10 Most Successful Movie Themes, Story Types, Plot Types & Genres

Before we can talk about the best movie themes in film, we have to understand what theme exactly is.

In the dictionary:

Theme – an idea that recurs in or pervades a work of art or literature.

So, for example, The Notebook has several themes, which films can and do have, but its main theme is, love.

Love is such a big theme that we’ll jump right into our list.


Love

While we are giving you the most successful themes in movies, we are not ranking them on their importance. As you’ll see, most standout films have more than one theme.

If you’ve ever watched a film you’ll have noticed that 100% had loved as one of its themes. Think about it? There’s always a love storyline in any film. Go ahead, try and think of a film that doesn’t have a love storyline?

Can’t do it, can you? 

Love, a great theme to write about and needed to be on our list for sure. The Love Story is one of the most popular themes in movies. This is because love is the most universal emotion and love stories can touch people from all walks of life.

There are two types of love stories. One is the romantic love story and the other is the platonic love story.

Romantic Love Story

A romantic love story is a story about two people who fall in love with each other. In the platonic love story, two people fall in love with each other, but they don’t end up together. The theme of love in movies is very broad.

In fact, it can be a theme for a film on many different levels. For example, if your character falls in love with his ex-girlfriend, then it’s not a romantic love story. However, if he gets back together with her after they broke up, then this is a romantic love story.

Love at First Sight

If your screenplay revolves around a couple who fall in love with each other at first sight, then this is a romantic love story. However, if you want to create an unexpected romantic love story, then it’s better to avoid using the phrase “love at first sight” in your screenplay. It might sound too cliché.

Platonic Love Story

However, if it’s a romantic comedy, then it is a platonic love story. When writing your screenplay, you need to understand that the love theme is the most important one you have to think about. It’s the heart and soul of your story and it will be the reason why your audience comes back to watch it again and again.

Go to Genre: Romance


Fear

One of the most popular film genres is horror, and in horror, there is a ton of fear themes. If you’re writing a scary move and don’t incorporate fear, then you haven’t written a horror film at all, you’ve written a boring drama.

Horror is more than just a bunch of jump scares and gore. It has to be based on fear, otherwise it isn’t really horror at all. Fear is the basis of horror, and that means that there has to be some form of fear in every horror movie. So what is fear?

Fear can be described as a feeling of impending doom or danger. It’s the idea that something bad is about to happen. It’s not just about the idea of death, it’s also about the idea of getting hurt.

There are several types of fear, and they each serve a different purpose. The first type of fear is physical fear. This is when you have a real threat of bodily harm, like being attacked by a killer or having your house burned down.

There’s nothing scarier than thinking that you’re going to be hurt, and it will cause your body to tense up and your heart rate to increase. Next is emotional fear. This is the fear of something that is scary, but it’s not as immediate. It’s more about the feeling of dread, like being scared of something that is out of your control.


A great example of this is watching horror movies, which are designed to give you a sense of dread.

The third type of fear is situational fear, which means that you’re afraid of something that you can’t do anything about. This could be something as simple as the fact that you don’t know what’s around the corner. The best horror movies always incorporate some form of all three types of fear.

If you have only one type of fear in a movie, then it won’t be scary, it will just be boring. You have to have at least some form of physical fear in a horror film. This is because without a threat of bodily harm, there isn’t going to be any tension. There has to be some kind of emotional fear in a horror movie. Otherwise, there will be no sense of dread.

This is because if you don’t have any danger, then the story will never end. Fear can be incorporated into many different ways in a horror film. You can use fear to make a character scared, you can scare the audience, or you can just scare the hell out of them. In a horror movie, you have to scare people. That’s how you get the audience to feel afraid and want to watch more.

A good way to incorporate fear into your script is through the use of suspense. A lot of people think that a horror movie is only scary because of the gore, but this isn’t true. Horror movies are scary because of the use of suspense. This is when there is an element of surprise in a situation that the characters are in.

Go to Genre: Horror and Thrillers

Good Vs Evil

Do we even have to explain this one? Any superhero film that you have ever seen falls into this theming. Even films like the Lord of the Ring series is all about Good vs. Evil.

Good and evil are two of the most used psychological concepts in movies and TV shows. There’s a reason for it: they’re extremely easy to understand and apply, and they’re very powerful ways to help us emotionally process information we might otherwise not take into account.

The good guys are the ones who save the world and help people, while the bad guys are the ones who want to destroy the world and hurt people. In real life, however, good and evil isn’t as cut-and-dried as in a Hollywood blockbuster.

In reality, it’s a matter of perspective. Some people might be more compassionate, and others may not. And just because someone is the good guy today doesn’t mean they will be the bad guy tomorrow.

We may see a movie or TV show where a character does something we don’t agree with, but it doesn’t make us want to condemn him or her. Why not? Because of the way emotions operate in our minds.

It’s a question many of us have wondered, at least in our childhood years. The answer is simple: it all depends on what you believe in. When we grow up, we often develop a philosophy about how the world works and what values are important. As such, we also develop beliefs about what is good and evil.

But it doesn’t have to just be used in films with massive battles and explosions.

Take a look at a comedy like Due Date. Robert Downey Jr. can be considered the good guy as he’s our main character just trying to get home before his wife gives birth to their first child.

Zach Galifianakis can be seen as the evil character, seemingly sabotaging our protagonist throughout the film, until this theme slowly disappears as the two characters become friends.

Go To Genre: Action and Superhero/Comic Book Films

Death

We’re all going to die someday. That can be a very scary thing for some and a calming thing to understand for others. Death is a major part of life so its obvious that it would be a major theme used in all sorts of films.

Usually, in high stakes type of films, death is the danger of pushing our characters into action.

A film like Inception, by Christopher Nolan, can have amazing visuals and imaginative plot points, but at the end of the day, one of the major themes in the film is death.

Inception shows us what happens when we die, and it’s a haunting and fascinating concept to think about. The film asks questions about how we go on living after we die, and how we could be brought back to life.

Inception shows us how our consciousness continues on after we die, and it makes us consider if we really want to continue living after we die. We have an interesting choice to make, whether we want to go on living or not. I’ve always wondered if we go on living after we die, but I never thought about what it would be like to die.

Sometimes, though, death is not just an obstacle to overcome but also a major plot point that can lead to a resolution. Sometimes, death is a necessary part of the story.

Death is the end of one thing, or the beginning of something else. In film, death is used as a plot device in many different ways. It can be used as a way to help the audience understand the characters or as a way to help the characters understand themselves. A character can die in a movie, or they can die multiple times.

They can even die before the story begins, or they can die after the movie ends. If we look at the films listed below, we can see how death is used to make a point.

Here are some of cinema’s greatest character are developed by using death.

Fight Club – Death is used by Tyler Durden to help him understand himself and his purpose in life. His death helps him realize that he needs to change and to become the person he was meant to be.

Memento – Death is used in this film to help the main character, Leonard Shelby, understand his own identity.

Casino Royale – Death is used in this movie to help the main character, James Bond, understand his own identity. He learns that his life isn’t defined by what he has done, but by who he is.

The Dark Knight – Death is used by Harvey Dent to help him understand himself and his purpose in life. His death helps him realize that he needs to change and to become the person he was meant to be.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Death is used in this film to help the main character, Lisbeth Salander, understand her own identity. She learns that her life isn’t defined by what she has done, but by who she is.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring – Death is used in this film to help the main character, Frodo, understand his own identity. He learns that his life isn’t defined by what he has done, but by who he is. Death is used in this movie to help the main character, Aragorn, understand his own identity. He learns that his life isn’t defined by what he has done, but by who he is.

The Top Death Movies

Apocalypse Now

Apocalypse Now is about a United States soldier named Captain Willard. He is in Vietnam at the time, and he is about to be promoted to Sergeant. He is also having problems with the men under his command. He gets into a fight with them, and he ends up shooting the man who was leading the fight. The other men try to kill him, but they cannot.

They eventually bring him to a medic, and he is sent home. As he is on his way home, he is shot by another soldier. Willard ends up in the hospital for three days, and he then dies. When Willard dies, it is a turning point in the story because the movie has now become about Willard’s journey to find out what he really wants from life.


A Nightmare on Elm Street

A Nightmare on Elm Street is about a girl named Nancy who is a high school student. She has a crush on a boy named Johnny, and she spends most of her time at his house. One night, she is watching television with Johnny and his parents when the television turns on by itself. It shows an old woman, and she says, “What is your name?” She then tells them to leave the room.

Nancy and Johnny are trapped in the room with the woman, and she tells them that they will die if they do not get into bed with her. She then starts killing them. She kills Johnny first, and then she kills Nancy. The girl’s parents find her dead, and they think that she committed suicide. The girl’s mother is so upset that she goes to the police to report what happened.


Taxi Driver

Taxi Driver is about a taxi driver named Travis Bickle. He lives in New York City, and he is having problems dealing with his past. He is a Vietnam veteran who was dishonorably discharged from the military, and he is obsessed with the death of his girlfriend. The main theme of the movie is what it means to be human.

We see that the most human thing is to love someone and to be loved. When Travis meets Iris, he falls in love with her. This causes him to become very violent. He kills his friend, and he tries to kill a man he sees with his girlfriend.

As he gets more and more involved with his job as a taxi driver, he starts to get obsessed with the idea of killing. When Travis is talking with his psychiatrist, he realizes that he needs to get help for his problems.


Blade Runner

Blade Runner is about an android named Rick Deckard. He has been assigned to track down four escaped androids named Roy Batty, Pris, Zhora, and Zhora. He is trying to determine if they are really human, or if they are just machines. He has to track them down and determine their fate. This movie is about how we deal with death.

We see that humans have the power to destroy themselves. We also see that death is not the end. The main theme of the movie is the idea of how we live in this world. Humans have the power to destroy themselves, but they can also overcome anything.


The Shining

The Shining is about a writer named Jack Torrance who has been living with his family for many years in the Overlook Hotel. Jack is an alcoholic, and he has been working on a book about the hotel called “The Overlook” for many years. One day, Jack’s wife and son decide to leave for the day, and Jack gets drunk.

When Jack goes to check on his son, he is not able to find him, and he hears some noises coming from his son’s room. He goes in to see what is going on, and he finds his son dead in his bed. Jack is unable to deal with this tragedy, and he kills his son and then himself.

Jack Torrance is the first character that we see die in the film, but it is actually Jack Nicholson who dies. This was a way to show how Jack had completely lost control of his life and how he was not able to stop himself from killing his own son. In the end, Jack is the only one who can stop himself from killing his family.


American Beauty

American Beauty is about a man named Lester Burnham. He lives in the suburbs with his wife and daughter. He is a successful businessman, but he is bored and unhappy with his life. One day, he goes to a local bar and sees his neighbor having an affair with his wife.

Lester goes home and tells his wife that she is an adulterer, and that he doesn’t want to live with her anymore. His wife and daughter leave the house and go back to their apartment.

Meanwhile, Lester’s father is dying of cancer.  Lester takes his father to a doctor for treatment, but the doctor says that it’s too late for treatment. He explains that the cancer has spread all over his body and that he only has a few weeks left to live. Lester spends the last days of his father’s life with him, and they talk about life and death.

The end of the movie shows Lester, his wife, and his daughter sitting in a car listening to the radio. Lester turns off the radio, and he starts crying.  Lester then looks at his daughter and says, “I’m sorry, honey. I just don’t know how to quit you.”  The next scene shows Lester walking into his house.


The Usual Suspects

The Usual Suspects is a great movie. But what makes it so great is that it features many great characters. One of them is Keyser Soze, who is one of the main villains in the film. He has died several times throughout the film. We can see this in the trailer for the movie: We can also see this in the actual movie: What is interesting about these deaths are the different ways they happen.

In the trailer, we see him die in a way that is very dramatic and shocking. In the movie, we see him die in a way that is very funny and surprising. In the trailer, he dies with a gun in his hand. In the movie, he is shot by an innocent bystander.

This was a great way to make him die. It was shocking and it made us question if he really was Keyser Soze. It was also funny because it was unexpected. It would not have been shocking if he had died in the same way that we saw in the trailer.


Go To Genre: Horror, Action, and Adventure

Revenge

Who doesn’t like to watch a film about someone getting their comeuppance? A revenge story is usually told through the eyes of a protagonist who finds out some bad news and reacts by taking action to make things right.

Films like Gladiator, Kill Bill: Vols 1 & 2, even Mean Girls, are all about our main protagonist getting revenge (justice) for what has been done wrong to them or someone close to our character’s heart.

Examples of revenge stories include the plot of The Godfather, the film about a family that avenges the death of its patriarch by murdering his killers; the plot of Reservoir Dogs, the Quentin Tarantino film about a group of criminals who plan to kill a member of their own crew for stealing from them.

This popular theme allows us the viewer (and yes, the screenwriter) to see things come to life that we wish we could do in our own lives but understand such things would most likely have us in jail, for life, with no chance of parole.

In the case of the “revenge movie,” the protagonist seeks retribution by taking out the perpetrator’s life. Typically, the protagonist is motivated by a sense of justice or morality. Revenge stories can also be used to promote a product or service—in which case they are often marketed as “my way or the highway.”

Everyone loves to see someone get what they deserve, and that’s why Revenge makes for a great movie theme.

We will take a look at how a revenge story can be told and how it can be used as a theme for your screenplay. Revenge is the most common and popular theme in movies. It’s also the most difficult one to write. Why is that? Because there are so many rules and regulations we must follow to make sure our revenge plot is done properly.

And if you don’t follow all those rules, then you risk ruining the entire revenge plot. I’ve seen it happens time and again, even to some of the best writers out there.


Why do we love Revenge?

For starters, it’s always entertaining. Whether it’s watching someone who has wronged another person get their comeuppance or watching the protagonist go after the bad guys and bring them down, we all like to watch a good revenge movie.

Revenge is fun because we all want to see someone get their just desserts. Even if you are the one doing the getting of the just desserts, it’s still an enjoyable experience to see justice done. It’s also exciting. It’s not everyday that you see your protagonist go after the people who have wronged them.

In most cases, they don’t have the resources or the skill set to do so. However, in the case of Revenge, our protagonist is an expert in the field and he’s got the right tools at his disposal to bring about justice.

Finally, it’s cathartic. We all know deep down inside that we would like to see someone else get their comeuppance for what they’ve done to us. We all hate the way they treated us or the way they did things, but we hate ourselves for being the one who allowed them to get away with it.

Go To Genre: Action and Thriller

War

This one, like love, is very straight forward, in fact probably more so. War stories are a staple of Hollywood blockbusters and independent films alike. It’s no coincidence that the most successful movies have been ones about battles for survival, love, independence, and freedom. And a good war story isn’t just one that shows up in a movie.

It can also be found in the pages of a bestselling book, in a magazine article, or even in a YouTube video. In order for the reader or listener to truly empathize with the hero or heroine in the story, the storyteller needs to paint a picture of the hero or heroine’s situation that is so vivid that it feels as if the reader or listener has lived it themselves.

The same is true of the war that the hero or heroine fought in, even if that war never happened. A good example of this would be the movie Black Hawk Down. Though the story was based on actual events, the filmmakers were able to add dramatic elements that allowed them to make the story feel like a living, breathing experience.


One of those elements was the depiction of the town where the battle took place. In the movie, they created an African-American neighborhood in Mogadishu, Somalia, and gave the people there a sense of pride and dignity, all while showing the effects of the brutal war that raged around them.

The same principle can be applied to other types of stories, including science fiction, fantasy, and romance.

But it works best when the author is willing to tell a story from his or her own personal experiences, rather than relying on a fictionalized account. This makes the story more relatable, and therefore more effective.

A movie war story will include one of the following elements:

  • An intense situation where you or your characters must make a choice about which action to take
  • Someone’s actions will have consequences that reverberate down the line
  • You may experience a personal loss in the story
  • Your characters may be forced to deal with emotions that are unexpected for them
  • You may need to learn to trust someone in the course of the story

Obviously, any film that is about war will have themes of war. Films like Saving Private Ryan, Dunkirk, War of the Worlds are all about war. How each film explores that theme are vastly different from each other, but the core theme is there in all of them.

Once again, this is a perfect theme for superhero movies, especially team-ups like The Avengers or Justice League, where our heroes are usually fighting some sort of alien army. 

But if you want to be a little more subtle, a movie like Scarface also has some elements of war.

Go To Genre: Action and Thriller

Coming of Age

Not only is this a theme a lot of popular films explore, but its also a popular genre. To put it simply, a coming of age a story about how a character learns to grow up, get out of his or her comfort zone and learn the necessary skills to become a mature adult.

This may include the character going through a rite of passage (such as a coming of age experience, a death, or a move to a new city), discovering his or her sexuality, or discovering his or her purpose in life. It’s a coming of age movie.

It’s the movie that deals with a group of teenagers who come of age. A coming of age story is a very important part of American culture. The first generation to truly take advantage of the benefits of the industrial revolution was born in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

They were able to rise above the poverty line and start making a life for themselves. They could also go to college, and get jobs to support themselves and their families.

The Breakfast Club, Superbad, Stand by Me, Perks of Being a Wallflower, are all films with Coming of Age as one of their themes. The list could literally go on and on.

Coming of age usually covers themes of universal experiences, which make them so popular with audiences. We all know those awkward, angsty, embarrassing, etc events we had to go through while maturing into adulthood, which allows us to connect more closely with our main character.

This is why coming of age movies have become so popular, because we can all relate to them. Coming of Age Movies are also a great way to explore universal human experiences. The main character has to grow up and learn the necessary skills to become an adult.

This can be done through many different ways, such as learning how to survive in the world, learning how to take care of others, learning how to deal with love, and learning how to be happy with oneself. It’s also a great way for directors to explore what it means to grow up and what it means to be an adult.

The Breakfast Club

One of the most famous coming of age films is “The Breakfast Club.” The movie follows five students who spend the day at detention together. It’s there where they learn to get along with each other, learn that they are all very different from each other, and learn to let go of the past. The characters learn about themselves and the world around them. They discover their true potential and what they want out of life.


Superbad

This film is another coming of age film that explores universal coming of age themes. The main character is a high school student named Evan, who wants to be popular. He gets caught up in a whole bunch of things that he doesn’t understand, which causes him to fail. His friends help him get back on track by telling him what he needs to do, and giving him advice. The main theme of this movie is that we all have our own unique qualities and abilities that we can use to make the world a better place.


Pulp Fiction

One of Quentin Tarantino’s best movies, and it deals with the theme of coming of age. This movie follows three characters, Uma Thurman, John Travolta, and Samuel L. Jackson, as they go on a quest to get revenge on a group of people who killed their friend.

Their quest leads them on a journey where they learn more about themselves and what they want out of life.


Dazed and Confused

Another coming of age film that deals with the theme of coming of age is “Dazed and Confused.” The movie follows four high school students, as they spend the day in a small town.

It’s there where they learn to deal with the pressures of being a teenager. They learn to find out what makes them happy, and what makes them sad. This allows them to discover who they are and what they want out of life.


The Graduate

One of the best coming of age films ever made. It follows Benjamin Braddock, a college student, as he tries to find his place in the world. He goes on a journey to find out more about himself and what he wants out of life. This allows him to discover his true potential and what he wants out of life.


Go To Genre: Comedy and Drama

Overcoming Adversity

If you’re familiar with the “overcome adversity” storytelling format, you know the idea behind it. An underdog rises to challenge the status quo, and wins. Overcoming adversity is a great way to capture attention and inspire readers. Movies like Titanic, The Fighter, Rocky and Million Dollar Baby all use this formula.


Overcome adversity is a great theme for biofilms. We don’t make films about famous people simply because they’re famous. We make films about their lives because they are the people that battled adversity, and somehow in the end, reach their goals and accomplished their dreams.

When it comes to overcoming adversity, the best story line from a movie is the one that tells the audience why the protagonist didn’t quit, why he continued, and how he prevailed in the face of the worst adversity imaginable.

For example, in the movie The Last Samurai, a Japanese samurai is asked to train a group of American soldiers, but he refuses to do so until he is given the respect of being allowed to choose the time and place. He eventually accepts and trains them.


We all want to have that inspiration of seeing someone like us being unstoppable in their journey to a better life, because if we see someone else able to do it maybe – just maybe we’ll be able to as well.

It’s also a great theme to explore as a screenwriter because you’re going into your story already with a clear understanding that you’re going to put your character through the ringer and almost to the edge of death, before giving them their much-earned comeback.

Go To Genre: Action, Comedy and Superhero/Comic Book Films

The Hero 

When we think about heroes in films, we often think about the ones who are doing something great, whether it’s saving people or winning the battle or saving a country. This kind of heroism can make us feel good and helps us overcome our fears.

However, there’s another kind of heroism that we can draw inspiration from—it’s the hero of the story who simply helps someone else get through a tough situation. He or she doesn’t have any grand plans to change the world, but rather, they just want to help someone else out.

While it may seem that this kind of heroism is less impressive than the other kind, I’d argue that it’s actually more valuable because it’s less self-serving. When we act on behalf of others, we put their interests above our own, which is what makes it so powerful.

This is why helping others is one of the most important aspects of altruism, and it’s also why it’s such an important virtue for a society to encourage.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

This is what makes the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty so fascinating. The film follows a man who has spent his life living vicariously through other people’s stories. However, he finds himself in a situation where he needs to do something heroic himself—something that will make him feel like a hero.

In order to do this, he has to find a way to live a normal life, one that doesn’t involve him constantly being pulled into someone else’s story. This is a difficult task for Walter, since he has spent so much time living vicariously through others. But if we can look at the movie from a different angle, we can see that he’s doing a great job of overcoming his selfish tendencies and acting on behalf of others.

In the first part of the movie, Walter has been living his life as a reclusive office worker. He is content with his life, but then he gets a call from his estranged wife asking him to come home for Christmas. As he listens to her, he starts to think about his own past. He remembers how he was once a man who was driven by ambition, who wanted to do something great.

He remembers how he used to make plans to be the best photographer in the world. But after he meets Jane, he finds that he can no longer live vicariously through her stories. Walter is forced to confront the fact that he doesn’t want to be the hero in her life, or anyone else’s life, for that matter. He doesn’t want to become a hero.

Instead, he wants to go back to his old life and lead a normal one. So, how does Walter do this? The answer is simple. He just needs to stop thinking about himself and start thinking about others.


He needs to forget about his own needs and desires and start focusing on those of others. And in order to do this, he has to learn how to let go of his selfish tendencies. The first step in doing this is to stop thinking about himself.

Walter has to stop focusing on himself and his needs and instead focus on other people and their needs. This is a difficult task for Walter because he’s always been so self-centered. But if we look at the movie from a different angle, we can see that he’s doing a great job of overcoming his selfish tendencies and acting on behalf of others. He’s living vicariously through others.

The heroic theme is a popular theme because it’s obviously once again tied into the superhero genre. We all want to see the good in people, and especially in today’s world, it can feel like there are no more good people left.

Films that deal with themes of Hero allow us to see the world in a more optimistic light. The hero film can inspire us to take actual action in our real everyday lives. The hero theme doesn’t just have to be for superhero films.

A film about Martin Luther King, Jr would have themes of “the hero” too. What’s even better is that that was in fact a real, living, breathing, hero that once lived with us.

Go To Genre: Action, Biography and Superhero/Comic Book Films

Man vs Machine

A story about Man vs Machine (or Man vs. Technology) is a story about two characters whose minds are set on the same goal. It’s a story of a human trying to beat a machine at a task. That’s what makes it a good choice for movie storytelling. A character has a specific goal, and the storyteller tries to find out if the character can achieve it. And then the storyteller tries to tell the audience what would happen if the character succeeds.

The basic structure of this type of story is usually a confrontation between the hero and a machine (the antagonist). The main idea behind a man vs. machine story is that the protagonist has some unique quality or skill that makes him or her the best choice to solve the problem at hand.

The machine or antagonist, on the other hand, is the epitome of modern technology and science. The hero must use all his or her skills and wits to overcome the machine and save the day.

This could be a sports story, an action movie, a comedy, a drama, or any other genre of film. It’s a story about a human trying to beat a machine at a task. That’s what makes it a good choice for movie storytelling. The main idea behind a man vs. machine story is that the protagonist has some unique quality or skill that makes him or her the best choice to solve the problem at hand.

This is a theme that you see explored all the time in the sci-fi genre. At least once a year, there will be a film released exploring this theme. When done well, they become classics and/or pick up a ton of awards. 

