Daily Dialogue — May 22, 2015

May 22nd, 2015 by

Colonel Sandurz: Try here. Stop.
Dark Helmet: What the hell am I looking at? When does this happen in the movie?
Colonel Sandurz: Now. You’re looking at now, sir. Everything that happens now, is happening now.
Dark Helmet: What happened to then?
Colonel Sandurz: We passed then.
Dark Helmet: When?
Colonel Sandurz: Just now. We’re at now now.
Dark Helmet: Go back to then.
Colonel Sandurz: When?
Dark Helmet: Now.
Colonel Sandurz: Now?
Dark Helmet: Now.
Colonel Sandurz: I can’t.
Dark Helmet: Why?
Colonel Sandurz: We missed it.
Dark Helmet: When?
Colonel Sandurz: Just now.
Dark Helmet: When will then be now?
Colonel Sandurz: Soon.
Dark Helmet: How soon?

Spaceballs (1987), written by Mel Brooks & Thomas Meehan & Ronny Graham

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Breaking the 4th Wall.

Trivia: It took Mel Brooks six months to write the script.

Dialogue On Dialogue: Perhaps the ultimate send-up of breaking the 4th wall.

Reader Question: Is a character’s transformation dictated by events or reactions to them?

May 21st, 2015 by

Reader question from @filmwritr4 from my recent #scriptchat session:

I’ve wondered about character transformation in movies. Is their change dictated by events or reactions to them?

Both. This speaks to the dualistic nature of a screenplay universe.

There is the External World of the physical journey, what we see and hear through Action and Dialogue.

There is the Internal World of the psychological journey, what we intuit and interpret through Intention and Subtext.

An event happens in the External World.

The character has to process that event. As writers, we can think of them doing so in the Internal World, their psychological and emotional being.

Their reaction to the event causes a shift in their attitude and beliefs which in turn leads to make a choice.

That choice evidences itself in the External World.

Thus they go along until… another event.

Now they have to process this… that causes a shift… and leads to a choice… which manifests itself in the External World… which alters the plot… which leads to another event… which they have to process…

And on and on and on.

This is, of course, a broad generalization. But it speaks to a dynamic common to all movies:

Event – Reaction – Shift. Event – Reaction – Shift. Event – Reaction – Shift.

What we’re seeing there is the very essence of Transformation.

Consider The Silence of the Lambs.

EVENT: Clarice offered the gig of visiting Lecter. She goes and presents questions to him. He sees through it and ‘reads’ her. She starts to flee. Semen flung on her by next inmate. Lecter gives her a clue.

REACTION: Clarice has Flashback #1 of she and her father as he arrives home.

SHIFT: Clarice goes to storage unit and discovers severed head.

EVENT: Clarice returns to Lecter.

REACTION: He presses to learn more about her personal life.

SHIFT: Clarice opens up a bit.

EVENT: Clarice at funeral home of Buffalo Bill victim.

REACTION: Flashback #2 where she recalls the funeral of her father.

SHIFT: She rises to the occasion of the autopsy and discovers a key clue (moth).

On and on it goes, this intricate ‘dance’ of External and Internal Worlds signifying the transformation of this character wherein Clarice eventually confronts her shadow self — by recounting the nightmarish experience on her uncle’s Montana farm, the spring slaughter of the lambs — then the physicalization of her deepest fears — the Boogeyman in the form of Buffalo Bill — and emerges at the end having gone from Disunity to Unity, or at least a movie approximation of it.

Bear in mind when we watch a movie, at least good ones, this all plays out organically. However as writers when crafting a story, we can think rather intentionally about all this. For example, at every step of the way when working out a story, we can ask questions: What would this event mean to this character? How would they react? What choice would they end up making? How might that impact the plot? What next plot point could I brainstorm to challenge the character and stimulate more of their metamorphosis?

Change is not just what goes on inside a character, nor just what happens in the plot. It’s both. They are inextricably linked. That’s why character and plot by rights need to be closely aligned in the story-crafting process, and why relying on a formula and focusing primarily on plot is – in my view – a wrongheaded way to go.

Star with character. End with character. Discover the story in between.

How about you, GITS reader? What comments might you have about character transformation?

New GITS Initiative: FADE IN to FADE OUT in 1 Month

May 21st, 2015 by

Over the weekend, Go Into The Story turned 7 years old. As that birthday approached, I thought it was a good time to step back and reflect about the blog. As part of that process, I invited your feedback here and here. The response has been great via the blog, email, and Twitter. So each day this week, I’d like to present some initiatives that have surfaced during this process. A few of them I’m just going to go ahead and take on. Some, however, I’m going to request your additional feedback.

Onward SM

New GITS Initiative: FADE IN to FADE OUT in 1 Month

In the past, I ran something called Go On Your Own Quest in which writers would prep and write the first draft of a feature length screenplay in a 16 week period. Recently someone suggested resurrecting this idea, only do it more like the NANOWRIMO initiative which takes place every November.

So why not this: We target a month, giving people time to prep their story, and during that month, they commit to writing a first draft of a screenplay.

We could have a post per day here on the blog with some inspirational bit from yours truly, then have participants check in with their daily progress. Maybe we could figure out some special treats along the way to reinforce each writer’s efforts. Happy to brainstorm this.

This is yet another effort to get writers writing. And one of the best ways to get yourself motivated to pound out a script is to make a public proclamation to that effect.

So any interest in this? What month should we do it in? If so, what should we call it? Maybe something to do with Vomit Draft. Or Muscle Draft. Get The Damn Thing Done Draft.

Let me know your thoughts.

To read about the new proposed Movie Analysis series, go here.

To read about the new proposed Monthly Screenplay Workshop proposal, go here.

To read about the new proposed More Writing Challenges, go here.

