Theme is important, but what exactly is it? This 1-week online screenwriting class provides writers a clearer, deeper understanding of theme — what it is, how it functions, and most importantly how to use themes to enrich your stories. Starts October 31. Instructor: SCOTT MYERS.
For writers serious about learning a comprehensive approach to the craft, The Quest is a 24 week immersion in screenwriting theory, story prep, and writing a first draft of your original story. All along the way, you work one-on-one with Scott Myers as your mentor.
Learning the craft of screenwriting involves… well… everything. That includes something as basic as this: How to write scene description. You know, all those pesky nouns, adjectives, and verbs we use to convey action. Like this in Lethal Weapon:
And jumps the railing. Plummets, head over heels like a
rag doll. Hits the yellow car spot on. She lies, dead,
like an extinguished dream. Still beautiful.
And this from Wall-E:
Eve descends gently to the ground...
Wally sneaks up closer.
Hides behind another boulder.
Makes a NOISE.
Instantly, Eve whips around.
Her arm converts into a LASER CANNON.
Blasts Wally's boulder to smithereens.
...Smoke clears...All quiet.
Eve, now cold and dangerous.
That’s why I have run a series: Scene Description Spotlight, dozens of excerpts from movie scripts featuring action writing by some of the best Hollywood screenwriters. For that resource, go here.
Go here to access links to all of the select group of Free Screenwriting Resources from Go Into The Story.
Each day in October, I’m going to highlight a screenwriting resource available on the blog. Why? Because with over 20,000 posts and 80+ archived topics, I want to make sure readers are aware of the many assets available here for reading and research. And they are all free!
October is classic international movies month. Today’s guest post comes from Norma Parena.
Movie Title: Amarcord
Writers: Federico Fellini, Tonino Guerra
Lead Actors: Bruno Zanin, Armando Brancia, Pupella Maggio
Awards: 19 wins and 8 nominations including: Oscar, Best Foreign Language Film (1975); Silver Ribbon Awards (Italy), including Best Screenplay (1974); David di Donatello (Italy), Best Film (1974); French Syndicate of Cinema Critics, Best Foreign Film (1975); New York Film Critics Circle Awards, Best Film (1974).
Director: Federico Fellini
Plot summary: A depiction of daily life in a 1930s Italian provincial town under the Mussolini dictatorship. The story follows one year in the life of a teenager (Titta) and his family, plus a number of characters from the coastal town, including Titta’s protecting mum, his proudly antifascist dad Aurelio, his lunatic tree-climbing uncle, the town beauty that Titta and all his friends dream about while dealing with their booming sexuality, the provocative tobacconist with a penchant for young men. Some of the vignettes include confessions to the Catholic priest about Titta’s dirty thoughts, a fantasy scene at the luxury Grand Hotel, Aurelio being grilled by the fascist police, the whole town sailing off the coast by night to witness in a dream-like state the passage of the cruise ship Rex.
Why I Think This Is A Classic International Movie
Although deeply rooted in Fellini’s own individual experience as a boy in a small Italian town with all its legacies (Catholic Church, old fashioned Latin chauvinism, fascism to name a few), Amarcord goes well beyond the local, historical and geographical boundaries. The tragicomic situations Titta and his close ones go through are common occurrence in everybody’s life: growing pains, family dynamics, beautiful women and political conflict. The language Fellini uses to tell his story is dreamlike and popular, and therefore universal and easily shared. The visionary art direction from Danilo Donati and the music from another Italian Oscar winner – Nino Rota – convey perfectly the sweetness of this surreal story without ever falling into cliché’. Amarcord is a sweet and comical outlook on life as such, with the Italian small town artfully used as a background to explore universal topics.
My Favorite Moment In The Movie
There are so many of them…
The majestic cruise ship Rex appearing in the night as a dream.
The town beauty, the Gradisca, bowing in front of the count as a sign of respect while offering herself as a gift to him.
The mad Uncle refusing to get off the tree shouting that he wants a woman.
But my top one has to be… Tatti and his young friends’ group jerk-off while sitting in the car in the garage, with the whole vehicle shaking in a somewhat dirty and innocent wobbliness.
My Favorite Dialogue In The Movie
Titta, his dad Aurelio, mum Miranda and the rest of the family are having dinner around the kitchen table.
Aurelio: By the way, where were you last night?
Titta: Me? At the movies.
Aurelio: And what was showing?
