One of the aspects of screenwriting that new writers, especially those transitioning from other types of writing, is that screenwriting is, first and foremost, a visual medium. While the emphasis on characterization and story structure cannot be under-emphasized, the purpose of a screenplay is as a blueprint for making a film, not as an example of literary writing.
With this in mind, one of the ways in which screenwriters can better understand what it takes to turn their script into a film is to learn about the other aspects of film making. On a recent trip to a used bookstore, I found “Smart Phone Movie Maker” by Bryan Michael Stoller. Although the box contains a film making kit designed for grade-school children, it also contains useful information for adults who want to learn more about the technical aspects of screenwriting.
The package comes in four major parts:
A box that can be assembled into a mini-projector
Accessories, including popcorn boxes and tickets.
A 48-page book on the film making process
A book of storyboarding templates
The projector box may be more suited for a child’s bedroom than for a living room, since the smaller box and shorter lens tube lack the focal length needed for large-screen projection. The kit requires that the phones be less than 78mm (about 3 inches) wide, so larger smartphones won’t work with it.
Also, users have to reset their phone screen to landscape, both upside-down and mirror-image, to ensure the proper picture orientation when projected. This often requires downloading a separate app to get the right orientation. Kids can also put together the stenciled accessories to create their popcorn boxes and tickets to their “premiere” event.
For adults, the key components are the two books. The main book includes some important ideas that screenwriters should keep in mind.
In the section on genre, Stoller writes, “Make the kind of film you like watching.” For writers working on spec scripts, this advice often goes unheeded, as they seek to chase market trends rather than write something that captures their interests.
With the amount of work that goes into crafting a workable screenplay, any writer who works on a spec script that doesn’t pique their interest is wasting their time and talent. After all, if the writer doesn’t like the story, how will they convince anyone else to invest in it?
Another valuable piece of advice comes in the section “Beginnings and Endings”. In the “Hints and Tips” section, Stoller writes, “Write less rather than more...Ask yourself: ‘What does my character want? And why can’t he get it?’”
In other words:
What Victory does your character want to achieve?
What Obstacles are standing between them and their Victory?
What Tactics will they use to get around the Obstacles and achieve the Victory?
What Emotional need is driving them to pursue that Victory?
For those writers adventurous enough to shoot their own films with their phones, the book also offers some sound technical advice, including proper lighting techniques, sound equipment, and camera tricks. The book also includes resources to find post-production tools, such as music, sound effects, and color correction.
Since film is a visual medium, another key aspect of screenwriting involves visualizing each scene as you write it. At this point, the book of storyboard templates in this kit can be a valuable tool.
While most spec script gurus recommend against specifying camera angles in the script itself, using the storyboard templates can give writers a sense of the images they want to convey.
For instance, the storyboard shows a close-up of Bob shading his eyes with his hand, while the script can read, “Bob shades his eyes against the setting sun.” The writer never needs to mention “CLOSE UP” in the script.
The days of the lonely screenwriter, sitting in a coffee shop, and pecking away at a laptop in hopes of selling a million-dollar screenplay are all but dead. Instead, producers and agents want to see how a writer’s vision can translate into a finished product.
In my case, I had a lot of help from some talented people who assembled my scripts into short films. These films showed clients that, not only could I write a quality script under a tight deadline, but that I had people who believed in my skills enough to invest their own time and money into my talents.
When you make your own film, whether it’s by yourself with your phone, with a handful of friends in your backyard, or with a cast and crew of thousands, you can show those decision-makers that your vision, your talent, and your creativity and worth their time and money.
If you’re ready to turn your idea into a script, Story Into Screenplay can help. We offer script consultations, coverage reports, and rewriting services for scripts in all genres and at all stages.
For more information, contact Story Into Screenplay at storyintoscreenplayblog(at)gmail(dot)com, fill out the form on this page, or send us a message through our Facebook page.
With the record-breaking box office of "Avengers: Endgame" and the ground-breaking analysis found in the YouTube essay series "One Marvelous Scene", I thought another post regarding this trend was highly appropriate.
Since I wrote last week on the much-heralded Killmonger death scene from Black Panther, I wanted to take a look at another scene from the same film that didn’t get near as much attention, but also shows how characters with strong desires, even for the same thing, can come into conflict.
The scene involves Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), the Wakandan spy and love interest for T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), and Okoye (Dania Gurira), the leader of the Dora Milaje, Wakanda’s all-female troop of royal bodyguards.
Although this scene doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test, it does involve two women discussing something vital to both of them: the safety of their country, and the potential threat that Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) poses by taking over the throne.
In Nakia’s case, she is fiercely loyal to T’Challa, who she believes is dead. She wants Okoye’s help in overthrowing Killmonger and returning the throne to T’Challa’s branch of the family.
As a warrior and a commander of an elite squad, Okoye values the chain of command and the traditions that support the ruling structure.
When Nakia suggests that they work together to overthrow Killmonger, Okoye answers:
“I am loyal to the throne, no matter who sits upon it.”
When Okoye questions Nakia’s loyalty, she answers that she loved T’Challa as a man and the country that he represented as its ruler.