And there’s this: Would you be interested in a Quest Writing Workshop?

If enough people enroll, I will conduct a three-day Quest Writing Workshop in Santa Monica, California in July, Friday, July 24-Sunday, July 26.

This is a chance for you to work with me on your story directly in a live setting.

For more information, go here. If you are interested, email me.

Onward!

Pixar’s “Inside Out”: Animated Emotions

May 21st, 2015 by

Every article I read about the upcoming Pixar movie Inside Out makes me want to see the movie NOW! This yearning goes beyond my obsession with Pixar arguably the most successful movie studio of all time. I mean look at this release slate!

Year                 Title                      Worldwide Gross        Rotten Tomatoes        IMDB

1995                Toy Story                     $361M                        92              8.2

1998                A Bug’s Life                  $363M                        91              7.3

1999                Toy Story 2                   $485M                        100             8.0

2001                Monsters, Inc.                $585M                        95              8.0

2003                Finding Nemo                  $868M                        98              8.2

2004                The Incredibles               $631M                        97              8.1

2006                Cars                          $461M                        74              7.4

2007                Ratatouille                   $621M                        98              8.1

2008                Wall-E                        $521M                        96              8.5

2009                Up                            $731M                        98              8.3

2010                Toy Story 3                   $1,063B                      99              8.6

2011                Cars 2                        $550M                        37              6.5

2012                Brave                         $535M                        82              7.7

2013                Monsters University           $743M                        83              7.5

Add it all up and you get a total worldwide box office gross of $8.5B with an average of $608M per film by far the highest of any studio in the history of Hollywood.

More numbers: Pixar films have garnered 26 Academy Awards, 7 Golden Globes, and 3 Grammy Awards.

Still more numbers: 7 of Pixar’s 14 films are in the IMDB Top 250 Movies of all time.

Behind all the numbers is the real reason for my obsession with Pixar. It’s their obsession with Story. They are all about Story.

Yet that is not the entirety of why I am so pumped to see Inside Out. What really has me going is the story concept. Here is a description written by the good folks at Pixar:

Growing up can be a bumpy road, and it’s no exception for Riley, who is uprooted from her Midwest life when her father starts a new job in San Francisco. Like all of us, Riley is guided by her emotions – Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness. The emotions live in Headquarters, the control center inside Riley’s mind, where they help advise her through everyday life. As Riley and her emotions struggle to adjust to a new life in San Francisco, turmoil ensues in Headquarters. Although Joy, Riley’s main and most important emotion, tries to keep things positive, the emotions conflict on how best to navigate a new city, house and school.

I’m thinking Inside Out may be the perfect movie for my take on Story because it is literally bouncing back and forth between the External World of the physical journey and the Internal World of the psychological journey. When I talk about characters starting off in a state of Disunity, about the plot servicing their transformation process whereby they get in touch will key aspects of their psyche as they move toward Unity, character archetypes, all of that stuff I blab about on the blog and in my classes, apparently that is what Inside Out traffics in — left, right, front, and center. Check out the trailer:

So I was particularly interested in an article I read yesterday from The Atlantic called “Pixar’s Mood Master,” a feature on one of their directors and members of the Braintrust, Pete Docter, co-writer and director of Inside Out. An excerpt from the article:

In 1943, Disney released an eight-minute film titled Reason and Emotion. The film personified the ability to think and the ability to feel as, respectively, a bespectacled, suit-wearing prig and an impulsive, lascivious caveman. “Within the mind of each of us,” intoned the narrator, “these two wage a ceaseless battle” for control of the (in the film, quite literal) mental steering wheel.

Sixty-six years later, when the animator, screenwriter, and director Pete Docter started planning Inside Out, his own film personifying the workings of the human mind, Reason and Emotion was one of the first references he consulted. He’d seen it before, as a cartoon-besotted child, and he remembered admiring its comic boldness. Watching the film again in 2009, however, he saw its limitations.

“It’s actually a propaganda film,” Docter told me during my recent visit to his office at Pixar Animation Studios, in Emeryville, California, across the bay from San Francisco… “The basic message was”—here Docter put on a stern voice and furrowed his enormous brow (his colleagues like to sketch him as a sunnier version of Frankenstein’s monster)—“Don’t let Hitler control you with fear!”

Reason and Emotion portrayed humans as automatons, and denigrated feelings as primitive and threatening. Docter knew that he wanted his own exploration of the human mind to put emotions front and center, and to treat them with more nuance. “More nuance” may, in fact, be a radical understatement. Inside Out, Docter’s third Pixar feature and arguably the company’s most ambitious film to date, is as bright and colorful as a Day-Glo pinball machine. But it is also as high-concept, narratively ornate, and psychologically intricate as a Christopher Nolan film—Inception by way of Fantasia.

Here is the short animated movie Reason and Emotion:

This whole discussion got me thinking about big summer movies, particularly the franchise films and popcorn movies featuring special effects and CGI out the arse. Why do some of them work so well and others leave me flat? And it all boils down to the characters and their emotional lives. In movies like The Avengers or Mad Max: Fury Road, the filmmakers paid attention to the psychological dimension of the characters, a level of nuance amidst the spectacle. Others? Not so much. Inauthentic characters. Manufactured emotions.

That made me wonder if the filmmakers, who may be awesome at imagining, constructing, and shooting incredibly challenging action sequences, have some sort of fundamental fear of “feelings as primitive and threatening”.

Not Pixar. They are unafraid of emotion. They understand the power of storytelling that connects with audiences on that level.

