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Endings: Grace note?

September 1st, 2011 No comments

The ‘Holy Trinity’ of Story

Every screenplay has a beginning, middle and ending – and, as has been noted more than once before in For Bards Blog, the ending is usually the hardest part to get right. For those reading a novel or otherwise immersing themselves in some form of entertainment, reaching the ending is usually a bittersweet experience. On one hand, you have a feeling of accomplishment, but it is inevitably tinged with a sense of loss: this vicarious experience has drawn to a close. For a screenwriter, creating a solid ending that resolves their story to the audience’s satisfaction is a tricky balancing act, but hopefully it gives birth to the urge to create anew. Often it leads to re-examination, second guessing and unlimited fussing in the name of ‘getting it right,’ even though it’s possible the first choice may have been the right one. In other words, it’s hard to let a project go, but it’s necessary. Your script must be complete before it can be produced – and the desired throngs can enjoy it on the big screen, from beginning to end – at which point it will be their turn to yearn for more …

Lasting Impressions

Whether your script is a comedy, a drama or anything else, it will first be judged on its ending. Just the way making a good ‘first impression’ is important when meeting someone, the ‘final impression’ a reader or studio executive takes away from your script’s last page is likely to make the difference between a ‘consider’ or a ‘pass.’ (If you’re lucky enough to garner a rare ‘recommend,’ you probably nailed it way before the last page.) So the ending of your screen story is vital to the success of your project – and you should ensure that it hits the correct notes to offer your audience an entertaining, insightful and emotionally satisfying experience.

The End… or is it?

One of Hollywood’s latest ‘innovations’ in terms of story endings harkens back to the earliest days of film, when all movies were shorts, and many were serials. Now movies have ‘bulked up’ into $200 million behemoths, so studios must hedge their bets by implanting a cryptic plot point at the end of their tentpole films so that they have pre-positioned a sequel in their (presumed) franchise. All superhero films have them, every ghost story, all genre-mashups… If you are lucky enough to get your script made these days, it had better have franchise potential – if you decide to work for a big studio, that is.

Still a place for dignity

Fortunately, there still is a market for original films with challenging themes and endings. That’s the good news. Here’s the bad news: if you’ve written a screenplay with a ‘downer’ ending, or something that is open-ended, be prepared for requests to change it to something ‘more commercial.’ Because even if you’re fortunate enough to sell your screenplay, the people who bought it still would like to make money off of it, and if that means changing the ending, they will. It’s called show business, not show art. The best way to avoid having your script’s ending changed is to write the strongest one possible in the first place. And that’s where an experienced story analyst can help make a difference.

Omega and Alpha

Endings are part of the nature of things. Everything that has a beginning has an ending. In screenwriting, the one trick to an ending that is emotionally resonant and satisfying is this: there is no trick. There is only hard work, trial and error, and solid writing. So go out there and write – and re-write, if necessary – your screenplay’s ending. But finish it, with a real ending you can justify; if you can argue successfully for a downer, open-ended absurdist nihilstic finale, then that’s probably the right ending for your work. Get it right, and get it done. That way you can start your next  script with a clear conscience…

That Does Not Compute!

August 19th, 2011 No comments

One of the perils of being a writer in the digital age is the prevalence of high-tech gadgets and newfangled gizmos we depend on to get our messages across that are far more complicated than either of those old standbys the pencil or (if you remember back far enough) the typewriter. Sure, some writers still trust in the ‘old ways,’ but most writers these days have surrendered to the digital revolution. As such, we have grown increasingly dependent on these electronic tools. When they work well, they make our lives easier. When they stop working – well, that’s a horse of a different color, to use an anachronistic metaphor.

