Go Into The Story Movie Analysis: Trainwreck

July 31st, 2015 by

Starting Monday, we begin our next installment of the Go Into The Story Movie Analysis series: Trainwreck, written by Amy Schumer.

To date per Box Office Mojo, Trainwreck has grossed $68M in domestic theatrical revenues. The movie’s production budget is a reported $35M, so since the movie will likely end up in the $80-90M range, then figuring in B.O. overseas, Trainwreck is going to generate a nifty profit.

Our schedule for discussion next week:

Monday: General Comments
Tuesday: Plot
Wednesday: Characters
Thursday: Themes
Friday: Takeaways

Why watch movies?

Because to be a good screenwriter, you need to have a broad exposure to the world of film. Every movie you see is a potential reference point for your writing, everything from story concepts you generate to characters you develop to scenes you construct. Moreover people who work in the movie business constantly reference existing movies when discussing stories you write; it’s a shorthand way of getting across what they mean or envision.

But most importantly, you need to watch movies in order to ‘get’ how movie stories work. If you immerse yourself in the world of film, it’s like a Gestalt experience where you begin to grasp intuitively scene composition, story structure, character functions, dialogue and subtext, transitions and pacing, and so on.

Movies must be in your lifeblood – and the best way to do that is to watch and analyze them.

This series is your Call To Adventure! So do yourself a favor: Watch Trainwreck and join the discussion beginning Monday, August 3.

If you have found interviews and/or analysis of the movie, please post in comments.

The movie’s website here.

Which writers deserve a Hollywood Walk of Fame star?

July 31st, 2015 by

Yesterday I posted this, a campaign to get Raymond Chandler a star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In the process of researching this project, this shocking fact came to light:

How many “solely” novelists or screenwriters have a star on the Walk of Fame?

Answer: None. All novelists and/or screenwriters on the Walk of Fame are also producers, directors, actors, or animators.

No writer has a star solely based on their writing? How absurd! When I tweeted the post, Travis Larson suggested this:

Great idea. Which screenwriter, TV writer, or novelist would YOU suggest get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame?

For background, the Hollywood Walk of Fame comprises more than 2,500 five-pointed terrazzo and brass stars embedded in the sidewalks along 15 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard and three blocks of Vine Street in Hollywood, California

As a reference point, you can go here to see a list of people who have stars, and here and here for some other websites about the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

In another tweet, Travis suggested this writer: Dalton Trumbo. Check out his IMDb page, an astonishing roster of movies to which he contributed his writing expertise including Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, Roman Holiday, The Brave One, Spartacus, Exodus, and Papillon. Plus he was one of the Hollywood Ten, blacklisted writers who were sentenced to one year in prison and forced to work incognito. There is a biopic coming out in 2016 called Trumbo starring Bryan Cranston at the writer. Yes, Trumbo deserves a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

39a) Older Dalton Trumbo photo

Dalton Trumbo

Here’s my suggestion: Anita Loos. She was the first screenwriter to emerge as an actual star, a darling of Hollywood tabloids. She has 137 writing credits on IMDb in a career which began in 1912 and spanned four decades. She even co-wrote a book on the craft called “How to Write Photoplays” (1920).

Anita Loos

How about you? Which writers should get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame?

Master Class with Meredith Stiehm and Pam Veasey

July 31st, 2015 by

[So as not to bury the lede… FREE TICKET INFORMATION BELOW!!!]

Hey, SoCal writers, the good folks at the Writers Guild Foundation have a terrific event coming up on Tuesday, August 11:

Meredith Stiehm is the screenwriter to thank for some of the most compelling and complex female lead characters in dramatic TV. As the creator of THE BRIDGE and COLD CASE, she deftly humanizes the chilling course of a homicide investigation through her strong, steadfast yet seriously damaged lead detectives. Stiehm’s knack for wielding compassion into tough-as-nails characters comes in handy when writing HOMELAND’s Carrie Mathison, who will continue to receive Stiehm’s magic touch for the Showtime series’ upcoming fifth season.

In this exciting Master Class, moderator Pam Veasey (CSI: CYBER, CSI: NY, IN LIVING COLOR) is on hand to guide Stiehm through her impressive career, which also includes writing and producing roles on ER, NYPD BLUE and BEVERLY HILLS 90210, and her distinctive writing style.

PLUS we’ll also have an EXCLUSIVE Green Room Experience, beginning at 6:30pm, where green room ticket holders can meet and chat with Meredith and Pam for an hour before the event. Green Room Experience ticket holders will also get a front row seat at the event. Only six of these Green Room Experience tickets are available.

Doors open at 7pm. Event starts at 7:30pm.

