You've finished your Screenplay and IT SUCKS - WHAT to do
This post will be structured in a way so that you ask yourself the necessary questions that propel you to make the necessary changes to your first, second or third draft that you don’t get to make it work.
Questions that need an answer:
Active vs Passive character
- Have you made clear the objective/goal of your protagonist in the 1 act?
- Is your protagonist an active piece of the puzzle or are all the clues given to him?
- Is your protagonist the one that tells others what to do or is it the other way around?
If one of the previous answer to one of the questions stated above is that he doesn’t do much, I bet you have a passive main character.
Fix it by making your main character an active piece of the puzzle.
Verbalization of the story
- Do your characters talk out the whole plot?
If one of your characters talk about all that is about to happen in the movie and there are no surprised and actually the story follows the same paths as the one described… you end up with a boring story.
Fix it with subtext.
The villain being a villain
- Does the villain in your movie doesn’t really do anything terrible that threatens your main character from achieving his goal?
Fix it by making the bad guy even worse.
- Does your plot spiral to a climax?
If not what you need to do is make your plot as a kind of repetitive spiral in which the conclusion is reached through an inevitable climax.
The way you do this is by not only showing us the persecution between the bad guy and the hero but by meanwhile revealing character flaws, doubts, fears… by revealing how all that is happening is affecting our main character/s.
Fix it by going back and revealing character as the same conflict patterns repetively show up in your story.
- Does your Screenplay do not have a wide range of emotions? Does your Screenplay basically explore one human emotion?
Go back and fix it by exploring a wider range of emotions through your characters’ eyes so the audience can see themselves reflected on them.
“To the point” dialogue
- Does your movie take really long to get to the point because there a lot of lines of dialogue in which you talk about common stuff from real life but do not have any depth for the story?
Fix it by giving to your characters lines that most people may not say in real life but that will make them interesting.
No Character Arc
- Does your character follow a journey in which he ends up being the same that when he started? Is he the same as when he started?
If the answer is yes, you need to go even more far back in time to explore the moment of suffering in which your character needed to by all means change.and better tell that story.
- Do all the characters in your movie get all mixed up when you try to tell the story? Do people find it really difficult to identify each character?
Fix this by giving each of your character a flaw that it’s part of their identitym may it be a physical flaw or a psychological one.
- Can any human understand your story because at their core it talks about a human need?
- Does your movie talk about one of these basic and primal desires at their core?
Examples of a primal desire:
- Desire to protect their family
- Desire to protect their home
- Desire to find a partner
- Desire for vengeance
- Desire to survive
- Desire to know oneself
- Desire to know the world that surrounds us
- Desire of significance
- Desire for certainty
So keep an eye on how does your screenplay answers these questions to make it better and see you next time!
Complex VS Complicated movies
You might be thinking that there is no difference between complex and complicated movies. But in order to make that assumption we need to be sure what does complex and complicated really mean.
Complicated means difficult to analyze, understand or explain.
Complex means composed of many related parts, having a complicated arrangement of parts or pieces, often so as to be hard to deal with or understand.
So what’s the difference between a complex and a complicated movie?
The difference between a complex and a complicated movie is that one of them are movies that rely on many other parts of the story that are either not being told and explained really good and the other ones are movies that are composed of many parts that are difficult to analyze, understand or explain.
So which is which?
Let’s beggin with an example of a complex movie.
A great complex movie might be Chinatown, directed by Roman Polanski and written by Polanski and R.Towne.
Chinatown: A Complex Movie
Chinatown as it is the story of a detective that investigates a very twisted plot, the story is composed of many “related parts or pieces” that the first time you watch it, it is difficult to deal with or understand.
For example, to understand the film you need to know that Noah Cross has taken advantage of his daughter, Mrs. Mullray and raped her in the past. That resulted in a child, a girl, that is thought to be the daughter of Mr.and Mrs. Mullray. Meanwhile J.J.Gittes is investigating why Mr. Mullray was murdered. He finds out that it has to do with something with the drought that’s hitting L.A. right then. In short, in the end you as the audience discover that the girl that Mrs. Mullray (daughter) is protecting from Noah Cross (father) it’s their child. And that the drought was caused by Noah Cross to become even more wealthier in the long run.
