Children’s Media Conference in Sheffield UK

The Children’s Media Conference is the only gathering in the UK for everyone involved in developing, producing and distributing content to kids – on all platforms.

The CMC welcome delegates from TV, interactive media, games, licensing, toys, radio, book and magazine publishing and the arts and culture sector – with speakers from all those areas and beyond.

It’s the only time when delegates from across the whole industry get together and, in the UK, it’s the best and most cost-effective way of meeting people relevant to your business.

My Character Map session is on Wednesday July 3, 2013

Register now for the full Conference, for the popular Wednesday Workshops and for the new International Exchange – and of course don’t miss out on the Pizza Express Networking Dinner.

The list of speakers is growing daily in over 50 sessions and workshops, including a whole strand of “Focus On…” international business issues at the International Exchange.

http://www.thechildrensmediaconference.com

Vintage Cop Shows – Why Is The Cop On The Job?

Andy-Sipowicz-etbscreenwriting

I recently had a question from a reader about how different Character Types do the same job OR how the same Character Types might do a job differently.  This previous post answers both questions.  I love questions from readers.  Be sure to submit yours.

Three cop shows changed forever how police work is depicted on television. Each show was original and iconic in its own time. Each remains an example of emotional storytelling at peak intensity and engagement. Let’s look at Hill Street Blues, Homicide: Life on the Street and NYPD Blue and the lessons that can be drawn going forward.

Hill Street Blues redefined the cop/crime genre through intertwined partnerships that combined police officers’ stressful work lives with the conflicts in their private lives. Very few investigations or interrogations were ever featured on the show. Instead, each episode charted a “day in the life” of the precinct from the early-morning roll call to a late-night rehash of the day’s events. This recap was usually in the bedroom with lovers Captain Furillo and Public Defender Joyce Davenport. Hill Street Blues focused almost exclusively on the interpersonal relationships between the core cast members. The show also introduced a more “documentary” look and feel to the genre. Real-life personal issues and situations were explored in a raw and more explicit manner than previously depicted on earlier shows such as Columbo or Kojak. Real-life street slang was used throughout the program.

Homicide: Life on the Street exploded television racial stereotypes with multi-dimensional complex depictions of African Americans. The show was set in Baltimore, a predominately black American city. The storylines managed to cross racial barriers that were previously taboo on television. Homicide also broke many of television’s editing and narrative continuity rules. Jump cuts were numerous and unpredictable shifts in the narrative marked it as one of the most unconventional programs at that point in the genre. With a sharp unflinching honesty about race, prejudice and violence, the detective’s job is depicted as repetitive and emotionally draining. The show examined the enormous toll that policing took on individuals and on partnerships.

NYPD Blue was set against the backdrop of urban decay in New York City. Career cops were depicted as complicated, complex and often deeply flawed human beings. Although the show featured risky adult material, most of the stories were about families and the terrible emotional aftermath of violence. Less attention was paid to the crimes than how the crimes affected the relationships in the core cast. NYPD Blue was really about one man’s journey toward redemption. Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz) began the show as a drunken abusive racist cop who is about to be thrown off the force (for good reason). Seventeen years later, he’s earned the top position in the precinct and, although still Andy, is fit to lead.

Each of these classic cop shows focused on the “Why” of the human cop story rather than the “How” of the crime story. That’s what made them successful. And that’s what separates these shows from the current generation of procedural cop shows like Law & Order (and all its varieties). But even in the Dick Wolf Law & Order universe, “Why” each person does the job is based on the individual’s very clear Character Type. For example: Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston), over many years on the show, still wrestles with the same questions of ethical principle vs. political expediency and law vs. justice. His “Why” is clearly driven by the Power of Conscience.

In a one-hour drama it is only possible to do one thing well– procedure or personal relationships. There isn’t time to do both well. There currently is lots of procedure on television. Perhaps it’s time for the pendulum to swing back to emotional personal relationships in cop shows.

Clear true emotions travel. They connect with the audience and move them week after week to watch a show. The definition of “to be entertained” is to feel something. In the classic cop shows discussed above, the mechanics of “How” a crime is solved is so much less important than “Why” the cops are doing what they are doing and “Why” they are affected by the job. If there is no “Why” it’s just cops going through the motions, which can make a story feel by-the-numbers and hollow.

The “Why” provides the passion and inter-personal conflict between the individuals in the story (and all the internal conflict within the character). Too often writers simply project their general idea of being a cop and the mechanics of “How” to put the cops through their paces— Instead of being specific about “Why” one particular individual is a cop.

There are four basic categories of “Why” anyone becomes a cop (or anything else for that matter):

1. It’s a job. Being a cop is solid union employment and a way to make a living or support a family. The cop does what is expected and punches out. The cop puts in the time and is concerned and responsible on the job. But he or she doesn’t take the job home and retires as soon as is feasible.

2. It’s a career. Being a cop is a good opportunity for advancement. The cop is working to achieve something else. The job is a means to an end (rising through the ranks, running for political office, becoming a consultant etc.) It is a stepping- stone to something else and worth the hard work and extra effort to achieve a larger goal.

3. It’s a vocation. Being a cop is a life mission or a higher calling. The cop is there to make a difference, have an important impact or change people’s lives. The work is a consuming passion for the cop. There is no dividing line between work and personal life. Work is the cop’s life.

4. It’s a mistake. Being a cop is not a good fit. The individual is a cop for the wrong reasons or the wrong motivations. Or the reality of the job doesn’t conform to the idea of the job or the fantasy of being a cop. In any case, the individual puts in the time and effort, got the job and now is trapped.

Any kind of employment, but particularly policing, has a variety of people who look at the “Why” of doing the job very differently. All individuals naturally assume their “Why” is the most valid reason or, if everyone else was honest, is the real motivation “Why” anyone works at the Station House or Precinct. This is a great opportunity for personal conflict in a story. Too often in cop shows (or shows featuring any profession) everyone is doing the job for the same reason. That isn’t the case in life and it shouldn’t be the case in your drama.

Layered onto “Why” someone is employed as a police officer (it’s a job, a career, a vocation or a mistake) is the “Why” of the individual’s Character Type. Looking down on nine different police officers toiling away long into the night it might be easy or convenient to believe they are all working hard for the same internal motivation or with the same value system and world view in mind. Every one of the Nine Character Types sees the world very differently, believes very different things about how the world works, and sees the primary role of a cop from a unique perspective.

1. Power of Conscience cops believe policing is a duty and a responsibility to make the world a better place. Doing the right thing is crucial to these kinds of cops. Their struggle is what is the higher duty or the most right—law or justice. (These two principles are not the same thing). Hill Street Blues‘ Joyce Davenport (Veronica Hamel) is this kind of character. Howard Hunter (James B. Sikking) is the comic version on the same show. Homicide’s Tim Bayliss (Kyle Secor) is also a Power of Conscience character. Rylan Givens (Timothy Oliphant) is a more recent example.

2. Power of Will cops believe policing is a matter of strength and the ability to dominate the situation. The use of power is crucial to these kinds of cops. Their struggle is what actually constitutes strength or power— excess or restraint. (Does compassion and tolerance make you stronger or weaker?) NYPD Blue’s Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz) is this kind of character. A more recent example is Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) on The Shield.

3. Power of Ambition cops believe policing is a matter of winning or losing. Appealing to other’s self-interest is the way to get things done. Their struggle is with short cuts vs. the long hard patient slog—results or process. (If no one else plays by the rules why should they?) Hill Street Blues‘ John “JD” LaRue (Kiel Martin) is a Power of Ambition character. A more recent example is Lieutenant Cedric Daniels (Lance Reddick) on The Wire.

4. Power of Love cops believe policing is caring for others and helping them succeed. Compassion and understanding is crucial to how they get the job done. Their struggle is when to employ “tough love” or just give up on someone. (When does empathy or understanding simply enable bad or destructive behavior?) NYPD Blue’s Bobby Simone (Jimmy Smits) is this kind of character. Another example is Phil Esterhaus (Michael Conrad) on Hill Street Blues.

5. Power of Idealism cops believe policing is a matter of individual style and personal excellence. Use of unique talents and refusing to buckle under to stupid bureaucrats is crucial to their method of policing. Their struggle is how to maintain their individuality and still be part of a larger organization. (When does being a maverick or a rebel cause more harm than good?) Homicide’s Frank Pembleton (Andre Braugher) illustrates the Power of Idealism character as a cop.  A more example is Detective Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West) on The Wire.

6. Power of Reason cops believe policing is a matter of keeping personal self-control and maintaining the social order. Objectivity, expertise and a depth of knowledge are crucial to getting the job done. Their struggle is to connect with their own emotions. (When is objectivity actually alienation?) Dexter’s title character (Michael C. Hall) is one of the best recent examples of this kind of character on the police force. Monk’s title character (Tony Shalhoub) is the comedic example.

