BALI BROTHERS – Publishing the film script as a book
Scripts are usual secret documents that are only shared initially with actors, department heads and financiers. I took quite an opposite approach and just published the script which is now available in all bookstores and on Amazon BEFORE the film has been made. This is the rationale behind such madness. mw
GREAT UNPRODUCED FILM SCRIPTS™
No one doubts that the road to getting an independent film made is filled with incredible obstacles. Not only is writing an original script a laborious accomplishment that may take dozens of rewrites, but even if it’s great, truly original and has something to say, sadly, that doesn’t guarantee it will get made.
To get made (by someone other than the writer) a script has to land in the right hands at the right time. Many screenwriters do not live in L.A. or New York. They do not have access to agents, studios, or independent producers. And even if they did, their “small” (e.g. non-blockbuster) movie would fall well below the radar of most executives anyway. Therefore, their films need to be made outside the system, be great, and then with the luck akin to lightning striking a penny, find distribution and audiences.
The publication of this “great unproduced script” is the first of what we hope will be a series of original, heart felt stories from screenwriters seeking to get their independent visions into the world. By publishing these scripts, we hope they will be read by producers, filmmakers, or private investors seeking fresh material and that these films will get made. If not, then at least the story will be read by many more people than would normally read a script.
We’ve been doing what we can to support independent film since 1981 when we released our first book, The Independent Film and Videomaker’s Guide by Michael Wiese. At that time there was only one other “how to” filmmaking book in the bookstores. Today we’ve published 150 books about all aspects of filmmaking. We’ve helped define the genre. This next step is an experiment to see whether publishing great scripts will assist in the process of getting great films made, that have something to say and that will inspire audiences for generations to come for the benefit of all.
Once again, Michael Wiese steps up to the plate first, and his Bali Brothers script — a story he has been developing for years — serves as the guinea pig.
INTRODUCTION & BACKGROUND
Bali Brothers was inspired by the time I lived with a friend in what was then a remote village in Bali. It was 1970, and not far away, the Vietnam War was in full bloom. We were film students setting out to discover who we were and what life was all about.
A Balinese painting salesman found us on a beach and invited us to his village. Dewa Nyoman Batuan, the kind and generous head of the village, gave us a tiny room to sleep in and fed us. We learned some Indonesian, prayed in the temple ceremonies, participated in ritual magic, studied painting and shadow plays, and played extraordinary gamelan music. Besides being immersed in what has to be one of the most creative and exquisite cultures on the planet, we saw a people who lived communally, where the family and community came first, where the ego was suppressed for the benefit of the whole, and where an entire people lived in close harmony with nature and their gods.
After many months living in this remote location, being a participant in the spiritual and ritual life of the Balinese, immersing ourselves in the trance-invoking gamelan, and the mythic archetypal characters channelled into life by the shadow master, we experienced various levels of non-ordinary realities.
The time spent in Bali forever transformed me at the deepest level and I’ve been exploring those feelings and trying to find my place in the world ever since — not unlike the protagonists in our script.
I’ve returned to Bali more than twenty times during my life and maintain a close relation with the village and my friends, now revered village elders.
In the early nineties, I started going through old diaries and reconstructing the events of that first trip. In 1995, I published a novel called On the Edge of A Dream: Magic and Madness in Bali which tells the story of that first year. While it is written as fiction, 80% of it is true.
Then I started work adapting it into a film script.
For eight years, I wrote draft after draft. I had written some scripts before but, as I found out, I knew little about what I was doing. This was more complicated, because the scripts were based on autobiographical material and even though some say “write what you know,” the fact that it was based on my life gave energy to my ego and kept me from the core of the material. As I learned, I was too busy protecting myself.
So I studied, took courses and published a lot of screenwriting books from some of the greatest minds in the industry. This gave me an amazing ace. I had access to the world’s greatest scriptwriters, script consultants, and story editors. They not only wrote books for me but they were my friends. Over the years, some very smart people consulted on the script and gave me extensive notes and guidance.
I bow down and touch their feet with the greatest of appreciation for their contribution to my work and my life: Christopher Vogler, Steve Katz, Blake Snyder, James Bonnet, Mary Trainor-Brigham, Judith Weston, Mark Travis, Jeffrey Schechter, Matthew Bishop and Lacy Waltzman.
Of course, more than anyone else, my wife, Geraldine Overton, has watched me twist and turn in the wind, and I am grateful for her patience. I’ve come to call the project “Michael’s folly” because of the vast number of hours (and dollars) I’ve put into this work over the years. Granted, I’ve been running a publishing company and making the occasional other film and I haven’t been working on it every day, but it has been fifteen years, and I have yet to make this film.
Howard Suber, UCLA educator and mentor to just about every major director and producer in Hollywood, says the average films takes nine years to make. People don’t realize this. They think a script is written, and then shot, then appears in the theaters. Many times I’ve despaired and really questioned whether this was something I wanted to pursue and every time I got “yes” as an answer and there would be another burst of creative energy. If this is the film I was born to make, then let me make it! I take frequent comfort in friend Bucky Fuller’s advice when he said that great things like the redwoods, the great whales, and the elephant have long gestation rates. I like to think of this film as one of those “great things.”
In 1994, after countless drafts, I realized I had taken it as far as I can. I needed help. I needed a co-writer. I found Matthew Bishop, who gave me notes and then came up with a strategy and structure for rewriting it. I gave him my blessing and he ran with it.
