#WW CSSC Writer Wednesday | Blog the 16th: Script Types: Part 3

This week I’m continuing my series and looking into how to fix up common mistakes in 2 more types of scripts.  Enjoy.

Action for Action’s Sake
This type of film, as implied by the name, is more interested in showing off flashy visuals and fast pace action then developing characters and furthering the story.

If the major fist fight in your script can be reduced to the words, “Punches are thrown until eventually Steven is knocked out.” or your dance scene can be written as “They pull of some sick moves and dazzle the crowd.” or your car chase written as, “The cars race down the street at top speed until the spike strip pops the tires and the car flips into the ditch.” then you are writing Action for Action’s Sake.  Sure I wrote all of these examples in simple and uninspired language and therefore I could make them much more interesting and sure, the police catching the criminal after the police chase furthers the plot.  However, if the only part that furthers your plot is the end of the action scene, then ask yourself; how long should the action scene be?  1 paragraph?  2?  A page?  2 pages?

If your action scene relies soley on a single plot point at the end of the scene then every moment of that action scene simply exists to pad out time before that plot point.  Therefore the more plot points (or even better, character growth) you can put in an action scene, the longer and more fullfilling that scene can be.

For an example, look at the 3rd act of Hot Fuzz, it is almost completely action scenes. However all the moments are payoffs to jokes and plot points that were set up earlier in the story and it makes the 3rd act fun and exciting.  If you are not looking for comedy in your script, look to the Star Wars movies.  The lightsaber fight between Luke and Darth Vader in Empire Strikes Back is way more interesting then the flashing climatic fight at the end of The Phantom Menace.  Why?  Because in Empire they were interested in characters and not in action.  Even though The Phantom Menace has flashier action, it is worthless without strong emotions and plot.

So take a look at your action scenes and make sure that your scene cannot be reduced to a single sentence.  Make sure your scene if full of character moments or plot points that push the plot forward.

Slice of Life
On the opposite side of the spectrum from Action for Action’s Sake we have Slice of Life.  This story is focused on the sort of troubles that regular people face in their day to day life.  Therefore there are no crazy action scenes and often no life changing events.  Slice of Life is interested in the idea of the audience being a fly-on-the-wall and observing a typical day in the life of another person (and life changing events are not typical events).

This type of script is really it’s own genre and is quite popular.  The Italian classics The Bicycle Theives and Umerbto D could be categories as Slice of Life, as well The Tree of Life and Inside Llweyn Davies had many of the qualities of a Slice of Life script.  The trouble that one can find themselves in writing such a script is that ultimately there must be some reason that the particular story being told, is being told.  By this I mean, if you want to show the typical day in the life of a character, then why did you pick the particular day that the story takes place?  Why not 10 days before?  Or 6 years after?

The day you pick must be because something not quite typical is happening.  Over the course of a person’s life (in Canada at least) there are going to be more run of the mill days than life affirming days.

This isn’t to say you must have something monuments happen in your script, because if it did it would no longer be a Slice of Life. In Inside Llwyen Davies his ultimate arc is that he must decide whether to continue his music career or not.  This isn’t a typical week in his life because (presumably) he doesn’t face this decision every week.  Therefore there is something important about this week and thus there is a reason why this week is being depicted in the story.

So if you are writing a Slice of Life you are interested in the day to day life of a character, however, you must still have something that makes it a not-so-typical day.  It just isn’t some grand monuments thing like learning you are The One, or saving the world or deciding to cook crystal meth.  Instead you are interested in the quieter moments of life such as deciding to break up with a partner, taking the stage at a comedy club or searching for a missing bike.

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#WW CSSC Writer Wednesday | Blog the 15th: Script Types Part 2

Continuing on from last week, I will once again be presenting my thoughts on two types of scripts that I often find when reading scripts or watching short films.  So without further adieu.

Message Script
This type of script often gets mixed up with the Diary Entry type, but can also exist on it’s own.  This type of script is defined by its primary focus being on on a message instead of the plot.  What I mean by this is that this film really wants to tell you something.

Since every script/story should have a message (at least I believe so), having a message is not a bad thing, in fact it is a must for any story, however, this type of script has taken the message a little too far.  The message in this type of film is usually laid out in a long speech that details every little nuance of the message or quickly said by the characters in a way that has very little subtlety.  Such as a character stating, “This is why drinking and driving is bad!”.  Though the message of your film may be, “drinking and driving has devastating consequences” that message should never be stated in those exact words.