7. Power of Truth cops believe policing is a matter of uncovering secret agendas and avoiding hidden pitfalls. Establishing trust, knowing who your friends are and being attuned to conspiracies are crucial to getting the job done. Their struggle is to accept the ambiguity of the job and the possibility of never finding real certainty. (Is the “truth” a moving target or something fixed and certain?) Homicide’s conspiracy obsessed Steve Crosetti (Jon Polito) is this kind of character. Hill Street Blues’ loyal to the core Frank Furillo (Daniel J. Travanti) is another example.  Kurt Wallander (Kenneth Branagh) on the UK version of Wallendar is a more recent example.

8. Power of Imagination cops believe policing is a matter of listening to your instincts, following hunches and special intuitive clues. Often access to what others cannot see or hear or a quirky special kind of insight is crucial to doing their job. Their struggle is how to interpret their unusual intuition or how best to communicate it to others. (Do they take me seriously or do they think I’m crazy?) This kind of cop is rare on television. Hill Street Blues’ Michael (Mick) Belker (Bruce Weitz) is an uncouth ruffian version of the Power of Imagination character.  A more recent example is police consultant Allison DuBois (Patricia Arquette) in Medium.

9. Power of Excitement cops believe policing is an adventure and a thrill ride. Their charm, good-humor and ability to get themselves in and out of traps is crucial to how they do their job. Their struggle is in following orthodox rules when it is so much more interesting to play fast and loose, improvise and shoot from the hip. (Are we having fun yet?) Beverly Hills Cop’s Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) is the quintessential example of this character.

The “Why” of policing combined with Character Type creates a variety of complex and interesting individuals. It would be possible, for example, to create four very different Power of Conscience characters depending on whether they view policing as a job, as a career, as a vocation or as a mistake. Their values and their world views would not change but their attitudes would clash. For example: How these characters define their “higher duty” or what is the “most right” is hugely influenced by the reason they are on the job. Those different perspectives provide enormous potential conflict. Here is the breakdown:

1. A Power of Conscience cop who sees policing as a job would probably believe the higher duty is owed to family. This cop would follow the rules, be conscientious and not take the job home.

2. A Power of Conscience cop who sees policing as a career would probably believe the higher duty is owed to the organization or society. The higher the cop rises, the more effective the position becomes to do good and improve the larger situation. This cop would be relentless in seeking opportunities to advance a larger moral agenda.

3. A Power of Conscience cop who sees policing as a vocation probably believes the higher duty is owed to the victims of crime. This cop’s passion would be justice for the victims and punishment for the criminals. His or her personal life would be consumed by this life mission.

4. A Power of Conscience cop who see policing as a mistake would probably believe the higher duty is owed to one’s self. Policing can be a murky business where there often is no right answer and true justice is hard to find. This lack of clear-cut black and white or right and wrong would probably be an unbearable burden on this individual– giving rise to external moral outrage and internal guilt or self-loathing. How can I be good or worthy in a cesspool?

Creating an ensemble which clearly addresses “Why” the cop is on the job combined with Character Type provides an endless source of internal and external conflict. Making use of the full variety of human experience in specific combination creates memorable partnerships, unforgettable enemies and extraordinary individual characters.

The Power of Truth Book – New for 2012 – Excerpt

My upcoming trade paperback, The Power of Truth: Creating Characters Who are Detectives, Secret Keepers, Skeptics, and More is in final galley form.  The book discusses at length what a Power of Truth Story is and what the emotional parameters of Power of Truth character are.

In brief:

Power of Truth characters believe the world is filled with hidden dangers, secretive enemies and concealed pitfalls. This character’s philosophy might be stated: “Everyone is hiding something.” “Trust no one.” “Question everything.” The story keeps these characters off balance, doubting those around them, and uncertain about their own perceptions.

A character driven by the Power of Truth is often the protagonist in mystery stories, mistaken or hijacked identity stories, investigative stories and detective stories. In an ensemble cast, these characters are frequently secret keepers, strategists, counselors or advisers. In whatever role they play, they look beneath the surface of things to discover what lies below or is somehow hidden from view. They believe that nothing is ever what it seems.

Many other different kinds of films and novels deal with investigation, crime, conspiracy, and deception. Not all of them are Power of Truth stories. The key is to determine what the mystery, the chase, the crime, or the investigation reveals about the main character:  What is actually at the root of the illegal act, the murder, the conspiracy, the unusual phenomena, or the disturbing occurrence?

What does the solution — and how that solution is obtained — reveal about the protagonist’s view of the world, about his or her presumed place in the world or self-identified role, or about the character’s philosophy of life and love?

How is the protagonist’s essential human struggle portrayed over the course of the story? What does the story tells us about what that character values most highly?

The answers to these questions determine what kind of story it is and what kind of protagonist pursues this line of inquiry.  Understanding and using story specifics and clearly delineating your character creates the kind of compelling story that  are emotionally authentic and which “feel real” to audiences.

POWER OF CONSCIENCE STORIES

Erin Brockovich, To Kill a Mockingbird, Silkwood and The Insider all involve some kind of criminal conspiracy. In these stories a crime is committed or evidence is falsified or covered-up. The protagonist wants to expose these crimes and stop the wrongdoers. There is duplicity and deceit in each of these stories.  But these stories are not Power of Truth stories. They explore the Power of Conscience.

Power of Conscience characters instinctively know when something is wrong, unjust, unfair, improper, corrupt, or morally out of line. Their judgment and response is swift and immutable. They are propelled forward by personal outrage and moral indignation, usually on another’s behalf.

The worst thing that could happen to a Power of Conscience character is to become morally bankrupt or become a failure in his or her own eyes (i.e. not living up to his or her own high standards).

In Erin Brockovich, To Kill a Mockingbird, Silkwood and The Insider the protagonist is clear about what happened (or is happening), what is morally right or wrong, and who is to blame. The story struggle, then, is primarily about what to do to right the wrong.

All of these stories revolve around the question: “If I am my brother’s keeper how far must I go on his behalf?”

The Power of Conscience character’s answer to the above question is usually: “All the way.”

Once the character has decided to right the wrong, the question becomes how to prevail. This character’s pursuit of justice costs him or her dearly. This character often damages, gives up, or loses his or her job, family, or other important relationships.  He or she often suffers staggering personal or financial losses during the story journey.

Power of Conscience stories are primarily about law vs. justice; answering the call to one’s higher duty; standing up for one’s moral code; and, taking responsibility for or sacrificing for another’s welfare.  These are very different issues from those at the core of Power of Truth stories.

POWER OF AMBITION STORIES

The Devil’s Advocate, Wall Street, Catch Me If You Can and The Talented Mr. Ripley all involve crimes and cover-ups to a greater or lesser degree. An element of active deception is involved in all four stories. But, again, these stories are not Power of Truth stories. In the ETB method they are defined as novels or films that are driven by the Power of Ambition.

A character driven by the Power of Ambition can be a hardworking, eager, charming optimist with a “can-do” spirit– or a lying, manipulative, deceitful backstabbing striver who will do anything to get ahead in life.

These kinds of protagonists can be aspirational characters who want to rise from a lowly station to a more exalted one. Or they can be whores (real or metaphoric), frauds, fakers, or con artists, always on the hustle and one step ahead of the law. In any case, maintaining their status, popularity, illusion of success, or perceived social importance is key.

The worst thing that could happen to a Power of Ambition character is failing in the eyes of others or failing in the eyes of the world.

In The Devil’s Advocate, Wall Street, Catch Me If You Can and The Talented Mr. Ripley, the protagonist knows that what he or others are doing is wrong or illegal. Each protagonist proceeds anyway, in order to achieve or maintain the image of wealth, prestige, status, or position he so desperately craves.

All of these stories are primarily about how much a protagonist is willing to compromise morally, professionally, or personally for material or social gain.

As Power of Ambition characters abandon their moral scruples one by one to obtain their goal, they are willing to lie, cheat, steal, or even commit murder to get ahead. They are acutely aware of others’ opinions and are willing to use any kind of fraud, trick, or deception to maintain the illusion of their social standing or external success.

In the end, when these characters have nearly lost everything that matters on a human scale, they often reform their ways and “do the right thing.”  If the story is a tragedy, they continue in their illegal or illicit ways until they and everything that matters to them is hollowed out, corrupted, or destroyed.

POWER OF WILL STORIES

The Godfather Trilogy, Scarface, The Last Seduction and The Sopranos all involve criminal activity, the suppression of evidence, and the murder of anyone who interferes. But not one of these are Power of Truth stories.  In the ETB method, these are stories are propelled by the Power of Will.