I took this version and continue the process I had begun earlier of trying to find producers, foreign sales reps, and talent to join in. I made the rounds at Cannes. As I’ve learned, no one says “no” but they don’t say “yes” either. They hope to remain friends with you and hope you’ll get your film made and come back to them when it’s finished. There is so much film product available, distributors do not need to finance anything, they just wait, go to festivals, and pick the plums off the tree. The filmmaker is expected to hock house and the family fortune to make his film and hence gain entry to this glamorous world.
Writing a film that is set in another culture presents other challenges. Not only is a script a kind of blueprint that gives everyone the vision and must tell a cracking good story, it has to do so within 120 pages. (The “right length” in Hollywood this year is 106 pages!) The story has to be told with great economy. So writing in a way that allows people to “get” Bali is very difficult. Most readers had never been there. So how do you create that image in their heads without them substituting Mexico?
I would shoot a trailer. In 2002, a month after the Bali bombings, I took two actors from Los Angeles, a U.K. cameraman, and a producer to Bali for ten days, and we shot a short piece. I made DVDs of it, sent it around with the script, and put it on YouTube. Of course the problem with this is that we shot it for nothing on mini-DV and the style of the piece is not the look we’ll have the final movie. Also, by now, the actors in the trailer are not the actors who will be in the film. Nevertheless, I learned that a mixed Balinese and Western cast and crew can work very well together. I learned how long things really take to shoot and what it would cost. So, for that alone, it was well worth doing.
A few more years went by and I was not getting it financed. Part of the problem is that I no longer live in the States, and I don’t just mean L.A. I live in Cornwall, England, a most powerful and beautiful place but also one of the most depressed places in Europe with high rates of unemployment. Talk about out of the loop! It’s very remote, which I like, and takes five to six hours by train to get to London. So I am unable to have lunch meetings, attend parties, and do all those social networking things that helped me find financing in the past — unless I travel far from home.
A sales agent at Cannes introduced me to an executive producer in Los Angeles who liked the script. She started making pitches to help secure young name actors. Curiously, and in contrast to what I expected would happen, the agents of the actors liked the script, but the actors passed. We were not able to find out whether it was the part they didn’t like or that they simply didn’t want to leave their new girlfriends and spend seven weeks in Bali. We started to get insecure about the script.
Another rewrite. I wrote another list of possible changes and I got more notes from script consultants. (When you garner advice from experts, they’ll always find something.)
In looking for another writer, I was given a moody script set in New Orleans by Lacy Waltzman. It was very good and had a dark and mysterious tone. I hired her and after many months we had a much-improved script.
I’m a morning person. I get up a 4:30 a.m. and by 10 p.m. I’m knackered. The U.K. is eight hours ahead of L.A. So if I want to start pitching, the earliest I can do so is about 6 p.m. my time. I found it far too difficult to make late night pitches to actors’ agents or anyone, for that matter.
I decided to set up the production in the U.K. I did a series of auditions and mixed and matched actors until I found a trio that I felt would work very well with one another: Phillip Barantini and Leo Gregory would play the roles of “Nick” and “Eddie,” and Rebecca Grant would be “Shakti,” the mysterious apprentice to the shaman.
I made one-sheets (sales sheets) and appointments at the market of the Berlin Film Festival. My actors, while I was confident they all had the potential to be great stars, had not yet arrived at that place in their career to be worth anything from a world sales perspective. They were not on that short list of “A” actors or bankable stars.
I like these actors tremendously and have spent as much time with them as I could every time I went to London. I know they can deliver memorable and moving performances. That, it seems, isn’t what the money people want to hear. They want names that will guarantee box office sales and a great return on their money.
For anyone who’s tried it, you know it’s a chicken and egg cycle that you have to break out of. You need financing, but that won’t come without a bankable star, but a bankable star won’t come without a firm cash offer. You can’t get the cash without the actor and you can’t get the actor without the cash. But, if you have a great script, you might be able to get the actor, if you can get the script to the actor without going through the agent. Ultimately, of course, you need to work with the agent.
So my strategy was to try to obtain an “A” actor for the small but important role of “Nigel,” the expat. At Cannes and other film festivals, I met several name actors who I thought would be good for the Nigel role. (It can be played by a wide range of actors.) I got them the script, but they passed. This time I found out why. The part wasn’t substantial enough for them.
I withdrew from the selling process. Lacy and I again worked on another rewrite strengthening the lead roles and also deepening the ex-pat role. When the script was finished, I gave it to the leading casting director in London, who presented it to the first person on our list. After about six months we never got a reply so it was time to move on, assuming they didn’t want to do it. It is now with another “A” actor and we are waiting to hear.
Without cash in hand and the ability to say we are definitely starting on this date, months and years pass. If a name star does agree to be in your film by the time you actually do raise the money, that “A” star could be booked up for many years.
Even with an “A” star there are no guarantees. Every year there are many films made with “A” stars that do not perform at the box office.
So, what you have in your hands is probably not the last version of the script. It will go through more revisions until it is shot. And the film itself will be different again because the story actually gets told three times — once in the script, again in the performance, and lastly in the editing.
Regardless of whether or not the film is funded, I continue to do works that will inform the envisioned film. A few years ago in Bali, I gathered together a Balinese composer and a dozen musicians. I gave them ideas for short sound sketches that related to scenes in the film such as “Shadows on the Wall,” “Flirting,” “So Sad to Say Goodbye,” “Demons Approach,” and a few dozen others. In less than a day we recorded some twenty-eight cues, which, if they are not used in the film, they are a healthy start in banking sounds and sound design ideas for the ultimate sound track.