Another member of the Pixar Braintrust is Andrew Stanton, whose movie credits include Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and WALL-E. He did a TED Talk about storytelling that is excellent and speaks to the importance of exploring the emotional nature of narratives. He began the presentation with a joke, then said this:

We all love stories. We’re born from them. Stories are who we are. We all want affirmations that our lives have meaning. And nothing has a greater affirmation than when we connect through stories. It can cross the barriers of time – past, present and future – and allows us to experiences the similarities between ourselves and through others, real and imagined.

The children’s television host Mr. Rogers always carried in his wallet a quote from a social worker that said, “Frankly there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you know their story.” And the way I like to interpret that is probably the greatest story commandment, “Make me care.”

Please, emotionally, intellectually, aesthetically… make me care.

Setting aside my affection for Pixar, I care about Inside Out even before I’ve seen it because of the emotions it arouses in me. I was an Air Force brat. I moved around a lot as a child. I can relate to that sense of displacement Riley feels having been transplanted from the Midwest to California. I can remember my turbulent adolescent years. As a parent, I have experienced one son going through adolescence and have another one smack in the middle of that stage right now. And the five emotions as characters in the movie — Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness — I’ve got them all at work in my psychological life.

This is not arbitrary. Pixar knew going in with this project they were dealing with a story setup that touches on several universal points of emotional connection.

So what am I saying? Pixar is great. Inside Out looks like a movie I’ll not only enjoy to the fullest, I’ll probably use it as inspiration for my teaching. And this takeaway for all of us as writers:

Don’t shy away from the emotional lives of our characters. You want to make a reader care about your script? Perhaps the single most important thing you can do is delve into the psychological dynamics at work with your characters, identifying universal themes, and get curious to see how they play out over the course of your story.

For the rest of The Atlantic article, go here.

Classic 50s Movie: “The Night of the Hunter”

May 21st, 2015 by

May is Classic 50s Movie month. Today’s guest post comes from W. H. Morris.

Movie Title: The Night of the Hunter

Year: 1955

Writer: James Agee adapted a novel by Davis Grubbs

Starring: Robert Mitchum Shelly Winters Lillian Gish

Director: Charles Laughton

Plot Summary: Imprisoned with thief Ben Harper (Peter Graves), phony preacher Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) learns that Ben has hidden a $10,000 somewhere near his home. Upon his release, the murderously misogynistic Powell insinuates himself into Ben’s home, eventually marrying and murdering his widow Willa (Shelley Winters). Eventually all that stands between Powell and the money are Ben’s son, John (Billy Chapin) and daughter (Sally Jane Bruce), who after an exhausting river journey take refuge on a farm maintained for abandoned children and presided over by the indomitable, scripture-quoting Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish).

Why I think this is a Classic 50’s movie: When Night Of The Hunter was first released it was not a successful film. Commercially, it was a virtual textbook primer of what not to do during the wide screen Technicolor drenched Fifties when children’s tales were Disney stories.

Innocent children menaced by evil are not new to the canon of storytelling. But children menaced by a clearly psychotic predator whose repressed sexuality drives him to stab his female victims with a switchblade knife are not the stuff of a box office bonanza.

The opening shot sets the story. In the cosmos above grandmotherly Rachel Cooper is a stern Mother Goose telling her gathered flock of innocent children a cautionary tale, Beware Of Wolves In Sheep’s Clothing, which will become a nightmare.

The next shot reveals Robert Mitchum’s Rev. Harry Palmer putting along jauntily in a stolen car, conversing with God, his God, about his next victim. He reminds his creator that He has always been good about helping him find a lonely widow with ‘money in the sugar bowl.’

Jailed for stealing the car Palmer learns from his condemned cell mate, Ben Harper, that there is $10,000 hidden with his family. Upon his release Palmer sets off to find Harper’s widow, Willa, and get the money.

Upon his arrival in the small town where Harper’s family lives Harper’s son John, portrayed with steely resolve by Billy Chapin, immediately senses Harry’s evil nature. Palmer charms the towns people but when Palmer marries then murders Willa, played with heart-breaking vulnerability by Shelly Winters, John flees with his younger sister, Pearl (Sally Jane Bruce), and her doll containing the $10,000.

Palmer doggedly pursues John and Pearl on their journey down river. When Rachel rescues the children he arrives at her farm claiming he is their rightful parent. Rachel, too, sees Palmer’s evil and in one of the film’s many classic scenes stands him off with a shotgun.

My Favorite Moment In The Film: After Palmer laments to the town’s people that Willa has run off we see Willa’s true fate. This shot with Willa dead and tied in a submerged car, her hair eerily floating in the water is the all-time seat-squirming creepiest, scariest scene I have ever seen in a movie theatre.

Favorite Dialogue In The Film: Oft quoted due to the standard it has become Harry Palmers demonstration of the battle between Good and Evil is still a personal favorite.

After theatrically describing his despair that Willa has run off the ice cream parlor owners attempt to offer some consolation speculating on the possibility that Willa may return. Palmer’s reply is “She’ll not be back. I reckon’ I’m safe in promisin’ you that.”

Key Things You Should Look For When Watching The Film: Laughton’s use of disparate and seemingly incompatible filming elements to bring a complexity to what is essentially a simple story of the battle between Good and Evil.

Working with cinematographer Stanley Cortez Laughton employed the shadowy elements of German Expressionism with the by then archaic techniques of film pioneer D.W. Griffith to create the awkward and disturbing world of Night of the Hunter. Look for the ‘ iris down’ revealing John and Susan hiding when Palmer approaches Rachel Cooper’s farmhouse.

The director employs callback with significant impact. Late in the film Palmer has been captured and convicted of Willa’s murder. A torch bearing lynch mob marches on the jail demanding his death now. The mob is led by the same townspeople who much earlier were ‘ Amening’ one of Harry’s sermons.