All events advertised on our “Events” page are open to anyone who wants to buy a ticket – not just WGA members!

Proceeds benefit the Foundation’s library and archive and other outreach programs.

You can purchase tickets here. But in an exclusive arrangement with Go Into The Story, I have 10 free tickets to give away to some lucky writers.

How to win? Easy. Head to comments and simply name your favorite series for which Meredith has written episodes: Northern Exposure, Beverly Hills, 90210, NYPD Blue, The District, ER, Cold Case, Memphis Beat, The Bridge, or Homeland.

Tickets go to the first 10 people to post a comment including their favorite one of the TV series listed above!

When: Tue, August 11, 2015
7:30 PM – 9:00 PM

Where: WGF / WGA Headquarters – Del Reisman Multi-Purpose Room
7000 W 3rd Street – Los Angeles

Thanks to the Writers Guild Foundation for all the good work they do including their ongoing educational outreach.

30 Things About Screenwriting – Entire Series

July 31st, 2015 by

Reflections on and basic tenets about the craft. They represent my take. If any of them resonate with you, great. If not, feel free to ignore them. Bottom line: You need to figure out your own approach to screenwriting. My hope is what you read on this blog day after day helps feed that process and provides you inspiration along the way.

1. There is no right way to write

2. Screenplays are stories, not formulas

3. Learn the craft

4. Watch movies. Read scripts. Write pages.

5. A spec script will not sell unless it has a strong story concept

6. Write what they’re buying or sell them your dreams

7. There are no screenwriting rules

8. Immerse yourself in cinema

9. When something happens… something ELSE happens

10. Facing the odds

11. Know your genre

12. Learn about stacking projects

13. Living and writing in L.A.

14. Similar but different

15. Break your story in prep

16. Feet on the ground… head in the clouds

17. Get the damn thing done!

18. Beginning. Middle. End.

19. Don’t think… feel

20. Imagematic writing

21. If you write a great script…

22. Movies don’t owe anybody a living

23. Story as psychological journey

24. 1, 2, 7, 14

25. Setups and Payoffs

26. Test your concept

27. Minimum words, maximum impact

28. The Spirit of the Spec

29. The only way out is through

30. Go into the story and find the animals

Great Character: Martin Q. Blank ("Gross Pointe Blank")

July 31st, 2015 by

Take a hit man going through an existential crisis. Put him under pressure by sending some overzealous FBI agents after him. And an assassin. Oh, yeah, and another hit man who wants to joint the “Assassin’s Union.” Send them all off to the original hit man’s high school reunion and you have the makings for a wonderful, fun, and offbeat comedy Gross Pointe Blank (1997), screenplay by Tom Jankiewicz and D.V. DeVincentis & Steve Pink & John Cusack, story by Tom Jankiewicz. Here is the Protagonist Martin Q. Blank (John Cusack), the hit man wracked by doubts about whether he has it in him anymore to whack people:

Here is Marty meeting with his psychiatrist (Alan Arkin) debating whether to go to his reunion or not:

And here is Marty back at his high school, checking out his locker, then getting into a bit of an altercation:

Marty has some great dialogue in the movie. A few examples:

[practicing in a mirror before his high school reunion]
Marty: Hi. I’m, uh, I’m a pet psychiatrist. I sell couch insurance. Mm-hmm, and I – and I test-market positive thinking. I lead a weekend men’s group, we specialize in ritual killings. Yeah, you look great! God, yeah! Hi, how are you? Hi, how are you? Hi, I’m Martin Blank, you remember me? I’m not married, I don’t have any kids, but I’d blow your head off if someone paid me enough.

Marty: I was sitting there alone on prom night, in a goddamn rented tuxedo, and my whole life flashed before my eyes. And I realized finally, and for the first time, that I wanted to kill somebody. So I figured since I loved you so much, it’d be a good idea if I didn’t see you anymore.

We hear a car pulling in.

Marty: They’re right behind us. So I was in the Gulf last year, I was doing this thing anyway. And I came up over this dune, and I saw the ocean… and it was on fire. The whole thing, on fire, and it was beautiful. So I just sat there and watched it, and that’s when I realized there might be a meaning to life, you know, like an organic power that connects all living things, God, Yahweh, I dunno.

Marty shoots two rounds through the door, taking out the thug behind it.

Marty: [after shooting a guy three times and bashing his head in with a skillet] Debi, I’m in love with you! And I know we can make this relationship work.

In movies, Protagonists almost always start off in a state of Disunity, some fundamental disconnect between who they are in their conscious External world and who they need to be represented by an unexpressed need in their Internal world. Marty is an assassin. He doesn’t want to be anymore. There you are: A Protagonist in Disunity. Everything that happens in the story is part of a psychological journey for Marty’s character to evolve from one state to another.

