HOW TO GET READY

WHAT TO WRITE

Where ideas come from

Ideas are the only thing inflation hasn’t hit. [Bible]  They’re still a dime a dozen.  It’s what you do with your ideas that gives them value.

You could start with a character, or an issue, or an event from your life or the newspaper. It can be a question you want to explore or a problem you need to solve.

Here’s how far you have to look for a story…. Look inside yourself.  Everything there is to know about Everyman is within every man.

What’s my story and how am I going to tell it?

Something happens to someone…. You’ve got to know who and you’ve got to know what.

You might want to intellectualize your intentions, “I’m doing an allegory on the state of modern man in relation to the inherent dignity of the human soul.” That’s great.  Save it for the interview after your movie is a hit [then your movie is a hit].  To write it, think in terms of one man, not mankind.  Ask yourself, “Suppose event X happens to him.  What would my hero do about it?”

First assignment

What do you know so far about your movie?

Imagine you’re in a theatre and your movie comes up on the screen. Run it in your head right now.  No matter how little you think you know, run it quickly like your life flashing before you.

You might have noticed bits and pieces and surprise images. Did you see that you know more about your movie than you thought?  Great!

You might have noticed nothing. That’s okay too, because even though you didn’t get visual images you probably did get a feeling.  We’ll be working with that feeling soon.  Whatever you saw or felt, this “first assignment” will help to clarify and to focus on an all-important question.

What am I going to write about?

If you’re worried that your idea needs to be commercial, let’s take a load off your mind right away. You won’t be writing to be commercial or to compete with established writers for Rambo 12.  You get to write the one script no one else can write.  The one story burning to get out of you is your “commercial” script.  You can’t be a second-class somebody else; you can only be a first class you.  You have only one real commodity as a writer – your point of view.

What is my point of view, and how can I see it?

Your point of view is your unique way of looking at the world based on all your experiences and how you feel about them up to this moment.

Here’s an example of how one person sees life differently from another:

Susy and I have been best friends since we were one each.

When we were seven, her cat caught a rabbit and tore at it until we intervened. Our neighbour, Mr. Williams, took it upon himself to “put the rabbit out of his misery” by drowning him in a bucket of water while Susy and I looked on.

Afterward, describing this experience, I said, “Struggling against death, the rabbit drowned in our tears.”

Susy said, “Did not. Mr. Williams filled the bucket from the sink in the basement.”

It’s the same story, but seen from different viewpoints.

So you see, there’s no right or wrong way of presenting a movie; there’s just P.O.V.

You might ask, “Suppose ‘they’ aren’t buying my particular point of view this year?”

You needn’t worry about what “they” are looking to buy, because “they” don’t know what they’re looking for until they find it.

How to tell if your idea is a novel, a movie, a play, or a song and what to do about each

A movie is visual. It tells your story by showing action and reaction.  Events occur.  Its scope is bigger than one room.  Its time and space are elastic.  You can go back and forth from the future, to the past, to the present; from today to two thousand years from today; from here, to there, to wherever.

Do you have a story that can be told visually and that hinges on action and external events? Then your story is a movie.

Do you have an issue or a relationship between characters you’d like to explore through in-depth conversation? Then a play would be the best platform for you.

Do you want to climb around in the heart and mind of a character and explore his feelings? Then a novel would serve very well, because in a novel you can write what your characters are thinking.

Do you have a concept – one clear thought that is all that has to be said to cover your subject? Then try a song.  A song is a minimovie – a beginning, middle, and end that has a hook, tells a story, makes a point.  Many movie ideas could be crystallized into a solid song message.

If you are going to write your story as a screenplay, know that you’ll need to use outside events to show inner growth. You get to show, not tell.

Let’s decide what your story is about

Keep asking, “What if?”

Here’s a brainstorm session. Read through it and then we’ll utilize the technique to brainstorm your story into existence.

My niece Amy asked me to help her. She needed to write a public service spot (commercial) for SADD (Students Against Drunk Drivers).  So I said “Okay, let’s do it this minute, in the car on the way from the airport.”

Inner Movie Axiom: The moment to start your story is when you don’t think you know your story. 

Viki:  What is the message you want to convey?

Amy:  “Don’t drink and drive.”

V:  And it’s directed at teenagers?

A: Yes.

V: Let’s start with time and place. Where along the situation do you want to show it?  At the getting drunk time, at the car, at the accident, at the ambulance, at the funeral?

A: I don’t know.

V:  Just decide – if it’s not right it will lead to what is right.

A: At the funeral.

A:  Whose – the driver or the driver’s victim?

A:  This is for my school, so I don’t want to imply any of our students drink.  So it’s somebody else who hits one of our friends.

V:  Are the friends standing at the funeral talking about the accident?

A:  Yes.

V:  Let’s make this stronger.  If they are at a funeral talking about what happened, that makes it a heresay scene.  It’s old news being talked about.  In film we can go directly to action.  Let’s move it forward or backward.  Either to the scene of the accident or…  What if they are in the hospital, and the girlfriend of the boy who was killed is just waking up in traction, and her friends are there to tell her that he has died.

A: Yeah!

V:  Okay, is it the girlfriend of a boy or were they two girls or two boys in the car?

A: Girlfriend and boyfriend.

V:  Let’s rethink who was drunk.  You wanted it to be an outside person who hits our friends.  Would it have more impact if it’s our friend who was drinking?

A:  That’s probably the hardest situation – for the girlfriend to tell her boyfriend he’s drunk.  I think I could tell my girlfriend more easily.

V:  Great!  Now you’re coming to the core of why it’s difficult for a friend to stop a friend from driving drunk.

A:  I don’t want to write that though.  I like the hospital.

V: Okay, always go with your instinct.  (Note where you resist.  Sometimes it means you’ve stumbled on your story but you’re not ready to write it yet.  Go around it, that will get you back to it.)

A:  In the hospital the girlfriend is waking up.

V:  What’s her name?

A:  Lisa.  And the others are a boy and two other girls.

V:  And their names?

A:  The first girl is…

V:  Call her Amy.  Did you notice how somewhere you already knew she was going to have your point of view?  So call her by your own name, to remind yourself that you don’t have to invent a new character.

A:  The others are Chuck and Cindy.

V:  What are their attitudes?

A:  Chuck is mad and Cindy cries a lot.

One thing that happens in storytelling is that we tend to start telling the story from far away. For instance, we tell it in hearsay scenes (the funeral) rather than by depicting the action (car crash).  We tell it in minor characters (the girlfriend) rather than through the character it really happened to (the drunk driver).

As you decide your story into existence, take giant steps forward by taking the story closer and closer to its true source. Give the story to the main character.

V: Can we get closer now? Is the girlfriend who the story is about?  How about if it’s the drunk driver?  His friends are there when he wakes up to tell him that Lisa’s dead?

