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?’
‘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.