File this one under closing image masterclass. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen the Breakfast Club. It’s not one of my favorites but it’s been on my radar for at least thirty years. My girlfriend was watching it the other day and I caught something I had never before: With its amputated arms, the statue is the inverse of the closing image. If John Hughes was juxtaposing the school with communism, it would have been his Giant Lenin Head. The statue is a symbol of silencing individual expression. i.e., the voice of the teenager versus the institution fixed on shaping them, not for their own good, but the good of society at large. After the kids spend their day together, they eventually empathize with each other and discover their struggles aren’t all that different. So, when Bender throws his arm in the air, it becomes the new symbol, and shatters the shackles of the institution.
People email questions from time-to-time. I’ve always answered these questions. I’ve also always deleted every single one of them within 60 seconds of hitting the send button. Never thought to post the questions until today. This one deals with my analysis of Good Will Hunting:
I just read your analysis of Good Will Hunting and if it’s okay by you I just wanted to get some clarification. I always thought the climax of Good Will Hunting was the “It’s not your fault” scene.
But I guess in that scene Will is on the defensive whereas in his decision to leave to go to Skylar he has truly taken the offensive. Was that your justification for making it the climax?
We’re in a subjective space here. Above all else, analyses/breakdowns like mine are meant, for the aspiring writer, to detect patterns. The patterns I found led me those beats. But to answer your question: The “It’s not your fault” scene is an internal beat. Will is trusting someone emotionally again. He doesn’t have that with any of his friends, or Skylar, for that matter. But Sean is his therapist, not a partner. He’s simply opened a door for Will. It’s Will’s choice as to whether or not he walks through it. Notice how Will never has such a scene with Lambeau? He always kept Lambeau at a distance, like there was an underlying contempt for using your brain to work instead of your body. That lines up against his blue collar identity, the rejection of a white collar career, the friends in his life, and why a therapist/Vietnam vet from South Boston could be the only one to get through to him. That’s the reason I paired Will trusting Sean in the “It’s not your fault” scene with Will accepting the job at McNeil (internal and external points of no return). Those two beats in particular setup Will taking a chance on what the future could bring with Skylar; Will rejecting the safe, white collar identity for giving a shot at trust and intimacy with Skylar. That’s why, in my opinion, it’s the climax.
I’ve had friends tell me to write a horror movie. I just can’t resonate with that genre as I have others, as I have been told times repeatedly, with less “commercial potential.” This video made me think about my favorite horror movies. Only two came to mind: The Silence of the Lambs, which, like David Fincher’s Seven, would more appropriately be categorized as a crime thriller, and John Carpenter’s The Thing, which is about as horror as horror gets. But it got me to thinking how much I loved Alien (broken down here). Alien was likely pitched as Star Wars meets a horror movie. It had one of the best tags of movie, perhaps, only second to “Stupid is as stupid does,” with, “In space no one can hear you scream.” Alien really isn’t any different from The Thing if you think about it. You have a small group of people trapped who must use their wits to defeat a hell-bent beast. Then there’s The Shining, Scream, and Psycho. The Lost Boys was a big movie from my childhood, and, as Alien was Star Wars to horror, it was The Goonies meets vampires. Stranger Things has recently took inspiration from that subset. That’s more than enough inspiration to do something, if I were so inclined. So that’s what I’m saying to all of you folks who are taking the time to read my thoughts: This is show business. You can be an artist or you can write what sells and then earn the privilege of being an artist. Sure, luck is involved, but understanding what makes people more lucky than others is a big part of the game. So good luck out there.
If you’re really, really smart, you don’t go into it. This is not for really, really smart people. You gotta be dumber than that if you wanna succeed in creative expression. You gotta be a little crazy.
Associate Dean, Student Affairs; Area Head, MFA Screenwriting Program
Screenwriting is about two things, imagining and communicating. The trouble is, people have a tendency to gloss over that latter part, and act like the reader is psychic. By and large, we’re not. We can’t envision anything unless it’s clearly stated.
A redditor, /u/zombdi, asked me to analyze a premise test for free. I agreed, on the condition that I could use it as a public example.
[pullquote align=”right” color=”#e65652″ class=”” cite=”” link=””]In Hollywood, the story is king, and the story is driven by the main character.[/pullquote]
Let’s admit it. Superhero stories are our modern versions of the Greek myths. We have larger than life characters coupled with amazing feats of heroism and strength. However, they’re more than that. Present day superhero films need a strong character journey. In order for a story to be successful, the audience needs to relate to the protagonists. With goals and conflicts, fictional characters can be brought to life as real as any object in our reality.
GUY: Here’s my pitch: A guy must bond with his gambler father to get closure on his childhood.
ME: Great. What’s the second act?
GUY: Well, it’s whatever happens between page 25 and page 90.
ME: Right, but how is this explored? So he needs to bond with his father. Do they bond by surfing? Kidnapping a girl? Planning a casino heist.
ME: But they could, right? You see how each avenue of exploration changes the genre, tone and visuals of the movie. How is yours explored?
GUY: I don’t know.
ME: Then you only have half an idea.
The second act is the exploration of the idea. It’s the money part.
The three act structure tends to trip people up. People are either way too into it, or they’re way too dismissive of it. While it’s true that many professional writers don’t set out to neatly color within the lines as they’re writing their work, it’s also true that the three act structure is a useful teaching tool for people who are looking for something, anything to hang an understanding off of as they’re starting out.
The midpoint is the most arguable of the story points in the classic three act structure. It’s the axis upon which the second act revolves, it clarifies the arc, the stakes, and the tone of the exploration of the script. Midpoints are incredibly useful, so they’re worth talking about.
The second act takes up 50% percent of a scripts length. You want this second act to showcase what you can do with a concept. It’s been said that a second act is what the story is about. The midpoint separates act two into two parts. Proponents of three act structure often talk about act one, act two a, act two b, and act three. Sometimes people ask why it’s the three act structure and not the four act structure. This is a fair question. Someday, someone is going to to write a book called “MASTERING THE FOUR ACT STRUCTURE” or similar, and everyone will argue about this more, but for now, let’s use the three act structure, which is widely accepted, well documented, and useful.
Your basic three act structure:
ACT 1 (25%): Set up the world and characters, explain how we got to the events of the story.
ACT TWO (50%): Explore what’s cool about the premise and the characters in an active, memorable and visceral way that both entertains and shows off why you deserve to be a professional writer.
ACT THREE (25%): Resolve the goal of the story, illustrate how the second act changed the character to a version of himself that can succeed at his goal.
So act two = exploration, where the premise of the movie is explored via a series of genre beats in a way that creates specific and memorable entertainment. If you’re using a midpoint, it’s going to split that second act into two roughly equal chunks, act two a and act two b.
This raises a simple question: how is act two a different from act two b? [Read more…]
- Think of a common object, something tangible, smaller than a garbage can, the kind of object you can buy at a store. For instance: hairspray.
- Say one thing about the object’s appearance. Something specific, but still in the realm of recognizable reality. For instance: it’s a dusty can of dollar store hair spray with the orange price tag still attached.
- Say another thing about the object. It could be another visual detail about it, or it could be where it’s located. For instance: it’s at the bottom of a box of old cans hidden in the back of a cluttered, hoarded out garage in a Maine townhouse.
- Say something extraordinary about this object. It should be story specific. Saying that Marilyn Monroe owned it isn’t that interesting. Saying that Marilyn Monroe killed for it is a little more story specific.