Instead, the audience wants subtlety in their characters thoughts and emotions.  This is because in the real world, most people don’t bare their souls for others and often keep a lot of their thoughts and feelings on the inside.  So when a character speaks their mind with little regard for how a typical person would react in that situation, the audience starts to question the believability of the story.

Audiences don’t go into a movie looking for a lecture (unless it’s a documentary) they expect a story that is an exaggeration of reality but still contains the same interactions between real people.  So if you are writing a story and you find that your message is being stated in a long essay of dialog, remember, actions speak louder than words.  So pair back the dialog and instead reflect your message with actions.

Talking Heads
This type of script focuses on dialog rather than action which leads to a bunch of characters standing around talking, hence the name Talking Heads (sorry, it’s not named after the band).  This type of script is commonly seen when adapting plays as a play focuses more on dialog rather than action, but it can work as a script as long the dialog is full of conflict.

All stories revolve around conflict.  Conflict is the thread that binds the story together.  Conflict is either shown through action or dialog, so if you are writing a story that has very little action occurring (not strictly action scenes, but characters doing or experiencing things), then you have to have conflict in your dialog.  You will need to highlight your characters emotions and ensure that there are many opposing ideas in the room.

But even if this is your intent, I would still recommend you find some action for your characters to do.  Even eating, or leaving the room, or some other simple movement will break up your dialog a little bit and give the audience something to look at besides a bunch of Talking Heads.
Well that’s it for me the week.  Next week I will be back to discuss two more script types, but until then remember you leave a comment/suggestion or email me at jobb.writing@gmail.com.  Until then, keep writing.

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Top 25 Scripts Announced for 2014

25 twenty fiveAhem. Ladies and Gentlemen, we bring to you, the even creamier, in no particular order of importance whatsoever (we promise), of the previously announced Top 50 have been whittled down to… the Top 25 Semi-Finalists for 2014:

 

 

 

Mortals – Andrew Hawkins
St Valentine and the Space Dragons – Anthony Etherington
Career Day Christopher – George Walsh
Where We Belong – Corey Patrick
National Pastime – David J Lieto
The Indelible – DLC Heslop
The Legend of Gaslight Gil – Eric Borden
Owen and the Whale – Jennifer Chen
Les The Punter – Julian Williams
The Gatekeeper – Kimberley Ann Sparks
Mother’s Milk – Leisl Egan
The Donation – Liam Johnson
Disclosure – Likaya Green
Ma (Mother) – Naita Gupta
Microwave – Neil Champagne
David – Robyn Winslow
Balls – Robyn Winslow
The Otherside – Ross Langill
A Cautionary Tale – Steve Deery
Acclimate – Sylvia Carter
Hyperspace – Taegen Carter
Poolside Tiles – Taylor Iannarilli and Alex Morin
Number 3 – Taylor P Martin
A Little More Time – William Huntsman
Unchain – Yuling Xu

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#WW CSSC Writer Wednesday | Blog the 14th: Script Types

LaurelsBBefore I start with my tips for the week, I have to do a little self-promotion.  My film, Those Forgotten, which placed 4th in the CSSC back in 2009 has been accepted to the American Online Film Awards in New York.  The festival starts May 1st, so check it out when you get a chance!

On with today’s post!

I have been giving some tips on building the structure of your screenplay, but I am going to take a little break from that and talk about screenplay types that I have run into and how to improve them.  The types of scripts I will be talking about are based on scripts I have read (or written myself) or seen as short films and do not represent specific genres, but are more reminiscent of plot ideas.  So here we go, the first 2 that I will be discussing are as follows.

Diary Entry
This type of story stems from the old saying, “write what you know”.  In this story the protagonist is often very similar to the writer and acts as a way of communicating real world problems.  I would think that it is safe to guess that at some point in every writer’s career they have written a story like this (I certainly have), and it’s perfectly reasonable to have written this.  A person’s life is often the source of inspiration for a story, either something that has happened, or something that was said or something they saw.  The trouble with this type of story is that it stays contained within the life of the writer.  The story becomes more of a diary entry and a venting of emotion than a true story that can stand on it’s own legs.

