000 flight pilot is being paraded around the flight deck. Unbeknownst to anyone but the audience, the camera zooms into a missile in a rack that is being moved. We cut to Starbuck and Apollo painting 1000 onto a helmet, when Admiral Odama comes in. Someone tips over the red paint, which spills, like blood, across the floor (foreshadowing), and then the three of them head out toward the flight deck, developing the lines of the characters and backstory - getting the audience involved with them.

Whilst the pilots play, the missile becomes loose - DRAMATIC IRONY. Dramatic Irony is when the audience knows more than the characters, and is the most effective manner for building suspense and keeping the audience's interest. This goes back to Hitchcock's notion of suspense, when he places two people in a room, and has them discuss trivial matters. A bomb blows up at the end of the conversation that neither characters nor audience knew about - surprise but no dramatic suspense. The same scene, with two characters discussing trivial things, and the audience is shown the ticking bomb under the desk, then there is suspense, and the audience begins to ask desperate questions - when will it go off? Will they get out? Will someone tell them where it is?

As with Life on Mars having a football episode, this Battlestar episode regards funerals - the missile falls of the rack, ignites and kills several pilots. The episode focuses upon loss and blame. Simple really!

Episodes must have a clear goal with obstacles and finally a resolution.

Characters in TV Drama work slightly differently from characters in Film. They are allowed to talk about other characters and their feelings - something termed 'on the nose' and often crap and cringy in a film. Also, characters can talk about themselves and their feelings.

The end of an episode sets up conflict for the next episode (serial elements) to get the audience to come back, and as with the pilot episode of This Life, we have 8 serial elements by the end of the program set up for the other episodes, as well as it covering A and B stories during the program.

The Pilot Episode
A Pilot episode's teaser element must clearly set up more than things than a usual episode teaser. There are two types of Pilot - the Premise (where characters are set up, location, theme and goal. Characters come together. But, this doesn't give the people in their normal situation, as the audience will find them throughout the other episodes and come to associate with them) - the Midcut (where everything plays on as a normal episode, and everything is already set up and in place).

Ideally, a Pilot should exist in two halfs, where the first half is the Premise, and the second half is the Midcut.

TV Drama Concept
In order to sell a screenplay, 10 elements must be contemplated and answered by the writer - certainly these would be questions raised by a production company:

  1. Does it have integrity?
  2. Who is the audience?
  3. Is it relevant?
  4. Where does it fit in the schedule?
  5. Is it 'Event TV'?
  6. Does it have 'Returnability'?
  7. What is the Universe?
  8. Who are the Main Characters?
  9. What is the Central Conflict?
  10. What is the Genre?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

My Portfolio from the Qualifying Module

Finally got back my graded work. I think it's pertinent now to have a look at what I'm doing well and not so well:

62% (which in Degree standard is just within the 2:1 boundary... I could have done a lot better by putting more effort into it - oh woe is my ego).

Achievement of Learning Outcomes/Criteria
The strongest piece here is 3,000 words, where it is clear Richard has used the Workshop process extremely well to critically evaluate and improve his writing. All of the work shows some flair, promise (at least I think it's promise) and aptitude, technically good all round. The Fanny and Alexander pieces are pheraps least developed. Richard engaged extremely well with the Workshop process and showed a very good critical awareness of aspects of writing.

How this work might be improved
Development of voice, pace, work on sentence rhythm and structure. Issues more of finish and further iterations of the work, rather than any larger issues.

Performance Report
Richard made an extremely positive contribution to discussions and activities over the course of the week and I was left with the impression that he knew a lot about writing and reading. He has also been a very active moodler since the end of the week.

Richard's work shows a good deal of promise, and he seems aware of what he wants to achieve and ways he might begin to get there. He was very knowledgeable about contemporary literature and I felt he was taking marketing into account when he worked with his ideas, which were also strong.

Richard had read other people's work very well indeed and gave excellent, insightful feedback. He was very open to suggestions about hiw own work too. A very promising candidate

Hand written Note
Writing good throughout - slightly clumsy in places on Fanny and Alexander piece.

Press release is excellent, though, as is the way student has used feedback to produce a much improved piece of prose.

My response to the assessment
Obviously, I'm dead chuffed with this. It's the best bit of feedback I've ever got from any course (erm... well, I did get very good feedback on my Counselling Skills course too). Clearly, I'm able to collect my thoughts based upon crits, and use the best and most workable ideas to improve my writing. I fell down on Fanny and Alexander simply because I didn't put as much effort into it, but shoving the ego aside, I did find it difficult to adapt someone else's story, and match the emotion - but then, no comment has been passed on any inability to hold a reader's emotion - I think I relied too much on adverbs and a few tells in that respect.

My development lies here: "voice, pace, work on sentence rhythm and structure." It is said that "Issues more of finish and further iterations of the work, rather than any larger issues", but at present that is little consolation. As Solvejg said the exact same thing the last time he critted my work, I find this my greatest obstacle.

But at least, let's hope, I'm steady on this one track and I'm not going to flounce off back into some other erroneous area. Next step, to look at Solvejg's full critique on The Library Book's first chapter.

Screenwriting 103(3) - Vogler's Character Archetypes

Vogler lists seven character archetypes that appear frequently in folk tales and myths. They are:

The Hero archetype represents the ego’s search for identity and wholeness.

A positive figure who aids or trains the Hero.

Threshold Guardian
A powerful guardian at each new threshold who acts to keep the unworthy from entering.

Acts to issue challenges and announce the coming of significant change.

May mislead the Hero or keep her guessing: their loyalty and sincerity is often called into question.

Represents the energy of the dark side.; the unexpressed, unrealised, or rejected aspects of something.

Embodies the energies of mischief and desire for change. Clowns or comical sidekicks, but the Trickster Hero is common in many myths.

Note: Andy Conway says: "It is important to stress that Vogler sees these archetypes as masks, worn by the characters temporarily as they are needed to advance the story. A character might enter the story performing the function of a Herald, then switch masks to function as a Trickster, a Shadow or a Shapeshifter."

Screenwriting 103(2) - Adaptation(ing) Vogler's Hero's Journey

So, to put Vogler's Journey into a full-on test, we shall look at Charlie Kaufman's "totally unstructured" Adaptation (purported to be an Arthouse movie because of that very reason) in respect to the Hero's Journey.

The Ordinary World
We actually begin in Kaufman's OW. He's on the set of Being John Malkovich, and quite literally doesn't seem to fit. He's in the way, feels awkward, is filled with self-doubt, and wonders why he ever came. We are in no doubt that this is our "hero" and this is his OW. Ironically this is where he is most comfortable in being himself.

The Call to Adventure
Kaufman is offered the script job to adapt The Orchid Thief. He is also called, by his brother, Donald, to learn Script-Legend, McKee's lessons. And finally, his Inner Conflict comes to bear on his wanted relationship with the Violinist. The call is to overcome his self-doubt in relationships, and to kiss the girl.

Refusal of the Call
Kaufman wants to drop the script - he can't adapt it. He bins McKee's list that his brother puts up on the wall, and he rejects the Violinist by dropping her back at home and not following up on her hints to go in with her. Finally she appears to reject him, but this is her response to a relationship she can tell is going to go nowhere.