Laughton’s deft use of the showing and not telling principle. Birdie Steptoe, a steady drinkerand town outcast, living aboard a houseboat peers into the water where he clearly sees Willa’s dead body. He then describes his discovery to a small, framed photo of his dead wife. Laughton’s point, only outsiders can see the truth, is devastatingly made.

Late in the film Palmer has befriended Ruby, a young woman who is another member of Rachel’s rescued family. When Palmer approaches her outside the town drugstore he puts his hand on her shoulder and we clearly hear the click of his switchblade.

For risking beyond cultural standards, combining disparate filmmaking elements, composing several shots which have since become standards and for casting Robert Mitchum as a funny and likeable homicidal psychopath Charles Laughton’s Night Of The Hunter has earned its entry into the Classic 50’s Movies Hall of Fame.

Thanks, W.H.! To show our gratitude for your guest post, here’s a dash of creative juju for you. Whoosh!

We already have a set of classic 60s Movies, 70s movies, 80s Movies and 90s Movies. This month, we’re working on 50s movies. And thanks to the GITS community, we’ve got 31 movies in the works! 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!!!

12 Angry Men – Ipsita Barik
A Place in the Sun – Zach Jansen
A Star is Born – Melinda Mahaffey
A Touch of Evil – David Joyner
All About Eve – Ricardo Bravo
American in Paris – stefani1601
Bridge on the River Kwai – Tom Peterson
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – uncgym44
Commando Cody: Sky Marshall of the Universe – J Nilsson-Acosta
File on Thelma Jordon, The – David Joyner
Harvey – Felicity Flesher
High Noon – Jeff Messerman
Invasion of the Body Snatchers – Rick Dyke
Kiss Me Deadly – John Henderson
Marty – jetwillie69
Night of the Demon – David Hutchison
Night of the Hunter – Mark Twain
On the Waterfront – Bilbo Poynter
Pickpocket – Zach Jansen
Pick Up on South Street – Vincent Martini
Quiet Man, The – Traci Nell Peterson
Rear Window – Roy Gordon
Rebel Without a Cause – Jack McDonald
Searchers, The – mkm28
Seven Samurai, The – Paul Graunke
Singin’ in the Rain – Maegan Kelly
Some Like It Hot – Will King
Stalag 17 – James Schramm
Sunset Blvd. – Lisa Byrd
Tokyo Story – Jeff Messerman
Vertigo – Jason Pates

Thanks to everyone!

For the original post explaining the series, go here.

For all of the 50s movies featured in the series, go here.

The Business of Screenwriting: Everything you wanted to know about specs [Part 8]

May 21st, 2015 by

Spec scripts, that is. I’m guessing that perhaps 90% of the people who follow this blog at some point in their lives will write a spec script. And the other 10% are involved in buying and selling them. In light of that fact, last year I interviewed a top manager and some Hollywood screenwriters about the ins and outs of what is involved in bringing a spec script to market. I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to do something with that inside information, so when Vanity Fair recently came out with this article — When the Spec Script was King — a decent piece, but pretty surface level, I figured this is as good a time as any to dig into the subject in a comprehensive fashion.

In Part 1, we looked at the genesis of the spec script in Hollywood from 1900-1942.

In Part 2, we covered the emergence of the spec script market from 1942-1990.

In Part 3, we analyzed the boom, bust, and back again of 1990-2012.

In Part 4, we surveyed the buyers, both major studios and financiers.

In Part 5, we examined the screenwriter-rep relationship in terms of developing a spec script.

In Part 6, we explored rolling out a new writer’s spec script.

In Part 7, we delved into the subject of attaching producers.

Part 8: Attaching talent

What about attaching actors and/or a director? Screenwriter Justin Rhodes weighs in on that:

In my experience, it’s either the agent or the producer who approaches other elements. Almost always these attachments are made before the script goes out. For example, if you’re at one of the bigger agencies, they may have an internal conversation about the project to see if they represent actors or directors that they think might be right or could benefit from the screenplay. If so, your literary agent will pitch the project to the actor/director’s agent, and if they like it, they’ll take it to their client, who will, depending upon his/her reaction, decide whether or not he wants to read the material/hear the pitch. Oftentimes you’re also dealing with the actor or director’s business partner/manager/etc…, so there are a few hoops to jump through. In the agent scenario, though, you’re only going to be talking about actors and directors the agency represents.

The other situation is that your producer has some existing relationships with talent. Oftentimes when this is the case, you’re also talking about the ability of one person to literally call the other on the phone, so you get to skip a lot of the go-betweens in terms of access. But your mileage varies, again, depending upon the reputation and abilities of the producer you’re working with.

This goes to the heart of what is known as “packaging” a project. Let’s say screenwriter Alan Smithee is repped at the major agency EGO. This agency represents lots of actors and directors. Seeing as they get 10% from all the revenues generated by all their clients, it behooves them to get as many of them working as possible.

So Smithee writes a hot spec script. Does EGO go out with the script as is? Probably not. Why not try to package the script with talent the agency represents? 10% of two, three or more elements is better than 10% of one element (i.e., the screenwriter).

If the talent attached are in-demand and perceived to bring value (i.e., box office dollars) to the project, that can help elevate the script’s marketability.

On the other hand, waiting for actors and directors — their ‘people’ that is — to read, review and recommend (or not) scripts and agree to attach themselves to the project can turn out to be a long, drawn-out affair and ultimately a big fat waste of time.

This is where your reps and producers play a huge role, assessing the temperature of your script as it gets read.

The upside is your script gets packaged in such a way with a delicious combination of elements, it’s a no-brainer for a buyer.

The downside is if your script starts gets a number of passes from talent, that can transform what was perceived to be a hot script into a not-hot script.

This is all part of the magical mystery tour that is handling a spec script. Hopefully you end up with smart reps who know what they’re doing.