Consider his last name: Blank. What levels of meaning might that have for this character? That at this moment in time, his psyche is a blank slate, he is willing to become whatever it is he can become? That he wishes to start off life with a blank check, wipe away the past and start over with a blank slate? That as an assassin, his reluctance to kill anybody anymore turns his bullets into blanks?

However we may interpret Martin Q. Blank, one thing is for certain: He is a great character.

Any Gross Pointe Blank fans out there?

[Originally posted August 5, 2011]

Daily Dialogue — July 31, 2015

July 31st, 2015 by

Annie Wilkes: Paul…
Paul Sheldon: [waking up] Hmm?
Annie Wilkes: I know you’ve been out.
Paul Sheldon: What?
Annie Wilkes: You’ve been out of your room.
Paul Sheldon: No I haven’t.
Annie Wilkes: Paul… My little ceramic penguin in the study always faces due South.
Paul Sheldon: I don’t know what you’re talking about. Ceramic penguins…
Annie Wilkes: [shows him a knife] Is this what you’re looking for? I know you’ve been out twice Paul. First I couldn’t figure out how you did it, but last night [holds up bobby pin] I found your key. I know I left my scrapbook out, I can imagine what you might be thinking of me. But you see Paul, it’s all OK. Last night it came so clear, I realized you just need more time. Eventually you’ll come to accept the idea of being here. Paul do you know about the early days of the Kimberly Diamond Mines? Do you know what they did to the native workers who stole diamonds? Don’t worry, they didn’t kill them, that would be like junking a Mercedes just because it has a broken spring. No, if they caught them they had to make sure they could go on working but they also had to make sure they could never run away. The operation was called hobbling.
Paul Sheldon: Annie, whatever you’re thinking about doing, please don’t do it. Annie for God’s sake…
Annie Wilkes: Shhh darling. Trust me…
Paul Sheldon: For God’s sake
Annie Wilkes: It’s for the best.
Paul Sheldon: Annie, please…

She smashes his foot with a sledgehammer, Paul SCREAMS in pain.

Annie Wilkes: Almost done, just one more.

She smashes the other foot with the sledgehammer, Paul continues SCREAMING.

Annie Wilkes: God, I love you.

Misery (1990), screenplay by William Goldman, novel by Stephen King

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Madness. Today’s suggestion by James Schramm.

Trivia: After refusing to speak about his motivations for writing Misery for two decades, Stephen King finally came out and stated that it is indeed about his battle with substance abuse. Kathy Bates’ character is a representation of his dependency on drugs and what it did to his body – making him feel alone, separated from everything, while hobbling any attempts he made at escape. In his statement he said he didn’t come out with it at the time because he wasn’t ready and because he was afraid it would detract from the story.

Dialogue On Dialogue: Commentary by James: “Annie is madness personified (a well-deserved Oscar for Kathy Bates). You know she is sincere when she tells Paul she loves him even as she is crushing his ankles.”

Help get Raymond Chandler a Hollywood Walk of Fame star

July 30th, 2015 by

I get hit up all the time to help promote a variety of causes. Normally the best I can do is offer a retweet. Otherwise the blog would become more like a clog… jammed with requests for money. But this one is different. Bill Boyle and Aaron Lerner have taken up a most worthy crowdfunding campaign: To get Raymond Chandler a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Some background from the IndieGoGo page:

The paperwork and approval process have been completed.  The Chandler Estate has given us their blessing, and the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce has approved a star for him.

It’s about time that Chandler was honored.  His private detective, Philip Marlowe, remains one of the archetypes of the hard-boiled crime fiction genre and has  influenced generations of mystery writers.

It could be argued that Chandler created the Hollywood mystique, and if it were not for him there may not have been a Hollywood Walk of Fame.  His novels are the engine behind what was to become “Hollywood Noir.”  Chandler had an immense stylistic influence on American popular culture and, in particular, the Hollywood style of film noir.

His books have been turned into eighteen movies to date and three television series.  Chandler’s screenplays were no less noteworthy. Double Indemnity and The Blue Dahlia were Oscar-nominated for Best Screenplay,  and the critically acclaimed Strangers on a Train remains his great collaboration with Hitchcock.


How many “solely” novelists or screenwriters have a star on the Walk of Fame?

Answer: None. All novelists and/or screenwriters on the Walk of Fame are also producers, directors, actors, or animators.

Let’s make Raymond Chandler the first. He deserves it.