Meeting with the Mentor
The film's mentor is clearly McKee, however, Kaufman doesn't meet with McKee until at least half-way through the film. McKee's presence in the first half of the film comes through Donald. Donald is Mentor-by-proxy, providing his brother with necessary support that Kaufman rejects.

Crossing the First Threshold
Kaufman finally picks up his dictaphone with inspiration, having listened to Susan Orlean's voice in his head. But his brother and his brother's girlfriend arrive, and he listens to them discuss Donald's own screenplay. Donald has commited himself, regardless of how Kaufman feels about the ludicrousness of it. However, after this, Kaufman commits to his own screenplay by writing himself into it.

Test, Allies, Enemies
Kaufman's biggest enemy is himself (Inner Conflict), but he comes across multiple people who may or may not be friendly, and the subplots begin to interweave - script, relations, McKee - there's the agent, the executive, the Waitress (with whom Kaufman fails), the Violinist, and the scene in which Kaufman looks at the many different women, analysing their types, as if representative of flowers, and finally we end with Susan Orlean.

Approaching the Innermost Cave
Kaufman goes to New York, to meet Susan Orlean - just as with the Matrix this uses an elevator - but Kaufman can't commit himself. Then, Susan Orlean turns up in the lift, and Kaufman slinks back from her, unseen. Although this is another rejection of the call by Kaufman, he is here, the closest point to his goal/nemesis/enemy.

Supreme Ordeal
Kaufman returns to his hotel room and gets a call from his agent. The agent gives him the news that Donald's script is going to be big and make a lot of money (a serious blow to Kaufman). At his lowest ebb - and remember this is the midpoint of the film - Kaufman finally goes to McKee's seminar. This is the destruction of his ego - the nadir if you will. He has rejected everything Mckee stands for, and now is confronting it.

Reward (Seizing the Sword)
After the seminar profoundly changes Kaufman's view of screenwriting, and also the way in which he wants to live his life, he takes McKee to the pub for a final questionning session - he's got a lot of new info, but now he's committing and he wants to prove that by consolidating his new knowledge. McKee tells him to find an ending for the screenplay. "Wow them in the end", he says, and the audience will love it.

Road Back
Kaufman patches things with his brother and invites him out to New York to look at his script. With McKee's aid, his ego is gone, and he knows where to look for help.

In a massive about-turn for the whole plot, the last half of the film descends into everything that Kaufman has been battling against in his own screenplay - everything that McKee and Donald embrace - it's as if Donald has taken over the script of Adaptation (and don't forget the imagiary brother co-wrote Adaptation - the first time an imaginary character was ever nominated for an Oscar).

We have drugs, car chases, sex, profound life lessons are learned (Donald's admitting that you are what you love, not what loves you, give Kaufman an epiphany), and finally we have McKee's last tenet - avoid all Deus Ex Machina - and the screenplay introduces and Alligator at the right moment to off La Roche and save Kaufman.

Return with the Elixir
Kaufman, now alone since his brother's death, commits to writing the screenplay the way we have just viewed it. He kisses the girl, despite the possibility of rejection, and then drives off into the sunset.

There are sub-heroes in Adaptation, and further analysis of Susan Orlean and La Roche would show their own Hero Arcs - albeit unfullfilled or twisted because of their anti-hero stances toward the end of the film. It's interesting however that Kaufman invested the time in these characters to generate the Hero's Journey on a smaller scale for them, but it does help us identify somewhat with these two.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Screenwriting 103 - Vogler's Hero's Journey

Literary Professor Joseph Campbell came up with the Monomyth of the Hero's Journey in 1949 with his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces. He said that essentially all stories are the same story. Just as Vladimir Propp analysed thousands of Fairy Tales, Campbell analysed stories from across the globe, looking at cross-culture tales and looking for what made them the same (amongst all the guff).
In 1992, Christopher Vogler took Campbell's idea and ran away with it. He was a Story Exectutive at the time for Disney, but he placed Campbell's paradigm against films, and the 3 Act Structure. By writing the Writer's Journey Vogler made Campbell's paradigm more accessible to a wider audience. In actual fact, like Hauge, Vogler considers that we really have a 4 Act Structure to the stories we tell (again by splitting up Act 2... in two).
But Vogler also took Campbell's Archetypes as well (a more comprehensive version of Hauge's 4 primary characters). However, whereas Hauge states that the characters remain as their chosen type, Vogler argues that character roles may shift, as if the characters are wearing masks, and change their face throughout the story, to assume different roles. In this way, characters serve different functions at different times. Take Han Solo, for example, at first he could be either friend or foe. He is the trickster, out for himself, and the protagonist, Luke Skywalker, doesn't know whether he's trust worthy.

Undertaking the Hero's Journey

It is often the case these days that although Vogler states we begin in the Ordinary World, it is the Extraordinary World in which the tale opens. Like a prologue, it is a quick way into the story, making a promise to the audience about what is to come. In Star Wars, we open in the extraordinary world of Space, a Space battle, Darth Vader, stolen plans, a Princess, Droids on the run... and only twenty minutes in do we meet Luke Skywalker in his ordinary world. Indiana Jones always opens in the extraordinary world. In the Matrix, we open on the Police and the Agents tracking down Trinity. She pulls some funky, world-defying moves and bends reality with her skills, all before we settle back into Neo's ordinary world.

Note: In the case of the Matrix, the beginning opens with a voiceover between Cypher and Trinity, in which Cypher questions Trinity on watching 'him'. So we are given a nugget, possibly about our coming protagonist.

So, using the Matrix:

The Ordinary World ... limited awareness of the problem
We find Neo asleep (a metaphor for his real world situation). Neo is at home, surrounded by his hacker stuff, and we know this is his OW. However, thanks to the prologue we know he's going to up against that EW.

Call To Adventure ... Increased awareness
The Matrix has several calls to adventure. Neo is told to follow the White Rabbit; Trinity tells him he is close to answering "What is the Matrix" and the phone call by Morpheus to save him from the agents, resulting in Neo clambering onto the scaffold and...

Refusing The Call ... Reluctance to Change
Despite Neo's motivation to free himself and learn, he can't commit himself to the danger of escape. He refuses to climb out of the building and onto the scaffold, and is caught by the agents.

Meeting with the Mentor ... Overcoming Reluctance
The Mentor, Morpheus. Mentor comes from the Greek word Menos, encompassing the meanings: Intention, Force, Purpose, Mind and Courage. Here Neo, receives his final call to adventure, and takes it.

Crossing the First Threshold ... Committing to Change
This can be either physical or mental, direct or subtle. In the case of the Matrix, Neo steps free of the construct and emerges from his battery-womb, and comes face-to-face with reality.

Tests, Allies, Enemies ... Experimenting with the First Change
Neo undergoes a number of tests, meeting new friends, and potential enemies (who is the traitor? Is there one?) and a number of trials, again in the Matrix seen physically as the fight with Morpheus, the Lady in Red and the Jump program. The relevance of these tests and meetings often represent foreshadowing of later events, providing the audience with enough information to accept later developments or character abilities.