But the single best thing you can do is write a great script. Yes, I keep harping on that, but it’s true. Another observation from Justin Rhodes:

In the end, though, you’ve got to remember that people don’t sell your script. Your script sells your script. In the end, if the screenplay is all the town needs and wants it to be, your mom could probably get it set up.

Next week: Another installment in this series.

[Originally posted April 4, 2013]

The Business of Screenwriting is a weekly series of GITS posts based upon my experiences as a complete Hollywood outsider who sold a spec script for a lot of money, parlayed that into a screenwriting career during which time I’ve made some good choices, some okay decisions, and some really stupid ones. Hopefully you’ll be the wiser for what you learn here.

Daily Dialogue — May 21, 2015

May 21st, 2015 by

George and Harold are leaning on a tree branch while dreamily watching Princess Lala as she swims. The branch breaks away but the two men remain suspended in mid-air above the water.

George: How come we don’t fall?
Harold: Paramount wouldn’t dare. At your age?
George: Shall we then?
Harold: Inhale.

Road to Bali (1952), screenplay by Frank Butler, Hal Kanter, William Morrow, story by Harry Tugend

The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Breaking the 4th Wall. Today’s suggestion by Will King.

Trivia: The sixth of the seven Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour “Road” films.

Dialogue On Dialogue: Commentary by Will: “We often think of breaking the fourth wall as the actor addressing the audience directly, but it can also mean simply paying attention to uncanny events in-universe, thus also reminding us we’re watching a movie. The Hope/Crosby Road To movies were rife with this kind of comedy.”

Reader Question: If you could teach one scene, from paper to film, commenting on the art of collaboration, which would it be?

May 20th, 2015 by

Reader question from @timplaehn from my recent #scriptchat session:

If you could teach one scene, from paper to film, commenting on the art of collaboration, which would it be?

Tim, I had a lot of thoughts on this one. For example, the derivation of the line “Round up the usual suspects” in Casablanca or the line “Nobody’s perfect” from the end of Some Like It Hot. I’ve got anecdotes about both [if someone wants to hear them, let me know… I’ll be happy to respond in comments].

However both of those examples owe more to the whimsy of happenstance. The one I’ve chosen to answer the question with is clearly about the collaboration of writer-director and editor. It is the opening sequence in The Shawshank Redemption, screenplay adaptation by Frank Darabont from a novella by Stephen King. Note the contrast in scene description, pivoting from a MAN and WOMAN having steamy sex, and the drunken, but calculating moves of ANDY DUFRESNE:

1	INT -- CABIN -- NIGHT (1946) 

	A dark, empty room. 

	The door bursts open. A MAN and WOMAN enter, drunk and 
	giggling, horny as hell. No sooner is the door shut than 
	they're all over each other, ripping at clothes, pawing at 
	flesh, mouths locked together. 

	He gropes for a lamp, tries to turn it on, knocks it over 
	instead. Hell with it. He's got more urgent things to do, like 
	getting her blouse open and his hands on her breasts. She 
	arches, moaning, fumbling with his fly. He slams her against 
	the wall, ripping her skirt. We hear fabric tear. 

	He enters her right then and there, roughly, up against the 
	wall. She cries out, hitting her head against the wall but not 
	caring, grinding against him, clawing his back, shivering with 
	the sensations running through her. He carries her across the 
	room with her legs wrapped around him. They fall onto the bed. 

	CAMERA PULLS BACK, exiting through the window, traveling 
	smoothly outside... 

2	EXT -- CABIN -- NIGHT (1946) 2

	...to reveal the bungalow, remote in a wooded area, the 
	lovers' cries spilling into the night... 

	...and we drift down a wooded path, the sounds of rutting 
	passion growing fainter, mingling now with the night sounds of 
	crickets and hoot owls... 

	...and we begin to hear FAINT MUSIC in the woods, tinny and
	incongruous, and still we keep PULLING BACK until... 

	...a car is revealed. A 1946 Plymouth. Parked in a clearing. 

3	INT -- PLYMOUTH -- NIGHT (1946) 3

	ANDY DUFRESNE, mid-20's, wire rim glasses, three-piece suit. 
	Under normal circumstances a respectable, solid citizen; hardly
	dangerous, perhaps even meek. But these circumstances are far 
	from normal. He is disheveled, unshaven, and very drunk. A 
	cigarette smolders in his mouth. His eyes, flinty and hard, are 
	riveted to the bungalow up the path. 

	He can hear them fucking from here. 

	He raises a bottle of bourbon and knocks it back. The radio 
	plays softly, painfully romantic, taunting him: 

		You stepped out of a dream... 
		You are too wonderful... 
		To be what you seem... 

	He opens the glove compartment, pulls out an object wrapped
	in a rag. He lays it in his lap and unwraps it carefully --

	-- revealing a .38 revolver. Oily, black, evil. 

	He grabs a box of bullets. Spills them everywhere, all over 
	the seats and floor. Clumsy. He picks bullets off his lap, 
	loading them into the gun, one by one, methodical and grim. 
	Six in the chamber. His gaze goes back to the bungalow. 

	He shuts off the radio. Abrupt silence, except for the distant 
	lovers' moans. He takes another shot of bourbon courage, then 
	opens the door and steps from the car. 

4	EXT -- PLYMOUTH -- NIGHT (1946) 4

	His wingtip shoes crunch on gravel. Loose bullets scatter to 
	the ground. The bourbon bottle drops and shatters. 

	He starts up the path, unsteady on his feet. The closer he 
	gets, the louder the lovemaking becomes. Louder and more 
	frenzied. The lovers are reaching a climax, their sounds of 
	passion degenerating into rhythmic gasps and grunts. 

				WOMAN (O.S.) 
		Oh god...oh god...oh god... 

