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Archive for the Category "Structure"

Logline – Screenwriting Software for the Web Sep 28

Logline AppLogline Application

Here’s a great little web app I discovered at the Screenwriting Expo. It’s called LOGLINE. And while it has absolutely nothing to do with loglines, it has everything to do with writing a script… without traditional software.

This web application allows you to write your screenplay via a web browser. That way it’s available to you wherever you go, as long as there’s a computer you can access.

That means you could sneak in a little writing time at work (only during your lunch break of course), and not have to worry about installing Final Draft on your office computer, or worrying about which version you were editing.

It’s all stored securely online, with instant backups.

Features

The interface takes a bit of getting used to, but there’s autocomplete for characters and scene headings, and a slick drag and drop interface for adding/moving scenes. All the fundamentals you’d expect from your screenwriting software.

I really like how the format allows you to effortlessly go from the outline phase to the screenwriting phase, with a section for Treatment notes. It also lets you have as many “Acts” as you like. I use this system for my sequences, so I have about 8 sequences with about 4 or 5 scenes in each sequence.

You can import your scripts from Final Draft 8, and export to Final Draft 8 or PDF with the click of a button. If you’re lame like me and still haven’t upgraded to Final Draft 8, my understanding is that there may be a workaround for us coming soon.

Also on the horizon is iPad compatibility. I’m told this feature will almost certainly be ready by Spring of the new year.

The other feature I’ve been pushing for is the ability to specify how many line spaces you want between scene headings.

I also wish the app detected when you were writing a scene heading if you start with “int” or “ext” like in Final Draft. Right now you have to hit [enter] and then select “H” for heading. I’m sure they’ll refine this aspect as time goes on.

Right now the guys are working on an advanced versioning/commenting feature set, which will be unveiled some time in the next few months.

Free!… For now

The application is currently in beta testing. For all you non-web geeks, that means the application is stable and working, but needs people like you and me to try it out. Find bugs, report issues, suggest improvements, etc.

During this period, all of the various plans are FREE. Even better, after the beta period expires, any scrips you’ve uploaded will continue to be free to use. So the time to sign up is now.

I’m not getting any type of incentive for this post. I just think it’s a cool application and the guys I met at the Expo were a couple of fellow web geek/screenwriters who’ve spent a lot of time working on this app.

Give logline a try! I think it’s pretty sweet.

Here’s a video that shows you what I’m talking about:

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?


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

5 Big Things To Sweat About May 30

Sweat The Big StuffSweat The Big Stuff

I’m sure you’ve all heard this inspiring set of rules before:

  1. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
  2. It’s all small stuff.

The truth of the matter, however, is that when it comes to screenwriting, that message couldn’t be further from the truth. While the devil may be in the details, your script lives or dies in its broad strokes.

Prom Date

Here’s a quick metaphor to illustrate what I’m trying to say…

STUDENT

Is my prom date’s dress hot or what?

CONCERNED FRIEND

I guess. But dude, your date is a chimp.

STUDENT

Okay now you’re just being rude.

CONCERNED FRIEND

No, I mean your date is literally a chimpanzee. Does your dad work for the circus or something?

STUDENT

The zoo.

CONCERNED FRIEND

Ah.

Awkward silence.

STUDENT

Smokin’ hot dress though, right?

It doesn’t matter how hot your scenes are, if your script is a chimp!

5 Things

Here are five BIG things you should sweat over, long before worrying about things like correct formatting, clever descriptions or upping the tension in a particular scene:

Concept

Concept is probably the most important aspect of your script. If you have a fantastic one, readers/producers will be more likely to forgive minor problems.

When you tell people about your concept, do they ooh and ahh? Do their eyes light up? If it’s a comedy, do they smile or laugh? Do they immediately connect with the material. Make sure you have a winning concept before you start writing your screenplay.

True story. I once had a woman pitch me the following sole movie concept: “It’s about a black Hollywood producer who has a small dick.” FAIL!