Approaching the Innermost Cave ... Preparing for Big Change
Here we close on the midpoint of the film. Often this is a symbolic cave. In the Matrix, Morpheus leads Neo back into the construct and Neo confronts the life he had. They then progress to the Oracle, going into a block of flats, then an elevator, until, in a dark corridor, it is up to Neo to go through the door.

The Supreme Ordeal ... Attempting Big Change
This is the midpoint of the film. The moment of death and ressurection. Our protagonist, or group, must come up against their greatest ordeal so far, and seemingly fail against insurmountable odds. Morpheus is captured by the agents, Apoc and Switch die, Cypher has betrayed them... all seems lost.

Reward (Seizing the Sword) ... Consequences of the attempt
This is the moment of improvement and setback for the protagonist, the point at which our hero chooses to make their stand and commit to their needs and wants. Having been told by the Oracle that he must choose between his life and Morpheus's, Neo stops Tank from pulling the plug. Neo finally sees his own potential and the possibilities of what he could do. This bit ends - clearly - with "Lots of guns".

The Road Back ... Re-dedication to Change
Our intrepid hero, taking the symbolic sword with him, chooses to go forward, not back. In the case of the Matrix, Neo and Trinity enter the heavily-guarded building and kick ass, committing themselves to pursuing their ultimate goal.

Resurrection ... Final Attempt at Big Change
In the Matrix, this occurs in two parts. Firstly, Neo accepts what must be done, and fights Agent Smith. Secondly, after he makes a dash for the phone, Smith guns him down, and kills him (I hope I'm not ruining this for anyone - rhetorical, don't answer that). Through Trinity's kiss he is resurrected, and literally stops the bullets.

Return with the Elixir ... Final Mastery of the Problem
Neo returns to the construct at the very end of the film. He looks around him, his eyes are open (in much the same way Mayo looks back on himself at the beginning of An Officer and a Gentleman) and we see how far Neo has come. He is now Master of Both Worlds. He then uncovers his most potent ability yet - to fly.

Show don't Tell

I've not written anything properly since my last attempt at opening my YA novel. Show don't Tell wasn't amongst my errors (this time), but I think it's good to keep returning to certain tools and revising them:

Posted by Motorpilot on Litopia:

Novice writers (and some professionals) often fall into the trap of "expositing" information instead of presenting it dramatically. Sometimes exposition is inevitable, or even desirable. Lloyd Abbey, in his brilliant SF novel The Last Whales, gives us exactly one line of human dialogue; his characters, all being whales, can't speak to one another, so the narrator must tell us what they think and do. Gabriel Garca Marquez can also write superb exposition for page after page.

Most of us ordinary mortals, however, need to dramatize our characters and their feelings. Otherwise our readers will tire of our editorials.

Consider the following expository and dramatic passages. Which more adequately conveys what the author is trying to show to the reader?


Vanessa was a tall woman of 34 with shoulder-length red hair and a pale
complexion. She often lost her temper; when she did, her fair skin turned a deep
pink, and she often swore. She was full of energy, and became impatient at even
the slightest delay or impediment to her plans. Marshall, her chief assistant,
was a balding, mild-mannered, nervous man of 54 who was often afraid of her. He
was also annoyed with himself for letting her boss him around.


Vanessa abruptly got up from her desk. A shaft of sunlight from the window
behind her seemed to strike fire from her long red hair as she shook her head
"No, Marshall! God damn it, this won't do! Didn't I make myself clear?"
"Yes, Vanessa, b-but--"
"And you understood what I told you, didn't you?'' Her pale skin was flushing pink, and Marshall saw the signs of a classic outburst on the way. She took a step toward him, forcing him to look up to meet her gaze; she must be a good three inches taller. He raised his hands in supplication, then caught himself and tried to make the gesture look like the smoothing of hair he no longer had. He felt sweat on his bald scalp.
"Vanessa, it was a--"
"It was another one of your screw-ups, Marshall! We're committed to a Thursday deadline. I'm going to make that damn deadline, whether or not you're here to help me. Now, am I going to get some cooperation from you, or not?"
Marshall nodded, cursing himself for his slavish obedience. Fifty-four years old, and taking orders from a bitch twenty years younger. Why didn't he just tell her to shove it?
"All the way, Vanessa. We'll get right on it."
"Damn well better." Her voice softened; the pink faded from her cheeks.
"Okay, let's get going."

Comment: A paragraph of exposition has turned into a scene: the portrayal of a conflict and its resolution. The scene has also prepared us for further scenes. Maybe Marshall's going to destroy himself for Vanessa, or poison her; maybe Vanessa's going to learn how to behave better. Most importantly, the authorial judgments in the exposition are now happening in the minds of the characters and the mind of the reader--who may well agree with Marshall, or side with Vanessa.
Here's another example:


Jerry was 19. Since leaving high school a year before, he had done almost
nothing. He had held a series of part-time jobs, none of them lasting more than
a few weeks. His girl friend Judy, meanwhile, was holding down two summer jobs
to help pay for her second year of college. Jerry controlled her with a
combination of extroverted charm and bullying sulkiness. Secretly he envied her
ambition and feared that she would leave him if he ever relaxed his grip on her.

"Hey, good-lookin'," Jerry said as he ambled into the coffee shop and took
his usual booth by the window.
"Hi," said Judy. She took out her order pad.
"Hey, I'm real sorry about what I said last night. I was way outa
"Would you like to order?"
"Hey, I said I was sorry, all right? Gimme a break."
"That's fine. But Murray says not to let my social life get in the way of
my job. So you've got to order something for a change."
He snorted incredulously. "Hey, I'm broke, babe."
She stared out the window at the traffic. "You can't hang out here all day
for the price of a cup of coffee, Jerry. Not any more. Murray says he'll have to
let me go if you do."
"Well, tell him to get stuffed."
"Jerry, be reasonable. I can't. I need this job."
"Christ, you already got the job at the movie theatre."
"That's nights, and it hardly pays anything. I've got my whole second year
at college to pay for this summer. Jerry, maybe we can talk about this after I
get off work, okay?"
"Yeah, right. See you Labor Day, then."
"Jerry, don't be a smartass. See you at four, okay?"
He got up, shrugging. "Yeah, sure. Guess I'll go over to the bus station
and read comic books until then." He glared at her. "Don't be too nice to the
guys who come in here. I find out you been fooling around with anybody, you know
you're in trouble, right?"
"Right, Jerry. I'm really sorry. See you later."

Comment: Again we have a conflict that promises to lead to further conflicts and their resolution. We want to know if Judy will ditch Jerry, or Jerry will smarten up. Their relationship reveals itself through their dialogue, not through the author's editorializing.

Note that both these examples involve a power struggle. Someone is determined to be the boss, to get his or her way. Most scenes present such a struggle: someone decides on pizza or hamburgers for dinner, someone chooses the date for D-Day, someone comes up with the winning strategy to defeat the alien invaders or elect the first woman president. We as readers want to see the resources thrown into the struggle: raw masculinity, cynical intelligence, subtle sexual manipulation, political courage, suicidal desperation.

