Thursday, November 21, 2013

5 Great Screenplays by Hunger Games Screenwriters

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, screenplay adapted by Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) and Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine)

First there was the Twilight franchise. Four YA novels by Stephenie Meyer adapted into five screenplays by one screenwriter -- Melissa Rosenberg, whose only prior feature writing credit was Step Up. The movies made more than $1.3 billion.

As that golden goose reached its golden years, Summit moved on to The Hunger Games. Three YA novels by children's television writer Suzanne Collins (Clarissa Explains It All, Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!), turned into four films.
Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games novels
Suzanne Collins
Collins shares a screenwriting credit on the first movie, but after she turned in her first draft, Summit decided to bring in an A-list lineup of talent to revise that script and draft the next three.

Billy Ray (Captain Phillips, Breach) came on board first. Ray added a subplot with Gale breaking into the Capitol during the Games to persuade Haymitch to get off his drunk ass and help Katniss. Obviously, none of this ended up being used.

A well-respected script doctor and WGA board member, Ray's first film as director was 2003's Shattered Glass, which he also wrote.
Peter Sarsgaard and Hayden Christensen play games in SHATTERED GLASS by Hunger Games scribe Billy Ray.
The script tells the true story of The New Republic journalist Stephen Glass (Hayden Christensen), who turns in dozens of phony articles while his editor (Peter Sarsgaard) is forced to claw through a web of deceit to find out why an online competitor has found so many mistakes in one of his articles. Soon, the lies come crashing down around him like the districts taking down President Snow.
Jennifer Lawrence starred in The Hunger Games, written by Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray, and Gary Ross
Ray's work on The Hunger Games was rewritten by the film's director, Gary Ross, best known for writing and directing Pleasantville (1998), about a town revolting against oppressive black-and-white attitudes. Ross was nominated for Oscars for three of his screenplays: Seabiscuit, Dave, and Big.
Robert Loggia and Tom Hanks play games in BIG, written by Hunger Games writer/director Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg.
The son of Oscar-nominated screenwriter Arthur A. Ross (Brubaker), Gary wrote Big with his neighbor, Anne Spielberg (Steven's sister). The quintessential wish-fulfillment tale of a boy whose wish to become a grown-up comes true was the first feature writing credit for both scribes.

Jennifer Lawrence stars in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, written by Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt
Ross opted out of The Hunger Games sequels, so the job of adapting the second novel, Catching Fire, went to British screenwriter Simon Beaufoy. Like Ross, Beaufoy was Oscar-nominated for his first produced feature script, The Full Monty (1997). He shared another nomination with filmmaker Danny Boyle in 2011 for 127 Hours after winning the gold for his adapted script for Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire.
Dev Patel and Anil Kapoor play a game in SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, written by Catching Fire scribe Simon Beaufoy.
This unlikely box office hit tells the life story of a young man (Dev Patel) from the slums of Mumbai in non-linear flashbacks to show how he comes to know the answers to a set of quiz show questions that are about to make him a millionaire. An epic love story is skillfully woven through the complex narrative.

Beaufoy's work on Catching Fire was then handed off to Michael Arndt. An Academy Award winner for his first produced screenplay, Little Miss Sunshine, Arndt followed up his triumphant debut with a nomination for his second script, Toy Story 3.
Lotso, Buzz, and Woody play games in Toy Story 3, written by Catching Fire scribe Michael Arndt.
Picking up eleven years after the previous sequel, Andy heads off to college. Left behind, the toys end up at a daycare center where they take a beating from rambunctious toddlers. Like the citizens of District 12, their situation worsens but, as always, they are able to team up to set things right. Arndt delivered it all in a script that reduced many grown men to tears.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins was adapted into two-part screenplay by Danny Strong.
Tapped to pen both The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 is former Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Gilmore Girls, and Mad Men actor Danny Strong. No stranger to writing about the type of political gamesmanship found in Panem, Strong had a hit with Lee Daniels' The Butler, a chronicle of the Civil Rights movement told through the eyes of a long-term White House servant, and scored back-to-back Emmys for his pair of HBO political docu-dramas, Recount and Game Change, covering the 2000 and 2008 U.S. presidential elections, respectively.
Ed Begley, Jr., Kevin Spacey, and Bruce Altman play political games in RECOUNT, written by Mockingjay screenwriter Danny Strong.
The extraordinarily convoluted case of Bush v. Gore captivated the divided nation for 35 days in late 2000. Eight years later, Strong's teleplay recounted the events, taking us behind the scenes, distilling the many misunderstood details, and capturing the compelling drama of the game.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 opens November 21, 2014.

