Discussion in 'Fan Productions' started by Maurice, May 2, 2011.
Make it not suck is my mantra. One day I may even come close.
Going back to what Bixby posted about introducing characters, you can also do so in an efficient manner that tells us something about them without pages upon pages of banal dialogue, like the most recent entry in the "Dreadnaught Dominion" series.
The first apartment scene in the "Mission: Impossible" pilot is a great example. http://dai.ly/x23c9af
In less than a few minutes, we're introduced to the members of the IMF. They're playing a hand of poker and each of them is cheating, which is revealed once they show their hands. This tells us so much about them without having one iota of dialogue spent on spelling everything out.
22 Movie Cliches That Just Won't Die
Seriously. Just. Don't.
I haven't gone through this thread, but here are a couple of pennies' from my own writing kit...
Exposition is dull. Make it interesting. The easiest way to do with is introducing some kind of conflict inherent in the act of giving exposition. Some examples:
People keep mininterpreting what you're saying or jumping to the wrong conclusions. ("The Klingons are building a new outpost near Deep Space Eleven." "So that is where they intend to launch their invasion?" "Invasion? What invasion?")
The person giving exposition has a clear agenda in conflict with the audience and/or characters. ("Due to Captain Kirk's cavalier attitude towards Starfleet regulations, we are going in to fix his mess.")
Interruptions based on conflicting agendas. ("OUr mission is at Tau Ceti V where the..." "Is that where we meet with Commander Tuvok?" "What? No. A Ferengi information merchant says..." "Excuse me, is this Ferengi in contact with Commander Tuvok?" "I don't know." "When will you know?")
Invest the exposition with emotive values. ("When we tried and failed to save the shuttle, one of our dilithium crystals cracked. Which means we cannot go faster than warp three, and shouldn't realy try to do that much. Warp two is a lot safer." "How far away is Tarsus VIII?" "Two days, at warp four." Silence. "Mr. Spock, how long before the comet reaches Tarsus VIII?" "Approximately seventy two hours, Captain." Everyone looks at Scotty, who shakes his head.)
Use minuteia to comic effect. ("Andorian mating has undergone considerable change since the founding of the Federation..." "We know that." "Although, it should be noted, records do indicate variations from the standard pairing of four were far from unknown in ancient cultures, specificaly the so-called Summer Age of the City State of Throall five thousand years ago, measured in Earth years of course, when pairings of two and three and in some cases five were if not common far from unheard of and in at least one case--a wildly popular drama of the period, sadly now lost--such was lauded. More or less. There's some disagreement on that amongst scholars." "DOCTOR!" "No need to shout, Captain." "Sorry." "Apology accepted. Now, as I was saying, in the so-called Deep Winter Age that gave rise to the modern..." "Doctor? Please?" "Yes?" "Is it legal for Lt. Shath to marry Lt. Vorik?" "Technically, yes, in that there's no law against such a thing, although certain legal precedents could in theory--Captain? Where are you going?")
Speaking strictly about exposition, based on recent viewing experience, if you have title cards that run for more than 30 seconds, you're doing it wrong.
Zzzzzzzz.... huh. What?
Yeah, that's not even remotely funny.
I know there was discussion about Final Draft and some other cheaper or even free alternatives earlier in the thread, so I wanted to throw out another one. Today I got an email from Amazon announcing their Storywriter screenplay writing software. While it lacks the bells and whistles of Final Draft, it does have a few nice features and is free to download when logged into your Amazon account.
I haven't tried it yet, but I'm off to download it now.
Did you ever do so? What were your results?
This thread never really caught fire so this may be my last post here. But after bantering with a fellow screenwriter about "going all Joseph Campbell" on a beat sheet it occurred to me I should share here a page which discussed the Hero Monomyth approach and specifically THE MEMO before letting this thread fade away. So here goes...
THE MEMO & THE MONOMYTH (link)
A funny CARTOON SUMMATION of some of this (link)
This title should not fade away. It is a treasure trove for anyone interested in making films of any kind or who just wants to know more about the process.
