Screenwriting II — Week 12

November 25, 2013

Greetings everyone,

Another great class. We talked about your step outline, my comments, and your Final Exam  — a  REWRITE of your step outline based on the feedback from me you received via email and the comments from your groupmates on Blackboard.  You don’t have to follow our comments blindly, but read them carefully, see if you agree with them, and try to find dramatic and visual ways to address them.

Some of you still struggle to understand the difference between SCENES that are BEATS and transitional/passing scenes.  This is important to remember: every BEAT / STEP is a scene, NOT every scene is a BEAT.John Truby (The Anatomy of Story  has an interesting and useful advice regarding beats (his term for Step Outline / Beat Sheet is Scene Weave):

“The point of the scene weave is to get one last look at the overall architecture of the story before writing it. Therefore, don’t go into too much detail, because this will hide the structure. Try to describe each scene in one line. For example, a description of four scenes in The Godfather might look like this:

 -Michael saves the Don from assassination at the hospital.

-Michael accuses police captain McCluskey of working for Sollozzo. The Captain slugs him.

-Michael suggests that he kill the Captain and Sollozzo.

-Clemenza shows Michael how to execute Sollozzo and the Captain.”

Put a Structure Step next to a pivotal scene. For example:

Bombs falling. An airplane whooshes overhead, spraying fire. Jack gets off the ground starts to walk away, paying no attention to the mayhem around him. (CHARACTER REVELATION #2  or SECOND PLOT POINT or whatever it is).

Okay, now on to Shame.


A colleague provided a link to a streaming video of the film, which you can see for FREE online: You will pick up many more interesting details on second viewing.

You guys are very discerning viewers and excellent critics. You’ve caught and understood a lot of nuances in the story and the relationship between Jan and Eve.  Even though this is not your typical love story, it is a love story nevertheless.  The lovers are together in the end, but they are miserable together, ashamed to be in the world, ashamed for what they have and have not done. Let’s look at Jan’s and Eva’s character arcs.

We introduce them on a peaceful farm,  hiding from the conflict that’s present in the cities. He’s an indecisive complainer. A rather weak man whose retreat form the city represents a sort of selfish retreat. “It’s better to know nothing,” says Jan. “We can only hope for the best.” Eve, on the other hand wants to know the “news” and is upset by Jan’s escapism, but is quickly distracted by the promise of having fish for dinner and good wine. In a way she too is complicit in the shame that she feels at the end of the film.

Both of them are sensitive people, classical musicians, artists who are supposed to help the world deal with pain. But as the war interferes in their lives, it not only changes the world around them but their emotional world and the relationship between them.

Here are few  important structural moments:

1. Jan and Eva visit their friend, the antique dealer, who’s about to go off to war. He’s wearing an ill-fitting uniform and represents the world that is no more, the world of yesterday, with its porcelain figurines and things of the past.  He disturbs the tranquility of the peace that Jan and Eva think they live in.  This scene starts the story and is the clearest inciting incident.

2. Jan and Eva see the dead parachutist in their backyard and are pounced upon by the rebels who tell them to leave at once. This is the first revelation (Plot Point 1 and the end of Act 1 — it happens about 30 minutes into the film).

3. The midpoint is clearly when both Jan and Eva are interrogated by the current, probably fascistic government. This is where the former mayor Colonel Jacobi saves from the concentration camp and send them home. The relationship between Eva and Jan are more strained now. She’s sick of his cowardice and feels that she has to protect the family, because he seems unable to protect them.  (Note that you may see other reason for the continuing strain in their relationship. This is a complex film and allows for multiple interpretations and requires multiple viewings).

4.  Plot Point II, which marks the end of Act II and comes right after Jan’s lowest point (apparent defeat / ordeal) when he finds Colonel’s money and realizes that Jan essentially “sold” herself to the Colonel. Why? To protect them?  Or maybe because she wants to assert herself with a “real” man, with someone who gets things done, with someone who has power and influence? Like in all Bergman movies, nothing is obvious.  Something not being obvious is different from something that’s confusing or not clear.  Bergman refuses to spoon-feed his audience and prefers that they work with his movies instead.  That’s what distinguishes art from mere entertainment.

5. The final battle is between Eva and Jan after Jan kills the young soldier and takes his boots. When crying she asks him “What did you do with him?” He pushes her away and is willing to go to the boat without her. She despises him now, but drags along because it’s the only way for her to survive.

6. Resolution. The scene in the boat, with dead bodies floating in the water. Bergman’s grim statement about the state of the world and our collective mental health.

The film has been accused by some critics for failing to represent a “real war”. But as Paisley Livingston in her book Ingmar Bergman and the Rituals of Art correctly states: “Bergman’s film is one of the few films…  which does not obscure the fundamental reciprocity of violence and the senseless identities of oppositional  parties. The film directly confronts the impossibility of distinguishing between good and bad forms of barbarism when barbarism implies the destruction of all.”

Watching the movie for the third time, I realized that in this film about musicians there’s no music on the soundtrack. It’s another important point that Bergman wanted to make without hitting us over the head with it.  If you want to add anything to the discussion about the film, please bring it up on Monday.

No homework this week.  Relax and enjoy Thanksgiving.


Screenwriting II — Week 11

November 21, 2013


A short post this week.

In class we analyzed the first act of Body Heat and Eve’s Bayou.  Did the writers use different techniques to introduce the main characters? What are the techniques?

I recommend that you see both films and read the screenplays (Body Heat is available on Blackboard).

Your Assignment:

Step Outline – Act III, Due Monday, November 25.

Be sure to comment on your groupmates’ work on Blackboard.

See you Monday.