If you want to write a story that resembles the struggles of real people then you will likely find yourself looking toward this type of story.  Just remember to make sure you distance yourself from the story.  In other words, don’t write yourself into the story.  If you do, you will find that you are suddenly constrained to the idea of “you” and the story cannot evolve into something else.  Your character now has to act like you, talk like you and face the same problems as you.  And though you may think you are a very interesting person with very interesting problems, the audience may not feel that same way because, compared to movie, the average person’s life is not that interesting.

Instead, if you wish to write this type of story (unless you are the most interesting person anyone could possibly meet), ensure that you create a protagonist that is not the same as “you”.  Take the troubles you face that inspired the story and expand them into a world that does not contain “you” and does not involve the exact same story as “you”.  Open up your world and be creative, don’t restrict your story to simply being a diary entry.

Real World Fantasy/Sci-Fi
This type of story involves adding a fantasy or sci-fi element to the real world in order to show that the world is more complicated or more amazing than the average person realizes.  This is accomplished by placing something fantastical into a real world setting.  Such a story is in contrast to other fantasy and sci-fi stories in which an entire new world is set up with new rules that govern the way people live.  In the real world fantasy/sci-fi story the world in which everyone lives is the same world in which the writer and everyone alive lives: Earth, in the present, plain and simple.

In my experience, this type of story often contains a twist ending that reveals this fantastical element.  The twist works as a twist because the audience does not see it coming (because they were under the impression that the setting was the real world).  And though the twist is unexpected (which is great) it also results in the audience feeling cheated because they were told throughout the movie that the world was a certain way, and then the movie informs them that they were being lied to.

To fix this issue, ensure that your fantasy or sci-fi element is set up.  It doesn’t have to be explicated stated, it can simply be foreshadowed, or some hint that perhaps there is more to the world than meets the eye.  You just need to include something that allows the audience to question what is possible in the world of the story and ultimately be more accepting when something fantastical occurs.

Of course, this is just my opinion of these script types and my solutions reflect the problems I have run into when I write.  If you have anything to add feel free to leave me a comment of send me a message at job.writing@gmail.com and I will be back in a week with 2 more script types to discuss.  Until then, keep writing.

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#WW CSSC Writer Wednesday | Blog the 13th: Splitting the 2nd Act

For this weeks I am taking a tip from the legendary director Sam Peckinpah.  Sam Peckinpah (according to the late screenplay master Syd Field) made sure that his films always had a midpoint to help break up the 2nd Act.  In The Wild Bunch it’s when they rob the train, in Ride the High Country it’s the night spent in the mining community, in Straw Dogs it’s when David goes hunting and Charlie attacks Amy.  As the name suggests, the midpoint occurs in the middle of the movie and serves 2 purposes:

1) The midpoint is a scene that acts to divide the film into two sections, the events before and the events after.  It shifts the focus of the film in a slightly different direction that eventually leads to the climax.  For example, in the first half of The Wild Bunch the Bunch is interested in pulling off one last heist and retiring and to this end, at the midpoint they steal munitions from a government train to give to a general for use in the Mexican Civil War.  However, after the heist the Bunch becomes focused on betrayal and helping one of their own.  What it ends up with is two different sections of the movie working together to form an entire story.  But that’s more of a description of what the midpoint does, you probably want to know how it can help you.

2) When writing a script it can be difficult to be consistantly building toward the climax throughout the long 2nd ct (of a 3 act structure).  But the midpoint breaks up the 2nd act into two parts and essentially gives you a 4 act structure of equal sized parts.  Act 1 sets up the story, provides the Significant Event and sets the protagonist on their quests, Act 2, Part 1 builds up to the midpoint, Act 2, Part 2 deals with the repercussions of the midpoint which soon leads toward Act 3  and the climax and the resolution.  Incorporating a midpoint provides direction for the 2nd Act and bridges the plot points that end Act 1 and start Act 3.

Often times writers find the 2nd Act the hardest to write because it is so long and it becomes difficult to build and maintain momentum for the entire length.  If you are having this problem, place in a midpoint and you should find it easier to maintain this momentum.