Friday, November 15, 2013

5 Great Road Movies

Storytelling is about a hero who goes on a journey.

Sometimes it's a literal one, with the protagonist traveling great distances by car, bus, train, foot, horseback, covered wagon, kayak, or any combination of thereof, often thrown together with their last choice of traveling companions, enduring many unexpected hardships along the way, and ultimately learning more than they'd bargained for.

Here are five great "road movies" you may have missed.

Jami Gertz, Joe Seneca, and Ralph Macchio hit the road in Walter Hill's CROSSROADS
CROSSROADS (1986): A classically trained guitarist (Ralph Macchio, The Karate Kid) with a yen for the blues hobos from Julliard to Mississippi in search of a legendary lost song by bluesman Robert Johnson. He is accompanied by Johnson's last surviving bandmate, Willie Brown (Joe Seneca), who is desperate to get back to the Delta to undo a deal he'd made with the devil at the crossroads of his youth. Along the way, Jami Gertz (The Neighbors) teaches the younger musician the true meaning of the blues. Directed by Walter Hill (The Warriors, 48 hrs.) and written as a student screenplay by John Fusco at NYU, the film is often confused with the unrelated, same-named Britney Spears vehicle from 2002.
Gene Wilder and Harrison Ford trek across the country in Robert Aldrich's THE FRISCO KID
THE FRISCO KID (1979): Willy Wonka and Han Solo team up as an incompetent Polish rabbi making his way across 1850s America to deliver a torah to a congregation in San Francisco and a hard-edged bank robber navigating him through treacherous Indian territory. Originally intended as a John Wayne vehicle, the comedy-Western, directed by Robert Aldrich (The Dirty Dozen), stars Gene Wilder and Harrison Ford, with a script by the writers of Black Bart (a failed TV pilot spin-off of Blazing Saddles).
Brad Pitt, Juliette Lewis, Michelle Forbes, and David Duchovny go for a ride in Dominic Sena's KALIFORNIA
KALIFORNIA (1993): David Duchovny (The X-Files, Californication) stars as a journalist who takes his photographer girlfriend (Michelle Forbes) on a cross-country tour of infamous murder sites as they collaborate on a book on serial killers. To cut costs, they ride-share with Early Grayce (Brad Pitt) and his girlfriend (Juliette Lewis), unaware their passenger is himself a psychotic serial killer. Written by Tim Metcalfe (Revenge of the Nerds), the R-rated thriller was directed by Dominic Sena (Gone in Sixty Seconds).
Michael Peña, Tim Robbins, and Rachel McAdams travel together in Neil Burger's THE LUCKY ONES
THE LUCKY ONES (2008): A trio of U.S. soldiers coming home from Afghanistan, two on leave, the other at the end of his tour, are thrown together when a shortage of rental cars at JFK forces them to rideshare across the country. Director and co-writer Neil Burger (Limitless, Divergent) uses the opportunity to capture a snapshot of America's varied attitudes toward the war at the time. With three beautifully developed characters played by Tim Robbins (The Shawshank Redemption), Michael Peña (Crash), and Rachel McAdams (The Time Traveler's Wife, About Time), this character-driven gem was overshadowed by The Hurt Locker, which was released the same year.
Gael Garcia Bernal and Rodrigo de la Serna ride through South America in Walter Salles' THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES
THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES (2004): A young medical student and his best friend set off to see the world on a broken-down motorcycle in 1950s South America. Along the way they look for love, explore Incan ruins, and visit a leper colony. Based on the true adventures of Ernesto "Che" Guevara (Gael Garcia Bernal), who would later become a leader in the Cuban Revolution, and Alberto Granado (Rodrigo de la Serna), the story's diarist, the film was directed by Walter Salles (On the Road), won an Oscar for its score by Jorge Drexler, and was nominated for its screenplay by José Rivera.

