Friday, December 26, 2008

Somewhat Recent Script Reviews

Hey guys,

Below are highlights of sorta recent TriggerStreet reviews of mine.

Hope you enjoy them.



MORE thought to the second concept. I loved the article Terry Rossio wrote not long ago -
the second concept. You need two concepts, one, the logline, and another at work that is revealed through story. He gave an example (please forgive the length): "Way back when, when Ted and I were starting our careers, I proposed a short story I'd written to be the basis for a screenplay. Basic idea, what if a kid captured the monster under the bed, and it turned out the kid was worse than the monster, and used the monster's access to houses to play pranks on his friends? There's the first concept. It's not bad. You could imagine a bully and perhaps some girl the kid has a crush on and work out a tale. Ted came along (this illustrates one of the benefits of having a writing partner) and came up with the second concept: What if the monster had let himself be caught, in order to seduce the kid into the underworld, where bad kids eventually become monsters, in fact, that's where all the monsters under the bed came from! Now you could debate the point as to whether this is just a story twist or an extension of the main story, a plot development rather than a new concept. But I think it qualifies. One test: Does it create a new situation, valid on its own account? I think yes. The new concept produced a villain, the villain's agenda; implied jeopardy, deepened the characterizations, and even provided a theme, missing from the original take. It became a different type of tale, an origin story, rather than just a 'kid fights monster' tale." Do you see what I mean? So you have the first concept, that is, a cat searches for a family. What's the second concept? And I think that can be found in Billy Don and that you really go to the trouble of emphasizing that he's good, as a person, and really loves animals, although that's not THEIR perception. That might bring somewhat of a twist on genre conventions…

1) A weak concept that needed more style.

The aspect of committing sabotage to stop a company from developing something that will bring about terrible future repercussions makes me think of Terminator II, which hurts you because that film and concept and story is vastly superior. I kept thinking that at least the Terminator series gave us formidable antagonists. Or that Back to the Future characters time-traveled in great style. Or that at least Bill & Ted had a phone booth. What do we have here? A bunch of smoke and lights in a room in a house, which is not very exciting. Probably not even good enough for basic cable. But of course, there was a point to the whole room and the way that the future selves made their appearances, which you deserve some credit for conceiving, but in the end, all things considered, it's not very exciting. You gotta think bigger than this. You gotta be much more exciting than this to get people to notice your story. I know you're going to say, "This is low budget, as I mentioned in my Notes." Look, you can still be exciting and stylish on a limited budget.

That this was all a charade designed to convince Justin to commit murder hurts your story in a variety of ways: A) Way too implausible. Tracy uses this crazy out-in-left-field-science-fiction approach to convince Justin to do this thing when most femme fatales only have to use sex. Hehehe... Where are your priorities, man? And what does this say about Justin? Hehehe... B) All of that verbal exposition about the future can only be verbal, which is the worst kind of screenwriting. You gotta show, don't tell. Perhaps there are still visual ways that the future selves could show us (and Justin) how bad the future will be, but as it is, those scenes are lifeless because they're just talking heads. The audience will not be persuaded by words alone. They need to SEE how bad the future will be in order to go along with it. C) This concept also forces you to include implausible elements in the stories told by the future selves in order to setup the resolution (like the "Independent Temporal Stasis Bubble"), which makes those scenes even less convincing. This also undermines your support of Justin in the end because he so gullibly fell for it all. You want to say to him, "You moron, how could you fall for that?" The answer, of course, is that he's such a sci fi geek, but still. Undermining an audience's support of the protag is risky business. D) Most audience members, I believe, would feel overly manipulated because they suspended a lot of disbelief to go along with this rather implausible tale only to have the rug pulled out from underneath them in the end by declaring it all a hoax. They paid to see a movie about this concept and wanted to go on this concept's ride.

* LACK OF TENSION & SUSPENSE. This is my biggest complaint. There is not one shred of tension throughout this entire script, which is a fatal flaw in a story about an assassin. An assassin story must have suspense. And what few assassination attempts we saw, it was all so very straightforward in its execution, no pun intended. The girl goes to the place, sets up the gun, kills the man, and goes home. Yawn. In reality, it's dangerous and there are many ways an assassination can go wrong and the assassin captured. In these sequences, you were so busy trying to work through the plot that you forgot to make it exciting for the audience. The question you should be asking yourself is, "how can I wring as much suspense as I can out of this sequence to make it exciting for the audience?" Introduce uncontrollable elements into a situation. Did you see Spielberg's Munich? Remember the sequence with the bomb in the phone and the little girl that went back home to get her book? BTW - this moment with Sondra shooting Nicholas could've been the most nail-biting sequence in the entire script but it happened so quickly and without much setup. Given enough care, it could've been great. You need to drag out that suspense as much as possible. Study Hitchcock.

