Sunday, February 22, 2009

New Best Friends

Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott are my new best friends in the screenwriting world. These boys have written major successful films that you've heard of: like Aladdin, Shrek, Small Soldiers, Mask of Zorro - and Pirates of Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. (Their name is on Godzilla, but that's another story.)

And, in case you didn't know, they have a set of articles on their website about screenwriting in Hollywood - it's mostly a horror story. Now they write features, but a large proportion of what they have to say is just as applicable to TV writing.

But I'd like to draw your attention to these two: The Task and The Off-Screen Movie.

I've been thinking about the feature I wrote about a year ago during Scriptfrenzy: "Une Night a Paris" (One Night in Paris). I sent it to two readers, one gave it an "it's okay" with a few caveats. The second was far from complimentary and hoped very much I'd written it before I wrote "Monsters", which I hadn't. However I had had the arrogance to send a first draft. (Naughty.)

Thing is Une Night a Paris is not a "genre" film. It's a contemporary comedy thriller. Or, at least, that was the plan - to be unfavourably compared to the less-good Carry On movies is not encouraging. And I dropped it like a hot potato.

But now I see it as an experiment. Critique should never be taken at face value, accepted there's plenty wrong with the script, what actually needs fixing? Both readers commented that it didn't seem clear exactly what sort of film it was - the tone varied too much - so clearly that is a genuine issue.

But the rest?

The first of the above referenced articles considers what the hero must do to achieve their goal. You can have the outer want and the inner need, but the Task is the actual actions that must be performed - and this is the thing that actually gets filmed. This is the DO of the film.

We all know that a protagonist has a goal and we're supposed to put obstacles in their way to make it hard. But here it's suggested that this is a half-hearted description of the real situation.

And I looked at Une Nuit a Paris, with the goal/task viewpoint and realised it was very ill-formed in my script. The Goal barely existed at all, so even though there was a clear Task there was no real reason that the protagonist should go through that hell. He had no desired goal driving him - why bother?

The Off-Screen Movie is a piece of genius, it helps to explain the existence, or lack, of script momentum. In all my TV scripts to date I don't think I've had a problem with momentum, for the very reason described in this article. However Une Nuit a Paris does suffer from that problem, and this article describes the problem and the solution. Which is cool.

There are a lot of articles (over 50), and they are not short. But they're all worth reading.



What's on the turntable? "The Trees They Do Grow High" by Pentangle from "Light Flight CD1". Another beautiful song - a tragic story of forced marriage turning to love that lasts but a brief while.

1 comment:

meastwood said...

I've got Wordplayer bookmarked but have never got round to looking at it - will do so today, thanks.

Mark