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Steven Barnes' Free Writing Class!

"Introduction to Screenwriting"
Week One
Although this class is entitled "Intro to Screenwriting", it's my belief that, in general, writing is writing. In fact, in order to understand how to write for the screen--large or small--one must first have an intimate understanding of the structure and function of story. I've written for television and film, books and short stories, comic books and stage. The most important lessons I've learned along the way have been those which deal with the difference between the "Inner" and "Outer" aspects of writing, that is -- the technical craft as opposed to the emotional or spiritual aspects of the game. It is my intent to teach you not just about the structures of Character and Plotting, but also about how your own inner life interacts with your writing in such a way to create art--or at least craft. What is "Art?" That is an old question, which has been endlessly debated by people much smarter than me. Nonetheless, I'll take my crack at it: "Art is Self-Expression." Wait, you ask. Is that it? Is that all there is? Does that mean that if my 2-year old dips his hand into the potty and smears a handful of goo on the wall and says: "Looky what I did!" that that is Art? Yep. That's exactly what I mean. The question of whether or not something is Art is completely separate from the question of whether it is RECOGNIZED as being so. It transcends the question of judgment, and needs not be labeled or acknowledged to be what it is. It is a private, personal truth. On the other hand, SUCCESSFUL art, or COMMERCIAL art is Self Expression plus Communication. If we take the position (and I do) that Art is also an attempt to communicate, to share a vision or emotional state with another, or with the culture at large, then you must care about the person on the other end. The market. The audience. And even, yes, the critic. Balancing these two needs--to be utterly true to your own vision, and to care about the feedback from the market--is one of the things which drives artists insane. The purest artists are probably those who don't give a damn about the audience. And these are starving in oneroom Efficiency apartments all over the country. Commercial artists who care about the market place but don't express themselves as individuals, often make excellent livings, but often are plagued with a nagging sense that their lives are incomplete. The most fortunate, I suppose, are those who follow their own heart, but have an instinct for what the audience wants, as well. Directors like Steven Spielberg have an awesomely developed instinct for what the public wants. On the one hand, he makes a product to please himself, and to hell with the rest of the world. On the other hand, he loves sneaking into movie theaters to watch his films with a live audience. He listens to what they react to, and how they react. He is attuning his cinematic antennae. So both of these states of mind are important, and what I hope to do is set you along the road to developing your own commercial sense, while still keeping in touch with the absolutely unique aspects of who you are as an artist, and a human being.

"A story is a Swiss watch timed to a beating heart". In other words, in order to write one must have both passion and intellect, knowledge and feeling. It is my intent to help you find both. "But isn't screenwriting completely different from book writing.?" Nope, not at all. A screenplay is about 120 pages of a decent book, and is conveyed largely in visual images. Aside from these and some inevitable market considerations, storytelling is storytelling. If you wish to learn screenwriting format, I would suggest getting in touch with The Writer's Computer Store in West Los Angeles, and simply buying a piece of their fine software, especially Final Draft. This will teach you all of this you need. No more on that subject--let's concentrate on writing, shall we?

One of the first questions which must be answered is: What is a story? There are as many answers as there are writers, but one excellent model is the following: Situation: Character: Objective: Opponent: Disaster: Here's how it works, using the movie "Goldfinger" as my subject. Situation: When gold is being smuggled out of England in large quantities, Character: Secret agent 007 James Bond Objective: Wants to learn how it is being accomplished. But little does he realize that Opponent: Industrialist (and dirty dog) Auric Goldfinger Disaster: Is smuggling gold to finance his real goal--the destruction of Fort Knox with an Atom Bomb!!

I would suggest that you watch any good movie at least twice. Once for pure entertainment, and then a second time specifically for pattern analysis. Even bad movies can be useful. If you find yourself getting bored, just pop back out of the cinematic flow, and notice how they are putting the pieces together. Sometimes the best education in magic comes from watching a drunken old magician. You can see the pigeon poking its head out of the hidden pocket, the edge of an ace up the frayed sleeve. I remember watching Mohammed Ali's last fights. His skills had eroded so badly that you could finally see how he accomplished his magic--and at his best, magic it was. So any exposure to story-telling can enrich you. You never know when or where you will glean an invaluable insight.

Have you ever turned on your television at One O'clock in the morning, intending to watch something for a few minutes, and getting stuck watching some lousy show or other for two bleary hours? Even if it's lousy? I think that this has happened to most of us. The reason is that storytelling is based on a cyclic rise and fall of tension, similar to the buildup and break down of sexual excitation, or muscular exertion: GOAL CONFLICT

DISASTER

These first three represent the "Rising phase" REACTION DILEMMA DECISION

These three represent the "falling" or "plateau" phase. The goal of a character in a story should parallel your own goals and concerns. There must be some point of emotional entry, so that you can empathize--and accordingly, your intended audience can care about the events which take place. For instance: GOAL: To be a working writer Initial efforts rejected by soulless DISASTER: Hollywood heathens.

To forgo pleasures and companionship in CONFLICT: order to find the time and energy to write Pain, disappointment. Fear that you're not REACTION: good enough. Resorting to the bottle, the needle, and abusing the family dog. Do you quit, and avoid further pain and possible suicidal depression? Or go on, try DILEMMA: again, and be true to your inner muse, fickle bitch though she often is? To go to Steve BArnes' web page, and try to DECISION: gain the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed. (Good decision!)

See how this works? By breaking a story down in such a fashion, it matches the actual processes that we go through as human beings in our attempts to solve problems. This cycle (GOAL_CONFLICT_DISASTER) is the ACTION, while (REACTION_DILEMMA_DECISION) is the REACTION. This cycle of Action/Reaction feeds the entire art of story. A single story may have 10-20 such cycles, rising in intensity, as the heroine struggles to fulfill her destiny or avoid her fate.

The important thing here is that you see how this process mirrors your own life struggle-making this connection allows you to be honest about the emotions experienced by your characters. And this emotional honesty is absolutely important. Whether a child confronted by a Velociraptor, or a Moor confronted by accusations of his wife's infidelity, what is absolutely important is that the emotions be believable IN CONTEXT. The most absurd or fantastical situations become believable if the emotions are realistically scaled.

It is my intent in this class to give you every tool you need to succeed. Not merely the technical skills, but also the skills of managing your energy and focus to create the work itself--and also to keep the external structure of your life balanced so that your efforts don't destroy your family and career (both of which I've seen happen)

HOMEWORK

1.

Write your life story. Start from today, and run it until the day you die. All of your major dreams, hopes, and goals. Put in that first sale!!! You MUST include goals in health, relationship, and career. Put in a sense of the span of your life and times, the struggle, the eventual victory. Exercise every day, at least a short, brisk walk. Have a family, fall in love, get out with friends--in other words, GET A LIFE!!! Have fun with this. Let's see some good deaths! 2. Keep a dream Diary. This will be VERY important for those of you who have trouble with ideas--but important for anyone who wants to become more aware of the structure of their own mind and creative wellspring.