Two films that fit that billing, Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Ex Machina.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

At some point, humans and machines will become more evenly matched. That’s what happened in the movie Terminator 2: Judgment Day, when the human resistance sent a T-800 into cyberspace. The T-800, however, wasn’t the only machine that became self-aware and began to see its human creators as a threat.

A group of humans who are trying to survive on the Earth, have been attacked by a robot with artificial intelligence. The machine is called “Terminator.” “T2 is a follow-up of sorts to the original 1984 sci-fi film. In the film, John Connor leads a resistance movement against the machines.


Ex Machina

The premise of the film Ex Machina is fairly simple, although it’s execution is quite complex and nuanced. A beautiful young woman is brought into a high-tech research facility for an experiment where she’s partnered with a robot. protagonist Caleb (played by Domhnall Gleeson) is being tested to see if he’s suitable to be a candidate for a job at a major tech company.

His test involves being shut inside a room with an artificial intelligence named Ava, which he must impress in order to get a job offer. This is the point in the movie where we learn that Ava is not a person—she’s a “simulation” of a human being.

She looks, acts, and thinks like a person. But she’s a computer program, and it’s important to know this when attempting to communicate with her. At first, he seems to bond with her robotic companion, but soon discovers that it may not be an ideal match.

He must decide whether to trust the machine that appears to be her friend and companion or to trust her own judgment.

When dealing with the man vs machine theme, as a screenwriter you might start to fall into some classic Man vs Machine tropes. So, to keep your story fresh, figure out a way you can incorporate another theme to mesh with this main one that we might not have seen before, or at least not very often.


Obvious choices would be to go either to love or fear, but if you’re looking to make an impact on a genre and change the way Man vs Machine stories are seen and told, you might want to connect a theme like Remorse and see what interesting plot points you may be able to come up with.

Go to Genre:  Sci-fi

Remorse

Remorse is a theme that has been around for a while in fiction. I’m sure there are plenty of movies that explore this theme, but I just haven’t had the time to watch them all. So, this will be my first foray into it.

What is Remorse?

As Wikipedia puts it,

“remorse is a feeling of regret or guilt that results from a belief that one has behaved in a manner that violates the values or moral principles that one holds dear.”

There are a few ways to go about exploring this theme in a screenplay: A character has an emotional response to something they’ve done that affects their conscience. They realize they’ve behaved in a way that violates their moral code.

A character doesn’t have an emotional response to something they’ve done that affects their conscience. But, it later comes back to haunt them. A character has an emotional response to something they’ve done that affects their conscience. And, it is later revealed that what they did was wrong. And, there is no change of heart from the character.

For instance, a character who kills someone and then later realizes that what he/she did was wrong, but there is no change of heart. I’m going to be examining three remorses in this section.

  1. Remorse 1: A character has an emotional response to something they’ve done that affects their conscience.
  2. Remorse 2: A character doesn’t have an emotional response to something they’ve done that affects their conscience. And, it is later revealed that what they did was wrong.
  3. Remorse 3: A character has an emotional response to something they’ve done that affects their conscience. And, it is later revealed that what they did was wrong.

The first remorse I want to look at is the character’s emotional response to something they’ve done that affects their conscience. It could be anything from a crime to a moral failing.

Here are a few examples:

  • A character murders someone. They realize what they did was wrong, but there is no change of heart. They feel no remorse.
  • A character murders someone and then tries to cover it up. He/she feels no remorse.
  • A character has an affair with a married woman and then covers it up. He/she feels no remorse.
  • A character commits fraud. He/she feels no remorse.
  • A character breaks into a house and steals things. He/she feels no remorse.
  • A character embezzles money. He/she feels no remorse.
  • A character steals food to feed his/her starving child. He/she feels no remorse.
  • A character kills a baby. He/she feels no remorse.

The above examples all have the same element in common: there is no emotional response to the action that affects their conscience. This is the first type of remorse that I’m going to be looking at.

The second type of remorse is when a character doesn’t have an emotional response to something they’ve done that affects their conscience. Here are some examples:

  • A character commits fraud. He/she feels no remorse.
  • A character commits theft. He/she feels no remorse.
  • A character commits murder. He/she feels no remorse.
  • A character commits adultery. He/she feels no remorse.
  • A character commits incest. He/she feels no remorse.
  • A character commits rape. He/she feels no remorse.

The above examples all have the same element in common: there is no emotional response to the action that affects their conscience. This is the second type of remorse that I’m going to be looking at.

The third type of remorse is when a character has an emotional response to something they’ve done that affects their conscience, but it is later revealed that what they did was wrong. Here are a few examples:

  • A character murders someone. He/she feels no remorse.
  • A character murders someone and then tries to cover it up. He/she feels no remorse.
  • A character has an affair with a married woman and then covers it up. He/she feels no remorse.
  • A character breaks into a house and steals things. He/she feels no remorse.
  • A character commits fraud. He/she feels no remorse.
  • A character embezzles money. He/she feels no remorse.

I hope this has helped you understand theme and how to use it in your writing. Come back to this article when you have writer’s block. Happy writing.

BPS 149: The Art of Creativity and Wonder with Jeffery Davis

Jeffery Davis, Tracking Wonder: Reclaiming a Life of Meaning and Possibility in a World Obsessed with Productivity

As we get older it seems that we lose tough with our inner child. We lose touch with that remarkable creative engine. Filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and Guillermo del Toro have figured out a way to not only stay in contact with his inner child but also not lose his sense of wonder.

Today’s guest will be helping us tap into out own sense of wonder that can help you on your creative path. We have on the show author, entrepreneur and human potential expert Jeffery Davis.

Jeff approach’s life and work as a quest. Everything he does – from building a thriving business to writing books to serving as a branding strategist to designing live Brand Artistry Labs to delivering keynotes to guiding his two girls’ through childhood – are part and parcel of the same quest for integrity, meaning, and making.

But like most quests, mine has been neither easy nor straightforward.

He has deliberately sought a life of meaning and making since he was 19 and declared in his private notebook that he would become a writer and preserve my imagination.

In his 20s, he co-founded The Walden Institute, devoted to studying  human potential through the intersections of neuroscience, existential psychology, and the literary arts. By age 31, though, he was all intellect and drive with a shrinking heart and vanishing imagination.

I get to work with top-notch change-makers, and that includes our team of creative renegades at Tracking Wonder consultancy – our boutique consultancy focused on brand story identity, strategy, and asset development.

Tracking wonder is not kid’s stuff. It’s radical grown-up stuff.

Jeff lives with these burning questions that shape his days:

  • How does Story change us?
  • How is creating a signature brand with integrity a meaningful, creative endeavor?
  • How is wonder the source of every human being’s original creative genius?
  • How are building a family and building a business part and parcel of living a life of making meaning, projects, a livelihood, and a difference?
  • The result has culminated in this quest for tracking wonder.

His new book is called Tracking Wonder: Reclaiming a Life of Meaning and Possibility in a World Obsessed with Productivity.

Discover how the lost art of wonder can help you cultivate greater creativity, resilience, meaning, and joy as you bring your greatest contributions to life.

Beyond grit, focus, and 10,000 hours lies a surprising advantage that all creatives have—wonder. Far from child’s play, wonder is the one radical quality that has led exemplary people from all walks of life to move toward the fruition of their deepest dreams and wildest endeavors—and it can do so for you, too.

“Wonder is a quiet disruptor of unseen biases,” writes Jeffrey Davis. “It dissolves our habitual ways of seeing and thinking so that we may glimpse anew the beauty of what is real, true, and possible.” Rich with wisdom, inspiring stories, and practical tools, Tracking Wonder invites us to explore how the lost art of wonder can inspire a life of greater joy, possibility, and purpose. You’ll discover:

The six facets of wonder—key qualities to help you cultivate the art of wonder in your work, relationships, and life
How wonder can help us fertilize creativity, sustain the motivation to pursue big ideas, navigate uncertainty and crises, deepen our relationships, and more.

The biases against wonder—moving beyond societal and internalized resistance to our inherent gifts
Why experiencing wonder isn’t really about achieving goals—though that happens—but about how we live each day
Inspiring stories of people whose experiences of wonder helped them move through the unthinkable to create extraordinary lives
Practical exercises, tools, and reflections to help you begin your own practice of tracking wonder

A refreshing counter-voice to the exhausting narrative hyper-productivity, Tracking Wonder is a welcome guide for experiencing more meaning and joy in the present moment as you bring your greatest contributions to life.

If you are stuck or just need a jump start to your creative process then get ready to take some notes.

Enjoy my “wonder” filled conversation with Jeffery Davis.

Right-click here to download the MP3

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Alex Ferrari 0:00
I like to welcome to the show, Jeffery Davis, how you doing Jeffery?

Jeffery Davis 0:15
Doing great. How are you?

Alex Ferrari 0:16
I'm doing great, my friend. I'm doing great. I really wanted to have you on the show. Because I need some wonder in my life, I need to track some of that wonder. And I need to use it to, to help me in my creative path as well as not only creative path, but honestly, your soul's path in so many ways just like your your life's journey. So I have to ask you, how did you get started? In this field of work?

Jeffery Davis 0:43
Yeah, yeah, this field of work, you're tracking wonder, right? Company consultancy? Like, do that? Yeah, I'll just start off briefly, we can talk about, you know, more more what is wondering what I've come to discover about the nature of these experiences of wonder after 15 plus years of deliberate research into it. You know, currently, I'm a I'm a strategist and consultant and. And that's often been my line of work for for quite some time. And over 15 years ago, I was researching another project related to creativity and the creative process came across a book, little known book of yoga philosophy. And it kind of really opened me up. And I'll just say, briefly, that was kind of the moment of inspiration. Because it just it the commentary said something about the nature of reality might be like this ordinary waking world, and this world of the interior world of the dreams and mind that we have. And when you can experience ultimate reality. Right here in this ordinary world, then you're characterized quite often by Wonder, or a sort of joy filled amazement. And so when I read that, that was a moment of inspiration for me, because I realized, I had been looking for much of my life, for those sets of experiences, the sets of experiences where you feel fully alive, and like this, is it in this ordinary world, without having to seek transcendence or some other reality? Yeah. So that was a moment of inspiration, I then devoted a lot of my work toward researching. And taking some deep dives into these experiences of wonder this is 2004. So there's very little science of Wonder available.

Alex Ferrari 2:41
So I didn't know that there was any there was any period

Jeffery Davis 2:44
There was actually some science of odd just starting. And so I was talking with some of those psychologists like Dacher, Keltner, at UC Berkeley, who actually confers with Pixar Studios that make science of all now. So there was a little science involved, but very little, yes, on the science of wonder. And so but I was taking some deep dives in some other areas, trying to make some, some connections, about wonder, kind of an intellectual journey. And then a few years later, after experiencing just a set of personal adversity. Within a year, my wife and I, getting married and buying our dream house, farmhouse in the Hudson Valley of New York, we had a house fire, I had Lyme disease, that the that fire put us out of our house for 15 plus months. We ended up having a baby and that 15 months, baby, there was just like a number of things that was just like a domino effect. But I did what I did. And I got really curious about what was going on with me in tandem with my explorations of wonder. So this is kind of the defining moment, you know, to your question, this was the set of inflection points for me. And that period, I got really curious about the relationship between our experiencing adversity, constant challenge, constant change. And whether or not experiences of wonder could help us not only navigate that adversity, but ultimately flourish in that adversity. So I committed a lot of my research and a lot of my delivery to my, my clients. With that framework in mind, and I'll just say in brief part of my discovery, and part of the premise of the book tracking wonder is that when we look at what I call fulfilled innovators, people who have really contributed to their fields, but who described their lives as being fulfilled, not burnt out, There's surprising advantages, not necessarily 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, or grit or wealth or some DNA, genius talent. It is actually they have maintained an abiding sense of wonder. And that's what I've continued to test out. And further now with the emerging science of wonder in the past six years, I've corroborated that hypothesis.

Alex Ferrari 5:25
There's there's one director that I always look at that that has that sense of wonder is that Steven Spielberg? Oh, yeah. Yes. Steven Spielberg is one of those guys who, who just you could just tell even though he's not making his his, I mean, his films that he's been making recently, in the last, let's say, 1015 years, have been more serious, more grown up tackling like Lincoln and Munich and other things like that. But there's always a sense of wonder and the stuff that he does, and he's maintained that wonder throughout his career,

Jeffery Davis 6:01
You're absolutely right. So Spielberg's early work is definitely wonder driven, very specifically, and just with what I said, it's wonder in this ordinary world, right, so I'm curious about the Harry Potter movies, in part because I have a 12 year old daughter who's really interested in them, and the Harry Potter stories. But what I the reason I'm less interested in those is because there's some other sort of Warlock world out there. You know, I'm really interested in the magic among the Mughals. Here, you, people, but you're absolutely right. Steven Spielberg, Wes Anderson, is another one who is constantly full of wonder who can sometimes take on serious subjects satirically, but also wondrously

Alex Ferrari 6:45
Yeah. And it's interesting as you start going down the list of filmmakers, or just creatives in general, in whichever field, the people who are at their highest level, they all seem to have a sense of wonder of what they do. Of almost and Pixar is a great example of that. I mean, Pixar is, you know, without without a doubt, one of the best track records in history of Yeah, of Wonder within their, their storytelling. So when you said, oh, yeah, we I think we were talking about earlier that you've interviewed people. I've talked to people from Pixar from animation, that world seems to have so much more wonder than normal Hollywood or normal storytelling, in many ways,

Jeffery Davis 7:31
In many ways, and yes, so part of my Interviews With Innovators in so many different areas in my research, including filmmakers, like Mark Osborne, who directed Kung Fu Panda, he also directed the audacious remake of The Little Prince, the most adored story in all of France. And he and he had to do it very different was beautiful, as beautiful as a shot. Credible remake. You know what I just saw this beautiful, so beautiful. And I asked him, so he said, You know, every animator making every animated film is like a nightmare, which is not unlike what Ken Burns also says, so can you know, amazing documentary filmmaker, says, Every documentary is like a million problems. So if you know that, right, so let's just pause there for a moment because one of the premises of the book tracking wonder in my body of work, this is what I tell everybody I work with. Every big idea begets a series of challenges. So you have a great idea for a film, it's like, yeah, let's make this film that sounds great. Well, that's fine. But just know that that's going to beget a series of challenges. So you normalize that. So the question is for Mark Osborne, or Ken Burns, or Alex or anybody is like, what is going to get you and your team through those series of challenges without burning out? And without burning bridges.

Alex Ferrari 9:12
Now, one thing I one thing I remember about myself when I was younger, is my sense of wonder was a lot more than it is today. And I'm not talking about when I was a child I was talking about like, even when I was in my early 20s at film school, or, you know, have my new first job and everything seemed wonders to me like, oh my god, is that a machine that edits? What is that? What is that camera? What is it? Every little part of the process for me was wonderous. And yet, as you get older, you become more cynical. Can you kind of lose that wander a bit. And those moments that I've always found happiness is when I reconnect to that wonder wherever that that wonder might be, and I think it's something that comes in We're born innately with that and the world beats it out of us. Is that a fair statement?

Jeffery Davis 10:05
It's in part true. So I appreciate that you that you acknowledge that about your earlier self. I think that's true for most of the people I work with. Certainly it's been true for myself. So if I could I'll elaborate just a bed on. Yeah. What? Why does wonder Wayne, right? We, every human being is born, wide eyed with wonder and certain can cultural anthropologist corroborate this, that we human beings, in part uniquely, are born wide eyed with wonder we're perhaps here, some evolutionary biologists are suggesting to wonder. So the question is, why do we lose it as you're as you're saying? It's important neurological, at about 12 or 13 years old. You remember that? Time? It was like the time I called like, the lowest ring of the inferno. For myself. It's like really hard years.

Alex Ferrari 10:59
Puberty. Puberty.

Jeffery Davis 11:01
Yeah. Yeah, it's hard. My 12 year old daughter is navigating get Grace graciously, so far, but far better than I did. So. But what's happening neurologically, even for her, his her synapses are paring out. She's not making as many synaptic connections and so not everything seems so amazingly new anymore already, right? That just is natural neurologically. The other part is, in part social and cultural, we start becoming self conscious how we're being sized up with other people. It's also cultural Alex, I mean, we swim in a culture in this country, that prizes productivity to a fault. And daydreaming and wondering doesn't appear productive. Although, I could argue and demonstrate why it ultimately is, but it certainly doesn't appear that way. So that's a part of it, too. Now, what you identified as a young filmmaker is the novelty part, that wide eyed wonder, right wonder as several facets that I explore in the book, but one is that wide eyed openness, right? When things are new, when the ideas are new, when the equipment's new, and like, oh my gosh, I'm going to be a filmmaker. And you're right, if we're not careful, we can become jaded. We can become cynical we can become we can approach the world has been there, done that? Oh, yeah. Tell me something. I don't already know. That whole mindset is self defeating. And it's clearly wonder defeating? Yeah, so So to answer your question, yes. It's all of that and, and more, right. It's not that the world beats it out of us. It's that the the world we've inherited does not necessarily support us, as wondering grownups. And but I will argue that wonders, not kids stuff. It is radical, really important grownups stuff.

Alex Ferrari 12:58
Yeah, absolutely. And I've had friends of mine, very good friend of mine who worked at Disney animation. And I would walk into Disney animation. And I would just see people playing video games, they would have like full room setup, with video games in arcades, and whatever your basketball net the things that are absolutely nothing to do with productivity. Because it allow their juices to flow and allow that guest sense of wonder that creativity, to want to come through. And when I saw that, I was like, This isn't me This is remarkable. And now they have that in the tech companies in the you know, Google and Apple and those they have those kinds of environments now where it's not the cubicle, sit down, do your job nine to five, yes, those worlds exist. But those companies I find don't, aren't nearly as productive as I mean, I just mentioned at Google, Apple, I mean, Disney, these are these are top of their industry kind of companies. And they're letting their their employees just kind of goof around, quote unquote, goof around. But they realize the benefit of allowing yourself even if you're working at home, allowing yourself time to wonder time to reconnect with that child. And and I go back to Spielberg because he said, it's so much I've talked to so many people who've worked with him over the years. And they said, It's like seeing a child on set. And a lot of these big directors a lot of these big screenwriters and filmmakers, and other people in other in other fields. They seem to be able to connect to that at will. And that's their superpower.

Jeffery Davis 14:36
Boy, you just set it. So I love that you're making these connections. Ron Howard, I think is another one.

Alex Ferrari 14:43
Oh, all right. Yeah. What Ron is, he's yeah, I've spoken to a few people who've worked with him. And he's just like this child on set, and you could see it in their eyes and the actors love working with these because they start feeling like Oh, I'm at home. dressing up for my parents to put on a show. And when you can connect to that energy as an adult, it's extremely powerful because we all watching that on a subconscious level yearning for that, that those good times if those were good times for you, but to go back to that moment of wonder to go back to believing in all the things that we believed in when we were children, it was just such a, you know, not nostalgia, but it's just something that connects you to that source. Whatever you want to use it

Jeffery Davis 15:35
Know, you so hit it and, and right, yeah, our childhoods are complicated. And I do watch my two girls and my younger one, I think wow, childhoods actually really confusing. Oh, nothing's nothing's at your scale. Nothing sized for you. It's like it's really good for you, you're learning these crazy roles that these crazy giants have set up you. So you've hit it on so many tracks. So there's actually a, an assay I often go back to is written in the late 1800s by a poet and art critic named Charles Bode lair, and he was looking at the artwork of this artist Constantine geese who had just started painting in his 60s, I think, you know, started pretty late, and was naively trained, not formally trained, exhibiting some of his early work in Paris, like the art center of the world. And he's writing this essay about Constantine GIS as sort of like a portrait of the future modern artists, sort of forcing the 20th century. And what he was recognizing and GIs who GIS wasn't drawing or painting the sort of common romantic figures of the heroic past, he was painting ordinary women and people on the streets and sidewalks right around him. And so, so bowed lair, to like something you said a minute ago, Bowdler says about GIS and about painters in general about us in general is that genius is the capacity to retrieve childhood, at will. Jazz is the capacity to retrieve childhood at will, which is exactly what you're getting on. And so not to get too philosophical for your audience. But I'm sure there are a lot to you know, if this is a film audience, I can go a little fill philosophical. So genius. So I've studied philosophy for a long time too, and in Greek philosophy among Aristotle and others. Genius, the word the Greek word for genius is de Amman. And so Aristotle and others contended that we're each born with a damn on this unique force of character. That is unique to every one of us. You know, Steven Spielberg has his Ron Howard has his Alex as his I have mine. The thing is, we're born forgetting what that unique force of character is. And occasionally, in certain moments, you will remember it. Occasionally, in certain moments, maybe a mentor will reflect back to you something innately talented in you that you don't quite see in yourself. So one thing I have teams do is actually recall moments when they might have been seven or eight, nine or 10 years old, before some of that neuronal pairing. And recall certain moments when you felt alive and free to be distinctly you without regard for reward or recognition. And when you really delve into those memories and sensory ways, maybe even write about them, you will remember certain traits about sort of your young genius, so to speak. And the evidence is showing that when you do that, when you actually recall those moments, share those moments, and then actively bring forward some of those traits to your work at hand. I just imagine if you recalled that young genius every morning, and wrote down say three of those traits of your young genius every morning and then looked at your schedule and said, How am I going to bring one or more of those traits with me today at work? Things change, and I've seen it happen over and over again that somebody feels like they've lost that sense of wonder. Starts to up there wonder ratio. It's not like you go through the whole day like Peter Pan, God forbid. You do up your wonder ratio and you maintain some of that idealism but in a pragmatic way.

Alex Ferrari 19:46
Yeah, there's, there's, I always say, when I'm when I'm speaking, I, I always tell people how many here know an angry and bitter filmmaker, and then people would people would raise their hands screenwriter and they would raise their hands. And I go, Whoever didn't raise your hand, you are the angry and bitter filmmaker that everybody else knows. Because it's just the way it is what in your opinion causes? You know, you know, we're using the we're using filmmaking as a as an example. But they're in any field, whether it be opening a business, writing a book, you know, being an actor, or a painter or anything. What is it that causes us to lose that hope, lose that wonder of what God has started in the first place? And turns us into those angry and bitter souls walking around the planet? Who we have to deal with on Twitter?

Jeffery Davis 20:43
It's a tough question. It's really a tough question. You know, part of my job, I feel like is to keep opened and wondering about our fellow human beings, especially the ones in the behaviors that so puzzled me like the trolls, right? And, and yes, very bitter people. And I've had some of them. And I'm like, How can I? How can I get through a little bit, and I often will succeed by just like, acknowledging, okay, they're coming from some, someplace some place?

Alex Ferrari 21:13
That has nothing to do with you. It has nothing to do with you

Jeffery Davis 21:15
Nothing to do with me, right? Oh, it's nothing to do with it's not personal, like, how can I get through here, you know, through Twitter, which is, you know, this strange, medium, and sometimes, you know, sometimes that can succeed and get a little opening and connection between us. That is a complicated question. I don't know if I can answer it. But I will say this, certainly, excessive trauma, betrayal, crisis upon crisis leads to it. But one of the facets of wonder, one of the six facets of wonder that I lay out and tracking wonder, and this comes after a lot of research, is the facet of hope. And I have to admit my own bias against hope, before I really dug into the science of Hope was Shane Lopez and some other psychologists, I had a bias against him, because it sounded sort of like, oh, you're just hoping you know, you got maybe false hope you're delusional, something like that sort of wishful thinking. It turns out that the facet of hope is not wishful thinking. It's very proactive. So I can't completely answer what it is that leads a certain individual to completely lose hope, after crisis after trauma and so forth that I will maybe tell a story about Nick Cave, since we're talking to a creative audience here. Nick, for those listeners who don't know is a phenomenal he's probably the most renowned musician and all of Australia. He's a bard singer songwriter. The bad seeds have been his band for a few decades. I think one of his musical scores has been on a Harry Potter film again. So So Nick, I guess Muse just doesn't stay near anyone lane. He I think he's, he's published novels as well. 2000 he married his wife Susie. And they had twin sons. And he said in an interview around 2000, that he became a nine to five man, his muse, like we'd come to work at nine was off at five because he wanted to be full on as a father and husband and so forth. Habit kind of integrated life was very successful that way and kind of operating that way. It's quite often how I function and flourish to I have to, like, bring my muse on at will. So 2015 his son's are 15 years old, one of them falls off a chalk cliff while they're on vacation and falls to his death at 15 years old. And as somebody who's a father of a 12 year old daughter, like that is just I can't really fathom what he went through. So what, what, what possibly gets us out of that crisis out of that darkness when the world has gone so bleak and dark. And as it did for him, as you can imagine, and for Susie as well. He said he was just completely off centered, and completely, of course, self absorbed, like they couldn't just imagine why this happened to them. And it took a while to get out of that. There are a couple of, I think, central pieces to his story about what brought him hope, again, one was community. His community of fans reached out to him. So he started a blog called the Red Hand files where he writes these intimate letters to people who are asking him questions, and that support network is really important for us when we're experiencing crisis and adversity or trauma. Just surround ourselves with other hopeful people, genuinely helpful. People give us real encouragement, not just bad advice. And so the other piece though, Alex, he says in the very first blog and read and file, somebody says, How are you getting through this incredible grief and mourning? What's getting you through? How are you able to create again? So he says in that opening blog, he said, you know, we had lost our center, what was our center? Well, for me, and probably for most creative people, if not all human beings, it's a sense of wonder. And the trauma completely divorced us from that sense of wonder, he said, and so we had to go through our mourning and through our grief and gradually find our back our way back to the creative process. He couldn't stick to a nine to five process, it was messy, so messy, but he gradually started to string together a few chords, a few lyrics, and ultimately created Alex an incredible album that I recommend to all of your listeners called Ghost teen. And it really illustrates how wonder can meet you on the other side of grief. So was a long way of not answering your question. I can't say what leads somebody to be so dark and, and cynical, and so forth. But I suspect and it's been my experience with such people, that there's still a glimmer and a desire for Wonder on the other side. And if they can surround themselves with other people who are hopeful, and if they can just move a little more forward towards something creatively, they will have more light than dark along the way.