Raymond Chandler (seated) from the movie Double Indemnity
which he wrote with Billy Wilder

During our conversations with Aaron and Bill, I was surprised to discover these stars require private benefactors. This from Bill:

Yes, every star is paid for except the 1,500 ones that were first laid in 1959 paid for by a $1.25 Million tax assessment. After that there was a fee which I believe was initially $5,000 and has progressively increased.

Rarely do people buy the stars themselves. They are usually sponsored and paid for by the studios, production companies, recording companies and the ceremonies are coordinated to take place at the same time as a film or television series is launching.

This is why no screenwriters. In fact there isn’t even a writer emblem. The five existing emblems are; Film, Television, Radio, Recording and Live Theatre. Studios and networks don’t get much millage out of sponsoring a star for the screenwriter thus they were again ignored as were the writers whose work has played a huge role in motion picture production; J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, Ian Fleming etc.

Seriously, no writer has a star solely based on their writing? Preposterous. But of all the writers to be ignored… Raymond Chandler? Here’s a promotional video Bill and Aaron put together which gets at the utter inanity of this situation:

I have featured Chandler on the blog before. For example, you can go here to listen to an amazing conversation in which Chandler is interviewed by none other than Ian Fleming. Yes, Ian “The name is Bond. James Bond” Fleming. You can go here to read a 1945 Atlantic Monthly essay penned by Chandler about his experiences in Hollywood. You can go here to read a letter Chandler wrote to Alfred Hitchcock. But perhaps what could really help sell this idea is to provide a few choice quotes from Chandler’s writing to remind us all of what a unique writing voice he had:

“To say goodbye is to die a little.” — The Long Goodbye

“From 30 feet away she looked like a lot of class. From 10 feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from 30 feet away.” — The High Window

“Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.” — The Big Sleep

“I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room.” — Farewell, My Lovely

“He snorted and hit me in the solar plexus. I bent over and took hold of the room with both hands and spun it. When I had it nicely spinning I gave it a full swing and hit myself on the back of the head with the floor.” — Pearls are a Nuisance

“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen.” — Red Wind: A Collection of Short Stories

Perhaps no writer captured the atmosphere of Los Angeles from that era better than Raymond Chandler. Think of film noir without his contributions. It’s literally unimaginable. Plus he was just a damn fine writer. If anyone deserves a star on Hollywood Boulevard, it’s Chandler.

Hence my support of this campaign. Here is how your money will be allocated:

More from Bill:

If there were no Raymond Chandler there would certainly be no Philip Marlowe and if there were no Philip Marlowe there would arguably be no Hollywood Noir or Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Currently of the 3,000 stars on the Walk of Fame there are none for a writer or screenwriter.

Let’s change that.

Today we begin our Indiegogo Campaign to get Ray a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. We need to raise $54,000 in 40 Days. With your help we can do this.

Below is the link to the Campaign. Check it out and review the amazing perks that we have put together for those who donate.

Everyone who makes a donation of any amount will receive a personalized certificate with a mock-up of the star that acknowledges your support in this campaign.

Here are the key links to help make this dream a reality.




IMDb: Raymond Chandler

If you’re an L.A. resident…

If you’re a fan of film noir…

If you’re a novelist, screenwriter, or TV writer…

If you’ve read and enjoyed Chandler’s novels and movies…

Step up like I’ve done: Contribute some money to see to it Raymond Chandler gets a deserved star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

There are 37 more days in the campaign to make this happen. Spread the word!

Go here now and make a contribution.

Do it for Ray.

Black List announces 2nd Annual Canadian Indie Screenwriting Fellowship

July 30th, 2015 by

The latest from the Black List:

LOS ANGELES, CA (July 29, 2015) – This morning, producer Martin Katz (Maps to the Stars, Hotel Rwanda), the Toronto International Film Festival, and the Black List announced that submissions were open for the second annual Martin Katz/TIFF Canadian Independent Screenwriting Fellowship, wherein one unrepresented writer with lifetime earnings not exceeding $25,000 (CAD) with a screenplay of indie sensibility will receive an all-expenses paid trip to the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival and mentorship from Katz himself. The inaugural Independent Screenwriting Fellow was York University MFA student Kyle Francis.

Said Katz, Chair of the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television, “Canada has tremendous literary bench strength. We founded this Fellowship with TIFF and the Black List to help discover new talent writing for the screen.”

Writers with scripts on the Black List website will be able to opt into consideration for the opportunity until August 20. After this deadline, a shortlist of writers will be shared with Katz who will select one writer to make the trip. This year’s Fellow will also participate in the previously announced Black List Screenwriting Mini-Lab at the Toronto International Film Festival, a weekend of one-on-one workshopping and peer mentorship with professional screenwriters.

