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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.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Write the Unsaid

Real dialogue has as much said as there is unsaid, as there is in any real discussion between two (or more) people.

Furious at your father, you may not mention your feelings.
In love with the woman you're speaking to, and she's unaware, you may not mention it.
Dreaming he'll ask you to marry him, it may not come up when you chat, but it's on your mind.

In drama the unsaid is very powerful, and it pulls us into that empty moment.

How do you write the unsaid?

You must know the emotional life of your characters. You must know not only how they feel in a specific moment, but what is the arc of emotions in their story. Often a character's mind wants something - that drives the plot (money, sex, power, an item) and their heart want something as well - (love of a stranger, reconciliation with a loved one, redemption for past failure) and that is what is completely UNSAID.

Specifically, it is unsaid TO the primary object of affection.

Crucial that is IS SAID to a trusted friend, ally, or piece of paper with a voice over.

That's the challenge in the spoken drama, how do you get OUT of the character's head? The friend can be a shoulder to cry on, or the voice of conscience urging action. So that the HEART story can be voiced. But when it comes down to closing the deal, the hero can't do it. They can't say what needs to be said, can't heal the wound, and has a moment of LOSS, an opportunity missed, perhaps eternally, where the loved one moves off. That is the power of the unsaid - the hero has to be facing the abyss of LOSS after a moment where they could have succeeded. Perhaps time and time again. But ultimately that is too unbearable, forcing them to grow - take a chance - and face their heart's desire and finally SAY the UNSAID.

We've seen it a thousand times in love stories and when it works at the end, it's incredible. Sometimes the unsaid is an action and it's the spontaneous passionate kiss - and when the lovers melt into each other - nothing needs to be said, you've shown it.

In an action film - not surprisingly - action has to accompany this moment, and it's often the physical action that has been UN-ACTIONALBE. Can the hero slay the dragon, essentially, after past failures and current narrow escapes where friends and loved ones have been lost in the struggle? The weight of failure resting so squarely on their shoulders that victory seems a distant dream. But the hero never gives up hope, or re-discovers hope, and re-commits to their mission, so that in the final moment, when they do slay the dragon, it carries that same power.

Less is more.

Write the unsaid.


Blogger ggw07 said...

Ah Phyll- Thanks much- you're back-this is such terrific stuff-

Sunday, September 24, 2006  
Blogger Eleanor said...

Cool, groovy, excellent. 100% with ya Phil.
But, if the hero is a loner and not the type to pour his heart out on paper - ie we are setting up the unsaid in the action (prior to the give away kiss) - how would you tackle "the look"
You know, the one where he sees her and the world ceases to exist -- she is his world: cue swell of strings...?

Monday, September 25, 2006  
Blogger Eleanor said...

I guess I'm asking how to be subtle and yet make the moment actor and director proof.

And after that, perhaps you can change night into day, reinvent the atom, and create the universe all over again? ;)

Monday, September 25, 2006  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

Thanks Gretchen :)
Eleanor - it's a basic craft question and comes down to artistry. When you describe the look you can mention he stops breathing, he's paralyzed, drops his cup of coffee - doesn't move in line 'hey buddy, move it -" cues in the world around him as to what his interior landscape is causing.

Does he sketch her, look at a picture of her he has, security video because he's a night guard, or catch her refelction somewhere, regularly, because she always waits for th 8:10 bus, so he's there at 8:05 - inside the coffee house on the same corner to watch her? By the time he's done it three times - does the woman next to him, another regular, says "you ever going to get on that bus?" So that it's a double meaning and now the universe around him is talking to him specifically about his own paralysis -

There are many ways to do it visually that are compelling - and you're the director here, making us see it - and feel it because the picutue you paint is emotional.

Director's will be greatful for all the visuals you give them. If they don't take it literally, it may inspire new ideas. They take whatever they can get because the demand on them is so high, believe me. You'll be shocked by how much they use of your ideas, and build on them. So put them in, let us see it. And remember - be poetic and concise, and keep your narrative tight and lean. This is not a carte blanche to over write. Now you just have to be extremely specific and cost effective with your words as well.

Monday, September 25, 2006  
Blogger Eleanor said...

Thanks Phil! :)

Thursday, September 28, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've never been able to truly put events like these into words. Thank you.

Friday, September 28, 2007  
Anonymous della said...

Really nice.

Sunday, March 21, 2010  

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