Use the "Situation, Character, Objective, Opponent, Disaster" model, and break down a popular feature film. Intro Week One Week Two Week Three Week Four Week Nine

Week Five Week Six

Week Seven Week Eight

Steven Barnes' Free Writing Class! "Introduction to Screenwriting"


Week Two
Welcome back! One of the things most important to me is the integration of art and life. After all, if you succeed, but don't get to enjoy your success, or destroy your health or family in the process, where is the sense in that? This is especially important to the writer or actress. As you create characters, you must always be aware of the prices that people pay to achieve their goals, the lies they sustain to keep relationships together, the combination of joy and desperation which flows beneath the surface of even the most confident-appearing individuals. And where else are you to gain such knowledge except in self-discovery? Life lived as a tapestry To promote self-awareness, I suggest that you view life as a tapestry, weaving together your work and your life into a seamless whole. After all--if your work doesn't reflect your life philosophies, it is a hollow, shallow thing, void of the only thing you truly have to offer the world--yourself. Scott McCloud in his superb book UNDERSTANDING COMICS follows the development of a creative project through six stages (or describes how one may be dissected or defined): 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. Idea/purpose Form Idiom Structure Craft Surface

Idea/Purpose is the deepest, most central level of the pearl. This is the core philosophy, and only by a daily, direct inquiry with your own inwardness, a daily interaction with others, and a daily attempt to answer the one unanswerable question in the universe: "Who Am I?" will you clarify your own values sufficiently to ever have anything of substance or value to give to the world. Left and Right brained writing It is important to have both mind and heart engaged with your writing process. The intellectual approach to plotting or analysis will help you when things are going badly, or when you are beginning your path. But the realm of the intellect operates to enable the heart to soar. To put it another way--good writing should be like flying, soaring above it all. That is--when it's going perfectly. But the engine often sputters, and then we had better the hell know how to touch the plane down, open the engine, and fix whatever is wrong. Far too many writers simply crash and burn, because they don't have a clear notion of both aspects. Left-brained writing is like building a cathedral. Right-brained writing is like giving birth to a beautiful baby. One is technical, one is organic. The two approaches must be combined to create the deepest synergy. Artists who have only one or the other approach are limiting their chances for success. Together, they let you fly.

Why do people read? Barnes' theory of storytelling is that people read fiction, or watch films, to adjust their emotional tension levels up, down or sideways. To that end, they will gravitate toward fiction which relaxes, excites, horrifies, sensualizes--or whatever else they need. This is just a theory, but at least I have one. What's yours? Find it, and explore it in your work and life. My theory demands that a story contain a certain amount of emotional charge. The nature of that charge is less important than its quantity--that is, in terms of a work's public acceptance. Your personal philosophy might well demand that that charge be one of love, or anger, or fear, or courage. That is your choice. No piece of work will appeal to everyone, everywhere, all the time. But if there is honest emotion clearly expressed, your chance to find an audience is greatly improved. Why do people write? I think that in general, people write to complete a communication loop which was or is incomplete in some other aspect of their lives. In other words, if they had been able to simply talk it out, they would have. This doesn't imply a dysfunction at all, perhaps merely a mismatch between desire to communicate and environmental receptivity to same. It is important to honor the part of you that originally sought to speak up. It may be nine or ten years old, or thirteen, or older, or younger. It is valuable to make contact with this youngster, and find out what he/she may have to say which has, as yet, been unspoken. Hooking your reader Hooking your reader/viewer is a fairly simple process--you introduce a character, create empathy, and then give that character a problem. How to create empathy? By showing how the character is similar to the viewer/reader, or to people the viewer/reader knows, knows of, or would like to know. More on this next week. You can even create a prospective problem or situation without really introducing a character. For instance, in the opening scene of OUTBREAK, no one has really been introduced, but everyone in the audience thought, simultaneously, "Oh, God, somebody is in deep trouble!" Over and Under-structure The "Overstructure" of a story is the external event sequence. The "Understructure" consists of the interconnected emotions which motivate the human beings to move through your fictional landscape. Some movies ("Ordinary People") are almost all understructure. Few events, lots of feelings. Others ("Eraser") are all event, and almost no emotion. One could call these two distinctions Yang and Yin, or Male and Female, whatever you like--I'm not into political correctness. I do, however, note that an overdose of either isn't a pretty sight. The best films, books, and people are a mixture of both polarities. Where do you start? You start with the minimum amount of scene necessary to allow your viewer/reader to enter the story world. With a detective story it can be very brief (an explosion of gunfire in an alley). With a love story, chances are that you want to take time to build up the characters before you intersect them. But it is also possible to start in the middle, or at the end and work your way backwards. These are more advanced techniques, however. I suggest you simply start at the beginning, establish your characters, and then get them into trouble.

Scene and sequel These are the names of two different kinds of scenes, or different beats within the same scene. "Scene" means ACTION, and "Sequel" means REACTION. The following concepts are extracted from Dwight Swain's wonderful book TECHNIQUES OF THE SELLING WRITER. Read it! I. Scene 1. 2. 3. Establish location, circumstance, time and viewpoint at the beginning of every scene Demonstrate that your character has a goal Build to a curtain line

II. Sequel 1. 2. 3. To translate disaster into goal To telescope reality (writing in summary) To control tempo

In other words, scenes are where things happen, and "Sequels" are where people react to what has happened, take a breath, and start over again. They are used to collapse time, and create a sense of reality. What do I mean by that? If you write scene after scene after scene of action, the audience grows numb, and finally could care less, sitting back in their seats and saying: "Gee, look at the neat special effects." Excitement in a film is created by building up empathy and potential audience response during the "Sequel" stage, the relaxed stage. Telescoping of time is of no small importance. Note this example from STAR WARS: Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and the gang evade Imperial attack ships as they leave Tattoine, an exciting SCENE. The next time we see them, they are more laid back--playing chess, practicing with lightsabers, etc. Eventually, they reach their destination--a planet which has been shattered by nasty old Grand Moff Tarkin (bet you thought Darth Vader did that evil deed, didn't you? Nope. As we know by the last film, old Darth was really a pussycat. But I digress.). Anyway, does anyone know how much time has passed between the escape from Tattoine and the arrival at Alderan? Who knows? Who cares? Clearly not the audience, who rarely notice that Luke seems to have traveled hundreds of light-years and crammed in months of training without ever changing his socks. Motivation-reaction units The unity of SCENE and SEQUEL is called a "Motivation-Reaction Unit", and it is an absolutely invaluable tool for the writer. Here is how you construct one: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. Choose the effect you want the particular stimulus to have, in terms of motivating your focal character to desired reaction and, at the same time, guiding your reader to feel with him. You pick some external phenomenon--thing, person, event--that you think will create this effect. You frame this stimulus so as to pinpoint the precise detail that highlights the point you seek to make. You exclude whatever is extraneous or confusing. You heighten the effect by describing or displaying the stimulus in terms that

reflect your focal character's attitude. Goal setting You must have goals in your life, which reflect all three major areas: Body, Mind, and Spirit. Without goals in all three areas, you will remain blind to the hidden destroyers sabotaging your excellence. Can't think of a goal? Then your first goal is to find a goal. Goals must be SMART, that is:

Specific Meaningful to you As-if now (I am a successful writer, I have an Emmy on my mantle) Realistic (anything anyone else has accomplished is POSSIBLE for you, if not
probable within a given time frame. There are no unrealistic goals--just unrealistic time limits for their accomplishment.) Time-bound. By when will you accomplish these things? It is ENTIRELY reasonable to anticipate increasing your performance by 50% a year, if you are committed to working smarter, and not harder.

What are your character's goals? Hint: if your character's goals dovetail with your own in some way, your emotional connection to her will be stronger. Goals generally exist in one of seven areas: Survival, Sex, Physical performance, Emotion, Self-Expression, Intellectua growth, Spiritual growth. Where is your character's goal? And how have you experienced this same urge? MOTIVATION-REACTION UNITS SCENE: You have a character with a GOAL. That goal is almost always one of three things: 1. 2. 3. Possession of something Relief from something Revenge for something

The attempt to reach the goal leads them to a CONFLICT (Opposition) Attempt to resolve the conflict leads them to a DISASTER (the Hook). This should be the first time that the viewer's pops his/her head up and says: "Hmmm. This is gonna get interesting!" SEQUEL The character has a REACTION: (fear, anger, grief, joy, embarrassment, etc.) The emotions place them on the horns of a DILEMMA (survival versus patriotism is one used in almost all war movies). Resolution of the dilemma leads them to making a new DECISION. Which leads them to a new GOAL, and starts the cycle over again.