Alex Ferrari 26:40
Now, when when we talk about wonder, we're also talking about connecting to creativity, creating in that creativity could be obviously in the arts, but that also could be in business that could also be in any, you know, in architecture could be in million different fields. How do you use wonder to tap into creativity? Or does creativity just begin to flow I always, I always talk to a lot of these high performing people who, who are able to get into the zone, it's a fascination of mine, I've been there a couple times, and I've been there many times in my life, especially when you're creative. Like you just lose track of time and, and you just flow and you're in the flow. You're just there, you don't even see what's coming in. Sometimes. When I write my books, I'm sure you feel this as well. When you're writing, you'll stop writing and you'll go back the next day and read what you wrote. You're like who wrote that? Like, I don't even that this is good. Like, I don't even remember writing it. When you get to that place in your, in your think How does wonder you how can you use wonder to tap into that creativity?

Jeffery Davis 27:47
Yeah, yeah, they're, they're intimately related. And so maybe a couple of definitions are useful. So and I do address creativity full front. In the early chapters of the book, creativity, we could define in the field of psychology as the capacity to generate and act on ideas, novel and useful ideas from fantasy to fruition, right, you've got a new idea for a film, you've got a new set of problems for the film or for the book or for the business, you're going to meet those challenges all along the way. Creativity is being able to face and finance each of those challenges and generate novel and useful solutions and then move forward with them. Right. So that's part of the creative process, and it's not always so flow. Me Hi, Chick sent me Hi, actually, the you know, the one who coined flow just died last week at 87 years old. And so he, you know, he did not define flow as being in a state of relaxation. No, no, no. He, he clearly acknowledged like it is often involving taking on voluntary challenges like filmmaking, or starting a business or up leveling up leveling and business. Right. So the creative process is like, how do we face some finesse those challenges, more expansively with a broader range of resources, both cognitively and socially, to generate and move on those novel and useful solutions. Okay, that's creativity. Wonder. Let's define wonder, right. So, wonder is a heightened state of awareness that's brought on by something that's unexpected that defies your expectations that either delight you disorient you, or both. And for a fleeting moment, right, whether it's a bald eagle that suddenly lands in your backyard, which actually happened here last week, we couldn't believe it. That certainly was delightful and disorienting. Whether it's Something a colleague of yours says, that helps you see that colleague in a new and beautiful way. You're like, wow, I never saw that part of that person. That's a moment of wonder as well. These moments of wonder, disrupt our biased ways of looking at a project disrupt our biased ways of looking at a collaborator disrupt our biased ways of seeing what we think is real. And something happens cognitively in our minds. And neurologically, that opens us up right to another possibility. So it turns out that these moments of wonder, are essential, both to starting the creative process, right with a brand new idea. And moving us through from curiosity to the middle stages of bewilderment, which is another facet of wonder, right? We're in the middle of a project, we're thinking, I'm never going to get out of this, like, Why did I even start this project? All the way to forming really good connections with our collaborators? Wonder happens at every one of those stages throughout the creative process. Does that make sense?

Alex Ferrari 31:09
It makes it Yeah, makes all the sense of the world because, you know, when you when I started this podcast, I'm sure you feel the same way. With your show, when I started this with all my podcasts when I start them, especially the first one I you know, was just like, Hey, can I get a guest, any guest, you know, someone who can come on, let me show, you know, let me start providing value to an audience that's not listening. Because I was nobody at the time. So you just and as you go through that, I'll use the analogy of a podcast, where you know, you just keep doing it and keep doing it and keep showing up and keep doing it. And, for me, I literally live in a moment, I live in a world of wonder every day with my show, because every day, I get an email from something from somebody pitching a show, or like yourself, or I have these amazing, ridiculous people who I've admired all of my life, who call up and like, I'd love to be on your show, and I get to talk to a couple hours with a hero of mine. It's become almost, it's almost become normal now on the show, and everyone listening will understand why because I've had these amazing guests coming on again, and again and again and again. And he's been going like this now for the last I don't know, year and a half. So it's just been growing and growing. And I just never really put a name to it. But I'm in a moment, I'm in a constant state of wonder. Because I'm waiting now for Steven Spielberg's people to call me and Steve is like, Steven would love to be on your show. I'm waiting for that call. Um, that hasn't come yet. But I'm waiting for that call to happen. Because that would just you want to talk about disruptive. It would just, it would completely this, like completely shake my world. And my world has been shaken multiple times over the course of the last year and a half, by people calling me up like, Hey, can I be on your show? And I'm like, What is going on? So I never really noticed that before. And then I and then all the all those connections and relationships that I've built, open up other doors. And ever since I started this whole show, I've been in a state of wonder, because every day, every week, something would come up and be like, What the hell is going on? So it's constant is really cost. It's really interesting. I've never really put a name to it before.

Jeffery Davis 33:27
I love that you said that too. I never put a name to it. Because that was my experience back in 2004 is like, oh my gosh, I think this is what I've been wanting since I was a towheaded. Boy, you know, wandering the woods there. And and so I love that on so many levels. Alex, let me let me kind of lay out for the listeners, the six facets of one Yes, please. And how they directly relate to this creative process. And even your experience in developing the podcast. It's so so spot on what you've said. So the, I think the six facets in three pairs and the first pair are openness and curiosity. So openness is like what I call the wide sky facet of wonder. It is that radical openness to possibility that we want to foster particularly at the onset of a new idea, a new chapter in our life. When we just want to be, you know, we want to reclaim that sort of wide eyed wonder that we were talking about. Curiosity is what I call the rebel facet of wonder because curiosity is very proactive at seeking new knowledge. It's it's, it's when you you know, you got really curious once you moved into the podcast idea, like okay, what's the best equipment like Who could I really get on here? And could I just set up a minimal viable experiment to like, see if this is going to work all of that experimentation as part of curiosity. Curiosity also allows us to question the status quo, which makes it really important these days to foster True curiosity. So openness and curiosity are foundational to us being able to approach our life and work more creatively than reactively really important distinction there. The second pair are bewilderment and hope and the despair. So bewilderment is what I call the deep woods facet of wonder. We get into that world of confusion. It's what much of the globe, frankly has experienced for the past year and a half. 20 is a state of bewilderment. And if we're fortunate, and we can put language to it, then we're like, Okay, this is a normal state, can I actually fertilize this confusion instead of pathologize? It can I bring some curiosity forward into the deep woods. And then there's hope hope is the rainbow facet of wonder. It's proactive. It is when we set our sights on just sometimes small near future goals. And it's where we do deliberately Daydream to foresee a better possible future. And I saw a lot of literature on this during the pandemic that was actually advocating some deliberate daydreaming. Those two facets bewilderment, and hope are essential for us developing resilience without hardening up right grid without burning out, right, really, really important for us in our well being our mental and physical well being the third facet, our connection and admiration. These I think may be the most important facets of wonder for our times, and they're not what we typically associate with wonder, but connection is the what I call the Flog facet. It speaks to our yearning to sync up with one another on a film crew, right and a dance troupe in a band or just on a team of collaborators. And it's where we really can't experience wonder with one another when we're feeling supported and buoyed and encouraged. among one another. Admiration is the mirror facet of wondering the actual root, the Latin root of the word, I'm kind of a word geek. The root of the word admiration is EMI era, which is Latin for Wonder, it is a part of wonder, and it's kind of like what you feel for Spielberg, is what I would call maybe a surprising love for someone's excellence in craft shoring character, or both, right? It's like, wow, it wakes something up in you. That's like, oh, I want to show up a little better in my care.

Alex Ferrari 37:42
Oh, that's, that's an under that's a very big understatement, my friend.

Jeffery Davis 37:48
To possibly for you and your experience with your podcast is that it's possible that you have and I mean this in a very genuine way, perhaps you've seen yourself differently to in the past year and a half like no racket. Some things were like, Whoa, like, I can show up and do like, why are people coming to me? Like, there must be something they're seeing me too, that all has to do with the facet of admiration. So I hope that was helpful to you and your and your listeners?

Alex Ferrari 38:14
No, it was without question. I mean, yeah, I mean, to show up with that love that you said, to show up a little bit a little bit better, I promise you with Mr. Spielberg shows up. It's gonna be a different conference. No offense, obviously, with anybody else I speak to. But, you know, I'm not. The funny thing is I'm not the only one. I mean, there's a generation, you know, of people who were raised with his films, and he's one of the most famous human beings on the planet, who's not a star in front of the camera. He's, you know, he's like Hitchcock, you know, he's like, one of those names that people know. So, you know, as for, and in every field, there's that, you know, they're there. And every fifth in the tech world you want to talk to, you know, Elon Musk, or Jeff Bezos, or you know, any of these guys who start up they say, so it's me, there's always somebody for everybody.

Jeffery Davis 39:02
And I want Can I up the Spielberg thing? Well, obviously, and let it speak to what you said like it didn't have a word for it. Right? Wonder so just a one up Spielberg, you know, when you were talking about like, you didn't have a word for wonder. I recognize, too, that before I had a word for it. When I look at the people I was drawn toward from my teenage hood, like, Why was I drawn toward these musicians? What was it when I look at Spielberg that I was drawn to starting in the 90s? I recognize it was that element of wonder in his films, and I realized when I was really looking into Spielberg's history in his films, I thought, Oh, alright, remembered when I was a boy. I saw on television, his first student film duel with I think Sam Weaver.

Alex Ferrari 39:52
Yep. It wasn't a it wasn't a student film, but yes, it was. It was his first it was, it was a TV movie. It was a TV movie. Was it wasn't that it wasn't supposed to go anywhere. But it was so good. They released the theatrically because everyone was like, What the hell's going on?

Jeffery Davis 40:09
Is that right? He completely just, like changed everything. So, yeah, but I do I, again, like I do remember, like my early fascination with Spielberg. And later I realized it was like, Oh, it was his sense of wonder, right? Even. Even in Schindler's List, right. That use of color was impart his sense of where's the Wonder amidst this devastating story?

Alex Ferrari 40:36
Yeah, yeah. And even in even in his later work that he's doing now, they're still senses of wonder, even in Lincoln, even in Lincoln. And absolutely, there's just a different it's just no, it doesn't have to be Peter Pan, you know, running around. It's really interesting. Why do I have to ask you? Why do you think that wonder is looked at as being so childish, that daydreaming? Isn't that the bond being so childish? I know, specifically here in the States, but I think worldwide, it there's a little less variations, depending on what country you're in, and what culture you come from. But generally speaking, you know, I don't I don't, I don't know, at least of any cultures, or countries that are just like, you know, what you need to go do? You need to just go daydream. And you need like, that's not something that happens wise.

Jeffery Davis 41:22
You know, I've spent some time in India. And and so, you know, and I referenced like, there wasn't a lot of science of wonder in 2004. So what did I went to the philosophers, I went to the wisdom traditions of the east with and I went to the poets and I've published collections of poetry. I went to all those sources, because they, of course, were advocating wonder, in many ways, because they got it, they understood it. There are certain cultures, that actually will promote at least a wondrous state of being more so than others, I can speak specifically to the one that I have swum in all of my life and inherited, and that's, that's this one, specifically in the United States. And part of the cultural heritage that we've inherited, whether we're part of this lineage or not, it in part goes back to in this country, to a sort of Scottish Irish heritage related to the Protestant work ethic. Part of that lineage, you know, considered idleness, the devil's playground.

Alex Ferrari 42:31
Yeah, I don't have idle hands is the devil's

Jeffery Davis 42:34
The devil's playground, right? And so, so just and so I dug into this more. In Scotland in the 17th century, there was a an illness called the wonders, that was characterized by sort of numbness and just sort of gazing sort of being in a stupor. This is part of what we've inherited, like you can imagine, right? A boy out the field, and he's daydreaming and they're like, Oh, look at that, that is not going to amount to anything, right. But he turns out to be an innovator who may may make labor conditions even better, you know, a generation later for this day dreaming. So in this culture, too, so I've been looking at the history of work as I'm you know, we're questioning the nature of work. Now at tracking wonder been looking at the history of work, and, and a fellow name, whose last name was Taylor, in the turn of the 20th century, started to be one of the first organizational consultants, so to speak, who later influenced Henry Ford and others. He was, he was determined, he gave a talk at nine 1903 where he's like, you know, there's hardly a laborer alive, and you know, in this country, who's not always trying to scheme or figure out some way to make it appear as if he's working more than he actually is. So, you know, then there is this whole perspective that like to be a successful company or a successful business, you needed to treat human beings as laborers of unit as units of labor. Right. And your virtues were discipline, control and speed, right. And so then the measurement of a workers value was all related to efficiency and speed, right? Not daydreaming, not having Google's 20% off to like, figure out

Alex Ferrari 44:23
Innovate and innovative

Jeffery Davis 44:25
Right? So this is all of what we've inherited, and certainly what we're questioning it certainly in part with the pandemic and other elements of the past year and a half. It started to make us question, but I can't help but tell you a recent story related to film that illustrates this point and part of its heritage in Ireland, and part of my heritage is is from Ireland and Scotland. So apologies to any Irish Irish listeners. But they'll appreciate it I think. So my daughters and I recently watched two films last week, both set in Ireland One was Billy Elliot, and the other was seeing St. Yeah, yeah, you know, those both right. They're both set in Ireland. They're both like, you know, and they're both of a Billy Elliot is a great illustration, right? He's an Ireland, his father and and his older brother involved in the labor wars, you know, trying to get better conditions for labor. And Billy, here's Billy he's wanting to dance, dance, to dance ballet of all things. Ballet ballet, right? Yeah. And so, but it is a beautiful story of just what we're talking about a culture that does not support wonder. And yet what the most beautiful aspect of that story, of course, is how the father ultimately recognizes the beauty of his son's dancing and why it is how he really needs to flourish. So that's a long way of answering this question, right? That we, we just inherited some of this paradigm, right? That That reduces wonder to Child's Play. The other thing is what we have to do, I would argue Alex, is then test ourselves and our own minds and disrupt our own default assumptions, about wonder about ourselves and about each other, right to just kind of check in and say, yeah, what is my, what is my view of wonder? Like, what like, Could I actually see some parts of myself that are really hungering to be more creative, more imaginative, more caring? In my relationships? And, you know, have I kind of boxed myself in, over the past 1015 20 years, right to kind of disrupt my own default assumptions and not just blame? The culture I've inherited? Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 46:47
Yeah. And that's the thing we there's a look, I, he can imagine me speaking to my father, who was a Cuban, who's a Cuban man who worked in a factory. And I'm like, Hey, I'm going into the film business. And this, like, what? And to this day, vaguely understands what I do 25 plus years later, and he's been on set with me, and he's like, I don't know what he does. But everyone listens to him on set. So

Jeffery Davis 47:14
Simple, right. And so many people I've interviewed to write who often come from first generation immigrant, yeah, families, right face that, that conflict, right? Like, wait, we didn't come here to the United States for you to become a philosopher, or, you know, or a musician or something like that.

Alex Ferrari 47:33
It's, it's, it's crazy. I mean, if you look at I mean, look, Steve Jobs. I mean, he created one of the biggest company in the world who arguably was very full of wonder. And you know, he complicated gentleman, to say the least. But he definitely had vision, and was tapped into stuff that nobody else was, no one else saw a lot of the stuff that he saw, and he saw five, six steps before anybody else did. I mean,

Jeffery Davis 47:58
One of jobs, his most common, consistent muses was the 18th century poet, William Blake. Yeah, Blake, you know, I can't I can't recite it. Unfortunately, right now, I used to a long time ago. But, you know, Blake, and some of the points that jobs would carry around, we're sort of like being able to see eternity in an hour. Right? You know, Blake just had these visionary points, really being able to see wonder Blake would talk about how most of us human beings experience reality through narrow caverns, right. But we occasionally can break out of those caverns of reality to experience infinity in the present.

Alex Ferrari 48:45
Yeah, the other book that he had the only book he had on his iPhone, an iPad, when he died was Autobiography of a Yogi, you know, by Yogananda. So that's, I mean, talk about wonder that book will, that book will mess you up in the best way possible. Without question now, in your book, do you have some examples of people using wonder to kind of build lives or to do extraordinary things?

Jeffery Davis 49:14
In every in every chapter? So there are six facets of wonder that I laid out for you there's an unchecked or there is an unchecked or that we intentionally did not number that actually the designers surprise me at sounds true and published sideways. There is a sideways chapter, where you actually be the book sideways, right? They did just some radical work design wise. So that's the chapter on your young genius. And your young genius. I talked about Arianna Huffington. In other chapters, another one I talk about Tracy Fullerton who's an amazing innovator in video games. Nick Cave, I recount part of that story in the chapter on hope, but there are Both what I would call exemplary geniuses of creativity, who stories I tell in a variety of industries, and every day, geniuses of creativity, and these are people in our international community at tracking wonder they're people I've worked with, they're people like Evelyn Asher, who is 80 years old, who is still working hard. And she reclaimed her young genius, just a few years shy of 80 years old to completely revive her business, right? And it's those everyday geniuses of creativity over the years who've taught me so much about the real applications and the real necessity of wonder in our times.

Alex Ferrari 50:45
Now, what are some tools or exercises that creatives you know, filmmakers, screenwriters, anybody listening? Can can tap into to use to tap into that, that sense of wonder if you become that angry and bitter person? How do you get out of the darkness? How do you see the light Jeffrey? Wow, okay, no pressure, no pressure? How do you come towards the light, Jeffery?

Jeffery Davis 51:07
No. Yeah, no, I appreciate that. So the book, actually, every chapter also includes some specific tools. And I tried to be very generous in that aspect as well. And we can start actually, sort of foundational practice is what I call DOSE, D. O. S, E, that then we can apply very specifically. So D, is detecting your default pattern of thinking about something or of reacting to a surprise or challenge, right? So your default ways of trying to solve a problem or advance a business or thinking about your podcast? Can you detect what that default pattern is? Can you detect your confirmation bias? And can you just kind of feel right, so O stands for Open up, pause and just feel that reaction or that default pattern. And then S stands for seek out wonder seek out some different possibility. And I'll give you some examples in a moment. And then he stands for extend, which means to really appreciate and reflect upon whatever possibility or moment of wonder or surprise that you actively sought out. So this can go to the level of how you shape your days for more wonder and openness on a daily basis, your default pattern in the morning, many people I know, check their phones first thing in the morning for texts and emails, it's like a default addictive thing. That's detecting the pattern. And when you notice that just like detect it open up to like, oh, how does this feel like not so great, like it puts me in a state of reactivity? And I'm just allowing other things to stimulate my curiosity instead of me directing it. So could I just feel that and then seek out something different? Instead of checking my phone every morning? Could I just actually get up and step outside for three minutes, and look up at the sky for just a moment and see how that helps me feel? And then could I extend and like, just write three minutes about what that experience was like? So you're shifting your default patterns, this is core to being a grown up. Right? That is is really fostering wonder. There are other things you could do them to disrupt your patterns, morning, afternoon, and evening, we, we lay out some of what we call wonder interventions for for teams and for individuals. So during the day, you and I I'm sure can work really hard and just get stuck. It's not really flow. It's just like, work hard and get through your to do list. Right, right. Right. That's not real. So we know, cognitively and psychologically, we can only focus for so long, optimally. So to work well, we have to break better. So how could we break better? So we have teams actually take wonder walks for five minutes, the science at Stanford is overwhelming for why this benefits your creativity and why it reboots your focus. So is there something you could do to just kind of disrupt your work patterns? Could you take a break and just have a curiosity conversation with somebody to open up in the evening rather than default and check out and numb out? That turns out to be Alex when you are tired and fatigued the afternoon or evening when your best opportunities to generate new and novel useful ideas. So rather than numbing out or checking out, it's a time to maybe take that meandering walk but also to reflect on. Okay, what were three good highlights today. I can tell you at the end of the Z So today, this conversation I've had,

Alex Ferrari 55:04
It's been very surprising, I appreciate

Jeffery Davis 55:10
The open moment with you really? Yeah, I know, I do talk about Spielberg, right. And so I will look back at the end of this day. And I will actually write a few things about this experience. Why? Because that reflection will be will increase the meaning and my life, we make meaning in part by reflecting on these sorts of moments. And so we have teams do this sort of activity as well to recognize the meaning that happens sometimes in the margins of our work, that help us work better.

Alex Ferrari 55:42
There's, um, there's one thing and I wanted to just go a little bit deeper on on a certain thing that because we're talking about creativity, and I always love asking high performing individuals who are creative in every field, you know, that they in whatever they do, where it comes from, like, Where does this creativity come from? Where is that thing, and I was talking to someone who, on my other show, that had the I love this story it is I keep repeating the story because it's so beautiful. He was heartbroken. He moved, he went on a job to India, in the 60s 63, if I'm not mistaken, and his girlfriend broke up with him while he was over there. He was heartbroken. He didn't know what to do. And someone said, You should go try some meditation. And he goes and it goes to, to this Ashram, where this yogi is teaching meditation. He gets the front door and it's like, I'm here to learn meditation. I'm sorry, the ashram is closed. He goes, Why is the ashram close? Because the Beatles are here. And I'm like, he's like, What? He's like, Yeah, the Beatles are here. And we're close. He's like, and he tells him to stay. He's like, look, I can let you in. Now, why don't you just stay, I'll bring you food. And you can sleep on one of our tents outside the door. And he did. He stayed there for eight days. Until finally, like, on the eighth day, he just thought he would just stay there because he had nowhere else to go. And he was it obviously needed help. They let him in. They go come in, I'll teach you how to meditate. They taught him how to meditate. They taught him TM, meditation. And then right after he was full of this amazing, you know, euphoria, after meditating for the first time, he's going out and he goes, go meet the others at the table, and he's walking. And there's John Paul, George, and Ringo, with his wives and girlfriends. And as he's walking, he's still in a blissful state, but his heart rate starting to starting to go faster and faster and faster. And he's starting to realize, as he's walking towards, like, oh my god, it's the Beatles. And for people listening, The Beatles in 1963 64, were the biggest human, the most famous human beings on the planet. There, everybody knew who they were. And he was about to go sit down with them at a table privately. And, and I never forgot what he said. He said, the little voice inside of his head, you could say wherever it came from, but the word little word voice inside of it says that, hey, calm down. They're human beings. They fart and are scared of the dark.

Jeffery Davis 58:29
And they all think they're imposters.

Alex Ferrari 58:31
Right! So but what I found, what I found about found out from talking to him was when he was talking to because he actually saw them for I think he stayed there for like, eight, nine days, and saw them writing, like, hey, Jude. Like an album of theirs. I forgot which album was I think it was after Sergeant Pepper, I'm not sure. But it was, it wasn't the White Album, it might have been the white part of the lineup. I don't remember. But it was like these amazing songs. And he was just there taking pictures of them. Not that he was a professional photographer, he just happened to have a camera, I was taking a picture of him. And he noticed something about their openness, their sense of wonder, I mean, being there meditating on a daily basis with with this with this yogi. And that's a sense of wonder. But anyone I've talked to who's been around, superb, Sir Paul McCartney, or Ringo Starr, or any of them, say the same thing. There is this lightness of energy around them. There's this openness to ideas that they were able because I mean, you can't argue with the output of what the Beatles did when they all four of them were in flow for for a long, long time. They tapped into something that consistently for decades, for a couple decades, at least. That was the magical part of it. So again, there's a long question. I just wanted to tell you that story. But I always wonder, and I'd love to hear what you think about where you think your creativity comes from where, where that thing when you're writing the book, and you lose yourself in the writing process, and you don't even recognize the words that are coming out of, of your fingers. Where that comes from, in your opinion.