Depending on which resources win, we endorse one myth or another about the way the world operates: that raw masculinity always triumphs, that political courage leads nowhere, and so on. Of course, if we are writing ironically, we are rejecting the very myths we seem to support. By using raw macho bullying mixed with a little self-pity, Jerry seems to win his power struggle with Judy. But few readers would admire him for the way he does it, or expect him to succeed in the long term with such tactics.

Think carefully about this as you develop your scenes. If your hero always wins arguments in a blaze of gunfire, he may become awfully tiresome awfully fast. If your heroine keeps bursting into tears, your readers may want to hand her a hankie (better yet, a towel) and tell her to get lost. Ideally, the power struggle in each scene should both tell us something new and surprising about the characters, and hint at something still hiding beneath the surface--like the insecurity that underlies Jerry's and Vanessa's bullying.

When applying show, don't tell, the writer does more than just tell the reader something about a character; he unveils the character by what that character says and does. Showing can be done by:

  • writing scenes
  • describing the actions of the characters
  • revealing character through dialogue
  • using the five senses when possible
Instead of telling:

Mrs. Parker was nosy. She gossiped about her neighbors.

the writer could show:

Turning the blinds ever so slightly, Mrs. Parker could just peek through
the window and see the Ford Explorer parked in the driveway. She squinted to get
a better view of the tall, muscular man getting out of the vehicle and walking
up to Mrs. Jones' front door. He rang the doorbell. When Mrs. Jones opened the
door and welcomed the stranger into her home with a hug, Mrs. Parker gasped and
ran to her phone.
"Charlotte, you are not going to believe what I just saw!" Mrs. Parker
peeked out the window again to see if the man was still inside.


Five years ago, John Meadows married Linda Carrington. Although both had grown
up in Brooklyn and didn't want to leave, John had accepted a job in Montana and
moved his young family west. He found he liked the mountains and open sky, but
Linda was frustrated and unhappy. This all became clear the night they attended
a party at their neighbors' house.


"I told you I didn't want to go to this," Linda said as she stood beside
John on their neighbors' steps. "It's just going to be as lame as every other
party we've been to since we got here."
"You used to love parties," John said, avoiding eye contact.
"Yeah, well, that was back in Brooklyn. But Montana isn't Brooklyn."
"No." He looked at the mountains, colored flame by the setting sun, the sky
he had come to love. Then he looked at Linda, glowering even before they went
inside. In five years of marriage, she had changed so much. They both had.
He pressed the doorbell.

Showing dramatizes a scene in a story to help the reader forget he is reading, to help the reader get to know the characters, to make the writing more interesting. "It is the difference between actors acting out an event, and the lone playwright standing on a bare stage recounting the event to the audience."

When to tell

"Show, don't tell," like all rules, has exceptions. According to James Scott Bell: "Sometimes a writer tells as a shortcut, to move quickly to the meaty part of the story or scene. Showing is essentially about making scenes vivid. If you try to do it constantly, the parts that are supposed to stand out won't, and your readers will get exhausted.Showing requires more words; telling may cover a greater span of time. A novel that contains only showing would be incredibly long; therefore, a narrative can contain some legitimate telling. Scenes that are important to the story should be dramatized with showing, but sometimes what happens between scenes can be told so the story can make progress.

For example, if Bob is a character in a story, he could do the following things:
  • Have an argument with his boss
  • Drive to his girlfriend's house
  • Have an argument with his girlfriend

The writer could show the arguments with Bob's boss and girlfriend, but tell the reader Bob drove over to his girlfriend's house without excess narrative. As long as nothing important to the story happens on that drive, then the writer need only tell the reader.

The writer may also want to use telling to reveal to the reader that the narrator of the story is not reliable. The narrator may say that Bob is a great guy, but later Bob reveals himself to be a jerk through showing. Then the reader can decide that the narrator of this story doesn't see Bob for who he is.

Screenwriting 102(6) - Hauge's Structural Checklist

I've been reading Hauge's Writing Screenplays that Sell - it's been sitting under my desk so long (having been discarded from the library) that I didn't realise and bought another copy... how stoopid (SIC) am I?

Anyhoo, I've got to the Structural Checklist, and having read that like my tutor, Hauge believes your first draft should simply be written without consideration to anything but your own imagination, I now get to the meat of what goes into the second draft and beyond...

Note: I personally can't write a whole draft without considering first what is about to follow. Let's hope that doesn't stump me at any point.

  1. Every scene, event, and character in the screenplay must contribute to the hero's outer motivation
  2. Early in the screenplay, show the audience where the story is going to lead them
  3. Build the conflict
  4. Accelerate the pace of the story
  5. Create peaks and valleys to the action and the humor
  6. Create anticipation in the reader
  7. Give the audience superior position
  8. Surprise the audience and reverse the anticipation
  9. Create curiosity in the reader
  10. Foreshadow the major events of the screenplay
  11. Echo particular situations, objects, and lines of dialogue to illustrate character growth and change
  12. Pose a threat to one of the characters
  13. Make the story credible
  14. Teach the audience how to do something vicariously
  15. Give the story both humor and seriousness
  16. Give the movie an effective opening
  17. Give the story an effective ending

This list will seem obvious to some and cryptic to others, but I can't go putting the whole of Hauge's book online can I? Needless to say, Pages 90-107 cover this in more depth

Friday, March 16, 2007

Scott Frank's Rule of Three

Further to Mamet's Knife, Scott Frank, screenwriter for Get Shorty, Out of Sight and Minority Report says:
It's just a rhythm thing if you're going to set something up like that. You make
sure it's a set-up: you state it, restate it, then pay it off. That's really
what it is. And then it's just a feeling, if he's slipped once and then slipped
again it wouldn't feel right but if you make a habit of slipping on the stairs ...

- Kevin Conroy Scott - Screenwriters' Masterclass

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Hero's Journey - Adaptation

Next week on NAW, we're looking at the popular Hero’s Journey paradigm through Charlie Kaufmann’s screenplay for Adaptation (with passing reference to Star Wars and The Matrix). The Hero’s Journey is usually applied to more genre-heavy stories so it will be interesting to try it out on a film that’s more arthouse and experimental.

From Wikipedia:
The screenplay is based on a true story. After the success of his screenplay for Being John Malkovich, Kaufman was hired to write a screenplay based on Susan Orlean's book, The Orchid Thief. However, he soon realized that the book simply couldn't be filmed. As he came under increasing pressure to turn in a screenplay, the "adaptation" became a story of a screenwriter's attempt to write a screenplay about a book that can't be adapted into a screenplay. Kaufman handed the script to his employers in the firm belief he would never work again. Instead, the backers enjoyed the script so much they decided to abandon the original project and film Kaufman's screenplay instead.

The film is self-referential, in that we see the creative process behind the movie we are watching. At one point, Charlie is unable to think of a satisfactory ending for the script, and asks his brother Donald (also played by Cage) how he would end it. At that moment, the style of the movie changes to Donald's style of scriptwriting, with intrigue, sex, drugs, car chases and guns replacing abstraction and angst.

