Friday, August 31, 2007

Style & Writing for Existing Franchises


A snippet from a recent script review, Mickey's superb Atomic Blitz.

-MM

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Existing franchises - if you have a burning desire to write a spec for someone like Bond, don't write a Bond spec. Redefine the rules, create your own franchise that's similar in genre ONLY but distinctly different in every conceivable way from the franchise you want to write. Yet, you celebrate the style and spirit of that franchise in your own way, on your own terms (usually by rebelling against it and being proud of it), which is exactly what we have here. Ultimately, in the end, I think you'll find yourself more creatively satisfied by your own creation as opposed to climbing onto someone else's bandwagon.


When Bourne: Ultimatum came out, Matt Damon said, "The Bond character will always be anchored in the 1960s and in the values of the 1960s. Bond is an imperialist and a misogynist who kills people and laughs about it, and drinks Martinis and cracks jokes." No, Matt, Bond has something called STYLE, which you do not possess, and why Bond doesn't have to go find himself in EVERY film. I mean, come on, isn't that what screenwriting is at its core? A celebration of style? Entertainment? Emotion? Guys like Jeff Kitchen write in their latest guru books life-sucking formulaic approaches like fractal plotting, which focuses on a series of inciting incidents, conflicts, reactions, and resolutions, and backing them up "one level" and applying the same method to each sequence and act - BLAH-BLAH-BLAH. Screenwriting is about style. If everyone focused on JUST the horizontal plane of development in a story, we wouldn't have any jokes in comedies because they "slow the story down" or we wouldn't have any big action sequences in action films because they "slow the story down" or we wouldn't have any sex in porn because... well, you get the idea.

An over-emphasis on the horizontal plane robs the life and humanity and style of a film. Genres live off of very specific heightened VERTICAL moments that DO NOT always push the story forward, and those vertical moments are the very reason people pay to see those films. At the end of the day, no one gives a shit about fractal plotting, because it's ultimately about how well you manipulate the human heart whether it be through laughter, tears, or edge-of-your-seat action. Hitchcock said that the screen has to be "charged with emotion," and he's right. I think it's that emotional component that has to be given the most consideration scene-by-scene. How compelling / funny / exciting is that scene? And does the writer have any damn style? I didn't fall in love with The Godfather because of its great fractal plotting. I fell in love with its heart and style, baby.

20 comments:

Joshua James said...

Holy shit, I give you a radical AMEN!

Yeah, boy!

I completely agree . . . the other thing this massive stripping does is oftentimes rob it of depth . . . depth is those million little moments that surround a scene but don't necessarily move it forward . . .

Seasoning, if you will . . . and that's very important, whether it's the Don picking up a cat during a meeting in THE GODFATHER or James Bond stopping to adjust his tie right before he shoots someone . . .

Those are character seasonings, and the story can have those, too . . . remember FARGO when Marge goes to meet the guy she once went to school with and she gets all dressed up and he tells her his wife died and makes a pass at her, which she elegantly dodges?

And later she finds out he was lying?

In a way, that scene had nothing to do with the plot, not a thing (tho the argument could be made that it supports the theme, and it does, but in such a way that I remember people laughing and wondering about that scene) . . . the scene (s) don't the plot forward, but they certainly add seasoning to an already tasty plot, don't they?

That's me, anyway . . . heheh.

The Moviequill said...

I so agree. Enough with the enneagrams, flow charts, rising tension graphs, plot point anchors... what is wrong with sitting on one's butt and creating from scratch? I riff all the time

Mim said...

All those riffs are great. But when you edit and re-write, you need to know how to recognize when it's adding flavor and when it's wandering away from the heart of the story.

If a film is all about emotion and heart, how is that not about the inner journey of the hero? How is it not about an Opportunity that asks him if he wants to move forward?

Riffing and emotion and vertical moments are all very well and good. But just as basing your story entirely on horizontal moments sucks the life out of it, so does basing it all on vertical moments suck the cohesiveness from the plot.

People like to laugh and cry and gasp and sit on the edge of their seats, but if the scenes don't hang together and relate to each other, they're not going to stay to see what happens in the end.

Joshua James said...

"but if the scenes don't hang together and relate to each other, they're not going to stay to see what happens in the end."

With all due respect, this has been proven wrong in many bad movies which are popular . . . and a few good ones (SLACKER, for instance) . . .