The plot around the acres of dry land that Noah Cross bought through the names of elderly people in a residence it’s a complex story, because it’s made up of many pieces that come together with other main plot of the murder of Mr. Mullray. Indeed complex.
Stalker: A Complicated Movie
Andrei Tarkovski’s Movie Stalker is a very complicated movie on avarege.
In Stalker there is not a lot of pieces that have to be put together to understand the film. It’s just the story of a group of people (a scientist, a guide and a professor) that enter the zone. The zone is a place where a meteorite crashed a while ago and where strange things have happened there since.
After they enter the zone, indeed strange things start to happen and neither the director or the characters really focus on explaining why those things take place.
Some people find these kinds of movies really boring and others find where everyone else seems to find nothing, very interesting theories of what the story is about.
It is an example of a complicated movie. A movie difficult to analyze, explain or understand. Where the overall feeling of search it’s the real theme of the movie, a meaning that transcends the film, all the pieces of the simple plot and the story.
Remember that before investing yourself in a complex or complicated movie that the most important thing is the message the feeling that you are trying to communicate, the rest are tools, means to an end.
See you next time!
2. Act Design by Robert Mckee
Progressive complications it’s the second element of the five-part design of a story that goes from the Inciting Incident to the Crisis/Climax.
In a story it’s where the the plot gets more complicated and more conflict happens because there are more challenges for our main character/s to face.
Points of No Return
“The Inciting Incident launches the protagonist on a quest for a conscious or unconscious Object of Desire to restore life’s balance. To begin the pursuit of his desire, he takes a minimum, conservative action to provoke a positive response from his reality. But the effect of his action is to arouse forces of antagonism from inner, personal, or social/environmental Levels of Conflict that block his desire, cracking open the Gap between expectation and result.”
Meaning, after the Inciting Incident everything changes for our main character even if it is in a subtle way. It can be some piece of information that changes the perspective in which he envisioned his life, to a big Incident like the massive alien attack. After this event takes place the balance that was presented to us in the first act will never look the same. Meaning, you cannot return or point of No Return.
“A story must not retreat to actions of lesser quality or magnitude, but move progressively forward to a final action beyond which the audience cannot imagine another.”
This means that the tension in your film must keep increasing with the passing of time. If not you’ll be hooked for the first half-hour but you will start to lose interest after the Inciting Incident took place.
“To create forty to sixty scenes (a feature length film) and not repeat yourself, you need to invent hundreds”
The Law of Conflict
For increasing tension in your story and for moving your story forward you need to follow the Law of Conflict: Nothing moves forward in a story except through conflict.
Inner conflict it’s the best kind for that.
‘The quality of conflict changes as it shifts from level to level, the quantity of conflict in life is constant.”
“If we manage to satisfy our external desires and find harmony with the world, in short order serenity turns to boredom.”
Complication VS Complexity
Writers use conflict to increase the tension in a story. It is built progressively until the end. The goal is to achieve full complexity by the end of the story.
There are different layers of complication:
- Conflict at one level:
- Inner conflict = Stream of consciousness
- Personal conflict = Soap Opera
- Extra-Personal conflict = Action/adventure, Farce
- Conflict at all three levels
- Inner conflict + Personal conflict + Extra-Personal conflict
Great films try to achieve conflict at the three levels stated above.
McKee’s advice: “ Design relatively simple but complex stories. ‘Relatively simple’ doesn’t mean simplistic. It means beautifully turned and told stories restrained by 2 principles: Do not proliferate characters; Do not multiply locations.”
A symphony unfolds in a number of movements, a story unfolds in acts.
Turning points = change the value of the story from positive to negative or vice versa.
You need turning points to keep the story you are telling interesting.
For a screenplay 120 pages long (2 hour feature length movie) you need at least 3 acts. This is the classic design.
For the first act you’ll need to get straight to the point for your central plot. This means that your inciting Incident Should happen almost at the first page mark.
Your Subplot A should be at the 25 page mark.
Your Subplot B at the 15 page mark.
And your Subplot C at the 1 page mark.
This varies depending on the story you are trying to tell, but this is the classic design for building the first act.