Throughout the course of the film, Charlie writes or dictates ideas for his script of The Orchid Thief that are in fact used in this movie itself, such as the rapid timeline of Earth's development, or even of himself sitting there talking into a tape recorder. As well, virtually all of the things Charlie tells the producer that he doesn't want his script to turn into (a 'typical' Hollywood movie, where characters fall in love, or it turns out to be about drugs, or somebody unexpectedly dies) each occur after Donald "takes over" the writing of the movie. The forced inclusion of "Happy
" as a meaningless pop-culture reference such as are used in movies
Charlie criticizes creates yet another self-referential satire.

The self-referential nature of the film raises questions as to Donald's existence: that is, whether he is a real person, or merely an embodiment of one aspect of Charlie's personality (as he is in real life). Blurring the lines between fact and fiction, Donald is not only credited as a co-writer for the film, but the movie's end credits feature a dedication to his memory (implying that, if he is indeed an existing individual, he died during the writing of the screenplay). In addition, The Three is assumed to be an existing screenplay, and an excerpt from it is also featured in the credits. Another reference to Donald and his film can be found on the DVD release in the filmography section on the disc. It includes a page for Donald, listing his works as Adaptation. and The Three.

An ironic aspect of the film's post-modern self-referencing is the appearance of Robert McKee (Brian Cox), a real-life host of screenwriting seminars. McKee is renowned for warning his students about the technique of the deus ex machina. In the film, Kaufman represents McKee as the deus ex machina, as he gives Charlie the
solution to his problematic situation. The movie talks about the "Holy Grail", but all of the characters' quests in the story either fail or turn out to be futile:
  • Charlie Kaufman wanted to write a movie just about flowers, and to impress
    Susan Orlean. He failed on both counts. Also, he failed in writing a screenplay
    wherein nothing much changes, as in "real life", seeing as his character
    prevails and finishes his screenplay.
  • John Laroche wanted to be a leader in many different and obscure fields.
    Whenever he accomplished this, however, he would abandon his hobby for a
    completely new one. Susan Orlean wanted desperately to see the Ghost
    and care passionately about something. When she saw the Ghost Orchid, she was disappointed. When she found passion, she devolved into a hopeless addict.
  • Donald Kaufman didn't really want anything out of life but he lucked into
    all the things his brother Charlie was desperate for and wrote a hit script
    called The 3.

Screenwriting 102(5) - Creativity

Good advice for any and all writers, from Andy Conway:

Write the first draft of your work from the wells of inspiration and creativity. Worry not about the adherenece to structure, schema, paradigms or theme.

Problems are solved by the act of writing, not planning and thinking.

Screenwriting 102(4) - Hauge on Theme

The Theme is the Universal Statement the film makes about the Human Condition.

Hauge, in fact, calls the Theme the Premise (but again, this is reductive).

The Theme emerges when the Hero recognises the differences between himself and the Reflection and the similarities between himself and the Nemesis.

In An Officer and A Gentleman, Zack recognises the difference between himself and Sid - Zack won't give himself to others, whilst Sid sacrifices himself for others. The film makers highlight this throughout the film by showing Zack and Sid through Foley's eyes: when Zack completes the training course and sits alone, the argument between Zack and Sid over dinner (about their differences), Sid's DOR and finally Zack going back to help Seegar, at the expense of him beating the record for completing the training course.

Zack recongises the similarities between himself and Foley - Zack is made to acknowledge that whilst he won't commit himself to others, and give of himself, he is desperate for companionship and to belong. He's got nowhere else to go. During the training for jet crashing into water Foley quips: 'You'll like this Mayo, it's something you can do on your own.' So, Foley has recognised right from the start what Zack's Inner Conflict is, and repeatedly puts it back in his face. Zack finally realises he needs to change, and falls in line with Foley... given that after Sid commits suicide, Foley won't allow Zack to DOR, and accepts a fight.

So, were we to look at the story with just Zack, the theme would be:
We become better people if we give ourselves to others.

This is enhanced by the inclusion of Sid:
We become better people if we give ourselves to others but without sacrificing ourselves for others.

We can add a theme of honesty to this, if we take Lynette as a Reflection of Paula - Lynette is prepared to trap an Officer, by becoming or claiming to become pregnant, so that he will marry her and take her away from her life, whereas, Paula refuses to compromise herself and real love (it is insinuated that her mother possibly did this):
We become better people if we give ourselves honestly to others, but never sacrifice ourselves for others.

In the Australian film Lantana the overarching theme is Trust. In pretty much every scene Trust is mentioned, referred or inferred to.

Screenwriting 102(3) - Hauge's Motivations and Conflict

Whilst Hauge has related to Syd Field's 3 Act Paradigm, see Turning Points, Hauge's personal Paradigm relates to the 4 Primary Characters, their Motivations and Conflicts. Field looks at the overall structure of plot whilst Hauge looks in depth at the script itself. His primary characters are (and this, as my tutor pointed out, is pretty reductive, as much of Hauge's language seems to be, and labels shouldn't be taken exactly as read)...
Note: We'll look at this with An Officer and a Gentleman as reference.
  • Hero (Zack Mayo)
  • Nemesis (Drill Instructor Foley)
  • Reflection (Sid - Zack's buddy)
  • Romance (Paula - Zack's love interest)
Each of these four characters has Motivation and Conflict, and it is Conflict which is crucial to drama. In both M and C, there are Inner and Outer levels.


A character's Outer Motivation regards what they physically want to achieve. In Zack's case, this is to become an Officer. In my case last night, it was to attend my class and learn about Character Motivation and Conflict.

A character's Inner Motivation regards why they want to achieve their Outer Motivation. In Zack's case this is because he wants to belong, and he wants to be better than his father. In my case it is to hopefully write the next best screenplay and make millions.

  • Outer Motivation (Physical Achievement) = Plot
  • Inner Motivation (Why?) = Theme

(I'll be looking at theme later).

Note (and this is important): Characters can share the same Outer Motivation, but they will have different reasons for wanting it. Their Inner Motivation will be derived from a different place. For example: Both Zack and Sid want to become Officers. However, Zack wants to belong, but Sid is Other-driven. Sid is doing it for his parents and his dead brother. Both Inner Motivations are different and yet they relate to the movie's theme.


The general rule of Conflict is:

  • Outer Conflict = Nemesis
  • Inner Conflict = Self

The Inner and Outer Motivations directly relate to the Inner and Outer Conflicts, and until the Inner Conflict is resolved, the Inner Motivation cannot be achieved. Similarly, until the Outer Conflict is resolved, the Outer Motivation cannot be achieved.

Dito Montiel (writer and director of A Guide to Recognising Your Saints) says that there is always a character (at least one) who is lying about their Outer Motivation. In the case of Zack, he tells everyone he wants to Fly Jets. This dishonesty can often work on an inner level, where the character is in fact lying to themself, whilst their actions show/prove otherwise.

Paula does this also, telling Zack that she meets with Officers because she wants to improve and enjoy herself. Yet she wants to fall in love, and she does do with Zack, despite, later, reaffirming that she just wants to spend time with him.