Titta: The Americans were trying to penetrate Comanche territory.
They built a bridge for the railroad, but the Indians shot arrows at them.
It was a massacre!
Aurelio (running after Titta around the table): I’ll massacre you, you little hooligan!
Miranda: What’s going on?
Titta: I didn’t do anything!
Miranda:Aurelio, leave him alone!
Aurelio: I’ll put you in the hospital!
Miranda: People are watching.
Aurelio: Starting tomorrow, no more school, no more allowance! He can start working with me!
Titta: And how will you pay me?
Aurelio: With a hammer in the face! (to Miranda): You have to tell me who fathered this piece of shit!
Key Things You Should Look For When Watching This Movie
Amarcord is a character driven film, where the plot is secondary. Fellini is so amazingly skilled at depicting a compelling series of characters, that he compensates the lack of a strong storyline.
Although generally unstructured and almost patchy at times, it has been said that Amarcord is aiming to recreate that same matter that dreams are made of. Much of the movie is shot in muted colors that seem slightly out of grain, almost foggy.
Amarcord has also got that quintessential feature of Fellini’s movies which is their inner rhythm, a musical style that became known as “Felliniesque”. Like many Italian filmmakers at the time, he post-synched most of his dialogue, and he also often had a small orchestra or playing music while shooting, to the point that sometimes the actors don’t seem simply to be walking, but almost to be gently moving to an unheard melody.
The narration is left to several points of view: an elderly Titta who visibly forgets his lines, a professor talking a bit pompously about the town’s history, singing voices of the children, and a voice on the soundtrack that is Fellini himself.
If you are only looking for one thing, look for the perfect dreamy beauty of the small town and its everyday life as a symbol of all towns and all lives.
To show our gratitude for your guest post, here’s a dash of creative juju for you. Whoosh!
Those who I put in bold have already sent me their posts. If you haven’t sent yours to me, please do so as soon as you can!!!
3 Idiots – Abhinav Tiwari A Prophet – Paul Graunke Akira – Clay Mitchell Amarcord – Norma Parena Amelie – Kevin Curran Belle Epoque – Melinda Mahaffey Cinema Paradiso – Traci Nell Peterson Diabolique – Sherin Nicole Jules et Jim – Susan Winchell Kolya – Melinda Mahaffey Lady Vengeance – David Joyner Millennium Actress – Chris Neumann OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies – John Henderson Reprise – Wally Marzano-Lesnevich Seven Samurai – Will King The Lives of Others – Paul Graunke The Tenant – Marija Nielsen This Man Must Die – Marija Nielsen Y Tu Mama Tambien – Georgina Hutchinson
NOTE: Need 1 more volunteer to round out the monthly series!!!
Last week, I was one of 7 mentors for 7 writers selected for the 2016 Black List Feature Writers Lab. It was a remarkable week filled with fantastic activities, but the focus was the one-on-one writer-mentor sessions and group workshops which I led. Check out this list of mentors:
Stephany Folsom (THOR: RAGNAROK)
Eric Heisserer (ARRIVAL)
Graham Moore (THE IMITATION GAME)
Scott Neustadter (THE FAULT IN OUR STARS)
Kirsten Smith (LEGALLY BLONDE)
Victoria Strouse (FINDING DORY)
I spent time with each of them. In addition, I asked each of the lab participants to review what the mentors had told them about their stories and writing in general. Here are a few insights derived from these Black List lab mentors:
Characters: Learn more about them, drill down into them, have them inform your plot, and just in general embrace the character-development process to the max. The more you know about your characters, the more your story will reflect the world views and personalities of its key players.
Dig deeper: You may think you know your characters, but it’s almost a lock you can come to know more by immersing yourself in your story universe.
Need: What lies at the core of your Protagonist’s psychological state? What is it about the specific journey on which they embark which feeds and informs their character arc?
Write from passion: Find your emotional connection to the story and write from that place. This is key to crafting stories which lift up off the page and into a reader’s imagination.
Finally there’s this: Work your ass off. You may think once you sell a spec and break into the business, the hard part is over. Wrong. It’s not easy starting out. It’s not easy afterward either.
Picture this: On Friday at 6:30PM, I emerged from the lab’s final group workshop, exhausted from our analysis and brainstorming, heading off to have a drink with everyone. There seated just outside the bar was ‘Kiwi’ Smith. Over the last two days, she had worked one-on-one with 6 of the lab writers. That means she had to read and critique 6 feature length scripts. This along with multiple projects on which she is working. Indeed, the reason why she was plunked down outside the bar, tapping away on her computer? Finishing up a treatment for one of her multiple writing-producing projects.
