Archive for writing for TV
As well as thinking about the construction of the overall story of a screenplay we have to construct individual scenes. A terrific resource in line with that is the New York Times feature, “Anatomy of a Scene.”
In the video below, the director Richard Ayoade narrates the opening sequence of the film, The Double, starring Jesse Eisenberg. You’ll see how much we manage to learn about the character without any dialogue.
My only quibble with this excellent regular feature is that I wish they’d invite the writer aboard more often.
Have a great idea for a screenplay? Congratulations! You are one step closer to having a great screenplay…but only one step. No less an authority than George RR Martin, author of the saga, A Song of Ice and Fire, which includes Game of Thrones, testified to this in a recent interview in Rolling Stone magazine:
“Ideas are cheap. I have more ideas now than I could ever write up. To my mind, it’s the execution that is all-important.”
He also downplays the importance of having a totally new idea:
“I’m proud of my work, but I don’t know if I’d ever claim it’s enormously original. You look at Shakespeare, who borrowed all of his plots. In A Song of Ice and Fire, I take stuff from the Wars of the Roses and other fantasy things, and all these things work around in my head and somehow they jell into what I hope is uniquely my own.”
Martin suggests that history is a great starting point:
“History is written in blood, a gold mine – the kings, the princes, the generals and the whores, and all the betrayals and wars and confidences. It’s better than 90 percent of what the fantasists do make up.”
Perhaps the moral is to steal your ideas wisely and apply your creativity not only to the story but how you tell it. One final encouraging word note from Martin:
“The big secret about writing screenplays and teleplays is that it’s much easier than writing a novel or any kind of prose.
Of course even if he’s right, that doesn’t mean writing screenplays is easy…
For more about this fascinating writer, here’s a twenty-one minute interview:
What do we fear the most? Probably most of us wouldn’t say we’re worried about giant robots or lizards, sharks brought to us via tornados, or zombies, although all of those can be fun to watch at the movies. However, each of those does have some foundation–however distant–in reality. If you want to write a horror film it’s a good idea to start with what people really fear and then decide how realistic a version of that fear you want to create.
One common fear is the ally who turns into an enemy. History is full of double-crosses and unfortunately many of us have experienced a betrayal by someone we trusted.
On the level of realistic drama we have characters like Alex, the woman with whom the protagonist of Fatal Attraction has a fling. At first it seems like she sees the situation as he does: a one-night affair, probably a bad idea but one without lasting consequences. Of course it’s not long before we’re into bunny-boiling and he is facing a formidable enemy.
Moving on to more traditional horror territory (spoiler alert!), in Scream the boyfriend upon whom Sidney depends for protection turns out to be the killer. There are also major betrayals in Aliens, The Fellowship of the Ring, 300, Ghost, The Matrix, and many more.
It’s a fine tradition that goes back to Shakespeare, the Greek tragedies, and the Bible as well. Sometimes the person doing the betraying had that in mind all along, other times something happens during the course of the story to change their loyalties.
You can decide whether the audience should know the betrayer’s intentions before your protagonist or find it out at the same moment. The former builds suspense–we wonder when the protagonist will finally figure it out; the latter generates shock. Both can be powerful but since horror movies often try for shock value, they lean more toward the latter.
In the case of a monster movie it can be the monster itself that goes from friendly to murderous. Poor old Frankenstein and King Kong both had good intentions but circumstances turned them into monsters in the eyes of the public. Or it may be a perfectly good friend whose personality changes when he becomes one of the undead.
The fear of betrayal, of people turning on us, is a survival instinct that still lives within, so why not take advantage of it to create a powerful horror script?
In future posts we’ll look at several other key fears that can be a great foundation for a horror or thriller film.
(You’re not going to turn on me by not buying my book, Your Writing Coach, are you? Not after all we’ve been through! You can get it at Amazon or your other favorite bookseller. We’re good, right? …Right?)