“Continuing this fellowship with Martin and the Toronto International Film Festival is a tremendous honor for the Black List,” said Black List founder Franklin Leonard. “We are incredibly excited to offer this opportunity to another up and coming Canadian writer.”

“This fellowship represents an exceptional opportunity for emerging Canadian talent,” said Cameron Bailey, Artistic Director of the Toronto International Film Festival. “Canadian screenwriters have proven for decades that we have unique, wild stories to share. I look forward to seeing what develops from the 2015 recipient of this fellowship.”

The recipient will also participate in the upcoming screenwriter mini-lab in Toronto. You may read about that mini-lab and others to be held this fall in Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles here.

You may read about last year’s Canadian Indie Screenwriting Fellowship winner Kyle Francis here.

Read about all of the Black List screenwriting initiatives here.

The Black List continues to create innovative entry points for writers outside the Hollywood system, further cementing its place as the industry’s most influential screenwriting brand. For this reason and many more, I am honored and proud to be associated with Franklin Leonard and the rest of the Black List team.

Script Analysis: “Lone Survivor” – Scene By Scene Breakdown

July 30th, 2015 by

Reading scripts. Absolutely critical to learn the craft of screenwriting. The focus of this weekly series is a deep structural and thematic analysis of each script we read.

Today: A scene-by-scene breakdown of the script for the movie Lone Survivor.

Here is my take on this exercise from a previous series of posts — How To Read A Screenplay:

After a first pass, it’s time to crack open the script for a deeper analysis and you can do that by creating a scene-by-scene breakdown. It is precisely what it sounds like: A list of all the scenes in the script accompanied by a brief description of the events that transpire.

For purposes of this exercise, I have a slightly different take on scene. Here I am looking not just for individual scenes per se, but a scene or set of scenes that comprise one event or a continuous piece of action. Admittedly this is subjective and there is no right or wrong, the point is simply to break down the script into a series of parts which you then can use dig into the script’s structure and themes.

The value of this exercise:

* We pare down the story to its most constituent parts: Scenes.

* By doing this, we consciously explore the structure of the narrative.

* A scene-by-scene breakdown creates a foundation for even deeper analysis of the story.

You may download the script for Lone Survivor – free and legal – here.

Lone Survivor

Scene-by-scene breakdown

By Melinda Mahaffey Icden


PDF p.3-4: MARCUS LUTTRELL explains in voice-over the unrelenting drive of Navy SEALs as medics work on his dying body in Afghanistan.

PDF p.4-6: Five days earlier, 12 Navy SEALs – including Luttrell, Commander ERIK KRISTENSEN, newbie SHANE PATTON, DANNY DIETZ, MATT AXELSON and MIKE MURPHY – fly over the Hindu Kush mountains in a military helicopter, discussing tactics and talking about a horse for Murphy’s fiancée.

PDF p.6-8: Afghan warlord AHMAD SHAH, his number-two TARAQ, and CREW make their way through a village. They search for a local man believed to be aiding the Americans and then execute him.

PDF p.8-12: Eight hours earlier, at sunrise on Bagram Air Base, the four main characters – Luttrell, Dietz, Axe, and Murphy – wake up. We get some insight into their personal lives from photos on the bunk-room walls and their talk. Luttrell finds out that “Red Wings” is a go that night.

PDF p.12-18: Murphy and Dietz race each other outside in full body armor as Luttrell keeps time. Murphy wins, but his celebration is short-lived when Kristiansen announces that Red Wings is a go that night. Patton very much wants to know if he’s going to get to go.

PDF p.18-25: The SEALs, 30 of them, sit in a makeshift control center discussing Operation Red Wings, targeting Ahmad Shaw and his group of about 10. Dietz, Axe, Murphy and Luttrell are going in first on reconnaissance to positively identify Shah, while everyone else waits at J-Bad overnight. Dietz says not to worry about them until the foursome misses two windows.

PDF p.25-34: Lead-up to the night’s mission

  • As the foursome eats dinner, Dietz stresses about goings-on at home
  • Shane Patton goes through a lighthearted initiation rite, which includes dancing and the recitation of a SEAL mantra
  • The SEALs dress for combat
  • As they wait for the helicopters to arrive, the foursome continues to discuss Dietz’s problems at home
  • The helicopters arrive and the SEALs load up

PDF p.35-38: The helicopters drop Luttrell, Dietz, Axe, and Murphy onto a steep, dark hillside. Using night-vision goggles, they begin walking to the lookout point along a thin, tricky path. The other SEALs track their progress.

PDF p.38-40: The foursome arrives at the lookout point, 2,000 feet above an Afghan village, after sunrise. However, their view is partially blocked. Dietz tries to radio back to J-Bad. The signal is weak, but via HASSLERT, Kristensen eventually gets the message and boards a helicopter for Bagram, leaving MUSSLEMEN in charge.