A: Okay, I’ve got it. Greg wakes up worried about his car.  He doesn’t take responsibility.

Notice when the story suddenly begins to come to life.

Jump in and start filling in parts of the picture. When you get to a blank spot, ask yourself a question.  Answer it.  Keep going.   Keep going.

When Amy was pretty sure she knew the gist of her 60-second story, we did this: She closed her eyes and pictured it while I counted to 60. That gave her a realistic fix on the pace of the thing.  Could she cover what she wanted in that time?

Then, there in the car, on the freeway, she wrote it.

SADD SPOT

by Amy Lynn King

FADE IN:

GREG’S P.O.V. – Subjective camera

GREG “sees” his leg in traction, hospital surroundings. LYNN, CHUCK and CINDY are in the room.  Chuck is sadly looking out the window.  Lynn holds Greg’s hand.  Cindy’s crying.  As Greg speaks, Chuck rushes from window.

GREG: (weakly)

Hey, guys… So how bad is it?

Is my car totalled? God, my dad

is going to kill me for wrecking

that baby. I’m telling you that

light on Big Oak Road has gotta get fixed.

CUT TO:

GREG AND LISA IN CAR – MUSIC ON

A light they approach is yellow, turns red. Greg fumbling from gas to brake.

BACK TO SCENE

GREG: If that light wasn’t constantly on the blink, none of this would’ve happened.

CHUCK: (angrily)

It wasn’t the light, Greg, it

was you! You were drunk.

CUT TO:

GREG AND LISA, ARM IN ARM, LEAVING THE PARTY

CHUCK:

Bye.

GREG: (slurs)

See ya later.

BACK TO SCENE

GREG:

If I was so drunk, why didn’t any

of you stop me from driving?

Lynn, Chuck and Cindy exchange sad looks.

GREG: (cont’d)

Lisa didn’t think I was that drunk.

She was with me. Why don’t you ask her?

CUT TO:

CAR CRASH

BACK TO SCENE

LYNN:

Greg… Lisa’s dead.

REACTION SHOT – GREG

ANNOUNCER (V.O.)

Drunk driving is everyone’s responsibility.

SUPER OVER:

“STUDENTS AGAINST DRUNK DRIVING”

-THE END-

So the way to know your story is to ask yourself questions then answer. Just decide.  If it doesn’t fit then decide again until it does fit.

So what’s the story?

Can you say what your story is now? Do it in layers.  Ask “What if.”  Take note of everything you know about it so far.  What’s the beginning, middle, and end?  Bits and pieces will come to you.  This is the jot stage.  Try not to get too detailed yet.  Keep looking at the big picture, the overview.  Anyone scene that’s too detailed at this stage can throw the whole out of balance.  If a scene does come to you in detail, jot it on a 3X5 card and put it on a “scenes in detail” pile.  (Use 3X5 [Confessions]  cards because you can’t write too much on them.)   Keep it simple.  Write big, say very little.  Paint word pictures: “Night.  Storm.  Desert.”  Use nouns.  Let the nouns describe the picture; instead of “huge, expensive house,” say “mansion.”

Jot down now for 8 minutes everything you know so far about your movie.

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Terrific. Is this exciting or what?  You know so much more than you thought you did.

P.S. If you haven’t done any of this yet, do it.  Getting ready to get ready takes too long.  When you just jump in you’ll be amazed at how ready you really were.

Who is it about?

Now let’s get acquainted with your hero. Ask questions about him and answer them.  If he graduated from high school in the 60s, what year was he born?  Does that make him a war baby?  Ask your heroine about herself.  She will start to talk to you.  Notice her tone.  Is she mad, scared, free and light?

Be on the lookout for tone. The story is entirely different when the tone changes.  Eddie Murphy’s role in Beverly Hills Cop was initially going to be played by Sylvester Stallone.  Think about how different the tone of the film would have been had he starred.  Now cast your film.  What actor would play your hero?

Show, not tell

A word here about what a screenplay is not: It is not introspection. We see what characters do, not what they think.  Character is revealed through action, and very often; in fact mostly, we humans don’t do what we think and don’t say what we feel.  We don’t often act, but act out; that is, we often shout when we really want to cry, say yes when we really mean no.  so as screenwriters we have to find ways to show that a character might be doing one thing while meaning something else entirely.  We have to find ways for the audience to interpret these actions as we intended.  Here’s where subtext comes in.   Subtext is all the true meaning that is going on underneath the actions.

A great scene to illustrate this is in William Golding’s Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid.  When they are both about to die and we know it, and they know it, and they each know the other knows it.  The line is from Sundance and reads something like this:

SUNDANCE:

The next time you say let’s go to Australia, let’s go to Australia!

Here are two guys arguing about their future when what’s really going on is they’re both about to die. This is a line to say goodbye.  William Goldman is a master of saying one thing to mean something much deeper.

Here’s an assignment. Notice subtext today in your everyday activities: i.e. when the bagger at the supermarket says, “Have a nice day,” as he rams the cart across the customer’s toes.  Find how one scene is being played out while a much deeper meaning emerges.

Now what?

Chances are by now you have a little of this and a little of that about your story [Beyond Plot]. Now, What is the story?  I mean thematically.  You may know that your hero is a detective and he’s after the murderer, but why is he doing this?  Why are you writing this?  What’s this about?

I’m glad you asked.

How your age reveals what’s on your mind

No matter how different our lives are from one another, we tend to land on specific themes at specific ages.

This works out swell for the Inner Movie Method, because all you have to do is look at your age and you can get insight into the theme of your story. After working with hundreds of people who have written their Inner Movies, I discovered that the themes fall into “Writes of Passage.”

Your age theme will be a major key in unlocking your Inner Movie.

Life is a metaphor

The story that you write will be a metaphor for your life. Your character is you.  This doesn’t mean your movie has to be about someone who is writing a movie.  It means that the life issue that most concerns you now will be explored in your writing.

In storytelling, this happens naturally. We use the particular to illustrate the universal.  But the clearer you are about the particular (you), the more powerfully you can tell a story that is true for many.

The themes are specific, the applications are infinite. Therefore once you acknowledge your theme, you are empowered to play it out on any situation you choose.

Writes of passage

Here’s a quick checksheet to help you locate your life issue and how it will affect the story you want to write.

ROCKING AND ROLLING

Let’s start at age seventeen. You are probably experiencing a balancing act in which your emotions are catching up the adult circumstances in which you start finding yourself.  Your movie can be about first love and how that can hurt and be wonderful.  You are deciding if all that feeling is worth it.

At nineteen the theme tends to be “So what’s the big deal anyway?”   You have a certain detached candor in commenting on the world.  You will have a strong main character with definite opinions.