“Then you serve your country,” Okoye tells her.
“No,” Nakia responds. “I save my country.”
Nakia then leaves and joins CIA Agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) in an effort to escape the country with T’Challa’s mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) and sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) before Okoye can send the Dora Milaje after them.
Not only is this one of the most underrated scenes in a stellar film, it’s also possibly the most underrated scene in the entire MCU. It’s not a matter of galaxy-wide consequences, but it carries deep personal meaning for both characters.
For Nakia, who values and respects Okoye as a warrior and a friend, the idea that Okoye would stay loyal to the man who killed the king, a man who only arrived in the country that same day and claimed the throne, rather than fight to avenge the king's murder, leaves her shocked to her core.
For Okoye, who values tradition above nearly everything else, even the man she loves, the idea that Nakia would want to overthrow the rightful king is anathema.
The scene also carries some strong parallels to another, more notable, fractured friendship in the MCU: the fight between Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) in Captain America: Civil War.
In that film, Captain America fights for his values and his loyalty to his friend Bucky/The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), even when those values conflict with the law. Iron Man fights to get Cap to comply with the Sokovia Accords, the law of the land, even when that law is unjust.
Both the Nakia/Okoye scene and the Cap/Iron Man scene ask serious questions of their audiences:
Can someone stay loyal to their friends, their beliefs, and their values, even as their country gets taken over by a megalomaniac bent on world destruction?
Or does someone stay loyal to their country in the spirit of patriotism and duty, even when they recognize that the new leader’s mission compromises all of the traditions that made their country great to begin with?
When a screenwriter (such as Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole here) can set up an intense conflict where both characters have strong beliefs, high stakes, and valid points for their arguments, that writer can create One (More) Marvelous Scene.
If you have an idea for a screenplay, Story Into Screenplay can help. If you’ve started writing a screenplay, but don’t know how to proceed, Story Into Screenplay can help. If you’ve finished a screenplay and need a comprehensive view of the characters, dialogue, logic, structure, and marketability of your script, Story Into Screenplay can help.
Contact Story Into Screenplay at storyintoscreenplayblog(at)gmail(dot)com, or send a direct message through our Facebook page.
Black Panther - Killmonger Death Scene - Death Is Better Then Bondage - MOVIE CLIP (4K) - YouTube
With the release of Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Endgame, a number of YouTube video essayists have created pieces that reflect on their favorite scenes over the 20+ films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, titled "One Marvelous Scene".
While my video editing skills are pretty much non-existent, as a lifelong fan of the Marvel characters and a die-hard fan of the MCU, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to reflect on one of my favorite scenes: the death of Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) at the climax of 2018’s Black Panther.
The scene starts with the deposed King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) fighting his estranged cousin Killmonger in an underground mining train tunnel. As the train passes, a protective energy field makes their special suits disappear. Just when Killmonger looks like he has the upper hand, T’Challa turns the tables and plunges a dagger into his cousin’s chest.
“Helluva move,” Killmonger tells T’Challa as he struggles for breath. T’Challa drops his mask, an immediate look of regret and sorrow crossing his face, even though the two were locked into a battle to the death just seconds ago.
Killmonger looks up, as if trying to look past the limitations of his mortality and into the world beyond. He tells T’Challa about how his father, T’Challa’s uncle, told him of the beauty of his native Wakanda and promise to show it to him someday.
“Can you believe that?” Killmonger asks? “A kid from Oakland, running around believing in fairy tales?” At this point, he shows less sorrow for the life he’s lived, and the lives he has taken, than he does for possibly missing out on seeing the beauty his father promised to show him.
Without a word, T’Challa resolutely pulls Killmonger to his feet and takes him on an elevator to a high promontory overlooking the countryside. Killmonger looks out over the sunset, knowing that it’s the last thing he’ll ever see.
“It’s beautiful,” he remarks as he gasps for breath.
“Maybe we can still heal you,” T’Challa tells him.
Instead of responding positively to the offer, Killmonger casts a look of complete disdain on his compassionate cousin.
“Why?” Killmonger asks. “So you can just lock me up?
“Just bury me in the ocean, with my ancestors that jumped from the ships. Because they knew death was better than bondage.”
Killmonger pulls the dagger from his chest, causing him to bleed out and his lungs to collapse. T’Challa stands over his fallen adversary, his cousin, his closest family member, and poses the body in respect.
When most rookie writers first apply the VOTE Method, they typically approach it from an overall story level. However, it’s also important to look at the VOTE at the scene level. One of the things that makes this scene so powerful is that both men are still looking to pursue their scene-level Victories, even as the overall story comes to a close.
In the fight scene, the VOTEs are obvious: T’Challa: Victory: T’Challa wants to defeat Killmonger. Obstacle: Killmonger has better training and powers equal to or better than T’Challa’s. Tactics: T’Challa uses the train’s energy fields to make for a more even fight. Energy: T’Challa needs to stop the civil war waging above their heads.
Killmonger: Victory: Killmonger wants to defeat T’Challa. Obstacle: T’Challa has his powers back, and they’re fighting on T’Challa’s home turf. Tactics: Killmonger uses his military training and advanced fighting techniques, along with his powers and vibranium suit. Energy: Killmonger needs to take revenge on the family and country who abandoned him and his father.