PDF p.40-41: The foursome decides to move further down to see if there’s a better vantage point. At J-Bad, Hasslert tells Musslemen that the four should be hunkered down in place.

PDF p.41-43: The new lookout spot is good, but Dietz can’t get through to radio in the change of location. They count 40 Taliban men down in the village, many more than expected. Murphy spots Shah, but Luttrell says it’s too far to shoot and Dietz can’t get the radio working. They begin building their hiding spots.

PDF p.43-50: They hunker down, discussing horses again, among other things. Eventually everyone sleeps, with Dietz on watch.

PDF p.50-54: Dietz is still on watch and hears a noise. It’s the sound of bells. A herd of goats comes into view, followed by three locals – a BOY, TEENAGER, and an OLD MAN. When they get too close, the SEALs pop up and subdue them. Murphy tries to use a translation machine to communication, but it doesn’t work. They don’t know who these men are and can’t reach J-Bad by radio.

PDF p.54-60: Murphy unhappily uses the unsecure satellite phone, afraid the lengthy calls (due to bad connection) give away their position. Eventually, after a lot of back and forth, Kristiansen gets to the phone, but the connection has been lost, and no news has been relayed.

PDF p.60-70: The Afghan boy bolts. They get him back, and Murphy presents their options: tie the three up, let them go, or kill them. After much debate, Murphy, as leader, decides they will pack up, let them go, and make for the peak so they can use the radio to call for a pick-up.

PDF p.71-72: At J-Bad, there’s confusion about priorities, and the two Apache helicopters take off for another location/mission.

PDF p.72-74: The foursome releases the three Afghans, and the boy sprints down the hill. The SEALs slowly start heading up the mountain in full gear. Axe stumbles and sprains his ankle.

PDF p. 74-75: The kid reaches the village and promptly informs the Taliban men, who go into the woods and gear up. The foursome crests a hill, only to discover it’s a false summit – and the radio still doesn’t work. Murphy pulls out binoculars and scans the town, which appears quiet.

PDF p.75-77: Murphy makes the decision to hunker down for the next 60 minutes, until sunset, where they are. Axe has first watch.

PDF p.77-79: Thirty minutes pass, and Axe spots movement. They assess the area – they’re nearly surrounded by Taliban. The foursome preps their weapons and positions.

PDF p.79-83: Luttrell takes the first shot, successfully, and it erupts into a major firefight. Dietz and Murphy attempt to communicate using the radio and satellite phone. Dietz gets shot in the hand, Axe in the shoulder. As a group, the four SEALs push right, shelter behind a boulder. Dietz, Axe, and now also Luttrell get hit.

PDF p.84-85: At Bagram, Kristiansen debates what to do now that the team is close to missing a second communications window, decides to wait a little longer.

PDF p.85-87: The Taliban begin firing RPGs. Murphy takes a bullet in the stomach. Under relentless attack, the four decide to fall back and pitch themselves off the 50-foot cliff behind. It’s a hard fall, and they hit trees and rocks on the way down.

PDF p.87-91: There’s some contradiction in this scene set, but essentially, the four survive the 300-yard tumble, while the Taliban begin a slower climb down. The RPGs set the trees on fire. Blood pours from Murphy’s stomach, while Dietz is seriously wounded. The SEALs take cover in the burning trees as the Taliban continue to fire at them.

PDF p.91-93: The Taliban get closer, into better positions, and Murphy and Dietz get hit again. Murphy tells them to move left. Axe and Luttrell begin moving, but Dietz is having trouble. Murphy manages to get him going.

PDF p.93-94: The SEALs claw their way across the landscape with difficulty, trying to escape. But they can only get so far before they collapse, out of breath. Murphy tries again to get a sat phone signal.

PDF p.94: Now that two communications windows have been missed, Kristensen calls his commanding officer.

PDF p.94-96: From their resting spot, the SEALs hear voices, getting closer. However, they’ve managed to lose the Taliban men, but then Dietz – who’s losing it – speaks in a loud voice, giving away their position.

PDF p.96-100: The Taliban begin firing, and Murphy decides they’re going to do another drop, their only option – it’s 80 feet down. Taraq and six fighters come charging, and Axe and Murphy leap off. Luttrell has Dietz over his shoulder, and just as he’s about to jump, Taraq fires, hitting both SEALs in the neck. Luttrell drops Dietz and falls backward off the cliff.

PDF p.100: Kristiansen tries to contact them again.

