I know what you’re thinking: “not another unproduced hack preying on the goodwill of people’s dreams selling his snake-oil to the masses in the form of a how-to guide.” And if this was anyone else, you’d be right. But I AM a produced screenplay writer, or “screenwriter”, as we are called in the trade (my first tip, that one’s a freebie ;-)). My credits include a last-minute rewrite on the hit movie Monkey Derby. It was my idea to take the originally metaphorical title, (NASCAR racers being little more than performing apes for a blood-lusting, uncaring public) into more literal terrain (a monkey drives a race car).
It is my theory that screenplay writing (or “screenwriting”) is a skill that everyone has, not just the snobbish cultural elite or even Bono that one time. Over the course of my ten-week seminar I will give you a peek behind the curtain, to see the nuts and bolts of what is, at its core, a craft just like any other. Below is an outline of my patented “paradigm”, of which every movie ever made can fit into. I will expand upon this in the seminar itself, but in the meantime study it for yourself.
It’s common knowledge that there are three “acts” to a movie: SET UP – CONFLICT – RESOLUTION. That seems to be the one thing all those other hucksters agree on. Not so. There are actually four: SET UP – CONFLICT – RESOLUTION – BLOOPERS. The other “gurus” refuse to acknowledge the storytelling value in watching millionaires acting unprofessionally on camera, but with this seminar you’ll see how just that alone can lift your story to the next level.
The framework of your story. As the name would suggest, your “protagonist” (the main character) is set up for a crime he or she didn’t commit. Break down any movie, it’s there. The rest of the film will be spent trying to clear his or her name, oftentimes by winning a derby of sorts. An example of a classic set-up is in Casablanca. Dr. Tony Casablanca has been framed for the murder of his wife, and spends the rest of the script trying to clear his name and find the elusive one-armed man. Without the character being literally set up, there would be no movie.
“Without conflict, there can be no drama.” That right there is all you need to know about screenwriting (not literally. Please still come to my class). If that could be made shorter, it would be my vanity plate (my actual vanity plate reads MNKYDRBY). Can you imagine how different, say, Thelma & Louise would be if Louise didn’t resent Thelma so much for taking her arm in that opening machete duel? The crackling tension that movie is so famous for just wouldn’t exist. Just two women having a good time getting along with one another. Who wants to watch that?
This is where the protagonist finally resolves his or her issues, usually via an emotional confrontation, a violent action set-piece, or a hilarious race to the finish line to win the heart of the cutest chimp on the varsity squad. Remember that scene in Jurassic Park when they discover that Man is the real dinosaur after all? Or when in The Shawshank Redemption, Tony Shawshank is redeemed at last? That right there is your resolution. Most writers like to have their ending in mind before they start writing. What I like to do is let the characters take me where they want to go, which is usually a derby of sorts and the characters are almost always monkeys.
Noted French man Jean Luc Godard once said “a film should have a beginning, a middle, an end, and some bloopers, though not necessarily in that order.” This is mostly true (the end of Monkey Derby happens within the first 30 seconds and the middle shows up after the end credits) but bloopers should, without fail, happen while the end credits roll. They are a consistently underrated storytelling tool abused by lesser writers. In Monkey Derby, that one blooper where my protagonist, Monty, gets sick on camera after eating too many peanuts was meant to indicate a subtle change in his arc that several of the more astute viewers managed to pick up on, after I watched it with them and pointed it out and argued about it with them for an hour. Idiots.
By studying and applying this airtight structure just about anyone can write a screenplay. My seminar will equip you with the required skillset to take it to the next level. Soon, who knows, you could be hired to write Monkey Derby 2!
UPDATE: The seminar has been postponed due to the author’s contractual obligations with Monkey Derby 2.