#screenwriting #film #story
"…..Syd Field’s ‘three-act-structure’ model is a perfectly natural device; not one that can be avoided by screenwriters. It is no more than a variation on the ‘start, middle and end’ model of all narratives. Using two films, Network (Lumet, 1976) and Magnolia (Anderson, 1999)it can be demonstrated that Field’s three-act structure; set-up, confrontation and resolution, is unavoidable and inevitable regardless of screenwriting and filmmaking techniques.
Network and the vast majority of Hollywood output are films with a classic linear story structure; send hero to battle, fire missiles at him, get him home dead or alive; it is a simple model, logical, chronological and embraced by the majority of film makers. The beginning, middle and end is the trusted template which defines American cinema. However, “a distinctly nonlinear structure has crept into Hollywood’s cinematic repertoire.” (Smith, 1999/2000) The emergence of films such as Pulp Fiction, Lone Star, English Patient and Magnolia do not use linear structure. But the question remains can the three-act formula be avoided?
Screenwriting expert Professor Robert McKee once described a story as a human being living a life that is more or less in balance; then comes the “inciting incident. The protagonist reacts, his life falls out of balance, and he now has had aroused in him a conscious or unconscious desire for whatever it is that will restore balance; “launching him on a quest for his object of desire against the forces of antagonism.” (Parker, 2003) McKee nailed the concept of the three-act structure that was the basis of debate initiated by Syd Field, an American writer and popular screenwriting guru.
Syd Field argues “The nature of the screenplay is as it has always been; a story told with pictures, dialogue and description, and placed within the context of dramatic structure” (Field, 2005). Field’s popular paradigm of three-act structure consists of set up…..”
TLLjournal is proud to announce that The Writers Store is now an official sponsor of our logline contest! They’ve kindly offered up their Hollywood Screenwriting Directory to one of our finalist each contest. “With over 1,500 listings for Industry insiders from studios to independent financiers, the Hollywood Screenwriting Directory is the specialized resource you need for discovering where and how to sell your screenplay. Plus, it includes how-to instructions on script format, query letters, treatments, and log lines, so you can produce a professional submission.” Thanks guys!
13 Secrets to Building a Great Character
by David Santo
Join me now as we travel to a public library in Michigan, where an angry woman types on a computer then bangs on the screen when she sees her words. She’s writing her screenplay 30 minutes at a time because that’s all she’s allotted on the official library computer and she’s really frustrated because the computer is slow. She knows I’m a writer and when she spots me, she smiles, peels off her wrap around sunglasses and pins them onto her right thigh – each tattooed calf on display below her jorts. One tattoo is Urkel. The other Jim Rome.
Her current script is pure genius and I know this because she tells me. It’s about castrating male cats and is a metaphor for what she believes should happen to all men. So to be clear, she thinks chopping off my bitty parts will somehow end war, heal the sick, and advance our exploration of space. She’s making a pretty good case until her anger grows more out of control and triggers a weird quirk - every new sentence she speaks starts with her chirping in a high falsetto…
Dep. Dep. Purple!
I ask her why she’s so convinced her script is blockbuster material and she reveals her secret…
Dep. Dep. Purple! It’s filled with amazing characters - like the fine folks she calls her friends that get drunk and accidentally brush their teeth with scar removal cream then choke to death when their tongue swells up.
I tell her, I like amazing characters, too, and that’s what she is to me, but I don’t think she understands. I lean over and peek at the screen to catch a glimpse of her literary genius but she’s concerned I might steal her ideas so she maximizes another window and up pops a load of porn. At first, I’m embarrassed, but when I realize she’s not, I ask her if these are friends of hers. She chuckles…
Dep. Dep. Purple! I wish.
Then she finally tells me what’s really making her mad. As great as her characters are her script is running out of steam around page 40. I tell her that sounds like an outline problem but she assures me she has a good one. So I ask her to tell me more about these fascinating characters and she runs out of backstory after one idea. I probe deeper and ask her if she has a character checklist to help create depth and arc and by the rage my query encounters, I assume the answer’s no.
Dep. Dep. Purple! What, you want a freaking list?
