Thursday, November 27, 2008

Script secrets

Bill Martell is great, he really knows his stuff. His daily script secrets are great too, that's where he reveals all the stuff he knows.

I spent the evening working on my One Page Pitch for Winter (see Adrian Mead's How to Make it as a Scriptwriter, Chapter 8 - honestly I don't get a commission).

Actually I am quite pleased with the way it's coming together, although the antagonist needs work.

You see it's like this: Bill didn't like Indy IV and I wasn't overly impressed by it, Indy II wasn't great either but Indy I and III were cracking tales. Why? Was it because I and III had Nazis in them? While II and IV didn't?

Mr Martell says yes and no. It's not because they were Nazis that they made great antagonists, it's because, as antagonists, the stakes were clear. The viewer understands why it would be really bad if Hitler got hold of either the Ark or Immortality.

In II and IV the stakes either weren't high enough (II, yes it was bad what they were doing to the kids but what would actually happen if they got all the stones?) or too vague (IV, so the Commies wanted psychic powers ... okay ... so what?).

This is one of the problems I have to fix with Winter, the antagonist has his evil goal but if he succeeds ... so what?

This is the "So what?" rule which is expressed by my other favourite screenwriting adviser, Jeff Kitchen in his "Writing a Great Movie" and I quote:

Harry Cohn, the founder of Columbia Pictures, ran his development process as follows: He would sit his writers down at a conference table and ask for their ideas. The first writer would lay out his idea and Cohn would respond, "So what?" The next writer would pitch his idea and Cohn would shoot it down the same way. An idea had to pass Cohn's "So what?" test before he was willing to pursue it.
I need a motivation and consequences of the antagonist's actions that answer the "So what?" test. Currently it's way too vague and ephemeral "something bad will happen".

The other thing that needs dealing with is the theme. Now it's true that theme often doesn't reveal itself until you've finished. But there are ways to divine the theme without writing everything, in this both Bill Martell and Jeff Kitchen agree:

1. How the protagonist resolves the story.


2. The main philosophical difference between the protagonist and the antagonist.

Which, for reasons I can't reveal, makes working out the theme in Winter quite hard, but I'm sure I'll prevail.

It's funny how things work out I had been wondering about theme (because Adrian Mead suggested I should for the One Page Pitch) and then I looked at Bill Martell's daily script secret which, if you don't know, you do by going here and then just waiting (don't click "Enter").

I got tip #144 which didn't excite me, so being a naughty hacky type lad, I deleted the "1" from the URL and pressed return. And lo! I got Bill Martell's take on Theme. The fates were with me this eve.

Writing blogs is a great way of prevaricating when you don't have anything to read.

What's on the turntable? "Both Sides Now" by Joni Mitchell from "Hits". I love this song.

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