Presently I find myself bedeviled by computer problems: my stalwart laptop is little more than a shelf for papers and assorted bits of detritus on my desk, since it chose to stop working after a recent software update. And my old workhorse PC is fighting for life after a botched hardware upgrade; using intuition, accumulated past fix-it knowledge and a lot of wishful thinking, I have managed to resurrect the PC with an archaic version of its operating system. That’s the bad news. The good news? I can still write and post, which is something I rely on to maintain my sanity. And that ain’t nothin’, as the expression goes…

But even without digital devices, one can – and should (if you consider yourself a writer, that is) write. It’s been said that artists are compelled to create, and that is especially true of writers. Without a medium and a message, a writer is just another featherless biped (with apologies to writers who have either feathers or a different number of legs). Having a story to tell, even if it is just about your battles with bits and bytes, is life’s blood to creative writers. So a computer malfunction shouldn’t stop you: after all, who tops the food chain when it comes to electrical productivity devices? YOU. Your brain, the most complicated and powerful processor there is, runs on electrical impulses. And, if you play your cards right and behave, it should never present you with ‘the blue screen of death.’ Let’s hope not, anyway!

So is there a moral to this story? Of course. There’s always a moral – or a point. And here, it’s this: you can write anywhere, on anything. The concept for the hit ’80s TV show “Miami Vice” was was two words scrawled on a cocktail napkin: “MTV Cops.” And it made NBC and Michael Mann millions. But I’m not suggesting using serviettes as your writer’s medium of choice. A pad of paper or a notebook along with a pen or pencil will do just fine. Quill pen and parchment? Sure. Even crayons and wrapping paper, if that’s your thing. In short, it doesn’t matter what you write on. It simply matters that you write.

Therefore, to quote F. Scott Fitzgerald from his masterpiece “The Great Gatsby,” “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne ceaselessly into the past.” At least that’s what it feels like writing on a computer that has seen better days, using an outdated operating system and browser. But it gets the job done, and that’s good enough for me. Because the secret isn’t writing efficiently – it’s writing well. And using old equipment to accomplish that? Well, it doesn’t diminish the pleasure I get from creating. Stated another way, I’ll allude to Hugh Hudson’s Oscar-winning 1981 film “Chariots of Fire,” which garnered 4 Academy Awards out of 7 nominations (including a win for Colin Welland’s original screenplay). In the film, which outlines the competition at the 1924 Olympics between runners Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams, Liddell, son of missionaries and a devout Christian, explains that when he runs, he “feels God’s pleasure.” I can relate, because when I write, I feel the unmitigated joy at the opportunity to express myself. I own a couple of computers because I just do. But I write because I feel I must.

 

Subject Matter? Yes!!

August 11th, 2011 No comments

 

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up…

It’s every writer’s eternal quest: finding something ‘interesting’ to write about. I’ve addressed the subject of subject matter before in For Bards blog, most recently last December: “What Should I Write About?” In that post, I described a holiday dinner I attended with a group of friends: a Hollywood set dresser, a Tony-nominated playwright, a TV costumer, a Hollywood studio executive assistant and a last-minute addition: a screenwriter, the son of a famous British knight. And me, of course – after all, every historic party requires its amanuensis.

And that’s where it started to get interesting…

As I wrote last December, the dinner was wonderful – and the company was delightful. All of us had known one another for years, with the exception of the last-minute guest. He arrived after the party had started, a bottle of wine in hand, and proceeded to work his charm – and obvious self-promotion – over the rest of the group. His reputation had preceded him: our host’s dear friends from out of state explained that the man was working on a hush-hush screenplay, and was staying at an acquaintance’s home in ritzy Pacific Palisades as he worked out the final details of a sale to a major studio. Tall and charming, he was the son of a famous British knight connected with the music industry, and possessed a melifluous voice that was alternately soothing and authoritative. In short, he was a real character.

A real character

As I wrote last December, this dinner could serve as subject matter for any number of stories: a “Big Chill” reunion tale, “Home For the Holidays” comedy or – as I’ve subsequently discovered – a flim flam caper. Because that screenwriter son of a famous British knight? He left one item off his resume: con man. In the months since, I’ve come to learn that this man, who really is the son of a knight, has taken advantage of friends, acquaintances and strangers for years. Apparently he has a screenplay, since he later shared some of it with one of the dinner guests (although it’s not clear it’s really his),  but no ‘multi-million dollar deal’ as he’d repeatedly mentioned at dinner. It turns out the out-of-state pals who vouched for him with our dinner host were also taken, for loans and hospitality, and his Pacific Palisades landlord was similarly stiffed. We’ve since surmised that even the bottle of wine brought to that holiday dinner was probably pilfered from his host’s wine cellar.