HOMEWORK
Take two popular movies and break them down into at least one cycle of Goal, Conflict, Disaster, Reaction, Dilemma, Decision.

(All right--take for instance JURASSIC PARK.) Goal: To inspect the park, and determine its stability and safety. Safety gear fails, and toothy Meatasauruses stalk the park, looking for lunch. Yum.

Conflict: Clash of beliefs--is it or is it not safe to bring dinosaurs back to life? Disaster:

Reaction: Run like hell, in a total panic. Oops. There really isn't anywhere to run, is there? And individual characters face Dilemma: several dilemmas, most of them having to do with self-preservation versus concern for others. Decision: To try to get the park operating system back on line, and call for a chopper to GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE!!!

Very simple. If the movie had been executed with the usual "B" special effects, direction and acting, JURASSIC would have been an utterly forgettable film. However, give it the best dinosaur effects ever ever ever, and you suddenly, and not unreasonably, have the top box office film of all time. It is probably easier to understand the process of structure by analyzing Jurassic Park than something like CHINATOWN, after all. While in your learning phase, remember to K.I.S.S.: Keep It Simple, Storyteller. Also: Look into the structure of the film, and answer the following questions: 1. 2. 3. What are the character's initial goals? Do these change over the course of the film? What are the barriers to goal success? What do the characters in YOUR screenplay/teleplay/outline want? What stops them from accomplishing it? See you next week!

Steven Barnes' Free Writing Class! "Introduction to Screenwriting"


Week Three
Welcome back! Although the basic structure of: SITUATION, CHARACTER, OBJECTIVE, OPPONENT, DISASTER remains the method of choice for diagramming basic plot structure (insuring that all basic elements are in place), and GOAL, CONFLICT, DISASTER, REACTION, DILEMMA, DECISION is the preferred method for diagramming basic plot dynamics (regulating the flow of action), there are many, many other ways of looking at the basic questions. Although I don't like to confuse you (yeah, sure), it is useful to look at some of the other methods which have proved useful. One which is WAY more than just "Useful" is the "Hero's Journey", as described by Joseph Campbell. (NOTE: Read "Hero With a Thousand Faces" ). What Campbell says is that there is only one story, and that humanity has been telling this same story to itself since the beginning of time. You can find it, one way or another, in either complete, truncated, or artistically inverted form, in almost any story which has stood the test of time. The basic pattern of this "Hero's Journey" goes as follows (with examples from that most obvious example of cinematic myth structure, STAR WARS. If you haven't seen this movie, RENT IT. And yeah, yeah, I know that my quotes are a little off, but I'm doing this from memory. Whattaya want? I've only seen it twenty times.) 1. The Hero is PRESENTED WITH A CHALLENGE ("Your father was a great Jedi, Luke. You, too must learn the ways of the Force.") In TWISTER, the male scientist is offered the chance to go off and chase tornadoes, and see his invention implemented. Initially he/she REJECTS THE CHALLENGE. ("I promised Uncle Owen I'd help him bring in the crops...") In ROCKY, Balboa says that he can't fight the Champ, Apollo Creed. "It wouldn't be too good a fight." The Hero is forced to ACCEPT THE CHALLENGE. ("Oops! My family's been conveniently slaughtered! Guess I'll follow that Yellow Brick Road...") In DIGGSTOWN, Lou Gossette is conned into accepting the challenge to fight 10 men. The Hero sets out along the ROAD OF TRIALS ("You'll not find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy..."). In PRIVATE BENJAMIN, Goldie Hawn undergoes Basic training. The Hero gains ALLIES AND POWERS (Obie-Wan, R2-D2, C3PO, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Princess Leia. Light saber. The Force. Ability to handle anti-Tie-Fighter energy weapons, etc.). In INDEPENDENCE DAY, an ensemble film, the Hero is probably the President. He gathers the Good General, the Brilliant Scientist, the Kickass Pilot, the Heroic Drunk, etc. Powers would include knowledge of the alien design, a working saucer, a convenient computer virus, and that great movie staple, the Spontaneous Mega-Speech. The Hero has his/her INITIAL CONFRONTATION WITH EVIL. During this confrontation, the Hero is DEFEATED. Luke escapes the Death Star, but his mentor Obie-Wan is killed. In THE ROCK, Nicolas Cage is captured and put in a cell. The Hero enters the DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL. (This isn't Luke so much as the entire Rebel Force [and for that matter, the audience] when they are all gettin' righteously slaughtered over the Death Star. All seems lost. Luke is going down the trench, and his back-up men are getting blown to hell. What's that sound? Why, its two billion moviegoers, all over the world, holding their collective breath). In ALIENS, Ripley emerges onto the platform with Newt in tow, and finds her transport gone. Horrific moment. ("Close your eyes, Baby--") Yuck. The Hero takes the LEAP OF FAITH. ("Trust the Force, Luke." ) This step always involves coming to trust a hitherto un-trusted source of power. This power is usually one of three things.

2. 3. 4. 5.

6. 7.

8.

a) One's own untapped ability. b) A higher power c) The strength and integrity of one's companions. In (appropriately enough) LEAP OF FAITH, Steve Martin forces himself to believe that something miraculous may actually have occurred. That he may not be a complete conman...that there may actually be good in the world. 9. The Hero CONFRONTS EVIL AGAIN, and this time is VICTORIOUS. (The death star blows up) In THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE, Jimmy Stewart lets a little daylight into Lee Marvin's skull. (Or does he?) 10. The Student becomes the Teacher. (Implied in Star Wars, fulfilled in Return of the Jedi, when Luke is ready to accept his own students, being a fully-fledged Jedi--or even more specifically, when he "Teaches" Darth Vader the way back to the Light Side of the Force.) This is often explicit in films. Most recently, in THAT THING YOU DO, the hero picks up the threads of his life and eventually opens a conservatory of music. Other examples are too numerous to mention.

The above is an interweaving of plot and characterization. If you look too long at the argument "What's more important? Plot or character?" You'll go dizzy, because they are in essence the same thing. In other words, the only way you get to know a character is by what they do. The exploration of a plot is always the revelation of how a human being reacts to circumstance. The basic EVENT in "The Towering Inferno" is a building burning. But the various characters are revealed and deepened as they interact with this circumstance. Abraham Maslow suggests a hierarchy of human needs. Until the basic ones are taken care of, people don't care much about the higher ones. Although there are always variations, one useful way to look at this "hierarchy" is: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. Core physical survival. Life and Death. Sex. Physical comfort, pleasing environment. Clothing and shelter. Physical fitness Emotional balance and security. The feeling of love. Personal expression. Intellectual growth. Learning and teaching. Spiritual enlightenment, religious discipline.

NOTE:--I am NOT saying that this is the only order for these concerns. It is probably vital for you to have an idea what priority you DO believe in, however--this will reflect itself in your writing for the rest of your life. Interestingly, the more your story deals with the basic levels (1,2,3) the wider the potential audience for your story. And the faster you establish one of these basic seven issues as the "At-Stake" (what does someone want? Survival? Sex? Wealth and power? Love? Learning or teaching? Discover? God-realization?) the faster your audience will identify. And until your audience identifies, all of the car-chases in the world will have zero impact. Conversely, (or perversely, perhaps,) once you have established a good character, I want to see that character tested to the max. There was a Medieval concept in play writing called the "Mindworm" which is quite useful.