I'm reminded of an article called
Suspense as Morality, Probability, and Imagination by film scholar David Bordwell who wrote: "The most influential current theory of suspense in narrative is put forth by Noël Carroll. The original statement of it can be found in 'Toward a Theory of Film Suspense' in his book Theorizing the Moving Image. Carroll proposes that suspense depends on our forming tacit questions about the story as it unfolds. Among other things, we ask how plausible certain outcomes are and how morally worthy they are. For Carroll, the reader or viewer feels suspense as a result of estimating, more or less intuitively, that the situation presents a morally undesirable outcome that is strongly probable. When the plot indicates that an evil character will probably fail to achieve his or her end, there isn’t much suspense. Likewise, when a good character is likely to succeed, there isn’t much suspense. But we do feel suspense when it seems that an evil character is likely to succeed, or that a good character is likely to fail."

And there is, of course,
Hitchcock's bomb theory: “There is a clear difference between surprise and suspense […]. We are sitting here and having an innocent conversation. Let us assume that there is a bomb under this table between us. […] suddenly there is a loud boom and the bomb goes off. The audience is surprised, but before this surprise they have only seen a very ordinary scene without any significance. Let us instead look at a suspense scene. The bomb is under the table and the audience is aware of this because they have seen the anarchist plant it there. They also know that the bomb will go off at one o’clock, and up on the wall is a clock showing that the time is now quarter to one […]. In the first scene we have given the audience 15 seconds of surprise […] but in the last scene we have given them fifteen minutes of suspense.”

However, I loved what John Carpenter said in the book
John Carpenter: Prince of Darkness (as quoted in an article called Alternatives to Suspense): "I always thought that you could also have another effect on the audience if you blow the table up suddenly. If you do it suddenly, everything after that is changed a little bit. You won't trust the movie anymore, and you will have doubts about what you think it will do. So you have a different level of suspense." Exactly. Our friend, Joshua James, alluded to this idea when he wrote (in a contribution to my suspense blog-a-thon) a piece on the gunfight at the train station in The Untouchables. One of the many elements that made that sequence work was the fact that we, as an audience, were worried about the baby in the carriage because earlier in the film, we saw a little girl blow-up outside the neighborhood bar, so we know it's possible the baby in the carriage may very well die. As Bordwell wrote, in scenes filled with immense suspense, we calculate in our minds how plausible are certain outcomes…


Ryan said...

Nice article! The suspense got me thinking about other examples. Since I'm workin' on a comedy, and extremely new to this. How good does suspense and comedy work with each other? Are there examples of comedy movies where this works really well? If so... I'd love to hear it!

Great article!

c4stein1 said...

Hey Ryan!

I think suspense and comedy work great together. The first thing I thought of was a YouTube video called, "Scarlet takes a tumble."

From the title, we know Scarlet is going to fall... but as we watch her sing in the video, we tense up. Minute after minute drags by with us in anticipation... then finally, BAM!

I bet you're laughing out loud. There are other version of this video on the web but the one that is the full 4 minutes is the funniest... why? Because of the anticipation.

Joshua James said...

You rock, dude.

Anonymous said...

Got to give you this: You're always interesting.

I clicked and read (most of) David Bordwell's post and all the academic musings on suspense. Anomalous suspense, convoluted theories and concepts and terms to match. What a lot of blather over something so simple.

Mackendrick in "On Film-Making" explains it simply and directly, as does Dwight Swain in "Techniques of the Selling Writer."

Anticipation mingled with uncertainty.

And it works the second and fifteenth time you experience it because it's all on a feeling level, it's about how the scene (film or novel) makes your tum-tum feel, over which you have little conscious control.

You can talk about it in terms of parasympathetic or autonomic nervous system or other invented terminology, but in terms of making it happen on the page, it all comes back to (and I think what you want to keep in mind is) anticipation mingled with uncertainty.

Luzid said...

Just throwing this out there - the "second concept" is basically a great midpoint, in that both change the story world in a surprising and significant way, alter the protagonist's goal and force a new approach to both the original dilemma and the newly-arisen complication of that dilemma.


Mystery Man said...

Hey guys,

I truly apologize for my delay in responding to the comments. I’ve been traveling so much this holiday, that I wrote a bunch of articles in advance and scheduled them to be published while I was gone.

Ryan – Comedies might have some suspense in the third act climax. But mostly, I do believe that comedies must have tension, whether it’s sexual tension, tension about humiliation, etc, from which much humor can be derived. I love comedies, and I’m going to write about it and the art of writing a joke sometime in ’09. It’s on my “to do” list, although I may save it for a Script Mag article.

JJ – I know. Hehehe…

JustBill – Bordwell takes some getting used to because he’s so academic. However, he can be really insightful. Re: “Anticipation mingled with uncertainty”, love it.

Luzid – Love that comment. That’s a great thought.

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