Prodigal Son or Problem Child?

So the amount of story material yielded from this holiday dinner of late 2010 has increased exponentially. Now it could be a comedy about a huckster, a straight-up drama dealing with identity, or a character study of an antisocial persona. In short, discovering a wolf in our flock of sheep upped the creative ante considerably. Because drama is conflict, the opportunities for fashioning a story out of this experience are manifold. Since learning of this con man’s modus operandi, I’ve also discovered he has been doing this for years; he has been disowned by his illustrious father and left a trail of broken relationships in his wake. Were it not for the force of the man’s personality, I’m certain he would’ve been unmasked as a fraud years ago. His ceaseless self-promotion at dinner was strange, and perhaps should have been take as a red flag, although let’s face it: in Hollywood, people love to brag about their successes. Ironically, in my experience, the most successful people brag the least.

Interesting story – but it needs an ending…

For someone looking for story material, I’ve proven there are at least a few takes on something as simple as a dinner party. The revelation that one guest was a con man adds depth to the story, perhaps propelling it into its second act. Was the con man there to steal something? To find another victim? Taking a day off? There are so many options open to this story, and very few dead ends. The one thing the story presently lacks is a solid ending. Is it a happy ending? A righteous one? What if the ending is simply a new beginning? There are so many choices open to a creative writer – so now all you need to do is create.

The morality of the story…

There may be no moral to this story, but there certainly is morality involved. The con man guest isn’t necessarily the most important character to the story, but he’s a valuable one. His conflicted morality offers multiple plot lines and story points – all necessary to a successful screenplay. So, what have we learned? A dinner party can provide story material, but its story potential multiplies when someone (or perhaps more than one) at that party has a secret. As a writer, your job is to reveal any secrets in a way that makes your work relevant, compelling and entertaining. It’s a tough job – but, hey – you’re a writer, aren’t you?

 Are you up to the task?

Homework during summer? BUMMER!

July 27th, 2011 No comments

 

 

Dude, hope you’re havin’ a bitchin summer!

OK… you’re a screenwriter. So where’s your homework?

HOMEWORK?! Nobody said anything about homework…!

WHAT Unwritten Rules?

Aha! Homework is another of the unwritten rules of screenwriting. (As the saying goes, “There are no rules to sure success in the movie business – but you break them at your own peril.”) And everyone has to do homework – even if they’re the teacher.

Homework, but no Phys Ed, right?

No Physical Education, but you should get off the couch, your movie theater seat or desk chair every once in a while. In the case of screenwriting, homework really consists of knowing your business. Literally. The more movies you have seen, the more scripts you have read, the better your chances of writing a strong, original screenplay. Although it may seem illogical, being original is really a matter of knowing what’s gone before – so you can avoid the same territory. As a story analyst, I can usually tell a writer’s formative film and scripting influences as soon as I read their work. It’s human nature to emulate writing which we think is ‘quality,’ even if it involves unconscious borrowing or, in the worst cases, plagiarizing. It’s helpful to know if you’re unwittingly channeling a story that’s already been told (and which you saw and didn’t remember) before you submit your script – afterwards is too late, particularly for that script opportunity or your reputation.

Homework was never this fun

Cheer up. Screenwriting homework, like the ‘work’ of writing, isn’t too tough. In fact, screenwriting homework  is easier than writing. Basically, it involves two things: your mind and subject matter. The instructions go something like this: combine the two, ponder, and repeat. That’s about all there is to it. In other words, stimulate your mind with a film or film script, absorb the story elements, note the tone and pacing, appreciate the characters and plot. Above all, remember. Remember the general story and structure, recall the overall theme. This can all be done from the comfort of your couch – or a movie theater seat – at your leisure. But it needs to be done. Otherwise you may end up writing “Casablanca” due to the fact that you had a great idea for a ‘retro love-triangle story’ because you failed to remember that ‘arthouse movie’ an old girlfriend dragged you to years before…

Look at the blueprints, visit the building

As a story analyst, I have read thousands of screenplays, plays and teleplays (along with treatments, manuscripts, you name it…). And I have seen more than several people’s shares of films and television. While I may lack the zeitgeist sophistication of my youthful nephews and nieces, I could beat the tar out of any one of them when it came to ‘movie trivia,’ (or, as I prefer to call it, ‘knowledge’) or story precedents. And, while I intend to learn the entire Lady Gaga canon some day, knowing whether someone’s script is perilously close to “Blade Runner” comes in a lot handier right now, for me and my clients.

