Sunday, July 24, 2016

Recommended: 'Save The Cat Goes to The Movies'.

Lately I've been reading some of the screenwriting books that I've managed to gather over the years. I have tried to find out which books in my library are the ones that I would recommend the most for others to read.

In total, I think I have like fifteen to twenty books that are primarily about screenwriting and how movies are supposed to be written. Over the years I have managed to buy almost all the 'important' books that are out there.

Yet, at least in my opinion the best screenwriting book out there is very likely Blake Snyder's 'Save The Cat Goes to The Movies'. This book is very good when it comes to understanding how storytelling structure works.

One of the reasons that Snyder's 'Save The Cat' is so good is that it intentionally keeps things as simple as possible. Unlike most screenwriting books out there, it doesn't make writing look like it's rocket science.

Instead, 'Save The Cat' manages to pay attention to structural plot points that are clear but not too strict or too restrictive. It concentrates on plot points and story beats that can be found from almost every quality screenplay.

These story beats are:

1. Opening Image
2. Theme Stated
3. Set-up
4. Catalyst
5. Debate
6. Break into Two
7. B story
8. Fun and Games
9. Midpoint
10. Bad Guys Close In
11. All is Lost
12. Dark Night of the Soul
13. Break into Three
14. Finale
15. Final Image

Using these plot points, the book breaks down the structure of 50 different movies from 10 different genres. It explains the structure behind movies like Alien, Die Hard, Forrest Gump, Spider-man 2 and Napoleon Dynamite among other films.

In my opinion, these film examples are entertaining, super easy to read and don't require that much time or effort. You get tons of insight just by picking one example from the book and studying the film's story structure.

At least in my case, it has made thinking about movies easier without making it too dull or too academic. It gives you the keys to appreciate good movies and also makes it easier to notice problems with films that don't work.

I mean, I can only speak for myself, but had I not read the book, I for example wouldn't have noticed many of the problems and flaws with Pixar's 'Inside Out'' that had to do with its almost non-existing inciting incident.

That same way, reading this book also gave me the opportunity to appreciate the many good things about 'The Big Short'. Without 'Save The Cat', I wouldn't be as aware of the movie's many strengths in its award winning screenplay.

In any case, when it comes to this book as a whole, I believe that Blake Snyder's 'Save The Cat Goes to The Movies' is a must purchase for pretty much anyone who's interested in screenwriting or storytelling in general. 

As far as I'm concerned, you need to have this screenwriting guide in your library, because not only is the book well written, insightful and full of substance - but it's also a book that keeps you entertained throughout its content.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

You don't really need to practice joke writing.

It was a couple of days ago when Ken Levine, an award winning writer wrote on his blog and asked his readers to write punchlines. He wanted his readers to complete his sentence (in link) and make it as funny as possible.

As it turned out, a lot of his loyal readers were more than willing to help and gave a lot of different suggestions. I think there were more than a hundred and fifty entries that were sent by his blog's regular followers.

Yet, the problem with this comedy improv exercise was that it just wasn't good at all. Not only were all the 150+ suggestions pretty lame, it's hard to believe that anyone learned about comedy writing from the exercise.

When it comes to this 'comedy improv' exercise not being useful, it's mostly because its premise was so bad. I honestly can't see what exactly is inspiring or motivating about writing 'funny' material based on your girlfriend seeing other men.

At least in my opinion, comedy writing is supposed to be about things that could make us feel good about our lives. It should be about lifting our spirits and giving us hope that tomorrow things are going to be okay.

In my opinion, comedy is not supposed to be about being mean or trying to come up with stuff that might hurt us. Comedy writing almost never is supposed to be about things that could make us feel worse about our lives.

Besides, what's really the point with coming up with these kinds of 'jokes' anyway? At least in my view, comedy in most cases really isn't that much about writing clever punchlines or writing 'funny' stuff like that.

Instead, good comedy writing should be about the story and storytelling. It should be about paying attention to the big picture, being able to see the forest for the trees and not getting too bogged down in the minutiae.

Aleast in my opinion, practicing writing 'jokes' like these in most cases is just a waste of time. I have no idea why someone with writing talent would try to come up with those punchlines or take part in comedy improv workshops like these.

As far as I'm concerned, most of the time we shouldn't worry too much about getting our jokes right. In most cases, we should worry about the story, because that's where almost all the bigger problems are going to be.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The need to show how good you are as a writer.

A couple of days ago I decided that since I didn't have anything better to do, I could perhaps check what kind of writing competitions there were out there. I thought that it wouldn't hurt to see whether some new competitions had popped up lately.

The reason I was somewhat curious about competitions was because I had a script that I had thought about submitting. In my opinion, one of my Modern Family scripts was just too good not to be evaluated by professional reviewers.

So as I kept searching for contests, it didn't take more than a couple of minutes, before I noticed that 'Final Draft' had a new competition. Their writing contest also had a category for my Modern Family script too.