“AM I SPECIAL? I AM SPECIAL.  I’M NOT SPECIAL.”

In the early twenties, it’s “I’m okay, and the world is terrible,” and then by the late twenties you’ve evolved to “I’m okay and the world is how it is, now how do we get along together?”

Are you a young woman in your twenties who is struggling to earn enough money?  Do you have a car?  Chances are your relationship with your father includes the car.  this is often the way father-daughter relationships get worked out.  You call him when your car breaks down.  It breaks down a lot or if it’s new your father helps with the payments.  This is an important time of ambivalence surrounding finances and love.  Is someone going to take care of you or are you going to take care of yourself?  You’re deciding.

The twenties are the time to shuck excess baggage. You’re deciding which beliefs truly belong to you and which were given to you by your upbringing and are dispensable.  You do not yet have imperviousness.  Things can still get to you and send your emotions spinning.  Your movie could be about making the world over so that you’d better like to live in it.  There will be “tell-off” scenes.  At least one character over thirty will be made to look like a buffoon.  You will want to show corruption, good and bad.  Your hero will be idealistic.  He is being asked to “sell out,” but his idealism, against all odds, triumphs.

The twenties are great for discovering what you don’t want. You haven’t begun to discover what you do want till the middle thirties.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS

In your early thirties you will have a theme involving your relationship with your mother or father. This is a time to settle the unfinished business of who your parents are versus who you are and what you want to be.  If there is a battle against your mother and father, it is a battle for the self.  You want their approval but you think that their approval is only given if you stay a child.  But you can’t stay a child – you’ll die.  This is a time to risk growing up and surpassing your parents.  Your movie might not necessarily use a mother or father to illustrate this.  You might use any authority figure, or even an archenemy.  Notice if you’re writing a murder mystery.  You are extremely angry at your parent and your movie is a way to express that anger.

Thirty is a turning point similar to page 30 in a script. Whatever you were doing until now completely changes, and you are on a different path, particularly in work and in love.  You find that something is important to you that wasn’t until now.

One of the really interesting times for men is in their early thirties, when they feel an urgency to define their manhood by the age of thirty-five. This is when you feel you must prove yourself.  “This is it.”  “Time is up.”  “You have to lay it on the line out there.”  The script you write now tends to be a very good one.  Often you have one idea that’s smoldering inside, burning to get out (what I refer to as The Big One), but you’re not sure if you should write that one or one that’s more “commercial.”  Always go to the strength of The Big One, otherwise you’ll bog down at age fifty and have to come back to it then.

Scripts with do-or-die themes are the ones that don’t get written, because you think if you don’t do it you’ll die, but what you learn is that you don’t do it and you don’t die.  Once the script teaches you that big lesson, you are ready for your next script, which is “You don’t prove nothing till you got nothing to prove.”  This is usually in your late thirties – actually thirty-seven, when you’re beginning to know you’re going to be all right.

For women, from thirty-five to forty it a great time for themes of love. You’ll be exploring new ways to be in relationships.  If your character has been a victim, now’s the time she stops.  “It’s my turn.”

By your late thirties, if you haven’t done whatever it is you want to do, this is when you do it. You want to “come true” before forty.

IN FULL BLOOM

Forty is a major time. It’s important to have become what you’ve wanted to become.  It’s a time for assessing your personal value.  For instance, a man might buy a sailboat or a sports car to honour his financial achievements.  Men need to “make it.”

Women’s themes at forty are very much concerned with their powerfulness – “strutting your stuff.”

And life does begin at forty. There’s a loosening of the reins of driving ambition.

Now, it’s not so much how you fit in the world, but more what world you create for yourself. How are you contributing to it?

WHEN THE HECK IS MIDLIFE ANYWAY?

By late forties there are themes reflecting thoughts like “Is what I have become enough?” or ”Is that all there is?”

Physically there is a swing between “I’m falling apart” and “I never felt any younger.” From a writer in her late forties we might get a story about a mother of teenagers who decides to run the marathon.  This story encompasses all the issues for this time – physical stamina, achievement, hope.  This is also a time to write about an affair with a younger lover.  Or a cut-loose story where an executive drops out of the corporate jungle and heads for the woods.

NEW BEGINNINGS

After fifty, you’ve gone about as far as you can go the old way. Now what?

There’s a shift in thinking. You have a taste for a major move, or at least an exotic vacation.  Themes for your movie are concerned with exploring new areas.  Some of the new areas might be the old ones you left behind along the way.  For instance, if you didn’t write The Big One when you were in your thirties, you can go back and do it now.  This is a time to rewrite your history to have it come out how you want it.  If you are a man, your hero is likely to be in his thirties and going through a life test.  If you are a woman, you might be experiencing the empty nest syndrome, those feelings that can come over you when the last of your kids are now off to life’s new possibilities as you see yours diminishing.  This is a wonderful “come alive” time for you.  It’s “your turn,” the one you missed earlier.

I’ll tell you about Ruth. She decided to cash her grandmother’s bonds and do something special, but she didn’t know what.  She agreed to make a list of one hundred possible “come alive” activities.  The list ranged from buying a thousand yellow roses to getting the carburettor fixed.  Several weeks later, I got a postcard from the Caribbean: “I’m snorkelling on Grandma’s bonds.  Love, Ruth.”

If you are a woman whose kids have grown up and out, then write about what you know so well. Value it.  Don’t feel you have to write a detective thriller.

I AM WHO I AM “AS IS”

If you are in your sixties, your theme will be one of memory. You have a history and have gained the long view.  If you feel that you haven’t yet done what you wanted to in life, you will have an urgency to “not be buried with it.”  So your movie can have a quest-and-find theme.  But mostly from those in their sixties come one of my favourite themes: “This is it.  This is all there is.  And that’s everything.”

HORIZONS

Our seventies are a time for putting our lives into perspective. It’s a time to ask, “So what was that all about anyway?”  Movie themes from screenwriters in their seventies tend to show tremendous perspective on what has true value.  Some other themes that are explored include immorality and health.

Outer circumstances

We can get stuck in an emotional pocket at any age, and this will affect our theme.

For instance, when you are fifty you can go back to settle feelings that arose when your father died when you were ten.

If you are still angry about something that derailed your life some time ago, your theme will reveal a desire for revenge, a hope for redemption, or a righteous indignation. You may want to do an expose of corruption.

Grief is another strong motivation to write. Do you have a movie about that person and your relationship with him?

The gender factor

There is a difference between men’s and women’s approach to theme. Women tend to perceive wholeness in relation to other people, whether it’s (a) a need to find others to feel whole, or (b) a decision to find wholeness separate from others.  Women’s movie themes tend to involve other people.  A man tends to perceive wholeness through a test he puts to himself; a test he must ultimately decide whether he’s passed.  His test tends to pit him against his own life’s circumstances.  Her test tends to pit her sense of herself against her relationships.

