Tag Archives: screenplay

Change of Blog Address

Hey Everyone!

Well, I’ve not updated this site in an incredibly long time and will not be doing so again. I’ve changed my career from screenwriting to novel writing. I’m just a few months away from self-publishing and posting a weekly chapter of a fantasy novelette. If you are interested, check it out here: jpdailing.com

Take care all!


Find that ‘Hook’: And Ruin Your Script.

Since grade school, we have been taught to find that “hook,” the little bit of flavor that locks the reader in and make the text more enjoyable and profound. This goes from the five-paragraph essays in jr. high (ugh, remember those?), then research papers in high school and college. Even into screenwriting classes the instructors tell their students to find that one hook that will get others excited to read the script.

Yet another thing I’ve had to un-learn.

I HATE the term “hook”, even more than The Rising Action Model, because though it helps otherwise dry and boring academic papers have that spark of life, the hook does nothing but sabotage creativity for a screenplay. Screenwriters, amateur and professional alike, become so fixated on that one thing, everything else is neglected.

When trailers for Jumper (2008) first came out, I’ll admit it: I was really excited. I love that kind of urban sci-fi stuff and the “hook” of a guy being able to teleport was so engaging I was able to overlook that they made Hayden Christensen the lead (plus they had Samuel L. Jackson, so it couldn’t be all that bad). And yet when I saw the movie, I about threw the remote through my TV! A single hook will not pull a sub-par script from mediocrity and make it a hit.

Too often the term hook becomes synonymous with “gimmick” and either the reader sees right through the ploy or worse, they are pulled in by it, but then let down by the rest of the story. That little spark is a good beginning, but when that screenplay hits the reader’s desk, it needs to be an inferno of creativity, concept, character, premise that the reader will have no choice but to leap from their seat on fire from it. Then, and only then, will your work be taken seriously.

Screw the “hook”, that little blip on the quality meter, and instead focus on these over-arcing elements:

A fresh and intriguing premise – Nothing new under the sun, but you never know what you’ll find turning over a few rocks.

Compelling and identifiable characters – By page 10, we should be in love with your characters, even if it’s “love to hate”.

A primal conflict – A universal theme (not “message”) that speaks to the human condition. Use Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs and keep it as low on the pyrimid as possible.

Yes there is a lot more such as setting, genre, dialogue etc, but these core elements are the crux of any script and there is not a movie that has grossed 100million that does not have all of these in spades. The best way to hook readers into your story, is to write a *good* story.

Happy Monday everyone and may you all have successful and productive week!


Raising the Stakes: the Midpoint Crisis

I’ve recently seen a movie that I was really excited for. It was okay, had a simple plot, amazingly shot, a bit of whimsy, a turn or two of dark humor, engaging characters, decent performances, and from a critical standpoint was nothing all that special but I personally really liked it. One problem: I was bored. Through out the whole of the story was “fight to stay alive” and in the beginning that was enough. But then after a while it was just tedium; there was no real change in stakes, no surprise plan or action that made me sit up in my seat. By the time the climax began to unfold, I had already been there for two hours and was a bit blazé about the whole thing. I would have probably enjoyed it more if it was running in the background while I did paperwork or something. Boring.

So what happened? What would make a movie that seem pretty cool in the trailers (flippin’ incredible actually) then just feel like it was in second gear throughout the whole thing. My answer: sloppy midpoint.

In the middle of the second act, there needs to be a shift in stakes, something the audience wasn’t expecting and has suddenly made the protagonist’s job a hullavalot harder.

The classic “Rising Action Model” I was taught in my intro-to-film class, I absolutely **HATE**. My questioning why teachers give overly simplistic lessons that are just going to have to be relearned later aside, this looks about as boring as the movie I saw. A slow, steady trudge uphill that crests, then ends. Bored.

No idea why I was taught this. It never helped me then, doesn't help me now.

What this model should be to more accurately show what happens at the midpoint crisis is that halfway up the hill, just when the protagonist feels that he can do it, he falls down a hidden trap set by the antagonist. Immediately it’s not a just a climb and having to fight normal hill climb stuff, but now the antagonist is actively working against the protagonist. And very much succeeding.Crappy stick figures!!! :D Very poud of my crappy stick figures.

This is the crisis point, where one turns to the other and says, “Dude, I think we’re in deep sh*t,” where the difficult but attainable goal now seems next to impossible, where a simple trek up a hill becomes a battle for surviving a fall, 147 hours style. It becomes more intense, more dangerous, and above all: personal. If the antagonist/protagonist relation didn’t exist, it sure as hell does now. Only by overcoming the antagonists obstacles does the strength, will, and determination bloom in the protagonist and becomes more: a hero.

This MUST happen in every movie, and there is not a story that I love that does not have this. And yet, I too often see sloppy midpoints and then the movie loses its potential and even as the action rises, my interest declines.

Stakes. Raise them. (I’m talking to you Hollywood)

I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend and I wish everyone a productive and successful week! 😀


Camera Angles vs. Psychological Distance

While writing, there is always the temptation of writing camera angles and directions in a spec script. Sometimes the vision is so powerful and perfect, fingers try and direct the scene with “ANGLE ON:” “BOOM SHOT:” “HELICOPTER SHOT:” or the horrific, “We move in closer to:” This absolutely takes the reader out of the story and these are to be avoided at near any cost.

But the vision…*sadface*

How can the screenwriter accurately portray the scene/shot in the writer’s mind with out beating it over the reader’s head? Answer: psychological distance. Give the reader the sense of the vision, while still giving them the flexibility of imagining it themselves.

Here is the progression:

  • The sun crests over the horizon and illuminates the ocean as a speedboat splashes its way north.
  • The ocean receives the light of the morning sun as the speedboat splashes its way north.
  • The hull of the speedboat is splashed by waves as it heads north as dawn breaks.
  • The DRIVER of the speedboat grimaces at the dawn as he splashes his way north across the ocean.
  • The DRIVER of the speedboat grits his teeth at the dawn as he splashes his way north across the ocean.

Same elements (hell, even mostly the same words), but different perception. From extreme wide-shot to extreme close-up and the flavors in between, subtly manipulating the energy of the shot.

And each reads so much more fluid then a stark:

EXT. OCEAN – DAWN

ESTABLISHING SHOT – ANGLE ON: SPEEDBOAT

Speedboat heads north. The DRIVER frowns at the sun.

…Ick. We’re writers damn it, we can do better than *THAT*!

And so we should ^_^

Happy writing everyone!!