Our new Mod (hello!) saw fit to pin this thread just days after I did a script breakdown consultation gig, so since the following topic was fresh in my mind and seemed germane to this topic, I figured I'd share.
As above, this week I did another gig to help a filmmaker "break" scripts he is writing or rewriting, and in my several jobs for him I've noticed a pattern in things he tends to miss in his initial breakdowns. Likewise, in August I was the A.D.on a 48 Hour Film Project shoot, and—as in typical of such contests—the script was the achilles heel (admittedly, it's hard to write a good script overnight from thin air). In a post-mortem with the team leader wherein we discussed how to improve the scriptwriting process for future contests I tried to articulate what the typical problem such films run into in an actionable manner that would allow us to say "this is what the script must have" next time.
Our film, The Trust, can be viewed here, and I think you'll be able to see in it the issues I articulate below.
The contest parameters for our film were:
Character & Occupation: Brittany Felton, a substitute teacher
Mandatory line of dialog: "That's a good question. A very good question."
Mandatory prop: avacado
THE MISSING ELEMENT OF DRAMA: THE PERSONAL STAKE
Here's a boiled down version of what I said to him in our post-mortem.
At its most fundamental level a story is about what a character wants and what they will do or will not do to get that. That's the spine of the story. That's the thing the audience can grab onto. That's the through-line. That's what makes it possible for THE END to be a satisfying STORY COMPLETE instead of a MEH. All the plot and all the action basically support this personal journey of the lead, and the problem we had was a script that was devoid of this fundamental element. What our main character wanted (a job) was completely unrelated to the situation she got trapped in and the action she had to take survive it (having the guts to fight back).
If we look back at the 48s done by our teams 2007–2010 you can see those films always had this element, which is why they worked in spite of other flaws:
Secret Identity Crisis — Superhero Solar-Man wants to "get" his nemesis Ice Meister, but ends up "getting" him in a totally unexpected way (romantically)
How The Bunny Got the Bear — The Bunny & Bear want acceptance of their "unnatural" relationship, but when the Bunny's parents refuse, they seek out a higher power
The Road to Wellness — Self-help author Jane Gravenstein wants the personal fulfillment she's spent years selling to others without ever finding herself, but that means taking a totally different road than the one she's been on
Stagecoach In the Sky — Claude Green has the romantic dream to become a "singing cowboy" but when he loses everything he has to become a "real cowboy" to win the day
Gigi — The patrons of the bar want a do-over on their "missed connection" faux pas, but must all realize their mistakes in order to have a second chance
Minus that "want" and the ride it takes us on, what we end up with is a skit, not a story. A scene, not a film.
When I look back at a lot of fanfilms—in fact, most of them—this is likewise where they run into trouble. Putting vignettes side—because they are basically skits—in most fanfilms the leads don't want anything except to solve the problem du jour. As such, there's no personal stake. The events of the plot just carry them along, and what character they show is in how they bicker and disagree. This is what some writers call a "puzzle box" story: solve the puzzle to get out, thus The End = Who Cares?
And this gets down to the real nitty gritty of AGENCY. Without a goal the protagonist is carried along by the tide instead of swimming against it. The protagonist is reactive to the story instead of active in it. In "Obsession" Kirk disregards his mission orders to chase the vampire cloud because he's still carrying the scars of his previous encounter with it. That's why it's a more powerful story than, say, "The Immunity Syndrome", because Kirk has no stake in the latter other than the perpetual formula "save my ship & crew & civilization as we know it".
In summation: Make. It. Personal.
Coming up: The Non-Drama Topos of the Reluctant Hero
Addendum to the previous post and reinforcing the message there, I was just listening to an episode of the podcast Dead Pilots Society (worth listening to some episodes of if you're interested in scriptwriting, especially first episodes), and in the intro to Episode 17 there's this little gem from a pro (emphasis mine):
The Reluctant Hero Topos*
If you watch more than a few fanfilms you'll quickly run into this, especially in first episodes of a series. You know the drill: the main character, usually the captain, is given an assignment they feel that can't handle or are not ready to handle, and must be persuaded/cajoled/ordered to shoulder the responsibility.