In terms of actual homework, a great exercise is to read the film script, then see the movie. There are a lot of film script sites allowing you to read scripts for free, among them The Internet Movie Script Database (IMSDb). Once you’ve read the script, it’s time to see the film. Apart from heading to theaters for current releases, multitudes of films are available on Blu-ray and DVD, along with streaming titles and on-demand titles, so there shouldn’t be much of a barrier to find the film you are looking for. Ideally, you’ll hang on to the script and make notes if you notice anything that is meaningful to you – but in any case you will have developed a greater understanding of how screenplays are ‘stitched together,’ and what Hollywood looks for in a finished script.

Cheer up – there’s extra credit

Doing your ‘screenwriting homework’ during the summer isn’t so bad. It gets you inside from the blazing heat that seems to be everywhere, and hopefully it’s entertaining. But if it isn’t, that’s where the real work starts: why was it slow? Which character was weak? Did you spot the plot hole? It’s sometimes easier to find the seams in a bad movie than a good one, usually because they’re so obvious – and it’s the same with the script that went before. While reading a script, be aware of the flow and pace, its overall story and characters. Does the dialogue sound right? If any aspect of the script seems questionable, pay extra attention to that when you watch the film – sometimes it really was ‘fixed in editing,’ but often the same deficiencies persist from script to finished product.

The Lone Exception

Of course there’s one screenplay that is simply perfect just the way it is: yours. Or so you hope. Unless you’ve done your homework, you may only find out you’re not ‘completely correct’ when your script gets sent back to you. So do your homework – or benefit from the services of someone who’s helped writers like you by offering constructive criticism. But whatever you do, always put your best effort forward.

The 15-day First Draft

July 18th, 2011 No comments

Speed writing?

At Forbard Story Services, I provide truthful and constructive criticism of my clients’ work – and always observe absolute confidentiality involving every writer’s story, plot and subject matter. But I did have a unique experience working with a writer recently that I will share. Like a screenwriting version of speed-dating, we worked together and fashioned a first draft screenplay based on his orginal (prose) material in 15 days. My client and his resulting script fall under that ‘confidentiality’ thing, but the experience itself was invigorating and rewarding.

Compelled to write

For a number of reasons, including the writer’s age, I was motivated to help him achieve his vision, even if that meant I had to do more than I customarily would in terms of story analysis services. The writer was clearly compelled to write, and I could sense his urgency, so I simply used his stories as a blueprint to develop a complete script with a beginning, middle and end, containing solid characters and story themes which would resonate with an audience. After a false start or two, we hit on a productive working relationship: as the client offered more primary material, I generated script pages, which we would both revise. Soon, we fell into a comfortable rhythm.

No time for distractions

To create a full first draft script in 15 days, it was necessary to hunker down and work. It meant a minimum of 10 solid script pages a day before revisions, and left very little time for much else. I consulted with my client by phone nearly every day, sometimes multiple times, and set myself the task of adapting and adjusting the writer’s stories into something a producer or director would recognize as a thought-out script, in a familiar format, lacking any serious flaws like plot holes, stilted dialogue or a formulaic feel. It helped that I was home alone while my wife was away, since it allowed me to work any time the whim struck me.

Even God rested…

The 15-day first draft involved 15 days of writing, but not 15 consecutive days… Let’s face it: writing is hard (at least good writing is), and even God took a day off while creating the world. So I took a few days off during this process, and the entire affair unfolded over 18 days. But, as any writer knows, a ‘day off’ isn’t always an accurate description, since most writers keep working in their heads when they aren’t tapping the keyboard or scribbling on paper. In any case, both my client and I took a few days off, but they were needed to recharge – and refine.

