Revealing key backstory in compelling fashion — Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Chekov caught in the wrath of KhanTo this day “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” is widely revered for many good reasons — among them Ricardo Montalban’s memorable performance as well as a certain plot twist at the end — but in this post I’ll focus on the genius of the film’s second sequence and what screenwriters can learn from the well-executed screenplay by Jack B. Sowards. What makes a sequence filled with exposition set primarily in a confined space so dramatic and compelling? Continue reading “Revealing key backstory in compelling fashion — Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”

Comedy, the Doritos Goat Super Bowl Ad, and no dialogue needed

Doritos goat SuperBowlIt’s easy as a screenwriter to tend to focus on dialogue, but the reality is stories need structure and conflict before they need any dialogue. The Doritos Super Bowl goat ad is a great example of why it is best first to focus on the story before worrying about the dialogue. Continue reading “Comedy, the Doritos Goat Super Bowl Ad, and no dialogue needed”

Indiana Jones and — the Story Development Transcript!

Harrison Ford and Karen AllenGrab a seat at the table with George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Lawrence Kasdan during their 1978 story development conference sessions for “Raiders of the Lost Ark and the memorable characters who help and hinder Indiana Jones. As Lucas initially describes Indy: “He is an archeologist and an anthropologist. A Ph.D. He’s a doctor, he’s a college professor. What happened is, he’s also a sort of rough and tumble guy. But Continue reading “Indiana Jones and — the Story Development Transcript!”

Screenwriting setups and payoffs are best as cause and effect

Invariably the best and most entertaining films are dense with clever-yet-subtle setups and payoffs, and “War Games is a great case study in this respect because many of its payoffs not only are setups for more payoffs, but shift the plot in new entertaining directions. What results is a classic cause-and-effect structure that seamlessly Continue reading “Screenwriting setups and payoffs are best as cause and effect”

Why everyone needs an editor

The lingering confusion and disappointment about Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” is a good high-profile example of why everyone — screenwriters, directors, producers not withstanding — need editors to identify plot holes, character inconsistencies, and anything else that undermines a story’s impact and confuses audiences.

One of the most anticipated films of 2012, “Prometheus”
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Sell your screenplay: what producers want to hear

I just got back from the Inktip Pitch Summit, where, for a price, you meet with a variety of producers in five-minute sessions to pitch your screenplay, sitcom, reality TV idea or story concept to as many producers as you like throughout the day. And you’re probably thinking, “no way can I condense my fabulously detailed, intricate story into five minutes!” But the reality is Continue reading “Sell your screenplay: what producers want to hear”

Madonna’s Super Bowl halftime show and what screenwriters and filmmakers can learn

Madonna’s SuperBowl halftime show achieved what screenwriters and filmmakers strive to achieve: quite simply, it was entertaining on many levels from start to finish. Regardless of how you feel about her music, Madonna’s show delivered a highly structured full-on multimedia experience that serves as a spot-on “how to” for screenwriters and filmmakers, starting with Continue reading “Madonna’s Super Bowl halftime show and what screenwriters and filmmakers can learn”

The failed symbol of “War Horse”

The failed symbol of War HorseScreenwriting consultant Laurie Hutzler has an excellent blog post on why “War Horse” lacks emotional impact, and here I want to focus on why the film’s key symbol — the Boer War red and tan campaign pennant — lacks the emotional impact it was meant to convey. Continue reading “The failed symbol of “War Horse””

A screenplay’s first 10 pages are key

So you’ve finished your screenplay and are ready to shop it around, but how exactly do you know when your screenplay is ready to stand out in the crowded market? Start with the “First 10 Pages Challenge.” Give the first 10 pages to a variety of friends — not all need be trained screenwriters — and ask them to summarize what they think the story is about. They should be able to identify some key story elements that should be present in the first 10 pages of any entertaining feature script: Continue reading “A screenplay’s first 10 pages are key”