Robert McKee says that if a scene is about what it's about, then you're in big trouble. If the dialogue and the action are doing the same thing then the dialogue is essentially on the nose (which is a bad thing). The dialogue and the action should be working against each other, generating the conflict. In the later scene, Paula is cooking Zack breakfast, she's vased some flowers and she's looking at him all doughy-eyed, and yet still professing that she just wants to have fun.

Dialogue that is on the nose doesn't sit right with the audience. Saying exactly what is intended by a character makes for a boring scene. Any character who admits what they want must have earned that privilege. When Zack admits to Foley that he has nowhere else to go, this has been earned. It doesn't feel so easy on the audience when Paula sobs to her mother that she loves Zack - Boo hoo!

- Inner and Outer Motivation : An Officer and A Gentleman

The important thing about generating this information is that, particularly with Outer Motivations, you shouldn't overcomplicate. These should be nice, basic, grounded, crystal-clear ideas that the audience can grasp and run with.

In An Officer and A Gentleman the first half of the script focuses on the Outer Motivation, and then, bang on the midpoint, it switches to the Inner Motivation (this is the same for Thelma and Louise). Not until the scene where Foley breaks Zack, and tells him to stop the "Bullshit" about flying jets. Foley wants Zack's character, and more importantly for Zack to realise this... his Inner Motivation.

Becoming a Gent

In Romantic Comedies in particular, the story is about a hero overcoming their issues so as to become worthy of their object of affection. In An Officer and A Gentleman, Paula is already emotionally developed, and it is Zack's character who needs to develop to match her and be worthy of her. Zack's Inner Conflict is deep, whereas Paula's isn't - hers is in fact a positive conflict.

The ending, in which Zack whisks Paula off her feet and carries her out of the paper factory and away from her horrible future, is etched on Hollywood history; an iconic image that epitomises why the film is one of the top Chick-flicks. But, should we accept what it first appears - that Zack is saving Paula?

Whilst this might physically and visually be the case, the truth might be considered in reverse. The opposite is happening. Paula, and her continued efforts for Zack's affections, has saved Zack. Paula is saving Zack from becoming his father - just as in Thelma and Louise, where the last frame freezes on a positive note, with the car still on the incline - the last shot, the frozen frame, is on Paula removing Zack's hat and placing it upon her own head - symbolism? I think so.

But, lets take a couple of steps back. A well-worked narrative often relates where the Hero is at the end of the film back to where they began, giving the audience a bookend. When the Officers graduate they all go off to their families, leaving Zack alone on the field, with no one to share his success with, and then, as he's riding off, he stops by Foley drilling the new recruits, replaying the same old sayings. We have Zack as he is now, an Officer, looking back at where's he's come from, seeing who he was - the Hero's Return.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Screenwriting 102(2) - Desire

Scrounging around on Michael Hauge's website, I cam across a page dedicated to a protagonist's desire. He says: the "essential component of all successful movies is the hero’s pursuit of a compelling desire"

  1. The desire must be visible (to both audience and protagonist)
  2. The desire must have a clearly defined endpoint (audience must be able to envision what the end might be)
  3. Your hero must desperately want the desire
  4. Your hero must actively pursue the desire
  5. It must be within your hero's power to acheive their desire
  6. Your hero must put everything on the line to achieve their desire
  7. Your hero's desire must be resolved at the climax of the film

Read the full article here:

Screenwriting 102 - Michael Hauge

Michael Hauge, like Syd Field, is one of these Screenplay Uber-gurus, making a mint from providing sturdy advice to writers with no concept of plotting (enter... me). What does he have to say that differs from Syd's?

Michael looks at turning points based upon the 3 Act Structure:


Note 4 important things.

  1. Each Act is now split in two with a Turning Point separating them (there are 5 Turning Points, according to Hauge)
  2. We now have 6 subActs according to those Turning Points
  3. The Turning Points have an alloted appearance based on a percentage of the whole size of the screenplay. This is important, since 25% of a 2 hour film (30 Minutes) is different from 25% of a 3 hour film (45 Minutes).
  4. 2 Turning Points are set, as per beginning/ending of Acts 1, 2 and 3. 3 Turning Points have an estimated appearance schedule.

Read for a greater overview from Hauge himself.

Monday, March 12, 2007

David Mamet's Three Uses of the Knife

Mamet's idea is based on how an object can become a metaphor and embody the change that occurs between characters during the story...
You use your knife to go out and cut down food for your lover, you come home and you use your knife to shave to look good for your lover and then you use your knife to cut out her lying heart when you find your lover cheating on you.
- Screenwrtiers' Masterclass (Kevin Conroy Scott)

Friday, March 09, 2007

An Officer and a Gentleman

Next week's assignment is all about an Officer and an Gentleman. We're going to be analysing character and themes (if my tired head is right - which, by 8pm on a Wednesday night before a 2 hour drive home, probably isn't).

Wikipedia says:
The film begins with Zack Mayo receiving his "graduation present" from his
father, a brash, womanizing career U.S. Navy Boatswain's Mate formerly stationed at Subic Bay in the Philippines. Mayo moved in with his father there in early adolescence when his mother committed suicide. Aloof and taciturn with repressed anger at his mother's suicide, Mayo surprises his father when he announces his aspiration to be a Navy pilot. Once he has arrived at training camp for his 13-week officer's course, Mayo runs afoul of abrasive, no-nonsense drill instructor Emil Foley. Mayo — or "Mayonnaise" as he is dubbed by the irascible Foley — is an excellent officer candidate, but a little cold around the heart. Foley rides Mayo mercilessly, sensing the young man would be prime officer material if he were not so self-involved. Zack becomes friends with Sid Worley, a well-to-do boy from the "good side of the tracks". Both Zack and Sid meet two factory workers, Paula and Lynette, who bed the cocky officer candidates, and secretly want to escape their hometown and become "aviator" wives. Zack's affair with Paula is likewise compromised by his unwillingness to give of himself. Only after Mayo's best friend Sid commits suicide over an unhappy romance with Lynette does Zack come out of his shell and mature.
In the well-remembered last scene of the film, Ensign Mayo goes to the factory where Paula works, takes her in his arms and walks out holding her.

Ooh! Fortunately I've been able to buy it second hand from Amazon.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Screenwriting 101(2) - The 1st 10 Minutes

Alongside the analysis of Thelma and Louise in regards to the 3 Act Structure, we looked at the importance of the first 10 minutes/pages of a screenplay in getting the reader's attention and really bringing together all the necessary elements of what the film is about, its tone, and the direction its taking.

We looked at the first 10 minutes of Thelma and Louise, pausing the film everytime we had a point to raise, an observation to make:

We see Louise first. She's a waitress (a little older than the others) but she's dependable, a working girl, who can multi-task. Whilst serving coffee her mothering side comes through as she chastises two girls about smoking. "Ruins your sex drive" In the next clip she herself is instantly lighting up.

She phones her friend Thelma, and immediately identifies her as "little housewife". Through their conversation we see their relationship as Louise is the mother/guy and Louise the daughter/girl. Louise is derogative towards Thelma's husband and urging her to tell him that they're both going away for a two day break.

Thelma, by contrast, is a failing housewife - a bit of a slob - her house is decked out in cookery books, post it notes, and a whole host of crap. She is literally drowning in domesticity. She's a child, or at least immature, and that comes through in her mannerisms, speech and actions. She rushes around ineffectually, and we hear that she is afraid to tell her husband, Darryl, that she's going away.