	Andy lurches to a stop, listening. The woman cries out in 
	orgasm. The sound slams into Andy's brain like an icepick. He 
	shuts his eyes tightly, wishing the sound would stop. 

	It finally does, dying away like a siren until all that's left 
	is the shallow gasping and panting of post-coitus. We hear 
	languorous laughter, moans of satisfaction. 

				WOMAN (O.S.) 
		Oh god...that's sooo good...you're 
		the best...the best I ever had... 

	Andy just stands and listens, devastated. He doesn't look like 
	much of a killer now; he's just a sad little man on a dirt 
	path in the woods, tears streaming down his face, a loaded gun 
	held loosely at his side. A pathetic figure, really.

Compare the contrasting moods — the couple’s passionate love-making (arches, moaning, fumbling, slams, ripping) and Andy’s dispassionate preparation with the gun (loading, methodical, grim, silence). And then bringing the two ‘worlds’ together as Andy approaches the cabin, the “languorous laughter” and “moans of satisfaction” smashing into Andy’s consciousness “like an icepick,” then he “just stands and listens, devastated… a sad little man on a dirt path in the woods.”

Quality writing. However those of you who remember the movie will note this scene is different than the script. I’ve ‘cut together’ a version of the script to reflect the edits made in the movie:

...and we begin to hear FAINT MUSIC in the woods, tinny and
incongruous, and still we keep PULLING BACK until...

...a car is revealed. A 1946 Plymouth. Parked in a clearing.

INT -- PLYMOUTH -- NIGHT (1946)

ANDY DUFRESNE, mid-20's, wire rim glasses, three-piece suit.
Under normal circumstances a respectable, solid citizen; hardly
dangerous, perhaps even meek. But these circumstances are far
from normal. He is disheveled, unshaven, and very drunk. A
cigarette smolders in his mouth. His eyes, flinty and hard, are
riveted to the bungalow up the path.

He raises a bottle of bourbon and knocks it back. The radio
plays softly, painfully romantic, taunting him:

You stepped out of a dream...
You are too wonderful...
To be what you seem...

He opens the glove compartment, pulls out an object wrapped
in a rag. He lays it in his lap and unwraps it carefully --

-- revealing a .38 revolver. Oily, black, evil.

INT -- COURTROOM -- DAY (1946)

THE JURY listens like a gallery of mannequins on display,
pale-faced and stupefied.

D.A. (O.S.)
Mr. Dufresne, describe the
confrontation you had with your
wife the night she was murdered.

ANDY DUFRESNE

is on the witness stand, hands folded, suit and tie pressed,
hair meticulously combed. He speaks in soft, measured tones:

ANDY
It was very bitter. She said she
was glad I knew, that she hated all
the sneaking around. She said she
wanted a divorce in Reno.

D.A.
What was your response?

ANDY
I told her I would not grant one.

D.A.
(refers to his notes)
I'll see you in Hell before I see
you in Reno. Those were the words
you used, Mr. Dufresne, according
to the testimony of your neighbors.

ANDY
If they say so. I really don't
remember. I was upset.

D.A.
What happened after you and your
wife argued?

ANDY
She packed a bag and went to stay
with Mr. Quentin.

INT -- CABIN -- NIGHT (1946)

A dark, empty room.

The door bursts open. A MAN and WOMAN enter, drunk and
giggling, horny as hell. No sooner is the door shut than
they're all over each other, ripping at clothes, pawing at
flesh, mouths locked together.

D.A. (O.S.)
Glenn Quentin. The golf pro at the
Falmouth Hills Country Club. The
man you had recently discovered was
her lover.

INT -- COURTROOM -- DAY (1946)

D.A.
Did you follow her?

ANDY
I went to a few bars first. Later,
I decided to drive to Mr. Quentin's
home and confront them. They
weren't there...so I parked my car
in the turnout...and waited.

INT -- PLYMOUTH -- NIGHT (1946)

D.A. (O.S.)
With what intention?

ANDY (O.S.)
I'm not sure. I was confused. Drunk.
I think mostly I wanted to scare them.

INT -- COURTROOM -- DAY (1946)

D.A.
You had a gun with you?

ANDY
Yes. I did.

D.A.
When they arrived, you went up
to the house and murdered them?

ANDY
No. I was sobering up. I realized
she wasn't worth it. I decided to
let her have her quickie divorce.

D.A.
Quickie divorce indeed. A .38
caliber divorce, wrapped in a
handtowel to muffle the shots,
isn't that what you mean? And then
you shot her lover!

ANDY
I did not. I got back in the car
and drove home to sleep it off.
Along the way, I stopped and threw
my gun into the Royal River. I feel
I've been very clear on this point.

D.A.
Yes, you have. Where I get hazy,
though, is the part where the
cleaning woman shows up the next
morning and finds your wife and her
lover in bed, riddled with .38
caliber bullets. Does that strike
you as a fantastic coincidence, Mr.
Dufresne, or is it just me?

ANDY
(softly)
Yes. It does.

D.A.
You claim you threw your gun into
the Royal River before the murders
took place. That's rather convenient.

ANDY
It's the truth.

D.A.
You recall Lt. Mincher's testimony?
He and his men dragged that river
for three days and nary a gun was
found. So no comparison can be made
between your gun and the bullets
taken from the bloodstained corpses
of the victims. That's also rather
convenient, isn't it, Mr. Dufresne?

ANDY
(faint, bitter smile)
Since I am innocent of this crime,
sir, I find it decidedly inconvenient
the gun was never found.