THE MINDWORM Imagine that there was a little worm that would crawl into the ear of your lead character, and eat them all up. This is exactly what a story is supposed to do. Over the course of a story, we are supposed to learn everything important that there is to know

about the main character. The situation, in other words, is supposed to be extreme enough to "empty them out." All courage, ingenuity, heart--everything, out there on the table. Everything you consider of importance must be shown to the audience. Don't leave an ounce of passion, heroism, or problemsolving capacity undisplayed--or you have cheated both audience and character. That means that the events must be scaled to match the character. The good news is that once you have learned this concept, you are ready to write your story. Why, you ask? Because, given the tools you now possess, you can start ANYWHERE in the process, and end up with a complete product. Don't believe me? All right, what if you only have a scrap of a scene. Or just a character. Or the beginning of a movie. Or the end. Just ask yourself the following questions. 1. Who would consider this situation to be their worst nightmare? 2. How could it turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to them? 3. Who would love this situation? 4. How could it turn out to be the worst thing that ever happened to them? 5. What is your character's attitude toward each of the seven major needs/personality traits? How would you describe them on each level? What happens in the script which tests them on these levels? 6. What would happen just before this scene, to trigger it? What would happen just after this scene, as a result of it? 7. What would your lead character's worst nightmare be? Fondest dream? Are you beginning to see? You bounce these elements around in your mind, using these basic patterns until something the size and shape of a story begins to emerge. Then, you rope, tie, and write that dogie down.

HOMEWORK:

Go back over this class, and extract the questions I have been asking. And begin to apply them to your project. I want to see: 1. Plot breakdown (Situation, Character, Objective, Opponent, Disaster) 2. Dynamics (GOAL, CONFLICT, DISASTER, REACTION, DILEMMA, DECISION) 3. Mythic Understructure (challenge, rejection, acceptance, road of trials, allies and powers, meet evil--defeated, dark night, leap of faith, confront evil--victorious, student becomes teacher) Remember that these are the basic "colors" of drama. An artist takes these apart, plays against them, inverts, minimalizes--all sorts of fun can be had. But if you are a beginner, simply do your best to match story elements to this structure. The mental work, though exhausting, will be more valuable than you can believe. 4. Character (Describe your lead characters on each of the "seven levels") AND START WRITING!!! See you next week!

Steven Barnes' Free Writing Class! "Introduction to Screenwriting"


Week Four Hi, there, and Welcome back! You've probably noticed by now that this is pretty high-level material. In fact, you could probably take the information in any one week and stretch it out into an ordinary 10-week class. Hell with it. I'm making the assumption that some of you out there are redhot, and ready to trot. The others? Well, it's a computer class, after all. Just print everything out, and go over it and over it and over it. Get together with a group of friends, and study it. Onward. The first time I ever understood the structure of humor was, curiously enough, a Rodney Dangerfield joke. For the following joke to have the appropriate effect, please imagine me 60 pounds heavier, 20 years older, and considerably whiter. I am also tugging at my tie with one finger. Repeat after me: "I don't get no respect." Excellent. Here's the joke: "I took my girlfriend to a party last weekend. We ran into her exboyfriend. Six foot two. Blond hair. Blue eyes. She said: `George, this is Rodney. Rodney, this is goodbye." Do you understand why this joke works? And it did: it brought the house down. The reason it works is multifaceted, so let's go into it. 1. Rodney Dangerfield's personae. What is it? We said it at the beginning: "I don't get no respect". He is the perpetual underdog. This sets up the context for the joke. In other words, you know he is going to get the worst of it in any conceivable situation. As soon as he says "I took my girlfriend to a party." you already know what's going to happen--he is going to be shamed or abandoned. Why is this funny? BECAUSE HUMOR IS A RELEASE OF TENSION. Much, or most humor, is based on cruelty. Puns and certain kinds of visual or conceptual humor are excluded from this. But a HUGE percentage of the things that people laugh at are things they would never want happening to them. We have all been hurt by loved ones: abandoned,

betrayed, embarrassed, cheated on, or misunderstood. It HURTS, dammit. So comedians like Dangerfield operate like cultural lightning rods. They experience our pain, we empathize and say: "Better him than me", and get to discharge our own anxiety. The result is laughter. 2. "We ran into her ex-boyfriend. Six foot two, blond hair, blue eyes". OH. Now, we know exactly what is going to happen. Rodney is going to be abandoned. She is going to leave him cold. We can already feel the anxiety building. Oh, the pain. When and where it happens are the only remaining questions. 3. "George, this is Rodney. Rodney, this is Goodbye". WHAM, he hits you with the punch line faster than you expected it to come. The result? The tension is released, laughter occurs. The art of humor is important, because humor, horror, suspense and dramatic tension are all part and parcel of the same thing. Call it "Twisting the Story Line." This is the ability to create tension or expectation in your audience, and then pay it off in a fashion that they don't anticipate. This is crucial. If they know ahead of time how you're going to "do them," it won't be as devastating. Suspense, dramatic tension, and humor are art of the unexpected. Yet and still, the entire plot and structure has to make sense in retrospect, so that the reader or viewer looks back across the structure and marvels. So, unexpected, but LOGICAL. At least, in retrospect. "Pulp Fiction" is a gorgeous example of a screenplay which makes complete sense in retrospect, but defies the viewer's attempts to predict its twists and turns. In order to manipulate plot elements artistically, in order to be able to feel your way into a plot and turn it over to your subconscious, you must find a plot structure which works for you, makes sense to you, and then watch hundreds of movies, hundreds of television episodes, read hundreds of books, and apply your model to each of them--until you can FEEL your way through a story, until you have an instinct for what goes on under the surface. Only then will you be able to fix problems in your writing--and every project should be problematic, or else you are operating below your level of competency, and that, my friend, is what is known as Hack Work. What you want to be always pushing the edge of your ability. THAT is what creates growth, and self-exploration, and that elusive quality known as "Art."

All of these plot structures are designed to ensure that you have the basic elements in play (structure) and that they flow toward higher and higher levels of tension, or deeper and deeper levels of discovery. But you CANNOT simply have a story get tenser and tenser and tenser--the viewer will burn out. Nor can you just reveal character endlessly. The audience will say: "So what? Don't these people ever DO anything?" Now, obviously, there ARE movies which are endless cycles of incident, with no character at all. Check out the Kung Fu section of the local video store for some hideous examples of this. Or the Porno section, for that matter. And there are movies which are all character and no incident. These crop up in art houses all the time. Check out "My Dinner With Andre." Well, at least in "My Dinner," they TALK about incident. The cycles of outer action/ inner reflection form the compression/release cycle which locks your viewer into the story. This is what "addicts" them to the story, creates the suspension of disbelief, and makes a perfectly reasonable, rational person willing to watch flickering images against a wall for two hours, and react emotionally as if it is all quite real. In another time, this would be called insanity. In the 20th Century, it's called Buying Your Mercedes. There is a useful way to find the thing that you should write about. And that is to ask yourself the question: what are you most passionately interested in? Hmmm? What do you really care about the most? What devils you? Drives you? What imagery pops up in your dreams most regularly (and I assume you have been keeping your dream diaries.) What obstacles have arisen most often to stop you from getting the things you want in life? What recurring goals have you pursued, and what has kept you pursuing them? What is the ideal life that you envision for yourself, and what is the price you would have to pay in order to reach it? These questions, and others like them, are deviling your characters as well. If you tie the answers to these questions into your various characters, you begin to flesh your story out, as well as making the work of deep, personal worth. And making a story personally relevant is the key to tapping your deepest capacities.

HOMEWORK

1. Who are the characters in your story? Describe them physically, mentally, emotionally. 2. How do their concerns and problems and goals dovetail with and reflect your own? How are they aspects of your own personality? 3. How does the plot "empty" these people out? Stretch them to their limits? And how does it mirror some concern in your own life, such that resolving the plot is also helping you to solve your own dilemmas? 4. How is this situation their worst nightmare? How is it the best thing that could ever happen to them? 5. What are the moments of key, killing tension? And the payoff for the viewer? 6. Why should the viewer care about these people? What have you done, or what are you willing to do, to get the viewer personally involved in their lives? 7. What are the unexpected twists and turns, the moments of discovery which will take your viewer's breath away? 8. WHAT ARE THE MOMENTS THAT THEY WILL TELL THEIR FRIENDS ABOUT? Good Luck!