Jeffery Davis 1:00:19
Yeah, so I actually want to demystify flow and creativity a little bit, because a lot of my process in writing this book was like, pacing, talking to myself, sort of like knocking my head up against the wall, all of which I would describe as part of flow. Okay, so. So inspiration, you know, the root of which is like to be breathed in to breathe, right? And so, yeah, so your question was like, what are the origins of

Alex Ferrari 1:00:58
Well, the muse, like the Greeks use the the, the Greeks use the muse, that the Muse would come in and whisper something in your ear. But there's people that I've continued to study over my work over the years that, and I've been studying high performers, since I was in high school, I've been reading books about and all of them seem, even scientists seem to be able to tap into that, well, effortlessly, for a period of time. Not many do it for their entire life. But for a period of time moments, they're able to tap into that. What is what is that thing

Jeffery Davis 1:01:34
I teach a course that like 1000, people have taken around the world called deepen your focus and flow at work. Right. So it's incremental. I don't know what the source of that sort of Spark is. Because I think it can be so defeating for people who don't necessarily experience that this sort of sort of chase after it. But I will say this, I, if it's true that all wisdom begins in wonder, all true knowledge begins in not knowing, I really do think that wonder actually begins in our human relationship with the natural world. I would contend that it is our human capacity to be attuned to and to actually perceive patterns in nature, including Steve Jobs and others. That actually gives us some neuronal psychological, soulful, spiritual networking. To be able then in those seemingly magical moments to come up with some new inspired moment that then we can act upon. Yeah, yeah. Now for me over the years, and the people that I work with, who are high performers, they ultimately learn to set up conditions to be able to create at will to retrieve their childhood, it will, you know, and I mean, and that can be so individual, how do you work with the constraints of your your life circumstances? But how do you shape time? How do you redirect your attention? How do you create 90 minute blocks where you like, everything else is gone? And your mind is fully focused? And in flow, though, that requires usually some setting up conditions to make the news appear at will? Does that make sense?

Alex Ferrari 1:03:32
It makes it makes all the sense in the world

Jeffery Davis 1:03:35
To get both from you know, more of a pragmatic. Yep. We help people like actually know that it's possible for them to create our paradise.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:48
Yeah. And the thing is to that and everyone listening, I want you to understand is like, I'm not saying that you have to tap into Steven Spielberg's Well, or Steve Jobs as well. Those are their wells, their, that's their flow, that's their, that's the thing that they get that they're able to tap into. You need to find out where yours is, and how to tap into yours. And now we're getting really deep. But sometimes it's Spielberg said this so beautifully. And I think I have a print story, too, that illustrates this as well, where Spielberg says ideas float around the universe. And when they come, they'll come to you. If you don't do something with it, it will leave you and go somewhere else. And that he's had so many times where an ideas come to him. He's like, now I won't do that. And like a week or two later, someone's announcing that exact same idea. Like, why is it all of a sudden we had Armageddon, Deep Impact. All these movies show up at the same time? Why did you know the exact same sort of volcano movies all of a sudden museum hot or there was something that popped in all of us and Prince had heard this wonderful story about the late great prince, who said he would get He had he, I don't know if you know this or not, he has 8000 songs done, that were in a vault through his life that never got released, ever, ever got released. So he has an album, up into the year 3000, he'll release a new album, up until the year 3000. He will be releasing music. That's who Prince was. But he had people on call all the time when the Muse hit him. And he one day called up one of his backup singers and said, hey, hey, what are you doing? He's like, Prince, it's three o'clock in the morning. Because, yeah, I needed I need you to come down, we need to record. And she's like, but But it's three o'clock in the morning. Like, I got to get this out. Because if I don't Michael Jackson's gonna take it. It is such a beautiful way of looking at you want to talk about someone have wonder, Jesus, look at this career,

Jeffery Davis 1:05:55
People like Prince and others, they pay attention to their innate capacity, or those sort of goldfish ideas, we all have that capacity. And we all can retrieve that capacity. And there are different tools, meditation being one of them. You're constantly you know, every day, writing in the morning just to see what is in that murky mind. These are all ways of, of learning to be in wonder, with one's own mind. It's, it's a mystery, the mind does. And these people like Prince, and Spielberg and others have honed the ability to pay attention to and capture those ideas, those inspirations that's the difference. We all have them. They're a goldfish floating past the Aquarium of our awareness constantly, all day long. But have we set up the conditions to actually observe them and capture those goldfish

Alex Ferrari 1:06:56
Oh, yeah, that's an amazing analogy. I've never heard this such a visual analogy that you're absolutely right. Most of us walk through life seeing the fish go by and there's a handful of us who've been able to go Oh, no, no one sees that. Let me just grab that. I

Jeffery Davis 1:07:12
Because it's gonna swim away before I go. Forget it.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:15
iPhones. Okay, we'll do iPhones. Jurassic Park. Okay, that will be good things for you know, the because how is it that nobody on the planet thought of an iPhone? Yeah. Nobody on the planet thought of an iPhone and and had the biggest and the brightest minds in the world thinking about stuff like that.

Jeffery Davis 1:07:35
Ofcourse, before Apple, there was somebody who had thought of the iPhone and what what, you know, Jobs was really good at was coming up in seconds. And then doing best, but somebody had innovated actually before him.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:47
Yeah, right. But But Oh, yeah. I mean, the Macalester I mean, from Xerox, of course, the famous story, but the ability to take that goldfish and then repackage it and rebuild it and redo something with it. And there was a kernel of an idea there. But how many people walked by the Xerox it labs and saw that technology? And actually, the owners of Xerox saw that technology and said

Jeffery Davis 1:08:13
That inspiration is only about 3% of the whole creative process, correct? Yeah, they're 97% requires ongoing experiences of wonder, to move you through from that inspiration to like, is this going to work? Who do we bring on board? You see what I'm saying? It's like, that's like, that's what requires ongoing experiences of wonder to get you through all of the hell that I know they experienced in finally making the iPhone work.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:42
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And, as a writer, I found that and I've talked to so many writers over the years and authors. For everyone listening who wants to write wants to be a creative in whatever field, they are able to turn on the muddy water. And they have to let the mud come through first. And you just have to write and write and write and write and write. Because if not, once you have that, then the mud starts in the water starts clearing up little by little, and eventually you can drink it

Jeffery Davis 1:09:14
Completely. Yes. It's what Annie Lamott calls the SFD or the shitty first draft, you just have to,

Alex Ferrari 1:09:20
You got to get it out. Got to get it out. I've got to get it out. So I'm not going to ask you a few questions asked all of my guests. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film in the film industry, in your industry, or in life?

Jeffery Davis 1:09:35
The longest lesson to learn? That's the question,

Alex Ferrari 1:09:37
What is the longest lesson that you've that you've taken you to learn? Like, the universe kept beating you with it and you were like, No, not yet. Patience? That's mine. That's fine. Yeah. Yeah. It's taken me a take. And I'm still learning that I'm still learning that lesson. Yeah. What advice would you have for somebody who wants to find that wonder what wants to be able to connect to that creativity and is having trouble.

Jeffery Davis 1:10:04
I would say recognize that wonder is the most pervasive yet evasive emotional experience we have, it's all around. And the first thing you could do is actually relax your eyes from hunting so much information to step away from a screen and actually just let your eyes rest and pause. And then gaze upon something very ordinary, right around you for just a few breaths just to really let your eyes gaze and then maybe praise. Maybe just find the words of praise for that doorknob or the window pane, whatever it is, really, I can almost promise you if you do that, if you pause, gaze and praise, something's going to shift for you. And you say, oh, yeah, actually, there are moments of wonder that passed by me potentially every day.

Alex Ferrari 1:10:54
Jeffry, it has been an absolute pleasure talking to you, thank you so much for for writing the book and making me think about wonder a little bit more than I normally do and actually being able to put a name to what I've been feeling this these last years. And, and hopefully I can tap a little bit more into that myself. But thank you so much for what you do. And where can people find the book and find out more work about what you do.

Jeffery Davis 1:11:18
Yeah, well, first, thank you too. For the conversation you really do illustrate that wonder can happen in conversations when most beautiful places where wonder can happen. So tracking wonder reclaiming a life of meaning and possibility in a world obsessed with productivity comes out with sounds true, probably by the time this airs. And you can go to trackingwonder.com And you also can go to trackingwonder.com/podcastbonus and we'll have a couple of bonuses for you.

Alex Ferrari 1:11:48
Awesome, Jeffery, thank you again, my friend and be well.

Jeffery Davis 1:11:51
Thank you, Alex.


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Screenwriting Books You Need To Read – Top Ten List

1) Screenplay by Syd Field

Hollywood’s script guru teaches you how to write a screenplay in “the ‘bible’ of screenwriting” (The New York Times)—now celebrating forty years of screenwriting success!

Syd Field’s books on the essential structure of emotionally satisfying screenplays have ignited lucrative careers in film and television since 1979. In this revised edition of his premiere guide, the underpinnings of successful onscreen narratives are revealed in clear and encouraging language that will remain wise and practical as long as audiences watch stories unfold visually—from hand-held devices to IMAX to virtual reality . . . and whatever comes next.

As the first person to articulate common structural elements unique to successful movies, celebrated producer, lecturer, teacher and bestselling author Syd Field has gifted us a classic text. From concept to character, from opening scene to finished script, here are fundamental guidelines to help all screenwriters—novices and Oscar-winners—hone their craft and sell their work.

In Screenplay, Syd Field can help you discover:

  • Why the first ten pages of every script are crucial to keeping professional readers’ interest
  • How to visually “grab” these influential readers from page one, word one
  • Why structure and character are the basic components of all narrative screenplays
  • How to adapt a novel, a play, or an article into a saleable script
  • Tips on protecting your work—three ways to establish legal ownership of screenplays
  • Vital insights on writing authentic dialogue, crafting memorable characters, building strong yet flexible storylines (form, not formula), overcoming writer’s block, and much more

Syd Field is revered as the original master of screenplay story structure, and this guide continues to be the industry’s gold standard for learning the foundations of screenwriting.

(FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)

2) Story: by Robert McKee

Robert McKee’s screenwriting workshops have earned him an international reputation for inspiring novices, refining works in progress and putting major screenwriting careers back on track. Quincy Jones, Diane Keaton, Gloria Steinem, Julia Roberts, John Cleese and David Bowie are just a few of his celebrity alumni. Writers, producers, development executives and agents all flock to his lecture series, praising it as a mesmerizing and intense learning experience.

In Story, McKee expands on the concepts he teaches in his $450 seminars (considered a must by industry insiders), providing readers with the most comprehensive, integrated explanation of the craft of writing for the screen. No one better understands how all the elements of a screenplay fit together, and no one is better qualified to explain the “magic” of story construction and the relationship between structure and character than Robert McKee.

(FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)

3) The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler

Originally an influential memo Vogler wrote for Walt Disney Animation executives regarding The Lion King, The Writer’s Journey details a twelve-stage, myth-inspired method that has galvanized Hollywood’s treatment of cinematic storytelling. A format that once seldom deviated beyond a traditional three-act blueprint, Vogler’s comprehensive theory of story structure and character development has met with universal acclaim, and is detailed herein using examples from myths, fairy tales, and classic movies. This book has changed the face of screenwriting worldwide over the last 25 years, and continues to do so. (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)

4) Making a Good Script Great by Linda Seger

Making a good script great is more than just a matter of putting a good idea on paper. It requires the working and reworking of that idea. This book takes you through the whole screenwriting process – from initial concept through final rewrite – providing specific methods that will help you craft tighter, stronger, and more saleable scripts.

While retaining the invaluable insights that placed its first two editions among the all – time most popular screenwriting books, this expanded, revised, and updated third edition adds rich and important new material on dialogue, cinematic images, and point of view, as well as an interview with screenwriter Paul Haggis.

If you are writing your first script, this book will help develop your skills for telling a compelling and dramatic story. If you are a veteran screenwriter, it will help you articulate the skills you know intuitively. And if you are currently stuck on a rewrite, this book will help you analysis and solve your script’s problems and get it back on track.

Also, check out Linda’s amazing podcast interview here: Making a Good Script Great with Linda Seger (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)

5) Save the Cat by Blake Snyder

Here’s what started the phenomenon: the best seller, for over 15 years, that’s been used by screenwriters around the world! Blake Snyder tells all in this fast, funny and candid look inside the movie business. “Save the Cat” is just one of many ironclad rules for making your ideas more marketable and your script more satisfying, including: The four elements of every winning logline The seven immutable laws of screenplay physics The 10 genres that every movie ever made can be categorized by ― and why they’re important to your script.

Why your Hero must serve your Idea Mastering the 15 Beats Creating the “Perfect Beast” by using The Board to map 40 scenes with conflict and emotional change How to get back on track with proven rules for script repair

This ultimate insider’s guide reveals the secrets that none dare admit, told by a showbiz veteran who’s proven that you can sell your script if you can save the cat. (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)

6) How Not to Write a Screenplay by Denny Martin Flynn

How Not to Write a Screenplay is an invaluable addition to any aspiring screenwriter’s shelf–and you’d best make the shelf within arm’s reach of the computer. Author Dean Martin Flinn, an experienced script reader, details the common rookie mistakes that drive script readers crazy. Flinn makes no pretense of being able to teach anyone how to write the next Great American Film–or for that matter the next Stupid Summer Blockbuster. Instead he offers information that will help keep the novice screenwriter’s opus from being immediately tossed on the trash pile (arguably a more valuable service).

As Flinn says in his introduction, if you follow the advice in this book, “you may not write a particularly good screenplay, but you won’t write a bad one.” Flinn offers practical advice on formatting, such as the proper form for a slugline and where to set your margins, and more general rules of thumb on giving the actors room to interpret their roles and avoiding dictating camera angles to the director (who will ignore them anyway). The second half of the book deals with content, also in a remarkably pragmatic way–structure, pacing, plot resolution, and dialogue that really stink are all handily dealt with.

Flinn illustrates almost all his points with excerpts from screenplays both good and bad (names have been changed to protect the guilty), giving the reader concrete examples of the difference between poorly and well-structured scenes. Not sucking is an unusual goal for a screenwriting manual, but any script reader will agree it is a noble one. (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)

7) The Complete Guide to Standard Script Formats by Cole Haag

This book was a required textbook back when I was at film school. Some of the formatting suggestions may be a little outdated, especially if you have Final Draft or Movie Magic screenwriting software, but there’s still a ton of knowledge to be gained about proper formatting. The quickest way to spot a novice writer is by how unprofessional their script is formatted — this book shines a light on the Hollywood standard. (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)

8) The Screenwriter’s Bible by David Trottier

The 20th anniversary edition of one of the most popular, authoritative, and useful books on screenwriting. A standard by which other screenwriting books are measured, it has sold over 200,000 copies in its twenty-year life. Always up-to-date and reliable, it contains everything that both the budding and working screenwriter need under one cover five books in one!

A Screenwriting Primer that provides a concise course in screenwriting basics;
A Screenwriting Workbook that walks you through the complete writing process, from nascent ideas through final revisions;
A Formatting Guide that thoroughly covers today s correct formats for screenplays and TV scripts;
A Spec Writing Guide that demonstrates today s spec style through sample scenes and analysis, with an emphasis on grabbing the reader s interest in the first ten pages;

A Sales and Marketing Guide that presents proven strategies to help you create a laser-sharp marketing plan.

Among this book s wealth of practical information are sample query letters, useful worksheets and checklists, hundreds of examples, sample scenes, and straightforward explanations of screenwriting fundamentals. The sixth edition is chock-full of new examples, the latest practices, and new material on non-traditional screenplay outlets. (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)

9) The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri

Learn the basic techniques every successful playwright knows Among the many “how-to” playwriting books that have appeared over the years, there have been few that attempt to analyze the mysteries of play construction. Lajos Egri’s classic, The Art of Dramatic Writing, does just that, with instruction that can be applied equally well to a short story, novel, or screenplay. Examining a play from the inside out, Egri starts with the heart of any drama: its characters.

All good dramatic writing hinges on people and their relationships, which serve to move the story forward and give it life, as well as an understanding of human motives — why people act the way that they do. Using examples from everything from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, Egri shows how it is essential for the author to have a basic premise — a thesis, demonstrated in terms of human behavior — and to develop the dramatic conflict on the basis of that behavior.

Using Egri’s ABCs of premise, character, and conflict, The Art of Dramatic Writing is a direct, jargon-free approach to the problem of achieving truth in writing. (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)

10) The 101 Habits Of Successful Screenwriters by Karl Iglesias

You can struggle for years to get a foot in the door with Hollywood producers–or you can take a page from the book that offers proven advice from twenty-one of the industry’s best and brightest!

In this tenth anniversary edition, The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters, 2nd Edition peers into the lives and workspaces of screenwriting greats–including Terry Rossio (the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise), Aline Brosh McKenna (Morning Glory), Bill Marsilii (Deja Vu), Derek Haas and Michael Brandt (Wanted), and Tony Gilroy (the Bourne franchise).

You will learn best practices to fire up your writing process and your career, such as:

  • Be Comfortable with Solitude
  • Commit to a Career, Not Just One Screenplay
  • Be Aware of Your Muse’s Favorite Activities
  • Write Terrible First Drafts
  • Don’t Work for Free
  • Write No Matter What

This indispensable handbook will help you hone your craft by living, breathing, and scripting the life you want!
(FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)


BONUS: Pulp Fiction – The Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino

With his vibrant imagination and dedication to richly layered storytelling QUENTIN TARANTINO is one of the most celebrated filmmakers of his generation. He made his directorial debut in 1992 with RESERVOIR DOGS, and then co-wrote, directed and starred in one of his most beloved films, PULP FICTION, which won his first Oscar® for Best Screenplay.

Followed by the highly acclaimed films JACKIE BROWN, KILL BILL VOL. 1 and VOL. 2, and DEATH PROOF, Tarantino then released his World War II epic, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, DJANGO UNCHAINED (which won his second Oscar® for Best Screenplay), and the HATEFUL EIGHT. Tarantino’s most recent film, ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD, was nominated for five Golden Globes, ten BAFTAS, and ten Academy Award nominations.

A must-read for any screenwriter. Tarantino…nuff said! These are our Top Ten Screenwriting Books You Need to Read. We hope they help you on your journey as a screenwriter. Remember just keep writing!

Screenplay Format Demystified: How to Format a Screenplay

screenplay format

So you have written a story that you know is really good, but you are having trouble understanding what a proper screenplay format looks like. Why is it really necessary to format your screenplay? If you are going to be a working screenwriter you need to know how to format a screenplay properly.

Formatting helps to give credibility. A screenplay format allows the reader to be able to easily follow your story. It allows strips off long, flowery prose that novels usually have and makes the story a fast read. For examples of great scripts, download all of…

…and start reading the masters.

Writing a screenplay is different than writing prose because of all the technical formatting required. No need to freak out – the formatting is fairly straightforward once you’ve been taught! Some writers even prefer the screenplay format since it allows them to focus on the true essence of the story they’re telling without all the flowery details.

My professors in film school, who are all experienced screenwriters, emphasize how vital it is to get the formatting down. Industry insiders and readers are very unlikely to keep reading your screenplay, not skim but read if they notice a ton of formatting mistakes right upfront.

What Constitutes a Screenplay?

Basically, a screenplay consists of a 90- to 120-page document typed in Courier 12pt font and printed out on 8 ½ “ X 11” bright white paper, three-hole-punched. The reason Courier is used has to do with a timing issue. One correctly formatted script page typed in Courier translates to roughly 1 minute of screen time.

This is why the page count should be between 90 and 120 pages since the average film is 90 to 120 minutes in length. Comedies tend to be shorter, so these screenplays are closer to 90 pages, which would equal a 1½-hour film, while Dramas are a bit longer, more like 2 hours so 120 pages would be appropriate.

Screenplays can be completely original, based on an actual event or on a previously written book, newspaper article or stage play. A screenplay acts as the blueprint for the movie it will eventually become.

Everyone on the set, including the director, producer, actors and the set designer all bring the screenwriter’s vision to life using their unique talents. Since creating a film is a collaborative effort, it is vital that the screenwriter know each professional’s role and this should be reflected in the script.

For example, the screenwriter must keep in mind that a movie is a visual medium first and foremost. The screenwriter must paint a picture of what’s going on in the story, rather than simply tell the story.

A brief 2-page inner synopsis may work for a novel, but for a script, it’s the kiss of death. The fundamental nature of screenwriting is visually showing the evolution of a story on the screen, and something as basic as the expression on an actor’s face can convey pivotal moments in the story. Let’s now take a look at the structure of a screenplay.

Too Fade In & Fade Out…or Not

A screenplay always starts with “FADE IN,” and this is aligned on the left. And at the end, you “FADE OUT,” which is also aligned on the left, after which you type “THE END,” which is aligned in the center, underlined and usually with no period.

NOTE: Many screenwriters today don’t type the “FADE IN” at the start of their script, claiming there is no need for it.

However, one successful screenwriter I spoke to said that he’s actually been thanked by a number of studio execs and readers for including the FADE IN, saying that writing his screenplays correctly with the traditional formatting indicates a level of professionalism.

Fading in and out are the conventional bookends to any script with FADE IN acting as the precursor to the story being told. Leaving FADE IN out isn’t a cardinal sin, but like all rules, you need to know why it’s there before you decide to break it.

Scene Headings

Also known as slug lines, scene headings are used to show the camera placement, specific location, and the time. Look at this example:

EXT.WHITE HOUSE – DAY.

This is what a scene heading looks like. The camera placement is usually abbreviated to INT (interior) or EXT (exterior), followed by the location which is separated from the time using a hyphen. You may then press enter once or twice before the next element.

Purpose of a Slugline

A slugline is there to indicate a changing location. There can be more than one slugline in a scene if one or more characters change locations.

INT. and EXT. are used for “Interior” and “Exterior,” indicating whether the scene is inside or outside.

Next comes your LOCATION. Use specificity when describing your location. “DIVE BAR” draws a much better picture than just “BAR” and “HIGH-END EXCLUSIVE HOTEL” says a whole lot more than simply “HOTEL.”

DAY or NIGHT is next. There is no need to elaborate with “DAWN,” “MORNING,” “DUSK,” or “TWILIGHT” because there are plenty of other ways to describe that, like mentioning that the sun is setting in the distance in an action line while continuing the DAY tag. This makes it easier for production, plus it’s not as distracting.

If things are happening in several different rooms, you can portray it like this:

and then cut to INT. CANDY STORE – RESTROOM – DAY to show a worker smuggling a bunch of candy bars through a tiny window above the sink to his cohort waiting on the outside.

Using “CONTINUOUS”

In screenplays, you’ll frequently come across something like this:

Do you see the “CONTINUOUS” following the second logline? This is to indicate the audience is following Jan and Gus running into the kitchen to see for themselves the paranormal activity going on. You write “CONTINUOUS” when your scene is taking place in two different locations at the same time.

Introducing Your Characters

When a scriptwriter is introducing a character, type their full name in caps, their age in parenthesis, and then a brief description of no more than three lines, but if it’s the protagonist you’re introducing, you can use four lines.It is totally up to you whether you want to pinpoint a character’s age (20s vs. 29). If you were writing about the main character, you would probably want to mention their exact age, since 20 is far different than 29.

On the other hand, if it’s a character that flows in and out of just one scene, it’s fine to write the 20s if you’re using more detail in your description like “young trophy wife” instead of simply “wife.”

Basic Format for Writing Dialogue & Parentheticals

The character’s name goes in all caps, followed by their response. Screenwriters can write their first and last name, the first name only, or a nickname. I prefer writing just my characters’ first names, except perhaps when a character goes by something else. Choose what you think best suits your character.

Parentheticals are a one-word description of that character’s intonation. They are usually just one adjective, but adverbs can be used too. In most of the scripts I’ve read, they use just a one-word adjective.

Parentheticals should only be used when you must tell the reader how the character is saying their line. Use sparingly! These are only for clarity. Parentheticals are a form of “telling” and a screenplay is supposed to be “showing” how the character speaks, not telling.

