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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.

Saturday, July 01, 2006


We all have them. Some burried so deep we probably can't remember some of them until the right moment triggers against our memory and the secret surfaces. A song, a smell, a number, the trigger may be unexpected, but the secret is a deep part of our reality.

Deep enough to help make us who we are?

That's the question when it comes to character. What is their secret that helps define who they are.

And if your character doesn't have a secret it's awfully flat.

I've been in search of secrets lately for a new character I'm writing.

And I was asked to put one in for a script I just wrote, adapted from a book, where the hero didn't really have a very complicated character. He needed a secret.

You can work the secret card different ways. It plays well when it's opposed to the action the hero has to undertake for his adventure. Sheriff Brody in Jaws was afraid of the water, after all.

Or it can work against the internal landscape in a drama - as with a character who has major family issues, hasn't worked them out, and his secret is that he's dying.

Ultimately, breaking through ones limits is the most painful awful thing we can do, and we only do when forced to, and when we do it's thrilling and awakens us to a larger view of ourselves and the world. Best if the secret is part of the limiting problem and shattering through it is required for breaking the limit.


Blogger Chris (UK Scriptwriter) said...

I've come into problems when I've concentrated too much on the secret. The main character had his secret and that was fine. The problem was with the third most important character. It was his secret that the climax of the story was built on (does that actually make him the main character???).

With this secret being so important, the third quarter of the story just wouldn't come together. There was a transition that needed to happen to switch focus from the main two characters and to promote the importance this third one. I just couldn't get the story to meet in the middle.

Oh well, I may give it another shot later this year. Maybe I’ve got the focus on my characters wrong and need to look at the story from a different angle (of forget it and put it down as a lesson learned).

Sunday, July 02, 2006  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

chris: well it's a good point you bring up. Who's secret is crucial and does it have to be the lead - ? Not neccesarily, if the secret's reveal is shattering to the hero and they have to deal with it (odd example: The Family Stone, xmas movie comedy with Diane Keaton as mom of family, and sarah jessica parker comes over as fiance of her son. It's really the son's story, and him dealing with the family not accepting his girlfriend. The secret: (spoiler here, if you care...) Diane Keaton is dying. That reveal is huge - but even though it's her secret, the son has to face who he is and break through his own limitations because of this reveal.

So, point of that is - the secret doesn't HAVE to be the main character's - but it's reveal has to be shattering to the hero who must re-assemble himself and is forced to become a new person because of it.

Sunday, July 02, 2006  
Blogger Chris (UK Scriptwriter) said...

Perhaps that's my problem here. The reveal isn't really shattering, but is key to the story.

It happens, our hero deals with it, roll credits. The reveal just fits in with the flow (in the outline if not the draft).

I guess the reveal should do just the opposite, that is NOT fit in with the flow. It should turn the flow upside down so that the hero has to struggle and make the audience think he may not be able to pull this one off.

I'll have to have a think as writing that just gave me an idea to pull the story together.

That’s a basic point really and I can’t believe I couldn’t see the problem (I thought I was a little more advanced than that). Sometimes you just need to take a step back.

Sunday, July 02, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Philip,

This sounds like a very powerful concept, and I want to be certain that I'm understanding the specifics of what you mean -- the impact of a character's secret in the construction of a good, substantive character and script. Could you give us a few examples?

For instance, in DIE HARD, what is McClain's (Brice Willis) secret? That he truly loves his wife? Or is it something different?

Does it have to be a concrete external thing, like dying, which will automatically and dramatically 'stir the pot?' Or is it often a more internal, character motivation thing?

Examples, please.


Sunday, July 02, 2006  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

JT: Die Hard: McClain's secret is that he feels UNWORTHY. He feels he's a FUCK UP. He blew his marriage, because he didn't deserve it. What becomes thrilling in the story is that he proves he's beyond worthy by saving his wife and just about everyone else in the building and killing the worst screen screen villain since Nosferatu. The secret doesn't have to be dying, which of course is wonderfully dramatic, has a built in ticking clock, and is spiritual as it makes us all face what we don't want to. But other secrets work fine as well: MILLION DOLLAR BABY - Eastwood's secret, his fear is that he'll let another fighter get hurt (maimed for life) in the ring. It's revealed mid-film in the coffee shop. So when the film plays out to the end, what he has to do almost kills him and he has to leave his profession. TITANIC: Rose fears she has become an object in her mother's eyes, traded for family survival - only Jack sees her as alive, and she feels alive with him - and will give up her life to save him so gets BACK on the sinking ship because feeling alive is more important for a few minutes, than a lifetime of being an object. I've picked oscar winners, but you'll most likely find it works in any well written piece.

Sunday, July 02, 2006  

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