Men tend to be linear. Event a causes b, therefore c happens.  Women tend to be lateral.  For instance, a wife and mother can make sandwiches, look for the other sock, and carry on a conversation with her husband and the kids at the same time.  If the man is home on a Saturday with the kids, he might run the show linearly, doing one thing at a time – the laundry, then the lunches.  This is good to know when you approach your characters.

Your hero

Let’s not beat around the bush. Your main character is you.  Using the age checklist, ponder for a moment, what is the main issue of your life at this time?  What are you questing after?  What do you hope to find?  See how your wants and needs relate to what your character wants and needs.

How to make up a true story

We tend to dismiss what we know and think we need to know what we don’t know. Your movie will be, thematically, what you’re experiencing for yourself as you sit down to write.

But whatever you choose to write about, make sure it’s the thing that really means something to you. Inner Movie Axiom: Fiction is a way to tell the truth.

What you want to say is already waiting to come out of you. You may not know ahead of time why you’re writing it or what it means to you, but you will discover its significance as you go.

Writer’s ask

Q:  When we write a script, is it always related to our own lives?

A:  Yes.  You can’t help it.  It’s just naturally going to be you.  Screenwriting is a lot of trouble.  And if you’re only working something out for a fictional character who doesn’t exist in some part in you, then it isn’t worth it.

Q:  Then my protagonist is usually going to be me?

A:  Yes.  And you will find that you will keep secrets about your hero.  All the other characters will be much clearer because they are “outside” you; the hero or heroine will be less clear, ironically, because he or she is so obviously an extension of some part of you that you know very well.  You will reveal your character by telling the truth.

How to find your central life issue

Have you gotten some insight into what your central life issue is? Based on your age theme, can you now answer, “What am I questing after?”

Answer these questions

Who is your character? Tell us everything you know about him/her so far.

What does he/she want?

What is he questing after?

Go to yourself. If the character seems to be you – then jump in and make him you.  In other words, don’t hide or camouflage his desires and feelings.  The idea is to find and show the real feelings, because they will tell you what is true.  Inner Movie Axiom: There is no writing that is fiction, except maybe bad writing.  Write from your heart.  Your heart is smarter than your head.  Write the movie that’s already starring you.

If you think you don’t have a story, ask yourself:

Why did I want to do this?

What is the central question I want to explore?

How do I want the audience to respond to this movie?

Who is the hero?

What does he need?

What does he want?

Why do I want to write this?

Why is this story important to me?

Why do I want to tell this particular story?

What do I think I will learn by exploring this theme?

If you can answer these questions, you’re on your way.

How can I know my characters – before I start writing?

Use whatever style that comes naturally to you. Some people will do a 20-page dossier and get very specific about the character’s history.  This is a backstory, and it’s a good approach for someone who is not character-oriented.  The best thing to do as a screenwriter is to keep asking yourself questions about your characters.  And then answer.

Just be aware of where your characters come alive for you, and keep picturing them in your mind. Maybe they’ll come to you in their statistical facts – birth date, weight, number of kids – or from their personality type – jovial, open.  What actor could play him?  Find a picture of how he looks.  Find an article of clothing he’d wear or some object that would have meaning to him.  Write a get acquainted scene between you and your character now.

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How to think cinematically

Let’s say you are a first-time screenwriter, and yet you have already read every writing manual and attended every seminar possible. This causes two phenomena: (a) you’re still not confident about what to do, and (b) all those concepts are swirling in your mind, confusing you more.  It’s sort of like trying to tap dance in your head, you have all that theory but your feet are standing still.  Let’s take concepts such as premise, conflict, and theme and put them in the back of our heads; they’ll come up much, much later during rewrite.  Not let’s lighten up and…

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Go to the movies

… because (a) you are already an authority on movies, you’ve seen hundreds of them, and (b) movies will tell you everything you need to know right now. So let’s go raise our creative consciousness.

Pick a movie you really want to see and take along your wristwatch. Here’s what to look for:

Before you even go into theatre, look over the lobby card (that’s an ad in the showcase outside).  It will have an illustration and a logline.  The logline is the blurb that tells you what it’s about (e.g., for Desperately Seeking Susan: “A life so outrageous it takes two people to live it”).  A logline is often created by the ad department long after everybody on the picture has wrapped and gone home, but it is your first impression of the movie you’re about to see.  What do you think it’s about from the lobby card?  Can you see any conflicts in concept here?  For instance, there might be several still shots under the lobby card.  Do the mood and look of the stills agree with the ad?  Try to articulate what you think the story is.  Now try to think of a whole different story that this could be advertising.  Now think of your movie.  What is your logline?

Okay, now go into the theatre. Notice the audience.  Who came to see this film?  What are the demographics – kids, families, couples under thirty-five?  What’s the genre of the film – action-adventure, romantic comedy?  If this is a big-budget, high-concept blockbuster, people are expecting an entertainment event.  They will have the large-size bucket of popcorn and pretty much finish eating it before the movie even starts.  All this is information for you.  Is this the kind of movie you want to write?  Who is the audience that’s going to come and see your movie?  Is it an “important” picture with big stars making a big statement?  Would you rather your movie be shown in a small art house to a word-of-mouth audience?  Here in the theatre, decide the type of film that suits you.  Already, before the picture has even begun, you have a lot of information about what a movie is.  People came here, paid money, and are going to sit in the dark and have a world painted before their eyes.  Look at the screen.  That’s your canvas.  What do you want to put up there?

Write down everything you know about your movie so far.  Notice that you know a great deal.

Now, back to the movie you came to observe.

FADE IN

When the movie begins, note the time. Each minute is one page of script, so ten minutes is ten pages; the first half hour is when there is an event ending Act I and beginning Act II.  (Do not set your watch.  Movie writing is an art form.  These are guidelines to help you tell your story the best possible way you can; they are not designed to browbeat the heart out of what you have to tell.)

In the first minute you will know everything there is to know about the movie and whether you’re going to like it or not. Eventually, you will get so the instant the movie fades in you will know where the problems are going to be, whether it will do what it thinks it will do, what its point of view is – instantly.

By the way, what we are doing here is becoming aware of picture making so that you can write a better movie. You are not in the business of being a critic.  Try not to judge or criticize what’s happening, just note if an action works or doesn’t work.  Keep asking yourself questions: Do I know what the story is yet?  Did I need to be shown more in that scene?  Do I know yet who the story is about?

IN THE FIRST MINUTE

You will see a place and a time and a mood (a monastery, winter, ominous). Is it a big picture – overture and large vistas?  Maybe it’s a little picture about relationships with close-up pans of snapshots on a dresser.  The size and scope and feeling will be revealed right away.