MY HERO IS A BANANA
I tell her a list is exactly what I want. And it really comes in handy when you’re building a character. For instance…
Bo Banana is the star of my 3D animated script entitled FRUIT. Bo is the rootin’ tootin’ line dancing sheriff of Canino’s Fruit Market in Houston, Texas, and he’s facing the biggest problem fruits everywhere must deal with…
People like to eat you.
So he invents the “Fruit Replicator”, a machine that will manufacture real fruit in every way except one – it’s not alive. Humans will get to enjoy this tasty new fruit and leave Bo and his friends to enjoy life.
But when the evil tomato in charge cuts the power, Bo must move his machine across the fruit market to the main cooler that has a backup generator so they can make replacement fruit before the big produce sale in the morning.
Now when you read this it sounds like I’m describing a plot. And I am. But upon closer examination everything is happening because of my hero and my villain and who they are. So in a sense, it all starts with character. And I’m not interested in getting into some silly debate about which comes first or is more important – plot or character – Lajos Egri vs. Aristotle; they arise simultaneously and interdependently - like 2 different sides of the same coin. Just know this for sure: you’re gonna need great characters and also the knowledge on how to build them if your script is going to work. And if you answer the following questions your characters will spring to life in ways you never imagined.
13 STEPS TO CREATING MEMORABLE CHARACTERS
1. Has this person been successful in past relationships? Why?
2. What is their relationship to their co-workers like? Why?
3. What are the jobs they’ve held in the past? Why?
4. What kind of friend are they? Why?
5. Whom do they trust? Why?
6. What is their secret? Why?
7. What is their fear? Why?
8. What promise did they make to themselves or someone else?
9. Do they keep it?
10. What does this person want more than anything?
11. What is the physical object (twitch) that represents their internal struggle?
12. What is the big choice they have to make that illustrates their character arc?
13. The secret ingredient…
SECRET INGREDIENT #13
It’s all so easy when you first start writing screenplays. You write script number one on the guts and glory of your life, the people and places you know, vibrant, palpable, and the feeling is electric! You mine the crazy scene makers, shape shifters and carnival barkers in your life.
Then you write your second script in similar fashion. But soon, you realize, around your third or fourth or fifth, you’re rewriting the same exciting people and places you already wrote about. You need fresh blood – character blood - which leads me to secret ingredient #13.
Passion. The passion your character has to pursue something they desperately want more than anything and your personal passion as a writer to tell their story. Nothing else can replace this. No seminar or book will do.
So now you can whip out your checklist and write a character outline that will knock your socks off and right into the dryer because that’s what people want. Scripts full of great characters with passion.
You can catch up with David Santo and receive a free pdf. copy of his new eBook entitled “Screenwriting: a practical guide for writing a film” by going to…
Click on “Book”.
Debunking Screenwriting Myths, Part 7: Requesting Feedback
by Geno Scala
Recently, I submitted one of my scripts to a blogger offering his free “ten-page review”… or so I thought. Apparently, I misunderstood the premise of his tweet and blog, and later learned that my submission was open to ALL of the blog followers to comment and critique. One of his more professional followers was chosen to “officially” review the script, which was apparently a new process coincidentally beginning with my first script submission.
After several days, I checked back with the blog with enthusiastic anticipation of reading a number of thoughtful, positive comments and, hopefully, some important, insightful suggestions offered up by writers with seemingly a wide range of professional screenwriting experience.
How wrong I was.
What I received as “feedback” was snarky, irrelevant and hate-filled responses, either borne out of envy or vitriol from possibly a long-past run-in. Hard to say, since all of the commenters were anonymous. While feedback of this nature is not helpful, it did drive home a very important point, one that I had forgotten in my expectation of adulation. After all, this screenplay had won several contests, and is continuing to fare well in several others. The screenplay is generating a lot of interest from producers and managers, and has been requested and reviewed by many of the top mid-level production companies out there, receiving tremendous accolades.
I hadn’t followed my first rule of feedbacks: be clear about what you expect. Usually, when asking for any writing feedbacks, I rely almost entirely on my “cheers”, “peers” and “rocketeers”. In this case, I went outside that sphere of influence; my own “circle of trust”.
