HOW TO WRITE A SCREENWRITING: PART 2: ACTION

HOW TO WRITE A SCREENWRITING – Is a new feature that will lead you through the process of  writing a screenplay in the tradition of the great gurus Robert McKee, Syd Field and Damon Lindelof.

Some people would say that we need to start with characters we care deeply about. Others might say what you really need is a great story. A third set of people won’t say anything but will just sit there, but I know what they’re thinking and they’re wrong too. If I had the opportunity to talk to all these so-called experts and naysayers, I would ask them a very simple question. Before the cameras roll on a movie, does the director traditionally shout:

‘Lights, cameras – STORY?’

or perhaps

‘Lights, cameras – CHARACTERS?’

No, he doesn’t. He shouts ACTION goddamn it! ACTION! And if you can’t write action you have no business being in the movies. Goddamn it, I can hear those voices again – what about August, Osage County, there was no action in that film? What about Brokeback Mountain and what about Die Hard? What? August, Osage County had a load of action, in the form of arguing. No flaming explosions? What about Meryl Streep blowing up? Did you miss that? And Brokeback Mountain? Two cowboys going anal? If that isn’t action, I don’t know what is. And Die Hard? Are you f*cking high? Die Hard? That’s the worst example you could have made as a counter argument. It’s like you’re playing right into my hands.

So the point is ‘action’ is supreme – even if I have to redefine ‘action’ to include things like ‘drama’ and ’emotional engagement’ and even ‘stuff happening’ in order to make my point. But don’t worry about that, all screenwriting manuals do that sooner or later.

So how do I write ‘action’? That’s pretty easy. Do you see that key down on your keyboard, next to the ‘a’? No not the ‘s’, the other direction. You see that one that says CAPS LOCK. Well, you’re going to need that. Especially for any action that is going to be LOUD. Then you need a bit of clarity. You have to be clear what you want to see on the screen. Many directors will throw your ideas out and use their own, but you’re not writing for the director yet. You’re writing first of all for the producers and the financiers and maybe an agent. If you’re writing for those guys – who are not directors – they are going to have to see the action and you have to make it clear and dramatic. Not simply They FIGHT. But blow by blow. And finally, action is all about change. Like a song in a musical an action sequence must move the story along. If you can delete the action scene and nothing changes, then it doesn’t matter. There are plenty of movies that have action scenes that really don’t matter. James Bond movies have a tendency to do this. But we’re better than that and a good action scene is something that shifts the story, changes characters, ramps up the danger, moves the action and gets everything going in a different direction or the same direction but faster.

For more on this EXCLUSIVE online Screenwriting course: How to Write a Screenwriting, CLICK HERE.

MERYL STREEP TO GET OSCAR CATEGORY TO HERSELF

HOLLYWOOD – 19 times Oscar nominated (now for Into the Woods) and 3 times previous winner, actress Meryl Streep will no longer be eligible for nomination in the Best Actress or Best Supporting Actress categories, it was revealed today.

Instead, the Academy of Motion Pictures has announced a separate award dedicated simply to her – the Best Meryl Streep Performance of the Year Award – which will Oscar, organizers hope, free up the other categories for Emma Thompson.

Ms. Streep is understood to be relaxed about the news  and she took a minute out of her shoe buying (she is currently preparing for her role in Luc Besson’s forthcoming Imelda Marcos bio-pic More Shoes) to speak with the Studio Exec:

I know why they’re doing it and I applaud them, although the easiest solution would simply have to been: stop nominating me altogether. Of course, like any artiste, I crave the approval of my peers and simply because I have achieved a modicum of success doesn’t lessen that craving. As Cameron Diaz says in The Counselor three times ‘I’m famished’. 

How do you feel essentially competing against yourself?

But is that what’ll happen. I’m not so sure. A Meryl Streep performance isn’t something only Meryl Streep can do you know. Look at Nicole Kidman in The Hours, or Charlize Theron in Monster. I’m sure I won’t be the only nominee, so I’ll have to practice my secretly disappointed but filled with admiration for the just victor face.  

 The Oscars will happen in February but in secret.

SEPTEMBER: OSAGE COUNTY GREEN LIT

Production is due to start on September: Osage County, the long awaited sequel to August: Osage County.

Tracy Letts promised todoay that the sequel to his Oscar nominated film August: Osage County wouldn’t be as funny and would be a lot darker.

I’m a huge fan of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and that idea that the second film of any given trilogy should be the darkest of the three has really influenced me in the writing of this second instalment.