First Draft at last!

The final day of writing was spent bridging various scenes, revising some of the previous story lines and characters, and generally just getting all the script’s figurative ducks in a row. After an intense period of living and breathing the stories’ characters and creating and re-hashing plot elements and story lines, the first draft was complete. My client was enthusiastic about the end result: although he didn’t realize it when he started, he was trying to write a screenplay, but lacked a general familiarity with the format and mechanics of screenwriting to come up with a finished script on his own. For my part, I was very pleased: although as a story analyst I usually confine my input to constructive criticism, this project was special, particularly because of the client’s obvious desire to tell his story.

Stay in shape!

What I took away from the whole experience is that it’s good to keep those screenwriting muscles in shape – a 15-day first draft is like running a marathon: you start out with highest hopes and great intentions, occasionally sag in the middle, and are elated to see it end – albeit with a tremendous feeling of accomplishment. At least that’s what my runner friends tell me. After all, what would I know about running marathons? I’m a writer.

The Writes of Spring?

April 6th, 2011 2 comments

Hey, congratulations! You made it through one of the coldest, snowiest, nastiest winters on record (so far), and spring – such as it is – is here. It’s time for ‘spring cleaning,’ and hopefully that includes any ideas you’ve been holding onto over the harsh winter. Washing the windows and beating the rugs – well, that’s your business. But when it comes to following your creative urge and putting those long-gestating ideas down on paper – what I call the ‘writes of spring,’ you should remember the importance of story basics. After all, spring is a time of renewal and rebirth; if you look at the movies coming to a theater near you this summer, renewed and rebirthed is a pretty accurate description of the sequel-heavy fare… It’s why you need to contribute to the ‘writes of spring.’ After all, your idea is better, isn’t it?

The importance of story

More often than not, audiences do not leave a movie theater criticizing the art direction. They find fault with the story – or the way the story is told. The first part means the writer didn’t do their job properly; the latter suggests the director is complicit with the writer. In either case, it’s probably because the story had flaws. Flaws which could have been fixed before the story left audiences wanting something better. That’s where the process of story development comes in: story development analysis reinforces scripts so their seams are not evident.

End with the beginning? Begin with the ending?

No matter what your creative process entails, the important part is getting words down on paper (or bits and bytes on your hard drive) to give your work life. Basics like story structure, pacing, tone, characters, etc. are all important, but without actual substance, all writing is hypothetical. So get those words written – however you want. If you want to begin with your story’s ending (usually the most difficult element of any story or script to get right), go for it! Just remember, while the ending is important, it’s no more so than the beginning or middle. But you’ve got to start somewhere…

Everybody’s a critic

Once you’ve accomplished your goal and put your script down on paper, what next? The subsequent step may actually be the hardest: letting others read and offer criticism of your work. It’s necessary for people to read your efforts – that’s the very definition of being a writer. But you want people to read your work with an eye toward making it better, not simply pointing out misspellings or typos or pronouncing it ‘good.’ Because of their formats, feature film scripts, as well as teleplays and stage plays, can offer a reading challenge to the uninitiated, so it’s a very good idea to have someone familiar with script format read your work for quality and clarity.

Written any good movies lately?

Spring has sprung, the sap is running… So start writing! Or do you WANT another summer of sequels, remakes and reboots? Frankly, it’s your move…

What should I write about?

December 10th, 2010 No comments

The question frequently arises among writers: “What should I write about?” It’s not coincidental that the most frequent answer is “Write what you know,” especially since it’s easier to draw on personal experience than create a new world from whole cloth. But both approaches have their merits, and their adherents. It’s really about which you do best, since writing well is the goal…

Recently I attended a holiday dinner party which came together almost spontaneously. At the dinner I was joined by a high-level film studio executive-assistant, a Tony-nominated playwright, a British screenwriter (son of a Knight!), a set dresser and a costumer. As the lone blogger, I was both intimidated and fascinated. Talk ranged from gossip to philosophy, from food to metaphysics, and I did my best to take it all in (meal included, truth be told). By evening’s end, I had enough ‘material’ to write several screenplays, from the “Big Chill” aspect of this rag-tag group of celebrants to the farcical “Home for the Holidays” spirit of the day; if I wished, I could tap darker undercurrents which would lead the tale an entirely different direction.  Regardless of what direction I wished to go, from comic to heavily dramatic, I gained enough inspiration (and story material) from our dinner together to keep me busy for a while.