INT -- PLYMOUTH -- NIGHT (1946)

As Andy turns off the light and staggers out of
the car, spilling bullets, dropping his bottle of
bourbon, heading toward the cabin --

D.A. (O.S.)
Ladies and gentlemen, you've heard
all the evidence, you know all the
facts. We have the accused at the
scene of the crime. We have foot
prints. Tire tracks. Bullets
scattered on the ground which bear
his fingerprints. A broken bourbon
bottle, likewise with fingerprints.
Most of all, we have a beautiful
young woman and her lover lying
dead in each other's arms. They had
sinned. But was their crime so
great as to merit a death sentence?

INT -- COURTROOM -- DAY (1946)

He gestures to Andy sitting quietly with his ATTORNEY.

D.A.
I suspect Mr. Dufresne's answer to
that would be yes. I further
suspect he carried out that
sentence on the night of September
21st, this year of our Lord, 1946,
by pumping four bullets into his
wife and another four into Glenn
Quentin. And while you think about
that, think about this...

He picks up a revolver, spins the cylinder before their eyes
like a carnival barker spinning a wheel of fortune.

D.A.
A revolver holds six bullets, not
eight. I submit to you this was not
a hot-blooded crime of passion!
That could at least be understood,
if not condoned. No, this was
revenge of a much more brutal and
cold-blooded nature. Consider!

INT -- CABIN -- NIGHT (1946)

He gropes for a lamp, tries to turn it on, knocks it over
instead. Hell with it. He's got more urgent things to do, like
getting her blouse open and his hands on her breasts. She
arches, moaning, fumbling with his fly. He slams her against
the wall, ripping her skirt. We hear fabric tear.
He enters her right then and there, roughly, up against the
wall. She cries out, hitting her head against the wall but not
caring, grinding against him, clawing his back, shivering with
the sensations running through her.

D.A. (O.S.)
Four bullets per victim! Not six
shots fired, but eight! That means
he fired the gun empty...and then
stopped to reload so he could shoot
each of them again! An extra bullet
per lover...right in the head.

INT -- COURTROOM -- DAY (1946)

Andy stands before the dais. THE JUDGE peers down, framed by a
carved frieze of blind Lady Justice on the wall.

JUDGE
You strike me as a particularly icy
and remorseless man, Mr. Dufresne.
It chills my blood just to look at
you. By the power vested in me by
the State of Maine, I hereby order
you to serve two life sentences,
back to back, one for each of your
victims. So be it.

He raps his gavel as we

CRASH TO BLACK: LAST TITLE UP.

I haven’t been able to find the entire opening sequence on video, but here are two clips which show the cross-cuts between the past (night of the murder) and the present (the trial):

Instead of seeing the events, then hearing Andy and the lawyer talking about them, with the way the movie is edited, we experience them both together. Not only more visual, but also a more economical way of approaching the narrative.

This is a great example of collaboration wherein we, as writers, can learn a lesson: Screenwriters are the original editors on any scripted story. Every time we cut from one scene to the next, or one shot within a scene to another, we are ‘editing’ the movie. So why not fully embrace that ‘power’ we have? Think like an editor! Use cross cuts and intercuts. Use visual-to-visual transitions from one scene to the next. Use the visual tools we have at our disposal to craft the most visual, cinematic scripted story possible.

If you read the script for The Shawshank Redemption while watching the movie, you’ll see a lot of scenes on the page that hit the cutting room floor. Speaks to the power of collaboration with the editor… and the importance of us thinking like an editor as we craft our scripts.

New GITS Initiative: More Writing Challenges

May 20th, 2015 by

Over the weekend, Go Into The Story turned 7 years old. As that birthday approached, I thought it was a good time to step back and reflect about the blog. As part of that process, I invited your feedback here and here. The response has been great via the blog, email, and Twitter. So each day this week, I’d like to present some initiatives that have surfaced during this process. A few of them I’m just going to go ahead and take on. Some, however, I’m going to request your additional feedback.

Onward SM

New GITS Initiative: More Writing Challenges

One request I get every time I run a writing challenge is this: MORE!!! Some of that has to do with the free stuff I give away to qualifying participants. But enough people write to let me know they are genuinely excited about GITS providing an impetus for them to write.

Right now, we have two annual writing challenges on the books:

Dialogue Writing Challenge: During January, every participant who completes 10 of 20 exercises using dialogue prompts provided here and comments on 10 posts by other writers qualifies for a free Craft class, one of eight I offer through Screenwriting Master Class in the first half of the year.

Scene Writing Challenge: During June, every participant who completes 10 of 20 exercises using scene prompts provided here and comments on 10 posts by other writers qualifies for a free Core class, one of eight I offer through Screenwriting Master Class in the second half of the year.

Those are locked down in my calendar. In addition, I’ve run occasional challenges wherein participants come up with imaginative loglines using words from word clouds. The word clouds have derived from the loglines from all of that year’s spec script deals to loglines from all of the annual Black List scripts. Since those tend to overlap (the annual Black List comes out in December), what I could do is move the Black List Word Cloud Logline Challenge to April and the Spec Script Deal Word Cloud Logline Challenge to September, then we would have quarterly writing challenges. By the way, the Word Cloud Challenges tend to come with prizes as well including free script hosting on the Black List website and/or a 30 minute teleconference with yours truly.

But since I’m all about trying to get people to write, are there more writing challenge possibilities? Right now, we cover dialogue, scene, and loglines. What else could we do?

I am open to suggestion. Indeed let’s see if we can crowd-source at least two (2) new and different challenge concepts. I’m happy to offer free 1-week Core or Craft classes as prizes, as well as one-on-one half-hour calls with me.

So folks, got any ideas? If so, please head to comments with your thoughts.

To read about the new proposed Movie Analysis series, go here.

To read about the new proposed Monthly Screenplay Workshop proposal, go here.

And there’s this: Would you be interested in a Quest Writing Workshop?