Also, after years of watching Dewa Nyoman Batuan paint mandalas, I published 140 of them in Mandalas of Bali in November 2009. These mandala paintings will have a presence in the film.
For me, this is and has been a process of exploration and discovery, trying to create something that was seeded in me decades ago that continues to grow and find expression.
For the last twenty-five years, I’ve given filmmaking seminars all around the world. I’ve heard hundreds of story pitches. Many of them fail because their creators are not able to communicate (or even know) what their story is about. Okay, to some degree this criticism is not fair because filmmakers and writers go through this process to discover what their work is about. Nevertheless, to deepen their understanding of what they are trying to achieve and to help them articulate it, I put the attendees through an exercise I call “What’s it REALLY about? Two seated people face each other. One runs the mind of the other (the writer/filmmaker) with a simple question: What’s it really all about? The question is asked flatly, without judgment. A short answer then erupts. Sometimes we run this exercise for half an hour. All kinds of stuff come out, most of it rubbish, but if the writer is really willing to dive deeply, a very powerful statement often emerges that surprises everyone.
In all fairness, I run this exercise on myself about Bali Brothers: “What’s it really all about?”
• It’s about freedom and responsibility.
• It’s about magic.
• It’s about love that heals.
• It’s about finding out who we really are.
It’s about discovering we are even more magnificent than we think we are.
It’s about two brothers who heal their differences through the beauty and magic of Bali.
It’s about the incredible capacity of human beings to pull back the veil and enter new worlds.
• It’s about how we might live together.
• It’s about how we might create a world that benefits everyone.
It’s about an amazing culture that has a great deal to teach us if we are willing to listening.
May you enjoy Bali Brothers!
This article posted with permission from The Writers Store. (http://writersstore.com)
The purpose of story, as I see it, is to guide us to our full potential and the nature of story is to conceal that purpose in an enticing sugar coat (the entertainment dimensions) that lures us into the experience. But if the purpose is concealed, then how does it do its work?
The great story ’
by which I mean the great myths, legends, fairy tales, classics, critical and box office successes ’ does its work in several important ways:
First, it stimulates our imaginations by provoking personal fantasies, which lead to the desire for actions in the real world. Then it gives us a taste of what it might be like if we were actually to make one of these passages and accomplish some of these things.
Carl Jung explains it this way—The auditor experiences some of the sensations but is not transformed. Their imaginations are stimulated: they go home and through personal fantasies begin the process of transformation for themselves. All of this happens automatically and the story recipients need not be consciously aware that the story is intentionally trying to influence and guide them.
Having lured us into the adventure by fantasies and a taste, the great story then provides us with a road map, which is to say, it outlines all of the actions and tasks of the hero’s and anti-hero’s journey which we have to accomplish in order to complete one of these passages. Plus, it provides a tool kit for solving all of the problems that have to be solved to accomplish the actions and tasks. The tool kit, of course, is the problem solving story structures of which Aristotle’s classical structure is a significant part.
Every great story will divulge a little more of this truth, and bit by bit each step of the passage is revealed. Again, all of this is going on without the story recipients’ conscious knowledge that it’s happening.
How does it do that? By meaningful connections. If it’s a great story, we will remember it, and, over time, we will make meaningful associations and connections with our real life situations.
The more hidden truth the story contains, the more appealing it will be; the more relevant it will be to our lives and the more likely we are to remember it. We’ll cherish and work with it all of our lives, then we’ll pass it on to our children.
No one story, as I’ve indicated, contains the whole truth. The process is cumulative. Each story contributes a little bit of this vital information. We can be affected by many different stories at the same time. We relate them to our lives when, and if we need them and make the necessary course corrections.
It was more than thirty years from the time I first heard Rumpelstiltskin until I realized that the secrets hidden in that marvelous tale were about the creative process and how the mind is organized. In Rumplestiltskin, and many stories like it, an endangered princess has to perform the impossible task of transforming a pile of straw into gold by morning or she’ll lose her head. Then a miraculous helper, Rumplestiltskin, comes to her rescue and accomplishes the task for her while she sleeps.
Being a writer, I would often fall asleep at night worrying about certain difficult story problems I hadn’t been able to solve during that work day. And just as often, a marvelous solution to those problems would pop into my head as I was waking up the following morning. Naturally, I wondered who or what was solving those problems. Suddenly, one day I made the connection. My God, I exclaimed. It’s Rumpelstiltskin!
The miraculous little helper was a metaphor, a personification in image form of some unconscious problem-solving mechanism. The secret hidden in the marvelous story had something important to reveal about the creative process and how our minds function. Namely, that inside our minds there is an unconscious problem-solving mechanism (a Rumpelstiltskin) that continues to work, and transform our serious problems (the straw) into precious insights (the gold), while our conscious minds are asleep. Another little piece of the puzzle had been revealed. And, finally, the great story guides this whole process with incredible insights and wisdom.
In A Christmas Carol, when the Ghost of Christmas Future is showing Scrooge his own tombstone, the kneeling, pathetic, nearly repentant Scrooge asks him, Are these things that will be or things that may be? The answer to that question, and the point of the whole story, is that these are things that will be, if he does nothing, and things that may be, if he does something about it, if he repents and changes his character. If he changes his character, he will change his future. In other words, at any given moment we have a certain destiny. And, if we’re not content with that destiny, we can do something about it. We can transform our futures by transforming ourselves. If we change who we are, if we awaken our humanity, we can change our destiny. That’s good news.