Steven Barnes' Free Writing Class! "Introduction to Screenwriting"


Week Five Hi, there, and Welcome back! CREATIVITY At every turn in your writing, you will be faced with choices, decisions about the direction you should go, what someone should say, what a character might do. And when you back yourself into a corner, it will be your creativity which gets you out of it. More than one writer has enjoyed and excelled in the game of "How do I get Out of this?" where you specifically get your characters into a jam, and then see if you can write them back out of it. Keeps you alert, that's for sure! At any rate, as long as you have the quality of focus, the more creativity you have, the better off you are. Specifically, the structure of creative breakthrough has been pretty well broken down. The ability to design "Ah Hah" moments, moments of unusual clarity, is an incredible boon to those of us in the arts. Basically, the process works as follows: 1. You clarify the problem. Define as clearly as possible exactly what the difficulty is. 2. Do massive research. Swamp yourself in every possible piece of information which might contribute to an answer. This is done both to give you raw material to chew over, and to keep your conscious mind occupied. 3. Brainstorm every answer you can come up with. 4. When you have reached the absolute limit to what you can come up with, take a complete break. Exercise, take a nap, make love, go see a movie, etc. IT IS WHEN YOUR CONSCIOUS MIND IS TOTALLY PREOCCUPIED WITH ANOTHER TASK THAT THE AH-HAH! MOMENT WILL OCCUR. The key to brainstorming is that you MUST give yourself SPECIFIC permission to come up with absurd answers. Otherwise you will think only in a direct, linear path, and miss the chance of genius-level breakthrough. For instance, you're writing a scene in which a character faces certain death-surrounded in the kitchen by vicious escaped bank robbers with a dozen guns. How do we get out of this? You start brainstorming. Could your

character be a karate expert. No. She's 67 years old, with one leg, and you don't want to change that. Can she appeal to their humanity? No, you've already established that one of them killed his OWN mother for taking a piece of his Juicy Fruit. Well, then...could God reach down and take her out of this freaking situation? Well, no, but...(the image of the roof being lifted up, and God reaching down suddenly strikes a nerve). What if something ELSE lifted the roof up? A T-Rex? No, Speilberg's cornered the market on Jurassic carnivores. How about...a tornado? Or a hurricane? What exactly IS the weather in this scene? Could it be that I never considered that? Even a bad rainstorm could wash out roads, trap criminals in the house, kill power... Hmmm. Kill power? If this was built up properly, would the audience go for that? Maybe not--but what if the power outage created the crisis in the first place...and it's the power coming back ON that changes the situation? Eyes adjusted to darkness don't like light... So maybe there aren't a dozen guns. Make it two guns. And the light comes on, and they shield their eyes, and she wrenches herself away and runs out into the storm, where the fractured electric lines flap about in the yard, sparking... Hmmm. This is the way brainstorming works. Give yourself permission to think of the absurd, and go from the impossible to the improbable to the possible to the YES! THAT WORKS! moment that we all love. This is another place where the dream diaries come in useful. It is quite valuable to specifically exercise your creative muscles. Looking at the GoalConflict-Disaster-Reaction-Dilemma-Decision model, you can see that virtually any image you have can fit into this cycle somewhere. If the image of an object comes to you: Is it a Goal? (Does someone want it?) Is it a Disaster? Does it pose a Dilemma? If so, to who? Why? How might they want to resolve it, and what kind of goal might result? If the image of a person--who are they? What might they want? What might their inner demons be? What about if it's a place? Or an action? Practice playing with these pieces, specifically stretching and twisting your mind. Such mental gymnastics are the tools you will need to build a career.

NEWSPAPER CLIPPING EXERCISE Another exercise, one which I recommend heartily, is to open the newspaper and give yourself one minute to find an article upon which to base a story idea. You don't have to write the story, but DO block it out using the tools we have detailed. Once again, this kind of exercise gives you absolutely invaluable skills. It is important that you have absolute confidence in your ability to think yourself out of any corner you might back yourself into, that you can generate a hundred ideas an hour for days at a time. And the only way you can do that is practicing to generate creativity on demand. These exercises work. I would suggest that you try them, and devise others of your own. Other Techniques: The science fiction game. Science fiction is specifically a game of "Whatif". There are actually three basic questions: a. What if b. If Only c. If this goes on "What If" is used in questions like: what if someone invented Time Travel? What if someone resurrected his dead children? What if it turned out that Santa Claus was real? "If Only" is a wish list. If only we lived for two hundred years, what might we accomplish? If only human beings weren't jealous, how much more sex might we enjoy? If only health food tasted more like ice cream, and less like puree of bat shit... "If this goes on" Observes a phenomenon, and says "whoops! this could be trouble" or "this could be fun". Overpopulation, pollution, inflation--all have been fodder for many many science fiction stories. And will be for many more. Although these tools have been most specifically developed in SF, they are invaluable in other genres as well. How might you adapt them to your work? Mastermind Groups

When you have a problem, try getting together with two or more other writers or friends, and see how many ideas you can come up with in an hour. Once again, AND THIS IS MOST IMPORTANT--give yourself permission to come up with silly answers. This is the core key to breaking writers block. WRITER'S BLOCK Writer's block is, specifically, the confusion of two separate states: 1. Flow State 2. Editing State Flow state is where you are just drifting, coming up with ideas, writing raw text, whatever. Editing state is where you are judging the ideas that you came up with. THESE STATES MUST NEVER BE CONFUSED. If you don't mix these two states, you will NEVER suffer writer's block. You may be writing drivel, but you will ALWAYS be able to write. And it is a great truth that if you write enough, and read enough good writing, and stay focused on your goal, you will begin to improve. I believe it was Ray Bradbury who said that a writer has "A million words" of shit in him, and that after that, he begins to be a real writer. So get going! Write scenes, and scenes, and scenes. Edit and plan one day, write raw text the next. You may need to experiment to find the environment which best supports your optimal flow state. For many people, soft Jazz or classical music works well. I like ocean sounds and Vivaldi. But you must experiment, until you find what works best. Trust me--if you will pay attention to what I said in this paragraph, you will have five times your money's worth. Frankly, I am shocked at the number of people who go brain-dead for ideas. I am NEVER blocked. Sometimes I write lousy, but I can ALWAYS write. And I guarantee you--a hundred thousand words of lousy writing will teach you a hell of a lot more than six months of empty pages. HOMEWORK 1. Identify the core "what if" questions in five of your favorite movies. 2. Chose a favorite crisis moment in two of your favorite films, and describe how the plot might have spun in another direction.

3. Chose a news story from your local paper, and briefly detail the movie which could be spun out of it. 4. Describe some of the things you can do to optimize your creative environment. What is your ideal daily output? And, even given your current sched, what are you committed to producing? Good Luck!

Steven Barnes' Free Writing Class!

"Introduction to Screenwriting"
Week Six Hi, there, and Welcome back! Genre The world of screenwriting thrives on simple definitions. When your script is first considered, one of the first questions which will be asked is: what genre is it? There are many different slots that stories fit into, and understanding how the studios will view your work is quite important. Now, this doesn't mean that you can't combine genres--quite the opposite. In fact, there are certain genres which exist largely in combination with others. Mystery and romance, for instance, are often combined with each other, or with suspense, adventure, science fiction, horror, western, crime, etc., for effect. If for no other reason that your own clarity, it is probably valuable to have definitions in mind for each of the major genres--and some examples: MYSTERY. Something has happened, and someone must determine who, what, why. Every Sherlock Holmes movie, episodes of MURDER, SHE WROTE, Sleuth, Never Talk To Strangers, Psycho, etc. Usually, such stories involve a murder--murder being the only crime which absolutely cannot be undone. SUSPENSE. Similar to mystery, but the identity of the perpetrators is not so central. The question is usually whether the hero can prevent an action, or escape death. Mission: Impossible, Foreign Correspondent, etc. ADVENTURE. Similar to Suspense and mystery, but actions are more central to the plot. The hero is confronted with physical challenges in every act. Ghost and the Darkness, Raiders of the Lost Arc, Aliens, etc. FANTASY. This covers a wide range, but dark, disturbing fantasies are generally called "Horror"--this is a form of mystery where the death being dealt out is particularly obscene. Alien is also a horror film (as well as Science Fiction). Curse of the Demon, The Exorcist, Alien and Child's Play all fit here.

