How To Write a Killer Psychological Thriller Filled With Twists, Turns & Suspense

Hosted by Steve Desmond

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Steve Desmond

Webinar hosted by: Steve Desmond

Screenwriter (Warner Bros., Film Nation), Filmmaker

Steve is a working filmmaker living in Los Angeles. His most recent feature screenplay, HARRY'S ALL-NIGHT HAMBURGERS, was adapted from a Hugo award winning short story and sold to Warner Bros. in one of the year's top spec script bidding wars, with Oscar Nominated Producer Andrew Lazar (AMERICAN SNIPER) producing via his Mad Chance production banner and Ted Melfi directing. He has recently been tapped by Film Nation to adapt THE CABIN AT THE END OF THE WORLD, a Harper Collins title from author Paul Tremblay. The psychological horror and suspense novel centers on a vacationing family terrorized by four strangers who claim to be either attempting to bring about or trying to avert the apocalypse. His short film, MONSTERS, has played in over 100 film festivals worldwide, winning 43 awards including Best Short Film at the Comic-Con International Film Festival in San Diego. It serves as a proof of concept for his feature script, TWISTED AVENUE. His thriller screenplay, ON YOUR DOORSTOP, sold to Treehouse Pictures (ARBITRAGE, ALL IS LOST) in a co-financing situation with Lost City (JUNO). Steve is a Chicago native and graduate of USC Film School. Full Bio »

Webinar Summary

How To Build Your Suspense From The Ground Up And Craft A Thriller With Earned Twists, Turns and Thrills

 

If you're paying attention to the trades and seeing which screenplays and projects are being sold and produced, you know that psychological thrillers are highly in demand. With films like Joker, Ma, Escape Room, Glass, Ex Machina, The Invitation, Get Out, Happy Death Day, The First Purge and many more, companies like Blumhouse have propelled the production of thrillers for an audience hungry for suspense and thrills, making creepy, crawly movie-going experiences all the rage. With box office receipts in the billions it's clear that the appetite for psychological stories is raging. And, it's a more exciting time than ever to be able to a screenwriter or filmmaker who has a suspenseful thriller you want to tell. But the art of writing a psychological thriller is one of vulnerable characters, deep secondary characters, memorable set pieces, set ups, reversals, and earned twists and turns. There's a formula to it all, and those who master these skills win the day.

Writing a psychological thriller and creating and maintaining suspense and high stakes throughout takes an immense understanding of the history of the genre. It's a genre based in Hitchcockian roots. One that needs to have certain elements in order to be effective to keep the audience involved, engaged and on the edge of their seat. While most psychological thrillers start off with a well thought out premise, that's all they have. The action starts quickly and then falls flat. In many other cases, the premise is in place, but the writer or filmmaker doesn't know how to get past the jumping off point. You must get your hook in place quickly - within your first five pages - and that takes skill. You need to truly create compelling characters, especially protagonist and your villain, and make them layered in order to support your theme and plot and to assure the audience always knows and is invested in the stakes. To be truly successful at getting your reader's attention, keep those pages turning and set yourself up for an offer of representation, an option, a sale, or financing, you need to understand all of the nuances that make a great suspenseful story before you type (or read) FADE IN.

Steve Desmond is one of the best in the industry today writing suspense and psychological thrillers. His most recent feature screenplay, Harry's All Night Hamburgers, was adapted from a Hugo award winning short story and was one of the highest priced spec sales of the last 5 years, selling to Warner Bros. in a bidding war worth 7 figures. The film now has Oscar Nominated Producer Andrew Lazar (American Sniper) producing via his Mad Chance production banner and Ted Melfi directing. He has recently been tapped by Film Nation to adapt The Cabin at the End of the World, a Harper Collins title from author Paul Tremblay. The psychological horror and suspense novel centers on a vacationing family terrorized by four strangers who claim to be either attempting to bring about or trying to avert the apocalypse. His short film, Monsters, has played in over 100 film festivals worldwide, winning 43 awards including Best Short Film at the Comic-Con International Film Festival in San Diego and was a finalist at Stage 32's 3rd Annual Short Film Program. Steve filmed Monsters to serve as a proof of concept for his feature script, Twisted Avenue which is now in development. Needless to say, thrillers and suspense are in Steve's blood and the focus of all his writing. And now he's bringing all he's learned along the way to you.

Steve will help you build your suspense from the ground up. He'll teach you the ultimate tool you need - the Hitchcock Ticking Clock Method which will help you on your way to setting the vital groundwork for your story. You'll learn how to create a compelling protagonist and an enticing villain. Steve will give you exercises you can use to craft your own characters and give you 5 must have tips on backstory and character confessions to give depth. You'll learn how to hook your reader in the first 5 pages and what the 3 different teasers you can write for your opening. You'll explore the power of murder in your script and the art of a twist ending. He will show you how to craft your script with producers in mind to give yourself the best chance to have your material attractive to the widest audience possible. Steve will go over how you can incorporate visuals into your story and break down case studies of Psycho, The Silence of the Lambs and Se7en. And, finally, Steve will share some advice on how to get your script on the screen by writing it in a producible budget. 