Believe it or not there’s something similar and equally profound in the movie Back to the Future. Having seen Back to the Future Part II, and having no desire to see Part III, I have concluded that the profundity in Part I got there by accident, but nevertheless, it’s there.
At the beginning of the story, we meet Michael J. Fox and his family. His mother is an alcoholic and his rather pathetic father a serious wimp and a miserable failure. They’re living in a hovel of mediocrity and despair. When Michael J. Fox gets involved in his time machine adventure, he gets entangled in the lives of his parents when they are still in high school, on the very day that they met. And they met in a curious way. His clumsy, painfully shy father was hit by a car in front of his mother’s house while lurking there, trying to catch a glimpse of her. The boy’s mother took him into her house to nurse him back to health and fell in love with him out of pity. When Michael J. Fox arrives a moment before the father, he is hit by the car, and his mother falls in love with him instead.
He now has a very big problem. He has to make his future mother fall out of love with him and in love with his geeky, future father or he isn’t even going to exist. He accomplishes this one evening when his mother is being molested by the town bully in the front seat of a car. Fox goads his father into rescuing her, in the process of which, the father knocks out the bully with a lucky punch and his mother is saved. The mother immediately transfers her love from her future son to her new hero.
Now, that in itself is profound because it says that a love inspired by heroic deeds is stronger than a love brought on by pity. But there’s more. When Fox gets back to the present, everything about the lives of his family has miraculously changed. His mother is no longer an alcoholic, his father is a big success and a real dude, and they’re living in a magnificent, creatively appointed house—all because of that one change in the father’s character.
The important bit of wisdom has to do with the incredible difference one courageous act can make on our lives. Standing up to that bully had an extraordinary and profound effect far into the future. We encounter numerous such challenges and opportunities to show our courage every day. The phone call we’re afraid to make to ask for a date or a job ’- little acts of courage that could be profoundly and irrevocably changing the rest of our lives. That’s also very useful to know.
One final example. In a fairy tale called Aga Baba, a young hero on an important adventure stops to rest at a witch’s house. The witch tries to delay him by asking him some intriguing but difficult questions, like, What is truth?—Does the universe ever end? and so on. The wise young hero looks at her and says, Shut up and get me something to eat.
The wisdom in this story is simple enough: Beware of imponderables when action is necessary. Don’t wile away your days worrying about infinity or other unanswerable questions when you should be out looking for a job.
So there you have three important bits of advice from stories: change yourself and you change your destiny; little acts of courage performed today can have exponential effects on the rest of your life; and beware of imponderables when action is necessary.
And here again it’s cumulative, each story contributing a little bit more of the hidden truth. When you’ve got hundreds such bits of wisdom working for you, all you have to do is get up in the morning and you’ll know exactly what to do and how to do it.
So that’s how the great stories do their work. They stimulate our imaginations and give us little tastes of paradise. These trigger fantasies, which lead us to desires for actions in the real world. Then, as we pursue these goals, the stories guide us through the passages using meaningful connections, each story revealing a little bit more of the truth.
James Bonnet was elected twice to the Board of Directors of the Writer’s Guild of America and has acted in or written more than forty television shows and features. The radical new ideas about story in his book Stealing Fire from the Gods: A Dynamic New Story Model For Writers And Filmmakers are having a major impact on writers in all media. He is the workshop leader of the popular Storymaking Master Class. Currently (Spring 2003) James is directing a feature film for which he wrote the screenplay.
© 2007 The Writers’ Computer Store®, LLC All Rights Reserved.
This article posted with permission from The Writers Store. (http://writersstore.com)
Some of the greatest movies and TV series have been written by script partners, from Billy Wilder’s legendary collaborations with Charles Brackett and I.A.L. Diamond to the Academy Award-winning work of the Coen Brothers. Each year the list of script partners and their successes grows longer. Why? Because collaborative scriptwriting is one of the most productive and successful ways to write.
If you find the right writing partner.
Okay, you may be thinking, but how do I do that?
It’s a question many writers have asked us since we started our collaboration, and a question we’ve asked many collaborative writers. And while there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, there are some strategies that can help, whether you’re looking for a partner to co-write a project or someone to share a writing career.
Partners May be Closer than you Think
Collaboration is such an intimate creative relationship, it’s best to begin looking for a prospective partner among the people you know. You have a greater chance of working successfully together if you’ve worked out the bugs of being together.
‘We knew each other so well, and that’s crucial,’ Andrew Reich says of his collaboration with Ted Cohen, head writers/executive producers of Friends.
So it’s no surprise that most of the teams that we talked to evolved out of close personal relationships ’ friends or family or lovers.
Like Reich & Cohen, Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski (Ed Wood; The People vs. Larry Flynt) and Matt Manfredi & Phil Hay (crazy/beautiful) met in college and were best friends before they began writing together.
Fay & Michael Kanin (Teacher’s Pet; The Opposite Sex), Nicholas Kazan & Robin Swicord (Matilda), and Lee & Janet Scott Batchler (Batman Forever) chose each other as spouses before they chose each other as writing partners.
Olivier Ducastel & Jacques Martineau (Adventures of Felix; Jeanne and the Perfect Guy) fell in love before they fell into their collaboration. ‘It was for us, first and foremost, a relationship as lovers,’ they explain.