As a writer, it just never ends. You have to have the fortitude to push yourself, be creative, and be productive.
Work. Your. Ass. Off. Whether you’re outside looking in or inside the system, you have to embrace the spirit of hard work. Someone may have more talent. Someone may have more connections. But no one should outwork you.
Sage advice from a week spent with some of Hollywood’s best and most in-demand screenwriters.
Richard Vernon: Well, well. Here we are. I want to congratulate you for being on time.
Claire Standish: Excuse me, sir. I think there’s been a mistake. I know it’s detention but I don’t think I belong in here.
Vernon ignores her, carrying on with his speech.
Richard Vernon: It is now 7:06. You have exactly 8 hours and 54 minutes to think about WHY you are here – to ponder the error of your ways. You will not talk… You will now move from these seats.
Richard Vernon: [addressing Bender, who has his feet on a chair] And YOU… will not sleep.
Pulls the chair out from under Bender’s feet.
Richard Vernon: All right people, we’re going to try something a little different today. We are going to write an essay of no less than a thousand words describing to me who you think you are.
John Bender: Is this a test?
Richard Vernon: And when I say ‘essay’, I mean ‘essay’. I do not mean a single word repeated a thousand times. Is that clear, Mr. Bender?
John Bender: Crystal.
Richard Vernon: Good. Maybe you’ll learn a little something about yourself. You might even decide whether or not you’d care to return.
Brian Johnson: Uh, you know, I can answer that right now, sir. That’d be no… No from me, ’cause…
Richard Vernon: Sit down, Johnson.
Brian Johnson: Thank you, sir.
Richard Vernon: My office is right across that hall. Any monkey business is ill-advised. Any questions?
John Bender: Yeah, I got a question. Does Barry Manilow know that you raid his wardrobe?
Richard Vernon: You’ll get the answer to that question, Mr. Bender, next Saturday. Don’t mess with the bull, young man – you’ll get the horns.
John Bender: That man… is a brownie hound.
— The Breakfast Club (1985), written by John Hughes
The Daily Dialogue theme next week: Discipline.
Trivia: John Hughes wrote the screenplay to this movie in just two days (4 and 5 July 1982).
Dialogue On Dialogue: Detention. A common form of discipline in high school, at least in a Chicago suburb in the 80s as imagined by John Hughes. Ironically the members of ‘The Breakfast Club do learn something about themselves through the process, although not in the way Richard Vernon imagined.
In the next month I will be pitching for the chance to write the script for an upcoming film. A producer, having seen some shorts and a webseries I made along with reading some spec scripts, has asked me to go along but this will be my first time and I am unsure of which ‘way’ to pitch. Would you recommend giving a detailed rundown of the script and beats in 5 minutes, or should I give a quick rundown and concentrate on tone and atmosphere?
First off there is no one right way to pitch. However having sold several original stories and landed many more OWA’s, each based on pitches, I can share with you my general approach.
12 minutes. That’s what you should plan on having. Max. I break it up this way:
Act One [5 minutes]: Introduce the main characters, providing each one’s core essence and narrative function [you don’t need to say, “This is the Protagonist” or “This is the Nemesis,” you can make that clear in how you describe them, but you should know what their respective functions are]; establish story concept and set the plot into motion, basically what happens that jettisons the Protagonist out of their ordinary world and into the story’s adventure.
Act Two [5 minutes]: Do not do a beat for beat breakdown of the second act, rather spotlight 4-6 key subplots [depending upon the genre and type of story] and dynamics that are in play, and provide the listener both some key plot points and the entertaining value of each one. Most listeners are pretty smart and will be able to fill in the dots.
Act Three [2 minutes]: Build to the Final Struggle, show how the story ends up, a taste of the Denouement, and out.
#1: When you start the pitch, don’t talk about the story, tell the story. Just get into it. It’s the story itself that has to be entertaining. All your analysis and points of support for the story, save those for after the pitch. If they are interested in your story, you will have plenty of time to pimp and drill down into it afterward.
#2: Never read from notes. Memorize the pitch, then practice it verbally over and over and over and over again. You should know the pitch backwards and forwards, and be able to convey it conversationally, not like a robot.