Power of Will characters are strong, lusty, larger-than-life protagonists and ferocious, indomitable adversaries. They are absolutely ruthless, stop at nothing, and are willing to use extreme violence to achieve their objectives.

These characters are relentless and unyielding. They want it all. They mean to get it all and they know just how to do it.  These are big characters who fill the screen with energy, determination, and the lust for life, sex, money, or power.

The worst thing that could happen to a Power of Will character is to be dominated, controlled, or emasculated by others.

The protagonists in The Godfather Trilogy, Scarface, The Last Seduction and The Sopranos do whatever wrong they must do to survive, to expand territory, or to conquer or dominate others. There is little struggle with morality. Everything comes down to the law of the jungle– kill or be killed. There is no ambiguity or uncertainty. Life is a battlefield. Might makes right. Winner takes all.

Never showing any sign of weakness or vulnerability is the key to every decision this character makes and every action a Power of Will protagonist takes.

These characters insist: “I had no choice. I had to protect myself, my empire, or my family.”

They sacrifice tenderness, kindness, any sense of mercy, or forgiveness to dominate the situation, This leads inevitably to the loss of their humanity, their soul, and often their lives.

Those who live by sword tend to die by the sword. The only salvation for these characters is to connect with innocence. They must become true protectors of the weak and vulnerable rather than preying on those who are an easy target.

POWER OF REASON STORIES

The Sherlock Holmes mysteries, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Professional, and In the Bedroom all involve criminal activity, murder, and cover-ups. But none of these stories are Power of Truth stories either. In the ETB method these stories revolve around the Power of Reason.

A character driven by the Power of Reason is most often the expert, a technician, scientist, or professional observer in a story. These characters are calm, cool, and efficient problem-solvers who who often experience difficulty with personal and social interactions.

The worst thing that could happen to a Power of Reason character is to be overwhelmed by emotion, lose his or her objectivity, or to discover that the world is not a rational place.

Power of Reason stories are driven by logical deduction. These characters believe that there is a reasonable explanation for everything and emotion is the enemy of objectivity and rationality. They believe in science and hard facts.  They don’t suffer fools and often experience some kind of profound alienation from society.

Dr. Gregory House, the medical detective and master diagnostician in the television series House, is another great example of this kind of character and story.

Dr. House investigates each medical mystery with keen powers of observation, a razor sharp intellect, and penetrating logical deductions. He is alienated from everyone and manages to alienate those around him. A patient is more of a puzzle to be solved than a human being to be nurtured and healed.

In Power of Reason stories, ambiguity and deception might be hiding the solution to the problem or the crime, but the protagonist is absolutely clear-headed, often to the point of near inhuman dispassion.

There is little personal or emotional investment in Power of Reason investigations. The problem or mystery is merely a difficult riddle to be unraveled.

Salvation for these characters lies in embracing spontaneity and admitting the strength of emotion, the power of the spirit and the spiritual, and the other intangible mysterious forces in life.

POWER OF EXCITEMENT STORIES

The early James Bond movies, the Indiana Jones movies, Cool Hand Luke, and Iron Man, all involve criminal activity, conspiracies by those intent on world domination or personal oppression, or evil destructive plots of one sort or another.

But not one of these are Power of Truth stories. In the ETB method these are Power of Excitement stories. Explosions, fast paced adrenaline rushes and last-minute escapes are hallmarks of these kinds of stories.

Power of Excitement stories are all about narrow escapes, the thrill of the chase, the next dangerous diversion, or another daring escapade. Whether risking twenty days in “the hole” or facing almost certain death by way of snakes, sharks, or an evil international cartel, main characters in Power of Excitement stories always remain witty, charming, and boyishly up-beat.

The worst thing that could happen to a Power of Excitement character is to be trapped, boxed in, cornered, limited, contained, or domesticated.

These characters are determined to remain free spirits, agents provocateur, and untamed “wild things.”

Power of Excitement characters are usually agents of chaos in rebellion against established authority. Their rakish push-the-envelop devil-may-care attitude shakes things up in a story. Their charm, ready wit, and natural talent as an escape artist or improvisor is what usually saves the day.

Deception, betrayal, and treachery are taken in stride with a smile or a smirk, an ironic comment, a snappy retort, or a careless shrug. These characters don’t seem to take anything or anyone too seriously.

In turn, they believe their charm, good humor, and amusing personality should entitle them to an infinite supply of forgiveness, unlimited “do-overs”, and countless “second chances.”

Power of Excitement stories are all about maintaining an almost adolescent refusal to be serious, grow up, or conform in any way to authority. These characters live for the thrill of getting in and out of trouble and tend not to learn very much along the way.

POWER OF LOVE STORIES

Lethal Weapon, Tango and Cash, Rush Hour, and 48 Hours all involve criminal activity, murder, drugs, and cover-ups. But they aren’t Power of Truth stories either. These tales revolve around the Power of Love .

Male-driven Power of Love stories are buddy movies. The crime, the caper, or the conspiracy is secondary to the relationship between the two partners.

In each of these stories, the partners are different as night and day. They don’t like each other but are forced to work together because of some bureaucratic mix up, a boss’ order, or some other unavoidable situation.

Over the course of the story, the partners exchange “gifts”.

Each partner brings a different talent, a different perspective, a different background, or a different attitude which proves crucial to the partnership. These differences are key to the successful outcome of the case or the resolution of the puzzle.

Neither partner can achieve the objective, solve the mystery, or apprehend the criminal, without the other’s gifts or skills.

Over the course of the story, the two partners initially develop a grudging respect. This hard-earned friendship eventually turns into the kind of loyalty which makes each character willing to take a bullet for the other.

Any two kinds of characters can come together in a Power of Love story. The purpose of the crime or case (which typically is very forgettable) brings two distinct partners together in an unforgettable relationship.

POWER OF IDEALISM STORIES

I recently watched the film adapted from the play Equus. A young man inexplicably blinds six horses at the stable where he worked as an otherwise caring stable hand. He is committed to a mental institution and an experienced psychiatrist tries to solve the mystery and heal the boy.

The story involves duplicity, self-deception, and a horrific crime. But this isn’t a Power of Truth story, either.  Equus is a Power of Idealism story in the ETB method.

A character driven by the Power of Idealism wants to stand out from the crowd, to be extraordinary, unique and special. These characters believe that life and love should involve a grand passion. They see the world in terms of sweeping epic poetry or as a struggle of operatic proportions.

Intensity of feeling– either good or bad– makes this character’s life worth living. Power of Idealism characters believe it is better to be in pain than to feel nothing at all. Being content and complacent feels like a slow death sentence to these characters.

The worst thing that could happen to Power of Idealism character is to be boring or bored, unexceptional, under-rated, mediocre, or completely ordinary.

Dr. Martin Dysart (Richard Burton), the psychiatrist in Equus, is a disillusioned Power of Idealism character. He wonders if healing the boy of his passion and madness, only to send him into a world of monotony and dull routine, is a noble thing to do.

This film is about the price of passion and whether pain is the price of being truly alive even if for only a horrifying or intensely mad moment.

Dr. Dysart says: “Passion, you see, can only be destroyed by a doctor. It cannot be created”.

WHO THE MAIN CHARACTER IS DETERMINES
WHAT THE STORY IS ABOUT

The key to an emotionally satisfying story is to determine what the mystery, the chase, or the investigation reveals about the character.

What is at the root of the crime, the murder, the conspiracy, the unusual phenomena, or strange occurrence?

What does the solution, and how it is obtained, say about the protagonist’s view of the world, his or her philosophy, and essential human struggle?

The plot, the investigation, or the inquiry is the way a character reveals him or her self. Character is action. The actions a character takes over the course of the story tells the audience what the character truly values and what the hear of the story is.

Follow me on Pinterest

Tony Soprano is a Mafia Power of Will character. He believes that expanding his power base, extending his territory, protecting and defending what is rightfully his (according to Tony) and swiftly avenging any wrong (or perceived wrong) is how one gets along, gets ahead and stays ahead in the world. Life is a battleground.

How to Evaluate Stories

HOWTOEVALUATESTORIESHow to Evaluate Stories is available now on Amazon– $4.99 for a limited time–

“This little book is so packed with story wisdom it is mind boggling. Each concise suggestion is so clear and — easy —and yet as you apply them to your work, they will continue to open up and deepen in your understanding. These are the great film story tenants that the best storytellers—and executives!—know and work from. Read it, learn it, use it, because these checklists are packed with a story punch that will get you way ahead of the pack.”

—Meg LeFauve, producer, screenwriter, former President of Jodie Foster’s Egg Pictures

“Laurie’s storytelling techniques have shaved HOURS off of my work day and off of the script development process. I’ve been able to apply her lessons to film, television and even advertising projects. I wish every writer, director and ad industry professional would buy this book.”