- “The multiplication of of act climaxes invites clichés.”
- “Thé multiplication of acts reduces the impact of climaxes and results in repetitiousness.”
This means that you can delay for example the Inciting Incident to the 33 page mark like in Rocky (written by Sylvester Stallone) if you need to fully know the main character with several subplots (that you have already placed before the main plot’s Inciting Incident).
But these exceptions should be carefully studied in each case and we’ll justified so the audience doesn’t get bored in the first half-hour of your movie.
As a turning point you could as well use false endings. Like in Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” when Kim Novak ‘suicides’ in the mid-act climax. Or when in “Psycho” Marion gets murdered in the Act One Climax in that famous shower murder scene.
Meaning, repetitiousness is the enemy of Rhythm.
This is achieved by changing the value of the story from positive to negative in an elegant and smart manner. Keeping the tension and the conflict interesting for the audience. This is an art that must be perfectioned through practice.
You could have an ironic climax, meaning a climax that’s both positive and negative. But take into account that having both values at the same time for a climax results in a bland neutrality, as they, by being opposite values, cancel each other out.
Subplots and Multiple Plots
Subplots receive less screening time than the central Plots. Nevertheless it is worth making.
They can be used for different end goals:
“A subplot may be used to contradict the Controlling Idea of the Central Plot and this enrich the film with irony.”
“Subplots may be used to resonate the Controlling Idea of the Central Plot and enrich the film with variations on a theme.”
“When the Central Plot’s Inciting Incident must be delayed, a setup subplot may be needed to open the storytelling.”
(Ex: Rocky, Chinatown, Casablanca)
“A subplot may be used to complicate the Central Plot.”
These are the main pieces of Information you need to take into account when writing a screenplay and building your acts. Nevertheless, I would recommend you reading the examples by Robert McKee on all of these important pieces of I formation for when building your story acts.
As well, watch films! It’s really the only true way of intuitively understand all these concepts and get a real understanding of how stories are built and told.
See you next time!
The Inciting Incident By Mckee
Every story has five major parts:
- Inciting Incident: the primary cause that follows that puts in motion the other four elements.
- Progressive complications
To master the Inciting incident you need to master setting.
The World Of The Story
The world of the story happens in a certain period, duration, location and level of conflict.
First you see the boring life of the main character/s. There is a kind of equilibrium, a balance, that it will be shaked by the inciting incident. This is how we get inside the main’s character world, troubles and doubts, we beggin to understand their needs and their desires. We see if he has sex, if he prays, if he is a democrat or a republican and if his mother is about to die.
Before the Inciting incident we learn about the rituals of the world of the story.
To Do List Before Inciting Incident
Some of the questions you need to answer before reaching any inciting incident are:
- How do my characters make a living?
- What are the politics of my world?
- What are the rituals of my world?
- What are the values in my world?
- What is the genre or combination of genres?
- What are the biographies of my characters?
- What is the Backstory?
- What is my cast design?
After you have saturated the research phase, something incredible happens, personality kicks in, you like it or not. Even though you have researched material that already exists, information out there that already exists, when you start to put all the pieces that you have gathered during research will come together in an unique way different to everyone else’s. And for that the only thing you need to do is to start putting all the pieces of research you have gathered together and create a story with what you know. I guarantee you that youu2019ll end up with a unique story, even if the material that you’re working with has been used by innumerable authors throughout history.
The Inciting Incident
“The INCITING INCIDENT radically upsets the balance of forces in the protagonist’s life.”
So during the exposition part of the story the value of it will shift from positive to negative several times. Like in the photo.
“It is a single event that either happens directly to the protagonist or is caused by the protagonist. Consequently, he’s immediately aware that life is out of balance for better or worse.” This means that our main character meats his lover for the first time, this could be either a positive or negative thing. It is when our main character realices he needs to leave the city for the search of something greater, etc. The Inciting Incident could be a person that shows our main character that there is more to life than what he thinks. That motivates him to take action and change in someway or another the balance of the world in the exposition phase.
The protagonist must react to the Inciting Incident.
He reacts and acts in line with his desire, conscious or unconscious. Therefore the action that he takes can be a conscious or unconscious expression of his desire, that is the superficial expression of his more personal and inner need. This need of the main character is the heart of the story, it is the motivation of the whole story.
