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Saturday, March 27, 2010

How to make a scene dramatic? How to build the plot?

I liked my earlier post - or rather the one it points to... David Mamet's email. I liked it so much that I pulled it out and changed it a bit so that I can internalize it better; again the material is not mine - thanks David. Here it goes:
Screen-writing is not communicating information — though, at times, it might seem so. The audience will not tune in to watch information. You wouldn’t. I wouldn’t. No one would. The audience will only tune in and stay tuned to watch drama.
Then the question is: what is drama? Drama is the quest of the hero to overcome those things which prevent him from achieving a specific, acute goal.
We, the writers, must ask ourselves of every scene these three questions to make it dramatic:
  1. Who wants what?
  2. What happens if she won’t get it?
  3. Why now?
These questions are the ultimate tests, apply them, and their answer will tell you if the scene is dramatic or not.
If the scene is not dramatically written, it will not be dramatically acted. There is no magic fairy dust which will make a boring, useless, redundant, or merely informative scene after it leaves your typewriter into a dramatic, intriguing, watchable one. You the writers, are in charge of making sure every scene is dramatic. If the scene bores you when you read it, rest assured it will bore the actors, and will, then, bore the audience.
Every scene must be dramatic. That means: the main character must have a simple, straightforward, pressing need which impels him or her to show up in the scene. This need is why they show up in that scene. It is what the scene is about. Their attempt to get this need met will lead, at the end of the scene,to failure - this is how each scene ends. This failure will then, of necessity, propel us into the next scene. All these attempts, taken together, will, over the course of the episode, constitute the plot.
Thus each and every scene should both advance the plot, and be dramatic.
The job of the dramatist is to make the audience wonder what happens next. Not to explain to them what just happened, or to suggest to them what happens next.
Don't write like this example (which is informational and suggestive): “But, Jim, if we don’t assassinate the prime minister in the next scene, all Europe will be engulfed in flame”.
Figure out how to write scenes such that the audience will be interested in watching what happens next.
How does one strike the balance between withholding and vouchsafing information? That is the essential task of the dramatist. and the ability to do that is what separates you from the lesser species. Figure it out.

Here are the danger signals you should avoid:

  • Look at your log lines. Any log line reading “Bob and sue discuss…” is not describing a dramatic scene.
  • Any time two characters are talking about a third, the scene is a crock of shit.
  • Any time any character is saying to another “As you know”, that is, telling another character what you, the writer, need the audience to know, the scene is a crock of shit.
Do not write a crock of shit. Instead write a ripping three, four, seven minute scene which moves the story along.
  • Remember you are writing for a visual medium. Don't make it sounds like radio (Radio has no visual dimension). The camera can do the explaining for you; let it.
  • If you pretend the characters can't speak, and write a silent movie, you will be writing great drama.
  • If you deprive yourself of the crutch of narration, exposition, indeed, of speech. you will be forged to work in a new medium - telling the story in pictures (also known as screen-writing).
This is a new skill. no one does it naturally. You can train yourselves to do it, but you need to start.
So start every time with this inviolable rule: every scene must be dramatic.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Screenwriting lesson from David Mamet

Here is a part of the email from Mr. Barak Goldman - faculty at DeAnza:

Read the one and only David Mamet's lambasting of the writers on his own canceled show "The Unit".

  • He talks about characters needing a goal and conflict in every scene
  • Talks about not being expositional and explaining or telegraphing everything
  • Talks about using little to no dialogue (this coming from one of the few people who can actually write brilliant dialogue).
  • He talks about each scene needing to advance the story.

All this sound familiar? If not then you weren't paying attention in class. Read this and at least pay attention to Mr. Mamet.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Animate using Physics and the Monkey

To all those animation enthusiasts, check out Animation fundamentals: SJSU physics for animators. Martin from DeAnza had spoken high of these. The faculty st SJSU have produced this wonderful material. This is an excellent resource. Check out these:

Another cool resource is Monkey Jam. This is a tool developed by David Perry, a Teaching Staff at DeAnza. Again a must for any aspiring animators. Enjoy!