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Archive for March, 2011

Surprise Your Audience Mar 27

Ros goes down the elevator shaftA friend sent me this excerpt from a recent interview with David E. Kelley (Harry’s Law, Boston Legal, Boston Public, The Practice, Ally McBeal, Chicago Hope, L.A. Law). It highlights an important mindset to have when crafting scenes:

L.A. Law is where we first got a taste of what would be your trademark, those surprise, odd twists, like Roz going down the elevator shaft. Where do those ideas come from?

I promise it isn’t drugs. You know, you sort of get smarter through the years, but that’s the one question I’m really still unable to answer. I do subscribe to the theory that it is entertainment, and when people sit down in their La-Z-Boy chair at the end of the night, they maybe should be able to see something that they’re not going to see in everyday life. So arguments of mine [between characters] will tend to be more melodramatic, and some of the eccentricities will be heightened. That’s just kind of what I like to do. Also, I loved The Twilight Zone as a kid, and Outer Limits and shows like that, which went in directions that you just never imagined. I do do that. I do say, “Okay, this is the scene, this is the normal way it would go. Is there another way it could possibly go that fits within the context of the show that you may not see coming?”

So what are the important takeaways? Give the audience:

A) “something that they’re not going to see in everyday life.”
B) something that they “may not see coming.”


If you have 4 1/2 minutes, I highly recommend watching the following animated short that I found recently, created by Graham Annable. It has several moments that I hadn’t seen before and definitely didn’t see coming.

Pay special attention to how the slow pacing (especially in one particular scene) is brilliantly utilized for humorous effect.

Full David E. Kelley interview via Vulture.

Want me to read your screenplay? Please take a look at my script services.

Where’s the Juice? Mar 20

Where's the Juice?Where’s the Juice?

This post deals with an all too common question that I find myself asking…?

Where’s the juice of your script! Where’s that clever story element that provides the potent entertainment value and killer box office potential? In other words, why is this story movie-worthy?

It starts with a concept or logline. If you find yourself saying “And?” after you hear a logline, then there’s no juice.

Example 1

A police detective battles organized crime.


Boring right? It’s too familiar. This scenario happens every day in America. What makes it movie-worthy? Where’s the juice?

How about this?

When a disgraced police detective discovers that his new bride is connected to the mafia, he’s forced to choose between honoring his marriage and honoring his badge.

Better right? Sort of like a crime thriller version of “Meet The Parents” meets “Married to the Mob.” The juice (the fundamental conceit that will sustain and entertain the audience) obviously comes from watching the cop being forced to make tough decisions and uncovering things that could jeopardize not only his marriage but his life.

It’s an interesting setup rife with story possibilities. And it’s not simply because I fleshed out the idea. Here’s the same base concept (of cop vs. mob) fleshed out a different way:

After a police detective’s family is murdered by the mob, he embarks on a revenge-fueled journey that pits him against the crime boss that sanctioned the killing.

Same approximate length, but does this premise have any juice? Not really. It’s a hackneyed story that we’ve seen far too many times.

Example 2

A young boy in rural Missouri learns about love and loss after his grandfather dies.

Wow, I almost fell asleep writing that logline. And? Where’s the juice?! There better be something in a concept that I can sink my teeth into.

What about?

A shy farm boy finds out who his true friends are after his grandfather dies and leaves him a secret fortune worth 20 million dollars.

Okay, now you have my attention. I’d like to see how that one plays out. Maybe he’s been estranged from his biological parents for some time. Maybe he’s a social outcast who suddenly has a bunch of “friends” that he’s been longing for. Maybe he has to discover what his grandfather wanted him to do with the money? Etc. Etc.

Bottom Line

The first thing you need to do when writing a script is ask yourself, “Where’s the juice?” What is it about this concept that is compelling, unique and would make a great movie?

Now that you’ve found the juice of your story, you need to know how to Squeeze the Juice! I’ll talk about that in a post later this week.

Photo: sudweeks photography

Want me to read your screenplay? Please take a look at my script services.

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Category: Concept, Writing  | 2 Comments