In my experience the midpoint is more useful for a feature script but it can be used for a sufficiently long short script (I often write 5 page scripts so maintaining momentum in the 2nd act isn’t as hard) but for a 15 page script a midpoint may help break up the longer 2nd act.

Look for the midpoint when you are watching movies and get a feel for how it is used.  It is not used in every film so you’ll have to judge for yourself on whether you think it will benefit your script or not.  But if you ever get stuck in the 2nd Act, look for a midpoint to help give you direction.

Until next week, keep writing.

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Top 50 scripts announced for 2013/2014

Here, without further adieu, we bring to you the creme de la creme for the 2014 competition year. In screenwriter’s alphabetical order, here are the Top 50 Quarter-Finalists for 2014:

 

Franco & The Snake - Ali Kemal Guven
No Warning - Amanda Lo
Mortals - Andrew Hawkins
St Valentine and the Space Dragons - Anthony Etherington
The Carnal Beasts - Brian Garvey
Under Water - Bryan Fitzgerald
How Can You Say I Love You - c.n. bean
From 1994 - Casey Warren & Danielle Krieger
Career Day - Christopher George Walsh
Where We Belong - Corey Patrick
In Search Of Sasquatch - Dana Cuellar
The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea - Danny Chong Ka Yung
National Pastime - David J Lieto
The Indelible - DLC Heslop
Fracktured Trust - DLC Heslop
The Legend of Gaslight Gil - Eric Borden
Tobiah Couldn’t Give Up - Guga Caldas
Hunk of Burning Love - Jenna Cornell
Owen and the Whale - Jennifer Chen
The Haunted Townhouse of Doom or How Not to Bake a Cake - Joey P Fama
Evergreen - John Paul Carlton
Hero - JS Lyster
Les The Punter - Julian Williams
Pedestrian Blues - Jun Ryu
The Greater Man - Katarzyna Kochany
The Gatekeeper - Kimberley Ann Sparks
Mother’s Milk - Leisl Egan
The Donation - Liam Johnson
Disclosure - Likaya Green
365 Letters - Marina Estoc
Vigil - Matt Snell
Ma (Mother) - Naita Gupta
God For a Day - Michael Rettig
Microwave - Neil Champagne
The Docks - John McGuire
Cornflowers - Philip J Henson
True Love - Pierre Langenegger
David - Robyn Winslow
Balls - Robyn Winslow
The Otherside - Ross Langill
Three Teeth - Rowdy Vass
A Cautionary Tale - Steve Deery
Acclimate - Sylvia Carter
Hyperspace - Taegen Carter
A Mother’s Courage - Tawnia Courage
Poolside Tiles - Taylor Iannarilli and Alex Morin
Number 3 - Taylor P Martin
The Sin Eater - Tracey Maye
A Little More Time - William Huntsman
Unchain - Yuling Xu

 

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Top 50 scripts announcement coming soon for 2014

Have no fear! The announcement for the top 50 is quite near! Thank you for your patience and will follow up with the top 50 by Monday March 24th.

 

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#WW CSSC Writer Wednesday | Blog the 12th: Last Words

Last week we looked at how to start your story, so this week we’ll go to the other end of the spectrum.  Ending the story.

By now it should be clear that near the start of your story there is a Significant Event that alters the life of your protagonist and for the rest of the story they face obstacle after obstacle in an effort to get their life back in order.  So obviously, when their life is put back to the way it was the story is over.

Not quite.

The climax is the moment when the protagonist has the final showdown with the antagonist and must ultimately make a final stand and either right all the wrongs, or fail at their task.  But the climax is not the ending of your story.  Though the climax is the ultimate ending of your character’s Want as they try to achieve what they have been trying to achieve since the significant event, to get a well rounded story, the protagonist’s Need must also be addressed.

Which means you must have a Resolution.

At the end of your story your protagonist  MUST have grown as a character.  For better or worse the events of the story MUST have changed them forever.  Doing this gives your story significance and answers the question, “Why was this moment of the protagonist’s life told instead of another one?”  The answer of course is that this is the story of when the protagonist changed.  They are no longer the same character they were before, the story has had an effect on them and they will never be the same afterwards.

So what is your Resolution?  How should your protagonist change?

Just as the Climax is the ultimate result of the protagonists Want, the Resolution is the ultimate result of the protagonists Need.