Knowing what to write about is half the battle. What remains is a difficult – albeit frequently fun – task of defining your story, identifying its beginning, middle and end, and applying a plot structure to it which moves the story forward while satisfying audiences’ desires to be entertained. It’s a careful balance of  plot, character, dialogue, pacing and tone – and any one of these elements can ‘tip’ the overall project off-kilter – and into a studio’s ‘reject’ pile. So it’s obvious that knowing your story is paramount to your screenplay’s success, but getting it right is just as important, and that takes an artist’s touch.

Personal experience is a tricky thing: we often lack the perspective to ‘open-up’ our own stories and instead get bogged-down in minutiae, so it’s important to step back to see the bigger picture (the one the audience deserves) to ensure your story is being told completely. It’s no accident that many of the best novels are adapted into screenplays not by the books’ authors, but by experienced screenwriters who understand the structure and demands of a screen story. Many book authors get the opportunity to adapt their work for Hollywood, but few see their efforts get to the screen unchanged; conversely, those writers who eschew Hollywood work in favor of writing more books often score a higher success rate in getting their titles to theater marquees. A prime example of the latter is Elmore Leonard, who gave up adapting his works in the 80s, although he continues writing novels to this day – and movies continue to be produced (“3:10 to Yuma”) based on his enormous volume of work.

So what should you write about? The answer to that question is as varied as life itself. Material should present itself, whether it comes from a dinner party, a walk to the store or a phone call with a loved one. It’s up to you as a writer to recognize this opportunity and write it down.

Once you’ve finished writing, don’t forget to make sure your work is immune to critical nit-picking. Every successful story, play, screenplay, teleplay and novel became a success because the author took the time to get it right. Story analysis from an experienced professional is the best way to gain perspective on this very personal work. Constructive criticism is the key to refining your project into the ‘bulletproof’ property that will increase your odds of success!

Why Analysis?

October 12th, 2010 No comments

Story analysis? (At this point, we touch our fingertips together, lean forward in our chair and observe, while asking “How do you feel about that?”)

Lots of jokes have been made at the expense of touchy-feely psychoanalysis, which is typically represented by a patient unburdening themselves from a psychiatrist’s couch while a thoughtful, goateed doctor listens and occasionally inserts a probing question into the mix. Jokes aside, analysis is a powerful tool to correct deep-rooted problems, and it is why patients visit psychiatrists, doctors specially trained in treating disorders which may very well go unrecognized by others. In doing so, hopefully the analyst gives the patient a new control over their life, leading to success and fulfillment.

Story and script analysis, while mercifully short on comic stereotypes like couches or goatees, are just as powerful tools to offer a screenwriter perspective, focus and context involving their own work. A good story analyst has years of experience and (on the job) training, with a knowledge of film history and current film, as well as a feel for the ebb and flow of the movie industry in general. And at least 1,000 scripts under their belt – read and analyzed; 2,000 is better. Every script read and synopsized, every story analyzed, every set of reader’s comments informs the analyst’s next set of notes; in short, story analysis is cumulative. Over the course of many years, I have analyzed more than 3,500 scripts, manuscripts, plays, teleplays and treatments; as a result, my ability to identify writing missteps, story mistakes, plotting errors and the like has allowed me to assist writers of all kinds, from total neophytes to jaded Hollywood A-Listers.