Related content: Alexander Payne Hits the Road Again

ScripTipps: The Descendants
For valuable screenwriting tips and a scene-by-scene deconstruction of the Oscar-winning screenplay for Alexander Payne's Hawaiian road movie The Descendants, read ScripTipps: The Descendants.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Alexander Payne Hits the Road Again

This Friday, ALEXANDER PAYNE releases his fourth consecutive road movie. Does that make him King of the Road?

Here's his cinematic itinerary:

Jack Nicholson on the road in Alexander Payne's ABOUT SCHMIDT
ABOUT SCHMIDT (2002): Newly retired and widowed protagonist Jack Nicholson travels from Omaha to Denver in a Winnebago in an attempt to stop his daughter’s wedding.
Thomas Hayden Church and Paul Giamatti on the road in Alexander Payne's SIDEWAYS
SIDEWAYS (2004): Paul Giamatti and Thomas Hayden Church are former college buddies who drive from San Diego to Santa Ynez on a final wine-tasting adventure before one of them has to tie the knot.
George Clooney and Shailene Woodley on the road in Alexander Payne's THE DESCENDANTS
THE DESCENDANTS (2011): George Clooney stars as a haole lawyer who goes island hopping with his teenage daughter (Shailene Woodley) on a wild goose chase to track down and bring his dying wife’s lover back to Oahu before her funeral.
Bruce Dern and Will Forte on the road in Alexander Payne's NEBRASKA
NEBRASKA (2013): Bruce Dern (Big Love, Django Unchained) and Will Forte (Saturday Night Live) journey from Billings, MT, to Lincoln, NE, to claim prize money from a bogus sweepstakes mailing.

The black-and-white film is quickly gaining Oscar buzz. All three of Payne’s previous road trips earned nominations for their travelers (Nicholson, Kathy Bates, Church, Virginia Madsen, and Clooney) and the last two both won Best Adapted Screenplay trophies. Dern, 77, was previously nominated 35 years ago for Coming Home.

Thinking of sending your protagonist on a holoholo? Read the scene-by-scene analysis of Payne's second Oscar-winning script for valuable screenwriting tips.
ScripTipps: The Descendants, scene-by-scene analysis of the Oscar-winning screenplay filled with valuable screenwriting tips.
Related content: 5 Great Road Movies

Friday, November 8, 2013

Writing Conflict in Images

Film is a visual medium. Show, don't tell.

Every scene in a screenplay should have conflict. That doesn't mean every scene needs a knock-down, drag-out fisticuffs or shootout. But how else do we show conflict visually, without relying on some dialogue-heavy, verbal shouting match?

Here is a scene from Brian De Palma's CARRIE (1976). The scene contains no dialogue, very little movement, and almost no interaction between the two actors. Yet, clearly we can see two opposing emotions at play.

Margaret White (Piper Laurie) prays, in fear of the dance, while Carrie (Sissy Spacek) sews her prom dance in anticipation of it in this scene from CARRIE (1976) that shows conflict visually.
This brief scene occurs shortly after the film's midpoint. Carrie has just defied her mother for the first time in her life. She has decided she will go to the prom, against her mother's wishes, then revealed her telekinetic powers to demonstrate precisely how she intends to enforce this shift in power. "Things are gonna change around here," Carrie says.

Moments later, we see this shot of Margaret praying in the foreground, juxtaposed with Carrie sewing her prom dress in the background. This is a reversal of an earlier scene where Margaret sat at her sewing machine while she forced Carrie to pray in a closet.