If enough people enroll, I will conduct a three-day Quest Writing Workshop in Santa Monica, California in July. This is a chance for you to work with me on your story directly in a live setting.

Possible weekends:

Friday, July 17-Sunday, 19

Friday, July 24-Sunday, July 26

For more information, go here. If you are interested, email me.

Onward!

Great Character: Ralph (“Wreck-It Ralph”)

May 20th, 2015 by

The Great Character theme for the month: Disney characters. Today: Ralph from 2012 movie Wreck-It Ralph. Here is Jason Cuthbert’s recurring guest post.

The Walt Disney storytelling empire has had wonderful success merging their own in-house properties with popular outside licensed characters. What the 1988 animated film Who Framed Roger Rabbit did for classic cartoons and the Toy Story movies did for timeless toy brands since 1995, Wreck-It Ralph did for nostalgic arcade video games in 2012. “Pac-man,” “Q*bert,” “Street Fighter,” “Sonic the Hedgehog” and “Tapper” interacted in a video game world also populated with invented Wreck-It Ralph joystick creations.

There are plenty of scene-stealing original gaming guys and gals inhabiting this arcade environment. There is the cold, blonde, hyper-violent female “Hero’s Duty” game soldier Sergeant Calhoun (voice: Jane Lynch), the super sweet, precocious youngster Vanellope (voice: Sarah Silverman) and crooked ruler King Candy (voice: Alan Tudyk) from the pastel-tinted candy-coated game “Sugar Rush,” and the “Fix-It Felix” Donkey Kong-inspired game characters: Felix (voice: Jack McBrayer) the good guy and Ralph (voice: John C. Reilly) the “bad guy” who longs to get some of that good guy shine.

Wreck-It Ralph plot summary from IMDB:

A video game villain wants to be a hero and sets out to fulfill his dream, but his quest brings havoc to the whole arcade where he lives.

Screenplay scribes and contributors Phil Johnston, Jim Reardon, Rich Moore (also director), Jennifer Lee, John C. Reilly, Sam J. Levin and Jared Stern have an intriguing character in Ralph, the mucho muscular, boulder-sized fist-having smasher in brown overalls. He may be the antagonist in his video game, but he is a dearly endearing protagonist in Wreck-It Ralph. He earns his sympathy instantly in the first few minutes of the film, seeking some self-esteem in a bad guy therapy session. This clever and comedic collection of evil arcade villains assures us that Wreck-it Ralph will not be a strictly kiddie affair.

Ralph lives alone, reluctantly, in an outdoor junkyard while every other character in his game gets to live inside a jazzy snazzy penthouse in a communal family atmosphere. No one throws parties or offers awards to the big hearted, heavy handed Ralph for his awkward demolition duties.

RALPH: The guy with the name Fix-It Felix is the good guy. He’s nice enough as good guys go. Definitely fixes stuff really well. But, uh, if you got a magic hammer from your father, how hard can it be? If he was a regular contractor, carpenter guy, I guarantee you; you will not be able to fix the damage that I do as quickly. When Felix does a good job, he gets a medal. But, are there metals for wrecking stuff really well? To that, I say, ha!

The action and adventure commence with Ralph taking a self-imposed hiatus from wrecking and commits himself to winning a prize metal of honor in another video game to prove the doubters in his own game wrong. But as this fish-out-of-water tale makes it’s big splash, Ralph learns that the 1980s innocence of Fix-It Felix is a rated G bubble gum playground compared to the gothic nightmare menace of contemporary gaming.

RALPH: (in the middle of “Hero’s Duty”) I thought this would be like “Centipede”! When did video games become so violent and scary? Just let me out of here, please!

“Sugar Rush” is the next recreational foreign territory that Ralph finds himself fending for himself in. This candy store crafted village is the polar opposite of the viciously volatile warzone of “Hero’s Duty,” but a surreal, oddly abstract Dr. Seus book of a world compared to his Atari-style home sweet home.

RALPH: What’s going on in this candy-coated heart of darkness?

In true “Beauty and the Beast” fashion, the Wreck-It man Ralph finds a miniscule side kick in Vanellope, an unsupervised orphan looking to become a race car phenomenon.

The complicated friendship between the mature Ralph and the adolescent Vanellope helps challenge his borderline selfish desire for achieving a reward to bring home and gain good guy acceptance. With his decisions revolving around his success, the needs of Vanellope become compromised when she feels like he is using her.

RALPH: (to Vanellope) Well, this may come as a shock to you, but in my game, I’m the bad guy, and I live in the garbage.

With King Candy standing between Ralph and Vanellope’s needs, the callous king also has a divide-and-conquer dilemma activated, pitting Ralph against Vanellope. With Ralph having to choose his loyalties just as he is get closer and closer to succeeding, we receive a much heightened sense of Ralph’s internal need for genuine companionship.

RALPH: Because if that little kid likes me, how bad can I be?

The metal that initially sets Ralph out on his conquest for acceptance proves to be the external journey that leads him directly into his emotional journey – being able to look himself in the mirror and feel proud.

RALPH: I’m bad, and that’s good! I will never be good, and that’s not bad! [He looks at the cookie medal Vanellope gave him: “YOU’RE MY HERO”] There’s no one I’d rather be… than me.

For his engaging loner/outsider struggle to overcome rejection, for his extreme make-over in nurturing his wrecked self-esteem and for his final exam in gaining friends, which is to be a friend worth gaining – Ralph is an incredibility GREAT CHARACTER in the extensive history of Disney Characters.

Thanks to Jason for sharing this analysis. You may follow him on Twitter: @A2Jason. And congratulations to Jason for getting a greenlight from Seed & Spark for his movie project COLOURING BOOK: The Mixed Race Documentary. Thanks to all who contributed to it!