Regardless of whether you choose a professional story analyst, it’s important to have someone other than yourself read and provide an independent assessment of your work. No one sets out to write a ‘bad’ script – but stuff happens… If you are so immersed in your work you do not recognize logic gaps, uneven characters, plot holes, strained dialogue, formulaic structure or one of the many other traps screewriters fall into, it’s time to bring in a fresh eye – hopefully someone with the skill set to offer constructive criticism that will make the writing process easier and less mysterious for you. I have friends and colleagues who pooh-pooh  the idea of paying a story analyst to read their work (hey – I didn’t say they were good friends…), but they are often the ones who come to me privately and ask me to look at their work. I’ve also offered to read pals’ work gratis and given them advice, but the majority of screenplays I have analyzed have come through the studio system to the production companies or film finance clients I work with, in addition to those personal clients who discovered Forbard Story Services’ website on their own.

So. Analysis. Hmmm… I know how I feel about that – but how about you? It may make all the difference in your pursuit of screenwriting success!

Watch Out!! Something May Happen…!

October 4th, 2010 No comments

There’s a lot of press being generated these days about a vague terrorist threat dealing with Europe. The U.S. State Department issued a travel alert today involving Europe, especially Germany, England and France, and, without offering any greater details, suggested U.S. citizens abroad check in with their local embassies, avoid large public gatherings and avoid discussing their plans in public. Wow. I don’t know about you, but I feel safer already… (Not.) Late in the afternoon I heard a tiny bit of  ‘detail’ provided by the State Department, which hinted that Americans in Europe should “avoid public transportation.” Great – there goes the budget!!

Frankly, what the press and media in general are doing is the same thing a good screenwriter does: setting a strong tone to their story. In the case of the current warnings, the tone is clear: foreboding. It’s a potent tone, and TV, the internet and radio have run with it – whether or not it really means anything. Foreboding is a great for a story, but it presents a problem: once you’ve scared the audience, where do you go from there? “Keep being scared,” you instruct the crowd sitting in the dark watching your story – by increasing the risks its characters face – until its ‘payoff.’ In a dramatic story, if there is no dramatic payoff, the audience will be disappointed. In a ‘real’ story, if there is no dramatic ‘payoff,’ we are relieved.

So life is mirroring art these days – replete with ‘terrorist chatter,’ drone attacks and intelligence warnings. And in an election year, no less. It’s the stuff of great drama – but manipulative real life.

Let’s hope that the current atmosphere of dread passes soon – but it should offer a solid example of how important tone and mood are to a story. True, dread, foreboding and wariness aren’t the most fun of moods to set – but they force folks to pay attention, don’t they? And for that reason, they are valuable (and manipulative) weapons in your arsenal as a writer…

You May Now Kiss The Scribe…

September 22nd, 2010 No comments

Weddings are great. They are tremendous celebrations of love, life and devotion. And they usually include excessive alcohol and cake-fueled  receptions. What could be better?!

I was lucky enough to attend a family wedding this past weekend, and the event went off without a hitch, so to speak. That’s a good thing – for the bride, groom and their families, but wedding mishaps, accidents and unexpected surprises can make for great dramatic fodder in a screenplay. The cinema universe is full of wedding-related stories, from the recent “Rachel Getting Married” to “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Wedding Crashers,” and Robert Altman’s underappreciated 1978 “A Wedding,” to name a handful. After all, drama is conflict – and comedy flows from unexpected or surprising associations/actions – so wedding ‘snafus’ are the icing on the wedding movie cake, to strain a metaphor.

So it’s no accident that so many movies have included wedding themes or plotlines. After all, it’s a loaded subject – ripe for exploitation dramatically, comically or simply as a plot device. Serious wedding-themed films often deal with hidden secrets, or conflicts between generations, while comic films involving nuptials frequently emphasize timing or character. Occasionally, there’s a film which combines comedy, drama and insight along with a wedding theme. “The Graduate,” anyone?

The romantic atmosphere at weddings feels contagious – though in a good way… Pairings often occur, it seems, at these emotionally-charged celebrations, suggesting that well drinks and blaring music can make strange bedfellows (literally). It’s subject matter begging to be written down: no matter what wedding you attend, someone invariably tells a tale of excess at a previous wedding that will seem unbelievable – until stories surface from the current event. Weddings are like the Rites of Spring. And what’s wrong with that?!

So next time you’re at a wedding, look around you. Everybody at your table or sitting beside you on a church pew probably has a wedding story. Have you written yours yet?


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