Sums it up succinctly

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“Spaceman from Pluto”?*

While taking a break from working on the comedy spec this weekend, I took an unexpected dip into my file of “ideas in development” – scripts I plan on eventually writing.

One had more details to the bare-bones outline than I remember. In fact, I barely recall even writing it. Still, pretty impressive.

Another was just a logline and three potential titles. While the story really adheres to my ongoing attempt at trying to write material of a smaller nature (i.e. not as big-budget), what really stood out was those three titles and how different they were from each other.

The first stirred up a kind of noble nostalgia, and in retrospect might be better suited for another story.

The second was pretty generic; almost like something you’d see on a VHS copy of a mid-90s B-movie gathering dust on a lower shelf at your local video rental store. If you’re of a certain age, you totally get that reference.

The third was very reminscent of a certain genre and style of older films, and the final word in the title tells you what kind of story to expect. Such was the case here, but as much as I like the word, it wasn’t exactly the right fit for the story I wanted to tell.

Fortunately, the word in question has a lot of synonyms, and one in particular really jumped out at me. Some might consider it of a vulgar nature, but wow did it fit. In fact, as soon as it popped into my head, I actually laughed out loud, thinking “oh my gosh, this is PERFECT.”

Because not only is the new word an ideal fit for the story, but it really drives home the tone.

Although work on this script goes into the ever-growing pool of “future projects”, at least now the concept and story are a little more developed than they were. And any progress is good progress.

There can’t be enough emphasis on the importance of a strong title for your script. It’s the entry point for your reader. You want them to know what kind of story they’re getting, what to potentially expect, and most importantly, you want them to be excited about reading it.

Sometimes your initial title is good, but there’s nothing wrong with a little tinkering to find an even better one. Like your script, it can always do with a little rewriting.

*Universal Studios head Sid Sheinberg didn’t like the title “Back to the Future,” claiming nobody would see a movie with “future” in the title. In a memo to Zemeckis, Sheinberg suggested the title be changed to “Spaceman from Pluto,” and the title reference be worked into the film.

In response, Spielberg sent a memo back to Sheinberg, thanking him for sending his wonderful “joke memo” and that the office “got a kick out of it.” Embarrassed, Sheinberg let Zemeckis and Spielberg keep the film’s original title.

It requires some planning ahead

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Sometimes mapping it out by hand can prove most beneficial

Lots and lots going on within the hectic hallways of Maximum Z HQ, what with all the writing, note-giving, and career-developing taking place.

Much as I would love to offer up an original composition, my current schedule is a bit tight, so instead I humbly present a trio of posts, all plucked from the archives, and all dealing with what I consider to be a most important aspect of telling a story.

Enjoy.

Set up, pay off

Strong rope & solid knots required

Tying it all together

 

One scene, three points

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Careful not to get stuck on any of them

After some thorough self-imposed analysis, the revising of the comedy spec is underway. It’s getting easier to spot trouble spots.

There’s one scene in particular that’s giving me some trouble. It’s a pivotal scene involving the main character and offers a revealing glimpse into his backstory. The problem was in figuring out how to best do that.

After much drumming of fingers, rubbing of chin, and a whole lot of attempts, a potential solution may have presented itself. It’s still in the development phase, but for now, quite workable.

One of the first things I learned about screenwriting was what each scene needs to accomplish:  advance the plot, the character, and the theme.

Regarding plot, does the scene move things forward? Does it fall neatly into place in terms of how the overall sequence of events plays out? If you took it out, would it totally mess things up?

I’ve read a lot of scripts where something happens and I don’t know why. Maybe it’ll pay off later? Sometimes it does. Other times, well…

Another handy tip when it comes to advancing the plot in a scene: do it quickly. Get to the point of the scene as fast as you can, then get out. Don’t wait around. Just get out now. Too many times I’ve seen a scene drag on much, much longer than it needs to.

Regarding character, does each scene show them changing a little bit more from when they were first introduced? This doesn’t just apply to the main character. Every character needs to grow/develop. Wouldn’t it be kind of boring to read a story where nobody changes?

And tying it into the advancement of plot, every situation the character experiences should help move their own development along.

Which brings us to theme. The message of your story. This can be a little tricky.

Each scene should tie into the theme, or have it on display in some manner. I recently worked with a writer having trouble tying everything together. We discussed the story and the main character’s internal and external goals. What was the message they wanted to convey? Based on those discussions, we were able to come up with a theme that worked for both the story and as it applied to all of the characters.

One of my favorite examples of a theme in use is BACK TO THE FUTURE. Early on, Marty says “History’s going to change.” And boy, does it. We get a ton of set-up in the first act, and then everything does indeed change in the second act as all of those setups are paid off. Amazing.