Use (V.O.) to indicate voiceovers. Use (O.S.) when your character is off-screen but they’re still speaking.

Use (CONT’D) when you want to show the same character speaking twice in a row, but their lines are separated by one or two action lines. (CONT’D) shows they don’t stop speaking.

This is very helpful to actors when they’re reading your script during table reads. (CONT’Ds) can also be used when breaking up monologues with one or more active lines.

Action

This is basically a narrative description of the scene. When describing the action, be sure to only include the sights and sound that will be heard or seen by the audience.

A character’s name should be capitalized the first time the character is introduced to the screen. Names of characters who have no dialogue in the scene need not be capitalized. For example:

MARY, American lawyer, middle-aged, and drunk, Staggers in.

The sights and sounds that will be heard by the audience should also be capitalized (eg. ROAR, SCREAM).

Dialogue

This is an essential part of your screenplay because it is where characters are expressed. The dialogue is made up of three parts: The character name, parenthetical, and the speech of the character. The parenthetical conveys the manner in which the character presents their speech. For example:

MARY
(in a slurred voice)
Can I get another drink, honey?

Transitions

A transition tells the editing crew how quickly they should move to the next scene. Transitions are right justified on a script. Examples are CUT TO, SMASH TO, DISSOLVE TO, etc.

Subheaders

Subheaders are used to time jump or move in time within the same location. A subheader is usually after an action line and is capitalized.

Montage

A montage is a series of scenes strung together, often indicating memories of a person or place. To set a montage enter “BEGIN MONTAGE” at the start of the scenes you want to string together and “END MONTAGE” at the finish.

Chyron

These are texts that appear on a screen. To add a chyron, start an action line under a screen heading with the text “CHYRON”. For example:

OVER BLACK
CHYRON: 2:30 PM.

What to Type in All Caps

ALL your sound effects (BANG, CRASH, SCREAM, SMASH, POP).

ALL your characters’ names when you introduce them the first time.

You might capitalize on vital props that might return later (she puts the KNIFE in her purse) so the reader won’t miss it.

You might also want to capitalize on huge, life-altering plot twists to make sure the reader pays close attention and understands the enormity of this event. For example, “he POINTS THE GUN AND FIRES, KILLING YVONNE.”

If you happened to read the “LOST Pilot,” every second action line is in all caps during the plane crash at the start. This is a risk that some would agree with and others would not. My advice is to use all caps if you must, but only in moderation. You can use them to emphasize huge events.

These are the elements you’ll need for a screenplay format. Now that you have understood how to format a screenplay, why not go ahead and finish that script? Good luck and happy writing.

Here are a few more videos to help you with your screenplay format.

How to Workshop Your Screenplay

Have you ever workshopped a screenplay? A question many of us have when we start out. When I created the online course, The Million Dollar Business of Screenwriting with August Rush screenwriter Paul Castro I was blown away by many of the techniques Paul explained. How to workshop your screenplay really caught my ear. This little-done exercise really takes your writing to another level. Workshopping a screenplay is a crucial part of the screenwriting process.

By listening to your words spoken out loud by friends or even better actors, you really get a sense of what works and what doesn’t. Just because it reads well doesn’t mean it’ll work in a film.

Check out Paul Castro discussing his technique of how to workshop your screenplay.

Creating Unforgettable Characters

Legendary script consultant Michael Hauge (writer of Writing Screenplays That Sell)  discusses how to create unforgettable characters. For Hauge, character development is the pull between the strong desire to remain in the identity and the need, brought about by the events of the story, to live in essence.

Michael’s advice on figuring out a character’s inner conflict came down to asking myself these four questions:

What is your hero’s wound?

The hero has a wound or source of pain from his past that he has suppressed but has never really dealt with.

What is your hero’s belief?

Out of the hero’s wound comes a (usually mistaken) belief such as: I’m worthless (Will in Goodwill Hunting), I won’t survive without a rich man to take care of me (Rose in Titanic), if I show people my true self, I will be rejected (Shrek in Shrek) or, if I live as my true self, I will die (Ennis in Brokeback Mountain).

What is your hero’s identity?

The hero’s identity is the false self that they present to the world in order to protect themselves from re-experiencing the wound.

What is your hero’s essence?

The hero’s essence is what’s left if the identity is dropped, the hero’s true self.

In the video below he covers:

  • FEAR: the power of the wound
  • IDENTITY: The Hero’s emotional armor
  • ESSENCE
  • INNER CONFLICT
  • The ARC of transformation

In this video, Michael Hauge goes over the six stages of a character. Covering:

  • Uniting the Two Journeys
  • Structuring the Inner Journey
  • The 6 Stages of Transformation
  • Defining your own Hero’s Journey
  • Living your Essence

These videos are from his best selling online course: Story and Screenwriting Blueprint – The Hero’s Two Journeys.

In more than 4½ hours of lecture, discussion, and Q&A, Michael Hauge, author of Writing Screenplays That Sell and Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds: The Guaranteed Way to Get Your Screenplay or Novel Read; and Christopher Vogler, story analyst and author of The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure For Writers, unite to reveal the essential principles of plot structure, character arc, myth, and transformation.

How to Create a Bulletproof Screenplay Structure

Screenplay Structure is something that every agent, editor, publisher, Hollywood executive, public speaker, marketer, and storyteller talks about, to the point that it can seem complicated, intricate, mysterious and hard to master. So legendary script consultant Michael Hauge (writer of Writing Screenplays That Sell) wanted to give you a starting point for properly structuring your novel, screenplay or presentation without overwhelming you with rules and details and jargon.

Why You Need to Understand Structure First

In the video below he covers:

  • Outer Journey vs. Inner Journey
  • Putting the visible story first
  • The biggest mistake in developing the Inner Journey

Key Elements of Story

In the video below he covers:

  • The primary goal of all great stories
  • Conflict: the source of Emotion
  • The Three Key Elements of Any Story
  • The Hero’s Two Journeys
  • The four primary goals for the heroes of most Hollywood movies

How To Write A Scene in a Screenplay

In comparing Casablanca with other great movies, it is clear they aren’t of the same mettle. You’d find yourself mesmerized by the free-flowing and double-layered nature of the dialogue that boredom will not be an option. The interplay of words and actions is often riveting and complementing in such a way that you will believe it is the greatest script ever written.

The sharp dialogues, great characterization, and fantastic music were tools used to great effect in each scene. This is why Casablanca can be regarded as the gold standard in writing a scene.

Using Robert McKee‘s ‘Guidelines for Scene Analysis,’ let’s examine how scenes were written in Casablanca. He provides a succinct template for how a scene should be written.

McKee posits that what makes a great scene is not just the dialogue or visuals but the subtext and underlying structure of the scene. By this, he portends that both the text and subtext go a long way in writing a great scene, but it is the actions and feelings of the characters that make a scene great.

Superimposing these guidelines on the mid-act climax scene, you will see the elements used in writing this scene so perfectly. They serve as a representative for other great scenes in the movie.

In writing a great scene, the conflict and the opening value are central. In the previously mentioned scene of Casablanca, the conflict is reviving or not, the estranged love between Rick and Ilsa while the opening value is love.

Going further, the beats, which are the action and reaction sequence along with the behavior of characters both on the textual and subtextual levels are real tools to writing a great scene. The beats, more importantly on the subtextual level, tend to show the conflicts and often truer intentions and feelings of the characters beyond what the textual dialogue portrays.

A deeper understanding of the motifs and inferences of the embellished words, gestures and actions of the characters also contributes to writing a great scene. Analyzing each of the eleven (11) beats in this scene, it is clear that the screen master used this writing technique to great effect.

Through the witty conversations attached to a perfect depiction of subtextual elements, we see a rapid progression from the opening value to the closing value. It is subsequently used to unravel the first conflict and bring it to resolution.

This goes to show that in writing a great scene, a lot of attention has to be paid to scene structure and the subtext which is sure to produce the kind of master-crafted scenes seen in Casablanca. It’s never just about the dialogues.

Celtx Screenwriting Software Review: Is It Worth It in 2022?

Celtx Screenwriting Software

There are a ton of screenwriting software options out there in the world. With so many to choose from it can be hard to decide which is the best one to use.

While, Final Draft is considered the industry standard screenwriting software tool, used by 95% of productions in Hollywood, there are other options that do the same job, and better yet, are free.

One of those options is the free screenwriting software, Celtx. Today, we will take a look at the software and give things a breakdown to see if this is software that you should download today.

One thing that needs to be mentioned before we fully dive into this article: DO NOT WRITE YOUR SCRIPT IN A WORD DOCUMENT!

Being a screenwriter that works with a lot of first-time writers, this is something I see happen all the time. Writers who have written their script in a Word document.

If you would send your script to a producer or production company and they saw that your script was in a Word doc, there’s a 100% chance they’ll never open it.

Why?

It shows a lack of basic knowledge of how screenwriting works. A script is extremely specific in the way it’s formatted. While, yes, you can break the mold on how to tell a story, all formatting is pretty much standard.

Your script must have:

  • Proper scene headings
  • Action lines.
  • Character Names
  • Dialog
  • Transitions (sometimes)

If you don’t know how to format correctly, something you can easily learn, then you probably didn’t take the time to learn how to write a compelling story. A producer doesn’t have enough time as it is, so don’t waste more of their time by not doing your homework first.

The good news? When you use screenwriting software, the software is designed to format things automatically for you, so you can spend less time on the way a script looks and spend more time on just telling an engaging story.

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Price

As stated before, a great reason to download Celtx is that the software is free.

You don’t have to spend any money to get your ideas on paper. With Celtx you can download the software and immediately get to work.

With that said, if you’re looking for some in-depth features, Celtx has them too, but you’ll have to pay for those extras.

If you want to do more than just simply write a screenplay, like write a budget, put together shot lists, scheduling, and more, then you’ll have to pay, per month, for those features.

These extras start at around ten dollars a month.

Collaborative

Celtx has a lot of collaborative features that allow many people to work on the same script together. This is great for films that are going into production as everyone involved can see the script, make changes to it, leave notes, and more – all in real-time.

This is a great tool for student filmmakers.

Not Perfect

Every new screenwriter should have some knowledge on how to format a script properly so if your screenwriting software isn’t working correctly, you’ll know how to make changes to get things looking and working correctly again.

While Celtx handles formatting well and is almost close to industry standards, the software still isn’t perfect.

The software will place (continued) on top of every new page, which isn’t needed.

Parentheticals in dialog should be on their own sperate line, which the software doesn’t automatically do.

Title pages are also a place where formatting can be a little different than industry standards, though to be fair, a program like Final Draft doesn’t handle title pages 100% correct either.

Conclusion

As an up-and-coming screenwriter, Celtx is a great option for you as it allows you to jump right into things and start writing. The icing on the cake is that its free.

Using Celtx will make you look more professional and will help you stand out from the thousands of other writers out there that choose to write their screenplays in Word Docs, really setting themselves up for failure before they even have typed…

… FADE IN.

Verdict

Recommend (especially for first-time or new-ish screenwriters).

You can download the Celix software here

The Power of Myth: Creating Star Wars’ Mythos w/ Joseph Campbell

Star Wars Power of myth

The Power of Myth is very powerful. Whether you love or hate Star Wars you have to admit that creator George Lucas tapped into something primal when he came up with the saga that will define him.

With the gluttony of no story visual effects studio films, Star Wars has stood the test of time, but why? What is it about Star Wars that touches so many people around the world.

Sure the visual effects were and are amazing but it comes down to is STORY, something lacking in today’s cinematic landscape.

When George Lucas was in USC film school he was fascinated with the work of a Joseph Campbell, an American mythologist, writer, and lecturer, best known for his work in comparative mythology and the all-important ‘Hero’s Journey‘.

His work covers many aspects of the human experience. His philosophy is often summarized by his phrase: “Follow your bliss,” advice we all need to take to heart. George Lucas stated, following the release of the first Star Wars film in 1977,

“…that Star Wars was shaped, in part, by ideas described in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (FREE AUDIO BOOK VERSIONS HERE) and other works of Campbell’s.”

The linkage between Star Wars and Joseph Campbell was further reinforced when updated reprints of Joesph Campbell’s book used the image of Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker on the cover.

Below I have compiled a group of videos detailing the creation of not only the mythology of Star Wars but of STORY itself. They will show you how you can create a mythology in your stories and screenplays. Enjoy and May the Force Be with You.


The Mythology of STAR WARS

In this interview, made in 1999, Bill Moyers discusses with George Lucas how Joseph Campbell and his concept of the Monomyth also known as ‘The Hero’s Journey’ and other concepts from Mythology and Religion shaped the Star Wars saga.


The Power of Myth

This EPIC1988 documentary, The Power of Myth, was filmed at George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch. During his interviews with Bill Moyers, Joseph Campbell discusses the way in which Lucas used The Hero’s Journey in the Star Wars films (IV, V, and VI) to re-invent the mythology for the contemporary viewer.

The interviews in the first five episodes were filmed at  Skywalker Ranch in California, with the sixth interview conducted at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, during the final two summers of Joseph Campbell’s life.

The series was broadcast on PBS a year after his death. In these discussions, Joseph Campbell presents his ideas about comparative mythology and the ongoing role of myth in human society.

These talks include excerpts from Joseph Campbell’s all-important and best-known work The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Below are some videos explaining Joseph Campbell’s work. If you are a screenwriter, this is a must-watch. Watch it here: The Power of Myth

Here are some of Joseph Campbell’s Video Series you should watch to get a better understanding of the “Power of Myth.”


Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed

This Emmy Award-nominated documentary (for Outstanding Non-fiction Special, Outstanding Writing [Non-fiction], and Outstanding Directing [Non-fiction]) explores the mythological and historical underpinnings of the Star Wars saga, through interviews with scholars, artists, and politicians of our time. Produced in 2007, it highlights the depth and breadth of the franchise as created by George Lucas.

What is Script Writing? Beginners Guide to Writing a Screenplay

“Screenwriting is the most prized of all the cinematic arts. Actually, it isn’t, but it should be.”
– Hugh Laurie.

This quote is perfect and a hundred percent true. When it comes to film and television scriptwriting, the writer, known as a screenwriter, has the most important job in the whole filmmaking process.

Maybe, though, you are not familiar with what Script Writing is and why screenwriters are so important.

Have no fear, that’s what we’ll dig into today.

What is Script Writing?

Every film or television show that has ever been produced first started off as a script.

The script is the film (or television show) in written/text form. Scene by scene playing out on paper.

Every action. Every image. Every line of dialogue. Every plot point. If it’s on the screen, it came from the script.

In the most basic set of terms, a script is the blueprint for the film you’re going to bring to life.

In the world we live in today, some people may think that the script isn’t the most important part of the filmmaking process (looking at you major studios). Some will say that if you can hire a talented actor, that actor can elevate a poor script into a good movie.

Or someone might have the thought that if the film can just attract an A-list director, they’ll be able to fix problems with the script.

The only issue is, a poor script will never turn into a good movie, because the script is your film’s foundation, and if that’s not solid, your film will never be strong enough to stand on its own.

With that said, on the other side of the coin, if you have a solid script, your film will only improve when you add talent in front and behind the camera.

We as an audience can overlook bad acting and crappy special effects if we are engaged with the story we’re watching. If we have a connection to what we’re seeing on the screen, we’re more forgiving for those other flaws because the story we’re following makes sense and we’re invested.

There’s no other form of writing quite like screenwriting (aka scriptwriting) because there are certain things you have to be able to do that you don’t necessarily do in another form of writing, like when writing a novel.

In a script, you must SHOW and NOT TELL.

This means, any information that you are going to share with the viewer must be done in one of two ways;

  1. Visuals
  2. Dialogue

If you haven’t pick one or the other, your script has been written incorrectly.

A lot of first-time screenwriters get themselves into trouble when it comes to this because they believe that they can write their script just like they would a novel.

That is WRONG.

The great thing about writing a novel is that you can really get into a character’s head. The writer can tell you exactly what that character is thinking/feeling. The character can express themself to the writer in a very personal way.

The write can reveal information to the reader that has nothing to do with the story but gives the story context. The writer can change perspectives and get into the heads of several characters in the story.

If you are writing a script and looking to write the script correctly, you can’t do any of that.

If you need to key the audience in on something you either have to show it as a visual, or a character needs to say it as dialogue.

Unlike a novel, which we the reader hold in our hands and read for ourselves, the script is never seen by the viewer. The viewer only sees and hears what is taking place on the screen.

Also, unlike a novel, everything written in a script has to be written in the present tense, as the action taking place on the screen is happening in real-time whereas a novel can summarize the events that have taken place.

This can make conveying information to the audience exceedingly difficult as a screenwriter and can lead to what we call “heavy exposition”.

You ever watch a film or television show and come to a moment when it feels like a character is just telling you, the viewer, things you need to know because they’re important to the story? That’s exposition. It feels forced if not done properly.

Think of your favorite and least favorite film and television shows. What did you pick as your favorite? What did you pick as a film you hate? If you analyze things closely for a moment you’ll realize, that while you might hate or like a film because of an actor, or who directed it, you’re remembering the film as a whole based on the story it told.

If I were a betting man, I’d say that the difference between your favorite film and a movie you hate, comes down to the story, and that is all on the screenwriter and how he wrote his/her script.

Script writing has many elements to it and can take a while to learn how to do all those things correctly. It can take even longer to become good at it. But it is also one of the most rewarding writing mediums there are.

I’d like to close out by writing a little scene to show as an example of what I’ve talked about here today when it comes to writing a screenplay compared to a novel, and how you SHOW in a film and TELL in a novel.

First, we’ll write a very quick scene as if it were inside of a novel.

Novel

Mike paces the room back and forth. He’s covered in his own sweat from having just come from the gym, a place he goes every day for at least two hours.

As he paces the room, a familiar face, Jill, enters the room with him.

Jill’s face, filled with a giant smile. She looks at Mike slightly confused having not expected to see him at this moment. She’s very thankful that she decided to come to the living room by herself.

Just moments earlier, she told her boyfriend, the man she’s cheating on Mike with, to not come out to the living room with her to investigate the noises she was hearing. If he would have come with her, Mike would certainly find out about her cheating ways.

“I didn’t think you’d be here till later tonight”, said Jill. “I was feeling restless and just had to see you right now”, Mike replied.

Jill starts to get butterflies in her stomach. What could Mike need to see her right now about? Does he know she’s cheating on him? She starts to lose her smile as she waits to hear what else Mike has to say….

Now, let’s write this small scene like we would in a screenplay and not a novel. Remember, all the information we need to convey must be in visuals or dialogue to tell our story.

Screenplay

INT. HOUSE – LIVING ROOM – DAY

Mike, paces the room back and forth. He wears his gym gear, holds a large,
almost empty, bottle of water. His face covered in sweat.

He stops pacing as he sees, Jill, joining him in the room.

Jill greets him with a big smile on her face.

JILL
What are you doing here?

Jill looks slightly behind her where the bedroom door is slightly cracked. We see a
shadow on the wall moving around. Appears to be in the shape of a man.

MIKE
I was feeling restless and just had to talk to you right away.

Jill’s eyebrow slightly raises. Her smile starting to fade away.

JILL
(nervous)
About what? Is everything okay?

Mike stops pacing the room. He looks towards Jill. He goes to speak when…
he sees the shadow from inside the bedroom with his own eyes.

MIKE
I knew it!

As you can see, we wrote the same exact scene as in the novel, except we didn’t tell the audience any information. Instead, we used visuals and dialogue to tell all the important information to the audience.

We do not tell the audience that Mike has been at the gym for hours. We show that he’s wearing gym clothes, he’s sweating, and almost out of water. As the audience, we can take this information and figure out what it must mean.

Personally, this is an aspect of screenwriting that I LOVE. Finding the right way to share information with the audience. The more you learn the art of screenwriting the more creative you’ll find yourself presenting the information.

Best FREE Screenwriting Software in 2021…PERIOD!

A welder cannot build a bridge without his torch. A rockstar can’t have a solo without his guitar. A screenwriter cannot write a script without screenwriting software.

Today we’ll look at five of the best screenwriting software programs out there in the market in 2021, and the best part, all of these choices are FREE.

Maybe you’re a first-time writer looking to try and bring the film you see in your head onto the page or maybe you’re a seasoned writing veteran looking for new software to try out. Well, let’s look at some of your best choices.


Arc Studio

Arc Studio is one of the best new screenwriting software options. It offers an easy-to-learn, intuitive interface with professional features and a free browser version (yes, totally free). It’s a great screenwriting software for professionals or beginners. One of the great things about Arc Studio is you can collaborate with other writers in real time, similar to Google Docs. You can also export your screenplay as a PDF or .fdx file for easy sharing and collaboration with other writers who use different software.

The cloud-based software allows you to access and write your screenplay from the downloadable software (Mac and PC), or in your browser, or from the iOS app on your iPhone or iPad. And it has automatic cloud storage with the ability to save to Google Drive or your hard drive, and access your screenplay from practically any device that has an internet connection.

Arc Studio also offers a great outlining tool for breaking your story and crafting your characters’ arcs.If you need production tools like colored pages and starred revisions, you won’t get that with this tool, though the Arc Studio team says those features are coming soon.

Cost: Free, with option to upgrade to the $99/year Pro version. You can download the software here


Celtx

Celtx is screenwriting/pre-production software designed for creating and organizing media projects in several different formats, film screenplays, television screenplays, stage plays, games, podcasts, and documentaries.

It is one of the most well-known screenwriting software in the film industry.

With many collaborative features built into its code its perfect if you want to collaborate on a script in real-time.

There are some features that require you to pay a monthly fee to use, but if you’re just looking for software that’ll allow you to simply write and have things in the proper industry standards when it comes to formatting, you can’t do wrong with Celtx.

Celtx is also available on all devices so it makes writing at home or on the go possible.

You can download the software here


WriterDuet

WriterDuet is screenwriting software for writing and editing screenplays and other forms of mass media.

Initially released in 2013, this software has been getting more recognition as time has moved along and is a favorite among up-and-coming filmmakers.

The software is powered by Firebase. This allows users to write together in real-time from multiple devices.

WriterDuet is an online-based program but recently the software has been given some off-line features that are free to use.

While it’s not false advertising to say that WriterDuet is free, there are some stipulations to the free title.

Unlike some other programs, WriterDuet allows its users to write their first THREE screenplays for free. After that, you either have to pay a per-month price or an annual free.

With that said, if you are a first-time writer, it’ll take you some time to fully finish your first –second – and even third screenplay. By that time, you may decide to invest some money into a full version of this software or go with a competitor.

Scripts written with WriterDuet allow the user to save their script in the FDX file format which 95% of Hollywood studios, producers, production companies use, so if you get a script request from someone in the industry you’ll be able to easily send the script in the proper format.

You can download the software here


Fade In

Fade In Professional Screenwriting Software or simply known as Fade In is screenwriting software for crafting film and television screenplays, stage plays, radio plays, graphic novels, and more.

The look of the software is very watered down allowing the user to simply focus on writing their script.

While the software is free, you can only work on one script at a time unless you want to pay a fee to work on more.

If you’re just getting your feet wet in screenwriting, the simple free version will do its job just fine.

You can save your script in FDX format as well, which means you can send your script to someone that uses Final Draft and its compatible.

With the software available for both Mac and Windows users, you don’t have to worry if it’ll work on your device.

You can download the software here


Trelby

Trelby is a free and open-source screenwriting program that provides a simple, uncluttered interface for writing scripts.

This is the only open source screenwriting program we have on this list. This means any user can edit the program’s code to add new features or take away ones. This is how innovations are made.

If you’re looking for software that not only allows you to write your script but also does other things like budgeting, create cast lists, and other related pre-production tasks, this isn’t the software for you as this software has none of those features.

Trebly is designed to be clean and straightforward. If you simply want to sit down and write, then Trelby is perfect for you.

Kudos to Trelby for being 100% free. There are no extra features that you have to pay for.

You can download the software here


Kit Scenarist

This is completely free screenwriting software that you may have never heard of before because it’s still in beta, but available to download now.

It allows you to export for Final Draft, Word DocX, and PDF files.

A major feature that caught our eye that no other screenwriting program features, is a clock that gives you an estimate of the duration of your screenplay. Each scene heading includes time for how long the software believes your scene will run.

This isn’t a feature that makes all other screenwriting software obsolete, but it’s a unique feature we haven’t seen before and could be useful, especially for those writers who tend to write longer than normal scenes. It’s also a great tool in quickly assessing the pace of your script.