Character Motivations

By the time a reader reaches the second act of your script, he/she should be able to answer at least two fundamental questions. The first one is: “What does the protagonist want?” Make sure the answer to this question is clear and primal.

“My protagonist is just kinda going with the flow at this stage of the script.” FAIL!

Rooting Interest for Your Main Character

The second question a reader should be able to answer by the start of the second act is: “What do I want for the protagonist?” Depending on your story, this may, or may not, be the same thing as what the protagonist wants. But either way, at this stage, the reader should be rooting for your main character(s).

Moreover the reader should have an implicit understanding of where the story is going, and care about that direction.

READER: “I hate the protagonist, so I don’t care if he finds his lost doughnut… not that I would have been at all interested in that anyway.” FAIL!

Overarching Story

Have you provided a solid structure and an engaging plot?

Do cool or powerful things happen in your story? Have you fulfilled the promise of the premise? Have you executed a story that maximizes the potential of the concept? Thrilled the audience? Shown them something they’ve never seen before, or in a way they’ve never seen it?

“Yes, it’s a global apocalypse movie, but we learn what happens through first person accounts only. It takes place entirely in one interview room.” FAIL!

Theme

Is your movie about something? The movies that leave an impact on us are the ones that teach us something, or, at the very least, have something to say that will resonate with audiences. Something specific.

“The theme is danger.” FAIL!

***

Do you have all of these bases covered in your script? Or are you taking a chimp in a pretty dress to prom?

Any “big stuff” you would add to the list? Please post in the comments section.


Need someone to review your screenplay? Please take a look at my script services.

Guest Post at ScriptXRay Mar 10

Guest Post at ScriptXRayI’ve been a big fan of the web site ScriptXRay for a long time. So I was very excited by the opportunity to contribute today’s guest post for their site, on the subject of demystifying story structure.

Here’s an excerpt:

Hallowed or Hackneyed?

When it comes to mainstream Hollywood story structure, there tends to be two schools of thought.

1) Hallowed — “There is a mystical reason we humans respond to the same basic story told over and over again.”

2) Hackneyed — “Movies have become far too formulaic, with their clichéd heroes journeys and fill-in-the-blanks beat sheets.”

Both are slightly off.

Please read the rest of this article at ScriptXRay.com and let me know what you think!

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The Unconventional Brilliance of “Rocky” Jan 09

The Stuff of Legend

In this age of stock plots and by-the-numbers stories, I thought it would be nice to look back at Rocky [Amazon | IMDB] — a little spec script that broke the rules in 1976, became a box office sensation and won the Oscar for Best Picture.

The story behind the script itself is the stuff of Hollywood legend. An unknown screenwriter (and virtually unknown actor), Sylvester Stallone, writes a spec script so amazing that he is able to insist on starring in the movie’s title role.

The script itself, in addition to being nominated for Best Screenplay honors in 1977, is later hailed by the Writers Guild of America, West, as one of the 101 greatest screenplays of all time.

Thar Be Spoilers

If you’re young enough that you’ve never seen, or heard of (cringe), Rocky, then I suggest you stop reading now and simply go rent or buy the movie. While its sequels eventually became formulaic and over-the-top, the original Rocky is a masterpiece of low-budget filmmaking, that tugs at your heart-strings and gives you a unique character you can’t resist rooting for.

A Late Catalyst

What’s really amazing is that the movie does not follow conventional wisdom about screenplay structure. Most movies these days adhere to the rule that the Catalyst or Call to Adventure1 must happen within the first 10 to 15 minutes.

Incredibly, in Rocky, the Catalyst/Call to Adventure doesn’t arrive until the 53 minute mark! That’s when Rocky gets notified that Apollo Creed’s promoter is looking to talk with him.

How is it possible that the catalyst doesn’t arrive until the 53 minute mark? What happens for that extra 40 minutes or so to keep the audience engaged?

Why We Don’t Mind a Long Set Up

Rocky’s dreams of being a heavyweight champion are like my dreams of dating a supermodel who’s made of dark chocolate — it’s something too fantastical to even consider. What Rocky really dreams of is being respected. He also wants Adrian — the shy but cute pet store worker — to like him.