What’s the pace? Is it James Bond or Indiana Jones in an exhilarating hijinx?  These are teasers, the two or three minutes of razzle-dazzle that gets you excited but may not have anything to do with the storyline.  If you are writing a crime movie, you might want to put the commission of the crime on the first page.

In the first minute you’ll see the point of view. In Clint Eastwood movies, “this is a dirty world and somebody’s got to make it safe for the rest of us,” so we are shown seamy streets and bad guys.  Horror movies establish an easily recognizable environment so that when the terrible thing happens we feel the threat.  For example, in Psycho Alfred Hitchcock chose to have Janet Leigh stabbed to death in the shower.  If it had been in a limo, it would have been frightening only to rich people.

Are we getting information? Are we being introduced to characters?  What is the hero’s attitude toward his surroundings?  What attitude are we being asked to accept?  If it’s a comedy there should be a joke right away that’s characteristic of the humour of the whole film.  Is it there?

There are just a few of the elements to look for on page 1. What else can you find?  Check your watch, realize all the information you’ve been given in one minute.

Now you know to begin your story on page 1.  You’ll show us a place and time and mood.

If a movie is working, we will also know who it’s about; we don’t have to know what it’s about until page 3.

WHAT’S ON PAGE 3?

Tell us what the movie will be exploring thematically for the next two hours. In Chinatown, Robert Towne had Gittes say, “You have to be rich to get away with murder.”

Can you find a line of dialogue on page 3 that introduces a central question? Every scene after this builds on that central question.

WHAT HAPPENS FROM 3 TO 10?

Notice how long it takes for the movie to get the audience’s attention. There’s a point where the audience will engage as a collective body – is it on the first joke, the first gasp?  Has it happened yet?  Note if it ever happens.  Note if there is dissension in the audience.  At what point did the audience not believe?

EVERYTHING WE NEED TO KNOW BY PAGE 10

Ask yourself these questions: What’s the story about? Whose story is it?  What does he or she want?  What’s stopping him from getting it?  Do I like her?  Do I care if she gets what she wants?  Am I wondering what happens next?

If the movie hasn’t set up who and what and where by page 10, it will start to lose the audience. Notice if the audience is fidgeting.

From page 10 to page 30, we want to be shown new information based on the challenge presented on page 10. We have to see what our hero is after, and we have to see that it’s a problem for him to get it.

Let’s start to be aware of scenes now. Maybe the film starts out beautifully, does everything right, but twenty minutes into it you see a scene that doesn’t move the story along.  In other words, it seems that it didn’t give any new information or introduce any new character, and maybe it’s telling you something that you already knew from an earlier scene.  We should enter a scene at the last best moment; that is, if you want character A to slap character B, don’t have A pull up in the car, enter the building, ride up in the elevator, and so forth.  Just CUT TO the slap.  There is a difference between movement and action.  If pulling up in the car has nothing to do with furthering the story, don’t use it.  In comedy, a cut from scene to scene can be used as a punch line.  In Tootsie, the agent tells Michael he will “never get a job in this town.”  CUT TO: Michael dressed as Dorothy going to the audition.

THE ACT I TURNING POINT

You are now thirty minutes into the film. An event is about to happen that will send the hero on a new pathway into Act II.  What is that event?  What action is the hero forced to?

THE ACT II METAPHOR

See if you can identify the page 45 scene. This is usually a small scene with symbolic overtones.  (If it’s a young girl growing up, we see the teddy bear abandoned face down on the window seat next to the cosmetics.)  This scene gives us a clue to the resolution.

THE POINT OF NO RETURN

Notice that when the audience rustles around, you’re at the break in action. This is usually after the hero commits further, against all odds, to his goal.  This is page 60.  After the page 60 scene, there should be a lighter moment, which doesn’t necessarily further the action, but gives the audience a breather from the action.  This is a good opportunity to show how the hero is changing.  Can you identify that scene?  From here, the obstacles should begin to escalate.

A NEW DEVELOPMENT

By page 75, even though the hero is committed to his goal, it looks as if he’s not going to achieve it. He’s about to give up.  How is this handled?  How would you write this scene?  On page 90, an event occurs that “educates” the hero.  He’s going to be getting something more than or something different from what he set out to get.  (This point is important: if all he gets in the end is what he wanted in the beginning, he hasn’t changed.  This would seem a lot of trouble for nothing.  Let the hero learn something and be changed by what he’s going through.)  Has he changed?  How would you show his growth?  Are new complications in the situation presenting themselves to the hero?

CLIMAX

The Act III event raises the stakes. The hero is very close.  He can see his goal.  But now he is faced with the final obstacle.  He is faced with having to give up everything he has left behind in pursuit of his goal.  This builds to a crisis point that puts all he has in jeopardy of being lost.  It comes down to the final moment – all or nothing.  And because of his final action, he wins or loses and is changed.  Has this happened?  Are you rooting for him?  Does the ending surprise you?

THE END

What just took place? How do you feel?  Did the movie answer the central question it posed?  Are you satisfied with the resolution?  What is your overriding emotion as the credits roll?  What did you learn?

I hope your movie-watching pleasures just increased tenfold.

  1. Among your favourite movies will be those that miss every one of these guideposts and yet they touched you deeply and affected you profoundly. If your goal is to touch your audience deeply and affect them profoundly, you will. And the more craftsmanship you are aware of, the better your chances.

Okay. Now go home.  We’re going to do something with that logline you wrote.

Logline

Your logline is your story reduced to an ad copy blurb that tells what your movie is about and makes us want to see it.

Look in the theatre section of your newspaper now. See the movie ads.  Study the loglines.  Here are some from past movies.

Down & out in Beverly Hills: “See what happens when a dirty bum meets the filthy rich.”

Goldie Hawn’s Wildcats: “Her dream was to coach high school football. Her nightmare was Central High.”

The Money Pit: “For everyone who’s ever been deeply in love or deeply in debt.”

I chose these because they are big hits at the local video store. Go in and visit the lobby cards on the wall.  (Unfortunately, individual packaging of video cassettes doesn’t always include the logline, but otherwise they are a great source of study.)  Go ahead, watch Casablanca.  Play it again.

Let’s create two characters and then ask a logline question and see if we can come up with a story for them.

She is career-oriented, successful financially, but bankrupt emotionally. He is solid spiritually but has no material wealth.

Here’s the logline: “She has everything but nothing. He has nothing but everything.  Together can they have it all?

You see how the logline can crystallize the question you will explore.

Work out your logline now.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

VISUAL AID

Now you’re going to give yourself a present. You know your story vaguely.  Perhaps at least enough to identify the feeling you want to evoke.  You’re going to shop now for an object that represents that feeling to you.