Sounds like drama, right? Well, only if done well. It’s surprisingly hard to pull off, and has a lot of pitfalls. So allow me to make the case against doing one for your own film.
Strike 1: Commonality & Overuse
As at the top of this post, and as “Karzak” here once posted:
So, how common is his story? Off the top of my head...
Starship Valiant “Legacy”
Dreadnaught Dominion “Haunted”
Intrepid "Heavy Lies the Crown"
Even Starship Farragut grazed the issue
And a number of announced but since abandoned fanfilms have also used this at their jumping off point, as can be seen in the trailer for the aborted Star Trek Anthology series.
Strike 2: Wish Fulfillment Down In Mary-Sue City
Mary Sue’s are so amaaaaazing and taaaaaalented that everyone looooves and respeeects them, but they’re so wonderfully humble they just can’t see that about themselves, and they’re so good they save the day. This is fannish wish-fulfillment, especially since the people playing the captains are almost invariably the show creators or someone close to them.
I think the allure of this gimmick is the implication that the character is grounded and just regular folk, which supposedly makes them relatable. But that idea’s betrayed by the fact that everyone and their mother is convinced they’re the greatest thing since Tranya, so It smacks of false modesty.
Strike 3: Character Assassination
You want your audience to believe your captain is an officer worthy of that post, and someone riddled with self-doubt and guilt is not a great way to demonstrate that, especially on our first encounter with them. First impressions stick. I'll say it again: overcoming personal tragedy is a valid story, but it's a tricky line to walk with a ship captain because it can easily undermine their believability in that role. Going there runs a high risk of making your main character look weak-willed and possibly whiny.
And it's often done in a manner which smacks of outmoded thinking. The lead is typically pressured into getting back in the saddle by characters who think they need to get their confidence back who are not medical or psychiatric professionals, but superior officers and colleagues, which smacks of too many real-world situations where soldiers were thrust back into combat when they weren't emotionally ready. I submit that's not for Admiral Bullmoose to decide, however well-intentioned.
Pro and Khan
Now, there are perfectly valid stories to be told using the reluctant hero scenario, but as the start for an upbeat adventure/exploration show? Probably not.
Let’s examine why.
Pro Trek provides fine examples of when this works and doesn’t work.
We’ll start with the Mitochondrial Eve of the whole family: “The Cage”. In this story we have a morose captain who’s fed up with responsibility, smarting from an expedition gone tragically wrong, so much so that he’s decided he’s had it: time to resign and devote his life to other pursuits. But then he’s captured and offered a life free of responsibility, where his every whim and fantasy can play out sans consequences. And he rejects that, choosing to accept painful punishment and seek escape at any cost instead of accepting this E-ticket to Fantasyland.
It might surprise you to know that that’s my choice for the unsuccessful example. Why? Because the story is a cheat. Pike is never actually tempted because there’s a big ugly catch: he’s a circus animal doing tricks, and punished when he doesn’t perform to expectations, ergo the story doesn’t allow him the luxury of actually being tempted. With all their powers of illusion, the aliens who cage him choose to insist, “you’ll dream for us”, which, naturally, puts his back up. This is where—of all things—Star Trek Generations got it right: when in a fantasyland without consequences there’s no thrill. It’s empty. For “The Cage” to work as drama Pike should likewise have been thrust into an illusion without realizing that’s what it was, one where he found the perfect girl and a perfect life full of romance and passion and hedonism, yet finds himself dissatisfied, thus proving to HIMSELF that this isn’t the kind of life for him, and gradually learning the truth of his imprisonment when his captors step up the game to compel him to play along. But the way the story is written Pike’s being offered a fantasy with catches too big for him to ever consider. He never had a real choice and as such his decision at the end to Keep On Trekkin’ isn’t earned or even that interesting.
Now let’s look at Star Trek II. In that story, Kirk is down about where his life has gone. He's feeling sorry for himself, old, useless. Bones diagnoses his problem: he's hiding from himself, his true self. Spock reinforces that "commanding a starship" is Kirk's "first, best destiny," by giving Kirk his blessing to take command to deal with an emergency. But the story subverts expectations almost right away because Kirk blows it, he screws up, gets his ship crippled and some crew injured or killed. Maybe he doesn’t have The Right Stuff anymore. So the personal stake there is that Kirk now has to get his mojo back—be the Captain he once was—to fix this situation, which he eventually does. He finds his way back to the life he wants, but at terrible personal cost.