So look at the Need you set up at the beginning of your story and your Resolution will be your answer to it.  The Resolution is when the protagonist finally understands what they Need to understand and this knowledge changes them forever.

As soon as the Resolution has occurred and your character has shown their growth, you can end the story.  It’s as simple as that.  Because now the audience has seen all they have gone through to achieve what they wanted AND seen the effect that has has on them emotionally.

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#WW CSSC Writer Wednesday | Blog the 11th: First Words

So you have a story in your head, you have a protagonist, you have the struggles and conflict that affect them and you have an antagonist who will do all they can to ensure the protagonist fails.  Now all you need to do is write the story.  But where do you start?

The first scene of any story are difficult to write, these are the first words any reader will read and they will provide the first impression of the script.  And though any reader should not make snap judgements because of the first few sentences, as a writer you should not tempt the reader by providing a stale and boring opening.

So where should you start?

Your opening needs to establish all of the aspects of the story that I discussed last week, but it also needs to grab the audience’s attention.  Too often when I see short films they give priority to setting up the story and not enough time on keeping it interesting when it should be an equal playing field.

So here’s a simple trick to help with your first scene.  Figure out what your first action beat is: the princess being captured by the imperial fleet, confronting a father, a wife wanting divorce, a man is tortured, whatever it is, and start the story in that scene, just before that moment.  Use the space you have to set up your story and characters but know that this first action beat is within the first scene of your story.

This tasks you with setting up the story during an action beat (or just before), instead of setting up the story and then having an action beat.

Of course, this is for short films.  The longer your script, the more time  you have to set up aspects of the story (and more pieces that need to be set up).  But for a short, you don’t have much time, so start the story as soon as you can.

Hope that helps.  As always, leave me a comment or send me an email at jobb.writing@gmail.com.

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#WW CSSC Writer Wednesday | Blog the 10th: Setting up the Event

From reading last weeks post, you know where to place the significant event in your story in order to provide enough space to fully develop the arc of your story and keep your audience’s attention.  And you know that before the significant event occurs you have to build up the story.  But, you ask, “What do I have to set up?”

That’s where this weeks lesson comes in.

The significant event causes a change to the normal day to day life of your protagonist and over the course of this story, this event must be rectified.  Which means before the significant event occurs, the audience must understand the life your protagonist lives, or else how are they do understand the change that is occurring?

To accomplish this, you need to show the audience the life your protagonist lives and what their personality is.  Do they have a family?  A job?  Hobbies?  What are their goals?  Aspirations?  Who are their friends?  But of course you don’t need to describe all of these areas of their life, instead you need to describe only the ones that are relevant to the significant event.

Because the effectiveness of the significant event lies in how well the audience understands it’s significance.

In other words, everything that you set up needs to be relevant to the significant event.  It needs to show what is lost due to the event, or what can be gained.

For example, in my latest page script All I Need the significant event was that Chloe was going to confront her father who didn’t want to attend her wedding.  To make this event significant I had to do the following things:
Set up Chloe was getting married.
Set up that the father didn’t approve of the wedding.
Set up Chloe’s wife to be.
Set up Chloe’s want: to have her father at her wedding.
Set up my character’s personalities

And as stated last week, for my 5 page script I have to do all of this in 0.5 pages.  Which is a bit of a challenge but it can be done.  Here was my first 0.5 pages.

INT. DENTIST’S OFFICE – WAITING ROOM – DAY
CHLOE (28) and ANDREA (28) stand before a closed door. Each one in a wedding dress, their hair and makeup immaculately prepared. Ready to walk down the aisle at any moment.

Chloe’s nervousness gets the best of her, she whispers to Andrea.

CHLOE
This was a stupid idea. He doesn’t want to see us.

ANDREA
He will once he sees you.

CHLOE
My father isn’t one to change his mind.

Andrea takes her hand, reassuring her, ready to go.

Chloe looks back at the Receptionist, ALICE (35) and the waiting patients, looking for further support. Alice gives her a thumbs up.

Chloe opens the door to see:

Give your story a look over, remember how much time you have to set up your significant event and make sure you find a way to include all the elements that you need to set up.

Stop by next Wednesday as I talk about where a story should start and what those first words on the page should be about!  Until then, keep writing!

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