Have you ever tried to tell someone about a terrific experience and ended up frustrated, saying, “I can’t explain it” or “You had to be there”? Well, your job is to take them there.  And the way you can do that is by first rekindling the original feeling of being there for yourself and then finding words that fit that feeling, so you can explain it to others.

How we rekindle that feeling is by having handy an object that is loaded with emotion for us. It could be a lucky penny or a rock from the beach.  If it’s a story about your grandfather, maybe you can find his hat in the cedar chest.

If it’s an historical piece about a grandma on a plantation, find a candlestick from the period. If your story came to you while listening to music in a restaurant, get a matchbook from the restaurant and a record of the song.

Find a sensory aid that opens your memory to a feeling. Maybe a colour sparks something in you.

As you work on your movie you can continually use your sensory aid to evoke the original feeling you want to portray.

TITLE

Let’s name your script. A working title that serves best is one that continues to give you a visual image (e.g., The Maltese Falcon) or a sense of place (Casablanca).  If you are unsure of your action, use a verb in the title or describe the occurrence (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Harry and Walter Go to New York).

You don’t want a “perfect” title just yet. Because if you have a perfect title, your movie has no new place to go.  A good working title is one that is a useful tool to help you write the movie.  You can rewrite the working title after the movie becomes what it is.

Do this; fill in the blanks:

My hero’s name is   _____________________________________________

He/she wants           ____________________________________________________

He/she needs           _________________________________________________

In one word, my story is about       ____________________________________

 

Great. Everything you need at this point on what to write you now have.  Next?  How to write it.

HOW TO WRITE

Blood, sweat, – and structure

Now that you know who and you know what, let’s deal with how.

You’ll want to know how to structure your script. Welcome to the 9-Minute Movie.  It will show you what goes on pages 1, 3, 10, 30, 45, 60, 75, 90, and 120 of your movie.

The 9-Minute movie

Picture this. You’re going to hang a ten-foot tablecloth on a clothesline to dry.  If you put a clothespin at one corner and a clothespin at the other corner, you’d have this sagging mess of 120 inches in-between.  Now imagine this immense tablecloth is wet and unwieldly and the wind is blowing.  That feeling is a little of how you might be feeling as a screenwriter when you look down the line of 120 minutes to fill from the start of your movie to the end.  So the thing you need to do is use more clothespins [Accuse CS of stealing their washing].  And you’ll want to put them at strategic places along the clothesline to hold up the tablecloth evenly end to end.

That’s what the 9-Minute Movie is – clothespins. We’re going to support your movie at nine points from end-to-end so that it holds to a linear line.

Acts

First of all, there are three acts in a movie. Act I is from page 1 to page 30.  Act II is pages 30 to 90.  And Act III is pages 90 through 120.  (We break a movie down into Acts to clarify beginning, middle, and end.  Act I is the setup; Act II is the story played out; Act III is the resolution.)

Picture the tablecloth and put clothespins at each end (1 inch and 120 inches) and at 30 inches in from each end. So now it’s divided into segments of 30 inches, 60 inches, and 30 inches.  That’s Act I, Act II and Act III.

It still sages in the middle. So put a clothespin exactly in the middle, 60 inches from each end.

Because of the weight of the middle, it’s still sagging a bit between 30 and 60 and between 60 and 90, so put clothespins at 45 inches and 75 inches.

This particular tablecloth has some embroidery along the left end, that’s 10 inches deep, so put the clothespin 3 inches in and a clothespin 10 inches in because if this part sags out of whack, the whole tablecloth could be ruined. [get yourself into trouble, and pull out a spend: J. Gardner.  Ask my staff]

Your tablecloth should look like this:

1          3          10        30        45        60        75        90        120

That’s the 9-Minute Movie. Solid support on pages 1, 3, 10, 30, 45, 60, 75, 90, and 120.  Now let’s do an instant replay of what goes on each page.

The 10-page marathon

You know that your movie will be 120 pages long. It will be divided into three acts.

Act I, from page 1 to page 30, is where you’ll set up the story by introducing the main characters and situation.

On page 1 you start the story, giving mood and tone and place.

By page 3, we need to know the central question that you’ll be exploring throughout the movie.

By page 10, you’ll need to tell us what the story is. Keep setting up more and more information so that we know what the hero wants.

On page 30 an event will occur that moves the hero into new territory. Now, what he wants is challenged, and he has to react to the event.

Act II is from page 30 to page 90. This is where the hero meets with obstacles to what he wants.

On page 45 we see the initial growth of your character. We’re told where we’ll be going from this point on.

By page 60, the middle Act II, your hero is in big trouble, and he reaffirms and makes a deeper commitment to what he wants.

By page 75 it looks as if all is lost, and there’s even a scene where the hero is just about to give up, then something happens that changes everything – an event that gives him a chance at a goal he didn’t even know he had, something he needed all along, while until now he has been going after something else.

With Act III, from page 90 on, the resolution of the problem starts, and by page 120 the audience is satisfied that you gave them the story you promised on page 10.

Here’s the single most freeing factor in scriptwriting

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our minds think structure is a

scaffolding that our character

climbs around in. Like this:

 

But this is not so. Structure is Character

X  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your character is your story. The events in your screenplay are going to happen as a result of who your character is.  Your character invents his own reality, therefore any circumstances that befall him are circumstances he brought to himself as a result of how he views the world.  So all the events in your movie are going to be external circumstances that manifest what is going on inside your character.  Read on to see how the story’s structure is really a chronicle of your character’s growth.

Coming alive on cards

Get nine 3X5 index cards. We’re going to do the 9-Minute Movie for your movie.  That way when you begin your 21 Days you will have a 9-card map that will get you through it.

STORY STARTS ON PAGE 1.

This is it. This is where your movie begins.  Now, you may think, “Of course it does!”  But you’d be surprised at how much warming up movies do before they get going.  You’ve seen dozens of movies where you’re sitting there waiting for the picture to decide what it wants to be about.  Yours is not going to do that.  yours is going to begin at the beginning.  So on page 1 we need to see the place, the time, and the mood.

This first image comes easily. Take the first image that comes to you.

Now write the image on card #1:

Page one.

INT. SAILBOAT – NIGHT

 

What You Have to Tell Us by Page 3. On card #2 write the central question that you will state on the bottom of page 3. This is the main issue that your screenplay will explore and try to answer.

Everything We Need to Know by Page 10.  What’s the story?  What character did you choose to explore the question in what way?  Write one line of dialogue on card #3 that tells us who wants what.  This line will be on page 10.

