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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.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

When in Doubt, check the Undertow

When you ram through act one, and it's full of tension, drama, a real page turner, and then you suddenly find yourself doing a lazy backstroke swimming through act two and can't find the edge of the edge of the pool - - you go 'what the - F?'

Whenever I do this to myself, and check the wording, because it is me doing it to myself, I realize I missed orchestrating my structure correctly. There isn't enough opposing force for my hero (villain, force of nature, force of man), there isn't a sufficient clock he's working against (his own death, a city's death, a bomb, a terminal loved one, a loved on leaving town), and most importantly - he's not rushing toward an inevitable end that is destructive and will inspire rebirth.

Or rather, that ending isn't rushing towards him.

Pulling at him through a series of events unseen, a primal, unbeatable and titanic force that will make sure the hero has no other choice than to face his ending, like an undertow that pulls you out to sea.

Whatever direction your hero thinks he's in charge of splashing about on the surface, the undertow is the Jovian force that works on a cosmic scale, the fates, karma, kismet, what have you - pulling him towards his worst nightmare. And as he heads towards it like a freight train, and it comes crashing towards him like a meteor - it should delight you.

As much as the hero will try to toss and turn his boat, Poseidon must make sure the hero will face his worst most crushing test. And you have to know it, see it, and delight in orchestrating it.

Face Act 2 with delight as you check the undertow.


Blogger Chris Soth said...

I agree -- I think this undertow you're onto is DESTINY or FATE -- we shouldn't forget these dramas we put together started as religous rites, and the Gods used to have to come down and sort things out at the end. They don't do that anymore and if they did, we'd call it "deus ex machina" but their hand is still there, just invisible. That's why when we come to the end of the story and that act three "twist" in a well made story, we think "of COURSE", but are still delighted and surprised -- it makes SENSE, it's not some random event, but there seems to be some sense of destiny that guided it there...and that could only come from some intelligent supernatural and usually benevolent being. So...in a way ALL out stories reassure us that there is destiny that shapes out ends rough hew them how we may...even a "God" if you will. And I'm not even a bit religous...but take a look at It's a Wonderful Life again if you think I'm wrong.

Just my theory...

Monday, July 17, 2006  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

chris: yes, the 'unity of opposites' concept by Lagos Egri also is the best secular, non-deity-intervention way of looking at it. you set up a story with two (or more) opposing energies who want exactly the opposite thing so that one must eliminate the other, or desire the same object but know that only one can own it, and will stop at nothing to get it, etc - all bringing about the same inevitable showdown, finale, conflagration of events. And the unresolved tension under everything is that this face off is unavoidable, and the only question in your story is, does the hero run towards it, or run away from it, and regardless of the fact that it will all come crashing down on him?

Monday, July 17, 2006  
Blogger Schmucks with Underwoods said...

I'm going through this right now. I'm writing up a treatment for a big. prod. co. Act 1 was always a dream because it was always the main bulk of the high concept pitch. The set-up and turning point 1 moment was enough to grab them so we never really developed it in much detail beyond that - except for some broad strokes. Act 2 is the long and winding road with obstacles, set-backs, rug-pulls, shape-shifters, betrayals, inner and outer conflicts that force the. protag to make dramatically conflicting choices etc. This is where the hard work begins. It feels like I've chipped away at the marble but I'm not sure what this thing's going to look like yet. Michelangelo or Monster?

Jeri also posts about Act 2 blues on: http://thefirstdraftisshit.blogspot.com/

Monday, July 17, 2006  

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