#3: Make sure you hit some trailer moments. Try to come up with at least 5 moments that a buyer will be able to see as something they can use to market the movie.
#4: Be passionate. Buttressing a great story concept and well-constructed story is your own emotional connection to the material. A buyer wants to know you are excited about the content and will bring that energy to the writing. Plus there is a psychological subtext at work whereby they feed off your excitement.
#5: That said less is more. Don’t go over the top with your enthusiasm. And this extends to how much detail you provide. The tendency is to want to keep hammering home sales points after the pitch. At some point, you run risk of coming off as desperate. Have confidence in your story. It should sell itself. If it’s not good enough to sell, then no amount of your frenzied verbiage will make up for that.
#6: This is super important: You need to know what the key dynamics of your story are that will create an emotional connection with a potential moviegoer, then make sure you sell those in your pitch. Again not so much talking about those dynamics, but actually conveying through the sharing of the story itself.
Hope that’s helpful. Best of luck with your pitch!
What say ye, GITS community? How do you pitch a story?
UPDATE: Two additional points and underscoring something I noted in the OP.
First, this approach focuses on pitching original stories. If you’re up for an OWA, be prepared to present a more comprehensive take. That’s not always the case, the 12 minute pitch can work for some writing assignments, however depending on the project and the nature of its story problems, complexity, etc, you may have to cover more narrative terrain to provide what the buyer needs.
Second, while you’re at it, work on your one-line version of the story as well as a 60-90 second iteration. That can not only help you crystallize your story and focus your 12 minute pitch, it will also prepare you for those ‘elevator pitch’ opportunities which may arise unexpectedly.
The third thing is to underscore the very last point I made above: Zero in on the story’s emotional core. Why will a listener care about the story? By extension, why will an audience member care about the movie? Most often, you can do this by presenting a clear articulation of the Protagonist’s initial state of being, what I call Disunity. What do they need? Why do they need to change? What is their central inner conflict?
In most movies, Protagonists go through some sort of psychological metamorphosis. Change may be necessary for them to evolve into their New Self, however transformation is a scary thing. If you can identify the Protagonist’s Disunity state, both circumstances in the External World and psychological dynamics in their Internal World, invariably you will tap into key dynamics in the emotional life of your story.
Deep Throat: You let Haldeman slip away.
Bob Woodward: Yes.
Deep Throat: You’ve done worse than let Haldeman slip away: you’ve got people feeling sorry for him. I didn’t think that was possible. In a conspiracy like this, you build from the outer edges and go step by step. If you shoot too high and miss, everybody feels more secure. You’ve put the investigation back months.
— All the President’s Men (1976), screenplay by William Goldman,
The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Cover Up, suggested by Will King.
Trivia: The two lead actors memorized each other’s lines so that they could both interrupt each other in character. This unsettled a lot of the actors they were playing opposite, leading to a greater sense of verisimilitude.
Dialogue On Dialogue: One of the best political movies ever, the Deep Throat character, a Mentor figure, provides a gripping take on the most notorious cover-up in American history.
Discipline is an interesting theme. Who is doling out the discipline? Who is the recipient? Plus there is self-discipline. That should provide fodder for this week’s theme.
The usual drill:
* Copy/paste dialogue from IMDb Quotes or some other transcript source.
* Copy/paste the URL of an accompanying video from YouTube or some other video source.
I’d also ask you to think about why the dialogue is notable. Is there anything about the dialogue which provides some takeaway related to the craft of writing? If so, feel free to lay that wisdom on us.
Consecutive days of Daily Dialogue posts: 3,082.
Be a part of the proud Daily Dialogue tradition, make a suggestion, and have your name emblazoned on a blog post which will forever hold a hallowed spot in the Go Into The Story archives!
Upcoming schedule of themes:
October 31-November 6: All Is Lost [Melinda]
November 7-November 13: Embarrassment
November 14-November 20: Bechdel Test [Will King]
November 21-November 27: Enthusiasm
November 28-December 4: Alien Invasion [Michael Waters]
December 5-December 11: Excuse
December 12-December 18: Fish Out Of Water [Will King]
December 19-December 25: Faith
December 26-January 1: Failure [Will King and Melinda]
Be sure to post your ideas for this week’s theme: Discipline.
Continued thanks to all of you Daily Dialogue devotees, your suggested dialogue and dialogue themes. Grateful for your ongoing support of this series.