Who Are These Guys and What are You Going to Do with Them on Page 30?  The event that happens on page 30 throws your character a curve.  He is forced to respond or react.  He might make a plan.  He decides on a goal to pursue because of what’s happened.  He is now going about making the plan and implementing it.  Let’s see the page-30 event that he is forced to respond to.  Then let’s see what he plans to do about it, and let’s see him taking action according to his plan.  Write the event on card #4.

Moving Forward on Page 45.  On page 45 let’s see the start of your character’s growth.  Write an idea for a scene that would reveal this growth on card #5.

This Is It. By page 60 the hero has to commit wholeheartedly to what he wants.  He’s said what it is he wants in Act I and taken action to that end on page 30, and then we see that he is changing and the circumstances are changing, but the stakes get higher here.  He sees it’s going to take everything he has to do this – it’s harder than he thought – but somehow because it is harder he wants it more.  On card #6 state what he commits to by the middle of your story.

How Our Hero Changes on Page 75.  By page 75 it looks like all is lost; there’s even a scene where your hero is just about to give up.  But then something happens that changes everything: an event that gives him a chance at a goal he didn’t even know he had.  Think of such an event and write it on card #7.

What Happens Next.  Page 90 is the start of the finish.  Write on card #8 what the resolution is.

Going All the Way. Card #9 is the outcome; the resolution to your story where we see your hero’s new life.  Give us the ending.

The hardest cards will be ‘2 and #7. It’s okay if these are shaky.  If you knew them already you wouldn’t have to write the movie.  You’ll discover these elements as you write.

Just keep going.

What’s it supposed – to look like on the page?

WHAT TECHNICAL STUFF WILL I NEED TO KNOW?

FADE IN:

INT. YOUR HOUSE – DAY

YOU are about to sit down at the typewriter. Suddenly you get very nervous.

YOU: What is it supposed to look like on the page?  Do I put in all the camera angles?  Do I have to write everything everybody says?

INNER MOVIE: First time screenwriters are usually terrified of screenform. It’s understable.  You’ve seen plenty of movies on the screen, have you ever seen one on paper?

YOU: No, I haven’t.  this is the first time, and you know… it looks really simple.

INNER MOVIE: The next part is called The 2-Page Picture Show.  It’s filled with tabs, caps, cut-to’s, and colons.  What you’ll do is sit down and type it.

YOU: You mean that’s it.  That’s everything I’ll need to know about screenplay form?

INNER MOVIE: Guaranteed.  You’ll be an old hand at all this fade-in and cut-to business in the time it takes you to type the pages.

YOU: I can’t believe it.  That was the thing that worried me the most, and it’s that simple?

INNER MOVIE: The Inner Movie goes to a lot of trouble to make you a technical expert… simply and effectively.  The point is, once you know the form, you’re free to get to the good part, which is to write the movie that’s playing in you.

You breathe a sign of relief as we

FADE OUT.

Here’s where to set your tabs. Do it now:

FADE IN:

INT. YOUR WORKSPACE – DAY

This is stage direction. Begin it two inches in from left edge of paper.

CHARACTER NAME: Character names are centred at four and a half inches in from the left.  Dialogue goes here, three inches in from left.  Dialogue shouldn’t extend beyond a line two and a half inches from the right side of the paper.

EXT. COURTROOM – DAY

Here is where you describe what we see. If you want to show a man, write “wealthy, sad executive,” or perhaps “vagrant.”  These are both men, but the choice of words makes them two very different men.  You can’t say “divorced man” because we can’t see divorcedness.  We can see “executive” in what the man wears, what he carries, where he is.

Double space between dialogue and scene description.

CHARACTER NAME: (astonished) – in parentheses is an actor’s instruction; don’t overuse it.  This is where you write the dialogue.  Everything that is said goes in the dialogue.

CUT TO:

When you want to stop one scene and go to the next scene, you can CUT TO or DISSOLVE TO, and you put these indications on the right.

DISSOLVE TO:

If a character isn’t finished talking by the bottom of the page, try to interrupt his speech at the end of a whole sentence. Write (MORE) on the line beneath the last sentence, indented to align under the character’s name; repeat the character’s name and (CONT’D) on top of the next page.

CHARACTER NAME: This is how dialogue is split when it will not fit all on one page.  (MORE)

(Bottom of page)

————————————————————

(top of new page)

CHARACTER NAME (CONT’D): This way the actor knows there is more to come.

WHEN TO USE CAPS

Use caps for the character’s name in the stage direction the first time he enters the script. This is to alert the casting director.  Also, use caps for sound effects, to alert the sound man.  (Use camera angles only when absolutely necessary to indicate point of view).  You do not have to cap secondary characters who do not speak (as in crowd scenes) or props.  If you must emphasize something in action or dialogue, underline it.

SOME MISCELLANEOUS USES FOR CAPS

AD LIB: when the actors fill in the dialogue with incidental lines.

VOICE OVER (V.O.): when we hear narration over the action.

OFFSCREEN (O.S.): when we hear the character speak but he is offscreen, such as calling out from the other room.

BEGIN TITLES: when the main credits start.

END TITLES: when the main credits finish.

FREEZE FRAME: which is at left margin and punctuated with a period.

TITLES OF SONS AND BOOKS

A picture is worth a thousand words

Inner Movie Axiom: There are no words in a screenplay.

There is dialogue and there is description, but your writing shouldn’t show. You can’t say, “There was something chilling about the abandoned mansion, alone at the top of the hill.”  What you do is show it in a night storm through flashes of lightning.  That’s how we know it’s haunted.

The “writing” is in choosing one image to put next to another so that a picture can be worth a thousand words. That way you don’t have to say the thousand words.

The 2-page picture show

Now you get to write the 2-Page Picture Show. Here’s the story.  Skeeter Mooch is charged with a second-degree screenwriting felony: excessive camera movement.

Let’s start together and then you’ll take over:

FADE IN:

EXT. CAR CHASE – DAY

Jalopy careens over bridge onto freeway. COPS in pursuit.

INT. JALOPY – DAY

CUT TO:

SKEETER MOOCH, 25, floors it.

CUT TO:

EXT. FREEWAY – DAY

Cops gaining on jalopy. Head it off.  Cops run to pull Skeeter from car.

CUT TO:

CLOSE ON SKEETER’S FACE

SKEETER: (V.O.) I’m guilty.

CAMERA PULLS BACK TO REVEAL Skeeter in defendant’s circle, wrists shackled. He faces JUDGE COOPER.

JUDGE COOPER: Skeeter Mooch.  Do you have anything to say before sentencing?

SKEETER: How do I write out a phone conversation?

Phone RINGS. Judge Cooper answers it.

JUDGE COOPER: Judge Cooper here.

INTERCUT PHONE CONVERSATION:

JUDGE’S AGENT: Coop, I got interest in your script at Fox.

JUDGE COOPER: Not now, Jaws.  I’m sentencing…  Have your girl call my girl.  Let’s do sushi.