In Killmonger’s death scene, the VOTEs are more subtle, but no less powerful: T’Challa: Victory: T’Challa wants to save Killmonger. Obstacle: Killmonger’s wound is deep. Even though the suit is holding him together, he might not make it. Tactics: T’Challa brings him up to see the sunset and offers to heal him. Energy: T’Challa needs to end the chain of lies and pain that caused Killmonger to turn on Wakanda and the family.
Killmonger: Victory: Killmonger wants to see the sunset over Wakanda before he dies. Obstacle: Killmonger’s wound is deep and he knows he’s going to die soon. Tactics: Killmonger tells T’Challa the “fairy tale” story about his father. Energy: Killmonger needs to see the fulfillment of his father’s promise.
The beauty of these scenes (and the entire film in general) is that T’Challa is not the infallible, righteous hero, nor is Killmonger the egomaniacal, self-absorbed villain. Each character has strong beliefs that lead them to pursue destructive courses of action.
Because T’Challa needed to protect his country, he chose to murder his cousin to save his country and the world. Because Killmonger needed to fulfill his father’s promise, he chose to die rather than be locked in a cage for his crimes.
When writers use the power of the VOTE Method at each level of the story, they can all but guarantee that their scripts will have at least one “MARVEL-ous” scene.
If you want help in creating a “Marvel” of a script, contact Story Into Screenplay. We offer coverage reports, script consultations, rewrite services, and work-for-hire script writing for projects of all sizes.
You can reach Story Into Screenplay at storyintoscreenplayblog(at)gmail(dot)com, or through our Facebook page.
Story Into Screenplay’s own Gerald Hanks will be appearing at the Comicpalooza Sci-Fi convention in Houston on May 10, 11, and 12, as well as the Big Easy Con in New Orleans on June 1 and 2.
The new film The Upside follows the unlikely friendship between wealthy quadriplegic Phillip (Bryan Cranston) and his caregiver, Dell (Kevin Hart). The script, written by Jon Hartmere and based on the award-winning 2011 French film Les Intouchables, traces how two characters from different worlds learn to form a bond of mutual trust and respect.
In this post, we'll look at how Hartmere developed his version of these characters by applying the VOTE Method. The object of this review is not to criticize the film itself, but to demonstrate to aspiring writers how they can build strong characters in their own stories by showing how the VOTE Method applied to contemporary films.
In this case, we'll look at how Hartmere approached writing the characters of Phillip, Dell, and Phillip’s executive Yvonne (Nicole Kidman)
THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS
Dell (protagonist) Victory: At the start of the film, Dell's Victory is to get signatures from hiring managers to show his parole officer that he has been looking for a job. Once he gets the job with Phillip, his Victory is to keep it long enough and make enough money to take care of his son and the boy’s mother.
Obstacles: Dell’s criminal record and prison term make managers hesitate to hire him. His pessimistic attitude and lack of motivation also stand in his way. When he gets the job, he finds out he’s both unqualified and unsuited for it. Yvonne also puts pressure on him by instituting a “three strikes” policy, ready to fire him after he causes trouble. Some of that trouble comes from Dell’s attempts to win over his family. He gives his son an expensive book from Phillip’s collection, drives Phillip’s expensive cars, and leaves his job at times when Phillip and Yvonne need him to be there.
Tactics: On the quest for the signatures, Dell barges in on an interview between Yvonne, Phillip, and a candidate. Dell only wants the signature, but Phillip hires him on the spot to spite Yvonne. After he starts the job, Dell starts to learn about what it takes to take care of a quadriplegic, including some activities he considers unpalatable. He also takes Phillip out of his penthouse apartment and encourages him to live it up, including smoking marijuana, hiring prostitutes, and setting Phillip up on date with a woman with whom Phillip had been corresponding
Energy: Dell needs to prove to his son (and to himself) that he’s not the same loser who went to prison. He also needs to build a better relationship with his son than his own criminal father had with him.
Phillip Victory: Phillip's Victory is to die with dignity.
Obstacles: Phillip’s major Obstacle is his own body. A paragliding accident left him without feeling from the neck down. Yvonne acts as another Obstacle, as she helps him manage his business interests and work with his caretakers.
Tactics: Phillip tells Yvonne that he has a standing DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order and that she and the rest of his staff are to take “no extraordinary measures” to keep him alive. One night, he swallows his own saliva and tries to choke himself before Dell can save him. When he finds out about Dell’s criminal record, he fires him and isolates himself from the rest of the staff.
Energy: After his accident and losing his wife to cancer, Phillip doesn’t see a reason to live anymore. He feels that he needs to die to escape the prison that his body has become and be happy again with his wife.
Yvonne (antagonist) Victory: Yvonne's Victory is to get rid of Dell and get a more qualified caretaker to help with Phillip.
Obstacles: Phillip hates all the candidates that she interviews, and hires Dell just to spite her. As Phillip and Dell’s friendship develops, Yvonne begins to fear that she’ll lose out on Philip’s approval.