But I agree with you in essence, in that the fabric of the story must fit its overall objective . . . the issue I come up against quite often is what's the best way to acheive it . . . I really think that charting can be helpful, but it's not the be-all, end-all of writing . . .

Story for me is a lot closer to music than it is to math, and sometimes to know if what you've done works or not, you simply just gotta listen to the song . . .

And while I accuse no one of that here, I do think that there are those in the industry who aren't listening to an individual's music and instead trying to craft an exact replica of what has already been done . . .

Mystery Man said...

Joshua - I agree, man. Scenes that support theme are VERTICAL moments and there's nothing wrong with that. You've got a captive audience. There's no need for a streamlined, fast paced plot.

Thanks, Todd. "Enough with the enneagrams, flow charts, rising tension graphs, plot point anchors..." That's exactly how I feel. I'm sick of reading that shit.

Mim - I completely agree. One must master the horizontal. I'm just bored with the OVER-emphasis in books on the horizontal. (And I do kind of debate about whether I should even talk about this, because so many newbies struggle to grasp even the most basic elements that I fear this might confuse them, but ya know, no one else champions vertical moments.) It's on my list of articles to write to investigate and define more thoroughly this horizontal/vertical business. By the way, the inner journey of the hero is an emotional one that doesn't always contain moments that moves the plot forward.

-MM

Joshua James said...

achieve rather than "acheive"

Aaagrh! I just got my comment automatically rejected by Script-robot-reader Automan 3000, for my misplace of "e" - aack!

Red-flagged for a typo - Damn!

Didn't I hear somewhere that someone had a computer program that automatically read and judged whether or not a screenplay was well-written, or is that just a nasty rumor?

They tried to do that with pop music, I heard some time ago . . .

Style is really a question of individual voice . . . I maintain (and I've been planning to blog about this but I'm preempting here) that we read stories not nearly as much for what happens in them but HOW THEY ARE TOLD . . .

I really do . . . think about novels that you enjoy, it's not so much what happens (though I agree it's an important part of the journey) but how the story is shared with you, the reader.

It's that individual voice, it's why the early Tom Clancy novels were enjoyable, and the ones he "co-writes" now blow chunks, because those are manufactured . . . the individual style is gone . . .

It's done in film, look at how many times Batman has been done . . . and the take by Nolan (and writer Goyer) was a unique take (in part informed, but not stolen, from Miller) . . .

Is it better than Burton's Batman? No, just different . . . many of the same things happen, he gets in a batmobile, fights crime and master villians in a mask, etc.

But how that story is told matters as much if not more than what happens . . . and that owes itself to style and intent . . .

Which one will not get from a formatting program . . . we see those movies, some of them are popular, but they don't have the impact that the individual voices do upon us . . .

Shoot, I'm ranting, I've been up since five and I'm delirious, MM . . . cut me off!

Mim said...

Joshua, I think we're just coming at the same issue from different sides.

You've written enough stories that you've seen "come to life" that you have an inner sense of the "song" that is the story. Charting is not the be-all and end-all of writing, but it is an essential part.

One of the things that some of the "gurus" point out is that people like Spielberg and Hitchcock et al have an internal sense of structure that informs their writing. They might or might not be aware of it.

I'm sure you have your own internal sense of structure that informs you stories. You just aren't aware of it. It precludes YOUR need to chart because the chart is internal.

I may seem to sing the praises of charting, but I don't chart so much. I'm trying to internalize the structure and recognize those points in the story that highlight its forward motion.

As MM points out, stories also need those vertical, emotional moments that make the audience's heart pound.

What makes a story great is when the writer has managed to internalize the structure to a point that he doesn't recognize that he's imposing it, and when he is "in the moment" of writing to come up with great emotional riffs.

And you can only achieve that with practice...practice...practice.

Joshua James said...

It's funny, Mim . . .

You mention you don't chart that much . . . I actually chart much more than one would think, more than I should, I think . . . I do think it's a valuable tool, I do . . . so I wouldn't disagree with you at all . . .

Mainly I agree with MM that THAT part of the process is highlighted more than other parts . . . and that listening is sometimes forgotten . . . not by anyone here, of course . . .

Mystery Man said...

Mim - I completely agree. Very well said, actually. A writer needs to develop instinctly a great shit-detector and can objectively mold a story to keep that which is most entertaining, compelling, etc. And with respect to emotion, I also meant to make the point in the review that a writer needs to judge the emotional continuity of a sequence or act or entire story, for that matter.

