What is your Screenwriting approach?

Jared Isham

Moderator
Most of what you are saying about brilliance really is a "subjective" interpretation. What is brilliance to one person may be common sense to another. So in that matter the brilliance argument doesn't really work.

It is not knowing what structure is and how every successful movie uses it the same way, it is about knowing the tools used and how to use those tools so you can repeat the process.

Because you have such great knowledge on screenwriting you should sell your scripts and see them get made. I'm sure it will be super easy for you to do.
 

Snowman

New member
The word brilliance is subjective, not the idea that you have to have something so exceptional that the reader or viewer is willing to look past the lack of structure. That's when you can break the rules. Very few have. Brilliant is a fine word for it.

The most important tool is structure.
Because you have such great knowledge on screenwriting you should sell your scripts and see them get made. I'm sure it will be super easy for you to do.

Let's run down the facts: I give details for the Fugitive proving that Mandell in that case was flat out wrong. there's sites that break down the perfect structure of The Godfather... I ask a simple question to name fabulous movies that didn't use structure, which you couldn't be bothered to answer (of course, you can't), and now you get all pissy. The last breath of someone who has no valid argument.
 

Kim Welch

Senior Member
Staff member
George Snow, Snowman I hope you know you have a lot to learn. We all do. I know you have a good side but it's not showing! This site is about education. It's not about trying to prove other people wrong to make ourselves feel "brilliant" I asked you once already. Why don't you talk about good structure and how it works and stop trying to show people how wrong they are? We want to show people how to do it better and find solutions for problems that they have and that we all have had. I want this to be a positive and encouraging environment for people to learn the best wisest ways. We want inspiration. I think most of the people who visit this forum can tell a decent story and that with some instruction and guidelines they can do a great job. People need to have heart, kindness and patience. God bless you.
 
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Jared Isham

Moderator
Great rewrite Kim! When it gets to the point of attacking and defending the usefulness of the conversation gets lost.

I would put more time into my responses but am slammed editing for a TV show.

The truth is you will always be learning how to better your craft and new ways to improve your art.
 

Jared Isham

Moderator
If I came across rude or heartless then I truly do apologize. That was not my intention. My best to you in your career/passions. I hope for your success.
 

Kim Welch

Senior Member
Staff member
Hi George, me too. You probably know a lot more about writing than I do and I may have been to hard on you brother but I still feel the tone was about who is wrong instead of how "we" can improve our script writing. Tell us about structure.
 
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thomasr

New member
George, your posts have a lot of merit, but they seem decked with defeatism of anyone willing to challenge the "age-old" formula that you claim has uninhibited your creativity. I'm glad that you feel you have mastered it enough to start being creative yourself. Wish I could say the same, but alas, I am still learning. I think you are right when you say that the formula exists for a reason. Earlier on in this thread, I defended the three-act structure as sort of a devil's advocate for the sake of progressing the dialogue of the forum. I agree that brilliance is necessary for revolutionary ideas to have stake in the world they exist in. Had you called it genius, I would have challenged you. And of course no one can name a film that defies the formula, because you could force ANY film into the formula. That's why I break it down in as simple terms as "beginning, middle, end". You're not wrong, George. No one is saying you're wrong. But it is attitudes like yours that discourages creativity, because no one wants to take risks for fear of being tormented by traditionalists like you. It's not the content of what you're saying, it's the cocky, know-it-all fashion with which you're saying it.
 
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thomasr

New member
In addition, I have always seen surrealism as the greatest fighting chance against such structure. Un Chein Andalou always make me smile.
 

Snowman

New member
“but they seem decked with defeatism of anyone willing to challenge the "age-old" formula”

There’s a difference between challenging the rules, and changing them to suit your needs. It’s laziness. It’s a belief that your script is so magnificent that the rules don’t apply to you, or as you three like to say it’s “being creative”.

“that you claim has uninhibited your creativity”

I never said anything resembling that.

“I'm glad that you feel you have mastered it enough to start being creative yourself.”

Knowing structure never made me creative. Not knowing structure didn’t inhibit my creativity. But, using structure properly has allowed me to create coherent screenplays. Being coherent and good are two totally different things. I’ve never claimed to be good. I’m coherent.

“And of course no one can name a film that defies the formula, because you could force ANY film into the formula.”

Actually more often than not, the script is better than the movie. Because the script had structure and it was destroyed in the filming.

There’s the script that’s written (that everyone gets excited about), the one that’s shot, and finally the one that’s edited, and rarely do they have anything in common.

“But it is attitudes like yours that discourages creativity, because no one wants to take risks for fear of being tormented by traditionalists like you.”

You’re not taking risks, you’re being lazy and unprofessional.

“it's the cocky, know-it-all fashion with which you're saying it.”