Tactics: Yvonne uses her “three strikes” policy as a way to justify her treatment of Dell and hire someone more qualified. Whenever Dell encourages Phillip to do something reckless, Yvonne becomes a “mother hen” and tries to squash Dell’s ideas.
Energy: Yvonne needs to take care of Phillip and express her love for him, even if she can’t admit to him or herself.
=== While a protagonist/antagonist pair creates a single thread of conflict, a three-character interaction requires three pairs of conflicting Victories. When you have three main characters, you need to ensure that the VOTEs of each character create enough conflict with the others. Each character’s Victory should put them in conflict with the other two. For instance:
Dell wants to keep his job./Yvonne wants to fire him.
Phillip wants to die./Yvonne wants to keep him alive.
Phillip wants to die./Dell wants to keep his job, so he must keep Phillip alive.
When you give your characters strong, clear desires, you also create strong, clear desires for the producers to want to make the film, for the actors who want to perform in the film, and for the audiences to want to see the film.
===== If you need help with building strong characters for your script, contact Story Into Screenplay. We offer script coverage reports, rewrite services, and one-on-one consultations. For a list of services and prices, please email storyintoscreenplayblog(at)gmail(dot)com, or send a message to our Facebook page.
SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE - Official Trailer (HD) - YouTube
As a way to start out the new year, I thought I’d try a little experiment. Since Sony released the screenplay for Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, I thought I’d show everyone what a professional coverage report should look like.
I’m treating this script as a reader would any spec script submitted to an agent or contest, instead of a work-for-hire from a major studio on a major property. This report is also a critique of the script, not of the finished film. Since this is a review of the full screenplay, this entry will contain MAJOR SPOILERS for the film.
For someone who never wrote a produced screenplay, or directed a single scene, and only appeared in films through his famous cameos, the late Stan Lee made an undeniable impact on screenwriting as we know it today.
In his 2011 book, Stan Lee's How To Write Comics, Lee put forth several useful pieces of advice for writers in any format, and in any genre. In memory of his tremendous legacy to creative writing, this entry will present “Stan Lee's Top 10 Tips for Writers” from page 54 of his book (emphasis mine).
“1. Write about things you know. If you don't know, Google the stuff and start learning. Or else be so vague but no one can pin you down -- like when I dreamed up Bruce Banner becoming the Hulk do to a gamma bomb. I don't know any more about gamma bombs than I do about brain surgery, but I didn't try to explain how it worked. I just said that he became the Hulk because of gamma radiation. Hey, who can find fault with that? At least it sounds scientific. So, to summarize - be totally factual, or else be so vague that you can get away with knowing nothing about your subject. But whatever you do, don't try to fake it.
“2. When you’re reading a comic book, or watching a movie or TV show, don't just get caught up in the story and sit there like a couch potato. Try to analyze everything that's on the page or screen.
Why did the writer add that did a dialogue? Was it more dramatic for the hero to say nothing in that particular scene? Why didn't the writer introduce that important story element until 15 minutes into the film, or until 5 pages into the story? Why did (or didn't) the writer have such an enigmatic ending? Why, in that movie, was Act Three so much shorter than Act Two? Why, in that comic book, did the writer use so many captions on pages 3 and 4 and no captions at all on the next six pages? Why so many long shots or close-ups? Would it have been more interesting the other way around?
You should be able to learn something new about writing every time you read a comic or watch a film -- if you remember to analyze everything you see.
“3. Keep writing. I figure writing is like any other activity -- like swimming or jogging or sex. The more you do, the more you enjoy it, the easier it becomes, and the more you improve. If you find yourself getting bored writing, or tired of it, there's only one answer: Find another career.
“4. Write about things that interest you. If you write about subjects that for you, thinking that's what the market wants, you'll just end up writing boring pages. The more interested you are in your subject, the better chance you have of making the subject more interesting, too.
“5. Try to write at the same time every day. Writing can be a habit, like anything else. If you stick to a schedule, it makes it easier to turn pages out like a pro.
“6. Stop writing if you find yourself getting tired or bored. Take a nap or short walk to wake yourself up. You can only do your best writing when you're mentally alert and interested in what you're doing.
“7. When you finish with your script, proofread it carefully. Don't read it as if it's your baby and you love every word of it. Pretend you’re the world's toughest editor, looking for every fault you can find in story structure, dialogue, characterization, and motivation. Be as tough on yourself as humanly possible, because that's how your editor will be. And keep rewriting until your script is as good as you can possibly make it.
“8. In writing dialogue, try to give every character a different way of speaking. In any script, it's boring to have the characters all speaking the same way. Think of people you know -- how they speak, their verbal idiosyncrasies and mannerisms. Remember, nobody speaks exactly the same as anyone else. When listening to people conversing, train yourself to pick up all the subtle nuances of dialogue and use those varied nuances in your writing.
“9. Make your characters interesting. Sounds obvious, doesn't it? Well, failing to do that is one of the main reasons so many scripts are rejected. Reading a script is like visiting people - the people in the story. You wouldn't want to visit dull, colorless people, would you? You wouldn't want to spend time with bores. The characters you write about must be interesting, colorful, and unique in some special way. They must have problems we’ll care about -- and solutions to those problems that we can't wait to see.