Carrie's action here represents her anticipation of the dance. Her mother's opposing action shows fear of what will happen at that same dance. The scene shows two characters with conflicting points of view on the same subject without dialogue or movement. Their actions are at odds with each other, in the same frame.

ScripTipps TIP: An event often occurs at a screenplay's midpoint that changes the balance of power between the hero and villain.

ScripTipps TIP: Write a reversal scene that turns the tables on two characters' positions from an earlier scene.

ScripTipps TIP: Conflict can be shown visually, even in a scene with no dialogue and very little movement.

For more screenwriting tips like these, check out ScripTipps: Carrie or any of the ScripTipps scene-by-scene screenplay analysis ebooks today.
ScripTipps: Carrie, a scene-by-scene deconstruction of the 1976 screenplay Carrie for screenwriters, available at
Related content: What Are ScripTipps?
Related content: Two New Screenwriting Tools Just Released

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Film School Book Report

How does going to a prestigious film school help you break into the industry? Is it ever too late to start down that path? What happens when you get there?

Steve Boman shares his answers to these questions in his 2011 memoir, FILM SCHOOL, from the perspective of an outsider who overcame high-stakes obstacles to beat the odds.
Film School by Steve Boman
A self-described Midwestern family man with no filmmaking experience, Boman uprooted his life in his 40s to pursue a graduate degree from the USC School of Cinematic Arts.
USC University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts
His tome fills in the details, semester-by-semester, of the hard work and politics required to survive in this environment that mimics the entertainment business.

Steve Boman, author of Film School
“Here’s the bottom line, the dirty truth about film school: film school is a constant competition. The entertainment world has thousands upon thousands of wannabes. The odds of success are so long that people instinctively gravitate toward those they think might better their odds.”
Boman was not one of those odds-strengthening people others gravitated toward, and after his first semester, he gave up. Two years later, a near-fatal car accident pushed him back to USC to finish pursuing his dream. Then, on the morning of his first class, he had a stroke. Told by his family doctor to return home to Minneapolis for surgery, he decided to stay and conquer film school once and for all.

And conquer he does. USC regularly brings in industry pros to work with their students. This is how Ted Gold, former head of FOX’s drama division, heard Boman’s practice pitch for an original series based on his pre-film-school life as an organ transplant coordinator.

That pitch became THREE RIVERS. The pilot was shot six weeks before Boman graduated USC. Though it lasted only half a season on CBS, final act of the book takes us through the show’s gestation step by step, from finding a show runner to battling a hundred other pilots for a thirteen-episode order.
Three Rivers TV series on CBS
When you hear about a freshman showgetting canceled, you consider the show a failure. As this last section of FILM SCHOOL illustrates, every show that makes it to air has already won a marathon on a long, winding, and treacherous course.

FILM SCHOOL is a must-read road-map for anyone embarking on the USC journey and anyone curious about how to successfully pitch and sell a TV series from outside the industry.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Writing a Heroic Hero: Captain Phillips

Tom Hanks escapes from a lifeboat in CAPTAIN PHILLIPS

The hit film CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (now playing) retells the true story of a harrowing 2009 Somali pirate attack on an American cargo ship and the thrilling rescue of her captain by the U.S. Navy SEALs. Tom Hanks stars as the titular captain who becomes a hostage on a small lifeboat the pirates try to use for their getaway.

Hanks may very well earn his third Oscar, thanks to the much-talked-about emotional catharsis at the end of the film which, it turns out, was not in the script by The Hunger Games screenwriter Billy Ray (Shattered Glass).

Not having read the screenplay, there was a different scene I would have guessed had not been part of the initial drafts. At one point, Phillips leaps out of the lifeboat in a daring escape attempt. It's an exciting, unexpected, danger-filled moment. But ultimately, he ends up right back where he started. The sequence delivers thrills, but accomplishes nothing story-wise, like a musical stopping for a song, or the Wolfpack in The Hangover taking a complete detour from the plot to return an angry tiger to its owner.