The Conscious Desire
The conscious desire it’s the spine of the story.
The spine of any James Bond story is to defeat the arch-villain.
The Unconscious Desire
The unconscious desire it’s the most important need of main character that motivates the whole story.
“The Inciting Incident it’s an event that throws a character’s life out of balance, arousing in him the conscious and/or unconscious desire for that which he feels will restore balance, launching him on a Quest for his Object of Desire against forces of antagonism (inner, personal, extra-personal). He may or may not achieve it. This is a story in a nutshell.”
In other posts we’ll talk about the design and creation of the Inciting Incident.
Until next time!
3 MUST Reads For Writting a Screenplay
There are many books that you could read that will have a lot of valuable information when writting a screenplay like “Save the Cat”, “Creating Character Arcs” or “The Hero’s Journey” but here we want to focus on 3 that we believe are the ones that after reading them you have a pretty accurate understanding of how to write a script.
These are books not to be read and left for decomposition on your shelf. These are books to be re-read, highlighted and revised periodically.
Story: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting, Robert Mckee
There are many books like it but this one is perfect for an introduction and first contact with the necessary terms of screenwriting.
After reading this book you’ll understand how many types of stories there are, types of story structure, scene design, composition, characters, what creates conflict, examples about this and methods which you can follow when writing to make your life easier.
I think that before judging a book for its cover it is even better to judge it by its index, by its contents.
So here I leave you an image of the page of contents of the book and judge for yourself.
Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller, John Truby
This book I find it is extremely useful when you are starting out writing screenplays and you are kind of lost of what the next step should be. This book is exactly 22 steps that you can do from start to finish to complete your screenplay.
The following are the 22 Steps:
- Self-Revelation, Need, Desire
- Ghost & Story world
- Weakness & Need
- Inciting Event
- Ally or Allies
- Opponent and/or Mystery
- Fake-ally Opponent
- First Revelation & Decision: Changed Desire & Motive
- Opponentu2019s Plan and Main Counterattack
- Attack by Ally
- Apparent Defeat
- Second Revelation & Decision: Obsessive Drive, Changed Desire & Motive
- Audience Revelation
- Third Revelation & Decision
- Gate, Gauntlet, Visit to Death
- Moral Decision
- New Equilibrium
Without knowing the content of each chapter or the meaning of one of the 22 steps you kind of are able to figure them out by context. It is a very simple and straightforward book that answers many of the doubts of the group led screenwriter.
This is a MUST read if you want to become a writer of any kind.
It is abook that award winning screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin, always recommends as the book by excellence that any writer should read, re-read and highlight as many times throughout his lifetime as he can as it contains the basic principles of what constitutes a story.
It simply is a MUST.
In the book, Aristotle explains you what makes a story a story and why people need them and will always need them. It is very well written and in here you will understand why an audience needs certain elements for a story to truly work. And we are talking about a book hat was written in 335 BC and still works!!
So before writing your new screenplay consider these 3 books that will give you the necessary tips to write the best screenplay you can!
4 KEY Tips for Scene Design
Turning Point effects, Setup/Payoffs, Emotional Dynamics and Choice
To understand how scenes are built, there are 4 main points that we have to go over:
- Turning points
- Emotional Dynamics
These are the main principles inside a scene that a screenwriter should master according to Robert McKee. He explains them in full detail in his book Story Structure: Substance, structure, style and the principles of screenwriting.
Turning point effects:
- Surprise: you can achieve this by surprising the audience with a reaction of character that they weren’t expecting or a situation that surpasses anyone’s imagination. There are a lot of ways of surprising an audience. The key point here is that whatever you do or happens in your story it has to make sense. So a pink elephant shouldn’t kill your main character because he fell down from the sky… no crazy arbitrary things if it isn’t well justified. It doesn’t mean that a pink elephant can fall from the sky and kill your main character, it means that the surprise has to make sense within your story. If the elephant thing works within your story, go ahead and surprise everybody!