SCIENCE FICTION is a genre where a very specific game of "What If" is being played out. Star Wars is NOT science fiction--it is fantasy which incorporates S.F. image systems. Star Trek is rubbery science fiction-they've created a universe in which anything can happen, damn near. Blade Runner was very definitely science fiction, as was The Time Machine, Terminator and Day the Earth Stood Still. ROMANCE is such a consistent element that it fits into all of these. There are others, but these are the ones that your instructor is most familiar with. Musicals, War movies, Dog movies, Slapstick comedy, and other divisions create additional slots--and in fact, there are probably as many divisions as you choose to sit down and define. Where does yours fit? The straight drama (Terms of Endearment, Ordinary People) is its own genre, and has its own conventions. In many cases, you can learn a lot by watching a film for the second or third time, and deciding what genre, image systems, balance of overstructure/understructure etc. is being used. An infinite combination of possibilities awaits! It's time to talk again about constructing your career. One of the most important things you can do is to plan out your time so that you are moving toward your goals at the rate of about 1% per week. If you do this, just little baby steps, over the course of a year you will make massive strides--well more than 52% growth, because the change is compounded. So...if you can only find 30 minutes a day, what can you do toward your goal? 1. Detail 3 scenes on three index cards? 2. Dictate 30 minutes of dialogue onto a tape recorder, or transcribe for 30 minutes? 3. Watch 30 minutes of a favorite film, and dissect dialogue or plot? 4. Brainstorm story problems on a legal pad? 5. Mindstorm with a friend on the telephone? 6. Re-read previous work, and take notes? 7. Re-write previous work? 8. Close your eyes and run scenes in your mind, clarifying the order of occurrence? 9. "Pitch" your idea to a group of friends, to read their response? 10. Use "mind Mapping" techniques on a chalk board or scratch paper to analyze the relationship of characters to plot? Little bits of time, well used, will lead you to your goal.

Steven Barnes' Free Writing Class! "Introduction to Screenwriting"


Week Seven Hi, there, and Welcome back! Writing Forms We've already dealt with the vast majority of the technical details which compose story writing. I now want to examine some of the different mediums. SHORT STORY. This is Basic story telling, a "Sprint", with no time to rest. In many ways the essence of the story form. Educational as hell, and also quite confrontive. Many people avoid it, but the short story remains the method of choice for developing professional-level skills. In fact, one could do far worse than quote Ray Bradbury's classic advise: "Write a story a week, or a story every other week." If you combine this with Robert Heinleins's advice: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. Write Finish what you write Put it in the mail Keep it in the mail until it sells Never revise except to editorial request.

You have an interesting model for excellence and success. The observant student will have few problems figuring out how to adapt this to their own career. NOVEL. The Novel form uses the exact same tools as the short story, but because of its length, has the opportunity to interweave several stories together into a tapestry, with, hopefully, a cumulative effect which is greater than the sum of the parts. The nice thing about a novel is that you can get kind of lazy at times, wander around a bit, and even lecture on subjects of tangential interest--none of which can be done quite so well in a short story. Novels are a risky way to begin a career. If you are lacking core skills, it can take you YEARS to find out, while you slog through that 200,000 word monster. Use Short stories to BUILD a publishing career, then graduate to Novels to pay the bills and create your catalog. STAGE. The primary thing to remember in the writing of a stage play is that the motion and scope must be far more restricted than in any other form. In many ways, all that you have is your use of language. But in this, my

friends, the Stage has no equal. In theater, you have nothing but human beings talking to each other. Accordingly, your use of language must be absolutely exquisite. Don't even consider it otherwise. The experience of writing for the stage, or directing scenes, is highly recommended. In fact, you would be very well served to take a few acting classes. They will teach you things that you might otherwise never guess about the interrelationship of actor to script. TELEVISION. Commercial Television is sort of half-way between stage and movies. It is not so intimate as stage, but incapable of the cinema's spectacular scope. There are several peculiar and sometimes disturbing things about television, and I thought I'd list a few of them. 1. The 6-act structure which is used in hour-long television is gratingly artificial. Even the classic 3-act structure is really nothing but potty breaks for Greek actors. There is nothing about the structure of human life or experience that intrinsically breaks down into 2, or 3, or 5, or 7 or 21 parts. These can be useful, but they are all artificial, merely ways of looking at structure. Maps, not the territory itself. 2. In television, the viewers are not the customers. No, no--they are the PRODUCT, who are sold to the customers (the advertisers) in joblots according to demographics. This creates a very very odd situation--they want the shows to be interesting enough to get you to tune in, but never genuinely new or confrontational. Everyone wants to be first to be second. Yuck. 3. Limitations on violence mean that tension is very difficult to achieve. If you KNOW that the censors are NEVER going to let anything seriously yucky onscreen, there is never any need to flinch, 'cause nothing's ever gonna happen that you can't handle. 4. Everything Network must appeal to middle America. If you want to do something a little more offbeat, go with the Syndicated stations. Fox Network can take more chances than ABC. 5. Unlike the publishing industry, television and film WILL steal your ideas. Be careful. The fact is that the number of ideas chewed up by Hollywood in a single year would creatively Bankrupt a dozen Shakespeare's. They are completely DESPERATE for ideas. If you are protected by an agent, then go in there and pitch your widdle heart out. Otherwise, be afraid. Be very afraid. CABLE.More daring than television, but still limited--they LOVE those secondary sales to Fox Network, and don't want to have to cut too much sex, violence, or language. So don't believe it when they say "Anything goes." Yeah, right.

The beautiful thing about cable is the fact that they can go seriously longform. Six hour R-rated movies. And with the advent of widescreen TV and surround sound, we're not far from the era where Cable may be the venue of choice. I love the potential, and plan to be right in there pitching. So come to think of it, why am I sharing my secrets with you, anyway? 'Cause I'm a nice guy, that's why. Buy me sushi some time, and we'll call it even. CINEMA. As far as I'm concerned, the Brass Ring. This is where the best action is. However, it is utterly impossible to get in. The studios won't read unsolicited scripts, and neither will agents. So what the hell do you do? Frankly, everyone I know who works in Hollywood got in a different way. Some delivered scripts in Pizza boxes. Some worked in the studio Xerox room until the right connections were made. Some worked for Hollywood temp agencies, getting sent to work in Agents offices until a connection was made. Some snuck onto lots and talked someone into looking at material. In other words, you have to use the same creativity to get into the industry that you would use once you got there. There IS no direct line path for getting in. None at all. But if you are absolutely determined to get in, you'll find a way. One serious hint: if at ALL possible, move to Los Angeles. Can't overestimate the importance of actually being on the scene where the action is happening. The average movie script is about 120 pages long, each page of which equates to one page of screen time. Get your hands on all the movies scripts you can find, and read the heck out of 'em. Don't both writing lots of stage directions in your script--the director will just cut them out anyway. If you are really serious, subscribe to SCENARIO. Published quarterly, each issue contains four full-length film scripts. Call 'em at 800-222-2654. One of the things that you have to do is develop the art of "Pitching", verbal story-telling, the art of boiling your story down into a 1-5 minute essence you can tell off the top of your head to a room full of doubting execs. This can be anything from a T.V. Guide snippit to a full story told while you pace back and forth, gesticulating wildly. PRACTICE THIS ART. It is one of the tools which will allow you to compete against people who are more

experienced writers, but haven't conquered their stage-fright. Practice in front of your friends. Practice into a tape recorder. Practice into video tape. DO THIS. It will be immensely useful when you actually get your 10 minutes with Aaron Spelling's people. HOMEWORK Rework your stories again, fleshing out characters and situations. Answer the following question: How is this situation your lead character's worst nightmare? And how does it turn into the best thing that ever happened to them? Or, conversely, how is it the best thing that ever happened to them, and how does it turn into their worst nightmare? In other words, make explicit the connection between plot and character. Each should be inextricably linked to the other. Good Luck!