Captain Phillips is the protagonist, or "hero," of the movie. For the second half of the movie, this hero is mostly an immobile hostage. He takes a back seat while the Navy swoops in and rescues him, as dictated by the facts of the real-life events. His hands are tied, literally. The hero doesn't get to participate in solving his problem.

In this situation, it would make perfect sense to insert an action beat into the story to let the star act heroically, even if the end result must put him back into position for some other force to take the final steps in saving him.

ScripTipps TIP: In a story that demands someone else save the hero, give the hero a moment of his own to act heroically before putting him back into position for the final climax.

ScripTipps TIP: Set pieces sometimes can be inserted or removed from a script without affecting the plot, like songs in a musical.

As it turns out, a quick perusal of the book A Captain's Duty, the source material for the screenplay, shows the underwater set piece really did happen so it most likely did appear in every draft of the script. Nevertheless, it presents a useful screenwriting lesson (dictated by life, in this case) in writing an active, heroic hero.

Columbia Pictures presents TOM HANKS as CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, based on a true story, released 10/11/13

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Last Vegas

Opening this Friday, November 1...

Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas, Robert DeNiro, and Kevin Kline star in LAST VEGAS


Logline: Four senior citizens who have been friends since childhood reunite in Las Vegas for a bachelor party.

Writers: Dan Fogelman (Crazy, Stupid, Love; Guilt Trip; Tangled; Cars; Cars 2; Fred Claus; Bolt) with uncredited revisions by Adam Brooks (Definitely, Maybe; Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason; The Invisible Circus; Practical Magic; Beloved; French Kiss).

Directed by Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure; National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets; The Sorcerer's Apprentice; Disney's The Kid).

The October 5, 2010 draft, reviewed by ScriptShadow on Jan 17, 2011, which may be significantly different from the finished film, opens with a prologue establishing the four main characters' friendship as teenagers hanging out on the neighborhood streets in 1961. The scene contains the slightest whiff of a love triangle, but for the most part, is built primarily around the gang sending off one of the four to go fight in Vietnam. The rest of the movie takes place in present day and the veteran's adventures in Vietnam play no role in the story whatsoever.

Compare this with the similar prologue in Clint Eastwood's MYSTIC RIVER:
The three main characters of MYSTIC RIVER as young boys experience an inciting incident.
Here we also meet the main characters as young boys playing in the street. Not unlike the young man going off to war in Last Vegas, this opening scene is all about one of the boys getting into a car with a stranger and being taken away. What happens to him as a result of getting in the car affects everything that happens to all three of the characters for the rest of their lives, including the tragic events of the present-day plot. The entire story hinges on what happens in the prologue. It's absolutely necessary. Without it, the rest of the movie wouldn't make sense.

By contrast, you can come in late from the popcorn line, completely missing the opening goodbye scene in Last Vegas with the boy going off to war, and it will not affect the way you experience any other scene in the movie. Reading a disconnected opening scene like this in a screenplay makes you feel you are not in the hands of a good storyteller.

ScripTipps TIP: Write a prologue in a screenplay only if the events of the scene really matter to the story.

ScripTipps TIP: Start a screenplay with the event which, if it did not occur, the rest of the story would not happen.

In Last Vegas, BILLY (Michael Douglas) is wealthy, has a girlfriend half his age, and has never been married. PADDY (Robert De Niro) is grieving the recent death of his childhood sweetheart and wife of fifty years, Sophie. The central conflict in the story is that Paddy is mad at Billy for not attending Sophie's funeral.

ARCHIE (Morgan Freeman) lives with his son's family. They won't let him have any fun because he's old and might forget to take his pills. SAM (Kevin Kline) is unhappily married, retired, and bored in Boca Raton. Recognizing his unhappiness, his wife gives him a condom, a Viagra, and permission to cheat to thank him for putting up with an old hag like her for all these years.

The four men get to Vegas, bicker, take their meds, get up in the middle of the night to pee, judge a wet T-shirt contest, fight, make up, and resolve all their problems. FADE OUT.