- Increased curiosity: insight adds to curiosity. What this means is that if you have insights inside a scene you will arise curiosity in the audience. But, this means that you have to have an insight not an arbitrary surprise that doesn’t go with your story. To make an insight what you have to do is to have justified surprise. This means that in order to be an insight we as an audience need to have clues along the way before the insight happens. It needs to be justified. If you want to have a moment in your scene where you discover that the girl you were investigating had been raped by his father am still be believable, you need to leave clues along the way in order to justify your insight. And maybe you end up with that last scene in Chinatown where Fitted discovers that Mrs Mullray had been raped by his father and that her daughter is in fact the granddaughter and the daughter of Mr Mullray…
- New direction: this you can achieve by making your characters take certain actions and decisions that change the direction of the story. It’s when Edward Norton meets Brad Pitt in Fight Club. A whole new direction is created for the story.
To set up means to layer in knowledge. To pay off means to close the gap by delivering that knowledge to the audience.
To make this work, you need to have planted before the necessary insights along the story.
The setup for Fight Club when Edward Norton discovers that Tyler is his double, it’s everywhere along the story. From the mere presence of Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) along the whole story, to the apparitions of Tyler in the frame, and the strange tantrums and reactions of Marla and Edward’s and Tyler’s team…
The payoff is obvious once you’ve seen the movie but incredibly effective if it is the first time you watch it and Tyler is sitting in that hotel room and explains to Edward that he is his double…
There are two feelings really and a lot of variations of the following:
The more you have a feeling the less effect it has.
When we want mood experiences, we go to concerts and museums. When we want meaningful emotional experience, we go to the storyteller. Undramatized exposition is boring in any light.
So the important thing here is that you need to balance between what causes pleasure and what causes pain. You go from positive to negative and viceversa. You can go from negative to negative but the difference between them has to be greater. Example: they have a fight (negative) but in the next scene he kills her (negative but much worse. So it seems that a fight seems “positive”)
The choice between right and wrong is a subjective perception of what we call “good” and what we call “evil”.
When your characters are faced upon true pressure and danger they reveal themselves, they reveal their inner nature and they act accordingly. It’s when all it’s at stake and your characters need to make a decision right here, right now.
So let them reveal themselves for what they truly are and let them speak up their mind and take the necessary decision that need to be taken.
For a more detailed explanation do not hesitate and check out the chapter of McKee’s book, Scene Design!
Location Scouting for Indie Film (How To Guide)
As Robert McKee described in his book Story Structure, there 3 main types of story plots: archplots, miniplots and antiplots.
Archplots, Miniplots and Antiplots
Archplots belong to classical designed stories.
Miniplots belong to minimalist stories.
Antiplots belong to anti-structured stories.
Most Hollywood films rely on a classical design structure. Normally it is about an active protagonist that struggles against external forces, through a continuous time, where causality exists.
So what is this structure all about?
Most stories with a classical design have:
- Closed ending
- Linear time
- External Conflict
- Single Protagonist
- Consistent reality
- Active Protagonist
Examples of an archplot stories are Harry Potter, Toy story, Back to the future, Star Wars, Chinatown, The Hustler, Men in Black, Dr. Strangelove, etc.
This type of structure is used by many indie filmmakers. A minimalist story may have a lot of things in common with a classical designed story but reduces its main elements into its simplest forms. Here simplicity is key. It shares enough elements of a classical design story but its simplicity that makes it unique. This way you donu2019t loose your audience.
Minimalist stories normally have:
- An open ending
- Internal conflict
- Passive Protagonist
Examples of miniplot stories are Stranger than Paradise, In the mood for Love, Winter light, Five Easy Pieces, Blow Up, Tender Mercies, The Accidental Tourist, etc.
Anti-structured stories try to contradict traditional forms in order to exploit or ridicule the idea formal principles. It is not quiet. It is not near minimalism. It is revolutionary, loud, powerful. Extravagance and self-conscious statements are a common trait.
An anti-structure story usually has the following elements:
- Non-linear time
- Inconsistent realities
Some anti-structurefilms are Wayneu2019s World, 8 u00bd, That Obscure Object of Desire, Weekend, etc.
