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Here are a few of the CHAPTER TITLES in the book along with some excerpts from each chapter --
Keeping the audience on edge, but not in the dark
Movie audiences love novelty.
They also enjoy seeing the same thing in a different way.
And audiences love to see the same thing, literally, which is why people will watch a TV show or film over and over again. It gives them comfort in a real world that is often unpredictable and always changing.
The goal of a screenwriter is to come up with screenplays for movies that will service at least one of the desires mentioned above, but not necessarily all of them, even if it were possible to plan such a thing in advance.
Knowing when to play something different and when to deliver the same thing in a new and (hopefully) better way is just one of the creative goals of a screenwriter if he writes for a commercial audience.
The professional writer who is quoted at the head of this chapter enjoyed career success because he understood the expectations of a modern movie audience. Of course, there are other factors that lead to a successful screenplay, but being concerned about how modern audiences will perceive the execution of your script is certainly one of the major things you should consider while writing your screenplay.
Audiences are changing, and their expectations of being entertained… and enlightened by a movie are changing as well.
One of the most profound changes in constructing a screen story is the way a screenwriter is expected to please a modern audience regarding the brevity and pace of the first act. Writing for a modern audience requires screenwriters to construct their first act with fewer steps and deeper footprints.
The Unbearable NG-Force of Being
Maintaining this mystery throughout the plot and keeping viewers’ tension level high is hopefully what every screenwriter achieves throughout their “A” storyline. But often times, the Professional Screenwriter will include a “B” storyline that can have its origins before the “A” storyline begins, but then runs a parallel course as the screenplay’s plot unfolds.
We spent the previous chapter analyzing the first act in the screenplay Michael Clayton, and one of the points I mentioned is that the first act turns out to be a “Flash Forward” in the storyline.
The choice to reveal story points in the first act which will reappear later in the narrative is done for a specific reason – NG-Force. The fact that the filmmaker of Michael Clayton opted to have his entire first act showcase events that actually occur (in the linear version of the story) in the second act demonstrates the storytelling power of the NG-Force. In the case of Michael Clayton, audiences engaged with the first act are compelled to discover the reason the main character was targeted for death and are riveted as the rest of the story unfolds.
Beware of the Undertow
I’ll begin demonstrating the possibilities of Undertow by drawing upon the best of recent film franchises, The Lord of the Rings trilogy (“LRT”), one of the greatest achievements in modern filmmaking (screenwriters Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens, based on the novels by J.R.R. Tolkien).
There are many characters featured in the trilogy narrative who have been deepened with the Undertow, but for our discussion, I will select Frodo Baggins. I believe the most important wave that rushes to the beach with Frodo from the very beginning of the first film’s screenplay is… fear… fear… fear.
Fear of change.
Fear of losing his friends.
Fear of disappointing people he looks up to…
Frodo is a hobbit and the threat of losing this way of life would be the Undertow running across his large feet as he accepts the adventure’s challenge.
The Small Screen has become the Big Screen
This obvious difference between film and TV could be summed up as “canvas size,” a reference to the amount of space upon which an artist is allowed to express his vision.
Most theatrical movies push the screenwriter to tell a story on a canvas that is 90 - 110 minutes in length.
The burden of this type of small canvas is that so much has to be accomplished. In the first act alone, the screenwriter must introduce the main characters… the story… the plot and do all this while simultaneously laying the pipe for the rest of the narrative that is to come in the next two acts. And of course, all this must be done in a way that excites and emotionally engages the audience, so they will keep watching.
Keep your friends and enemies close, but your Director closer
If things are going well, the way a director thinks should at times be different than the thought process of a screenwriter. I respect filmmakers who have done both, who often times commit to working on a project only as a screenwriter, waiting to commit their services as a director until they’ve had a chance to remove themselves mentally from the first creative process. Writing and shooting a screenplay are two different things, and should be treated as such, even when they are being handled by one filmmaker.
The Magic of 3hree to shape Scenes and Structure in your Script
With this chapter, I’m trying to convey a writing formula that might help screenwriters outline the plot of a potential project. This theory emerged from an idea that people can’t help but subconsciously think of daily life in “threes.” For instance, we often break down any day into three sections – morning, afternoon, and night.
But that’s not the only instance. Our heads break down a lot of other aspects of our lives into threes. When we walk across a plaza crowded with people, whether we realize it or not, there’s something in our minds that is probably separating the people around us into three groups – child, adult, and old age.
The human mind loves to compartmentalize what it encounters because it can mentally organize it, bringing order to what we experience with the goal of controlling it.