The layout is amazingly simple and allows the user to focus on what’s most important, writing the actual script. Everything looks clean and sleek.

While the program is free, you can choose to pay for dedicated cloud storage and also buy a mobile version of the program for your phone so you can continue writing your script no matter where you are.

The only visible downside to Kit Scenarist is that since the program is still in the beta stage you may run into some issues here and there as the programmers are still working out all the kinks to the program’s code.

But if you’re looking for something brand-new, free, with some unique features, this could be the perfect screenwriting software for you.

You can download the software here

BPS 132: The Screenwriter’s Workout with Will Hicks

I had a fun chat with our guest today. We hit it off pre-interviewing, geeking out about James Cameron and his latest masterclass, and so much more. On the show this today is Will Hicks who is head of Screenwriting and production at Colorado Film School and an associate professor at the Community College of Aurora.

Will had a start in producing and screenwriting earlier in his career until making the shift to teaching few years in — appreciating more, the elements of studying the craft of form and purity in teaching that he feels are more rewarding.

His commitment to academia led to publishing his book, The Screenwriter’s Workout, which we discuss lengthy in this interview. The Screenwriter’s Workout is a training program consisting of over 75 exercises and activities designed for screenwriters. It aims to help screenwriters explore their creativity and strengthen their storytelling skills.

The book includes exercises on designing dynamic characters, exploring structure, creating stories, redefining conflict, analyzing the work, craft compelling loglines ad discovering interactive screenwriting.

The 2021 Variety Entertainment Impact Report featured Hicks on its Top 50 Film Schools and Instructors from around the world list—revering his 100 plus professional credits nurturing some of the best talents in the country.

Besides talking about Hick’s career teaching screenwriting, we also do some surface character building and storytelling analysis of some famous films and writers. But also, the complexity of writing the end of a sustaining story for TV.

Enjoy this conversation with Will Hicks.

Right-click here to download the MP3

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Alex Ferrari 0:14
I like to welcome to the show Will Hicks. How you doing Will?

Will Hicks 0:18
Doing Will? How about you?

Alex Ferrari 0:19
I'm doing very good, my friend. I'm doing very good. We've had a very spirited conversation even before we got started on this thing, because today as of this recording, Mr. James Cameron released a masterclass and I generally don't fond over masterclasses in general, it's some of them are good. Some of them are like, you know, just basically YouTube videos. But there's a handful that are really good, but it's James Cameron. And I was fascinated to see what James Cameron was doing. And I've just been sitting there consuming it. And then we started talking about it and how he's very underrated as not only a filmmaker but as a screenwriter and you actually bring them into your coursework, right?

Will Hicks 1:01
I do. Yeah, there's a bunch of takeaways you can take away from Cameron reminds me of a story he tells about bleeders growing up in Canada and he could cut grass for living and you need to look at these massive lawns and say it's gonna take forever just this huge daunting thing. And so then he would focus on one row at a time one row at a time. And he equated that to filmmaking it just and screenwriting it seems like it's this massive endeavor, but you break it down into its granular level one line at a time one line at a time and suddenly you're you're done not only that just to see and craft alone when you look at I think there's this there's this bit of a perception Hey because you have commercial success you know your work is not artistic and I just disagree with that vehemently. I think you can have you can have both a work that not only reaches a large number of people but can also be an artistic you know it can it has something to say and meaning and just how we construct the scenes are just tight tight beyond tight. Is dialogue worthy of study.

Alex Ferrari 2:12
Yeah, his his story structure I mean, you go back to watching any of his any work early, late mid from the recent as recent as avatar, which is now a decade. Oh, it was it's over 10 years since we've seen it. It's he's he's an insane, insane man and in the best possible way. And now we're gonna get four avatars back to back to back to back. Apparently, so, but you look at a Terminator. Read that script. Read aliens read the abyss. Oh my god. Yeah, this True Lies any of it. And anytime he. I remember when Titanic was coming out. Everyone was like, Oh, he's Oh, this is gonna be a bomb. This is gonna be crazy as hell, which everybody, that's the long story. But I always used to tell people Mike and Cameron I trust, whatever he does. Whatever he does, he hasn't failed me yet. which is rare for a filmmaker because most filmmakers, you know, stumble or didn't hit the mark. And that's okay. That's all artists do that. But for whatever reason, Cameron, every one of his movies, in my eyes at least hits the mark. For me True Lies is exactly what he wanted it to be. And aliens was exactly in Titanic, and then even average and even avatar when avatar was coming out. After everything is done. People were like, Oh, God, blue people. Oh, this is this looks ridiculous. And I'm like, hey, he made a movie about a boat. And we all knew the ending. Okay, yeah, we all knew the ending. And he used it against us in creating tension, which was masterful, is masterful how he did that. It's remarkable. It's so many lessons you can learn. He agree.

Will Hicks 3:49
Oh, absolutely. And it's funny. I think that's the length of Titanic works for it. Because, you know, we've reached we reached the point where in the film, where it's like, Okay, this movie should be ending sometime soon. And there's all these little moments there where jack goes under the water comes back out of the water spoiler.

Alex Ferrari 4:07
And if you haven't seen the song, you guys sorry.

Unknown Speaker 4:10
Yeah, that was kind of my thing. And then like, Oh, we just don't know he didn't. And it starts to use its length to actually, you know, advance the storytelling and then from a structural perspective, you know, talking about story structure, and so forth. It's just like, beautiful. analyze it. And the real knock or the real concern with Titanic back in the day was everybody knew Cameron could do action. He had proven it time and again, so nobody was the studio's weren't worried about that. It was really seen a love story. Now.

Alex Ferrari 4:42
It's all we've seen from him. Thank you. That's my point. every movie, every movie from True Lies, to the Abyss to aliens determining their love stories.

Will Hicks 4:53
That's exactly it. And so, you know, you've seen it you hear that scuttle? really did you not watch the term Terminator.

Alex Ferrari 5:01
Now watch Terminator two, or Terminator two, like their love stories. One is between a man and a wife. The other was the love of a son and a daughter and son in the mother. Like, it's just, I think the abyss. That's all that is, is a love story. Yeah. And so,

Will Hicks 5:18
so that, you know, the whole conventional wisdom is outright whatever. And so yeah, I felt like we'd be in good hands. But in particular, you know, going back to the original Terminator, to me that that was kind of the finest of the two, I get in debates for this all the time, because there's two fans and so forth. But I mean, you're taking that world and bringing it upon us for the first time, in addition to all the heavy lifting you have to do with the story. But yeah, mythologically constructed just just thing of beauty, to watch

Alex Ferrari 5:47
and on. And on a low budget and,

Will Hicks 5:50
and on very low budget. And then of course launches, you know, Terminator two, with much more or much greater resources at hand. But I felt the storytelling in Terminator one was just to me, it was superior. And that's, you know, comparing the two gems and saying, Oh, yeah, this one has more facets. Yes, yeah. Okay. Yeah. Yeah, it was kind of cool. I had a screenplay go into development with the guy who shut down Titanic from the studio. And so, you know, it's kinda like, holy crap. This guy, you know, went down and told James Cameron, you know, you need to shut down. And here he is working with, you know, little me and Ellie. Okay. So that was kind of cool. My my little connection,

Alex Ferrari 6:34
my favorite, my favorite. And then and then we will actually continue with this actual interview. But we should we just started geek out a little bit about Cameron, is that my favorite Cameron story I've ever heard it was actually was in one of the books, one of his books on his career. He was on the Abyss and if anyone has not seen the abyss, not only watch the abyss, but you have to watch the documentary about the Abyss that comes with the DVD or the blu ray because it is arguably one of the best documentaries out there with hearts of darkness about the making of a film you just like see the absolute abuse that that entire crew, including Cameron took to make that was an impossibility. Go shuts down a nuclear power plant or has a with a decommissioned nuclear power plant fills it up with water and builds a set in it. Like he's insane. It's an insane man. And I love him for that. But one day he was uh, he was there was some suits that came in from from the studio going, Hey, what's going on with this is getting a little bit over budget here, which I think it ended up being around 15 million in 1988, which was a pretty big budget with, you know, no major, big stars in it at the time. And Cameron had just come up from a decompression period of about three hours because you have to decom he was underwater, so long. You have to decompress. And he was always the last one. First one in last one out. So he had just got dumped, decompressing came out and this suit starts walking towards him. And he as he gets out, he has this helmet on and these helmets where if you remember watching the movie, the helmets, you could see through, they designed the helmets themselves. So they could shoot and see and listen to dialogue and all this kind of stuff. So as he's taking it off, he sees this guy and he starts to talk to him a second or two about but he knows who he is. And he knows it's the studio. So he takes the helmet and throws it on top of the guy's head. Now without any air you can't breathe. There's no air connected to it. So now it's like he's basically suffocating the dude grabs him by the tie through hangs him over the tank, feet almost dangling. He's just there like this can't breathe. And he says if he falls, the guy's not going to make it. I mean, again, not something you want to do in today's world in any time period. But it's fascinating to hear these mythical stories. He has like if you ever come on my set again, I will kill you. And then he throws him back on they pull the head off. He got out of the car got on the plane. And and that was the last time any suit ever showed up on this set of dates? No, it's great. Yeah, that's called negotiations. That is a that's a James Cameron negotiation. And I've heard he has softened over the years. I mean, I you know, I've heard he's, I knew a lot of people who work with him on Titanic. And I've heard the stories, and also on avatar, but he's still James Cameron. He's always gonna be Jeff King, because he's frustrated because he's, he's playing at a level that most human beings aren't theirs. And I always tell people, if there's one, if there's if he's basically the only human being on the planet, arguably, that could make avatar who could walk into a studio and go, I need 500 million. I'm going to take about three or four years to develop this technology. It's going to be about an IP that no one's ever heard of. I'm creating a new IP and it hopefully it's gonna work. Who else? No one's not getting that Fincher is not getting that Spielberg. Not getting that, that no one else on the planet is going to get that, and then also be able to pull it off. Like, he's one of the few people that could do it. So anyway, that's enough about Mr. Cameron. I just got it. We just got excited about the new master class, I just want to talk about it. But anyway, well, we're here to talk about you and what you do, sir, how did you get into the business.

So kind of a little bit of a long story that goes back all the way to, um, Star Wars, the initial release that film, and I saw it as a little kid, my dad took me to see it, actually, I didn't want to see it. I was added, like, I don't know, some little camp or whatever. And all the kids were talking about, and I hadn't seen it yet. So I'm like, I'm sick of this movie before even seeing it. But my dad had heard about lines. So we took off from work early, and we went to go see this film. And I walked in there, just some little kid from a Podunk town in Georgia, and came out of there, knowing what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. And it was his profound an experience. I mean, it's in a theater. And so that sort of set that path in motion. Now, the logical part of me was like, crazy making movies for a living, you might as well might as well told my parents, I wanted to do crack, you know, it's like, oh, I'm gonna grow up, be a crack dealer. You know, it's kind of perceived that way. And, of course, they would be like, Oh, god, he's gonna be living on our couch for the rest of his life. But it's set that in motion, I'd never haven't had anything move me in that way. And so that sort of launched that career a tried a bunch of different things. You know, because cognitively, I'm like, okay, you know, the, the odds of making it in our businesses are slim. But eventually, I just came back to it, like, you know, if I don't try this, but don't do it, I'll regret it for the rest of my life, there's a inch that has to be scratched, I've got to at least if I try and fail, all right, I can deal with that. I can live with that. But I have to try it. And so that's what I did led to film school, at the North Carolina School, the arts at the University of North Carolina School, the art school of filmmaking. And from there, I started working in production, and did a ton of production. And, you know, back then my thought was when movies get made on the set, it was only later that you figure out now movies get made and boardrooms shot, and they get shot on a set. But at the time, you know, I was all about that. While I was pursuing a career in production, I was also pursuing screenwriting kind of trying to do both and balance the two, production career was doing extremely well. So it didn't leave a lot of time for screenwriting. But I was part of a screenwriting Association. And we had this outreach program where we would teach screenwriting classes and so forth. And so I was I was tapped to do that. So I was teaching these screenwriting classes. And one day, my wife made the observation that, you know, when you come home from your classes, you're all like, excited and stoked and really happy. And when you come back from a set, you're kind of awful and miserable. And so you know, of course, when your wife makes a suggestion, it's kind of okay, but listen. But I realized she was on to something, there was something rewarding about teaching that I wasn't getting from making movies, oddly enough, you know, and so I decided to make the career shift there. And it happened actually, I was working on I'm Have you ever saw cabin fever? A raw film?

Sure. Sure. Sure.

Will Hicks 13:33
Yeah. So I was working on that. And there was one more morning where the rest of the crew got wrong directions from locations. So everybody was lost. And I was already there, because my team had been working on the set the previous week, so I know how to get there. And it was just as pre dawn morning, it was freezing cold all the stars in the sky. And nobody was there. And so I had a moment to think and reflect which is rare. When you work in film. Normally, it's next thing next thing next thing you're always slammed and had an epiphany. And in that moment, I was like, You know what, I'm going to shift my career I'm going to I'm going to teach so that that led to led to us sitting here right now.

Alex Ferrari 14:15
There you go.

Will Hicks 14:17
There's guns out.

Alex Ferrari 14:19
Yeah, it's, uh, I came up to the similar. I came up with like, I don't want to be a PA anymore after like, you know, it's three o'clock in the morning and I'm out here. I gotta figure something else out. I'm like, hey, there's a there's a computer at the office that edits called an avid let me learn that air conditioned, maybe some carpal tunnel it I think that'd be a good place for me to make my bones. And that's how I started as well.

Unknown Speaker 14:43
Yeah, it's funny. It's just the different paths that you go down. And I was thankful for all my experiences, because they informed the teaching, obviously. But I was really fascinated by the form. And you know, looking back to that, that day, a long time ago, in a theater far, far away. And looking back to that moment, what I realized is, I couldn't figure out why this movie star wars again, affected me So, and I wanted to know why. And so that sort of set me on that journey. So in academia, at least I get to study the form, and the purity and it's, there's a purity to it, it's kind of like being at the temple. And you don't have to worry about, you know, some, the producers coming through saying, hey, you need to make these changes for reasons that have nothing to do with the story. And it's understandable from their perspective, I get it. But it's no I can study the purity of the craft, and really dive into it.

Alex Ferrari 15:38
And you also you're in good company, because it also launched many other careers, that movie that started it started out, and not to go back to James Cameron. But that was one of the reasons why he jumped in, as well as because after watching Star Wars, it's like, well, I got, I got to make a movie.

Unknown Speaker 15:52
It's, it's, it's funny. So one of the first days of film school when I when I went there, they gathered the incoming class. And so they're, you know, I don't know, 100 of us or so in there. And all the professors were up front, and they asked me what movie inspired you to make movies, you know, and somebody said, you know, the searchers because I was a DS favorite movie, I'm like, Alright, suck up. But somebody said, you know, citizen K, and then somebody said, Star Wars. And then another person said, Star Wars. And they asked a few other people, then another person said, Star Wars. So finally, the professor's you could tell they were fed up, and they just finally said, Alright, how many of you here were inspired by Star Wars to make movies, and two thirds of that class raised their hand? Me among me among them. And I sat there and sort of taken all that in all my holy crap. A I'm like, you know, I'm home. I'm with I'm with my peeps. But B, I realized that was the impact of that movie. It inspired an entire generation of filmmakers. Not only you know, people in general, but actual filmmakers who were somehow touched by that film, and then wanted to go out in pursue this crazy art form of ours.

Alex Ferrari 16:02
And the funny thing is, though, the person who said that, that Citizen Kane inspired them, I think that's absolutely yes. Because I love Citizen Kane. I think it's, you know, it's it's, you know, it's, it's, it's what it is, it's it was groundbreaking film, but there wasn't like a swatch of people like you, and especially your generation in sitting down in, like, Well, I was sitting down watching Citizen Kane the other day, and like, No, you watched it as a game because you were introduced to Citizen Kane factoid. It's not a movie that just kind of pops off and you're like, oh, that black and white film looks fantastic. But no. But the Star Wars.

Unknown Speaker 17:47
Yeah, that was, that was kind of my, my kind of running joke about it. It's like, yeah, you know, what, Kung Fu Panda two was seen by more people than Citizen Kane in 60 years. And it's now does that mean? It's that's a measure of its artistic success? No. But But when you think about it, I mean, if you make a movie, and nobody sees it, it's like, the movie doesn't exist. And those filmmakers, and I'll stick with Kung Fu Panda, too, for whatever. But, you know, they had a chance to share their message to share their art to share what they think with other people. And to me, that's what film is all about. It's about it's about sharing your sensibilities about what you think about the world. And we're able to share it with a lot of different people. And yeah, not a knock on Cain actually, like Kino love.

Alex Ferrari 18:35
Exactly. But it's but it's not one of those films that you're like, there's not there's nobody has, you know, Citizen Kane dolls and action figures and Citizen Kane on the wall. Generally speaking, that's just not one of those films. It is a classic film, and it should be studied. And what he did was remarkable. And Orson Welles is a master and all that kind of stuff, but it's not the movie that inspired a generation to go to the movies to become filmmakers. It's just not but Star Wars. Absolutely launched. God, how many in 2001 was another one, like how many? You know, people saw that and like, well, I got to do that now.

Will Hicks 19:15
Yeah, that's exactly it. And, and I, you know, ironically, you know, it's not that I make or would write science fiction. It was just it moved me somehow. And that was really the kind of the key piece of it. And when you find that films, I try to you know, advise my students that whatever film that is, if it was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and it somehow touched you don't ever let that movie go. Because it had something in it that said something to you that inspired you no matter what it is. Like my favorite guilty pleasure movies. The old Flash Gordon film, Juju?

Alex Ferrari 19:53
Yeah, of course. Fantastic. Guilty pleasure, man. When you put his hand in that thing is You don't know. Oh my god, it still freaks me out.

Will Hicks 20:04
Yeah. And I usually like, you know, it's kind of, you know, teaching film and stuff you're supposed to like, the other films, shall we say? Yes. And I'm like, Nah, there's something about it. I mean, just, it's the weirdest combination of things ever. You have this Art Deco style from the 30s. You have Queen doing the soundtrack, you know, science fiction film. And somehow, it's like, they give you this recipe for a slushie. It's like, really, you're gonna put all this crap in it, and it comes out. It's like this awesome, slushy. And you never would guess it. So I don't just that one, that one. And there's certain degree of camp, that I really appreciate it.

Alex Ferrari 20:41
Yeah. And as, as film students, or as students of the craft, everyone listening to here is obviously studying the craft and wants to learn more about the craft. There are those films that touch you like Star Wars touch most, you know, huge amount of people. And you know, there's certain films that when you were younger, hit you. But then when you get older, and you watch it again, you're like, yeah, that didn't age. Well. Like I remember watching, I remember watching Bloodsport, and I was like, Oh, my God, this is the greatest film I've ever seen. And then I watched it the other day, I'm like, Oh, this doesn't this does not hold up. So I've now made the choice of not going back to watch full versions of some of these old movies that I have wonderful recollections of, because they they feel, I have a feeling to that, like, oh, that movie meant that to me. But then I go back and watch it, and it ruins it sometimes. So it depends. But some movies transcend Star Wars you can watch right now and completely holds and continue will continue to. And I think as a storytelling tool, or lesson you can learn is George did such an amazing job with the structure of that story using the hero's journey at such a expert level. I mean, he was literally talking to Joseph Campbell, about it, as he was writing it, it's done so surgically, that it will hold forever. Regardless of sometimes maybe some of the visual effects might be a little janky it things like that. But overall, though, it will hold because of the story. And because of the structure, and those characters and how he was able to weave them all together, that they will never I don't think that'll ever age. I mean, it's still my kids watch it now their new generation who've grown up watching really high end visual effects and really high end storytelling, and they're actually much more literate story consumers than you are I was because we didn't have as much content to consume as we were growing up. And it still hits them. It still goes right to the heart of it. And that's something that's you want that magic and your stories and your scripts.

Will Hicks 22:49
Yeah, and I would, I would say that comes that pours out of the characters, pours out of the characters pours out of the tale that's being told. I like to think and I teach a class called deconstructing Star Wars. Where we got into this, that's amazing. So yeah, no surprise, I suppose given my background, but but looking at it, to me, the Big Bang of Star Wars, where it all starts is that moment when Luke is walking out looking at the twin sunsets. And that's where it all it's, that's the big bang of that entire universe is just some kid stuck on a farm wanting adventure.

Alex Ferrari 23:27
And that's everybody, you that's everybody. That's how universal is that? It's not a diet and not a piece and not a piece of dialogue. And that image by the way, it's not like it is just the imagery. I mean, we know who the character is at that point. And he's a young boy living on a farm. But that moment, there's not like, wow, I wish I had some adventure. Now there was no dialogue there. He just looks and everywhere around the world. Wherever you are, you just go Yep, that's what we want. We want that thing we want to get out of where we are at one stage or another in our lives. We want to get out of where we are, or just go to another place or go on a vacation, or go on an adventure at once. And we said before it's it's it's remarkable. You're right. But that is the Big Bang of the entire Star Wars universe I would agree with you.

Will Hicks 24:14
And it's interesting, because, you know, why do you go to movies to do the same thing, alright, to experience something that you can't necessarily experience in real life. Or if it's a realistic film, you know, experiencing real life on steroids or something like that. But you know, to me, it's as much a film about the about filmmaking as it as anything else. And then you touch on a really important point. It's something I discussed quite a bit in my book, but not the plug the book. But it really kind of cuts to the heart of how cinema communicate story. And it's that idea, that scene is silent. And the reason it works is because it's silent. And we the audience, then insert whatever, you know, we could be thinking, Oh, yeah, Luke is checking out Why are there two sons, and we could think that it would work. Or you know, obviously what the filmmaker intended, which is just longing for something. But notice, because at silence, we put our thoughts in there. And as a result, whatever works for you may be different than works for me. But we both have the opportunity to do it.

Alex Ferrari 25:24
As opposed to having up Yeah, other than having the on the nose dialogue and like, wow, I wish I had some adventure, like which we see sometimes instead of just like not just shish shish, keep what we were talking before we came on about, about finding inspiration or story elements from different weirdest places ever. And I was like, Oh, I still remember this David Fincher commercial. Because I love the David Fincher, I've studied all his commercial work and music, video work. And some of the stuff that he does is, you know, they think of a lot of people think of him as a visual storyteller, and, you know, very technical and his films are aesthetically, you know, searchable, almost it really are. And they don't give him enough credit for emotion. And character development. I think that's, you know, I mean, you look at seven or you look at Fight Club and things like that. But this commercial was so simple. But it was clear for Lani of forlani, I think her name is she was the girl from men and black. And I'm in black, mutual black. And she's sitting in a restaurant with an older gentleman look good looking older gentlemen, in a fancy restaurant, and she's a much younger green, she must be in her early 20s. He must be in his probably late 40s, early 50s. And in there having dinner and then all of a sudden, it's raining outside, and there's a big glass window in the restaurant. And this young, strapping young guy who has desperation in his face starts very Allah, the graduate banging on the on the glass going, you know, him and everyone's like, Oh, my God, Who is this? And she sees it. And she's like, making the decision at that point. Do I stay with this older stable guy? Or do I go on this crazy adventure? With this young one with, I have no idea what's gonna happen. And she decides to get up goes outside, they kiss they embrace in the rain, everyone starts clapping. And of course, then you pan down and go Levi's. But the story was there, and I put all everything I just explained to you. I made that up. Meaning like, I don't know who that get that could have been her father. But I don't think it was, you know, I actually implanted the storyline in there. And I, I added the whole thing like this, this guy, that guy could be super rich, that kid and he could be very successful, I don't know. But the way he left it open like that you implant your own emotions there. And your own storyline, and just like the two moons and look.

Will Hicks 27:51
Yeah, and that's, And that, to me is the power of cinema. It's that ability. And it's one of those things we you know, talk about, like a novelist, for instance, they'll give you a story, and you supply the visuals, you know, based on the words, film, we're just the opposite. We're giving you the visuals, and asking you to start assembling that story, put the story together. Now, obviously, everything is highly guided, and just like in the commercial, but it's an idea No, no, no. If you want to create meaning, it's done by the person watching it, and heavily guided by the filmmaker who's presenting these two images and saying, All right, put them together. And that's, it's it's an interesting thing. That's one of the things not that it's not, you know, interview about Star Wars, I suppose. But going back Star Wars was a very experiential film. And think about it, Lucas creates an entire galaxy, buy from a bunch of dudes sitting around in rubber suits in a bar. And you imply and we add all of that stuff to it. We're like, Oh, yeah, where'd they come from? And what's their backstory, and so forth? And so we start adding all these layers to it. It's a it's an, it's a playground for your imagination, to then start filling in all those pieces. And then you watch the film to see what did I filled in correctly? Did I not put it in correctly and so forth? And so really masteral films, I think that's the craft. Usually, a statement I say that gets me in trouble is a movie is not a story. It's evidence that a story is being told. Oh, that's okay.