 

You will have a fully immersive experience from a suspense expert that will leave you excited, inspired and confident to tackle your next psychological project.

 

 

This webinar was AWESOME!!! I just finished a thriller and now as a result of listening to Steve Desmond, I am ready to do a re-write which I believe will be one of the best screenplays I have ever written. Let's see what happens!

- Michelle C.

 

What a thrilling and insightful webinar, excellent!!

 

- Kathleen W.

 

 

Super helpful information that you don't find in books!

- Pamela C.

 

 

Very useful information - well structured and clearly presented!

- Sara C.

What You'll Learn

  • The Differences Between a Thriller and a Mystery
    • Do you want to create intellectual suspense or emotional suspense?
  • Breaking Down the Hitchcock Ticking Clock Method
    • Surprise vs. Suspense
  • How to Create a Compelling Protagonist
    • How to write to identify with your main character
    • Writing laws to abide by
    • Layered elements you need when writing your protagonist
  • How to Create an Enticing Villain
    • Professional writing tools to better understand your villan
    • Exercises to craft your villain
    • Identifying and avoiding pitfalls
  • 5 Tips to use Backstory and Character Confessions
  • How to Hook the Reader’s Attention Early
    • What needs to be in our first 5 pages
    • Overview of 3 types of teasers to write
  • The Power of Murder in Your Script
    • Understanding what each death means
    • Innovative ways to kill someone
  • The Art of the Twist Ending
    • How to plant seeds
    • How to relate the twist to plot, theme and character
  • Visuals Of Your Story
    • Having your style match your substance
    • How to incorporate tone
    • How to incorporate directing
  • Case Studies: Breaking Down the Anatomy of a Suspense Scene
    • The Silence of the Lambs
    • Se7en
    • Psycho
  • Getting Your Script on the Screen: How to Write Within a Producible Budget
    • Professional tricks to make your script desirable to a producer
    • Ideal script length
    • Tricks to keep the story enticing, but costs down
  • Q&A with Steve

About Your Instructor

Steve is a working filmmaker living in Los Angeles. His most recent feature screenplay, HARRY'S ALL-NIGHT HAMBURGERS, was adapted from a Hugo award winning short story and sold to Warner Bros. in one of the year's top spec script bidding wars, with Oscar Nominated Producer Andrew Lazar (AMERICAN SNIPER) producing via his Mad Chance production banner and Ted Melfi directing.

He has recently been tapped by Film Nation to adapt THE CABIN AT THE END OF THE WORLD, a Harper Collins title from author Paul Tremblay. The psychological horror and suspense novel centers on a vacationing family terrorized by four strangers who claim to be either attempting to bring about or trying to avert the apocalypse.

His short film, MONSTERS, has played in over 100 film festivals worldwide, winning 43 awards including Best Short Film at the Comic-Con International Film Festival in San Diego. It serves as a proof of concept for his feature script, TWISTED AVENUE.

His thriller screenplay, ON YOUR DOORSTOP, sold to Treehouse Pictures (ARBITRAGE, ALL IS LOST) in a co-financing situation with Lost City (JUNO).

Steve is a Chicago native and graduate of USC Film School.

FAQs

Q: What is the format of a webinar? 
A: Stage 32 Next Level Webinars are typically 90-minute broadcasts that take place online using a designated software program from Stage 32.

Q: Do I have to be located in a specific location?
A: No, you can participate from the comfort of your own home using your personal computer! If you attend a live online webinar, you will be able to communicate directly with your instructor during the webinar.

Q: What are the system requirements?
A: You will need to meet the following system requirements in order to run the webinar software: Windows 7 or later Mac OS X 10.9 (Mavericks) or later.
If you have Windows XP, Windows Vista and Mac OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion): The webinar software does not support these operating systems. If you are running one of those operating systems, please upgrade now in order to be able to view a live webinar. Upgrade your Windows computer / Upgrade your Mac computer 

Q: What if I cannot attend the live webinar?
A: If you attend a live online webinar, you will be able to communicate directly with your instructor during the webinar. If you cannot attend a live webinar and purchase an On-Demand webinar, you will have access to the entire recorded broadcast, including the Q&A. 

Q: Will I have access to the webinar afterward to rewatch?
A: Yes! After the purchase of a live or On-Demand webinar, you will have on-demand access to the audio recording, which you can view as many times as you'd like for a whole year! 

Questions?

If you have a generic question about Stage 32 education you can take a look at our frequently asked questions section on our help page, or feel free to contact support with any other inquiries you might have.
 

Reviews Average Rating: 4.5 out of 5

  • This was a great webinar on psychological thrillers.
  • Super helpful. Information that you don't find in books.
  • Very useful information - well structured and clearly presented.
  • This webinar was AWESOME!!! I just finished a thriller and now as a result of listening to Steve Desmond, I am ready to do a re-write which I believe will be one of the best screenplays I have ever written. Let's see what happens. Remember the name, "Home Bound."
  • Very clear, succinct instruction on Character & Story Development. I enjoyed this and found it helpful.
  • Very qualified speaker who gave great insights across multiple types of subgenres
  • What a thrilling and insightful podcast, excellent!!

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