Screenwriting : The Importance of obstacles in your script... Do you really need to be told this? by Phillip "Le Raconteur" Hardy

Phillip "Le Raconteur" Hardy

The Importance of obstacles in your script... Do you really need to be told this?

Unless you’re a beginner, do you really need www.scriptmag.com to spoon feed you this basic concept in their latest article? If you’re an experienced scriptwriter and this information is an epiphany, then perhaps it’s time quit. Or perhaps I’m feeling extra cynical tonight? Your thoughts are more than welcome… in fact, they’d be downright neighborly. http://www.scriptmag.com/features/use-of-story-obstacles .

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Fiona Faith Ross

@ Phillip, I feel your pain. Facebook is currently feeding me ads for creative writing courses (I suspect the words 'fiction writer' in my profile might have something to do with this). If another course shoveled out by top fiction writers/agencies/publishing houses or whatever, asks me to pay good money to be told "how to plan my work", "how to overcome writers' block," and "how to stay off social media," I shall scream. I may even throw my old lap top across the room (although not my Mac). The problem is, there are too many dudes jumping on the "how to" cash cow, and writing the basics for "newbies". There's very little out there for writers at intermediate or advanced level.

Beth Fox Heisinger

C'mon, Phillip, everybody wants to be a screenwriter. ;)

Owen Mowatt

Very good point Fiona. :) One thing that I've been doing for a couple of years now is gathering the names of TV writers, who's episode has impressed, then seeing if they have ever given advice via podcast or interview. A lot of their advice contradicts with modern rhetoric (which shouldnt really surprise). it's also simpler and cuts through the bullshit. I've stopped looking at whether advice is good or bad, but rather whether it suits me.

Phillip "Le Raconteur" Hardy

@Beth: I'm reminded of that old Kink's song Celluloid Heroes: "Everybody's a dreamer and everybody's a star, And everybody's in movies, it doesn't matter who you are. There are stars in every city, In every house and on every street, And if you walk down Hollywood Boulevard Their names are written in concrete!" Fiona: Don't get me started on FB. I get hit with so many things for screenwriters, Land Rovers, colleges, cigars. drums and anything else I've shown an interest in. It all starts with liking someone's page. I just tune out and ignore FB's irritations.

Stephen Barber

This is a great topic! I read every day, and most of the (crap) that I divulge into, comes from the newspaper. (Yes, I know...I'm 36, and I read the WSJ...people do still get those bundles of bad news delivered to their front door step). Most of the thought provoking material that I consume comes from the unfortunate real life matters of what I read about TODAY. With that stated; I also still read Scriptmag.com and browse through the blogs from writers and industry professionals. Because, (as Owen mentioned), if something suits me, it must be because I'm looking to improve that portion of my writing. Perception in life is EVERYTHING...and what you do in action because of it, defines not just what kind of screenwriter you're going to be; but also that action defines what type of person you've become. In the famous words spoken by 'Tyler Durden', "sticking feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken." - Having a computer and Final Draft with 4 features completed and one Pilot in the works does not make me a know it all either. I have plenty to learn, plenty to touch up on, and who knows??? Maybe, I'll come across someone's opinion on "how to" write that character driven action sequence that my writing DESPERATLY needs. After all... what is growth without being humble enough to recognize it when it happens?

Beth Fox Heisinger

@Phillip, yeah, that's great. I recently watched the documentary "Seduced and Abandoned" which follows Alec Baldwin and James Toback trying to secure funding for a film -- for me, the film with its focus on the film industry was more "Disappointed and Disgusted" but that's a whole different topic. Anyway, in the documentary they interview Ryan Gosling who made the point about those who come to LA with big dreams and huge odds against them; that "it's either delusion or premonition." I thought that was a great observation.

Phillip "Le Raconteur" Hardy

@Stephen Good points and scriptmag is a great resource. @Beth I hope they get that doc on Netflix. I'd like to see it.

