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Archive for December, 2010

Story, Scene, Moment Dec 19

Story, Scene, MomentI was watching some deleted scenes for Green Zone the other day, when Matt Damon mentioned the principle of “Story, Scene, Moment” — when deciding which scenes to cut.

The comment was in reference to editing theory, but I thought it was equally applicable to screenwriting, and I had never heard it expressed so succinctly.

The theory is simple:

The story, as a whole, is more important than any one scene. And the success of a scene, as a whole, is more important than any one moment. So sometimes even brilliant moments or scenes have to be cut.

For example, one of the deleted scenes in Green Zone features a surprise car bombing that kills some Iraqi officials. It was an expensive and well executed scene, but in the context of the narrative it didn’t work. It muddied the story being told — which was one about the search for WMDs, not civil unrest in Iraq.

It was a great moment and a great scene, but it didn’t support the story, so it had to go.

Story, Scene, Moment — I think it’s a terrific hierarchy to keep in mind, during all phases of writing your script, especially when determining which of your darlings to kill. What do you think?

Trivia: The Director of Green Zone, Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum), used actual Iraqi war veterans as supporting actors and background troops, then improvised scenes using their guidance. This casting gave the action sequences an unparalleled level of authenticity.


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Category: Scenes, Writing  | 2 Comments
The Late Villain Reveal in Television Dec 06

There can be only one... scriptMany years ago, when I was young(er) and dumb(er), I decided to write a Highlander: The TV Series script on spec. In my story, someone was trying to kill Duncan MacLeod, and the episode was about finding out who it was.

Through a combination of tenacity and ignorance, I was actually able to get the show’s producer/writer, David Tynan, to read it.

Lucky for me, he was a really nice guy and gave me some great advice and encouragement. I’ll save the lessons I learned for another day. Today’s post is about one of his criticisms of my script. He said that I had introduced my villain too late.

You know how in every whodunnit type of show, you’re introduced to all the suspects early on, then the episode serves up a platter of misdirection, until the end when you realize it was the person you least expected?

Well I hate that crap. When you know the rule, and you see the meek school teacher with the cute stutter, you know you’ve found your killer.

So I framed my episode this way:

  • introduce all the suspects early on
  • serve up a platter of misdirection
  • have the main characters realize toward the end it was the person they least expected, but…
  • have them be WRONG
  • have the actual killer be someone we hadn’t seen previously in the episode (but had been referenced)

I thought it was a clever play against the standard framework, but perhaps it was too unfamiliar. So unfamiliar in fact, that I’ve never seen it. Ever…

Until the last episode of Castle entitled “Close Encounters of the Murderous Kind.”

In that episode, which involved an unholy mix of UFOs and Lyle Lovett,  a doctor was referenced early on, but we never saw him.

Towards the end of the episode, I thought they were going to zero in on the cute female observatory assistant — but no! The doctor, who we’d never seen before, turns out to be the villain. It was a true surprise and I thought it worked really well.

Did anyone else see the episode? What did you think?

Have you ever seen this type of late villain reveal in any other show?


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Search Engine for Movie Quotes Dec 01

subzinI may be late to the party on this one, but I’ve just discovered SUBZIN — a web site that allows you to “find phrases in movies and series.” What’s more, it tells you the running time in the movie, or TV show, that the line appeared.

I don’t know how it’s being updated, how accurate it is, or how long it’s been around, but upon cursory investigation it appears to be pretty comprehensive.

How does this help your screenwriting?

Possibly a few ways. You can:

  • figure out what movie a particular line was from (to investigate how the writer handled the set up or response to that line)
  • make sure your dialogue is unique
  • find out if a word you think you’ve coined has been used before
  • find out when major plot points occurred in movies that are analogous to your current script (to help you with your script’s structure)
  • see if you’re using a word correctly (or at least similar to a way it’s been used previously)

Try it out and let me know what you think.

via Geekosystem


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