I didn’t know it was cocky to present facts. Everyone here offers unsubstantiated personal opinions. Jared points to a blog that is so full of holes it’s mindboggling how anyone who understands structure would point that as reliable. If self-superiority is trying to explain where you’re going "wrong", then so be it. I say continue on your path of "creativity" and continue to wonder why nothing ever happens. Of course that's if you're trying to be a professional screenwriter who wants to sell their script.

One last thing: Facts are facts. Opinions can be wrong.
 

Jared Isham

Moderator
Let me explain to you what I have been meaning when it comes to rules & structure. I feel there was a bit lost in the discussion.

I am going to do my best to create some positive discussion, so if I allow some negative to slip through, I apologize in advance.

A script must have structure if you want it to succeed. Without structure there will not be context to understand what is happening in the story, there likely won't be clear goals and will probably end up being a confusing mess.
I think though, that to create a solid structure one needs to know how the tools are used, what they are used for and how to master them. I, personally, look at structure like a house or building. You must have a foundation, you must have walls and you must know how things will remain "structurally sound" -- to hold the walls and roof up.

Every structure must have those "facts" to work, but when we apply the "story paradigm" to it we end up having the exact same house/building built no matter where it is at and who built it. The only thing different is the way the interior has been decorated.
Thankfully, looking at architecture we see that some buildings are round, some are square, some are tall, some are various types of polygons. The walls on the interiors change and the rooms aren't always the same size. The list can go on, but one thing is the same, they all have a structure that has made use of the rules and applied in unique ways because the architect knew how to use the tools.

There has been a desperate request for examples and apparently, Corey Mandell's examples were not qualified because he can't count...sorry, that was rude. (FYI, Corey's first script sold was to Riddley Scott and then he was hired to write the movie Metropolis for him -- not sure why it wasn't made, but that is common to happen in Hollywood. 90%(or something close to that) of the working writers in Hollywood are ghost writers or perform rewrites to other peoples work.

I was watching the movie The Big Short the other day and I am hoping we can all confirm that it was a well written script. Won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Here is my analysis: http://www.paramountguilds.com/pdf/the-big-short.pdf
For the sake of length of this post I am just going to focus on the inciting incident.

In the script I loved the opening quote, really good reminder to check our ideas to be willing to hear the value in other's ideas.

"The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him." - Leo Tolstoy, 1897

I started reading through the script and I got to page 12 and I saw a defining moment that the character Michael Burry had defined his goal, what he was aiming for. "No stocks. I want to short the housing market." I thought that might be an inciting incident, and then I got to page 15 and he started acting on his stated goal ("I want to buy swaps on mortgage bonds") and I thought that might be it or him closing on his goals on page 17 ("Is there anyway to buy 200 million?")...to me those are kind of boring inciting incidents.

I went back to refresh my knowledge of inciting incidents and every one seems to agree that it is a point that changes the world the characters are in, changes their coarse, etc, etc, blah, blah...oh and Google says that it is also exciting.

I then went back to the script, Michael's world hasn't changed yet. He is calm and "knows" what is going to happen. The question is, "is he the main character?" According to the Academy he is a supporting character. Mark Baum, I would consider to be more of the main character, but this story is more of an ensemble piece. BTW, Mark doesn't show up until page 21. If you include the rewrite pages it may be more like 22. The part that I felt was the changing moment for every one in the story was when Mark learns in the meeting with Jared Vennett that the housing market was going to crash. It sent Mark and his team on a trip to investigate and the s*** starts to hit the fan. (Mark: "What's that?" Jared: "That is America's housing market.") That is what stood out to me...oh and that takes place on page 35, minus the added pages for rewrites.

From this little study what I learned is that the inciting incident can most definitely happen on page 17, without a doubt, but if it comes later due to needing more setup and context for your story then that is fine too, or how about sooner? Sure.

I did identify tools that were used in The Big Short that were consistent with other scripts like The Fugitive...they wrote the majority of their scenes in conflict. Everyone had goals and did what they could to achieve them. (We could do a whole other thread on goals - one of the hardest things for writers...at least for me...to master. Writing goals that create conflict is not easy)

(It is my opinion, that a lot of people mistake basic story escalations for inciting incidents. For this reason we get a lot of stories that fall into the "story paradigm" but with very weak inciting incidents. Pretty much every scene, especially scenes in conflict, should have escalations and hopefully more than just one or two...it is how to make sure your conflict supports your page count.)

Fortunately for all of us artists, there aren't really facts when it comes to art. Is a black dot painted on a white piece of canvas art? Art is subjective and what one person thinks is genius another may hate it with a passion. I've encountered this many times with friends and family when it comes to movie preferences.