That fear isn't serious fear, and we know, as Darryl arrives, that he's a buffoon of a character, thinks highly of himself, and is easily pissed off at Thelma if she gets in his way. He thinks he has Thelma pegged, though he's too full of himself and getting his own way to truly understand. She is manipulative (a little foreshadowing for her persona change later) and tests the water with Darryl about asking him if she can go away. When he shoots his mouth off at her, she decides not to ask him at all. When he says he'll be home late, she makes the statement that it's funny how he sells so many carpets late on a Friday, when everyone would rather be going home that buying carpets - her insinuation is that he's playing the field. He, however, doesn't get it and again shoots his mouth off at her - we have her motivation now. She is in a loveless marriage.

Darryl leaves and Thelma calls Louise back at the diner. She has decided not to tell Darryl, but will leave him a message. A waiter picks up the call and tries a momentary wooing - every male in this film is trying to chat up Thelma. Louise comes second. Whilst talking to Louise, Thelma keeps flitting in and out of the fridge. She has a chocolate bar in there which she keeps snacking on and putting back. She's compulsive, scatty, sassy and lacks willpower. She wants the chocolate (for breakfast?) and yet a voice in her head (probably Darryl's) keeps telling her to put it back. So, after every bite she puts it back and shuts the door - willpower! But, as she's leaving, she goes back and takes it with her. She can make up her own mind.

We then have a montage of Thelma and Louise getting their bags packed - Louise is methodical, planning, clean and practical. Her items are bagged up, everything is tidy, her house is pristine and everything in its place (she is controlling and obsessive compulsive). We then have her call Jimmy on the phone. He's out and she gets his answer phone. In retalliation she puts down the photo of him on her dresser -This sets up that she has a boyfriend. We know now she isn't single. Also, their relationship is separate; she assumed he'd be there, and though she feels that attachment (she called him to tell him she was off), her putting the photo down reasserts to herself that she can't rely on him, and only on her self. Has he let her down? This contradicts Thelma's relationship and also relates back to Louise's smoking and her comment to the girls about smoking ruining sexual drives.

And of course, Thelma's manner of packing involves every bag in the house and throwing all her clothes, higgledy-piggledy into them - no structure or order. She hasn't a clue about what she'll need. Then she takes the gun, holding it like a rat's tail, and dumps it in one of the bags - it's hers, it was in her drawer, and she feels she'll need it, but she doesn't know how to handle it (has never handled it).

Note: Chekov's rule on guns

Chekhov's gun. If you put a gun onstage in Act I, Chekhov once wrote, you must
use it by Act III. A Chekhov's gun is a fictional element (threat, character,
mystery, prize, challenge) introduced early and with fanfare and in which the
author expects the reader to invest. That investment must pay off with
deployment later in the story even if the Chekhov's gun then disappears offstage
for a long interval. (CSFW: David Smith)
Louise collects Thelma, and they pack the bags into the trunk, with Louise catching herself wanting to do it all for Thelma. Thelma scattily advises Louise about psycho-killers, and they take a photo of themselves before getting in.
We get a brief exposition of where they're going to a lodge of Louise's friend; he's separating from his wife, she gets the lodge in the settlement so he's allowing all his friends to use it - setting up a theme of divorce and separation - Louise responds to Thelma's comments about not telling Darryl by saying: "You get what you settle for. " which foreshadows how the two are escaping.
Thelma dumps the gun on Louise, and though Louise is shocked, she takes it. Thelma again reasserts - psychokillers. Thelma then puts her feet on the dashboard and her dress billows up (Marilyn Monroe style), which Louise tells her to stop because of the kind of attention it will bring - another foreshadowing that Thelma's actions (though not neccessarily self aware) are going to lead to something.
Thelma badgers Louise to let them stop somewhere for food, and though Louise finally agrees, the point is that this is all because of Thelma's inability to keep her willpower in check - beyond the 10 minute mark we'll see her drinking excessively, picking up a man she's doesn't know, dancing with him, and then letting him take her outside, where he tries to rape her. (Ooh'er, responsibility?!)
So, they stop off at a truckstop, The Silver Bullet (apt name - though it was the real name of the place before the filmakers arrived). Tons of men and tons of trucks. The trucks appear throughout the story. The road is laden with them, man's world. Here are two women trying to escape men, to emasculate men and take control of their own lives, and yet men are all about them, and here they are, 10 minutes in, going into the most male area possible.
That is a hell of a lot to pack into the first 10 minutes/pages of a screenplay, but it gives us characters, location, time, tone, genre, foreshadowing... so much stuff.

Screenwriting 101 - Syd Field

Syd Field is one of those pioneer guys, there at the beginning of something nice and structured. Having read through a gazillion scripts for Hollywood he happened upon the idea of the 3 Act Structure, by which all movies (ahem) are defined.

Field's most important contribution has been his articulation of the ideal "three act structure". In this structure, a film must begin with about half an hour of 'setup' information before the protagonist experiences a 'turning point' that gives him or her a goal that must be achieved. Approximately half the movie's running time must then be taken up with the protagonist's struggle to achieve his or her goal: this is the 'Confrontation' period. Field also refers, sometimes, to the 'Midpoint', a more subtle turning point that should happen in the middle (approximately at page 60 of a written screenplay) of the Confrontation, which is often an apparently devastating reversal of the protagonist's fortune. The final quarter of the film depicts a climactic struggle by the protagonist to finally achieve (or not achieve) his or her goal and the aftermath of this struggle.
Plot point 1 occurs at 30 minutes, Plot point 2, at 90 minutes. Simple!

That paradigm has undergone rigourous changes throughout its first inception, providing us with a slightly more flexible situation in which we have a set of demarcations that help better define the Acts and moreoever, the plotting of the story itself.

Now we have a Midpoint that separates Act 2 in two - actually giving us a 4 Act piece (but let's not worry too much about throwing that idea around). We have an Inciting Incident that occurs in Act 1 (could be the first 10 minutes, or at Plot Point 1). And at the end we have the Epilogue (in which loose threads may be tied up - how will our protagonist exist in their new world?) - it's important to keep in mind that this isn't rigid, and these points may be slid up and down the scale to fit the story being told. Famously, Callie Khouri decided against writing to Syd Field's formula because she found it too rigid, and yet when he released an analysis of four films that adhere to his structure, Callie's Thelma and Louise came first.

Then, we have two other unique events - the Pinches. These provide Act 2 with more punch. Things that help the plot further progress.

Finally, right at the front, is the 1st 10 Minutes. And why is this important? Because the writer needs to jam a whole loads of information in there so that the reader/audience can get an understanding of what's in store for them: characters, genre, plot, tone, etc.

This, thus, gives us, if you count the demarced zones, perhaps 9 Acts (crazy notion), but this helps with advert breaks!