Sarah Gabrielle Baron

Well, that was a weird article, to have everything so laid out like that, almost like it's a math equation. Jerry Flattum was finally getting to something really interesting at the end, "And for a writer, turning bad people into sympathetic characters is an obstacle in and of itself." This is what I've been doing WAY too much, and it makes my stories less marketable. My first BIG writing excursion was back in the early 2000's. I wrote half of a 'pirate romance' novel because I thought it would be easy. Turns out the main character, Cora, is a vicious little bitch caught in one of the most graphically violent time/places of human history. She took me to a place I wasn't ready to follow, and so the second half of the novel is still on the back shelf of my mental fridge. Basically, I don't really care that having a 'more than half dark-side' hero makes my stories less marketable. Humans are totally fucked up and we're not going to evolve or heal until we face our demons. The fact that we rarely overcome those demons needs to be told. It's in the conscious awareness that the demons exist, HOW we are fucked up mentally, that the healing/evolution begins. There's another recent thread about 'pick your fav. 'classic' movie'. A lot of the ones being highlighted are kind of like this. Godfather: 'hero' stays totally fucked up, beginning to end. Fight Club: totally fucked up, although the 'reveal' at the VERY end, like page 110, shows a bit of mental healing. Wild Ones: Brando stays a fucked up rebel (yay!). Hitchcock movies: hero/heroine stays crazy (gets more crazy!). Cat on a hot tin roof: she stays nuts (gets more nuts!). What kind of pissed me off about that article is that Flattum doesn't come right out and say that movies that fill up the 60 minute middle, page 15-85, with nothing but a meaningless barrage of 'obstacles' and no character arc growth, are just that: tripe.

Philip Sedgwick

Seduced and Abandoned is a must watch. So is the film Official Rejection - about the festival circuit.

Philip Sedgwick

PS, Seduced and Abandoned was HBO. Might be in their on demand queue. I laughed and cried while watching!

Beth Fox Heisinger

Yes, "Seduced and Abandoned" is available on HBO. I was able to stream it. ...For me, it wasn't funny, although using "death" as a pitch was bizarre. "You're going to die soon so why not add to your legacy. You can't take your money with you." Anyway, the sexism was hard to watch. The industry is controlled by rich white men of a certain age -- and there they are in this documentary being pitched to by Alec Baldwin.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Getting back to the thread topic, yes, this article was weird. In the first paragraph it states; "Seems a bit mechanical to think of a screenplay–or a story–as a series of obstacles." I'm thinking; yes, yes it is. Not to mention unbelievably reductive and rather missing the whole "rai·son d'ê·tre" of telling stories. Moving on!

Phillip "Le Raconteur" Hardy

@Sarah: Wow! What a bold post and I'd love to read the dark pirate romance. I appreciate you having the courage to share that with us. As I a writer, I explore many different sides of the human condition. I've always been an angry person that channels my rage into positive things. Even though anger is a part of what makes me tick, I’ve always been a very optimistic person. So, for me, anger fuels the things I do and has helped me accomplish many things. I use script writing to explore my darker side and that has manifested itself, particularly in my work during the past year. In writing “Four Negro Girls In A Church”, I immersed myself heavily into the characters and found myself at times, profoundly affected. I wanted my characters to really convey loss, love, hatred and bigotry. During my time, I’ve witnessed many beautiful, ugly, wonderful and horrible things. I not only face my demons, I often embrace them.

Danny Manus

I think Fiona's point is well taken. I think there are a number of "newbie" writers who may get something from the article but there aren't too many articles for the "next level" writer. It's honestly why I haven't written too many new articles lately. I wrote 250+ articles on screenwriting biz and craft, til I felt everything I've said was just being repeated and I was worn out. And when I'd try to write something "next level" it didn't get much traction. certainly not as much as the million "how can I get an agent" blog posts. And I simply can't bring myself to writing another one of those. So, please...inspire me! What's a next level question that would make for an interesting article topic?? Not something that can be answered in 1 sentence. Not something horribly technical or boring. Something that would make for an interesting read for more than 500 words. Thoughts?? please share em!!

Stephen Barber

@Danny, (Endurance/Resilience) for the working full-time, family providing, and skillfully hungry writer with an end goal in sight. (How does one endure with resilience the neccessary traits to keep them as a writer bound for success, and still focused on providing for a life that's needed today?) Just sayin' - I'd love for the 'next-level' opinions on that. My train has already left the station, so there's no going back on my writing... but what's the best way of balance for success, when attempting to capture the creative mind set, while plugging away at the providing need for others? Steve

Beth Fox Heisinger

Stephen, yeah, great subject suggestion; endurance/resilience. :) Danny, I would love to see more critical story analysis. (Perhaps I've missed some articles.) Or, discussion about deep structure/plot -- plot as a process not a "thing;" not a formula; not fill-in-the-blank "template-like" consideration when it comes to structure. Plot is truly organic. Perhaps articles that encourage writers to loosen their white-knuckled grip on their precious formula books. Embrace their individual voices. "There are no dull subjects. / There are only dull writers" – H.L. Mencken ;)