—Bernadette Rivero, President of The Cortez Brothers production and multi-platform content company

“This is an excellent guide for any new and existing writer or producer to have by their side as they embark on a project. It gives a really clear reminder of what is vital for success”.

—Naomi Joseph, Executive Director of International Scripted Programming, Endemol Group, London

“It’s a great little guide, very useful, and dripping with truth. The creative process can be messy, murky, and bewildering, but Laurie’s short, precise story guide shines enough light for all to see.”

—Nick Malmholt, screenwriter and former Head of Drama, FremantleMedia Worldwide Drama

“This is the most comprehensive overview of screenwriting I’ve read. Why read 100 pages of some other writer’s journey when you get what you need in just a few pages? This is a quick amazing read. Don’t spend your time reading while you are trying to write.”

— Jamison Reeves, actor, writer, director

“Though I’ve written almost twenty screenplays, after reading Laurie’s How To Evaluate Stories book, I hurried to revise a treatment I’d just written. I’ll go back to this book again and again, each time I start a script, because Laurie’s clear, concise concepts about what makes a good script and a good story are dead on. This book would be helpful to any writer, novice or veteran. I highly recommend it.”

— Lisanne Sartor, screenwriter and CineStory Board President

“This is SO great and useful! It’s amazing how it dovetails with some truths I’m coming to learn about my own character as I move through the crises in my own life. I’m gonna keep it right on my desk because it reminds me WHY we write and fuels my passion for it. Having read it and used it, it’s a steal for the price.”

— Rita Augustine, screenwriter

“Laurie Hutzler’s How to Evaluate Stories is an invaluable resource for any filmmaker who wants to thoroughly “interrogate” their script, asking the tough questions. If you’re serious about telling a compelling story, one that grabs the audience and refuses to let go, read this eBook…Now!”

—Derrick Pete

“It is sound for every screenwriter to collect second opinions on a finished draft. In most cases, though, we do not get the advice we need. What we do get instead is other peoples´ version of our story. Laurie Hutzler´s concise book How To Evaluate Stories enables us to detect potential flaws ourselves.”

—Wieland Bauder, screenwriter, university teacher DffB Berlin Film School


The Bachelor and The Power of Love

Ratings for Brad Womack’s comeback season on The Bachelor are down, and he’s been scorned as a featureless, psychobabbling Ken doll. But beneath his boring exterior lies a highly skilled Romeo…
.
According to Robert Greene, author of The Art of Seduction, Womack is the modern equivalent of Benjamin Disraeli, one of the greatest seducers of all time. It was Disraeli, after all, who as prime minister of England in the late 1800s seduced the socks off Queen Victoria by appealing to the stodgy royal’s femininity and deeply buried sexuality.
.
Disraeli affectionately (and with irreverence that shocked everyone but la reine) referred to Victoria as the “Faery Queen.” He sent her political reports that were essentially love notes, filled with juicy gossip about her enemies (one of whom was wittily described as having “the sagacity of the elephant, as well as its form”). But the essence of Disraeli’s genius as a courtier was his ability to make it all about her.
.
Enter Womack, who constantly deflects attention from himself to focus on the needs and whimsies of his potential brides. On his first date with Jackie, a 27-year-old artist who lives in New York, he brings her to a luxurious day spa. “Can I help you with this?” he says as he gallantly helps her into a robe. He then tells the camera how excited he is that the date “solely centers on pampering Jackie.”
.
Later on, when he whisks Jackie off to a private dinner and concert at the Hollywood Bowl, he toasts his by now totally smitten date by saying: “Here is to what I hope is as close to a perfect day as possible for you. I’m glad it’s you.” And throughout the night, which concludes with a private Train concert, he frequently murmurs, “I hope you’re happy.”…
Greene pointed out that on The Bachelor, Womack is not in the traditional position of seduction artist—technically, it should be the women who are seducing him. But as someone who is trying to “seduce America,” as Greene described Womack’s “motive,” and convince audiences that he’s no longer an insensitive cad, his wooing energies are in high gear.
.
The only time Womack ever seems flustered is when a woman disrupts his flood of attention and turns the focus back to him. Womack clams up and is visibly thrown off his game.
.
This is the description of a Power of Love character.

Brad-Womack-BachelorI am not particularly a fan of The Bachelor but I was struck by this article on the current season.  It’s such an apt description of the Power of Love character.

These Character Types are the ultimate seducers.  They believe if they make themselves indispensable and/or irresistible, the other person will need them and will be obliged to love them.

On a paper valentine it says simply, firmly and powerfully “Be Mine.” Possessiveness and passive/aggressive domination are the hallmarks of these characters.

They manipulate by focusing the attention on the other person or love interest.  Power of Love characters lavish their attention and affection on others in order to exercise control, prevail or gain dominance.

That’s what it sounds like Brad Womack’s seduction strategy is as discussed in the article below:

Ratings for Brad Womack’s comeback season on The Bachelor are down, and he’s been scorned as a featureless, psychobabbling Ken doll. But beneath his boring exterior lies a highly skilled (even brilliant) Romeo…

…According to Robert Greene, author of The Art of Seduction, Womack is the modern equivalent of Benjamin Disraeli, one of the greatest seducers of all time. It was Disraeli, after all, who as prime minister of England in the late 1800s seduced the socks off Queen Victoria by appealing to the stodgy royal’s femininity and deeply buried sexuality.

Disraeli affectionately (and with irreverence that shocked everyone but la reine) referred to Victoria as the “Faery Queen.” He sent her political reports that were essentially love notes, filled with juicy gossip about her enemies (one of whom was wittily described as having “the sagacity of the elephant, as well as its form”). But the essence of Disraeli’s genius as a courtier was his ability to make it all about her.  (And thus gain control of the relationship.)

Enter Womack, who constantly deflects attention from himself to focus on the needs and whimsies of his potential brides. On his first date with Jackie, a 27-year-old artist who lives in New York, he brings her to a luxurious day spa. “Can I help you with this?” he says as he gallantly helps her into a robe. He then tells the camera how excited he is that the date “solely centers on pampering Jackie.”

Later on, when he whisks Jackie off to a private dinner and concert at the Hollywood Bowl, he toasts his by now totally smitten date by saying: “Here is to what I hope is as close to a perfect day as possible for you. I’m glad it’s you.” And throughout the night, which concludes with a private Train concert, he frequently murmurs, “I hope you’re happy.”…

…The only time Womack ever seems flustered is when a woman disrupts his flood of attention and turns the focus back to him. Womack clams up and is visibly thrown off his game.  (When the attention is on him he loses the advantage and can’t control and manipulate the person or the situation.)

The rest of the article is here:  http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2011-02-20/bachelor-brad-womacks-hidden-brilliance/?cid=hp:mainpromo6

Modern Day Sherlock Holmes on the BBC

1. Have you seen BBC’s Sherlock Holmes? Thus far it’s a three-episode series set in contemporary London, and to podge a British term, it’s brill. Smart, fast-paced, relying more on intellect and issues about character than on the stars’ appearance, it won thumbs up from all four members of my family.
What they do well, IMHO:
a. Respectful blending of past with present: Watson is a recovering war vet, wounded from a tour as a physician in Afghanistan. He’s a blogger!  Despite modernization, though, the essence of the series feels true to the original books.
b. Technology is important in the sleuthing process, but not the focus. This is not a series about gadgets.
c. There’s a fascinating and believable relationship between Watson and Holmes in which each make the other bigger. Without Holmes, Watson would be limping in a half-existence,  devoid of the risk and stimulation which is his life’s blood. Watson, on the other hand, both grounds Holmes and validates him.
d. The writers have set up a central question about Sherlock, articulated by Lestrade in this quote: “He’s a great man. if we’re very lucky, one day he might be a good one.”
Will Sherlock cross from brilliance into psychopathy, perhaps out of sheer boredom? Will he learn to engage emotion and vulnerability along with his impressive intellect, particularly around the female sex? These are great questions to have a viewer asking within a few moments of beginning a series.

bbc-sherlock-holmesHere is a post from a wonderful blogger Jan O’Hara writing on Tartitude.  She was thinking about Sherlock Holmes and asked if I thought he was a Power of Reason Character.  My answer was:  Sherlock Holmes is indeed a Power of Reason character– Everything can be explained/deduced rationally and logically. “It’s elementary, my dear Watson.” Power of Reason characters care more that something makes sense or is practical and less that it is moral or kind. Moving from a cold clinical analysis toward a more human evaluation (which takes into consideration connection, caring and a real valuing of others) is their journey toward greatness.

Here is Jan’s review of the new BBC re-envisioning of Sherlock Holmes in a modern day setting.  Looks interesting.

