It’s time to SPITBALL!
FAQ: Q: How many screenplays do you write in a year?
A: Usually 4. I’ll break as many as 10 stories depending on how many pitch meetings I have.
Ten stories means I’m staring at a lot of blank pages during the year. I’m almost always thinking about how to make various stories work… or contemplating how much better life would be as a professional youth soccer coach or even as the person they test Tazers on. For better or worse, I have a method that gets the job done as painlessly as possible and I’ll share it with you now.
Remember, I only need 5 things before I’ll consider my story “broken”. We’ll fill in all the fun “tent poles” that will spice up the story next week. For now, let’s start with our college ruled paper. As we know from last week, it should look like this:
2. Midpoint Turnaround (I write “2: MP”)
3. End of Act 2, all is lost moment (or “3: EA2”)
4. The 3rd Act Setback (“4: SB”)
5. The SUPERFREAK (“5: SUPERFREAK!!!”)
We’re going to start with the hardest one. The “SUPERFREAK”. Why? Because A) Working backwards is, by far, the easiest way to break stories and, B) There is nothing more demoralizing than spending several weeks breaking the other 4 story points only to find that you can’t figure out how to end your movie. If you can’t figure out your Superfreak, you haven’t got a movie.
For the rest of this post, you’ll be in my lap steering while I work the pedals. By the end you should get a feel for the choices writers make while breaking stories. By the time we’re done you’ll be able to work that manual stick shift all by yourself.
Today you’re George Lucas in the mid 1970‘s. Yesterday, you told all of your friends that you’ve thought of a movie that’s a David and Goliath story about an poor farm boy who wins a galactic war through faith. Your working title is “STAR WARS”. That’s about all you’ve got. A log-line and a few 3×5 cards taped to the wall. Stuff that might be fun to put in a movie: Dogfights, planets blow up, weird aliens, cool space vehicles… You don’t know how they’ll fit into your story yet but you’ll figure that out as you go. No pressure.
You stare at the words “5. SUPERFREAK!!!” You’ll start with one simple question that’s written on a tattered 3×5 card: “What is this movie about?” We covered this in my post about theme but you’ll need to answer it before you move on.
This one’s about how faith conquers adversity so your Superfreak is easier than you think. Your hero has to do the right thing when the wrong thing is the popular choice. In this case, “the right thing” is the use of faith. “The popular choice” should probably be the use of some form of conventional weaponry. Joseph Campbell refers to the conventional method as “the sword” and the use of faith as “the elixir”. So, everybody else is using their swords and your guy closes his eyes and uses his elixir and wins the war. Voila — SUPERFREAK!
Here’s your first hurdle. It’s a Star War and wars are not won by single people committing single acts so if he’s praying while somebody else is using a nuclear bomb it’s not going to work. Choice 2, he kills the bad guy. Unfortunately, that would be as implausible as killing Saddam Hussein and ending the Iraq war. It will need to be some galactic version of “capture the flag”. At the crucial moment, our guy will have to eschew whatever conventional means we’ve establish and use faith to “capture the flag”. To tee this up, we’ll need to have him failing a few times the conventional way and then closing his eyes and praying and… Superfreak. We’ll also need to show some form of lethality as far as what happens if “the flag” is not captured. We’ve got enough. Move on.
Working backwards from your Superfreak, you’ll see how it gets easy. Beat #4 (Setback): We’ve already got that. He tries to use credible but ineffective means and fails. There’s no way he’ll be able to achieve his task using the old conventional ways… he’ll have to take a leap of faith and do something unexpected and wonderful… like, say, a Superfreak. You’ll need to earn this moment. Ham it up a little in the writing. Paint a picture of how difficult this is going to be. Introduce the characters that are about to die using their heathen conventional war methods. Now would be a good time to pull that “dogfight” card off of the wall. Setbacks don’t work unless your hero has the win within his grasp. So, 1-2-3; Intro danger, battle, almost win, setback. That’s 4 scenes broken without a sweat.
You’re almost home. Now’s a good time to take a break and smoke ‘em if you’ve got ‘em. On Friday we’ll break beats 3 – 1.
Until then, let’s memorize the names of our five best friends: INC INC, MP, EOA2, SB & SUPERFREAK!!!