Compare this to THE HANGOVER:
Zack Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper, and Ed Helms star in THE HANGOVER
Three best friends and an unwanted tag-along black out at a wild Las Vegas bachelor party and lose the groom. They have mere hours to piece together the parts of the night they can't remember so they can find their friend and get him to the church on time.

The differences are more than just the 140 years of the combined ages of the two casts.

Comedy, like drama, comes from conflict. In The Hangover, Phil wants to let loose while Stu worries about jeopardizing his relationship with his girlfriend. Conflict. And Alan is just strange, a wild card thrown into the mix. Phil and Stu are stuck with him the way Oscar is with Felix, or De Niro is with Charles Grodin in Midnight Run (directed by Martin Brest, who also made the geezer bank robbery comedy Going in Style).

In Last Vegas, each of the characters has his own arc, but they don't oppose each other, except for Paddy, who gripes about not wanting to be there at all, which isn't as intrinsically funny as others not wanting him there. They've all been friends for 50 years. There's very little conflict, with the small exception of this minor spat between Billy and Paddy that can probably be patched up with a simple conversation and a hug. There are no stakes.

ScripTipps TIP: Characters who get along with each other are boring. Inject conflict into your screenplay by sticking your hero with a new, unwanted "frenemy."

Both movies have a wedding looming in the third act, but The Hangover has a mystery to solve as the clock ticks or the wedding won't happen. Both movies have comic set pieces, but the ones in The Hangover are in service of a plot, while the ones in Last Vegas are in service of humorously juxtaposing old men in a Las Vegas setting to get enough laughs to fill a trailer. There is no no nightmarish outcome that will befall them if they don't accomplish a goal.

ScripTipps TIP: Get your hero to the hook, then have something happen to him there.

ScripTipps TIP: The more unpredictable a story is, the more fun it is to follow.

The Hangover made overnight stars of its relatively unknown cast. Last Vegas depends on stars to draw an audience who wants to see nothing more than four great actors of advanced age in a premise.

For a more in-depth analysis of the Las Vegas bachelor party screenplay that became an unexpected $277 million smash and spawned two sequels, read ScripTipps: The Hangover, loaded with useful and insightful tips to make your screenplay shine!
ScripTipps Insightful Screenwriting Tips from THE HANGOVER Screenplay Study Guide by Dan Margules

Last Vegas, from CBS Films, opens wide November 1, 2013.

Related article: The Hangover ScripTipps

Friday, October 25, 2013

Wanna See Something Really Scary? 5 Overlooked Scary Movies for Halloween

If you're tired of all the usual suspects (HalloweenPsycho, The Shining, The Exorcist, Freddy, Jason, Hannibal, and Chucky), here are five chillers you might have missed...

Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon in BUG, written by TRACY LETTS
BUG - Contrary to the title, there are no monstrous insects in this creeper from The Exorcist director William Friedkin. Based on a play by Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy Letts (who also wrote the screenplay), this intense meditation on paranoia stars Michael Shannon (Man of Steel's General Zod) just two years before his first Oscar nomination (for Revolutionary Road) and Ashley Judd in mind-blowing performances as two lost souls who really know how to bug each other.

Vincent D'Onofrio in THE CELL, written by MARK PROTOSEVICH
THE CELL - Vincent D'Onofrio is a serial killer every bit as demented as Hannibal Lecter and sadistic as Buffalo Bill. He's been caught, but his latest victim is still trapped in a cell somewhere with just hours to live. Only the killer knows the location, and he's in a coma. Jennifer Lopez is a pre-Inception dream-walker. It's up to her to navigate the chamber of horrors inside the killer's mind to find out where the missing girl is in time for Vince Vaughn to save her. From a spec script by first-time screenwriter Mark Protosevich (Thor, I Am Legend, next month's Oldboy remake).