Take a look at your latest draft. Does each scene advance the topics in question? If not, do you have a way to fix that so it does? The more you get in the habit of doing this, the easier it’ll get and the faster it’ll become second nature to do it all the time.

A tentpole frame of mind

 

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My objective. Every single time.

Here in the US, we are heading into what’s known as Memorial Day weekend, where we honor those who have given their lives in the service of our country. It’s also considered the kickoff of the summer season, even though summer doesn’t officially start for a few weeks.

Once upon a time, Memorial Day weekend was when the summer movie season kicked into high gear, with each weekend seeing the release of a potential blockbuster. It has since crashed through the barrier of time limitation, with some summer-appropriate fare being released as early as late March.

I was fortunate enough to have come of age when each summer saw its fair share of films that could be categorized as prime examples of not only filmmaking, but also of storytelling.

Definitely storytelling.

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. GHOSTBUSTERS. BACK TO THE FUTURE. ALIENS. ROBOCOP. DIE HARD.

Each one has made its indelible mark on me, making quite the impact on my psyche and personality, and severely influencing the way I write. I make no secret about loving to write these kinds of stories.

(Author’s note – I’m no fool. Nobody’s going to take a chance on a mega-budget script from an unknown. Hopefully once I establish a foothold with my smaller scripts, I can eventually bring out the bigger ones.)

Some may see a summer release as Big Dumb Fun, which admittedly some of them are, but I make a point of treating the audience as intelligent people and want to give them a story that goes beyond simplistic expectations.

I strive to write material that entertains more than just the eyes and ears; I go for the brain, too. It takes a lot of effort to put together a story that stimulates the viewer on more than just a sensory level, but when it’s done in a smart and efficient way, the satisfaction of seeing it pay off is well worth it.

Will I ever get paid to write these kinds of stories? I like to think so. It doesn’t hurt to at least daydream about it.

Imagining that sometime in the relatively near future, a trailer will come up that features snippets of characters and dialogue, all of my creation, all culminating with those words laden with the excitement of anticipation:

“Coming this summer to a theatre near you”

A big smile and chills up my spine, believe you me.

A few points about plot points

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Time for a quick refresher course, chums.

Today’s topic: plot points. What they are and what they represent.

I’ve always seen plot points as pivotal moments in the story; events that change the situation for your protagonist, usually in a negative manner, and ask/reiterate the central question (Will your hero achieve their goal?).

Having solid plot points also helps establish your story’s structure. Without it, all you’ve got is a big convoluted mess, and who wants to read that?

Although this uses a 110-page script as an example, plot points don’t have to happen exactly at those pages. A few more or less is totally acceptable. I’ve also opted to use fairly recognizable examples to emphasize each plot point.

Pencils ready? Let’s begin.

Page 3 – statement of theme. What’s the overall message of your story? The theme should also be incorporated in some fashion into each scene throughout the course of the story. (“No McFly in the history of Hill Valley has ever amounted to anything!” “Yeah, well, history’s gonna change.”)

Page 10 – inciting incident. The event that shakes up you protagonist’s world, and asks the central question of the story. (Will Indy get the Ark before the Nazis?)

Page 17 – a twist to further complicate things for the protagonist. (“Alderaan? I can’t go with you to Alderaan!”)

End of Act One (page 25-30) – Your protagonist leaves behind their old world and enters a new one to achieve their goal. Also repeats the central question. (Marty arrives in 1955)

Page 45 – another twist to complicate things for the protagonist (Indy saves Marion, destroys her bar. “I’m your goddamned partner!”)

Midpoint/Point of No Return (page 55-60) – your protagonist becomes fully committed to achieving their goal (Brody decides to go after the shark after his son barely survives the latest attack)

Page 75 – yet another twist to really complicate things for your protagonist (Vader kills Ben as Luke & Co escape)

End of Act Two (page 90) – All is lost. Your protagonist is totally screwed with no apparent way out. Makes it seem like the answer to your central question is “no”. (The Nazis get the Ark).

Climax (page 95-100) – final showdown between your protagonist and antagonist. (Rebels attack the Death Star. Marty must hit the wire when the lightning hits. Nazis open the Ark. The shark attacks the Orca, eats Quint.)

Resolution (page 100-105) – Aftermath of the climax. Central question gets answered. (Rebels victorious. Marty returns to 1985. Brody & Hooper survive. Indy delivers the Ark.)

Denouement (page 105-110) – How your protagonist’s world is now different from what it used to be (but not necessarily better). (Marty’s family is successful. The Ark gets crated and goes into a warehouse. Luke & Han hailed as heroes. Brody doesn’t hate the water anymore.)

So there you have it. Do the plot points of your story match up with these? Just something to think about. And feel free to watch the movies represented here (or one of your own personal favorites, or one similar to yours) to see all those plot points in action.

It just might be some of the most fun homework you’ll ever have.