Steven Barnes' Free Writing Class! "Introduction to Screenwriting"

Week Eight Your genial host, Steven Barnes Hi, there, and Welcome back! Metaphor and Symbol Welcome back! We've only got one more week to go, so I hope you've been busy on your assignments. One question frequently asked is how to walk the line between those projects which are emotionally rewarding, and those projects Hollywood seems inclined to make. Well--if I were you I would have infinite faith in my own innate creativity-that is, the ability to come up with idea after idea all day long, if necessary. Then perform a thought experiment. "A" is the set of ideas you can come up with, that you would find entertaining and emotionally rewarding to write. "B" is the set of ideas that will sell in Hollywood. Believe me, if the set "A" is large enough, eventually the two sets will overlap--creating set "C". "C" is what you spend your time writing--those ideas which are BOTH potentially salable, and personally valid. In the actual writing of your script, there is another important thing which must be kept in mind: In film, far more than in any other medium (including television), the importance of the visual symbols cannot be overestimated. In essence, in film all you have is the visual symbols. Everything else is secondary. What this means is that, basically, THE STORY MUST CARRY ITSELF ON THE STRENGTH OF THE VISUALS. You should be able to turn the sound off, and still understand everything going on--or at least, enough to follow the thread of the story. In general (and there are always exceptions), if you can't figure out what's going on without the dialogue, your film will appeal to a smaller audience. That might be fine with you--but it is still something to take into account. Take a look at the films in the top 20 of all-time box office. Most of them are intelligent, or made by very intelligent people. None of them are intellectual--in other words, they aren't meditations on the nature of mind. Films like the "Indiana Jones" or "Star Trek" movies are largely visual, as are "Jurassic Park" and "Independence Day."

(Note that these are also basically "overstructure" films, driven more by plot than character. However, the newly released "Ransom" is very much character driven. It might be an interesting exercise to determine if its core plot twists can be deciphered without listening to the sound track. Perhaps not. And this single fact will probably keep it out of the top 20. On the other hand, it may well earn over 90 million, which is quite enough success for anyone.) At any rate, we must still take into account the impact of the visual symbols. Here's an exercise, for which you'll need a cork board and a stack of 3X5 cards: Go through your story outline, and pick out the visual actions and symbols. Arguments, love making, car chases, meetings, conversations, ANYTHING which will be pictured on-screen. See if the basic meaning of your story can be determined from the succession of visual images. If not, you may have a story which is too internal, more appropriate for a novel or play than a feature film. If you are writing a television script, you are more likely to get away with this. (In fact, I suspect that advertisers LOVE scripts which are heavy on dialog and exposition--so that if you leave the room to stir the soup, you don't lose the thread of the story and turn the channel.) Any way, try this exercise. It is important. Obvious symbols (the American Flag symbolizing patriotism, a red rose symbolizing love, crashing waves for passion, etc.) are the hallmark of the student film. Such symbols are obvious, and in essence exploit the creative vocabulary established by other artists. To create art in this medium you must, as the expression goes, "Boldly Go Where No Man Has Gone Before." Note the film "Diabolique." No, not the Sharon Stone/Chazz Palmentieri abortion, but the original French film. It is one of the ultimate masterpieces of suspense. And the filmmakers created an image system where water, plain ordinary water, began to be perceived as an evil, dangerous thing. Brilliant. The way you do this is by showing something (say a clock) in a scene where someone is murdered. Then every time you show a clock after that, there is heavy danger, mortal peril, death or destruction. In your script, you keep finding an excuse to show what time it is. The director, hopefully, will pick up on what you are doing and roll with it. If you do this carefully, your audience will get to the point where the mere flash of a clock will make them feel very uncomfortable. You have, in other words, established an alternative meaning for a clock. "Time is running out," perhaps. Again, it is

very important that your audience not be consciously aware of what you have done. If they notice it, you're sunk. The next level above this is what is called Metaphor. In other words, what is your story really about? It is the subtext of the entire work. In general, this is only determined after you have written your first draft. DON'T START OUT WITH A "MEANING" IN MIND. Just tell your story. Follow an idea that gets you hot. Then, as you race toward the conclusion, you will slowly become aware that there are patterns at work, that your subconscious seems to have been up to something. You look at the story and realize that a theme seems to be emerging. WARNING! WARNING! DANGER, WILL ROBINSON! (Sorry. I was having a "Lost in Space" flashback.) If you start with a "Meaning" or a "Theme" in mind, your work will almost certainly get preachy as hell, and you will end up, at the very best, preaching to the choir. But if you just tell a story, and you convey the emotions honestly, then it cannot help but express your philosophy, your own world view. And in that case, there WILL be a meaning, a theme, a core of honesty to your work. Let's say you are 3/4 of the way through your work, and you begin to see the following theme: "Evil is a titanic force, but love is stronger". You notice this because there seem to be a number of scenes where evil does its nasty thing, and that the only times it is beaten back is when people stand together, or act out of love. You notice that sacrifice is often necessary, but it does seem that selfless acts have the ability to defeat even the most virulent evil. (This is not always the case--there are definitely films which have the philosophy that Death Swallows Everything, and even the strongest love is a weak and ultimately futile defense.) All right. Finish your draft. Then, on a 3X5 card, post above your computer or typewriter your theme AND ITS REVERSE (COUNTER-THEME). In other words: 1. Evil is a titanic force, but Love is stronger 2. Love is a titanic force, but Evil is stronger Get it? Now, here comes the nifty part. Every scene in your script can support one or the other point of view. You have a scene where evil wins, followed by one where love triumphs, but just barely. Then evil, then love. Evil, and then another evil. Love squeaks one past. Evil has a CRUSHING victory! Dark night of the soul time. All is lost. Then a good deed, done out

of love earlier in the story, comes back just in time ("cast your bread upon the waters, and it will return to you many fold") and Evil, which stands alone, is undone by the forces of good, which march shoulder to shoulder even unto the pits of hell. Hallelujah, hallelujah. Gosh, just brings tears to your eyes, doesn't it? But here's another clue: WHATEVER YOUR THEME IS, NEVER STATE IT DIRECTLY. Comb through your script, and if your theme is ever stated, TAKE THAT LINE OF DIALOG out. Why? Well...this is the nasty and manipulative side of my personality coming out, and if you tell anyone I said it, I'll just deny it. I never said it. I was miles from there at the time, practicing golf swings with O.J., or washing odd, pesky stains out of that Ford Bronco. The reason has to do with the nature of subliminal communication. If you have a controversial message, especially one of a political nature, (Say-women are equal to men, or gay is as good as straight, or blacks are as good as whites, or Save the Environment, or anything else that you may wish to subtly propagandize for), it is very important to NEVER give your audience a chance to object to what you are saying. Just tell your story, with the meaning encoded in the structure of the events. If you EVER get up on a soapbox, and specifically say "Women are equal to men", you give the audience a chance to say: "No, they're not." If, on the other hand, you simply show your female protagonist struggling mightily and honorably to accomplish a worthy end, failing, suffering, and ultimately triumphing--and if you have established audience empathy with her, then her victories become the viewer's victories, and your "meaning" slips right past a sexist's defenses. An example? It is arguable that "Courage Under Fire" has a substructure which states that women can do a "Man's" job, and still be women. They don't ever hit that message "On the Nose" (in other words, be obvious and unsubtle about it), but they do give you alternative views of the lead character's struggles in the Gulf War. They even cast Denzel Washington in an important role, subtly connecting racism and sexism. In other words, by the time the filmmakers are done with you, the only way not to cheer Meg Ryan is to be sexist, racist, and un-American. Wow. Pretty potent propaganda! HOMEWORK

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.