The first half of the movie spends its time on five things:

  • Showing Rocky’s challenging life
    A partial list: He gets called a “bum” at a boxing match, his gym locker taken away, the cold shoulder from Adrian and grief from her co-worker, yelled at by boxing coach Mickey, heckled by his boss’s driver, told to screw off by a little girl… All things to earn Rocky sympathy with the audience.
  • Showing us that Rocky’s a great guy
    There are so many Save the Cat2 moments. A partial list: Rocky says hi to a puppy in a pet store window, he looks after his turtles, let’s a guy off the hook for not having enough money to pay back his loan shark boss, brings a drunk inside who’s passed out on the street, tries to help a young girl avoid a bad rep, spends 10 bucks to take Adrian ice skating after hours…
  • Developing Rocky’s Character
    This is a big one. Without this one, the above two points don’t mean anything. All of the above mentioned items are done in ways that develop one of the most original and engaging characters to ever appear in film. He’s the bruiser with a heart of gold and the dialogue is absolutely priceless. There’s never a dull moment because you can’t wait to hear what’s going to come out of his mouth next. 15 minutes in, you don’t need a catalyst because you simply love watching this guy’s life.
  • The romance with Adrian
    Of course even the most compelling characters need a goal; something the audience can track. For the first half of the film, Rocky’s goal is to get Adrian. Everything else in Rocky’s life is so crappy that you hope against hope that he’ll at least find some happiness with Adrian. They have their first kiss at minute 52 — just before the catalyst scene.
  • Setting Up the Eventual Heavyweight Fight
    The prospect of a prize fight is only sprinkled in for flavor a couple of times in the first half of the movie (the first time is at minute 30). Rocky doesn’t know his fate is going to change, but the audience does. That creates dramatic tension. An anticipation and excitement in the audience that something big is going to happen in Rocky’s life.

The All Is Lost Moment

In almost all movies the hero reaches a point of extreme crisis where they believe that all is lost. Usually that happens late in the second act. The hero then summons his/her courage and decides to push forward into the third act.

In Rocky, the “All is Lost” moment comes at the beginning of the third act. After one of the best training montages of all time (which carries us into the third act), at minute 93, Rocky goes to the arena where the fight is going to take place. The poster they’ve created for Rocky has the wrong color shorts. The boxing promoter tells Rocky that it doesn’t really matter. He knows Rocky’s going to give them a great show.

And that’s when it hits Rocky — at minute 96 — he can’t beat Apollo Creed. It then leads into the poignant scene with Adrian where he summarizes his real dream:

“All I want to do is go the distance. If that bell rings and I’m still standing, I’m gonna know for the first time in my life you see, that I’m not just another bum from the neighborhood.”

It’s worth noting that the early third act “All Is Lost”/”Dark Night of the Soul”3 sequence is not super uncommon. I’ll provide some more examples of such movies in a future post.

Summary

There are many other wonderful and unique touches in this film:

  • Gazzo, the gangster boss who’s a really nice guy
  • Paulie, the alcoholic loose-cannon brother of Adrian
  • Mickey, the crotchety old boxing coach who gets one last chance at glory
  • Apollo Creed’s concerned trainer (“He doesn’t know it’s a damn show. He thinks it’s a damn fight!”)
  • The fact that Rocky loses the fight at the end of the movie
  • Bill Conti’s powerful music

The bottom line though is that it’s okay to break the rules (of structure or anything else for that matter) as long as you know the reasons behind the rules in the first place, and can keep the reader/audience engaged in your story.


  1. the Catalyst/Call to Adventure is the opportunity or incident that shakes up the hero’s regular world
  2. Save the Cat moments are those scenes where a hero does something like saving a cat to make the audience like him or her. The expression was coined by Blake Snyder.
  3. “All Is Lost”/”Dark Night of the Soul” — More Blake Snyderisms
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Category: Structure  | 4 Comments