Alex Ferrari 29:29
That's actually a really interesting way of looking at it. It that's Can you can you dig into that a little bit? Because I'm curious where you're going with that?

Will Hicks 29:38
Well, it's the idea that so much of what we do in in filmic storytelling and cinematic narrative is indirect. And you even touched on it you know, talking about Oh, you don't write on the nose. Well, why not? that'll tell the story the fastest way possible. Then you can pack more story in Mm hmm. But it clunks it almost always clunks in me Okay, why? You know, why don't we want to be told these things? What do we want to do here? And we want to figure it out, we want to figure it out for ourselves. And so much of cinematic narrative is indirect. And it led me to the conclusion like, Oh, wait, we're not. It's not a pure story in the sense that we're sitting down around a campfire and telling you these things, but rather, we're showing you all of these events, and in allowing you the audience member to put it together. In a very, once again, it's guided, it's very guided, but putting it together way to come up with a story collaboratively. Film is in me, it drives me crazy when people say, oh, films a passive medium. No, it's not interactive. Yeah, it's in the joystick isn't here. You know, the joystick is in here. It's in your mind. And you start and you start watching the film saying, Okay, well, why don't you say that, so forth. And then the film explores those things, really smart films are interactive by nature,

Alex Ferrari 31:03
right, and you start thinking about subtext, I mean, subtext is not a subtext is not efficient. That is not efficient in the story. Like you can't, you can't, when you're telling a story around the campfire subtext is a difficult thing, to have a conversation about, like you can't be like she said, clean the dishes. But what she really meant to tell her husband is that you don't love me anymore. So and that's hard to say. But it's so much easier in the visual medium, to say, because of acting, because of environment because of those nuances, that is very difficult to put in the written word, extremely difficult to put into a word. But in cinema, you're allowed to do that. And again, we'll go back to that scene with the two moons, if you would have said that, like, Hey, I wish I had adventure. It doesn't have the same umph to it. If you would just if you say the exact same thing in your head, because you feel like you're being pulled along that you're part of this. You are Luke, if someone tells you what they're feeling, you're not Luke anymore. And that's where I think a lot of screenplays and films fail is that they don't give the audience the opportunity to identify and become that character. So you know, when we watch Indiana Jones, which now part five is being filmed as we speak, Hey, man, I'm there. Why not? I am to look, you know, will it will it nuke the fridge? I don't know. But But when you're watching Raiders of the Lost Ark, or Last Crusade or Temple of Doom, your your indie. When you watch a James Bond movie, you're James Bond, you know, and you go along these adventures with these, but the subtleties of what they say how they, I mean, Indiana Jones is full of subjects. I mean, every word he says, That's some sort of subtext, you know, oh, my God, it's so amazing the way they the way they crafted that again, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg on that one. It's, it's remarkable. But you're absolutely right. I really never kind of put it to words like you just like how we've been having this discussion. And I hope people listening can really understand the power of the interactivity of the audience, and only masters of the craft, both of screenwriting, but I think also of filmmaking, because it turns into, like, there's only so much you can do on the page, and then it then you have to give it over to the actors and the director, and the day, because some things happen on the day that you just can't write. So it is that collaborative art form. But it's those masters like Hitchcock. I mean, I mean, he's one of the ones that everyone has to watch. But Hitchcock is one of those filmmakers that he even said he's like, I wish one day that I could just have a machine that I could touch a button and hit that motion, and touch a button hit that motion play the audience like a piano. And that's what his films, I mean, you go back and watch psycho. I mean, it's just a masterclass in all I mean, there's a there's a period North by Northwest, there's that period for vertigo that he had like six or seven, his his, his his time. They're all massive. They're just so masterful, and you just go along with it. And they still hold up even though they're older films and things like that. But the storytelling still holds up and you're you're along for the ride. I mean, you are. You are. Oh God, what's your name? in the in the shower? Generally, generally you are Janet Lee. And when that figure comes in with the with the juice, you feel like you've been you've been stabbed. It's fascinating to watch that sequence. It's amazing to watch.

Will Hicks 34:52
Yeah, and with and within the context of the film itself because back in the day, Janet Lee was the star

Alex Ferrari 35:00
There's, of course,

Will Hicks 35:01
and of course, you know, no movie kills off at Star halfway through, and then you're going, Okay, well, who do I hang out with now? Because, you know, what's name Anthony Perkins?

Alex Ferrari 35:12
like to hang out with this weirdo?

Will Hicks 35:14
Yeah. And, and you don't have a choice you have to? It's like, Okay, well, I don't have a choice. I have to this is now my main character. So just the guts. That was just the brilliance of the film in my mind. Because it played with your expectations. You're like, okay, she'll somehow get out of it.

Alex Ferrari 35:30
No, she's gone. What do we do now? But there's but there's something to be said there about the Curiosity aspect of it. Now. Now you're in now I'm hooked, you are engaged, because all your preconceived notions have been thrown out the window. And and Hitchcock knew that when he was making that film, he knew that you thought that she's the star, she's going to keep going. And he's completely flipped it. And now you're just like, wait a minute. If they could kill off the main actress, they could kill anybody off at any moment for the rest of this film. So I need to pay attention now. And then Wes Craven did it as well with scream when he killed Drew Barrymore at the beginning of the river. Yeah, like, you know, she's the bachelor I was gonna go to, arguably arguably the biggest star in that movie. She's like, Oh, yeah, it's the Drew Barrymore movie, and she's on the poster and everything. And first 10 minutes. You're like, holy cow. It's, I call it now The Walking Dead effect, which is the when you watch the series, The Walking Dead. And there's other series that kill off people, I think, against the throne. I never watched games with them. But I know that there's no one safe, that that no one's safe thing keeps the audience at edge, especially if it's you've especially a long, long form, like television, or streaming that you can emotionally attached over, you know, that, you know, sometimes seasons after seasons. And you're like, oh, my god, they're gone now. But knowing that at any moment, it's gone. That's such a powerful storytelling technique.

Will Hicks 37:04
It is. And it's set in motion. So now we're like, okay, nobody's safe. And you have to watch because you're not quite sure what could possibly happen next. And it's kind of like the, I guess, for example, from classical music, like the surprise Symphony. And you get this little bang, it's like, okay, and you never know when it's gonna show up again. So you have to always create that level of tension in there. And films do the same thing. for Canada, the same thing you want to go there.

Alex Ferrari 37:31
And that's why I love Bohemian Rhapsody. Maybe the craziest, craziest pop song ever written? And, and you just sit there like, Wait, is that an opera is that not rock now it's now it's a ballad, like what's going on. But you know, that will go that's another world we can go down later. But it's very, very similar, though, it's like you will completely don't know what's going to happen. And if you as a screenwriter can, as a storyteller can't keep your audience guessing. In a comedy in a thriller, and horror in an action, you will work for the rest of your life, and you will always get paid to write. But bottom line, if you can keep the audience or the reader or the whoever's consuming your content on not knowing what's happening next. You want you want because we're so educated, for better or worse, everything's done. It's so hard to surprise us. That's why when we are surprised with a twist, you know, remember six cents, Jesus Christ, what six that's came out. I mean, that one of the greatest, one of the greatest twist endings of all time, he built the entire career off of that now, he's like, I have to have to do twist endings all the time. You know, it's, it's like he had to build this career around twist endings. But that was one of the greatest twist endings, ever. In your art as an audience member, if you can, and that's why that movie, I mean, it's essentially, potentially a drama slash ghost story, not really particularly scary, some of the scary parts, but it's essentially a drama. And we're all like, okay, we're all walking down. The story does this very nice internet. But when that thing happens, everything from that moment before gets rewound in your head, and you're just like, oh, wait a minute, well, and it just blows people's minds. And it was just remarkable. As a storyteller. I have such respect for me. I mean, what he's been able to do in his career as a writer is remarkable.

Will Hicks 39:32
And it kind of taps into the idea of, you know, really good ending is not I didn't see that coming. A really good ending is I should have seen that comment. And you go back and watch. So for instance, you go back and you know, watch Sixth Sense, like it's all there. Oh. And that goes back to that idea of allowing the audience to put these elements together kind of goes back way back to the day. You Billy Wilder said Ernst Lubitsch, you said let the audience had two plus two. They love you for it. And so it's the idea that we're sitting here looking at this movie as an audience member sticking with six cents for a little bit. And going, Okay, yeah, this poor kid, you see, and all the clues are there that Oh, yeah. As well as once again spoiler, you know, in among us these days. But we don't put it together that way, because the way the film is presented, and then when you get the twist, that's the key you needed to understand to then go back and look up. No wonder she didn't talk to him. He's not there. Because only the Kip Hailey Joe Osmond. Because name is only he can see that people. And so it's it's playing with his audience expectations. And saying, okay, here's it's think of a movie is kind of like a q&a session. And think about the questions the audience is going to have and how they're going to be assembling the information you're presenting to them. And then you start to play around with it. And allow them to draw the conclusion that, oh, this isn't quite right. And then you can you can flip it on them and create those reversals, and create that idea of unpredictability. It's really hard when you think about it. You know, movie audiences today, in particular, are really savvy. And they're like, okay, yeah, see it coming. And if they can see that ending, coming, usually not a good thing. But the irony is, they also want the ending they want. So you know, if I have I'll go back to Star Wars, just because any easy example. If I go back, and Luke is there in the trench, you know, and use the false loop let go, you know, and invaders like I have you now and blast them in a loop just kind of goes in vaporizes. Yeah, really sucks. If you like,

Alex Ferrari 41:42
worst movie ever. You got

Will Hicks 41:44
to be kidding me an empire goes and blows up the Death Star and or blows up, you know, the Rebel base. We want that ending, we want the hero to be triumphant. We just don't want to see it coming. Because then it becomes predictable. So how do you create the predictable ending the ending we want, but make it unpredictable. And that's really the art of it? Well, I

Alex Ferrari 42:05
was just watching. I was just watching The Handmaid's Tale. And we're, as of this recording, getting towards the end of season four, not going to give any spoiler alerts. But something happens to a character there, who has a bad character. And we're all going like this guy needs to get his up is coming up in one way, shape, or form. And then as you start seeing the episode, and we've been this, this for seasons built up. So this is I mean, we've built this up, and we're waiting for the character and something, a twist happens for a second, like, oh, wait a minute, and are in our main characters doing something? And you're like, oh, wait a minute. And then I literally was sitting there with my wife looking at it. Like we're both trying to figure it out. But is she going to do this is accident happened? Where's this gonna go? Where are they? What's going on? And we're like, and we're so savvy. I mean, I'm probably a little bit more savvy, you know, story analysts than most you know, people that do this for a living. So and my wife is just been with me for so long. She's become one as well. And she'll catch up. So we're like this, this? We didn't see it coming? exactly the way it happened. Like we've looked. Oh, and then afterwards, you're like, it was perfect. Oh, my God, it was cool. Perfect. Well, like Breaking Bad, the end of Breaking Bad you like you want How do you end that? I'm not going to break. I'm not going to spoil it for anyone. But you should anyone listening to this should have seen Breaking Bad at this point, the entire series. But that ending like how do you end? arguably one of the best shows ever written? Ever, ever produced it? arguably, but what some of the best storytelling ever? How do you end it and didn't see it coming? at all completely original way they ended it. And it was so satisfying. And that's why endings of shows are so bad. So that because it's just it's just so hard.

Will Hicks 43:51
Yeah, it is. Well, you know, you think about TV, it's built to extend, you know, it's built to sustain and it's not really built, you know, we talk a lot about, you know, film, at least the origins of film. They're really meant to be self contained, not, you know, franchises, sequels and all that stuff. disregarded, but it's meant to be a self contained story, whereas TV is meant to be a sustaining story goes on and on and on. And so sometimes those endings, particularly for TV shows are really hard, because the medium is built differently, or at least the approach to the meeting is both a little bit differently.

Alex Ferrari 44:25
Now, you were talking to me off camera about this old PlayStation game called Crash Bandicoot and that you found some some gem of something in that in regards to story. Can you please elaborate?

Will Hicks 44:41
Yes, you're a bit of a backstory to it when my son was really little. And I was playing this Crash Bandicoot game he loved to watch it in watch me play this thing. But it wasn't just like the game in its entirety. It was a single level called the Great gate of all things. And check it out. If you haven't seen it, watch a walkthrough on YouTube or what have you. But this one level and I play the level and he's like, again, again, set up to play the level again, again, again, Okay, you know what you do for your kids like, Alright, so I'll play it again and again and again. And he never got tired of the single level of this game, I must have played that thing, hundreds of times, I'd play with a controller upside down and play with my eyes closed, you know, because I'm so bored of the stupid level, right. And then there was just one little sequence in there. Where, if you're familiar with the game as a platform, and it's tilted, and there's this green moss stuff on the side of it, and then a little platform down below it, so it kind of looks a little bit like that. And the green moss stuff is slippery, and may sound like the stupidest thing ever. But it hit me in that moment, that oh, we were just taught a rule, green moss is slippery. That's in video games, a very simple rule. But we were taught it without stakes, because there was a platform for you to land on. So that you would be safe. Now imagine if you just slipped off and die to be like this stupid game, not gonna go extra hard at all. And what hit me in that month, and then then the next little sequence there, they show you that Oh, you can slip backwards, you can slip forward. And it kind of explores the idea of this green moss stuff of all things. What dawned on me in that moment, watching that thing, or the Epiphany I had was, oh, that was a, that was a storytelling element. If we were to translate it to film that was set up without stakes, it was introduced before the game needed it, and could then explore it. And then the connection for me and of all things, I was watching duel, like Spielberg TV movie, and there's a shot close to the end, it's really wide shot of the truck overturned. And there's just a single wheel spinning, and then a punch in for a close up of that wheel. And I realized, Oh, that's the same thing, that element was planted in the story, to achieve the effect of just that wheel spinning at the end. And so the conclusion I drew from it was, every element in the story has to be has to be laid in before the story itself needs it. In other words, you put these elements in as storytelling devices, before you actually need them to affect the narrative affect the plot affect the characters. And so that was the conclusion I drew. And it led to all sorts of good stuff that came out of that, that simple little moment there with green moss and a crash bandicoot game from about 2001 or whatever.

Alex Ferrari 47:39
Yeah, that's actually really profound. It's a really powerful tool that good writers and good storytellers need to do. And if I may bring it back to Mr. Jimmy Cameron, if you go back to the scene in aliens, where Ripley at the beginning of the movie says, Hey, I can I can drive that loader. I'm second level certified or something like that. And I go ahead and get into it, she gets into that loader, and she starts walking around starts moving boxes and stuff. There's the plant. That's the plant. That's the plant right there. Because at the end, when she goes and fights the queen, and arguably says, the greatest line in sci fi history, get away from her ubitx. It all came together at that moment. And it's all about that setup, payoff setup payoff entity, every good movie, they'll drop a little nugget in or they'll focus on, you know, the, the, the letter opener on the desk for no reason at the beginning. And then towards the end. I'm like, that's what kills the bad guy, you know? So that is something that screenwriters really should and storytellers and directors really should focus on trying to do those plants. And, you know, set up reveal setup reveals how to reveal or pay

Will Hicks 48:57
off. And that's it. Yeah, and that's exactly the conclusion I drew as well, just the power of that technique. But it's not just the the elements within the plot itself, the content, it's actually how you how you tell the story itself, the devices you're going to use to convey the narrative. So to connect Crash Bandicoot of all things to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, if you've ever seen that?

Alex Ferrari 49:21
It's a complete direct line. I completely see it, sir. Thank you.

Will Hicks 49:26
Yeah, we probably just lost all the rest of your audience. But no, no, if you look at it early on in that film, and they're going to show you all these different devices. So you had that scene with Jim Carrey, walking out a Barnes and Noble and into the living room of his friends. And wouldn't ask frickin scene. But then you go, Well, okay, they could have just cut you cut to the flashback of him in there with what's your deployment time and then cut back to the, to the living room, but they didn't. And you realize, oh, they're planning that as a storytelling device. In other words, Be on the lookout because we're gonna be messing with your perceptions in this movie. And we're going to be blending things like that and just cluing in the audience before the story needed to do it. And then once you've planted that device, then you can now use it because it's now familiar to the audience. And so that's what Crash Bandicoot David green moss, but the key was that little platform that was there were no stakes to it. And it was just implanting that as a rule in the story. And so really good films actually teach you how to consume the film, how to interact with the film. And back to what you were saying about plant payoff, or setup and payoff. That's allowing the audience to interact with it. In other words, yeah, you're on board with me, you caught my setup. And now you catch my payoff, and informs the audience includes the audience in that, oh, I get this movie, I understand it. I'm with it. And so then you start looking for those elements. And it just adds the entertainment. So anyway, it's about teaching the audience.

Alex Ferrari 51:02
Yeah. So then we can go back to Star Wars, again, with the plant and pay off, which is the force, you set the force up so much, George sets the force up so much at the beginning. And throughout the film, about the force, the force, the force, the jet has the force, the force. And at the end, when he's down, that he's about to shoot, and he's using his technology is that use the Force. That's the moment that everybody goes, Oh, my God, it's the power is not outside, the power is within myself. And that is such a powerful message. And it's so subtle, and it's it's wrapped around a, you know, a serial sci fi action movie. But that message hits so close to home for humanity, that any struggles that we have, if we actually look inside, we will find the answer. That's what that is. And that's what the forces and that's why people you know, there's actual people, you run the religions around Jedi, and all that stuff, which there's, there's books, there's the Jedi Bible, and there's all this kind of stuff. I mean, I'm speaking from people who obviously aren't watching this, I have a life size Yoda behind me, obviously, everyone knows that I'm a Star Wars fan. So but I do not go that far deep. I've never dressed up. Not that there's anything wrong with it. But I've never done anything I've ever gone that far. But that concept is so so so powerful. And one of the reasons why that film, and you obviously teach a class in this so are you on board with what I'm saying?

Will Hicks 52:36
Oh, absolutely. Yeah, it's that universal aspect of it. No, I've never been a you know, on a desert planet on a in a galaxy far, far away. And my dad isn't Darth Vader spoiler. I can I can relate to that notion that there's some there's something else there and that that ability is inside you. And even Vader has that line in the original Star Wars. You know, don't be too proud of the technological terror you've constructed. Yeah, not about the technology dude. It's about believing in yourself and, and then diving into kind of Lucas's background. And what led to the making of Star Wars. You see it this very personal story that's laid inside this huge, you know, your Death Stars and all that other stuff. It's at its heart. It's a personal story. That is I think it gets the best of both worlds.

Alex Ferrari 53:25
Yeah, it's about his dad. It's about his relationship with his father. Me. That's what he's very much. So that's what do I mean, that's what yeah, it's what what Star Wars is about. It's a personal story. So there's that added level as well, that you can sense there's an authenticity there in that relationship with with Darth Vader. And the best thing about it is that setup isn't paid off until the second movie, because we don't know that he's his father. We don't know that until, and arguably the greatest twist ending in movie history, you know, success aside, his empire strikes back office.

Will Hicks 54:03
Oh, no, that's money as a holy smokes. Now, ironically, at least my understanding is that wasn't the original plan. And that sort of came about it resolved a lot of story issues. And like, Oh, yeah, let's make him his dad. It works perfectly. And indeed it did. But originally, he wasn't the dad. But then you go, okay, Darth Vader, dark father, or whatever. But I think you're looking at that. It really is a telling moment. And it's one that I kind of think about a lot in that one particular class is when Obi Wan Luke asks him, you know, what about my dad, you know, everyone's like, Well, you know, Vader betrayed and murdered your father. And there's this little pause there. And I asked my students, you know, what's Obi Wan thinking right there and almost all of them are, it's like a is about the line. But the original intent was no it was just something pay. It was a painful episode, at least my understanding that Lucas didn't quite have that Father thing figured out that came about as a result of writing a parser expect,

Alex Ferrari 55:10
right. And that's the thing too is things that we see in cinema history that we're like, well, that's exactly the way it was supposed to be. wasn't at all the way the initial people were the initial creators we're thinking of I was talking to somebody the other day, who was telling me you should read the first draft of back the future. And then read the shooting draft back completely different movie. Did you ever read the first draft the Back to the Future?

Will Hicks 55:34
I've not I've not read the first draft, you should send it to me.

Alex Ferrari 55:37
So the first draft, there is no Clock Tower. There is no lightning. They were going to go to a nuclear power plant to recharge the car to go back in time. Oh, wow. That was weird. That was a whole thing. But then the studio said, Hey, guys, we don't got the budget for this. You're gonna have to do it on the backlot. And then Zemeckis and Gail both the Bob's both hooked up, there's a clock tower. I don't know what lightning hit it. And that's enough energy. All right, let's do that. Brilliant solution, a much better solution. It but but that's the thing, and a lot of times is there is Kismet that happens with with storytelling and things that I mean, obviously the one of the great scenes in Raiders of the Lost Ark is that whole scene where this guy is, you know, the wielding the knife and and there was I think Spielberg said he they shot it like six or seven times it was a full action sequence till Finally, Harrison just like pulled out a gun and shot them. They're like, well, that's the take, why didn't we figure that out? Before that wasn't on the page. But on the day, it just made the most part one of the best laughs of the entire movie.

Will Hicks 56:46
Oh, yeah, it totally takes what works. Were expecting this big, huge fight sequence. And if I recall correctly, like, I think Harrison Ford was sick with stomach flu like regular folks on the set were sick, I couldn't really do it. And oh, what an elegant solution. And it kind of goes back to that whole idea of limitations, fostering creativity, and coming up with a much more creative solution than what we intended. Because like, yeah, we can show all this. But, you know, just because we can show it doesn't mean we should. And I think the original Star Wars benefited from that, in the sense that I can't show you I don't have the budget to show you the entire galaxy. And so as a result, I'm going to show you a little snippets of it, which then allowed the audience to fill all that in. And, you know, I think when we look back at some of these films from you know, back in the day that were really well crafted, but they had all these limitations to what they could show. That was indeed exactly what they created, was a place for audiences to put the, to add to the story to interact with it and so forth. And so, you know, today, and even Lucas talked a little bit about it. He's like, Yeah, sometimes I have gotten my vision on the screen, and nobody really much cared for it. Okay. But to me, it was it was always, you know, when you George Lucas, you can do that. But to me, it was like, Oh, this is cutting against what cinema does best, which is creating these moments and allowing us to find meaning in them. When we provide the meaning as filmmakers, when we complete the picture, we kind of nuke the audience, we remove part of the entertainment value of it, because it's your vision and not our vision. Oh, it kind of goes back. Gosh, always relating back to Star Wars today, for some reason, you know, to the idea. I saw a picture of Lucas, you know, wearing a Han shot first t shirt. I'm like, dude, you don't want to change it, of course, on choppers. But it's really funny because then you go well, Lucas's version of Han, the character is very different than our version of Han. And we took in, so we're like, no, the character would never do that. But then Who are we? I mean, we're telling the dude who created the character, you know, like, No, your character would never do that. It's a co construction. It's us the audience saying no.

Alex Ferrari 59:04
And that's why there's so that's why it's there's so much vitriol towards Lucas sometimes about Star Wars because people are so passionate about the like, the prequels were an abomination. How dare you though the re releases were an abomination. How dare you and there's so much passion about it. And I always have, I'm always from the, from the school of thought, I'm like, it's his. It's his man. It's like, it's his painting. Yeah, if he wants to change a couple strokes, that's up to him, man. That's not art. Like we can enjoy it. But, but that's how it's his it's his blessing and his curse. He was so good as engaging the audience, but now he's got to deal with

Will Hicks 59:43
Yeah, and and then we go, that's not that's not how I put it together, dude. And so no matter what he does, it's wrong. And I think you know, as a filmmaker, he's like, Alright, well, you know, that is but I want to tell the story. So I will and, you know, go on for that. But at the end of the day, I think when something is so beloved, it becomes No, this is not how we built it. And, you know, it's like, well, that wasn't my intended at all anyway, as a filmmaker, so it is kind of a Yeah, it was a blessing and a curse, I think you put it quite well.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:16
And I think that the going back a little bit to that Indiana Jones scene, playing if you as a screenwriter can play with the expectations of the audience. So that perfect scene illustrates that so wonderfully, they were expecting a full blown fight sequence. And then in a second, we don't get it. And it's such a pleasurable surprise, because you're playing with our expectations. Hitchcock did that with the psychos with psycho and killing off the lead actress. If you can play with the audience's expectations a bit. In your writing. Again, you will work forever.