“10. Don't get discouraged! Lots of really good, successful writers didn't make their first sale until long after they started writing. Of course, if you've been unable to sell anything for years and years and are now starving and homeless, you might start thinking of another vocation. but short of that, stay at it -- tomorrow may be your lucky day!”
Following these tips may not guarantee you a career as successful and as prolific as Stan Lee's, but it's all still sound advice, nonetheless.
For anyone who has ever picked up a comic book, bought a ticket to a movie, or watched a Marvel TV show, we all owe a debt to Stan Lee. The best way that we can repay that debt is to follow his advice and create our own universes of amazing, spectacular, incredible characters.
If you're looking for help in creating your own universe of characters, Story Into Screenplay can help. We offer coverage reports, script consultation, and rewrite services for aspiring writers in all genres. you can reach us at storyintoscreenplayblog [at] gmail [dot] com, or you can message us through our Facebook page.
Bohemian Rhapsody | Official Trailer [HD] | 20th Century FOX - YouTube
The musical biopic Bohemian Rhapsody is based on the career of the groundbreaking British rock group Queen and its charismatic yet troubled lead singer, Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek). The script for Rhapsody,written by Anthony McCarten and based on a story by McCarten and co-writer Peter Morgan, traces the group's ascent from London pub regulars to the heights of musical stardom.
In this post, we'll look at how McCarten created strong characters by examining the story through the lens of the VOTE Method. The point of this analysis is not to criticize the film or the real-life people depicted in it, but to show aspiring writers how they can create memorable characters in their own stories by applying the VOTE Method to contemporary films.
In this case, we'll look at how McCarten approached writing the character of Freddie Mercury, as well as that of Mercury's companion and manager, Paul Prenter (Allen Leech), who the script casts as the antagonist.
THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS
Freddie Mercury (protagonist) Victory: Freddie's Victory is to be a rich and famous singer.
Obstacles: Many of Freddie's Obstacles come from his background: he's not a native Englishman (his co-workers target him with the slur “Paki”), his parents are conservative members of the Zoroastrian religion, and his noticeable overbite make him the target of teasing, even from his eventual bandmates, which exacerbate his shyness.
His internal issues at dealing with his sexuality also hinder him from pursuing his Victory, as well as hindering his relationship to his girlfriend, Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton). Later in the film, he must also deal with the Obstacle of his failing health as he reunites with his bandmates in time for the Live Aid concert.
Tactics: Freddie's main set of Tactics include combating his shyness by going “over the top” in nearly every aspect of his personal and professional life, from including “the operatic section” in the title song, to his reckless sexual behavior, to throwing lavish parties with all the “freaks” he can find to show up.
Energy: Freddie gets his Energy from his desire to live up to his father's expectations, which he summarizes by his saying of “Good thoughts, good words, good deeds,” which Freddie eventually fulfills when he agrees to do the Live Aid show.
Paul Prenter (antagonist)
Victory: Paul's Victory is to have an intimate relationship with Freddie.
Obstacles: Paul's Obstacles come from everyone else around Freddie: his bandmates, Mary, band manager John Reid (Aiden Gillen). In his mind, they all stand between him and Freddie.
Tactics: Paul's Tactics include convincing Freddie to go solo, to fire Reid, and to ignore the calls from Mary about taking part in Live Aid. He also keeps Freddie isolated from his friends and surrounded by "party guests" to keep him distracted.
Energy: Paul gets his Energy from his upbringing as (in his words), “a queer, Irish kid from Belfast”, an outsider on every front, so he craves the love and respect he believes he can get as Freddie's lover, both from Freddie and those who admire him.
In this case, Paul is not a direct Obstacle to Freddie accomplishing his Victory. However, he does stand in the way of Freddie's happiness by isolating him from the people who helped him achieve his Victory in the initial stages.
Paul wants Freddie to succeed, but on his terms and not Freddie's. Their conflict comes from them both wanting the same Victory (Freddie's success), but employing different Tactics to achieve it.
As a previous post about adapting true stories pointed out, a screenwriter's task in this situation is not to tell a TRUE story. Instead, it's to tell a GOOD story. British screenwriter McCarten (The Theory of Everything, Darkest Hour) has a wealth of experience with turning true stories into strong scripts. As to how close the film version of Mercury matches the real deal, that argument is for music historians to make.
As screenwriters, your task is to take the elements of the true story, including character traits, timing of events, and personality conflicts, and turn those into powerful characters and a compelling story. As a film, Bohemian Rhapsody accomplishes this task.
If you need help with building strong characters for your script, contact Story Into Screenplay. We offer script coverage reports, rewrite services, and one-on-one consultations. For a list of services and prices, please email storyintoscreenplayblog(at)gmail(dot)com, or send a message to our Facebook page.
Scott Martin has been a writer, director, actor, and producer of independent films since 2005. His new film, Big Kill, brings back the classic Western in an age of superheroes. The film stars Martin as Jake Logan, a gambler and gunfighter on the run from a Mexican general (Danny Trejo) and a gang of New Mexico cowboys.