This refers to the three groups of emotional and screenwriting support network you should have in place. Your “cheers” are friends and family and those not in the business of screenwriting, who generally will support (and donate to) just about anything you do. They are important for your spiritual well-being and self-esteem, but generally not as helpful to your overall writing goals.
The next group is your “peers”. These, generally, are fellow scribes who have somewhat the same level of writing experience as you. You might find them in writing groups, networking forums, chat rooms, or related alumni groups.
Your “rocketeers” are those handfuls of professionals who can take your writing — and your career — to the next level. This group may consist of professional script readers, producers, agents, managers, optioned or produced screenwriters, and/or screenwriting “gurus”.
When posting this screenplay to an unfamiliar blog, I failed to make my own expectations clear; to myself or to others. I hadn’t researched the purpose of the site, or the quality of the reviewers prior to diving into this literary shark tank with my eyes closed.
With any anonymous review, you are opening yourself up to comments and suggestions from anyone, regardless of their accomplishments or lack thereof. For all I know, the reviews could have come from a bunch of stoned high school kids cutting class that day (they certainly read as such, and made even less sense). Some of the comments ranged from “I don’t like the genre, and will never like a script like this”, to “Oh, no! I’ve read one with a similar opening last month!” neither one refreshingly insightful to the script being reviewed. Of the few “corrective suggestion(s)” the script did received included one that was based on the incorrect assertion that a particular formatting style is no longer “in vogue” (despite Dave Trottier’s assertion to the contrary). One reviewer felt that he/she didn’t like it because they “couldn’t see how it (the plot) could be pulled off.” Mind you, they’ve read only the first ten pages or so.
The result was a swift kick to my own butt, by me, reminding never to set myself up for failure so carelessly again in the future. I have certainly developed a thick-skin about my writing long before this posting every saw the light of day. You should ask for and receive any and all feedback; just make sure you know from whom it’s coming and what their personal motivations might be, if any.
When I provide feedback, it is for the purpose of helping the writer improve their writing or their overall project. I provide examples of what I’m talking about, and if they expect corrected examples, I provide those as well. If it’s formatting-related, I realize it may be about preferences or style, and advise the writer what technique or style I prefer, so as not to cloud my own judgment. I also try the “sandwich technique” to critiquing: a negative comment sandwiched between two positive comments.
It makes the criticism a bit easier to swallow that way.
Geno Scala has been writing for over twenty years, and was one of the Executive Directors for the 1999-2000 Academy Awards presentation. He is an optioned screenwriter with nine screenplays to his credit, and is an alumnus of ScreenwritingU. He maintains a business in Hollywood, and resides in beautiful Huntsville, Alabama with his rocket-scientist wife, a daughter in grad school, another daughter in college in CA, and two teen-aged sons.
June/July Contest Finalist
#3linesorless || #june #july || #finalists || #loglines
The top seven prize-winning loglines are listed in order. The rest are listed randomly.
Logline: Can a Broadway diva find a cure for the hot flashes that are ruining her life? Sure, but first she has to convince the hormonally-crazed women of Dr. Zelnik-Chan’s menopause support group to crash the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and save a sexy Mauritian botanist — without getting herself killed.
Screenplay title: Hot Flash
Winner, Best Comedy category, 2011 Just Effing Entertain Me screenplay competition
Written by: Su Hoyle and Nina Wishengrad
WGA Registration Number: 1226078
Genre: Contained Thriller
Logline: A billionaire rare book merchant uses the premature reading of his will to seal the heirs into an airtight room, and only by solving a thousand year old mystery can they escape.
Screenplay title: Settling The Books
Quarter-finalist/Chicago Screenwriters Network
Winner/Contest Of Contest Winners for the feature Jenna’s Gone
Written by: Russ Meyer
WGA Registration Number: I233686
Logline: A nerdophobic writer infiltrates the world of pocket protectors, bad haircuts, and ill-fitting polyester clothing to rescue the woman he loves, find inner peace, and defeat an alphanerd with delusions of grandeur.