PDF p.100-102: Axe, Murphy and Luttrell debate what to do about Dietz as explosions go off around them. Luttrell seems to believe he’s dead. They decide to try and get Dietz, above, and then move down to flat ground. They move out.

PDF p.102-106: Dietz, barely alive, tries to get to his feet but is kept down by Taraq. Murphy and Luttrell attempt to climb the steep pitch, while Axe covers them. But it’s useless. Murphy pulls out the sat phone and gives his spare ammo to Luttrell.

PDF p.106-107: Murphy charges up the hill, taking bullets, until he gets a phone connection. He reaches Hasslert at J-Bad and requests air support. Murphy fires at the Taliban soldiers until he himself is killed, as Luttrell falls back to Axe.

PDF p.107-110: SEALs and Marines at J-Bad and Bagram prep. Two helicopters from Bagram, with Kristensen aboard, take off. The helicopters from J-Bad are grounded at the last moment because the Apaches (their air cover) are elsewhere. It’ll take 15 minutes for the Apaches to arrive.

PDF p.110-111: Axe and Luttrell hide behind some rocks. Axe wants to know where Murphy is and if he made the call.

PDF p.111-120: Potential rescue:

  • Kristiansen’s helicopter pilot agrees to put the men on the ground, even though he’s not supposed to without Apache support.
  • Axe and Luttrell climb down to the village as Taraq tracks them from above.
  • Apaches arrive at J-Bad and the helicopters take off.
  • Taraq is just 100 feet away. Axe is afraid he’s dying from a head wound, and Luttrell says they just have to grit it out for 15 minutes.
  • Axe and Luttrell separate, head off in different directions into the woods. Fire fight for both. They hear a helicopter overhead.
  • As the pilot tries to drop the SEALs – who include Kristensen and Patton – the Taliban fire an RPG, and the helicopter explodes. The second helicopter pilot refuses to put down.

PDF p.120-121: Luttrell watches from a distance as Shah’s men shoot at Axe, hitting him twice in the throat. RPG ammo explodes near Luttrell, knocking him down the mountain, and he hits his head on a rock, nearly knocking him out.

PDF p.121-123: The SEAL lieutenant in the other helicopter demands the ramp be opened, but the pilot refuses. At Bagram, troops mobilize. Intercut scenes of a dazed and nearly deaf Luttrell trying to make his way down the mountain as the J-Bad helicopters approach and the Taliban take cover. Luttrell hides himself in a rock crevice and then falls asleep.

PDF p.124-126: The next morning, Luttrell wakes up and takes stock. He resets his broken shin bone. From behind some rocks, Luttrell surveys the village. He sees Taliban there and makes his way to a trail leading away.

PDF p.126-127: ARMY INTEL GUY relays the status of the mission while a special-ops team secures the area around the downed helicopter.

PDF p.128-129: Luttrell struggles along in the woods, desperately searching for water. He finds a freshwater pool and falls in, deliriously happy.

PDF p.129-134: He senses something and looks up to find three Afghan men and a boy watching him. Luttrell pulls the pin from a grenade, but GULAB puts his hands up and says, “not Taliban.” Taraq and his men appear, and the three hide Luttrell. Meanwhile, the rescue teams are tracked from Bagram.

PDF p.134-137: Luttrell is helped into Gulab’s village and house. Luttrell writes a note and gives it to Gulab’s father, who goes to find the Americans. Taraq and five men arrive in town and find Luttrell. Taraq is questioning him when armed villagers save him. Taraq says they’ll come back and slaughter the entire town.

PDF p.137-141: Gulab’s father continues his trek while Taraq calls in reinforcements and the villagers debate what to do. Luttrell tries to communicate with the boy and asks for a knife but receives a duck. Gulab brings a knife and they watch as Luttrell takes bullets out of his leg before passing out.

PDF p.141-143: The next morning, Shah, Taraq and 50 heavily armed men surround the town. At Bagram, MARINES receive word there’s been a letter from Luttrell, and a plane takes off. Luttrell wakes up, and Gulab and the boy feed him. He thanks them just as an RPG explodes into the side of the house.

PDF p.143-145: As a Taliban man strangles Luttrell, the boy hands Luttrell a knife, enabling him to free himself. But Taraq is seemingly winning the bigger battle until helicopters arrive, decimating the Taliban fighters. Both Luttrell and Gulab take aim at Taraq, and they kill him.

PDF p.145: Helicopters land to pick up Luttrell. He wants Gulab to come, too, but they are separated by AIRMEN, and he’s too weak to resist. The helicopter takes off.

PDF p. 145-end: Luttrell’s voice-over from the first scene continues as the medics work on his wounded body as they fly over the Afghan mountains. He explains how he both died and lived on that mountain, as the monitor changes from flatline to heart beat.

