Tuesday, May 11, 2010

STRUCTURE - Part 2 - I Can Already Hear You Say It

"WHAT about 'formula'?" I hear you ask. "Aren't those 9 scenes just another Hollywood formula?"

Yes and no. Here's a reality check: unless you know a key talent element (director, producer, actor), your script will be read by a story analyst. Unless your agent is also your best friend, your script will first be sent to the agency's Story Department, where it will be read by - you guessed it - a story analyst.

If your story analyst is your ex-roommate from college, then, no worries. If not ...um ...well, good luck. Story analysts, also known as "readers," are mostly freelancers and get paid for each script read. Since they need to pay their rent, it means that they read at least two dozen scripts each week. 24 scripts x 52 weeks = 1,248 scripts each year. That's a lot of reading. Or not.

In most cases, admit it or not, they read the first ten pages, the last ten pages and the dialog in between. Yes, it's a cruel reality. All those words you bled over that may never get read (There are ways to force the reader to read it all, but I'll cover that when I write about formatting in a later blog.)

Another thing your reader is looking for are the 9 scenes mentioned in my earlier blog. It's a subconscious checklist. They will notice if they're not on the page. And if not, they will move your script from the pile that says "Consider" to the one that says "Pass."

Is that "formula"? I'm afraid so. But the news isn't all bad. This method of storytelling has a history that goes back to the beginning of ...storytelling. It's imprinted into us. It works.

And once you have determined what these scenes are in your screenplay, you are free to experiment with how they unfold - and in what order.

"Pulp Fiction" is a perfect example of tweaking this 9 scene formula. This script was a bold departure from standard structure, wasn't it? "Pulp Fiction" is a great movie, with amazing dialog and truly original characters. But the structure is simply a shell-game version of the basic 9 scenes. It is as though Tarantino wrote a linear story, cut it into sections and then rearranged the sections. It was innovative. But it was a linear story told out of sequence.

Tarantino is a gifted writer and a serious movie buff. He knew the "rules" - and then he broke, bent and twisted them. His innovations were choices, not accidents.

What about ensemble stories, like "Crash"? A brilliant script. Tremendously difficult to write. If you check closely, you'll see that each character has a three-act arc. Are all nine scenes there? In some subplots, yes; in others, no. But, again, the writer/director Paul Haggis was aware of convention. His departures from it were made from that awareness.

Write the 9 scenes for your script. Know the skeleton of your story. Then, if you want to experiment - go for it!

Have a great writing day!

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