Anthony Hopkins in MAGIC, written by WILLIAM GOLDMAN
MAGIC - Thirteen years before dining on a census taker with fava beans and a nice Chianti, Anthony Hopkins played a homicidal ventriloquist in this 1978 thriller whose trailer was pulled from TV because it gave children nightmares. Written by William Goldman (of "Nobody knows anything" fame), the most suspenseful moment in the film has no blood, no killing, no chases, and no chilling music. It occurs when Burgess Meredith challenges the disturbed Hopkins to last five minutes without speaking through his dummy. Can he do it? And what will happen if he can't?

Delphine Chaneac as a genetically engineered hybrid in SPLICE
SPLICE - Oscar winner Adrien Brody (The Pianist) and Oscar nominee Sarah Polley (Away from Her) are genetic engineers thinking about having a baby -- so they design one in the lab with DNA spliced together from various animals. Needless to say, their life-creation experiment goes about as well as is it did for Dr. Frankenstein. But the scientist couple loves their little babything -- maybe a little too much. Directed and co-written by Vincenzo Natali (Cube), the script goes down paths most twisted screenwriters would avoid.

Stephen Rea in STUCK, directed by STUART GORDON
STUCK - It could happen to you. You're driving home on ecstasy. You hit a homeless guy. You panic. You flee... with the homeless guy still stuck in your windshield. The scariest thing about this movie is it's based on a true story. Ripped from the headlines by Re-Animator director Stuart Gordon, this gruesome thriller puts Mena Suvari (American Beauty) in the driver's seat with Stephen Rea (The Crying Game) as the bum who's having a really bad day.

ScripTipps Carrie, screenplay analysis by Dan Margules
Ready to write your own scary movie? Then peruse ScripTipps: Carrie first. The scene-by-scene dissection in this ebook culls hundreds of screenwriting tips from #46 movie on AFI's list of the 100 most thrilling American movies of the 20th century.

(FREE until midnight, October 25, 2013)

Related article: 5 Remakes That Matter
Related article: In Theatre Today: Grave 2

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

What are ScripTipps?

ScripTipps are a brand new series of ebooks designed to help aspiring screenwriters absorb hundreds of professional screenwriting tips through a focused, in-depth, scene-by-scene analysis of one screenplay per book, selected for its excellence in story structure, character development, and scene construction.

Most screenwriting books teach "rules," usually derived from the theories of Aristotle and Joseph Campbell. Some might put a cute spin on these age-old storytelling guidelines and call them unique when they're really nothing more than a variation on the same old basic dramatic principles dressed up as rescued kittens.
To convince you to buy their must-have diet book, each guru insists his technique is the one and only correct way to make your screenplay "work." They'll use Star Wars and Die Hard as examples to prove all movies fit their one-size-fits-all formula, then tell you Pulp Fiction and Memento don't count because those are "art" films and you want to write "blockbusters."

That said, those types of books do have value. ScripTipps aims to build on them by delving deeper into a single screenplay, like a CliffsNotes for screenwriters.
(Not affiliated with CliffsNotes)
We won't tell you you must do what we say or you'll never sell a screenplay. We won't tell you your script will write itself in thirty days and you'll definitely sell it for a million dollars if you follow our rules. We won't use examples from a lot of different movies you haven't seen, since you'll presumably only read the ScripTipps screenplay study guides for the movies you're already familiar with.

Instead, we'll examine how the general rules of screenwriting were applied to one outstanding script. Not just the parts that corroborate certain beats of a formula, but the whole script, from FADE IN to FADE OUT.

Each tip presented in the pages of ScripTipps serves to illustrate how one screenwriting concept or trick was used effectively for that script and may or may not apply to the screenplay you are writing. As a rule, our tips should never be thought of as "rules." You get to decide what works best for you.