Jake and his partner, Travis Parker (Clint Hummel) agree to guide Philadelphia accountant Jim Andrews (Christoph Sanders) to the town of Big Kill, Arizona, where Jim expects to meet his brother. When the trio arrives in town, they find themselves targeted by a power-hungry Preacher (Jason Patric) and the colorful gunfighter Johnny Kane (Lou Diamond Phillips).
Scott was kind enough to open up about his process for writing “Big Kill,” as well as the twelve-year process he took to get it made.
Thanks for letting me get a chance to talk to you. As your press agent might have mentioned, I write for an advice blog for screenwriters.
Yes, she did mention that. I was looking forward to talking to you. Not a lot of people want to talk about the screenwriting process, so it's nice to finally talk about it.
I got a chance to see the movie. It was really well done. It had that flavor of an old-school Western.
Thank you, that's what I was going for. I was going for a little bit older style and feel. I wanted the older feel while shooting with modern techniques.
In this era of big-time superhero movies, what made you want to write a Western, of all things?
I've been a big fan of Westerns my whole life. It's probably my favorite genre. I love the feel of them. I've always wanted to make one.
How did you come up with the story for it?
I wanted to make it more like a buddy movie. I took some influence from movies like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and a lot from Silverado, but also from some from the ‘60s, like the Italian “Spaghetti Westerns” and the American Westerns of the time.
I wrote the screenplay about 12 years ago. Since then, I've gotten more experience as a writer and a filmmaker. When the opportunity arose to make this film, I jumped at it.
I wanted it to be a travel adventure, so you could follow these guys (Jake and Travis) on an adventure. When we get to the town, we settle into the meat of the story. This is where we get to meet these larger-than life-characters. We start telling a more classic-style Western at this point.
You definitely have some colorful characters, like “The Preacher”, Johnny Kane, and Felicia Stiletto. What was your approach to writing these characters?
When I write, I first come up with a basic story. As I break down the story more, I pull out the main characters and do full on bios of these people. I knew that I wanted these larger-than-life types of characters, that's why I named them “The Preacher and “The Mayor” and “Felicia Stiletto”.
I wanted them to have, and I almost hate to say this, but that “James Bond” feel to them. To me, Felicia Stiletto is my “Bond Girl”. That's why she has that name. She uses the stiletto as her weapon of choice, so that’s why I gave her that name.
I wanted Johnny Kane to be a sociopath. When he walks into a saloon, he's like a peacock. He just struts into the room, and I wanted that feel for him. The Preacher would be the more quiet one, and that's how they just came together.
You have a lot of memorable characters, and you also have a lot of action. When you were writing the action scenes, did you write it shot-for-shot? Did you write out every bit of action, or did you just sketch it out?
I was very specific. I guess there are different ways of doing it, but I write it how I see it. I write it as if I'm watching the movie. I don't want to get too long-winded, because no one wants to read that. It's a screenplay, not a book. However, I wanted it to be specific enough for, when people are reading it, they know what's going on.
When I wrote it, I wasn't planning on directing it. I was writing it strictly from a screenwriter standpoint, so I was very specific in the action sequences. The (midpoint) shootout was not written as specifically as the others, mainly because I didn't know where it was going to be shot. However, the scene with Johnny Kane and the Kid, I wrote that as being very specific.
The shootout at the end, the final showdown, those (directions) were specific as well. I even wrote down, “Johnny Kane steps forward, then Jake steps forward, and the others take their positions. The fight has already begun before shots are fired.” They're all positioning themselves, so it was all written out. Even in the final shootout, with Jim and The Preacher, that was very specific.
And there was a nice twist on it (which I'm not going to spoil here). Overall, the script seems very well done. I know you said it took you 12 years to get this made. But how long did it take you to actually write the script?
I write pretty quickly, but I do a lot of pre-writing before I start the script. Every scene, I break down into a paragraph, until I come up with about a six-page or 8-page treatment, and then I write the movie out.
If I remember correctly, it took about 2 to 3 weeks (for the first draft), then I did a couple of rewrites for sure. And then it sat for over a decade. About two months before we started pre-production, I did some cleanup on it, just kind of updated it a little bit, but not much. I pretty much stuck true to the original script.
You said that you didn't intend to direct it originally, but you end up directing and acting it anyway. How are you able to keep all the roles separate between writer, director, and actor?
It can be challenging. The writing and directing kind of go hand-in-hand. There were times I would do a rewrite right there on set. I would just sit down with pen and paper and write something. Again, I write as I see the movie, so those parts just go well together.
As far as the acting side, my character, Jake, didn't have the biggest story arc. He's kind of a curmudgeon. He doesn't always want to fight, but he's the best fighter. If I had to play the role of Jim, he had a bigger character arc, and that would have been more difficult.
Since you've written a bunch of scripts, and you've had several films made, what advice would you give aspiring screenwriters?
One of the best pieces of advice I was given early in my career was this: Once you start writing a screenplay, don't stop. Do not stop, don't go back, don't start editing or changing scenes. Make sure you get to the end. Otherwise, you may never finish it.