Writing Exercise: I encourage you to read the script, but short of that, if you’ve seen the movie, go through this scene-by-scene breakdown. What stands out to you about it from a structural standpoint?

If you’d like a PDF of the Lone Survivor scene-by-scene breakdown, go here.

Major kudos to Melinda Mahaffey Icden for doing today’s breakdown.

REQUEST: We have some incredible scripts in the GITS library which we have yet to analyze including 12 Years a Slave, Frozen, The Wolf of Wall Street, and many more.

I am looking for volunteers to read a script and provide a scene-by-scene breakdown for it to be used as part of our weekly series. What do you get? Beyond your name being noted here, my thanks, and some creative juju, hopefully you will learn something about story structure and develop another skill set which is super helpful in learning and practicing the craft.

The latest volunteers:

Birdman – Doc Kane
Dallas Buyers Club – Devin Dingler
Gone Girl – Ashley
Looper – Michael Perkins
Nebraska – David Joyner
Nightcrawler – Marija

Thanks, all!

To see examples of scene-by-scene breakdowns, go here. Part of the goal is to create a library of breakdowns for writers to have at their disposal for research and learning.

You may see the scripts we can use for the series – free and legal – by going here.

To date, we have analyzed 43 movie scripts, a great resource for screenwriters. To see those analyses, go here.

Thanks to any of you who will rise to the occasion and take on a scene-by-scene breakdown.

Circling back to where we started, reading scripts is hugely important. Analyzing them even more so. If you want to work in Hollywood as a writer, you need to develop your critical analytical skills. This is one way to do that.

So seize this opportunity and join in the conversation!

I hope to see you in comments about today’s script: Lone Survivor.

30 Days of Screenwriting: Go into the story and find the animals

July 30th, 2015 by

If you’ve taken the time to click on About GITS on the home page and read The Story Behind Go Into The Story, you know that this mantra derives from a conversation I had with my then three year-old son. It went pretty much like this:

Me: Hey, Luke, I’m starting to write a new script tomorrow. And it’s funny, but no matter how many times I start a new story, I get a bit, uh, nervous about it. Got any, you know, advice for your dad?

Luke [without any hesitation]: Go into the story and find the animals.

God as my witness, that’s what my son said.

Now who knows what Luke was really thinking at the time. Stupidly I didn’t follow up with him, flummoxed as I was at his comment. I remember mulling it over and thinking that the whole idea of going into a story is precisely what a writer does, immersing themselves in a narrative universe that they create. That has always seemed just right to me, both in its simplicity and profundity, which is frankly why I named this blog GoIntoTheStory.

But over time, it’s the other part in which I’ve discovered more and more layers of meaning. Start with the verb “find.” Is there any word more appropriate to describe the writing process? Here are some of its definitions:

* “to come upon by chance”: Doesn’t that sound like brainstorming?

* “to locate, attain, or obtain by search or effort”: Doesn’t that sound like research?

* “to discover or perceive after consideration”: Doesn’t that sound like what happens when we mull over our story?

* “to feel or perceive”: As we go into the story, we become more and more emotionally connected to it.

* “to become aware of, or discover”: The biggie, where as explorers we uncover a story’s hidden gems.

Then there is “the animals.” I’m almost sure what Luke was thinking about was how a children’s story so often is habituated by animals. Thus in his eyes, my task was probably pretty simple: Go find the animals. They are your characters. But what if we think about it more symbolically?

* Animals can be both domesticated and wild. So some things we discover as we go into the story are what we might expect (domesticated). Other times we’re surprised, even shocked by ideas and thoughts that spring to mind (wild).

* Animals are alive, organic, and intuitive beings. So are our story’s characters.

* Throughout human history, animals have come to mean something in stories. A fox is sly and cunning. A crow in many cultures signifies death. An owl is wise. Per Jung and others who study myth and psychoanalysis, animals can serve as conduits into the mind of the dreamer.

Which reminds me of something I read about a movie director who in prepping to make a movie gave each of the actors their own animal token as something they could reference in interpreting their character.

I’m sure if you think about it, you could probably come up with other shades of meaning for the mantra.

I just know that it’s my favorite one of all because of its source.

There you have it: 10 writing mantras over the last 2 weeks. I have more, but that’s enough for now. I hope that you have resonated with at least one of them. Use them to help you focus your thoughts and bring clarity to your writing process.

But for now and always, my wish for each of you is the same sentiment as once uttered by a cherubic youngster with bright blue eyes and a look of deep intention in his face:

Go into the story… and find the animals.

For the rest of the 30 Things About Screenwriting series, go here.

[Originally posted November 30, 2013]