How To Start A Screenplay
First things first – Screenplay format
The first thing you need to do to make your life way easier is to download a word preset or a screenplay software where you are 100% sure that you will be writing in a format that is accepted by the industry. It is no lie that script readers will not read a supposedly brilliant screenplay if it isn’t with one of the accepted screenplay formats.
By doing research you will eventually get in the dynamic of writing, even if it is about what you are researching. This process eventually leads to writing the screenplay. Maybe you’ll start writing a paper or taking notes on the theme you’ve chosen and someday you’ll find out that what you are really writing could be a scene of your new screenplay. But for research to really materialize in something real and of use for your screenplay, you need to set a DEADLINE.
The usual amount of time that is invested in research for a screenplay is about 2 to 3 months. This means that for 2-3 months you’ll have the same SCHEDULE in order to complete with as much detail as possible your research.
Screenplay – vomit your first draft, then polish
Once you have finished your research and you feel confident enough to write the screenplay or even if you don’t and you have spent 3 months of your life researching a topic and you still do not know how to start the script my advice is whatever happens, when that deadline that you have imposed to yourself comes, START WRITING.
That brings me to my next point…
Structure your sotries and your life
Stephen King said: if you want to be a writer you need to do two things: read a lot and write a lot. And as stupid as it may sound for some people, the truth is that a lot of intelligent people do not accomplish none of the two because “intelligent” people have more tricks to lie to themselves and don’t get the work done.
This way, by reading more you’ll have a more flexible mindset when it comes to structure and you’ll be capable of writing better, that simple. There is a great book that talks about story structure by Robert McKee called Story: Style, Structure, Substance and the principles of screenwriting. After reading this book you’ll understand pretty well the general ideas and principles of screenwriting. Principles not rules. Great book.
So above everything else is getting yourself writing and reading as much as you can. And actually doing those two things!
If not everything else, every brilliant idea you might have, every epic shot you have in your mind or that intelligent conversation between two characters will never translate into something real, into something of use so it all will be for nothing.
You do it or you don’t. It’s that simple. Some people do and others don’t that’s the difference between people.
So just do it!
Script: PRINCIPLES, Not Rules
In screenplay there are NO rules
Rules say: “things that have to be done a certain way”. Meanwhile principles make reference to what works and has worked for as long as one can remember.
The difference is crucial.
In screenplay, there are no rules, there only exist certain principles that by experience we know have worked and probably will work on the future.
Inexperienced or anxious writers try to do one of two things:
- Follow the “rules” (that do not even exist) with the hope that there is a magic formula that they can follow that will turn their screenplay in a huge success.
- Do not follow any rules.
But the truth is that in order not to follow any rules you have to be an experienced artist. And don’t fool yourself by believing you just were born with tremendous talent and therefore you do not even need to know the principles with which your craft was built.
Principles of screenwriting
Principles are so universal that no matter where you come from or what story you are trying to tell, it can have an emotional impact in any part of the world for any given generation.
When writing a screenplay, this is achieved by creating archetypical stories. This is the principle that works and has worked for as long anyone can remember and imagine.
An archetypical story does not mean a story full of stereotypes.
An archetypical story creates places and characters so rare that our sight is pleased with every detail, while the story reveals conflicts so human that they can travel from culture to culture. And it is through those conflicts and those characters that we see ourselves portrayed. It is through this mental “impersonation” of another “human being”, through their conflicts, their emotions, their character, that we find life and we find ourselves.
Because that is the important part of the whole process of making a movie:
THE AUDIENCE and the principles of screenwriting
Without the audience, this whole process that takes years of one’s life, huge amounts of work and thought, is of no value.
The audience should always be in the mind of the creator.
But not in an abstract way of a bunch of faceless people staring at a blank screen but more like oneself. You should picture yourself watching your movie for the first time, without knowing what it is all about and who had made it.
In this way, you will make a film that can explain itself and that hopefully will emotionally/ intellectually impact people like yourself.
That is the reason why you should always have respect for the audience, have respect for yourself and try to make an original piece of art that transcends in meaning and originality every other meaningless and unoriginal movie that gets made.
When I say original I am not talking about being eccentric.
It is not about showing of what you can do but about serving the story, the meaning of the story and enhance it in every original way you can think of that serves the purpose of the story and that you find strictly necessary.