1. Have you seen BBC’s Sherlock Holmes? Thus far it’s a three-episode series set in contemporary London, and to podge a British term, it’s brill. Smart, fast-paced, relying more on intellect and issues about character than on the stars’ appearance, it won thumbs up from all four members of my family.

What they do well, IMHO:

a. Respectful blending of past with present: Watson is a recovering war vet, wounded from a tour as a physician in Afghanistan. He’s a blogger!  Despite modernization, though, the essence of the series feels true to the original books.

b. Technology is important in the sleuthing process, but not the focus. This is not a series about gadgets.

c. There’s a fascinating and believable relationship between Watson and Holmes in which each make the other bigger. Without Holmes, Watson would be limping in a half-existence,  devoid of the risk and stimulation which is his life’s blood. Watson, on the other hand, both grounds Holmes and validates him.

d. The writers have set up a central question about Sherlock, articulated by Lestrade in this quote: “He’s a great man. if we’re very lucky, one day he might be a good one.”

Will Sherlock cross from brilliance into psychopathy, perhaps out of sheer boredom? Will he learn to engage emotion and vulnerability along with his impressive intellect, particularly around the female sex? These are great questions to have a viewer asking within a few moments of beginning a series.

#ThinkpieceThursday – Skins: No Consequences

mtv-skins-tony-480x270Lots of controversy has been brewing around the new teen drama “Skins” on MTV.  I think the problem here is a lack of good storytelling.  The three crucial elements of any good story is 1) want, 2) need and 3) price.  Dramas that don’t work most often don’t attach a price to the choices a character makes.  Unless there is a cost, the action doesn’t feel urgent or compelling.  The higher the cost, the more intense the story and the emotional journey.

What a character wants is a clear and simple ego-driven goal.   It is something he or she can physically have or obtain.  It is clear.  It is simple. It is concrete.  It is specific– The booze, the drugs, the girl, the party invitation.  The want is a finite object of a character’s personal desire.  It is something tangible that would gratify or benefit a character personally and immediately.

What a character needs is an inner ache or yearning that a character is unaware of, denies, suppresses or ignores.  It is a deeper, more abstract or intangible basic human longing.  It is not physical or concrete. It is an emotional satisfaction that enriches the character more deeply– to be accepted for who you are, to be intimate with someone in a meaningful way, to find joy or to connect with someone in a true and authentic manner.

To embrace the need, a character must abandon specific selfish or self-centered goals and address more fundamental and far-reaching human concerns. Every great story ever told since the beginning of time is about the war between the things of the world (the satisfaction of the ego by obtaining worldly trophies, prizes or thrills) and the things of the heart, the soul and the spirit (the deeper satisfaction of embracing our essential humanity).

420x316-alg_mtv_skinsWhat is the cost of obtaining the want or object of desire?  What is the cost of embracing the need and living up to one’s highest, truest, most authentic values?  Which price is a character willing to pay?  What is a character willing to sacrifice or surrender to obtain the want or embrace the need?  The tougher the choice is, the better the story.  If choices isn’t expensive– if there are no expensive consequences– a character’s actions seem episodic and gratuitous.

Comment below or on my FaceBook Page

David Carr writing in the Business and Media section of the New York Times put it this way:

Now that MTV is back on its heels, you will hear arguments that “Skins” merely describes the world that we already live in. There’s something to that. MTV didn’t invent “friends with benefits,” oral sex as the new kiss or stripper chic as a teenage fashion aspiration. And MTV didn’t employ the teenage star that posed semi-nude in Vanity Fair; the Disney Channel is the one in business with Miley Cyrus.

But when you hear talk about how innovative and daring “Skins” is — and you will —that argument is no more credible than the one made by the stoned teenager out after curfew. “Skins” is pretty much a frame-by-frame capture of a British hit. “Kids,” the film by director Larry Clark, plowed the same seamy ground back in 1995. (And films, at least, are more regulated: “Kids” initially received an NC-17 rating, which meant that some of the youngsters who were in the film could not legally see it.)

“Skins” is nothing new, only a corporate effort to clone a provocative drama that will make MTV less dependent on reality shows and add to the bottom line. True, MTV is not alone. Abercrombie & Fitch built a brand out of writhing, half-naked teenagers, as Calvin Klein once did.

But since its inception, MTV has pushed this boundary as hard as any major media company ever has and may have finally crossed a line that will be hard to scramble back across. The self-described “Guidos” and “Guidettes” of “Jersey Shore,” MTV’s breakout hit, have probably already set some kind of record for meaningless sex.

(More questionably, MTV exported the show to some countries with the tagline, “Get Juiced,” a clear reference to the obvious steroid use on the show.)

But while Snooki & Co. may act like children, they can legally drink alcohol and give consent to what might ensue: the age of 21 may seem like an arbitrary distinction but it’s an important one and, besides, it’s the law.

Even in the most scripted reality programming, the waterfall of poor personal choices is interrupted by comeuppance. People get painful hangovers, the heartbreaks are real if overly dramatic and the cast members have to live with their decisions.

Not so on “Skins,” where a girl who overdoses and is rushed to the hospital wakes up to laughter when the stolen S.U.V. taking her there slams to a halt. Teenagers show children how to roll blunts, bottles of vodka are traded on merry go-rounds, and youngsters shrug off being molested and threatened by a drug dealer. And when the driver of the stolen S.U.V. gets distracted and half a dozen adolescents go rolling into a river, the car is lost but everyone bobs to the surface with a smile at the wonder of it all.

Any adults on “Skins” are of the Charlie Brown variety, feckless beings who are mostly heard off-screen making bummer noises. MTV leaves it to real-life parents to explain that sometimes, when a car goes underwater, nobody survives and that a quick hookup with cute boy at the party may deliver a sexually transmitted disease along with a momentary thrill.

Read the full article here:  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/24/business/media/24carr.html?_r=1&scp=3&sq=Skins%20+%20MTV&st=cse

Mad Men – Emmy Winner

Mad Men follows protagonist Don Draper (Jon Hamm), a man with a shadowy past who stole another soldier’s identity at the end of World War II. Don is a Power of Truth Character. He is an ad man, a master illusionist, twisting words and images to suit clients’ sales pitches. He has trouble discerning the truth about himself, his wife and his target marketing audience: (”What if women want something else? Inside. Some mystery wish that we’re ignoring?”) He works in a cutthroat environment where duplicity, betrayal and infidelities are everywhere. He doesn’t fully trust anyone including himself.
Here’s how AMC describes the show on the official website: “Returning for its second season, the Golden Globe®-winning series for Best TV drama and actor will continue to blur the lines between truth and lies, perception and reality. The world of Mad Men is moving in a new direction — can Sterling Cooper keep up? Meanwhile the private life of Don Draper becomes complicated in a new way. What is the cost of his secret identity?”
That’s a description of a classic Power of Truth story.  Don Draper (Jon Hamm) is a classic Power of Truth protagonist.  Note the tagline of the series:  ”Where the truth lies.”
These kinds stories are about issues of loyalty and betrayal. They ask: What exactly is loyalty? What is betrayal? How do we betray ourselves? How do we betray others? Can you be loyal to someone and betray them at the same time? When should you let go of old loyalties and move on?  How is the ground shifting beneath you?  What is real and what is an illusion? Who or what can you trust?
All these issues were front and center in the first season.  They had a real urgency and the potential for disastrous consequences.
Over the course of initial 13 episodes we learned Dan Draper isn’t who he seems.  He is leading a secret life on a number of levels.  He stole another man’s identity in Korea (by switching dog tags with a dead officer).  He is cheating on his wife.  He is a slick master of illusion in an industry that thrives on selling half-truths and the manipulation of perceptions.  As the season progressed we worried and waited for hammer to drop.
Mad Men has authenticity working for it in even the smallest details.  Everything on the sets, in the background, what the people wear, how they talk, what they talk about is absolutely true to the period.

mad_men ETB Screenwriting

 

Mad Men won 2010 Emmy Awards for Outstanding Drama Series and Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series. The show is about the world of advertising; a world of illusion, sleight of hand and outright deception. It is a quintessential Power of Truth story and is anchored by a wonderful Power of Truth protagonist, Don Draper/Dick Whitman (Jon Hamm). Surface laughter, glamour and the sophisticated tinkle of ice in a cut-glass tumbler of scotch obscures the dark and tangled subterranean underpinnings of both the man and the profession.