Every script I write, I always get to a scene that I know has to go there, but I don't know what it'll be yet. I know who's in it and all those things, so instead of stopping my progress, I'll write in all caps, “THIS IS WHAT'S GOING TO GO HERE IN THIS SCENE, THIS IS WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN”, and I'll move on. The best piece of advice I can give is, “Keep moving.”
Anyone who's been writing, especially if you're new to it, at some point in writing, you'll think your script is the worst script ever written. You'll think that nobody would ever want to read this. You won't think this is any good in any way shape or form.
Don't believe yourself. Keep going. There's a reason you're writing it, so believe in that reason. Trust that reason, and keep going.
Big Kill opens October 19.
Thanks to Scott Martin and Melissa Smith at Allied Integrated Marketing
If you need help with your script, contact Story Into Screenplay at storyintoscreenplayblog(at)gmail(dot)com, or send a message through our Facebook page.
The Hate U Give | Official Trailer [HD] | 20th Century FOX - YouTube
The new film The Hate U Give is based on the 2017 young adult novel by Angie Thomas. The screenplay by veteran writer Audrey Wells (Shall We Dance?, Under the Tuscan Sun) effectively shows how the lead character, Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg), attempts to keep the two worlds in which she lives separate, but also how circumstances beyond her control bring those worlds into conflict.
In this post, we'll look at how the writer creates strong characters by examining the story through the lens of the VOTE Method. The point of this analysis is not to criticize the film or its messages, but to show aspiring writers how they can create memorable characters in their own stories by using the VOTE Method, as well as how it can be applied to contemporary films.
THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS
Starr Carter (protagonist)
FIRST HALF Victory: Starr's Victory is to keep as much separation from her African-American, lower-middle-class home life separate from the white, upper-class world of her private school.
Obstacles: Her primary Obstacles come from people on both sides of her life. At home, she must deal with her ex-drug dealer father Maverick (Russell Hornsby), her overprotective mother Lisa (Regina Hall), and her friend Kenya (Dominique Fishback). At school, she tries to deal with her friend and teammate Hailey (Sabrina Carpenter) and her boyfriend Chris (K.J. Apa).
The biggest Obstacle occurs when her childhood friend Khalil (Algee Smith) is shot by a white police officer as he was giving her a ride home from a party. Starr's neighborhood erupts in protests, led by an activist attorney (Issa Rae) who urges Starr to come forward as a witness to the shooting.
Tactics: Her primary set of Tactics come from the creation of a second persona, which she calls “Starr Version 2”. In a voice-over at school, she describes how “Starr 2.0” never uses slang and avoids confrontation to keep from being seen as “ghetto”.
After the news reports on the shooting and the subsequent protests, Starr tells her school friends that she doesn't know Khalil.
Energy: Starr gets her Energy from her desire to satisfy her mother's dream of her going to college and getting out of the “hood”.
These all hold until near the film's midpoint, when Starr sees the reactions on both sides to her friend's death. Her African-American friends and neighbors use the tragedy as a call to action, while the white kids at her school treat it as an excuse to cut class.
Victory: Starr's Victories are to see Khalil's killer brought to justice and to speak for her lost friend.
Obstacles: Starr's Obstacles come from both sides of the law. On one side, a justice system that is hesitant to indict a white police officer for shooting an unarmed young African-American man. On the other side, she has to face down King (Anthony Mackie), the leader of the neighborhood gang, who was using Khalil to sell his drug shipments.
At school, she must also deal with rising resentment among her white classmates, including Hailey, who maintain that the white officer was justified in the shooting, in spite of what Starr saw that night.
Tactics: Starr's Tactics include speaking out anonymously in the media, testifying before a grand jury, and joining in the protests against police brutality.
At school, she shows Hailey how a hairbrush can be mistaken for a weapon and forces her into the same position of fear and terror she felt that night.
Energy: Starr gets her Energy from her need to honor Khalil's memory and to see justice done for her friend, her family, and her neighborhood.
The Hate U Give shows how a protagonist can have an intense desire to achieve a Victory in the film's first half, then have it flipped in the second half. When your protagonist learns that they have been chasing the wrong desire halfway through your story, you can use that moment of revelation as a turning point for the character, as well as a dramatic hook for your audience.
If you need help with building strong characters for your script, contact Story Into Screenplay. We offer script coverage reports, rewrite services, and one-on-one consultations. For a list of services and prices, please email storyintoscreenplayblog(at)gmail(dot)com, or send a message to our Facebook page.
Gerald Hanks from Story Into Screenplay will be appearing at the Louisiana Comic Con in Lafayette, Louisiana, on Saturday, October 6, and Sunday, October 7.
Gerald will be presenting two panels:
Concept vs. Character: Where to Start With Your Comic Book, Novel, or Screenplay
Saturday, October 6th at 12:30PM
The Power of the VOTE: How to Create Strong Characters for Your Comic Book, Novel, or Screenplay
Sunday, October 7th at 1:30PM
Both panels will be in the Second Panel Room at the Cajundome Convention Center.
Get your advance tickets online or at the Cajundome box office today!
