A Four-Course Meal

Some great tips from John August and Craig Mazin on Scriptnotes, ep. 65 today. They talked about what they often find lacking in scripts and included suggestions for handling these shortcomings.  As Craig pointed out, you could almost get a film degree from online lectures such as this. They are indeed a valuable resource. I thought I’d summarize some of the ideas from this useful podcast.

Tips from John August:

  • Make sure your main character is in charge. Don’t let your protagonist be an inactive pawn.
  • Make sure your logic holds up throughout the movie. Consider the character’s internal logic as he or she makes choices throughout the story. Is everything emotionally consistent for that character? Also are the rules of your story followed consistently?
  • Have you served up a complete “meal” to the viewer, or have you just tossed together a bunch of unrelated “appetizers?”
  • Was your character tested enough? Hurt your main character. Make things as difficult for him or her as possible. John says he has never read a script where he thought, “You were too hard on your hero!”
  • Make sure choices made are irrevocable and not something the character can un-do.

Tips from Craig Mazin:

  • Include meaning in your story. What’s the movie about? Include layered writing. Scenes should have layers of meaning, not just be about, say, action only. Or only about relationships, character, or theme. All these should come together.
  • Make sure your premise can support a whole movie. You must have a foundation for your story.
  • Make sure your characters are distinctive. “People go to movies for characters, more than anything else.”
  • Your character should evolve and change by the end. At the end, the character should be disgusted with his or her former self.
  • Comedies torture the main character more than other genres. Comedy evolves from this. Don’t forget that comedy always includes a drama at its core.
  • As executives say, “Make sure the stakes are high.” We have to care if characters fail.
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