The show follows Don, a man with a shadowy past who stole another soldier’s identity at the end of the Korean War. He is an ad man, a slick master of mis-direction in an industry that thrives on selling half-truths and the manipulation of perceptions: “What you call love was invented by guys like me, to sell nylons.”  He is adept at deception (and self-deception), twisting words and images to suit clients’ sales pitches. This is especially true with main client Lucky Strikes.  He and his client both know the product is poisonous but Don finds a way to make it attractive: “Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And do you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of a road that screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing is OK. You are OK.”  Don, himself, is anything but OK.

don draperHe has trouble coming to terms with the truth about himself, his failed marriage and even one of his target markets: ”What if women want something else? Inside. Some mystery wish that we’re ignoring?” He is acutely aware that more lies beneath the surface of things than he understands or is willing to inspect.  When the new firm Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce brings in a female psychologist and focus group expert, Dr. Faye Miller (Cara Buono), to help determine what exactly women want, Don is hostile.  He refuses to participate in her work or answer any of her survey questions.  He rejects her notion that people’s childhoods are a predictor of who they are and what will influence or inspire them. Dr. Faye defends her research and says she can’t change the truth: “That Glo-Coat ad came from someone’s childhood.” Don cannot afford the truth. His entire life is based on the desire to make something true that isn’t, and vice versa.

In addition to issues of perception, illusion and deception, Power of Truth stories are also about issues of loyalty and betrayal. They ask: What exactly is loyalty? What is betrayal? How do we betray ourselves? How do we betray others? Can you be loyal to someone and betray them at the same time? When should you let go of old loyalties and move on?  How is the ground shifting beneath you?  Who or what can you trust? When does loyalty look like betrayal?  When does betrayal look like loyalty?

Peggy OlsonThese themes are especially relevant to Don’s evolving relationship with Peggy Olson (Elizabeth Moss).  Their relationship is quite similar to one in another Power of Truth story, Million Dollar Baby.  Frank Dunn (Clint Eastwood) and Maggie Fitzgerald (Hillary Swank) also have a powerful mentor/protege bond.  Frank is a Power of Truth protagonist who is hiding from his past as well.  His parish priest observes: “Frank, I’ve seen you at Mass almost every day for 23 years. The only person comes to church that much is the kind who can’t forgive himself for something.”

Initially, both Frank and Don are skeptical about a woman being able to “do the job” no matter how hard she works.  But both grudgingly admire the tenacity and raw talent they see in their young protege.  They want to toughen her up but yet somehow protect her.  They berate her and insult her but genuinely care for her.  Neither man is able to show affection that doesn’t also include harsh words (or hard truths).  Their relationships have a Father/Daughter dynamic that is profoundly meaningful to them both.  In making Peggy into a brilliant advertising executive Don could almost be following the advice of Eddie Scrap-Iron Durpis (Morgan Freeman) as he describes Frank’s coaching techniques:

Clint Eastwood Hillary SwankEddie Scrap-Iron Dupris: “To make a fighter you gotta strip them down to bare wood: you can’t just tell ’em to forget everything they know, you gotta make ’em forget even in their bones… make ’em so tired they only listen to you, only hear your voice, only do what you say and nothing else… show ’em how to keep their balance and take it away from the other guy… how to generate momentum off their right toe and how to flex your knees when you fire a jab… how to fight backin’ up so that the other guy doesn’t want to come after you. Then you gotta show ’em all over again. Over and over and over… till they think they’re born that way.”

The technique works on Peggy, who says to Don after a particularly rough exchange: “You know something. We are all here because of you. All we want to do is please you.”  Those words are truest of her.  Peggy only really hears (or cares about) Don’s voice.  But Peggy is no push-over and that is what will make her great in her own right someday.  Eddie describes that quality: “All fighters are pig-headed some way or another: some part of them always thinks they know better than you about something. Truth is: even if they’re wrong, even if that one thing is going to be the ruin of them, if you can beat that last bit out of them… they ain’t fighters at all.”

Peggy has her own stubborn streak and sense of independence and fairness.  She confronts Don over her lack of credit on the Glo-Coat ad, talks back to him, refuses to get him coffee and is the only one who seems able to see and accept him for who he is.  She is the only one Don trusts enough to share bits of his past.

Peggy would rather be at work with Don than doing anything else. His world is the only world that truly interests her. It is the only thing she really wants: “I know what I’m supposed to want but it never feels right or as important as what happens in this office.”  Maggie Fitzgerald (Hillary Swank) says basically the same thing to Frank Dunn: “Problem is, this the only thing I ever felt good doing. If I’m too old for this, then I got nothing. That enough truth to suit you?”

Peggy OlsonHere is a wonderful montage of clips that clearly delineate Power of Conscience character Peggy Olson.  Notice how many times the issues for her are fairness (or unfairness) (“I don’t know if you read in the paper, but they passed a law that women who do the same work as men get paid the same thing.  Equal pay.”); integrity (“Pete, just tell the truth. Don’t worry about the outcome.  People  respect that.”); propriety (“I’m from Bayridge, we have manners”); judgement (“I know what people think of you.  That you’re looking for a husband and you’re fun.  And not in that order.”)

Peggy is a good girl who sometimes does bad things. She is definitely the moral compass of the show. She even goes so far as to confront Don and demand that he hire the smarmy kid whose tag line Don drunkenly misappropriated for a Life Cereal campaign.

http://www.nerve.com/entertainment/2010/08/31/the-evolution-of-mad-men

Hillary Swank is a Power of Idealism character.  She is much more passionate than Peggy and much more willing to bet everything on a single glorious moment. Peggy is more grounded and controlled even when she is acting out or being rebellious.  When she strips to call a lazy unctuous creative director’s bluff, it is about doing the work (and her work ethic) not being seductive.  Her sense of morality may be the one thing that Don can’t beat out of her.  Even if it is the ruin of her it is also what will make her great.

 

 

Advice from David Mamet

DavidMametI am getting ready to go to Europe in May and work on a couple of cop shows.  I stumbled on a great letter David Mamet wrote to the writers of The Unit.   It’s really useful advice for any writer of any script in any genre.   The ALL CAPS are his.

.

.