Then there’s brotherly/sisterly love. That’s not to say other familial combinations aren’t possible (the father-son team of Sherwood & Lloyd Schwartz springs to mind), but the sibling collaboration is far more prevalent ’ the Ephron sisters, and the Wachowski, Farrelly, and Weitz brothers, to name just a few.
But what if you don’t have a partner-worthy friend/spouse/lover/sibling? If you can’t find a collaborator among the people you know, get to know more people. As the group of writers you know expands, so do your chances of finding the right writing partner.
If you’re in college, wake up and smell the collaborations! Enroll in film or screenwriting classes. Or join a drama or comedy group. If you’re not in college, nil desperandum. Take classes anyway. Attend writers’ conferences. Join writers’ organizations. Socialize.
Desperately Seeking Someone
If you still can’t find a collaborator among contacts and colleagues, consider this option:
Writer/director seeks scriptwriting partner. Goal: funny movies that are completely original and totally unlike Hollywood’s endless parade of remakes. Ideally your forte is solid character development. Please contact me. Are we a match? ’ Ad posted on the Internet
Hey, if you can find Mr./Ms. Right with an ad, why not the right writing partner? You can post notices ’ as many do ’ in any number of places on the Internet (see Chapter 2 of Script Partners for a list). You can also place ads in publications such as Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Backstage, Los Angeles Times, Screenwriter Magazine, and Hollywood Scriptwriter (and their online versions as well).
Whatever venue you choose ’ finding the perfect partner among people you know or among perfect strangers ’ it’s essential to find someone with the following qualities that we and the writers we’ve talked to consider crucial to a good partnership:
We have to be honest ’ we hated each other the first time we met on the faculty of the Florida State University Film School (a long story…). But as we worked together on students’ scripts, we discovered that we had similar sensibilities about what makes a good story.
And perhaps more important, we had the same sense of humor. We cracked up at each other’s jokes. Let’s face it ’ it’s hard to have contempt for someone who laughs at your jokes. Humor studies show that this is one of the most powerful ways to reverse a bad first impression (which is why Matt laughs a lot on first dates). Such is the power of humor in creating human connection. And good collaborations. In fact, the same sense of humor between you and your partner may predict, as nothing else can, a closeness and compatibility in your writing life.
And if you’re looking for a partner to co-write comedy, ‘Say something that you think is funny, and if the other person doesn’t laugh, run do not walk to the next candidate,’ suggests Larry Gelbart (Caesar’s Hour; MAS*H). ‘The same rule applies to a pair of writers who want to do drama, action, whatever, except without the laughs. What do you like? Who do you like? Which movies? Which this? Which that?’
‘I think collaborations are much more successful when people have different strengths,’ say Peter Tolan (Analyze This; Analyze That). ‘The best collaborations are when you shore each other’s weaknesses up.’
It’s important to keep this in mind as you search for a partner.
‘You’re looking for someone hopefully with complementary strengths,’ Janet Batchler says, ‘but that means that you have to have an understanding of your own strengths.’
Or to quote the Oracle at Delphi, ‘Know thyself.’
‘I think you have to be remarkably self-aware to say, ‘I can do that and that; I just can’t do that,’’ Tolan says. And in a successful collaboration, partners play to their strengths. ‘They understand how it works, and they’re able to feed it and keep it running.’
Marshall Brickman & Woody Allen (Annie Hall; Manhattan) certainly understood their complementary strengths. ‘I tend to be somewhat more bound by logic than Woody Allen,’ Brickman explains, ‘and I say that as a criticism of me rather than of him. His approach to a problem or material in general is more intuitive than mine. I like to kind of back into things logically; he seems to have a genius for making some kind of intuitive leap which defies logic but solves the problem.’
This complementarity gives each collaboration its unique richness and range of experience, knowledge, and talent to tap.
Plays Well With Others
Even the most compatible, peace-loving partners will argue occasionally as they co-create scripts. And that’s not a bad thing. Disagreement is an integral and invaluable part of the collaborative process.
It’s so crucial that Andrew Reich recommends looking for ‘someone you’ve had arguments with or you know you can settle things with without throwing tantrums. If you’re casual friends, how are you going to deal with each other in an argument?’
This may sound like a minor thing to consider when choosing a partner, but it’s intricate interpersonal stuff that comes from knowing your partner. Your relationship. And yourself.
Peter Tolan can’t argue. He can’t even say, ‘No, that’s not good.’ And he considers this his greatest weakness as a collaborator. ‘You’ve got to be able to say, ‘Here’s why this doesn’t work.’ And you’ve got to hope, too, that the other person is open to hearing that.’ He doesn’t mind when people argue with him (he can take it, but he can’t dish it out); in fact, he admires writing partners like Harold Ramis who argue with grace and wit. ‘We had a very playful collaboration,’ Tolan says.
A Writers You Respect (and vice versa)
Aretha was right. Respect matters most.
We ought to know. We went from zero to sixty on the issue, from contempt to respect. And only when we hit respect, only then, could we write together.
‘That’s the most important thing about a writing partner,’ Ted Elliott (Shrek; Pirates of the Caribbean) says on his Web site. ‘Find a writer you respect, whose abilities you envy ’ and hope he or she feels the same about you. You should both feel like you’re getting the better part of the deal.’
We’ve emphasized the importance of knowing yourself and your prospective partners, but it’s equally important to know their work. If you don’t, read something they’ve written. Request a writing sample and offer one of yours. If you don’t have respect for their writing (or vice versa), run don’t walk to the next candidate.