Why the above works whereas “The Cage” and most "get back on the horse" fanfilms don't is because the story dramatizes the act of the character finding themselves. Despite the cheerleading of the other characters, the hero does not at first succeed, so we're right there with the failed captain feeling the pain and doubt. In fact, in the end, the Captain still blows it… his ship and crew are toast and he’s not the one to save the day, the real hero is Spock (a fact that points to other problems with the script that aren’t germane to this discussion). The story dares to say, "This person is NOT Captain Perfect. This character is Captain Fallible. This person can make mistakes. This person may indeed be one of the best, but that's not a get out of jail free card. There. Are. Consequences."
One additional example, albeit an oblique one: Deep Space Nine even went there in its opening segment, with Sisko considering resigning his commission. But unlike the previous examples, Sisko neither doubts himself or needs convincing that he’s up to it. Sure, he has valid concerns about raising his son in the environment of this assignment and unresolved anger and grief at his past, but the reluctance stemming from that does not make him a weak character, nor stops him from driving the action of the story. In fact, it’s through his action, in pleading the case of his kind to the aliens he encounters and baring his soul to them that he actively creates the solution to the problem and his personal situation.
That’s a far cry from how fanfilms typically do it.
If you’re dead-set on that kind of story, to make it memorable you’re going to have to put a twist on it, dare to subvert expectations.
We all expect the captain to realize that “first best destiny”, but imagine if the experience does the opposite: convinces that captain that they’re through making life and death decisions, tells off the cheerleading admirals, maybe even hands over command to the XO who demonstrates their aptitude for the job. You thought this was the story of how captain A got her mojo back, but in fact it’s about how the XO stepped up and proved who really earned a command.
Hell, let the captain, who’s unwilling to sacrifice any more lives, actually DIE saving their crew… and without magic blood or Genesis devices to bring them back.
Or, be really really daring and tell the story of how pushing someone too far ends in tragedy all the way around.
That, my friends, is drama.
Fulfilling destiny as Mary Sue, aint.
* "Topos" is the actual word for what people typically misuse "trope" to cover. Topos (plural topoi) is a traditional theme, formula or convention in literature or rhetoric, whereas a trope is when something becomes a metaphor for something else. So, as this blog post of the subject illustrates, alien invasion is a topos (premise) while alien invasion as a metaphor for colonialism (a la The War of the Worlds), and the irony of that, is a trope.
I don’t regret going to that well in Heavy Lies the Crown, I just wwish I’d done a better job of writing it. Although, in my defence, most of the characters didn’t really think Hunter was a good choice for captain, and I don’t thinkother fanfilms hadn’t really done much with that idea back then .
But yeah, there’s so much about that story I’d do differently if I had to do it all over.
That wasn't intended as a critique of any of the films cited so much as an illustration that people have over the years gone to that well often enough that it's rather same old same old by this point.
Great points about how "The Cage" does not give Pike an actual chance to explore his fantasies and about how GEN provides a truer treatment of the idea that a life of easily fulfilled dreams would be empty, especially for a hero-type.
No worries, I didn’t take it as anything but constructive. We’ve discussed this plenty before, I just enjoy talking about it.
One thing I always tried to do was make Hunter not some superman. I just wanted him to be an ordinary guy. In reality, that was pretty hit and miss and I think perhaps not the most practical idea given the sort of stories I was trying to tell.
Maybe I should just do an Orville.
re: The reluctant hero Topos...IIRC, Starship Exeter avoided this pitfall by simply jumping right into the current adventure in Savage empire (though of course they had to have the Admiral mention how Exeter just re-crewed and is still not 100% ready for the unknown- Farragut's first episode did the same)
I would have loved to see a new ship but well into its current mission, but with a Captain like Styles from Star Trek 3, surely a great challenge for any writer to keep everyone tuned in...
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