TO THE WRITERS OF THE UNIT
GREETINGS.
AS WE LEARN HOW TO WRITE THIS SHOW, A RECURRING PROBLEM BECOMES CLEAR.
THE PROBLEM IS THIS: TO DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN *DRAMA* AND NON-DRAMA. LET ME BREAK-IT-DOWN-NOW.
EVERYONE IN CREATION IS SCREAMING AT US TO MAKE THE SHOW CLEAR. WE ARE TASKED WITH, IT SEEMS, CRAMMING A SHITLOAD OF *INFORMATION* INTO A LITTLE BIT OF TIME.
OUR FRIENDS. THE PENGUINS, THINK THAT WE, THEREFORE, ARE EMPLOYED TO COMMUNICATE *INFORMATION* — AND, SO, AT TIMES, IT SEEMS TO US.
BUT NOTE:THE AUDIENCE WILL NOT TUNE IN TO WATCH INFORMATION. YOU WOULDN’T, I WOULDN’T. NO ONE WOULD OR WILL. THE AUDIENCE WILL ONLY TUNE IN AND STAY TUNED TO WATCH DRAMA.
QUESTION:WHAT IS DRAMA? DRAMA, AGAIN, IS THE QUEST OF THE HERO TO OVERCOME THOSE THINGS WHICH PREVENT HIM FROM ACHIEVING A SPECIFIC, *ACUTE* GOAL.
SO: WE, THE WRITERS, MUST ASK OURSELVES *OF EVERY SCENE* THESE THREE QUESTIONS.
1) WHO WANTS WHAT?
2) WHAT HAPPENS IF HER DON’T GET IT?
3) WHY NOW?
THE ANSWERS TO THESE QUESTIONS ARE LITMUS PAPER. APPLY THEM, AND THEIR ANSWER WILL TELL YOU IF THE SCENE IS DRAMATIC OR NOT.
IF THE SCENE IS NOT DRAMATICALLY WRITTEN, IT WILL NOT BE DRAMATICALLY ACTED.
THERE IS NO MAGIC FAIRY DUST WHICH WILL MAKE A BORING, USELESS, REDUNDANT, OR MERELY INFORMATIVE SCENE AFTER IT LEAVES YOUR TYPEWRITER. *YOU* THE WRITERS, ARE IN CHARGE OF MAKING SURE *EVERY* SCENE IS DRAMATIC.
THIS MEANS ALL THE “LITTLE” EXPOSITIONAL SCENES OF TWO PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT A THIRD. THIS BUSHWAH (AND WE ALL TEND TO WRITE IT ON THE FIRST DRAFT) IS LESS THAN USELESS, SHOULD IT FINALLY, GOD FORBID, GET FILMED.
IF THE SCENE BORES YOU WHEN YOU READ IT, REST ASSURED IT *WILL* BORE THE ACTORS, AND WILL, THEN, BORE THE AUDIENCE, AND WE’RE ALL GOING TO BE BACK IN THE BREADLINE.
SOMEONE HAS TO MAKE THE SCENE DRAMATIC. IT IS NOT THE ACTORS JOB (THE ACTORS JOB IS TO BE TRUTHFUL). IT IS NOT THE DIRECTORS JOB. HIS OR HER JOB IS TO FILM IT STRAIGHTFORWARDLY AND REMIND THE ACTORS TO TALK FAST. IT IS *YOUR* JOB.
EVERY SCENE MUST BE DRAMATIC. THAT MEANS: THE MAIN CHARACTER MUST HAVE A SIMPLE, STRAIGHTFORWARD, PRESSING NEED WHICH IMPELS HIM OR HER TO SHOW UP IN THE SCENE.
THIS NEED IS WHY THEY *CAME*. IT IS WHAT THE SCENE IS ABOUT. THEIR ATTEMPT TO GET THIS NEED MET *WILL* LEAD, AT THE END OF THE SCENE,TO *FAILURE* – THIS IS HOW THE SCENE IS *OVER*. IT, THIS FAILURE, WILL, THEN, OF NECESSITY, PROPEL US INTO THE *NEXT* SCENE.
ALL THESE ATTEMPTS, TAKEN TOGETHER, WILL, OVER THE COURSE OF THE EPISODE, CONSTITUTE THE *PLOT*.
ANY SCENE, THUS, WHICH DOES NOT BOTH ADVANCE THE PLOT, AND STANDALONE (THAT IS, DRAMATICALLY, BY ITSELF, ON ITS OWN MERITS) IS EITHER SUPERFLUOUS, OR INCORRECTLY WRITTEN.
YES BUT YES BUT YES BUT, YOU SAY: WHAT ABOUT THE NECESSITY OF WRITING IN ALL THAT “INFORMATION?”
AND I RESPOND “*FIGURE IT OUT*” ANY DICKHEAD WITH A BLUESUIT CAN BE (AND IS) TAUGHT TO SAY “MAKE IT CLEARER”, AND “I WANT TO KNOW MORE *ABOUT* HIM”.
WHEN YOU’VE MADE IT SO CLEAR THAT EVEN THIS BLUESUITED PENGUIN IS HAPPY, BOTH YOU AND HE OR SHE *WILL* BE OUT OF A JOB.
THE JOB OF THE DRAMATIST IS TO MAKE THE AUDIENCE WONDER WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. *NOT* TO EXPLAIN TO THEM WHAT JUST HAPPENED, OR TO*SUGGEST* TO THEM WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.
ANY DICKHEAD, AS ABOVE, CAN WRITE, “BUT, JIM, IF WE DON’T ASSASSINATE THE PRIME MINISTER IN THE NEXT SCENE, ALL EUROPE WILL BE ENGULFED IN FLAME”
WE ARE NOT GETTING PAID TO *REALIZE* THAT THE AUDIENCE NEEDS THIS INFORMATION TO UNDERSTAND THE NEXT SCENE, BUT TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO WRITE THE SCENE BEFORE US SUCH THAT THE AUDIENCE WILL BE INTERESTED IN WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.
YES BUT, YES BUT YES *BUT* YOU REITERATE.
AND I RESPOND *FIGURE IT OUT*.
*HOW* DOES ONE STRIKE THE BALANCE BETWEEN WITHHOLDING AND VOUCHSAFING INFORMATION? *THAT* IS THE ESSENTIAL TASK OF THE DRAMATIST. AND THE ABILITY TO *DO* THAT IS WHAT SEPARATES YOU FROM THE LESSER SPECIES IN THEIR BLUE SUITS.
FIGURE IT OUT.
START, EVERY TIME, WITH THIS INVIOLABLE RULE: THE *SCENE MUST BE DRAMATIC*. it must start because the hero HAS A PROBLEM, AND IT MUST CULMINATE WITH THE HERO FINDING HIM OR HERSELF EITHER THWARTED OR EDUCATED THAT ANOTHER WAY EXISTS.
LOOK AT YOUR LOG LINES. ANY LOGLINE READING “BOB AND SUE DISCUSS…” IS NOT DESCRIBING A DRAMATIC SCENE.
PLEASE NOTE THAT OUR OUTLINES ARE, GENERALLY, SPECTACULAR. THE DRAMA FLOWS OUT BETWEEN THE OUTLINE AND THE FIRST DRAFT.
THINK LIKE A FILMMAKER RATHER THAN A FUNCTIONARY, BECAUSE, IN TRUTH, *YOU* ARE MAKING THE FILM. WHAT YOU WRITE, THEY WILL SHOOT.
HERE ARE THE DANGER SIGNALS. ANY TIME TWO CHARACTERS ARE TALKING ABOUT A THIRD, THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF SHIT.
ANY TIME ANY CHARACTER IS SAYING TO ANOTHER “AS YOU KNOW”, THAT IS, TELLING ANOTHER CHARACTER WHAT YOU, THE WRITER, NEED THE AUDIENCE TO KNOW, THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF SHIT.
DO *NOT* WRITE A CROCK OF SHIT. WRITE A RIPPING THREE, FOUR, SEVEN MINUTE SCENE WHICH MOVES THE STORY ALONG, AND YOU CAN, VERY SOON, BUY A HOUSE IN BEL AIR *AND* HIRE SOMEONE TO LIVE THERE FOR YOU.
REMEMBER YOU ARE WRITING FOR A VISUAL MEDIUM. *MOST* TELEVISION WRITING, OURS INCLUDED, SOUNDS LIKE *RADIO*. THE *CAMERA* CAN DO THE EXPLAINING FOR YOU. *LET* IT. WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERS *DOING* -*LITERALLY*. WHAT ARE THEY HANDLING, WHAT ARE THEY READING. WHAT ARE THEY WATCHING ON TELEVISION, WHAT ARE THEY *SEEING*.
IF YOU PRETEND THE CHARACTERS CANT SPEAK, AND WRITE A SILENT MOVIE, YOU WILL BE WRITING GREAT DRAMA.
IF YOU DEPRIVE YOURSELF OF THE CRUTCH OF NARRATION, EXPOSITION,INDEED, OF *SPEECH*. YOU WILL BE FORGED TO WORK IN A NEW MEDIUM – TELLING THE STORY IN PICTURES (ALSO KNOWN AS SCREENWRITING)
THIS IS A NEW SKILL. NO ONE DOES IT NATURALLY. YOU CAN TRAIN YOURSELVES TO DO IT, BUT YOU NEED TO *START*.
I CLOSE WITH THE ONE THOUGHT: LOOK AT THE *SCENE* AND ASK YOURSELF “IS IT DRAMATIC? IS IT *ESSENTIAL*? DOES IT ADVANCE THE PLOT?
ANSWER TRUTHFULLY.
IF THE ANSWER IS “NO” WRITE IT AGAIN OR THROW IT OUT. IF YOU’VE GOT ANY QUESTIONS, CALL ME UP.
LOVE, DAVE MAMET
SANTA MONICA 19 OCTO 05
(IT IS *NOT* YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO KNOW THE ANSWERS, BUT IT IS YOUR, AND MY, RESPONSIBILITY TO KNOW AND TO *ASK THE RIGHT Questions* OVER AND OVER. UNTIL IT BECOMES SECOND NATURE. I BELIEVE THEY ARE LISTED ABOVE.)

TO THE WRITERS OF THE UNIT

GREETINGS.

AS WE LEARN HOW TO WRITE THIS SHOW, A RECURRING PROBLEM BECOMES CLEAR.

THE PROBLEM IS THIS: TO DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN *DRAMA* AND NON-DRAMA. LET ME BREAK-IT-DOWN-NOW.

EVERYONE IN CREATION IS SCREAMING AT US TO MAKE THE SHOW CLEAR. WE ARE TASKED WITH, IT SEEMS, CRAMMING A SHITLOAD OF *INFORMATION* INTO A LITTLE BIT OF TIME.

OUR FRIENDS. THE PENGUINS, THINK THAT WE, THEREFORE, ARE EMPLOYED TO COMMUNICATE *INFORMATION* — AND, SO, AT TIMES, IT SEEMS TO US.

BUT NOTE: THE AUDIENCE WILL NOT TUNE IN TO WATCH INFORMATION. YOU WOULDN’T, I WOULDN’T. NO ONE WOULD OR WILL. THE AUDIENCE WILL ONLY TUNE IN AND STAY TUNED TO WATCH DRAMA.

QUESTION: WHAT IS DRAMA? DRAMA, AGAIN, IS THE QUEST OF THE HERO TO OVERCOME THOSE THINGS WHICH PREVENT HIM FROM ACHIEVING A SPECIFIC, *ACUTE* GOAL.

SO: WE, THE WRITERS, MUST ASK OURSELVES *OF EVERY SCENE* THESE THREE QUESTIONS.