Five diverse titles have been released so far, at incredibly low introductory prices. Seriously. Each is over fifty pages and contains well over a hundred useful tips, but costs just a fraction of the cover price of a single issue of the (now defunct) Creative Screenwriting magazine.
(Not affiliated with Creative Screenwriting)
Still not convinced? Try one for free. From Tuesday, October 22nd, through Friday, October 25, the Kindle version of ScripTipps: Carrie is absolutely free at Amazon!
FREE (thru 10/25/13)
The best way to learn screenwriting is by watching movies. Watching and re-watching. Study them, dissect them, turn them inside out. ScripTipps is the tool that will help you do that.

Don't have a Kindle? Get a free Kindle app for your PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, Android, or BlackBerry.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

5 Remakes That Matter

Ever since Gus Van Sant's misguided 1998 experiment in redoing Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho shot for shot, REMAKES have gotten a bad rap. Fans cry, "Hollywood has run out of ideas!" and "They're going to ruin a classic!"

Still, every year, the Academy manages to find five films to nominate in the Original Screenplay category, and to date, there has never been an instance of a classic film's negative, prints, and home video copies all being destroyed by its remakers.

Some remakes suck, but here are five reimaginings that brought something new to the table:

5. DISTURBIA wasn't officially a remake of Hitchcock's Rear Window, just like Fatal Attraction wasn't officially a remake of Clint Eastwood's Play Misty For Me. Nonetheless, James Stewart's mid-40s photographer sidelined with a broken leg was updated to Shia LaBeouf's juvenile delinquent under house arrest, the plaster cast upgraded to an electronic ankle monitor, and the murderer across the way bumped up to serial killer status, making this hip 2007 retelling a hit with the millennials.

4. Shakespeare's four-hundred-year-old tragic romance has been retooled countless times, as a ballet, a number of operas, a zombie rom-com earlier this year, and best of all, as a stage and screen musical with the Capulets and Montegues transformed into the Sharks and the Jets, rival street gangs of 1950s Manhattan. Baz Luhrmann's 1996 MTV-style reimagining kept the Bard's original text but modernized everything else, bringing a singularly unique vision to ROMEO + JULIET. The Julian Fellowes remake that opened last weekend added nothing new, tanking with just half a million dollars on 461 screens.

3. A franchise reboot. An origin story prequel. A quasi sequel with a subplot bridging the original cast and universe to the new. J.J. Abrams' 2009 STAR TREK managed to be all that and more. A new incarnation of the familiar Trek characters in a more modernized future world with faster pacing and more intricate storytelling. The masterful techniques of screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman are explored more fully in ScripTipps: Star Trek, an in-depth screenplay analysis.

2. Another reboot that doubles as a prequel/origin story, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is also a remake-of-sorts of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, the fourth movie in the original series, whose three final installments were all prequels to the 1968 original. However you slice it, the 2008 do-over beats the pants off the 2001 Tim Burton remake. Rise gives the franchise a genetic explanation for the talking-ape mutation, the result of a touching, human drama involving a scientist racing to find a cure for his father's Alzheimer's. After the midpoint separates Caesar from his foster dad, the screenplay flips the entire franchise on its head by making us sympathize with the simians.

1. Now this is how to remake a classic: make it your own. In THE FLY, a scientist invents teleportation. His reintegration on a trial run is complicated by the unexpected presence of a fly. In the 1958 version, the man and fly swap heads and one arm. In the 1986 remake by David Cronenberg, they're fused at the genetic level; Jeff Goldblum experiences a much more gradual and grotesque transformation into a creature that makes the 1958 version look comical. The remake was written with intelligence, humor, and pathos, while also educating moviegoers on the fly's disgusting digestive process. Both films created memorable catchphrases: "Help me," says the fly with the human head in the original, while the oft-quoted line, "Be afraid, be very afraid," originated with the remake.

This Friday, Boys Don't Cry director Kimberly Peirce dares to reinterpret Stephen King's debut novel, CARRIE, first filmed by Brian De Palma in 1976. Will she bring something new to the table? Revisit the original with ScripTipps: Carrie, an in-depth screenplay analysis that explores the changes screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen made from the book and highlights aspects of the source material that are ripe for a fresh, contemporary perspective.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE REMAKES? Leave a comment below.

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