16 January, 2009

“How To Establish the Dramatic Premise of your Screenplay and Beyond”

Donald L. Vasicek:

"So, you need to take your character on a journey, by establishing the dramatic premise, then roughly timing turning points in the story and in your main character.

  • Page 1, a visual metaphor that defines the theme of the story.

  • Page 3, a line of dialogue, or an action that directly pinpoints the theme of your story.

  • About Page 10, establish the dramatic premise.

  • At about Page 30, something extraordinary should happen that spins your character and story around 360 degrees and sends it off in another direction.

  • At about page 45, foreshadow how your main character is going to be at the end of your story. Just a small action, something your character does to reveal this, like when Ryan meets Princess Anne and he is unafraid of her. From this point forward, you must have your main character creating all of the action. In other words, he/she must be pro-active in all events.

  • At about Page 60, midpoint, you must show that about all is lost for your main character regardless of the new strength he/she is showing.

  • By about Page 75, have your main character change the way he/she is trying to accomplish his/her goal.

  • At about Page 90 of your screenplay, your main character should have a direct confrontation with the villain (villain represents evil in fiction) or antagonist (doesn’t necessarily represent evil so much as representing the opposing force to your main character’s goal).

This confrontation results in your main character winning and sets up how the story is going to end. For the next several pages, your story should build to a climax where your main character goes nose-to-nose with the villain or antagonist. Here, your main character should have an epiphany. For Ryan, it was his discovery that he must overcome Komodo in order return home to his family and friends. It is here where your main character’s fatal flaw (the flaw that has caused your main character to pursue a solution to it because it is more overpowering than any other flaw) comes to the surface and must be overcome by your main character. With Ryan, it was his fear, and he overcomes it. "

Article in full


AspiringWriter said...

While I agree that this formula could generate an engaging film, this is not helpful for screenwriting in the long run, it stifles creativity and makes all films the same.

Belzecue said...

AspiringWriter -- you are correct to value creativity above formula. But just like showbusiness is a sometimes uneasy marriage of 'show' (creativity) and 'business' (presentation of the creativity), screenwriting is a similar merger of creativity and formula.

As a professional screenwriter you are expected to touch certain bases, same as a hitter must touch bases in a game of baseball.

Also, having an identifiable structure is a great way for novice screenwriters to learn the craft. Instead of having only a beginning and end to somehow stitch together (A-Z), formula can be their guide, giving them destinations along the way and making it easier to plot the journey (A-B-C...Z)

It's a balancing act. Even professional veteran screenwriters follow industry patterns and structure -- but, being skillful, they know how to disguise it better.

Cheryl said...

Useful. Thanks for this. Knowing when to hit certain points in the story was giving me some problems, and I think this will help.

dvasicek said...

A professional screenwriter is a screenwriter who has been produced and paid. A professional screenwriter follows Hollywood's rules in order to get produced. Hollywood's rules require screenwriters to follow genre formula's in order to produce their films. This means that professional screenwriter's utilize their
creativity by creating fresh, compelling, and unique stories. This is the essence of utilizing one's creativity in Hollywood. If a screenwriter wants to go independent of Hollywood in order to be creative, then, create to your heart's delight. If a screenwriter wants to write screenplays simply to
have fun writing screenplays, then be creative, have fun with it. If, however, a screenwriter desires to become a professional screenwriter, then, one must
channel that creativity into specific channels in order to sell and get their screenplays produced.

Donald L. Vasicek
Olympus Films+, LLC
"Commitment to Professionalism"

Belzecue said...

Some advice about creativity from Joss Whedon:

"Having given the advice about listening, I have to give the opposite advice, because ultimately the best work comes when somebody’s f---ed the system; done the unexpected and let their own personal voice into the machine that is moviemaking. Choose your battles. You wouldn’t get Paul Thomas Anderson, or Wes Anderson, or any of these guys if all moviemaking was completely cookie-cutter. But the process drives you in that direction; it’s a homogenising process, and you have to fight that a bit. There was a point while we were making Firefly when I asked the network not to pick it up: they’d started talking about a different show."

Anonymous said...

I wrote a screenplay that got analyzed a couple weeks ago that got completely shit on because I broke all the rules. As an amateur I would follow at least the 3 Act structure to begin with. Plus my character wasn't like-able, because the purpose of the story was for everyone in it to fuck each other over. So I got analyzed by the rules, they were pissed, but the story is great. It will have to be something I direct myself someday. Now I'm writing a horror story. I'm making the 3 Acts known well, but I'm not doing that first ten page bull-shit where you have to have blah-blah-blah-blah, or on page fifteen it has to be the inciting incident. I do an inciting incident on page 25 and a plot point on page 30. Sometimes you need more time to build your characters up before you break them down. Just make sure you stay with a precise 3 Act structure for now, all the bull-shit in between is at your discretion.