In the end, collaboration ’ like love, friendship, or film ’ is experiential. No one, not even close friends or spouses or family members, can know if writing together will work until they try it.
Like Andrew Reich & Ted Cohen when they brainstormed their first script.
All of a sudden, Ted said something, and I said, ‘Then we could do this.’ And he said, ‘We could do this and this.’ Funny ideas started flowing, and it just felt like wow, this is really a good idea! And boy is this more fun than I’ve been having sitting by myself trying to write. With Ted it just clicked.’
So choose the most promising partner and see if it clicks when you work together. See if you say, ‘Wow.’ That’s the real acid test. The journey of collaboration begins with one script.
About the Authors
Claudia Johnson & Matt Stevens are the co-authors of ‘Script Partners,’ the marriage manual for collaborators. Claudia is also the author of ‘Stifled Laughter,’ nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and winner of the inaugural P.E.N./Newman’s Own First Amendment Award, and the popular film school text, ‘Crafting Short Screenplays That Connect.’ Other awards include the American National Theater and Academy West Award and the Warner Brothers Scriptwriting Award. Matt is a writer/producer who has sold both fiction and documentary projects. He currently writes film reviews for E! Online and contributes to other new media outlets. As a director, his short films have screened at national and international festivals and won numerous awards, including the Student Emmy for best comedy. Two of their co-written scripts were finalists for the Sundance Screenwriters Lab.
© 2007 The Writers’ Computer Store®, LLC All Rights Reserved.
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What is the true source of unity in a great story and how is that unity achieved? According to the dictionary, unity is the state of being one. And today it is generally agreed that a story should be about one thing ’ but what is that one thing? Is it the subject, the theme, the central character, the problem, the controlling idea? Or all of the above? And is there really only one source of unity or many different sources working together to create that effect?
After more than 30 years of analyzing patterns in great stories, I have come to the conclusion it’s the latter. In fact, I would say there are at least ten different elements that influence the unity of a great story. And while it’s true that one of those elements will be dominant and become the story’s subject, having these ten elements working together will add significantly to the clarity, meaning and power of your work ’ and the whole will become much greater than the sum of its parts. In this article I will examine four of the ten sources of story unity.
The Value Being Pursued
The first of these unifying forces is the Value Being Pursued. In real life, either as individuals or in concert with others, we are longing for and pursuing certain cherished values, among them: life, health, wealth, justice, democracy, freedom, honor, wisdom, security, love, happiness, wholeness, and equality. At the same time, we are trying to avoid their opposites, scourges like: death, disease, poverty, injustice, tyranny, ignorance, slavery, insecurity, dishonor, unhappiness, alienation and inequality.
These values and scourges played a major role in our evolutionary path and continue to govern our lives. In fact, we are pursuing all of these values more or less simultaneously. And this makes real life appear, on the surface, to be extremely complex and difficult to analyze and understand. For clarity’s sake, story likes to isolate these values, like threads from a complex skein, so that one of these values may be examined in great detail. These isolated components are the stuff that story is made of and the true source of its power.
In the larger frame story of The Iliad, the value being pursued is honor. Everything in that larger whole story is related to that one virtue. It begins with a contest to determine the most beautiful goddess. The contest is rigged and Hera and Athena feel dishonored when Paris chooses Aphrodite over them. Then Menelaus is dishonored when Paris, with the help of Aprhrodite, seduces his wife, Helen, and they run off together to Troy. Then later Achilles feels dishonored when Agamemnon takes away the girl, Briseis, his prize from the sacking of the city of Lyrnessus. And finally Poseidon feels dishonored when Odysseus pulls down his statue during the sacking of Troy. In short, everything in that story is somehow related to the value honor and its scourge dishonor.
The value being pursued in The Silence of the Lambs is justice. In Star Wars, Gladiator, Casablanca, and The Lord of the Rings it’s democracy, or at least some form of representative government. In The Sixth Sense, and Ordinary People it’s health (the mental health of an afflicted young boy). In Jaws and The Pianist it’s life. In The Exorcist it’s freedom. In A Christmas Carol it’s wealth.
In all of these examples, a single value has been isolated and is being examined in great detail. This adds clarity, meaning and power to the story and makes it a unifying force.
The second unifying force is The Problem, and this problem is the central event and a prerequisite in all great stories. You have a problem and that problem is resolved. It is, in fact, one of the essential elements of a story, without which, there would be no story. These problems stand between us and the achievement of these value goals. Great stories are there to show us how to solve these Problems.
In Star Wars, the Evil Empire has taken possession of the galaxy. That is the central event of that story. And, if the cherished value being pursued is ever to be achieved, this is the problem that has to be resolved. The problem in Gladiator is very similar ’ a tyrant has usurped the Roman Empire, preventing the restoration of the Republic. That is the central event of the story and the problem that has to be resolved. In The Lord of the Rings, a dark tyrant has designs on Middle Earth.
In all of these stories, a single problem is the central event that prevents the achievement of the value. The story is limited to an examination of that one particular problem, which makes it a unifying force, and adds significantly to the power of its effect. And, if it’s a great story, we will learn a great deal about how this particular problem comes into being and how it can be resolved. And knowing this will give us a working knowledge of both story and life.
The third source of unity is The Threat ’ the agents or perpetrators that create the problem. They perform the inciting actions that create the victims that bring about the changes of fortune.