The story continues from the month immediately following the first film. The Weston family are still in shock from Beverly Weston’s suicide and the revelations that followed hard on, but they are once more all called back to the family home when it is revealed that Violet Weston (Meryl Streep) has won the state lottery and is set to receive a bonanza payment of $25 million. Her daughters Barbara (Julia Roberts), Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) and Karen (Juliette Lewis) decide to put their differences aside in order to please their mother and in the hopes of receiving some of the money when Violet dies. Violet however has lost none of her charm and decides to test her family to see how far they will go to ‘earn’ their share of the inheritance.  The scenes of ritual humiliation and torture which ensue have been variously described as ‘similar to Hostel crossed with Salò by Hollywood insiders who have read the screenplay.

September Osage County will be released in 2016.

PHILOMENA VS. CAPTAIN PHILLIPS FOR 2016

HOLLYWOOD – Oscar contenders Philomena starring Judi Dench and Captain Phillips starring Tom Hanks are also going head to head in a new film mash up inspired by the Batman Vs. Superman superhero collision.

Paul Greengrass who will directed the new film said:

The Philomena universe and the Captain Phillips universe are actually the same universe, and so I got to thinking what if they actually met. The Irish mother with the long lost son could be returning from America by boat and she would meet Captain Phillips who would have taken the job as captaining the cruise ship as a way of recovering from his hostage ordeal. However, the brother of the dead Somali pirate is out for revenge. Will Captain Phillips once more be able to save the day helped by the ‘fish out of water’ housewife with the ready Irish wit?

Will she say ‘fecking eejit’?

Of course she will.

The new film will have competition however when August: Osage County Vs. Nebraska begins production later this year. Ron Howard says that the film ‘will combine the bitter sweet bitter family dramas of mouth cancer and Alzheimer’s in a fun for all the family black and white misery ride’.

Philomena Vs Captain Philips will be released in 2015.   

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY ACTION FIGURES A HIT

OKLAHOMA – Tracy Lett’s August: Osage County starring Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep is already the action movie of 2014, and now Happy Frrrt Toys are bringing out a complete collection of character action figures so you can play along with all the lively family discussions, pill popping and hilarious suicide. 

The figures will come complete with angst and family secrets and – in the case of Meryl Streep’s character – a detachable wig!

Happy Frrrt Toys Spokesperson, Clem Beliez explained:

We’ve done a whole series of Sam Shepherd action figures ever since Days of Heaven. The Right Stuff was probably our most popular model, but when we saw an early cut of the film we knew that this would be the film based children’s toy of the season.

Don’t you think it’s a little inappropriate?

What? No. What do you mean inappropriate?

Well, cancer, drug abuse, incest, suicide: they’re not exactly subjects that are appropriate for children to play with. 

Star Wars action figures included characters who committed incest, violence, murder, suicide and anti-Semitic robots. I didn’t hear you complaining then. 

August: Osage County action figures are available from all good toy shops. 

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY: REVIEW

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY: REVIEW – The title August: Osage County – adapted from his own stage play by Tracy Letts – comes from what happens when you don’t have a title so you move the first sentence of your pitch up to the title page.

His first draft was called EXT. OKLAHOMA. DAY but everyone thought it was going to be a musical. 

It stars Meryl Actress as a woman with mouth cancer – the choice of cancer is ‘symbolic’ – who is dealing with the death of her husband, her pill addiction and the brief return of her scattered family. Playwright Sam Shepherd has a brief moment (talk about Harold Bloom’s ‘anxiety of influence’). Julia Roberts, Juiliette Lewis and Julianne Nicholson play her grown daughters. Woozy Meryl is on class form spewing her bitterness and vitriol at all present, until Barbara (Roberts) fresh from a separation with Ewan McGregor (and unaccountably unhappy about it) starts to match her blow for blow. Nothing is ‘melo-‘ here, this is high drama and some of the twists of the plot are just too soapy.

The need for us to recognise everyone’s motivation also becomes a little bit schematic with most characters getting a least one speech to put their actions in proper perspective and elicit unsuspected sympathy. But the performances are top notch, lifting their characters away from Letts’ flirting with cliché. Aside from the star turns, Margo Martindale is great as Meryl’s sister and Chris Cooper – one of my favourite character actors – is the only entirely sympathetic character in the whole piece. And Benedict Cumberbatch sings! (which, by the way, should have been on the poster). 

Director John Wells puts in some nice landscape shots and keeps the action moving so that it doesn’t look too much like a play and largely succeeds, the busyness of the plot aside. 

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