Screenwriting II — Week 4 & 5 — Spring 2014

February 25, 2014

Greetings everyone,

Highlights of the past two weeks.

First, congrats to  Robert, David, Amanda, Jennifer, Apolos and Sharah. Good job pitching.

All of you did well. Now the real work begins. Below is the one-page synopsis of Collateral I promised you.
Plus the 12 Hero’s Journey beats for The Matrix.

Your assignment:Do all the assigned reading and be prepared for the quiz.

Group 1 and 2 — your ONE-PAGE SYNOPSIS is due in your respective folders no later than 11:59 PM this Friday, Feb. 28th.

Group 3 — your ONE-PAGE SYNOPSIS is due in your respective folders no later than 9:25 AM on Monday, March 3rd.

Also, several of you have asked about commenting on your classmates’ assignments.  Is it a requirement? No.

What’s required of you is class particiipation. So if you don’t participate in a face-to-face class discussion (you’re shy, not fully awake, too self-concious, etc.),

then you had better use the online platform to make your voice heard, i.e. comment on your GROUPMATES’ work (you can comment on all your classmates’ work,

if you like). Otherwise you will receive a ZERO for class participation when the final grade is calculated.

Here’s a one-page synopsis for Collateral.


Screenplay written by Stuart Beattie

LA cabbie Max Durocher is the type of person who can wax poetic about other people’s lives, which impresses U.S. Justice Department prosecutor Annie Farrell, one of his fares, so much that she gives him her telephone number at the end of her ride. Although he’s good at his job, Max is unable to make a better life for himself. He deludes himself into believing that his now twelve year cabbie job is temporary and that someday he will own his own limousine service.


One night, Max picks up a well-dressed man named Vincent, who asks Max to be his only fare for the evening. For a flat fee of $600, plus an extra $100 if he gets to the airport on time – Vincent wants Max to drive him to five stops that evening. Max somewhat reluctantly agrees. Max learns the hard way at their first stop when a body falls from a third story apartment window and lands dead on top of his cab that Vincent is a contract hit man. Vincent’s main goal, as per his current contract, is to kill five people, one at each of the stops, but he will not let others get in the way of that goal, even if it means killing them, including Max.


Meanwhile, a Detective Fanning is chasing the two, slowly figuring out what is going on. He pieces together several clues involving the people Vincent has killed, determining that the killer has used the same method to shoot them all; two shots in the chest and one in the skull.


Despite the circumstances, Vincent seems to take a liking to Max. When Vincent finds out Max’s mother is ill, he insists they visit her in the hospital. While Vincent talks with the mother,  Max manages to slip away with Vincent’s briefcase containing his laptop and the identity records of his targets. Max throws the briefcase off the bridge onto the highway below, where it’s run over by a truck. Vincent responds by forcing Max to go to the man who ordered the hits and retrieve the information. Against all odds, Max manages to get the information Vincent needs. They now have to complete the final two hits.


Vincent and Max go to a busy night club to kill a heavily guarded target. The FBI, LAPD, and Fanning also show up.  During a big shootout inside the club Fanning finds Max and tries to escort him to safety. Vincent appears from behind and shoots Fanning dead.


Max and Vincent escape the carnage and head for the next mark. By this time Max has reached his breaking point and deliberately wrecks his cab. Vincent crawls out and leaves him behind. A police officer approaches Max to help him but sees the bodies Vincent hid in the trunk. While on the ground, Max sees Vincent’s new computer screen and realizes that Annie is the final target, which explains why Vincent was outside that particular building earlier; he was studying the building’s security systems.

Max overpowers the cop and takes his gun. He races to Annie’s building and reaches her at the same time Vincent does.  A battle between Max and Vincent ensues. Max manages to kill Vincent and save Annie’s life.  He and Annie get off at the next station. The rampage is over. It’s the dawn of a new day.

And this is a Here’s Journey outline for The Matrix.

Ordinary world

Neo works as a programmer for a software company replete with boring cubicles, an obnoxious boss, and indifferent coworkers.
(Why did the writers choose to open the story with Trinity fighting Agent Smith and his cronies? To have a running start and give us a whiff of the magical world. Now we know Trinity can kick ass. It’s a welcome sight at the end of the film when she accompanies Neo on the rescue-Morpheus mission.)