Fiona Faith Ross

I'd second that , Beth. There's a fine line between meeting audience/industry expectations by conforming to the correct structures and putting forward the argument in your head. It's hard to loosen the "grip on the precious formula books", because we are warned that deviation could see our scripts thrown the garbage chute if, for example, the inciting incident is not in the right place. I'm passionate about themes, Danny. A couple of examples off the top of my head. "Birdman" gripped me. When I watched an interview with Inarritu (forgive lack of accents), he explained how everyone has a need to feel relevant in some way, that it's a universal desire. His insights resonated with me. "Feeling relevant" is different to "getting off the scrap heap", or merely "feeling ignored". I thought this theme was very clever and different. The second favorite of mine for theme is "Little Miss Sunshine", making the point about the sexualisation of very young children, and the hideousness of the whole "baby beauty pageant" thing. The personal crises of each character were presented with great subtlety, and in particular, the irony of "loser" Richard Hoover setting himself up as an expert on "winning", was hugely entertaining and yet we had compassion for him at the same time. Finally, Breaking Bad, what a masterpiece of technique that is. I read a transcript of an interview with Vince Gilligan. He explained his inspiration for the notion of a protagonist who becomes the antagonist. Totally brilliant. So, Danny, you might have to touch on the technical and the boring, but if you would like to construct a set of articles on "How to write like Vince Gilligan and Michael Arndt", I for one, should be very grateful. lol I had an idea for "20 tips to make your writing sizzle" but I won't have time to write it. For example, make one pass through your script and eliminate repetition as far as you can. e.g. How many different ways can you say "walk?" Repetition wearies a reader very quickly. I have the online thesaurus open at all times. There are small techniques like this, you can use at the polishing stage, which are handy for more advanced writers. Danny, you will know a bunch of techniques like this, to keep a professional reader hooked in. If you've already written on this topic, I'd love to know where to read it.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Yes, I couldn't agree with you more, Fiona! Theme and messaging are extremely interesting and important to me as well. Then, it becomes not just about theme but how best to capture it in an execution -- which can mean doing things a little differently. I'm not denying that there is a natural structure to storytelling and industry expectations -- there is -- but also making the point that there is no "ritualistic magic" here. You can't just follow the dots, or 'paint by numbers', and create a script. The irony is the industry can spot formula a mile away and it is not sought after; what is hoped for is a new take. The key element to "originality" is us, our creative selves, our hard work. All these boring technical "tools" are just that -- tools. We need to think more in terms of process, not things. I'd love that to be explored. ;)

Owen Mowatt

Some great points there people. In addition to that I also would like to talk about how/when writers "find" a scene. There are some brilliant examples of writers trusting their gut, taking a chance and finding an excellent way to build tension, character and strengthen the story/theme. it's not as easy as you might think and for me, it cuts the average writer from the excellent one. What I find which is also very interesting is that most are writer/director films Top of the head example:- Heat (1995) The scene where Pacino invites DeNiro to join him for a cup of coffee. This is a 100% character building scene, a complete change of pace that comes at a time when you'd expect everything to be increasing. We should already be very familiar with who these two are, after all it comes towards the END of the film! So why now? Pacino is talking to this cold blooded killer about his life/divorce/step-daughter, even his nightmares! The bravery and skill needed to not only find this scene but to write it with such a deft touch just knocked this film out of the park. And people try and tell you that this isn't an art form!?! The vast majority of audience members/novice writer/critics, wont full appreciate the effort that goes into finding and creating a scene like that, but an advanced writer should. You sure as hell wont find these in any book, from a guru/consultant, nor passed via notes.

Owen Mowatt

...of course you also cant forget that the acting from both was superb. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LUy2Wx_r0_w

Fiona Faith Ross

@Owen Brilliant. Thanks. And I'd like to add, I "found a scene". It's quite late in Act 2, where I'm setting up a jump scare. I had to redraft it several times, but later on, when I went back to it, I thought how pleased I am with it, setting the atmosphere for the fright to come. Now you've explained that process, it kinda falls into place. I do also believe that this serendipity only happens through the actual physical process of writing. This is why it is so important to do it regularly, as much as you can.

Diana Murdock

@Sarah - I think the chances of the average person facing their demons or in @Phillip's case, embracing their demons, is slim to none. I type mental health reports and hardly ever is there a patient willing to take responsibility for the issue at hand, but rather reach for a pill to mask the "demon." And the "physician" is only too happy to prescribe the "solution," and if that doesn't work, they up the dosage. Hell, there are 5-year-olds on meds these days. So frustrating for me to see. I'm in your camp. I think human nature should be told as it is - The comfort zone in which many of us find ourselves snuggling up against.... the darker side of our minds, however, it may have come about. It makes for a much more interesting story.

Bill Hartin

Well said, CJ. The whole "business" of how to write, market, edit and sell screenplays reminds me of screaming carnival barkers from my youth, all claiming to have the best show or, more often, the "secret" to whatever it is you need.

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