Applying this to our first week's film: Thelma and Louise:
  1. Act One - We meet the characters, setting up who they are and that this is a road/buddy movie.
  2. Inciting Incident - Hal attempts to rape Thelma. Louise rescues Thelma through the threat of violence. They have a chance to walk away, but Hal antagonises Louise and she shoots him dead.
  3. Plot Point 1 - Louise explains to Thelma that she's going to Mexico, that the cops won't believe that Hal was trying to rape Thelma and that Louise intervened, because they could have got away without shooting him. Louise feels she has no choice but to flee to Mexico and evade capture
  4. Act Two - The situation gets darker, but our characters develop from the seeds sown in Act One. Their greatest challenges and the point of no return are coming.
  5. Pinch 1 - Thelma and Louise meet JD, a young drifter, who catches Thelma's eye, and though Louise knows the last person they need to tag along is JD, she finally agrees to Thelma's wishes.
  6. Midpoint - Having slept with JD, Thelma goes to brag to Louise (she's growing up), only for Louise to ask after the $6,500 (Louise's life savings) that her boyfriend had wired over. They go to the room. JD is gone and the money with him (Thelma is still a kid). Louise breaks down. All is lost and finally Thelma takes charge of the situation (perhaps she is growing up).
  7. Pinch 2 - Captured by the cops, JD explains that Thelma and Louise are going to Mexico.
  8. Plot Point 2 - Louise points out to Thelma that they have two things going for them. 1) The cops don't know where they are, and 2) The cops don't know where they're headed. The cops let slip to Louise on the phone that they know where she's going, and then, because she's on the phone too long, they manage to trace her call. Thelma and Louise make the decision to go for Mexico, rather than hand themselves in. This is their last chance to turn back.
  9. Act Three - The journey is about to end. The girls are awake to the world, but Louise's act of shooting Hal in the inciting incident can't go unpunished...
  10. Epilogue - Thelma and Louise doesn't lend itself to an epilogue. The frame fades out before their car begins to plummet (a happy ending? They have gone out on their own terms, after all), and there can be no further resolution. There is a brief montage of them together, setting out on the journey, however.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Thelma and Louise

So, I've got my first assignment for NAW - Screenwriting. It's a little late, considering I need to have watched Thelma and Louise by the time I get to Perry Barr tomorrow, along with at least attempting to read the script -harumph!

Tutors, eh? Who'd have them.

Fortunately I have a library at my disposal, and have secured a copy, I just need to pick it up. I should have watched TandL, having caught glimpses many times on late night television (well, I do call myself a Movie Buff - and I was classed as Movie Buff by the latest Empire poll, so that's nice - but, there's still a hell of a lot of things I haven't seen).

Wikipedia says:
Thelma & Louise is a road movie from 1991 conceived and written by Callie Khouri, co-produced and directed by Ridley Scott, and starring Geena Davis as Thelma, Susan Sarandon as Louise, and Harvey Keitel as a sympathetic detective trying to solve crimes that the two women find easier and easier to commit. Michael Madsen plays Louise's boyfriend and Christopher McDonald plays Thelma's controlling husband. Brad Pitt (in his first significant role in a major Hollywood film) plays a robber on parole who befriends Thelma on the road. The film was released on May 24, 1991.

So, let's get this script printed and have a look.

Monday, March 05, 2007

A sense of Poetics

Okay, I've just read Solvejg's short for the compo, and to tell you the truth I'm flabbergasted. Check it out over at The Maggot Tree. It's very Iain Banks, and I like to think that I at least helped to shape the move by suggesting he read Catcher in the Rye and my mentioning the Wasp Factory - it's irrelevant.

What's relevant is that he's pulled something gripping, marvelous, and wonderous out of the bag, that is colourful and strange and endearing and horrific all at once. What's mine? A sustained emotion that swaps its charge in the final paragraphs.

So, where do I go from here?

I need to invest some time in the poetics of writing. I need to look at the following:
Sound Devices
  • Alliteration
  • Assonance
  • Consonance
  • Euphony
  • Cacophony
  • Onomatopoeia
  • Rhyme
  • Rhythm


  • Allegory
  • Analogy
  • Metaphor
  • Simile
  • Zeugma
  • Others: Irony, Euphemisms, Repetition, Symbolism

What am I conscious of in my own writing? Metaphor and Simile I have licked, I think. I just need to be stronger in my delivery. The repetition and the symbolism also! In my short I have:

  1. The daughter tracing her finger across the vase as she waits for her father, and the lady on the bed tracing her finger in a circle upon the quilt
  2. The daughter 'teasing' the teatlike strawberries and the engorged nipples of the lady on the bed.
  3. The strawberries and the colour of the hotel room. The strawberries and flesh. Finally the flavouring becoming sour.
  4. The lavender scent as possession - wreathing, then masking, then invading; sickly.
  5. The swans, of course.

Thursday, March 01, 2007


Well, I made the 230 round-trip to Birmingham and back last night... whah? Where am I... Sorry, keep dozing off. That was one hell of a journey (both ways). It took 3 hours to get there thanks to the damn roadworks on the A404 leading to the M40. I was stuck for 45 minutes - crikey!

So, I get to the UCE dead on 6, I race to the loo, run to the classroom, find it in use by other people, search the corridor for signs of life, slink back to the admin office, find the note that says go to room D226, and spend the next 5 minutes batting my head against doors and windows (like a blue-bottle) until I get there.

... stagger in, still in my shirt, tie, glasses, shaved head, hands-free kit strapped to my ear, bag on shoulder. I was greeted by Nicola but no one else. They all had their heads down, reading (I'd discover their portfolios). No one smiled, no one spoke... Er, is this the same class?

So, I sat down, looked around... no one looks back. I literally have to stare. Is everyone as knackered as I am? (Maybe they all read my Pattercake post and think I'm an egomaniac!) Anyhoo, it was kind of a functional night, I got 62% on my portfolio with nice words said about my press release and 3,000 word crit re-work (though I let myself down on the Fanny and Alexander pieces - d'oh! Yes, I really could have put in more effort - but honestly, I didn't realise we'd be marked like real degree students... I'd better start taking this shit seriously). I can't remember much of the evaluation, because Nicola took it back, but it's kind of good. Though, back to my old course days at Reading college and I'm desperate to know where in this league of 18 I came (how much did my F & A pieces let me down?)

62% is good (it's a 2:1) but I should be looking to 1st standard now. I'm pissed that I didn't put in more effort. Gah!

Well, we got down to a little bit of workshopping, had a presentation by Nicola about how she feels workshops should work - including (I thought) a little dig at my usual re-write of someone elses work. (Check my Pattercake post). We chatted a little, discussed the pros and cons of the piece she showed us and then all promptly got up at 8pm and left for home... at least, I did. Others went to the pub. Pah! I can't stay there for an extra hour for a drink, I'd never get home. Downside was I wouldn't catch up with them all, and now the group (down from 24 to 18 already) will be factionalised even further - some people will defer to September, others will go onto the other course.

So, I'm already losing buddies - especially the guy who most stood out as being a kindred spirit, and giving some guidance; he'd deferred damn him, but then he was going to do the other course anyway. What's a guy to do?

So, back in the car, left Birmingham at 8:20, and home by 9:50. How'sat? An hour and a half! And I didn't have to fight with the winds that battered me on the way up.

I need sleep!