Call to Adventure

“Follow the white rabbit.”  Neo goes to the club with Choi and meets Trinity there.
Trinity claims she knows the answer to “What is the Matrix?”

Refusal of the call

Neo is at work when he receives a call from Morpheus, who wants to help him escape from the agents. But Neo drops his phone and chickens out. He steps back inside and is arrested by the agents.

Meetingwith the Mentor / Crossing the First Threshold

Neo meets Morpheus, who offers Neo a choice between the red and the blue pill. “This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”
Neo goes for the red pill. He makes a conscious choice to enter the magical world and go on a journey.

Tests,Allies and Enemies

Neo learns about the Matrix and his potential role in it. He learns how to fight and who his friends are.

Approachto the Inmost Cave

Neo is taken to see the Oracle. He’s faced with some of the doubts and fears that first surfaced upon his call to adventure. Is he the One or isn’t he?

Ordeal(Lowest Point)

Morpheus is captured by Agents. Cypher is a traitor. Everything seems lost. Neo chooses to risk his life to save Morpheus.  Trinity comes with him.


Neo chooses to risk his life to save Morpheus.  Trinity comes with him. They succeed in rescuing Morpheus. All three are going back to reality.

TheRoad Back

The Agents pursue them. Only Morpheus and Trinity get back to the ship. Neo is stuck in the Matrix.

Resurrection ( Final Battle / Climax)

Neo fights Agent Smith and is killed by him. But Trinity’s kiss in reality literally resurrects Neo in the Matrix.
The Matrix no longer controls Neo. He controls the Matrix. Neo easily defeats the Agents.

Return with the Elixir

Neo now believes in himself. He’s the One who will end the oppression of the machines.

Screenwriting II — Week 5

October 9, 2013

Posted on: Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Greetings everyone,

First, let me know if you have questions re: the mail I sent on Monday. Think of what you want to ask our guest. You can bounce it off me, if you want. If you want me to ask him something, let me know.

Second, if Margaret tried your patience, that’s good. Sometimes you need to work with a film in order to understand what it’s trying to communicate. You don’t have to like it. There are plenty of very smart people out there who didn’t like the film. The most important thing for you is to discern what the writer (and in this case the director) Kenneth Lonnergan tried to do and what dramatic techniques he used to accomplish his goal. As you’re reading the screenplay (on Blackboard, on Screenplays page / link below) ask yourself “What is this movie about? What is the nature of the journey of its main character? Has the journey changed, even a little bit, the way she sees the world?”

Check out this summary from Rotten Tomatoes:
(would have been a pretty good way to pitch the film)

Margaret centers on a 17-year-old New York City high-school student who feels certain that she inadvertently played a role in a traffic accident that has claimed a woman’s life. In her attempts to set things right she meets with opposition at every step. Torn apart with frustration, she begins emotionally brutalizing her family, her friends, her teachers, and most of all, herself. She has been confronted quite unexpectedly with a basic truth: that her youthful ideals are on a collision course against the realities and compromises of the adult world.

Here’s an interesting article about the film.,85264/

Here’s two positive reviews from The Guardian, a British paper, and from Time magazine:

And two negative reviews, from The New York Times and New York Post

The reviews are of an earlier cut, the 2 1/2 hours one; we saw the extended cut.

We will talk more about it on Monday.

Some of you have asked me how to make a synopsis come alive. That depends on your ability to write sentences that come alive. Read as many synopses as you can and see what they do that you can do better. The main purposes of writing a synopsis at this stage of your writing process is for you to understand your own story. Concentrate on the heart of the story only, i.e. the journey of your main character and the troubles and tribulations she encounters on her way to her new self-equilibrium, to use John Truby’s line. By the way, if you don’t follow John Truby’s blog, I recommend that you do. You will find a lot of interesting things on it.

Keep working on your synopsis. Due Tuesday, Oct. 15th at 9:30am.  Don’t forget we’re meeting Tuesday next week, not Monday (Conversion Day at BC).  Whenever you’re done with it and think that it’s in a presentable state, upload it to your group’s folder on Blackboard. Kal has already uploaded his. Offer him feedback.


I promised to give you a link to an audio interview with two Breaking Bad writers.  It’s about 40 minutes or so.

Happy writing.
See you Tuesday.