Twenty years ago, the film Rounders brought the poker variation known as “no-limit Texas hold'em” to the wider public consciousness. The movie inspired thousands of home-game players to pursue the game, including a young Tennessee accountant named Chris Moneymaker, who achieved his own “Hollywood ending” by winning the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event and launching the decade's “poker boom”.
Final Hand of WSOP 2003 - YouTube
If you've ever watched the TV coverage of no-limit hold'em poker tournaments, you've seen how dramatic some of the confrontations between players can be. If you watch closely, you can see how the action of these high-stakes tournaments can add intrigue and tension to your story.
Character Is As Character Does, Not As Character Says
One of the most dramatic aspects of TV poker tournaments is the tension that the players show as they must make a crucial decision. In most cases, the player will remain silent for minutes at a time while they deliberate whether to fold their hand, call the bet, or raise the stakes.
Timex vs. Quoss - WPT Alpha8 St. Kitts - YouTube
While such a long silent period in a screenplay may not always work, screenwriters should understand how to create tension from the situation, rather than from extensive dialogue. Since poker players are not allowed to tell the truth when asked about their cards during a hand, screenwriters should apply that rule and put their characters in positions that require them to lie and increase the tension in their scenes.
Keep The Audience In The Know
Another appealing aspect of TV poker tournaments is the “hole card cam”, which allows the TV viewers to see the cards each player holds. (NOTE: The "hole card cam" was invented by Henry Orenstein, a Polish immigrant and Holocaust survivor who also helped launch the "Transformers" toy line in the U.S.) While the audience is privy to this information, the other players aren't. This information allows the audience to recognize when a player is bluffing, or when they have the best hand, which keeps the viewer invested in watching the results.
Best Poker Hand Ever WSOP 2012 - YouTube
While many rookie writers value the “twist” ending, this technique can come across as more of a way for the writer to show off, rather than a way to keep the audience engaged. The classic horror trope of showing the killer on one side of the door and the soon-to-be victim on the other has kept audiences engaged for decades. Not only is it not a sin to reveal information to the audience before the characters know, it can keep the audience riveted to see the character's reaction when they find out.
Around The Turn And Down The River
After each player receives their two hole cards and decides whether they want to stay in the hand, the dealer puts out three cards on the table, face-up, for each remaining player to use. These three cards are collectively known as “the flop”. After another round of betting, the dealer puts out a fourth card, called “the turn”. Another round of betting ensues, and the dealer puts out the fifth community card, called “the river”. The remaining players show their hands in a “showdown” at the end of the hand.
Poker Hand with Incredible Turn of Events at WSOP - YouTube
This structure bears a resemblance to the “three-act structure” often taught in most screenwriting classes. The character starts off with the hand they're dealt, and must make a decision to proceed with their journey. The character “flops” into a new situation at the start of Act II and encounters new allies (a strong hand) or new enemies (a weak hand). The story takes a “turn” at the midpoint of Act II, then the character takes a trip down a menacing “river” at the start of Act III, leading up to a “showdown” with the antagonist.
Standing Still Is Not An Option
In no-limit hold'em, two players are required to make minimum “blind” bets before the hand starts to ensure that at least some chips are already in the pot. In tournament play, the minimum bets increase at specific time increments. As the blinds go up, the player's holdings get relatively smaller, even if they maintain the same amount of chips. The increasing minimum bets force players with "short stacks" into desperate moves to stay alive.
Legend#29 WSOP 2006 Negreanu vs Peters - YouTube
In all types of fiction, but especially in screenwriting, stasis equals death, at least the death of the audience's interest. When the character chooses to stand still, the world will still move on around them—and, quite possibly, run over them. The writer must keep the character moving, either physically or emotionally or both, to keep the story going and to maintain the audience's interest.
Heads-Up To The Finish
When the final two players of the tournament remain, they face off in “heads-up” play. These final hands are often as much about will and skill as they are about cards and chips. The final two players may have clashed previously over the course of hours or days, but now it's for all the marbles.
Daniel Negreanu Sick Hand at WSOPE Final Table - YouTube
Whether it's poker, boxing, MMA, or tennis, audiences love to see a great one-on-one matchup. The same appeal holds in screenplays. Whenever the writer can set up a climactic confrontation between the protagonist and the antagonist, whether that confrontation uses fists, guns, legal tactics, or emotional manipulation, the audience will want to see who wins.
The most thrilling part of any no-limit poker hand is when one player bets all their chips on a single hand. If they win, they double up and stay in the tournament. If they lose, it's “Wait Til Next Year.” This moment comes when the player says two simple words: “All In”.
Lucky winning poker $ 50.8 million - Mega Big Win - YouTube
As a writer, you have to risk a lot to put your story on paper. You have to risk putting in long hours for little or no reward. You have to risk missing out on fun times with friends and family to work on your story. You have to risk feeling like your story isn't good enough for anyone to want to read or see.
Just like in poker, the only way to win at the screenwriting game is to go “All In”.
If you want your story to be a winner, Story Into Screenplay offers a wide range of script services, including coverage reports, rewrite services, and both live and online hourly consultations.
You can email Story Into Screenplay at storyintoscreenplayblog(at)gmail(dot)com, or send a message through the Facebook page.