What is your theme? What is your counter-theme? What character in your work represents each position? What scene most clearly describes your theme? In what scene is your character's moral position tested most severely? What do you want your audience to feel as they walk out of the theater? Get to work!

Steven Barnes' Free Writing Class! "Introduction to Screenwriting"


Week Nine Hi, there, and Welcome back!

OH MY GHOD! ITS THE LAST CLASS!!! How quickly time flies, eh? Well, since all there really is to do at this point is to evaluate your work, the question on everyone's mind must be: what in the world does Steve have to say to us now? Well...let's just say that if you take very seriously what I am about to lay out for you, it will be of greater value than everything that has come before. It works like this: All of the information about writing , all of the technique, ALL of that stuff won't do you a damned bit of good unless you use it. All of these things are the "Principles" of success in the limited field called writing. But what makes the difference between people who get their dreams and people who don't--in other words, between those of you who will actually use the information which you paid for, and those of you who will sit on your thumbs and whine, are what I call the "metaprinciples"--in other words, the ideas, actions, core beliefs, and so forth which underlie any successful life. Every human being is going to have his own idea about what it takes to succeed in life. You have yours. I have mine. I may well be wrong in my choices and observations, but what I CAN say is that all of the principles given below are tested, that I have taught them to thousands of people, and to my knowledge, everyone who has actually put them into play has gotten the results. It ain't easy, but if it was easy, everybody would be happy, healthy, and wise--and we know that isn't the case, don't we? So don't worry about what's easy or what isn't. Instead, ask yourself: "Am I willing and prepared to become stronger, more centered, and more successful than I've ever been in my life?" Until and unless the answer to that question is "Yes", chances are very good that you have wasted your money in this class. I absolutely, 100% believe that every human being has the ability to bring his dreams into existence. If you have the ability to consistently visualize or imagine success over the period of time necessary to achieve the goal, you can do it. And that ability to visualize or imagine is , in most successful people, trained rather than innate. So here are my last, and most important words to you. They are the ten steps I would consider invaluable in actually reaching any goal.

1. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY. You must let your environment, heredity, parents, mate, or anything else completely off the hook. YOU are responsible for your success or failure. YOU are the cause of pleasure and pain in your life. Had a bad childhood? Get over it. Black, Gay, Female, Handicapped, too young or too old? Nobody cares. IF YOU DON'T DO IT FOR YOURSELF, THE WORLD WILL BARELY NOTICE YOUR HEARTBREAK. Ultimately, you must care for yourself, nurture yourself, support yourself, discipline yourself, love yourself. If you were a rabbit in the woods, you would be on the constant search for food, and consistently watching out for predators. You must have something of the same willingness to get what you want out of life, and to watch out for, and protect yourself from, those who would hurt you, discourage you, use you. It's not up to life to be easy. It is your responsibility to be strong. 2. CREATE YOUR LIFE STORY. You did this, in your first week. Go back over it. Make sure that you have clear goals in ALL THREE major areas: career, physical health, relationship. Know what you want, and don't be afraid to go after it. WRITE YOUR GOALS DOWN!!! 3. FIND A GOAL SETTING SYSTEM. There are many out there, and their efficiency depends largely on a match between your personality and the personality of the author. However, I would personally recommend the "Time Line" system taught by Tad James. Get a catalog from him at Advanced Neuro Dynamics, 808-941-2021. They're the best I've found. Order his "The Secret of Creating Your Future" tape set, and USE IT. 4. SENSORY ACUITY. You've have to have feedback as to your progress or problems. Income is a good way to keep track. Feedback from intelligent colleagues or teachers helps. KEEP YOUR EYES AND EARS OPEN. Any feedback, including rejection letters, is good feedback. 5. RAISE YOUR ENERGY LEVEL. Without sufficient energy, your dreams will turn to dust. In fact, one of the most important steps in breaking any old behavior pattern is to raise your energy. There are several basic steps to this.Diet. Stay away from books on losing weight. In my humble opinion, most of them are designed or doomed to fail. ANY diet that you will eventually diverge from is, in my opinion, designed to fail. Instead, look at diets designed to enhance athletic performance, especially endurance. Robert Haas' "Eat To Win" diet is excellent. There are others. Find them. Don't be one of these morons who knows more about auto maintenance or football statistics than he does about his own health. They make me sick. Exercise. The two most important types of exercise are: 1)

flexibility and alignment, and 2) cardiovascular. Flexibility and Alignment. The first can be learned in a yoga class, or a dance class--if the dance class is taught by a teacher over 40 years old. What you are looking for here is unlearning the bad habits of posture and tension which a lifetime of imprecise motion locks into you. Trust me: unless you are an intuitive genius at such things, (and I've never met such a person), YOU NEED A TEACHER. At least twice a month, work with a teacher, developing a 15-minute daily stretching program. Minimum. Do it. Cardiovascular. For energy, you need 3-4 40 minute exercise sessions a week. Walking is great. So is swimming. Be gentle with yourself if you haven't been exercising for a while. The idea is work up a light sweat. Exercise more intense than this is for athletes. Rest. Get enough sleep. Take catnaps. This is vital for those of us living a creative life. You need your dream time. These are the most basic prerequisites to generating more energy in your life. Ignore them at your peril. 6. FIND ROLE MODELS. Study the lives and actions of people who have already accomplished your chosen goals. Then imitate their actions, beliefs, and thought patterns. Even better is to find several different people who have accomplished goals similar to the ones you hold dear. Cross reference them, and find out what things they ALL had in common. Do this "core" stuff religiously, and you will save yourself years and decades of wasted effort. 7. FLEXIBILITY. Keep trying different things until you reach your goal. Keep your eyes on the prize, and simply flow around any obstacles. Be like snow melt winding its way to the sea. Eventually, it will get there. It may take a life time--but do you have anything better to do? Let's face it: ten years from now, you will either be ten years older, or ten years older and wiser. The choice is up to you. 8. NEVER GIVE UP. Resolve here and now that you will keep moving forward until you have reached your goal. 9. 1%. Divide the work necessary to accomplish your goal into bitesized chunks. Do about 1% of it every week. No more. You can walk to Disneyland--but you can't sprint there. Be very careful about trying to do too much. It can be another way of setting yourself up for failure. 10. MASTERMIND GROUPS. One of the most valuable things you can do in reaching any goal is to find a group of like-minded people, and meet with them once or twice a week (I suppose you could set this up over the Internet). You share goals, dreams, and support. Every week, every member is responsible for moving his goals forward, for having taken another step. For a very full explanation of

how to do this, read "Think and Grow Rich", by Napoleon Hill. This is probably the best book ever written on self improvement. Well, that's it. Believe me, it's all you need, and more. The sad thing is that I know most of you won't follow the advice you paid for. This grieves me, because I genuinely want you to succeed. The thing that makes me happy is the possibility that you--that's right, YOU, are the one in a thousand who will actually follow through, who will follow good advice, who will go after your dreams and not let anything stand in your way. I hope it's you. You seem like a nice person. But, hey--I've been wrong before. Heh heh. Steve Barnes