Knowing how to balance between your "creative flow" where the "brilliant" happens (intuitive side) and the more structured and procedural tasks of following rules (conceptual side) is key and if you can bounce between both sides then you will create better art, but only living in one side of the brain is usually bad. It is the balance of working in your Left and Right brain and, I believe this is based off of scientific studies, using both sides of your brain simultaneously does not usually happen if at all.

My writing exercises take a lot of time and lots of practice to make sure I can repeat the results of a scene with conflict, creating proper conflict every time. That usually results in me doing daily exercises of writing lists of scene ideas with two opposing goals (usually 50-100) creating escalations lists for the scenes (50-100 different escalations and then sorting them in order of severity) - these are some of my conceptual exercises. Intuitive exercises are to try writing non-stop without taking a break, choosing a topic and write only on that topic continuously for 10 mins, etc.

Writing is like a marathon, and the shortcut to writing is that there are no shortcuts. That is what I feel about story paradigms, is that they are structures created as a sort of shortcut to all so that the writer does not have to think as hard. I sometimes will spend days making lists and ideas, reworking scenarios, researching my outlines, etc. just to figure out if a character needs to go through a door or stay put. The more I do it the faster I can figure out what my characters should or should not do.

So back to the marathon analogy, if you want to be good at running a marathon, you had better train your butt off to get ready. Same thing with writing. Do writing exercises until your fingers bleed from typing...and you have to continue to train, you can't assume you've got it then stop. Your muscles will tighten and it will be tough to get back to "marathon" status.

Having a growth mindset is key in learning to grow in your art as opposed to a fixed mindset. Don't let your mindset keep you from getting better.
 

Snowman

New member
I was watching the movie The Big Short … it was a well written script.

If you win the Oscar it’s got to be good. At least within the screenwriting categories.

For the sake of length of this post I am just going to focus on the inciting incident.

I’ve never seen it, I will merely point to the following from imdb “Three separate but parallel stories”… You’ve chosen an ensemble piece for your example. You might not be looking at standard structure.

Also, the screenplay was adapted from a book. So, half of the work was already complete before the screenwriters started.

“I went back to refresh my knowledge of inciting incidents and every one seems to agree that it is a point that changes the world the characters are in, changes their coarse, etc, etc, blah, blah...oh and Google says that it is also exciting.”

Listening to google is your first mistake. An inciting incident can be as bland as a telegram telling you grandma is dying. It gives the character a choice in a direction. Sometimes they set right off, other times they balk till something else happens that makes them choose that path. Usually up till the inciting incident we see them in their environment.

Last night I watched Friends with Benefits. It opens with a guy from the West Coast being dumped and a girl from the East coast being dumped (set up these two will end up living happily ever after). She’s a head hunter who brings him to NY for a job interview, which he gets. But, she has to convince him to stay and accept the job. He does. They become friends. Then they become friends with benefits. That plot point happens at roughly the 30 minute mark. So what’s the inciting incident?
“That is what stood out to me...oh and that takes place on page 35”

That sounds like the plot point (turning point) that ends Act One and opens Act Two. Just like the friends giving each other benefits.
“From this little study what I learned is that the inciting incident can most definitely happen on page 17, without a doubt, but if it comes later due to needing more setup and context for your story then that is fine too, or how about sooner? Sure.”

17 is within the range where the inciting incident should occur. If the inciting incident happens on page 35 you have problems. Because then you have 34 pages of set up.
“I did identify tools that were used in The Big Short that were consistent with other scripts like The Fugitive”

You will see the same tools in most every movie. Some do it well and others don’t. The people that do it really well usually have hits. The filmmakers that don’t, 99% of the time will have a flop.

“Fortunately for all of us artists, there aren't really facts when it comes to art.”

Of course there are, if you want to play a guitar solo, you need a guitar. If you want to play in the key of C, you have to play within the key of C.
If you want to paint, you should have some sort of paint. Can you substitute paint for different forms of dishwashing detergent and other materials? Sure. But, why?
“Is a black dot painted on a white piece of canvas art?”

As a person who shops exclusively in antique stores, the walls are covered in “art” that no one wants. When was the last time you went into a store and saw an original Dali for $10? Anyone can slop paint on a canvas. That doesn’t make these people “artists”.

Art is subjective and what one person thinks is genius another may hate it with a passion.

Some of my favorite semi-modern films no one has even heard of… “10 Items or Less” with Morgan Freeman and Paz Vega. “Camille” with Sienna Miller. “May” would absolutely suck except for the brilliant performance by Angela Bettis as the title character. All these films have one thing in common STRUCTURE.
“Knowing how to balance between your "creative flow" where the "brilliant" happens”

Brilliant doesn’t just happen. Tarantino didn’t just write Resevoir Dogs. Kurt Cobain (who I hate) didn’t just sing out of key, Lynch didn’t just write or shoot haphazardly, they all had specific vision. A vision that no one else has ever had. If you have that, then do it.