END ON JUDGE COOPER

JUDGE COOPER (CONT’D)

Now you finish. Keep going until it feels easy [for them because they’re saying God’s comfortable with it].  Remember, everything that’s seen goes in description, everything that’s said goes in dialogue.

FADE OUT.

THE END

There. That’s all you need to know.  Don’t try to make it any harder.  There’s plenty of time for that later.

NOTE: If you absolutely must know every reason and why-for-of script formatting, consult The Complete Guide to Standard Script Formats, Part 1, The Screenplay, by Cole and Haag, published by CMC Publishing (1980), available through Samuel French’s Theatre and Film Bookshop, 7623 Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood, California 90046, (213-876-0570).  Or, best of all, get a script of a film you’ve seen and type it.  You will be so smart you’ll know everything.

WHAT YOU KNOW SO FAR

You’ve done the 9-Minute Movie. You know generally where you’re going.  Pages 75 and 90 might be quite vague.  That’s okay.  If you knew before you got there, you wouldn’t have to go there.  You probably do see the outcome you’d like on page 120.

Now let’s do a dress rehearsal, casting YOU AS A SUCCESSFUL SCREENWRITER.

Time and place stirring you

Have you arranged a workspace? (If you haven’t check the Impossible Obstacle section under time and place.)  Let’s try out your workspace with a test sitting.  Does it feel right?  Can you reach the paperclips?  Is there enough light?  Will it be quite at the time you’ve designed for your writing?  Is this the time for you to work, or are you tired or hungry?  Write for eight minutes, responding to the question “Am I happy with this place at this time?”

Write now.

Eight minutes later: Read what you wrote. Underline anything that stands out.  If anything in your workspace needs changing, change it.  Don’t resign yourself to live with it.  Have this place and time exactly how you need it.  Now put on your lucky socks.

Let’s invite your movie in.

How to hold a movie in your hand

This is fun. It requires supplies.  Gather together three brass brads and 121 pieces of clean typing paper with three-ring holes.

The first piece of paper will be the title page of your movie. In the centre of the page, type your movie title.  Don’t panic if you don’t have a title, now is the time to make one up.  This is a working title.  It can be changed.  In fact, it probably will be changed.  Remember, if the title is too solid, too locked in at this point, it doesn’t necessarily serve you well, because your script needs room to grow where it wants.

The title page will have on it:

YOUR TITLE

Written by

(your name)

On the top of the next page type this:

FADE IN:

On the bottom of the very last page, type this:

FADE OUT.

THE END

The 120-page pile up

Now, put the title page on top, then the FADE IN page, then 118 pieces of blank paper, and then the FADE OUT page on the bottom.

This is your movie. You’ve created the “space” for it, now all it has to do is move in.

At this juncture, you may experience an uncontrollable urge to pick out a front and back cover in a well-thought-out colour. Go ahead, if you must (the whole point of the Inner Movie Method is to celebrate instincts).  But here is why the cover is better left as a treat for when you finish: if you decide on a cover now, it gives the script a personality that might not suit the story you have yet to tell.

There’s another reason to just have the title page on top: you want to see “Written by” and your name.

Now that you have a 120-page blank movie, let’s start filling in the blanks. (As you progress through the 21 Days, replace the blank pages with filled pages.)

Take your cards now from The 9-Minute Movie and read through them. Visualize your movie.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Now you’re going to visualize it again right away. This time you’re going to number the pages of your 120-page pile, visualizing your movie again as you go.  You may number by hand; it’s easier than typing.  Use the upper right-hand corner and number all the way from page 1 to page 120; see your movie as you do this.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Congratulations! You’ve now screened your movie for yourself three times.  Don’t worry if you can only glimpse bits and pieces.  If you ran the movie you saw last week at the Bijou through your inner projector now you would probably see about as much as you just saw of your own, and yours isn’t even on paper yet.  So you’re doing very, very well.

The 9-page pull together

What you will do now is start with page 1 and write (in pencil), near the top of the page under FADE IN: three descriptive words that show the place, time, and mood of your movie (e.g. “mustangs, canyon, dawn”). Just three words, no more.

On the bottom of page 3, write a line of dialogue that represents the central question you will be exploring.

There is no right or wrong page-3 statement). It only needs to be stated here – the rest of the script has the task of proving or disproving it.

Continue now and transfer what you have on your nine cards onto pages 10, 30, 45, 60, 75, 90, and 120.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Inner theatre

Now you’ve run your movie many different times through your inner projector. Put the brads in your movie and hold it in your hand.  It’s beginning to come alive.

This is amazing. Look how ready you are – story, character, structure, format, acts, and even a blank movie, ready to be filled.  One more thing…

The 8-minute – bad-writing polka

Here’s the assignment. Don’t think about this.  Find a pencil and paper and an object in the room – any object, just decide.  Now, write for eight minutes as much as you can about that object.  You have to tell everything there is to know about it in eight minutes or banshees will come to your door and sell you a vacuum cleaner.  One other thing: you are allowed to write badly – extremely badly.  You are required to please play the fool.  Ready?  Go!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Eight minutes later:

Okay, time’s up.

Here’s what you might have noticed:

That was easy to do.

Even though you might have resisted at first, something happened, and you got interested.

You know more about that object than you realized.

And here’s the main point:

The assignment was to write badly. Read it.  It’s not bad.  In fact, parts are even brilliant.  Underline the brilliant parts.  Do not notice something about them?  Do you notice they aren’t the object, that they’re about you?  [That’s supposed be my Son]

Here’s what to learn from this:

Writing is not hard.

Good writing is so easy it’s accidental.

It’s no accident that good writing is personal.

Multiple choice

Answer these questions now: Are you ready?  Do you want to jump right into your 21 Days?

If you answered yes, go directly to the next part.

But if you don’t feel ready yet, go to “Embracing the Impossible Obstacles,” (on page 131) get the obstacles out of your way, and then come back to the 21 Days part.

All you need to know > before you write your random draft

Answer this checklist:

Do I have a sensory aid?  Something that evokes the feeling of my story?

Place:  Do I have a writer’s place to work?

Time:  Have I decided on a writing time for each day and made an appointment with myself?

Form:  Have I typed the 2-Page Page Picture Show?  Am I satisfied that I have a feel for the form (i.e., for what is dialogue and what is description)?

Content:  Can I state what I think my story is in a logline?  (If not, do it now quickly.  Don’t think, just jot it down.)  Can I state the question I’d like the story to answer?  Can I tell the story in three short sentences (beginning, middle, end)?  Can I state my purpose for writing it?

Ready or not – go forward.

Let’s write Your Movie…

 

©Dodgsons KingsWay Sanctuary Church, 1971.

 

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