In The Silence of the Lambs, the serial killer is the threat and the act of murder is the inciting action which creates the victims that bring about the change to a state of misfortune, all of which constitutes the problem that now stands between the community and Justice, the value being pursued. In Gladiator it’s the emperor’s son, Commodus, who creates the problem. In The Lord of the Rings it’s the dark lord, Sauron. In Star Wars it’s Darth Vadar and the Evil Emperor.
Equally significant in a great story is the fact that this threat will become the source of resistance that opposes the action when someone tries to solve this problem and restore a state of good fortune. This resistance will create the complications, crisis, climax and resolution of the classical structure that occurs whenever a problem-solving action encounters resistance. The problem, change of fortune and components of the classical structure constitute the very essence of story, without which there would be no story.
In The Exorcist the Devil is the threat. He takes possession of a young girl and that is the inciting action which creates the problem that brings about the change of fortune. He is also the main source of resistance that creates the complications, crisis, climax and resolution when the priest tries to solve that problem.
In all of the stories mentioned above, a single threat – be that an individual, a single group or an army – is being isolated and studied in great detail, which again increases the clarity and power of the story and creates another unifying force.
The next force of unity is The Anti-Threat ’ the one who opposes the threat and solves the problem. We usually call the person who has that responsibility the protagonist or the hero ’ the protagonist being the one who initiates the action and the hero being a protagonist who risks or sacrifices himself for the sake of others. And, whereas the threat is the creator of the problem, the anti-threat is the fixer of the problem.
In Gladiator, it’s Maximus (Russell Crowe). His Emperor, his wife and his son have been murdered by the new tyrant, Commodus, who has taken possession of the Empire. To make matters worse, he’s been taken into slavery and forced into a new profession that has an almost zero survival rate. In Star Wars, it’s a neophyte Jedi, Luke Skywalker, facing a vast army of robot-like Nazis. In The Lord of the Rings, it’s Frodo and the Fellowship of the Ring.
In all of these examples, a single problem-solving force has been isolated and is being studied in great detail, and another important unifying force has been created. Basically what I’m saying here is if you limit your story to one value, one problem, one threat and one anti-threat, even if that threat and anti-threat are groups working together, and you examine those dimensions in great detail, you will dramatically increase the clarity, meaning and power of your story, and you can make a powerful artistic statement.
When I continue, in future segments, we will explore the remaining six elements.
About the Author:
James Bonnet was elected twice to the Board of Directors of the Writer’s Guild of America and has acted in or written more than 40 television shows and features. The radical new ideas about story in his book “Stealing Fire from the Gods: A Dynamic New Story Model For Writers And Filmmakers” are having a major impact on writers in all media.
© 2007 The Writers’ Computer Store®, LLC All Rights Reserved.
This article posted with permission from The Writers Store. (http://writersstore.com)
Almost every writer and every serious film fan at one time or another has at least considered writing a screenplay. Lured by the power of the big (or small) screen, and by stories of all the fame, success, awards and big, big money that other screenwriters have achieved, they get seduced by the fantasy of Hollywood.
Now no doubt some of you reading these words have already achieved a career in the industry. But my guess is that most of you are still at the ‘breaking in’ stage and are wondering if writing for movies or television is a silly pipe dream—or is truly worth considering. I’d like to help you answer that question by discussing some of the realities of the movie and television business and offering both the right and the wrong motives for pursuing Hollywood.
Do You Have What It Takes To Be A Screenwriter?
I’ve been teaching screenwriting classes and seminars for more than fifteen years, and I’ve worked with thousands of movie and television writers at various stages of their careers. But, whenever I’m with a group of would-be filmmakers hoping to launch their careers, I encounter two different myths about the Hollywood obstacle course that both lead to disappointment.
The first misconception is that Hollywood is an easy path to fame and fortune. Perhaps a writer watches some brainless TV show and concludes that anybody with the I.Q. of corn could write drivel like that. Then she reads about how Joe Esterhasz sold a spec script for slightly more than the gross national product of Portugal, while she’s wondering how long she can get by on her $25 check from ‘Big Rig Monthly’ for her article on mud flaps. And then some polite, but chicken-hearted, publisher tries to let her down easy by saying that her 873-page manuscript about the Millard Fillmore White House years would be much better as a movie. So before you know it, she’s typing ‘FADE IN.’
She has fallen victim to the erroneous belief that writing a movie is no harder than watching one. She thinks that everybody who sells a script will be a millionaire and that because movies and TV shows are plentiful, relatively short and frequently mediocre, there really are no rules, standards or professional skills to worry about. In other words, that screenwriting is easy.
The other, more destructive, myth about screenwriting is just the opposite: a writer hears about the thousands of unproduced, unsold, unoptioned, unread and unopened screenplays floating around Hollywood and decides that his dream is absurd. Friends, loved ones and failed screenwriters will be happy to reinforce this belief with loads of anecdotes and statistics: everybody in Los Angeles is working on a script; it’s not what you know, it’s who you know; every writer in Hollywood gets ripped off; you have to live in Southern California; you have to be a young white male; and even if you could break in, writing movies is obviously a ridiculous, pointless, demeaning and hopeless pursuit for any serious writer to consider. In other words, screenwriting is impossible.
Not True Either.
