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Stories from a seasoned screenwriter. Take heart! Your creative source is infinite and un-ending. Sometimes Hollywood just rips up the roadmap back to it. The bottom line is that Hollywood is not at all as bad as it sounds. Additionally, it's worse than you can imagine. Remember to pack a sense of humor.


I am a screenwriter living in Southern California. I've written screenplays for most of the Hollywood studios over the past 20 years. One of the uncredited writers of FANTASTIC FOUR, I wrote FIRE DOWN BELOW starring Steven Seagal, and the TV Movie 12:01 PM starring Martin Landau and MANEATER with Gary Busey. I have directed short films. I have written on numerous Hollywood studio assignments, some for big shot actors, some for small shot nobodies.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Don't Forget The Rules

A condensed rehash of everything discussed here over the last weeks and months.

Morton's Rules of Script Management

1) Blink Characters. (Inspired by the book "Blink" by Malcolm Gladwell. In which he theorizes a person can know more about an object in a two second glance, than in six months of research. Fascinating idea.) Forget the 40 pages of pre-history backstory you're supposed to write about a character. Look at the guy at the bus stop. Do you have a sense about him? How does he talk? What his life has become? That is your "unconscious knowing" about something. Trust it more than the 40 pages of research. Write THAT into your character so you know them instantly, and by the second line of dialogue, we know them.

2) Start deep in the middle. Especially at the beginning. This could mean starting with a plane crash, of which the story is about. Or starting deep into your character's story, who may not have made the plane yet, but who's life is at the breaking point.
Start Deep from a character point of view: Is their emotional breaking point obvious? Is their emotional breaking point not obvious but ready to go? Or, are they at any breaking point, but their world is? And in that cataclysm they will be forced to face the true nature of their soul, which will challenge them on every level, and allow them to become who they truly are, something they dearly needed?
Start Deep from a structure point of view: You start in the middle of a story, or at the beginning of a story on some edge, where upheaval is imminent, to change the world, and that change comes into direct conflict with the hero on every level, bringing about the suffering required to shatter the hero from their complacency into a new place of their true self. And with that new self, they head to the story's end.

4) Hero Rule (there's just one). Make things bad for the hero. T hen make them really bad. Then make them worse. That's the rule. Remember, you're not the hero's friend. Don't shy away from putting them through the blender, whether physical or emotional.

5) Bad Guy in your Face. Whatever the hero wants? The bad guy can't let it happen. So he or his energy has to be around, and be formidable. Opposites attract. People forget this sometimes.

6) Don't Ever Resolve Tension. And I'll say it again. Keep tension high and DON'T resolve it. You may provide answers in scenes that directly speak to questions you've raised earlier, but keep new questions coming, and please leave the BIG one unanswered until the end.

7) Tight Alignment. Keep the hero, the bad guy, the emotional draw and the hero's task tightly aligned. Keep all confrontations tightly wound along the straight line of your story. And please keep the confrontation frequent in your orchestration and structure.

8) Stay Emotional. Make sure it's all coming from a character's need, or you're just writing stage directions.

9) Open The Heart. Vulnerability, loss, selflessness, sacrifice, giving to another before themselves, surrender, death (and re-birth) are all the pots of gold at the end of the hero's rainbow. That is their victory, receiving that moment of grace, when they become bigger than they were at the beginning, and embrace and expand into everything else!


Anonymous Melville said...

"Blink Characters": I love it. Before I got a writer, I lived from acting for many years. A lot of actors try to catch a character by writing these long backstorys, collecting an immense amount of information. And the more they know, the worse they often play.

I always found the best way to feel and understand a character is to blink him and then, lean back and watch them doing their (and your) job... No doubt.

And what a great word, too: Blink. A decent mix of humour and esprit.

One interesting thing about your rules: If my English doesn't let me down... There is no rule about theme. How comes?


Thursday, August 25, 2005  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

Melville: good point, I should include that. I find as a rule theme is not crucial to my writing, and that if I"m true to character and tone, a theme may reveal itself because the story was already powerful. I think "tone" is more crucial, and wrote a previous post about it. I should include it in the list here.

But, by way of example, when I sit down excited by an idea, it's never: "Wow, I'm going to write a thematic piece on how absolute ambition destroys!" I'm not saying that's not worthy, it is, I just don't work that way and don't find it neccessary to contstruct a story from the outside in that way.

That being said - it is a regular question in meetings from the neophyte CE's (creative execs) and president's and chairman of company's alike. So, it's important in one's ability to discuss the work. But as a creator, I don't find I need to go there to create. I usually start much more internally in some emotional dillema and suffering, coupled by some exotic situation that will force the suffering to become so extreme, the character will have to change or die.

Thursday, August 25, 2005  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

Yes, the "tone" post is at the bottom of the "recent posts" list. I should be included.

Thursday, August 25, 2005  
Anonymous Joshua said...

Rock on, Phil and amen especially to the last one -

Thursday, August 25, 2005  
Blogger Bill Cunningham said...

Re: Theme - story to me is always about characters who act upon certain situations and the consequences of those actions.

Theme(s) seem to rise from this starting point.

Great post Philip, I'm going to print it and add it to my "Outline checklist" that I go through before writing a script.

Thursday, August 25, 2005  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

Bill: thanks for that! Yes, I agree about theme.

Thursday, August 25, 2005  

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