Josh - I used to be a part of a book club group, and when talking about what book we should read next, people would so often say, "well, it's about X, no big deal, but he/she is a really funny writer." OR "Ya know, it's just a lot of fun." OR "It's exciting." It was never really about the plot, it was always what the experience reading that book would be like. I think people generally feel the same way about movies. People embrace a writer's style over substance. A little substance to back up that style helps, too, and that they don't waste a lot of your time meandering all over the place. At times, J.K. Rowling birdwalked, but it never stopped people from loving her books. By the way, no programs yet to judge scripts. Although I'm sure a few studios wouldn't mind turning their readers into robots. Hehehe...

-MM

Mim said...

I agree, Joshua. I think people tend to focus on structure because it's such an easy thing to teach and to learn.

Of course we have to add our own flair and emotion to that structure, or else we won't turn out anything but flat, paint-by-numbers scripts.

I have used the analogy that structure is like a trellis upon which we grow our beautiful garden. We need the trellis for support, but we can't just all cover it with the same kinds of flowers.

Mickey Lee said...

MM

Thanks for the review and of course, the free dissertation!

As we've all said in this blog ad nauseum, it all depends on the story you're trying to tell. You can't measure every script against the same tired yardstick or else you will end up with a bunch of cookie cutter films. Which Hollywood seems oh so good at cranking out.

I definitely wrote this with a firm structure in mind, but loose enough so that there was LOTS of rooms for pages and pages and pages of action. lol.

David said...

My script, The Butterfly Man, began life as an adaptation of Ian Fleming's Moonraker, which was my favorite Bond novel and the second worst Bond film after A View To A Kill. I even contacted EON Productions abou submitting it as a writing sample, but it's a closed shop. That's when I decided to create my own superspy, George Thorne. According to ScriptShark, I didn't take it far enough from the inspiration, but managed to capturre the essence of the Bond formula, which was my original intention. He He.

Mickey Lee said...

David

I hear ya, man! This script was kind of my Bond film. It's funny, because the novel "Moonraker" was part of the inspiration for me, too. What is it about the book that's so right that the movie got so wrong?

Oh yeah, I forgot, they threw out everything except the title!

Mystery Man said...

No, Mickey, thanks for sharing it with me. I really loved it.

David - I'll have to read that script. I've been wanting to read more of your work.

-MM

Matt Racicot said...

I was planning on writing 'Holy Shit, AMEN,' as the comments page was loading- and here's joshua james sharing the sentiment... And Joshua, the software for pop music, you had heard about some time ago . . . It exists and was used to render Stompin' Tom Connors (Canadian Country/Folk legend)most likely to be unsuccessful. (read legend).

And I think it ties in with Mystery Man's belief in Style.
The software failed to take into consideration Stompin' Tom's ability to tap into the Canadians need to hear their own stories told to them through song.

But much like the universal stories of Man triumphing over insurmountable odds- wherever he may be- we've all shared in it. And if we had to do it over again, I'm sure we'd try it with a little bit less structure next time, but with a whole helluva lot more Style.

Wicked post Mystery Man- I'll be back- and thanks Joshua James, I came here through a link at your daily dojo.

Laura Deerfield said...

""well, it's about X, no big deal, but he/she is a really funny writer." OR "Ya know, it's just a lot of fun." OR "It's exciting." It was never really about the plot, it was always what the experience reading that book would be like."

MM- that's exactly the point made in Writing for Emotional Impact by Karl Iglesias

Movies, in fact all stories, are about the emotional response they create, even more than they are about the plot and character.

Emotion is conveyed largely through style.

It's the difference between a manly bearish hug with a pat on the back and warm embrace by a soft woman. Different ways of touching people.

Mystery Man said...

Hey Matt, thanks so much!

LAURA! So nice to hear from you. I completely agree. I liked Karl's book. Anyway, hope you're doing well.

-MM

Laura Deerfield said...

My massage career is going beautifully - most fulfilling thing I've ever done.

But I did waste my time an energy on someone I never should have allowed back in my life.

He was a distraction. Now he's gone. I can devote my energy back to my writing. (Though I am still working a lot and trying to get in to the gym regularly, too.)

Mystery Man said...

Sorry to hear about that old fling, but I'm glad to hear about your career. Hey, my neck is kinda soar...

Hehehe...

When you finally finish the script, share it with me, will ya? I'm curious to see how a script of yours reads.

-MM

Laura Deerfield said...

Absolutely. It'll be up on Triggerstreet, but I might ask you to be my first reader.