Screenwriting II — Week 10

November 14, 2013

Posted on: Wednesday, November 13, 2013

 Greetings all,Great class!  We spent three and a half hours discussing Thelma and Louise — reading scenes from the screenplay (final draft) and watching clips from the film. We also mapped out Thelma’s and Louise’s character arcs. Note how the characters and their worldview change throughout their journey.  Try to apply the same technique to your stories.
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What is the world of your characters? How are they introduced?

What happens at the Inciting Incident (Call to Adventure)?

What about the end of Act I (Crossing the Threshold)?

Did you find the Midpoint for your story? What happens at Midpoint? (Hint: Something unexpected happens that changes the way your protagonist looks at the world. Her plan doesn’t apply anymore. The character makes a choice, which connects the first part of Act II with the second part of Act II)

The Crises. McKee and Truby suggest it should come at the end of Act II. Vogler believes the right place to have it is closer to Midpoint (the Ordeal). Where does it fit in your story?

How does your Act II end?

Act III is not just the Climax and Resolution. After your character makes a decision at the end of Act II, she moves toward her goal with greater intensity. What happens to your character as she approaches the confrontation with her opponent(s)?

Those of you who haven’t read the Thelma and Louise screenplay, you should. First, it was your assignment for the class. Second, you learn more from reading great screenplays than from books on how to write screenplays.

Some of you are not clear yet on what makes a beat. If what happens in a scene moves the story forward or adds to the development of your main character, that scene a BEAT.

If what happens in a scene does not move the story forward and adds to the development of your main character, that scene is NOT A BEAT.  It’s a transitional scene. Every beat is a scene; but not every scene is a beat.

Example: Joe walks with Jane to the liquor store. He tells her that he loves her.

Joe and Jane buy wine and banter with the store owner.

Joe and Jane come home and cook dinner. Jane tells Joe she doesn’t love him.

It’s clear that beat two is not a real beat. You can include it in the screenplay,  but you don’t need it in the outline. If you think you must have the banter with the store owner, make it a part of the first beat.

Joe and Jane walk to the liquor store. They banter with the store owner. Joe tells Jane he loves her.

A slight adjustment. But now you have the “banter” part and the “I love you” part in the same beat.

Your assignment for Monday, Nov. 18:

1. Step Outline / Beat Sheet: Act II (the entire act, which should include a Midpoint, the Ordeal (crisis), and the Second Act break / the Reward (plot point) that takes us into Act III. The plot point at the end of Act I (Crossing the Threshold) is part of Act I.

Refer to  your  Sequence Outline.  There are four sequences in Act II that consist of APPROXIMATELY 20 to 30 beats. Include ONLY the beats that move the story forward and/or add a new dimension (deepen) your main character.

2. Read McKee (ch. 16-20);   Vogler (pp.155-215)
There will be another quiz in the next two weeks; so don’t forget to do your reading.

3. Comment on your groupmates’ work.

Let me know if you have questions.


Screenwriting II — Week 9

November 7, 2013

Posted on: Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Greetings, In class we talked about scene construction. Think of a scene as a mini-film. It has to have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

— What is the scene you’re writing about?

— Who is the main character in the scene?

— Would your story change if you didn’t include the scene?

— How does the scene end?

— Does it have a heightening of dramatic tension?

— Does it introduce a new plot element?

— Does it offer a new insight for the audience

— Does it have a reveal or surprise?

Start from the end of the scene and work your way to the beginning, so you can set up all the necessary elements.

Most of you have already started to work on the step outline for ACT I, which consists of the FIRST TWO SEQUENCES. In the previous assignment you outlined the sequences without getting into the beats. For this assignment, you’ll  need outline the beats. Keep in mind, however, that not every scene needs to be included in a beat sheet. Many different scenes may comprise a car chase, for example. The chase is only ONE BEAT. Here’s a little sample.


1.    LOUISE is a waitress in a busy coffee shop. Pretty and meticulously groomed.

2.    THELMA is a housewife.  She’s washing the dirty dishes from last night, still in her nightgown, her hair messed up. 3.    Louise calls Thelma and they discuss the details of their two-day trip to a cabin in the mountains.

4.    Thelma packing for the trip. Her suitcase is a mess and she’s taking way too much stuff for a two-day trip. The last thing she takes is her gun.

5.    Louise is a meticulous packer and her suitcase looks perfectly ordered.  Her room is as orderly as her suitcase. She calls up her boyfriend but he’s not home.

6.    Louise’s green T-Bird convertible pulls up to Thelma’s house. Thelma loads her things into the car and asks Louise to take care of the gun. Louise shrieks but takes the gun and drops it into her purse. They drive off.

7.    Thelma is hungry and wants to stop for food. They pull into the parking lot of an eatery called Silver Bullet.  (INCITING INCIDENT)

Continue in similar manner. Try to keep your beat no longer than two three sentences. If a scene is broken into several parts, count it as one beat (e.g. First we see Thelma packing, then Louise, and then we come back to Thelma to show her taking the gun. It is the same scene split in two.) Indicate major structural points. Inciting Incident,  Act I plot point, etc. just to keep yourself from getting derailed. Indicate the sequences.  That too will keep you organized.

There are many approaches to writing beats. The most important thing to remember is to keep them short, so your brain is not locked into any specific details when you  write the scene. A step outline / beat sheet is a map, not a carefully detailed route. But… your beats have to be carefully chosen because they are the building blocks of your story. If one is removed, added or modified, the rest have to be adjusted to it.

Your Assignment:

Step Outline — Act I DUE: MONDAY, NOV. 11th, by 9:30 AM

Read: Vogler, Meeting with the Mentor through Approach to the Inmost Cave (pp. 117-155).

Read: Thelma & Louise screenplay (Screenplays Page).

See you Monday.