1) WHO WANTS WHAT?

2) WHAT HAPPENS IF HER DON’T GET IT?

3) WHY NOW?

THE ANSWERS TO THESE QUESTIONS ARE LITMUS PAPER. APPLY THEM, AND THEIR ANSWER WILL TELL YOU IF THE SCENE IS DRAMATIC OR NOT.

IF THE SCENE IS NOT DRAMATICALLY WRITTEN, IT WILL NOT BE DRAMATICALLY ACTED.

THERE IS NO MAGIC FAIRY DUST WHICH WILL MAKE A BORING, USELESS, REDUNDANT, OR MERELY INFORMATIVE SCENE AFTER IT LEAVES YOUR TYPEWRITER. *YOU* THE WRITERS, ARE IN CHARGE OF MAKING SURE *EVERY* SCENE IS DRAMATIC.

THIS MEANS ALL THE “LITTLE” EXPOSITIONAL SCENES OF TWO PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT A THIRD. THIS BUSHWAH (AND WE ALL TEND TO WRITE IT ON THE FIRST DRAFT) IS LESS THAN USELESS, SHOULD IT FINALLY, GOD FORBID, GET FILMED.

IF THE SCENE BORES YOU WHEN YOU READ IT, REST ASSURED IT *WILL* BORE THE ACTORS, AND WILL, THEN, BORE THE AUDIENCE, AND WE’RE ALL GOING TO BE BACK IN THE BREADLINE.

SOMEONE HAS TO MAKE THE SCENE DRAMATIC. IT IS NOT THE ACTORS JOB (THE ACTORS JOB IS TO BE TRUTHFUL). IT IS NOT THE DIRECTORS JOB. HIS OR HER JOB IS TO FILM IT STRAIGHTFORWARDLY AND REMIND THE ACTORS TO TALK FAST. IT IS *YOUR* JOB.

EVERY SCENE MUST BE DRAMATIC. THAT MEANS: THE MAIN CHARACTER MUST HAVE A SIMPLE, STRAIGHTFORWARD, PRESSING NEED WHICH IMPELS HIM OR HER TO SHOW UP IN THE SCENE.

THIS NEED IS WHY THEY *CAME*. IT IS WHAT THE SCENE IS ABOUT. THEIR ATTEMPT TO GET THIS NEED MET *WILL* LEAD, AT THE END OF THE SCENE,TO *FAILURE* –  THIS IS HOW THE SCENE IS *OVER*.  IT, THIS FAILURE, WILL, THEN, OF NECESSITY, PROPEL US INTO THE *NEXT* SCENE.

ALL THESE ATTEMPTS, TAKEN TOGETHER, WILL, OVER THE COURSE OF THE EPISODE, CONSTITUTE THE *PLOT*.

ANY SCENE, THUS, WHICH DOES NOT BOTH ADVANCE THE PLOT, AND STANDALONE (THAT IS, DRAMATICALLY, BY ITSELF, ON ITS OWN MERITS) IS EITHER SUPERFLUOUS, OR INCORRECTLY WRITTEN.

YES BUT YES BUT YES BUT, YOU SAY: WHAT ABOUT THE NECESSITY OF WRITING IN ALL THAT “INFORMATION?”

AND I RESPOND “*FIGURE IT OUT*” ANY DICKHEAD WITH A BLUESUIT CAN BE (AND IS) TAUGHT TO SAY “MAKE IT CLEARER”, AND “I WANT TO KNOW MORE *ABOUT* HIM”.

WHEN YOU’VE MADE IT SO CLEAR THAT EVEN THIS BLUESUITED PENGUIN IS HAPPY, BOTH YOU AND HE OR SHE *WILL* BE OUT OF A JOB.

THE JOB OF THE DRAMATIST IS TO MAKE THE AUDIENCE WONDER WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. *NOT* TO EXPLAIN TO THEM WHAT JUST HAPPENED, OR TO*SUGGEST* TO THEM WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.

ANY DICKHEAD, AS ABOVE, CAN WRITE, “BUT, JIM, IF WE DON’T ASSASSINATE THE PRIME MINISTER IN THE NEXT SCENE, ALL EUROPE WILL BE ENGULFED IN FLAME”

WE ARE NOT GETTING PAID TO *REALIZE* THAT THE AUDIENCE NEEDS THIS INFORMATION TO UNDERSTAND THE NEXT SCENE, BUT TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO WRITE THE SCENE BEFORE US SUCH THAT THE AUDIENCE WILL BE INTERESTED IN WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.

YES BUT, YES BUT YES *BUT* YOU REITERATE.

AND I RESPOND *FIGURE IT OUT*.

*HOW* DOES ONE STRIKE THE BALANCE BETWEEN WITHHOLDING AND VOUCHSAFING INFORMATION? *THAT* IS THE ESSENTIAL TASK OF THE DRAMATIST. AND THE ABILITY TO *DO* THAT IS WHAT SEPARATES YOU FROM THE LESSER SPECIES IN THEIR BLUE SUITS.

FIGURE IT OUT.

START, EVERY TIME, WITH THIS INVIOLABLE RULE: THE *SCENE MUST BE DRAMATIC*.  IT MUST START BECAUSE THE HERO HAS A PROBLEM, AND IT MUST CULMINATE WITH THE HERO FINDING HIM OR HERSELF EITHER THWARTED OR EDUCATED THAT ANOTHER WAY EXISTS.

LOOK AT YOUR LOG LINES. ANY LOGLINE READING “BOB AND SUE DISCUSS…” IS NOT DESCRIBING A DRAMATIC SCENE.

PLEASE NOTE THAT OUR OUTLINES ARE, GENERALLY, SPECTACULAR. THE DRAMA FLOWS OUT BETWEEN THE OUTLINE AND THE FIRST DRAFT.

THINK LIKE A FILMMAKER RATHER THAN A FUNCTIONARY, BECAUSE, IN TRUTH, *YOU* ARE MAKING THE FILM. WHAT YOU WRITE, THEY WILL SHOOT.

HERE ARE THE DANGER SIGNALS.  ANY TIME TWO CHARACTERS ARE TALKING ABOUT A THIRD, THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF SHIT.

ANY TIME ANY CHARACTER IS SAYING TO ANOTHER “AS YOU KNOW”, THAT IS, TELLING ANOTHER CHARACTER WHAT YOU, THE WRITER, NEED THE AUDIENCE TO KNOW, THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF SHIT.

DO *NOT* WRITE A CROCK OF SHIT. WRITE A RIPPING THREE, FOUR, SEVEN MINUTE SCENE WHICH MOVES THE STORY ALONG, AND YOU CAN, VERY SOON, BUY A HOUSE IN BEL AIR *AND* HIRE SOMEONE TO LIVE THERE FOR YOU.

REMEMBER YOU ARE WRITING FOR A VISUAL MEDIUM. *MOST* TELEVISION WRITING, OURS INCLUDED, SOUNDS LIKE *RADIO*.  THE *CAMERA* CAN DO THE EXPLAINING FOR YOU. *LET* IT. WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERS *DOING* -*LITERALLY*. WHAT ARE THEY HANDLING, WHAT ARE THEY READING. WHAT ARE THEY WATCHING ON TELEVISION, WHAT ARE THEY *SEEING*.

IF YOU PRETEND THE CHARACTERS CANT SPEAK, AND WRITE A SILENT MOVIE, YOU WILL BE WRITING GREAT DRAMA.

IF YOU DEPRIVE YOURSELF OF THE CRUTCH OF NARRATION, EXPOSITION,INDEED, OF *SPEECH*. YOU WILL BE FORGED TO WORK IN A NEW MEDIUM – TELLING THE STORY IN PICTURES (ALSO KNOWN AS SCREENWRITING)

THIS IS A NEW SKILL. NO ONE DOES IT NATURALLY. YOU CAN TRAIN YOURSELVES TO DO IT, BUT YOU NEED TO *START*.

I CLOSE WITH THE ONE THOUGHT: LOOK AT THE *SCENE* AND ASK YOURSELF “IS IT DRAMATIC? IS IT *ESSENTIAL*? DOES IT ADVANCE THE PLOT?

ANSWER TRUTHFULLY.

IF THE ANSWER IS “NO” WRITE IT AGAIN OR THROW IT OUT. IF YOU’VE GOT ANY QUESTIONS, CALL ME UP.

LOVE, DAVE MAMET

SANTA MONICA 19 OCTOBER 05

(IT IS *NOT* YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO KNOW THE ANSWERS, BUT IT IS YOUR, AND MY, RESPONSIBILITY TO KNOW AND TO *ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS* OVER AND OVER. UNTIL IT BECOMES SECOND NATURE. I BELIEVE THEY ARE LISTED ABOVE.)