“ Structures created as a sort of shortcut to all so that the writer does not have to think as hard.”

Working a story into structure makes it that much harder.

“I sometimes will spend days making lists and ideas, reworking scenarios, researching my outlines, etc. just to figure out if a character needs to go through a door or stay put. The more I do it the faster I can figure out what my characters should or should not do.”

It doesn’t matter what you the writer needs, it’s what the character would do. If the character doesn’t dictate their actions, then you’re on the wrong path.

Having a growth mindset is key in learning to grow in your art as opposed to a fixed mindset. Don't let your mindset keep you from getting better.

This last statement IMO is your way of saying I inhibit my creativity because I stand by structure. You couldn’t be more wrong. Because honestly, I’d put up my insane psyche against all of you. Every human being I’ve come in contact with thinks I’m wholly unique. There is only one me. I am the walking definition of the word individual. But, by having 6 strings on my guitar, and being mindful of what structure is to screenwriting, I’m that much better at playing and writing.

When you learn to follow the simple basic form of structure, you will understand why. You’ll see that your screenplay might suck, but it’s in the ball park. If you lack structure you’re in the sandbox.

The biggest rookie mistake in screenwriting is exposition. The characters explain the story instead of showing it. That is damn hard to overcome. Most will quit before they get past this.

The next step is using structure properly. Show don’t tell, catalyst/inciting incident, turning points, having at least one subplot. This is the easy part. There isn’t much there, yet you’re literally arguing against it.

The next step after that, I'm not up to that point. Very few have mastered that. Two people that did are Robert Riskin and Thea Von Harbou. She wrote many of Fritz Lang's early masterpieces, including Metropolis.
 
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Jared Isham

Moderator
So, just so that I understand you correctly, if you write an ensemble piece you don't have to follow standard structure? That appears to break the "rules" you have told us we must follow, or is that a different rule I'm not aware of?


My refreshing of my knowledge of an inciting incident also included seeing what Syd Field and John Truby had to say about it. I'll leave the Google comment alone, not worth debating that.


There is an obvious distinction between our approaches to screenwriting, and if the way you write is the proven path to success then I encourage you to continue down that road. With that being said your unique creative style is most definitely unique. Everyone has a unique style and someone, even me, shouldn't force you into a direction that you believe to be wrong.


As an editor working in TV/Film and Commercials I have found that for getting a project approved by the client and/or the network I need to utilize the tools I have learned as a screenwriter about building in goals, escalations and opposition. This is not second nature for a lot of people and the editors, in essence, have to rewrite the story in post in order to make it work.


I do have a question regarding exposition. Would this scene be considered full of exposition?


If so, would that mean they are making rookie mistakes?


In my opinion, exposition is totally okay, but knowing how to use exposition is the difficult part. The way to use dialogue based exposition is to mask it within conflict. Proper exposition may be used as escalations in a scene...but again, my opinion which I assume you are going to say is wrong, but that is okay -- at least I'm okay with that.


Here is another video that I think is a fun little learn for the topic of exposition. It shares different types of exposition and does solidify that you are correct in your comment about showing it instead of saying it. That is one way of exposition we all need to master, unfortunately we have "talkies" now and dialogue is kind of part of motion picture storytelling.


https://youtu.be/oIAmwS2hPr8


For you beginners:
Talking around something is also a sign of a rookie, so learn to have clear definable goals for your characters and make sure they are actively pursuing them.


I do see one specific thing that we agree on and that is screenwriting is not an easy task and takes a lot of work a practice. So let's virtually shake hands on that and be friends. According to my original post that started this crazy thread I was really wondering what other peoples screenwriting approach was. I fully know what yours is now and genuinely thank you for sharing and hopefully it is of help and assistance to someone who is just starting out.


To the beginner:
It's a long road but don't give up hope, you can master the skills needed with practice. Don't give up because it is too hard...it will always be hard but the more you practice the more conditioned you will be to succeed.


I am still learning to master the tools of screenwriting and likely always be learning. When you stop learning is the day you no longer get better.

I think I will start a new thread on process, that could be interesting.
 

Snowman

New member
So, just so that I understand you correctly, if you write an ensemble piece you don't have to follow standard structure? That appears to break the "rules" you have told us we must follow, or is that a different rule I'm not aware of?

I'm only going to answer this, because you completely have it going on. Ensemble pieces are different because there isn't one single protagonist or story. Supposedly in this case there are 3 different parallel stories.

I'm done. Enjoy your "creativity" I'm sure it will set Hollywood on it's ear. I am absolutely positive that the 2 of you will prove to Hollywood, Broadway and have Shakespeare rolling over in his grave that structure is officially dead. You will be the trailblazers to a whole new revolution in blockbuster filmmaking and theatre (if you choose to become playwright). Because you are better then every produced screenwriter.
 
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