The first myth described above ignores the years of pain, struggle and failure that precedes (and sometimes precludes) success for most working screenwriters. But, the second myth ignores the fact that about a hundred and fifty feature films, plus more than fifty TV movies and seventy weekly series are produced each year by the major studios and networks. And, for every film produced, an average of at least five scripts are developed and paid for. And these figures don’t include non-primetime and cable television or the numerous markets for independent, educational, industrial, religious and adult movies and TV. Somebody must be writing all those stories.
Screenwriting, like any other form of professional writing, is a specific, learnable craft that requires study, talent, training, practice and an immense level of commitment. It is at various times frustrating, exciting, fulfilling, exhausting, lucrative, unfair, depressing, ego- gratifying and fun. And, it has a clearly defined set of standards, rules, parameters and methods for achieving both artistic and commercial success.
So, to decide if you want to commit your life to this particular path, ignore both the fantasies of wealth and fame and the prophets of doom and, instead, ask yourself exactly why you want to write movies or television.
The Wrong Reasons to Want to Be a Screenwriter
Screenwriting is not a wise career path if you’re choosing it for any of these reasons:
1. The Money
Pursuing screenwriting because an occasional spec script sells for a million dollars is like studying hotel/motel management because Donald Trump has a big yacht. Starving screenwriters are no happier than starving poets, and if the big bucks are your only goal, by the time (if ever) you get there, the trip won’t have been worth it.
2. You Want to Weave Magic With Words
If your love of writing is based on the beauty, texture, breadth and majesty of the English language, you’ll be much happier as a poet, novelist or essayist. Screenwriting ‘style’ is much closer to that of ad copy, comic books and the sports pages than it is to great literature.
3. You Want the Respect that Comes with Being an Acclaimed Artist
Dream on. Once you sell your screenplay, it probably will be re-written by someone else (often several others) until it’s unrecognizable. You’re usually persona non grata while the movie is being shot, and neither the status nor the financial reward given the average screenwriter is anywhere close to proportionate to his or her contribution to the film. If you want real respect in Hollywood, become a maitre d’.
4. You Have a Strong Visual Sense
I’m not even sure what this means, but I hear it all the time, and, if anything, I think it’s detrimental to successful screenwriting. Sure you want to picture what is going on on the screen, but the important talent is the ability to turn action into words. If you think only in pictures and are very right-brained, pursuing a career in production design, cinematography or directing might make more sense.
5. You Want to Adapt Your Own Novel (or Play or Life Story)
This is hard to accept, I know, but trust me: if your novel or play wasn’t published or produced in its original form, it’s extremely unlikely it’s going to work as a movie. And, by now, you’re much too emotionally attached to your original story. You will never be objective enough about it to make the numerous changes necessary for it to become a commercial script.
The same holds true for your own life experiences (or those of your grandparents). Yes, your life has been thrilling, painful, passionate, moving and glorious for you. But, I’m afraid the mass audience really isn’t interested.
(It’s fine to draw on your own experiences, but only to provide an arena for a fictional story. And if you want to be both a novelist and screenwriter, choose separate stories that are best suited to each medium. Just don’t mix the two until someone offers you money to adapt your work into script form.)
6. You Want to Improve the Quality of Movies
If you don’t like the stuff that’s coming out of Hollywood nowadays, and you find yourself gravitating to foreign films and Fred Astaire festivals at the local Cineplex, or if you don’t see at least one current American movie a month, then screenwriting probably isn’t for you.
I don’t think you’ll ever be very happy pursuing a career in an industry you don’t like. And you won’t be able to change Hollywood. The most you can hope for is to write the best screenplays you can within the parameters of the system. Or else blaze your own trail outside the mainstream arena with low budget, independent films. But success there, which is even tougher to achieve, still requires a basic love for the movies.
The Right Reasons to Want to Be a Screenwriter
1. The Money
Yes, I know I just said that untold wealth is the wrong reason for pursuing screenwriting. But if money isn’t your only motive, and you know you want to write, then you can probably make more as a steadily working screenwriter than with any other form of writing. Just remember that it’s a package deal, and all of the other rules and obstacles are included.
2. You Get to Tell Stories
If creating unique, captivating characters and taking them over seemingly insurmountable obstacles to achieve visible, bigger-than-life goals is the kind of writing that thrills you, then you should consider movie writing.
3. You Love the Movies (and/or Television)
You not only love seeing them, you relish the challenge of staying within a rigid formula and creating a visual story that is original, thoughtful and emotionally captivating.
4. You’ll Reach a Huge Audience
More people saw last week’s episode of ‘The West Wing’ than have read ‘Gone With the Wind’. Makes you stop and think, doesn’t it?
5. You Love to Write
Screenwriting may not employ all the big words in the dictionary, but you still get to spend your day lost in the power of language.
In summary, if you’re wondering whether to begin (or continue) your pursuit of screenwriting, forget both the defeatist statistics and the dreams of glory and riches. And omit the word ‘easy’ from your vocabulary entirely; there is NO form of professional writing or filmmaking worth pursuing because it’s easy. Instead, ask yourself if your joy will come from within the process of sitting every day at your computer and creating a story for the big or small screen.
If the answer is truly ‘yes’ and your motives match those listed above, then close the door, fire up your computer and start writing.
MICHAEL HAUGE is a Hollywood script consultant, screenwriter and lecturer, and is the author of the award- winning book ‘Writing Screenplays That Sell’, now in its 23rd printing for HarperCollins.
If you’re interested in Michael’s script critique and consultation service, please call 1-800-477-1947 or email email@example.com.
© 2007 The Writers’ Computer Store®, LLC All Rights Reserved.