Screenplay title: Nerds Among Us
Author of a dozen books, including:
-Fun With Phone Solicitors (Warner Books)
-When Good People Write Bad Sentences (St. Martin’s)
-101 Things NOT to Do Before You Die (Thomas Dunne)
Written by: Robert W. Harris
WGA Registration Number: 935539
Logline: Russian mercenaries take over an Iowa farm with plans to use a crop duster to spray weaponized smallpox on an air show in Des Moines. Only a small town sheriff and an ex-Mossad agent out for revenge stand in their way.
Screenplay title: HeartLand
Winner/Amazon Studios (for the feature Devil’s Pass).
Seven scripts optioned
Three-time Nicholl Fellowship semifinalist.
Written by: Michael Coady
WGA Registration Number: 1195988
Logline: A serial killer from an alternate universe searches for his specialized prey to boost his business while satisfying his burning passion to find the perfect woman. It will depend on his latest victim’s ability to recognize the impossible in order to save herself.
Screenplay title: Deadly Dimensions
Finalist/Shriekfest Screenwriting Contest
Top 20% out of 3,000/L.A. Expo Competition
Top 25% out of 5200 (still live)/Page Contest
Written by: Sandra Mytys
WGA Registration Number: 1566696
Logline: Investigating an attack that left her teen sister in a coma, Laura Evans explores a dilapidated old house in the woods haunted by the vengeful spirit of a Gypsy witch and her clowder of mangy, demonic cats.
Screenplay title: The House That Evil Built
Finalist/Amazon Studios (The House That Evil Built)
Winner/Amazon Studios (for the feature Devil’s Pass)
Three-time Nicholl Fellowship semifinalist.
Written by: Michael Coady
WGA Registration Number: 1592027
Genre: Family Drama/Biography
Logline: The true story of a noted, terminally ill Boston journalist who embarks on an extraordinary journey that alters her fate, and ultimately, leaves an indelible mark on humanity.
Screenplay title: Pippa’s Song
Winner /Creative World Awards
Written by: Diana Mitchell
WGA Registration Number: 1569486
Logline: A rogue war correspondent follows his conscience and dodges military censors to score the great scoop of World War II. Based on a true story.
Screenplay title: Operation Jackplane
Written by: Joe Livernois
WGA Registration Number: 1542195
Logline: After humanity hits bottom, government and media conspirators stage the Second Coming of Jesus Christ in an attempt to herd billions of people into a death trap.
Screenplay title: Peak Jesus:Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Their God(s)
Written by: Jason Calabro
WGA Registration Number: 1588120
Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller
Logline: A prized medical student tries to reanimate a cadaver who he’s fallen in love with.
Screenplay title: Anatomy Fellow
Written by: Robert E Hoxie
WGA Registration Number: 1589676
Logline: A timid high school student in Phoenix recruits a brave female classmate to help him save his mother from a hit man in Los Angeles.
Screenplay title: The XY Factor
Written by: Glenn Derrick
WGA Registration Number: 1590047
Logline:Based on true events, this is the story of the psychic CIA spy Lieutenant Mary Quinn who can locate remote targets, interrogate people from miles away, but has a hard time balancing work and family, especially when the Pentagon decides to get rid of her.
Screenplay title: The Zone
Written by: Mathieu Saliva
WGA Registration Number: 1585644
Logline: Married six times with a stint as a hooker Kitty goes to law school at 41. By 45 she has become the go-to defense attorney for La Familia drug cartel in Atlanta learning more than she ever bargained for about the intricate workings of drug trafficking. Based on real life practicing attorney
Screenplay title: Nassau Street
Written by: Cathy Alterman and Neli Soto
WGA Registration Number: 1420036
Logline: A haunted ex-pilot and his nihilistic cousin must contend with a crime boss and each other as they try to free their family from a life of suffering.
Screenplay title: Purgatory
Written by: Jason Ardolino
WGA Registration Number: 1541150
Logline: An ancient alliance between aliens, ninja, and demons crumbles leaving the only ninja left in the bloodline to go on an intergalactic killing spree bring all those responsible before the mighty demon council to be judged and tried for their betrayal.
Screenplay title: Demon Ninja
Written by: Max Teasdale
WGA Registration Number: 1440567