To make things even more interesting for me, this was a competition that was still open for submissions. If I was willing to pay a late entry fee, I would be able to take part as long as I would submit before July 15th this year.

So knowing that there was still time to enter, I couldn't really resist the temptation and decided to give the competition a shot. I thought that pretty much anything could happen and that I wouldn't really have that much to lose anyway.

After all, the worst thing that could happen is that I wouldn't get back the money that I would spend to enter the competition. That wouldn't really be the end of the world and wouldn't get me too depressed either.

In any case, when it comes to the script that I submitted, I do have to confess that the spec isn't actually 'new'. That is because this Modern Family script was written almost three years ago when I still had the motivation to write for television.

The reason that I wanted to send it now is that last time I rushed it to a competition and I wasn't prepared. Even though the script did place in the contest, I hadn't made sure that there wouldn't be any problems with it.

This time however, I'm fairly confident that the script is potentially good enough to win the competition. In my opinion, this script shows me at my very best as a writer and shows what I'm capable of when I bring my A-game.

In any case, I'm going to keep you updated when it comes to the competition. There should be some news about the spec's progress in a couple of months, since 'Final Draft's' first qualifying round is going to be in September.

All in all, I'm definitely feeling optimistic about my chances in the competition. Perhaps this could finally be the moment when I'll have my lucky break, even though I've learned to expect the worst when it comes to contests like these.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Compassion as a source of entertainment.

In my opinion, a lot of writers seem to think that in order to be entertaining as a writer, you need to try to appear as cool as possible. They think that you need to be edgy and that showing awareness and empathy towards others isn't really that needed.

Personally speaking, I have never understood this approach at all. In my opinion by far the most important thing about being a good writer is that you show compassion to your characters so that your audience might care.

In any case, in order to hopefully give an example on how to write stuff that is both full of compassion and entertainment, let's take a look at an episode of one of my favorite television shows that was created by my favorite writer, David E. Kelley. 

In this case, we're talking about 'The Practice', a legal drama that managed to win multiple Emmy awards - including the best drama series - during its eight year run. This show was not only known for its entertainment values but also for its compassion.

Very likely my favorite 'entertainment through compassion' moment of all time happened during the show's final season, when the series gave us a new lead character, a sleazy, yet a good hearted lawyer, named Alan Shore. 

As his first case as a defense lawyer on the show - played wonderfully by the great James Spader - Alan Shore had to take a poor client who was suspected for committing a sexual assault on a female business executive.

At face value, this storyline didn't seem like one where 'entertainment' or 'compassion' would be the first thing in your mind. It's hard to imagine that you would feel for a person who had committed a crime against a woman.

Yet, it didn't take that long in the episode before you started to get second thoughts about the case and started to feel for the suspect in question. Things definitely weren't like one might have expected at first here.

That is that, the poor suspect's crime in this case hadn't been that bad. His illegal act was that he had publicly kissed the female executive on the office floor of the company as an act of  revenge and to get even with her.

That is because shortly before the sexual assault, the female in question had berated the suspect outside the office building for being a dirty, smelly worker. She had no compassion whatsoever for this man, who also happened to be a homeless person.

To make the situation even more humiliating for the man, his ten year old daughter had just happened to be close by when the berating happened. This man had been extremely humiliated and for no 'real' reason at all.

So when the story progressed, even though you wouldn't had thought at first, you couldn't help but to root for the blue collar guy. You couldn't help but to feel empathy for this homeless worker who was now in trouble.

After all, when you think about it, the worst that happened to this upper class female was that her 'embarrassment' would last only a couple of days or a week. Her co-workers wouldn't think about the incident that much and would forget it soon.

On the other hand, the humiliation that our homeless blue collar worker went through in front of his ten 10 year old daughter might even last a lifetime. It might well be that his daughter would never be able to forget what had happened.

This emotional aspect of the case was pretty much what Alan Shore's character emphasized when he gave his passionate closing argument to the court. The jury had to feel that sentencing the man for that crime would have simply been wrong.

Fortunately, at the end of the episode, the jury did manage to find our unlikely protagonist not guilty of the crime that he was accused of. He was let go and you were finally able to breath in relief that there was still some justice left in this world.

In any case, after the episode ended, all I could think was that the whole storyline in this episode (S8x01) about the underdog was simply fantastic. It showed what you can do as a writer when you have the talent and the courage to show kindness and be real.

It's just too bad that there aren't enough talented writers like David Kelley out there who can pull off stuff like this. Most of the so called 'professionals' couldn't write compassionate stuff like this even in their wildest dreams.

In my opinion that's a shame, because we as human beings clearly deserve to experience compassionate moments like these. These are the moments that make at least myself think that we aren't perhaps that bad.

In that sense, I just wish that we would have more good television shows like 'The Practice' on tv that took our struggles seriously and paid attention to issues that people in the audience found to be important and real.

That same way, I just wish that we had more writers like David Kelley, who understood what it means to be a human being and who understood that you don't always have to be hip or cool in order to be entertaining.