Screenwriting II — Week 2 — Spring 2014

February 5, 2014

Great job pitching on Monday, guys!

Jake, Caroline, Sarah, Enrico, Nick, Saku, David.

It’s hard to present your idea, defend its premise and be open to suggestions and advice without losing your creative center, your artistic “spine”, as it were.  Yes, it’s hard. But writing is hard. It only gets easier insofar as diminished mental bruising and soreness after the first draft as you get better. But you still have to fight the same battles.

On that cheery note…


I mentioned the Traveling Angel structure. The story teacher John Truby coined the phrase and discusses it in his book The Anatomy of Story. What it means is that your central character is not the person who carries the theme on his shoulders. In fact, your central character doesn’t even have a character arc (something that every main character should have, right?). Well, in a traveling angel structure, the community the “angel” comes to is the true main character.  The traveling angel drives the story, but it’s the community that goes through a transformation.  So the first thing to do if you decide to use such a structure is to setup the community first and then introduce the traveling angel.  Examples: Shane, Pale Rider, Dead Poets Society, One Flew Over the Cuckoos’ Nest, just to name a few.

I also suggested that you write a BIOGRAPHY OF YOUR MAIN CHARACTER.  If you’re writing a love story or a buddy movie, you should write a bio for both of your lovers / buddies.

What should a character biography include? Anything you want. Go to town. Feel free. Childhood, adolescence, scars, wounds, the color of her eyes. Anything and everything. Make it as personal as you want.  No need to post it anywhere or show it to anyone. It’s for you.

I like to do my character bio using the Interview Format. You simply write down the questions you want to ask your character and see how he or she answers them. Describe her behavior. Ask a personal question. Would she answer it? If not, ask the same question but in different way. You can do it in a screenplay format, if you wish. Or you can simply write a long essay about your main character. You’ll be living with her for a while, so you’d better get to know her.

At the beginning of next class I will give you a questionnaire regarding your main character. Having written a bio, you should have no problem answering the questions.

Your Assignment for Monday,  February 10th.

1. If you haven’t read the chapters assigned for last week, read them now.

2. Read the screenplay for Collateral (Blackboard / Screenplays page). We’ll discuss it in class.

3. In light of our discussions in class, adjust your pitch to make it more effective.

4. The seven of you who have already pitched, see if you can modify your premise to make it more effective.

See you next week.


Screenwriting II — Week 2

September 18, 2013

Posted on: Wednesday, September 18, 2013


In class we discussed John Truby’s  SEVEN ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS of a good story (J. Truby: The Anatomy of Story)

1. Weakness and need: a hero with a weakness (Max in Collateral is timid and indecisive) and need (has to learn how to stand up for himself and be more assertive. )

2. Desire: the backbone of the story that drives the hero (Max wants to get away from Vince and stay alive in the process).  Note that DESIRE is not the same as the NEED.  Desire is on the surface and need is something the main character is not aware of until the end.

3. Opponent: The person or persons who against our main character. He either wants the same thing as the main character or tries to prevent the main character from getting what she wants. Collateral has one major force of opposition — Vince.

4. Plan: heroes who want something need a plan of action (in Collateral, the plan is forced upon Max by Vince, until the middle of the film when Max hurls Vince’s briefcase over the railing and onto the highway below; in Thelma and Louise, the plan is much clearer and is introduced at the very beginning of Act II by Louise — She’s going to Mexico and hoping Thelma will come with her. )

5. Battle: the battle is the CLIMAX of the story. The main character fights the opponent or forces of opposition.  In Thelma and Louise the women battle the cops. In Collateral, Max has a shootout with Vince on the train.

6. Self-revelation: the hero realizes her NEED, what she needed to have all along but wasn’t aware of it. In Collateral, Max realizes that he can be assertive and stand up for himself.  Thelma is the one who goes through a real change, so the self-revelation is given to her. She chooses death rather than live for the rest of her life in captivity, which is what she was doing at the beginning of the story.

7. New equilibrium: in light of her experiences, our main character looks at the world in a new way.   In Collateral, Max is with Annie. Because Thelma and Louise is a tragedy, there’s no New Equilibrium.

Your Assignments:

COMMENT on your groupmates’ work. Leaving comments is the largest part of your CLASS PARTICIPATION percentage of the final grade. Be sure to leave the comments during the first few days of the submitted work, that’s when they are useful, not two weeks later.If you want to comment on the work of your classmates from other groups, that’s great. One of the reasons I created groups is so you don’t have to read and comment on everyone’s work – just your groupmates’.

Read COLLATERAL SCREENPLAY (on Blackboard). Is it different from the film? How? Prepare your pitches. Everyone should be ready pitch and discuss his/her story on Monday. YOUR PRESENTATION AND QUESTIONS should not exceed 15 minutes. Concentrate on the main character and his/her journey. Use the seven steps discussed above to help you. This helpful tidbit is from SCRIPT magazine:

 Focus on revealing the essential elements of your story. 

  • Who is your HERO or protagonist?
  • What is that character’s EVERYDAY LIFE at the beginning of the film?
  • Why will we feel EMPATHY towards your hero?
  • What OPPORTUNITY is presented to that hero at the 10% point that will get the story going?
  • Into what NEW SITUATION does that opportunity take your hero?
  • What specific visible goal or OUTER MOTIVATION are we rooting for your hero to accomplish by the end of the movie?
  • What CONFLICT will the hero face that makes achieving that goal seem impossible?
  • What are two ANTECEDENTS to your screenplay – recent, successful films with the same genre, tone, and potential market as yours?

Let me know if you have questions.