Will Hicks 1:00:52
Yeah, it's it's your message to the audience is what you're doing. And you're you're taking in, it's tough, because you go, well, gosh, and audience is made up of a bunch of individual human beings all with different, you know, thoughts and ideas. And so alright, how do I do that? And you actually create an audience, you can you build an audience, in your film, films start off as you know, the successful ones, in my opinion, start off as being aiming at a very broad, you know, sensibility, and then begin to narrow and become more self referential, they start teaching you things. Here's the teacher saying films teach. But then they start teaching you things inside the film. And those are those setups, and then the payoffs come along. And what happens is you turn a group of individuals into an audience. And by the end of the film, the film, most films typical becoming increasingly self referential, they'll rely back on things they've shown you earlier in the movie, in order to pay off their endings. And so films that do that tend to do really well, because it takes into account Yeah, I've got a bunch of individual people who are watching this thing, I can't please them all by no stretch. And I'm going to be communicating in a very indirect way. But what you do is you start to guide the audience into that place where you want them to be in the reaction you want to get out of them at the end. And so it's just inefficient, but that's the that's the power of cinema, at least in my mind.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:18
Yeah. And in there's also some films that and some stories that age, they're ahead of their time, and they age much better than they were when they first initially were released. So a film like Fight Club, which we're talking about the twist ending, it's something that you need, again, it's very much like the success where you like, Oh, my God, it's Yeah, and they go back and show you all the things you're like, you should have seen the signs you should see Santa but that story, I mean, you if it's still one of my favorite films of all time, you watch it today, it holds, it holds so brilliantly, even though some of the technology might be dated as far as like, you know, the computers and the windows and things like that. But the style of it, the storytelling power of that film, I still argue is probably it's probably his best maybe other than the social network. Because to make the social network interesting is you are a master. You're a master, man. It's a story. Remember, when that came out? And you're like, oh, they're gonna tell the story of Facebook cares about the story of Facebook. cares, in look. I mean,

Will Hicks 1:03:26
good. No, I was gonna say, yeah, both those films are superb, actually, social network is another movie I teach, and one of my classes just exquisitely structured. But if you watch it, it's going to use the setups and payoffs just brilliantly. And it's going to use some of the techniques we were talking about here in terms of being able to insert us inside the mind of that character, and how it does it. It just really slick. And like, okay, yeah, there's the craft. When we look at film, and in terms of being an interactive medium, and involving the audience, it's a collaboration with the audience. It's q&a.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:05
Oh, yeah. It is actually q&a. You're always asking questions. What is he going to do next? What is she going to do next? How are they going to meet what's going to happen? Is the bad guy going to get away? So it's always these questions and answers going back and forth. The audience. Good movies are. And I always like I always like analyzing bad movies. Like why doesn't this work? And you know, there's my favorite bad movie of all time is the room. But the reason why the room is so bad is that because I always say I always say this is like when movies transcend. They're so bad that they transcend to good. That's one of those movies, there's just bad movies, and the room is so bad that it becomes good. And if you analyze the room, which is hard because it's so bad, nothing works. Nothing works on a on a storage level on an acting level on a craft. level, none of it works. But the only reason why people stand in line to watch that movie, it's not because it's a bad movie is because the creator was trying to create a good movie. And that's what came out the authenticity of because he didn't call out to make the one of the greatest cult bad movies of all time. He truly believed he was making a masterpiece. And that's what made it so.

Will Hicks 1:05:26
Oh, yeah, that's the you know, the shark NATO's of the world. Which

Alex Ferrari 1:05:31
shark NATO knew. But shark Neato knew what they were doing the second they came up with sharks in the tornado. So it's and they tweak in it, but like, you don't see the people in lining outside to see Sharknado in theaters. You know, there's not people with fan clubs about Sharknado. Like not really the room. It's a frickin world life. Oh, yeah, I mean, we go to remember birdemic remember that thing? Again? birdemic. There. So that was conscious. Yeah, it was a conscious thing. And you can tell a troll to, you know, when you watch troll two, which I By the way, I felt my soul die a little bit after I watched that movie. Because it was so bad. I actually enjoyed the documentary about the movie much more than the movie itself. It was so bad. It was I can't I literally died a little bit when I saw that film. But that was a film that the director had a vision and was thinking and is making the greatest, you know, horror movie of all time. And there's, you're right, but it's it has to be unintentional. If you go in intentionally, it doesn't

Will Hicks 1:06:30
work. Yeah. And that was kind of the thing with birdemic. That sort of like, Ah, yeah, it just doesn't feel and it ties back into of all things. Truth. And it's that idea, you know, I have a filmmaker who's trying to capture truth, and you employ the audience consensus. And if we get the sense that they're just trying, they're purposely trying to achieve this effect by making it bad, then it undermines the truth of the film, and then we walk or we don't get quite the same reaction.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:59
That's a really, that's a really great way of looking at that. I never really thought about that. But that is I use the word authenticity, but it is truth. It is the truth. As a filmmaker, you you have this, this kind of social contract with the audience, that you're going to try to entertain them and you're going to try to do it and the truth of the story, obviously, Star Wars is not a true story. But there is truth in it. There is universal messages in it that ring true. That's why it's so universally Beloved, throughout the world, and we're still talking about a movie. That's what yours is now. I mean, 50 over 50 Is it over 50 years old at this point? Almost. Almost. 50 almost 50 Yeah, almost 50 Yeah. 77. So yeah, so it's almost 50 years old now. And I hate to say there's not a lot of films that are at that age that people constantly talk about. Rocky would be another one. Like you can watch rocky one right now. And if you don't know, the story of Rocky, it hits, it hits so perfectly. And I mean, as another person, we talked about Cameron earlier, Stallone, such an underrated writer. I mean, he created Rocky, Rambo, and so many other that he writes almost anything he does, I mean, but Rocky's you know, Jesus Christ, it's Rocky.

Will Hicks 1:08:21
Yeah, no, I mean, in many, many films later, and when you look at it, it's it's all character. It's you feel for this guy who's just kind of down on his luck. And, you know, it's not the underdog story. Sure, that's a component that feeds into it. But it's just another character who's aspiring for something and just things aren't working out. The Universal is that

Alex Ferrari 1:08:45
and they get a shot, and then gets a shot that nobody in the world would ever get. You get a shot at the idol, and you're a bum. It's, it's like, it's like a filmmaker going, Steven Spielberg just called you up, and you're gonna direct the $200 million movie. Yeah. But I've never been on set. Like, you know, and then that was called Project Greenlight, but not quite, but you know what I mean? But that's the equivalent of, Oh, my God, and he gets the shot. And he initially refuses it, as he should, because he's not insanely

Will Hicks 1:09:19
bright. And it's like, it wouldn't be very good. I mean, he just, you know, and he has to be persuaded if there's a reluctant hero and our you know, refusal of the call, mythologically speaking. But, but within the context of film, it totally makes sense that we understand why he would refuse, you know, because he doesn't see himself as being much of anything. But then he goes for it, which, you know, kind of becomes the, the message of the film,

Alex Ferrari 1:09:45
right, and then, and he needs Mickey, to convince him to do it. The guy who saw the potential in him, but he never saw it in himself. He needed that that mentor figure it all goes back to Joseph Campbell. That mentary figure that brings him That out of him. And in an even in his own mind, he has to tell himself the story and like, I'm not going to beat the champion of the world, I'm not going to win this fight. My goal is to stand on my feet and go the distance. That is the only goal I have in this entire endeavor. I just want to stand instead of distance with the champ. That's all I want to do when I stand there want to prove that to myself, I know I'm not good enough to beat this guy, because he's the world champion. And even that one little story arc, because they originally had them winning, they shot both endings. They shot both endings, the shot that he won, but they felt that the more powerful one is like he didn't win, of course, setting up sequels upon sequels upon sequels.

Will Hicks 1:10:44
But also, he did. And you're exactly right in the scene prior, he was there talking with Adrian, and he's like, you know, nobody's ever got to distance with Crete. You know, he's kind of doing his thing. And he's setting up, here's my victory condition. And then we see we see how it plays out. But yeah, it would have been, it would have been hammy and especially at that era. So we're talking 1976. So, you know, we're still coming out of kind of American new wave. And most of those films ended with downer notes. And boy, that would have been, I think, a big pill for the audience to swallow then, which is to have emerged triumphant, because like, come on, dude. It undermines Apollo's character. Because Apollo is the master of disaster, The Count of Monte Cristo. Suck it, you know? Yeah. And even, you know, pardon me for kind of rambling, but even thinking of the character names when you look at them, you have a rock going against Apollo, a god.

Alex Ferrari 1:11:42
Really? No, you you right? never even thought of that. But you're absolutely right. He's Apollo, the God and he's a rock. Yeah, hard, who's gonna win this? But rocks are good, lasting. And taking

Will Hicks 1:11:57
and taking, taking punishment? Yeah. And of course, you know, I mean, he's more along the lines, Rocky Marciano from a historical perspective, but just the, you look at those small, small details in there, and they just work so well for the story. They're just kind of one of the things where it all comes together. But know that the right ending for that movie is to not have him win, and have him win and self respect.

Alex Ferrari 1:12:19
And the funny thing is, is because I know still on wrote up until I think the fourth one, I'm not sure if he wrote the fifth one or not, but he might have put up into the fourth one. On its arc of if you look at the first four, Rocky's the setup and reveal the setup and pay off set up and pay off. You've built up this relationship with Apollo, where now Mr. T is the bad guy. And Apollo needs to help him. And that builds up that relationship to the point where rocky for you everyone goes, I still remember everyone, like they kill the power. They kill the Pope. And they'll just I remember that. So like, I'm like, you're like, why did how did What's going on? Then everyone rushed out to see the evil Russian guy. You know. I was breaking it off longer in arguably one of the best performances of his life. He has like six lines. And he, it's so amazing. But yeah, it was it was it was perfection. Even on that level, Stallone understood the audience and what he had built with those characters, and was able to just play with the expectations again, because if you would have told me after watching rocky one, I'm like, oh, in two movies from now, Apollo is going to become his best friend, and help him defeat a new villain. Oh, and by the way, that he's gonna have to pay revenge because some other guys gonna be like, you would have said, No, that's impossible. So you're playing with those expectations, again, over the course of multiple movies, which we've all hoped to have, at one point or another, we have the ability and the privilege to be able to tell a story over so many movies.

Will Hicks 1:13:53
Oh, absolutely. And then it ties in really to the idea of Apollo not being a villain. He's an antagonist. Apollo was the hero of Apollo story. Always. Yeah, and that's, you know, that ties into really good villains, or antagonists I should say. And so then it's like, oh, what a great What a wonderful way of kind of reconciling cuz I always liked Apollo. It was cool. to have him now helping or working with a hero. Oh, that's such is beautiful. What a nice compromise. Because No, he's not evil at all. He was trying to, you know, he sort of took the fight lightly as he should have. And despite hubris, which the ancient Greeks would have busted his chops for. And, you know, Rocky, you know, emerges trumpet eventually. But he was never a villain. He was an antagonist and kind of delves into a little bit of difference between the two and still in, Savile knew that he was able to provide that character with, you know, a tragic arc, but certainly an arc nonetheless.

Alex Ferrari 1:14:58
And that's the thing, even in rock You want Apollo? He was never bad guy. He never did anything bad. If anything, he was giving him opportunities. Yes, for selfish reasons because he wanted to get his image to be better. That was the reason why he you know, chose this ridiculous idea of bringing a nobody in to fight the champion you imagine like in the days of Tyson when he was at his power, like he just bring some bum off the street, who maybe had three or four fights or whatever, it gets destroyed. Yeah, but but the brilliance of it that he was not a villain. And I think that actually leads into yet another conversation, which is the part of a villain. And I think that bad villains and bad antagonists don't have good. They generally don't have a good story that they're telling themselves. So the idea of the twisting the mustache at the trail at the train station, while the woman is tied up in the heroes coming to save that story at the time was very like, Oh my god, but now you look at him like why is he tired? Or what? what's what's the purpose? Why? Why are you doing? You're just being bad for bad? That's boring. That for bad is absolutely boring. But someone like Thanos who, you know, they built Thanos up over the course of 10 years. Oh, yeah. Did you dripping him down like little little, little easter eggs throughout all those movies that knows as as a villain, because he is a bad guy. But his story that he tells himself he's trying to do good. He's like, Look, the world the universe is overpopulated. I think the solution for that it's just this kill half everybody off. You know, it's just very pragmatic, very pragmatic way of going about things. Is it wrong? Yes. But in his stories, like this is the only way I see I'm trying to do a greater good in a very bad way. And most villains throughout history, you start looking at, you know, power hungry dictators and things like that. And even throughout cinema history, the best villains always have just misguided visions of something good trying to solve a problem, but just misguided in solving that problem. Magneto in the x men, you know, he's just like, you know, there is no working with these people. We are the superior race. And we are now going to, to take over the world as mutants, you know, but then Professor X is his other side's like, No, we could work with them, we can help them we can. So it's like that, that whole thing. But he's an interesting villain, as opposed to just a villain like I just, if he would have said, I don't like anybody else, I think we're just gonna kill people. It's boring. It's boring. There has to be a better story.

Will Hicks 1:17:44
Yeah, and, and when we think about that, so we look at, like the protagonists and antagonists, we're looking at two sides of the theme. And when you have the villain, who's on the other side, saying just being evil, for the sake of evil, you kind of think, then it's like, there's no other side of the theme being presented. It's interesting, one sided, and that becomes propaganda. And we sense it, and we're like, okay, it's just, all right. And so it starts to lose those layers. And then that ties back in a little bit to with the idea that the shadow archetype, you know, when we talk, talk about hero's journey and such of the shadow represents a fallen hero, someone who was trying to be good, and when we look at their characteristics, you'll see Oh, there, they have a lot of wonderful traits. And then there's this one component typically it's it's related to selfishness. In other words, they're in it for themselves rather than for benefiting others. And that's that that dividing line. Example I like to use is Hannibal Lecter of all people. Who's a shadow archetype. When you when you look at the character really deeply, who turned

Alex Ferrari 1:18:53
who, and who turned into an antihero,

Will Hicks 1:18:57
yeah. Relationships cool, too. But it makes sense because it draws on their their fallen heroes, they're heroes who started out on the path of good or on the path to help others and realized, wait a second, I've got all these powers. nobody's doing stuff for me. And they decided to go into it for themselves. But if we look at Hannibal Lecter, as a character, and rattle off a list of traits, like Oh, he's intelligent, that's admirable.

Alex Ferrari 1:19:25
He's a

Will Hicks 1:19:27
good artist, if you recall, you know, the drawings. He he drew all those from memory, Dr. Electric, you know, that kind of? He's a fine, you know, I guess, could run like a recipe channel. That'd be kind of cool. But he's polite. He's exceedingly polite. Well, man, like well mannered, like, Yeah, he doesn't like the fact that to get multiple meanings. And in the next cell, you know, it was rude to Clarice so he had him swallow his own tongue. If we rattled this list of traits, it's like holy smokes, that guy sounds great. And then you like And oh yeah, maybe have eats people. It's one thing he said thing

Alex Ferrari 1:20:06
that one thing he eats people. And that's the brilliance of that character and of that story, it's that you love what you love Hannibal, you know you how you absolutely are, you are in love with a cannibal. A vicious killing, handled the cannibal. And, and that's the brilliance of that when you can love a villain that much. So much so that the villain then eventually turns into a hero. In other movies, in other movies, and even arguably in science of the land. It's it's, he's the one that helps catch the ultimate bad villain of Buffalo Bill, who has no redeeming value whatsoever. Not like he he's a sick, just sick person who has obvious issues. Obviously, she has to say the least, just a few. But there's no redeeming. There's nothing redeeming about him. He, I mean, nothing. I think the only redeeming thing about Buffalo Bill is his puppy. He doesn't hurt the animal he does. And that's like, his only weakness is like, you know, that was the thing that finally you know, one of the things that was the puppy, that's the only thing I can remember of that character that's even remotely redeeming that he likes animals, like you're reaching, reaching out that one.

Will Hicks 1:21:22
Yeah, it's a bit of a straight up. Dude. Okay. And that's exactly right. And so there's a difference between our you know, Shadow archetype and an antagonist. And so it's that notion of that fallen hero who kind of gave into themselves. And I don't know where we started, or how we got started on this topic, villains,

Alex Ferrari 1:21:46
villains and villains. And so

Will Hicks 1:21:49
it says villains who do have, like, okay, I can see your motivations. I get it. And once again, that ties us into how we relate to the film. We get it, we understand where they're coming from. And it's an intriguing question, what would you do if you were put in those those shoes? And the filmmakers pop? That is a question. And now we may say, No, I would never kill off half the population. No, that's just wrong. But I can certainly see where Thanos is coming from. So Chris character identification with the villain. Once you do that, well, you got a good playground to play in it much more complex character than just, you know, hanging out on the train tracks.

Alex Ferrari 1:22:24
I mean, so asking the question, if you had the power of the Infinity Gauntlet, instead of killing off half a million or half a half the population of the universe, why not double the universe? And have more places? Why not have more places for more resources, double all the resources, triple all the resources, make the resources infinite? With the Infinity Gauntlet? Infinity Gauntlet, do you see Thanos? You're wrong, sir. But, but that's but that's perspective. It's all about perspective on what he felt that was that was the way of going about it, but his and also, he had so much pain, because of that specific problem, where they killed off his family and all this kind of stuff. when he was younger, that that's why that pain caused him to go back towards the, I'll just create more resources to I'm gonna have to kill half in his misguided way to do it.

Will Hicks 1:23:23
Exactly. And notice what that does for us as an audience is that that clues us in as to who he is as a person. Oddly enough, it reveals his character and and isolates it down. There's something we talk about, like isolating the variable. It's a math term. But it's the idea that that personality trait, whatever it is, that drives that character, and I talk a lot about character design and design freak when it comes to storytelling. But what it does is it isolates it down to Yeah, you could have chosen that, but you didn't. And that tells us something about who he is. And also clues us into that aspect of pain, which can be relatable as well. And so really smart films will do that. where it'll, it'll say, Yeah, you've got this choice and you chose this. Why? You know, and it kind of questions implicit, and then we watch the film to find out.

Alex Ferrari 1:24:15
Yeah, so, you know, obviously one of the greatest villains of all time, Darth Vader, you know, at the core of Darth Vader, he's not a bad guy. He's angry. He he feels loss, but there's a humanity inside that villain. At the beginning, we don't see that we just see the bad guy. But during the course of even the the original trilogy, you see him arc to the point where he then becomes the Savior. He becomes the Redeemer he becomes redeemed at the end of Return of the Jedi. But that villain, you know, and then once you go back into the prequels, you kind of see where all that pain came from, and the loss and everything like that, that turned him into what he intended. But at the end of the day, though, he's still he's still he was still a good guy inside.

Will Hicks 1:25:10
Oh, yeah. I mean, when you think about him, he's another he's similar to Hannibal Lecter in that regard, is always positive traits. He's strong, he's intelligent, he wants to bring order to the galaxy, okay, galaxy is a messy place, he's going to tidy it up. He wants to reconnect with his kid. Think about it. Luke never sent him a Father's Day card. And he wants to connect with them. Okay, that's nice, too. And oh, yeah, by the way, I want to rule the galaxy as father and son, okay. And you're willing to chop people and do a lot of chaos in order to achieve all these things. And so there's that, once again, loaded up with all these positive attributes. And there's that that trait that gets it What's wrong with that character, their character flaw? In some ways? You touched on something that's kind of cool. We can look at the idea between our protagonist and antagonist as one who arcs versus one who doesn't, and ask yourself this, check out check out movies. Typically, the villain does not arc they don't change, they don't learn the lesson of the movie. Right? Hero does and succeeds, right? The villain does not and is destroyed. And for movies, you mentioned seven earlier, Brad Pitt. You know, what's it about? Brad Pitt? doesn't learn the lesson of the film, and gets destroyed by it. Right, a spoiler again. But, but that's the idea at the core of the story. And at the core of what films tend to do. The successful ones in my mind, is when a character learns that and is willing to grow and change as a result of, you know, what the film is presenting them with? They tend to emerge triumphant when they're not, they tend to be destroyed.

Alex Ferrari 1:26:51
Yeah, that's a really great point of view. Because I mean, Brad Pitt obviously never learned the lesson. And the only person, even even even Morgan Freeman, he doesn't learn a lesson. He knew the lesson the entire time. And he was trying to teach it but yet he was like, Oh, my God, I've I failed, the whole movie ends on a downer. I mean, the whole movie is a downer. There's no question about it. Even john doe's character, he knew what was going on. And john doe, throughout the entire movie doesn't change does he doesn't want to change. Right? He's, he's a villain, and no one really knows why john doe does what john doe does, there was no, there is no motivation. He is a pure villain. From the beginning to end, and it he does have a slight a slight twisting of the mustache. But he does a slight a slight bit of twisting of the mustache because he doesn't have and I'm not going back into the movie I'm like, but for him, it's a game. And that and that's what moves and motivates him is like, oh, there's a new poem on the table on the on the chessboard, and that's, that's Somerset and Somerset. I'm Brad Pitt's character. And I'm gonna play with him. Now, that happens midway through the movie, you know, Midway, like, oh, okay, now the game has changed. And again, once that middle midpoint is a point of no return, it doesn't. That you can't go back now. Oh, no, no, john doe knows who you are. You're screwed. You can't go back. It's such a great,

Will Hicks 1:28:24
yeah. And oh, yeah. And it's the right thing for the film. But kind of going back to that midpoint, that's something you know, we talked about it from a structural perspective, you know, I refer to it as the apex or the big twist, where the film will flip on its head, just to kind of refresh this the narrative halfway through, because you know, movie can be long. And if you're hitting the same beats over and over again, it can feel really redundant and slow. And so watch, watch that 60 minute marker, watch that Apex beat that middle point of the film, and you'll see where they'll twist it just to you know, kind of revive the second act and add additional complications that'll lead into the third. Yeah, so yeah, no moment.

Alex Ferrari 1:29:06
It No it isn't. You start analyzing all the movies that are haven't had any success in the world. In the cinema history, they all have that midpoint. There is a point where the character can't go back to the ordinary world if we're using Joseph Campbell's, or terms. There is that point where you're like, Okay, I've now crossed the threshold. I can't go back even if I wanted to, I can't go back. So that that perfect example and seven. Once john knows who Brad Pitt's character is, there's no going back now whether he wants to or not, it's over. Now. It's gonna go it's gonna go down this road. And and that you need that as a story in the story. You do need that point where at any moment, that first half the character glucose, you know what, because before before he meets john doe, john doe sees who he is. He says, You know what, I'm just going to drop out of this case, it's just too hard I don't want to deal with this anymore. He could leave, arguably, for once john doe knows it's over, you can't go back. It's now out of your control in it. And what's the midpoint in Star Wars? I am trying to figure it out, let it off the top of my head, I can't remember. But there's a midpoint where Luke, I think it's been Luke goes off with with lb one. I think that's the point where like, you know, when that when that when the farm burns, like he can't go back home, there's the whole bird. So that's the point where like, well, guess I gotta go down this way.

Will Hicks 1:30:30
Yep, I only have one path left. And I have to pursue it and have to follow it. And yeah, it's one of the things that you know, when you think about different structures and different ways to approach your story, and storytelling as a whole. And I'm a fan of what I call a structural overlay, which are two structures laid on on on top of each other. And one is that Hero's Journey structure that we've been discussing. And another is what I call a turn structure, which is more of a character based structure. And it's the idea that through the pursuit of the plot of solving the plot, we reveal who this character is, what their flaw is what they have to deal with internally. That's that internal storyline. And if we really want to look at story in a very broad sense, or cinematic narrative, in a broad sense, I would maintain it's the external force of plot against the internal force of character. And these two things colliding. And it, that midpoint is where that that internal storyline starts to come up to the surface where we can see it and get at it, we may have caught it, we've hinted at it prior to, but now it's like, oh, in order to solve the plot of the film, whatever it may be, I'm going to have to change this aspect of my character. And there's the characters arc is what is presented there. So it really is two structures kind of laid on top of each other. And one is what I would maintain. Even things like save the cat, if you were to look at that, that approach in that storytelling model. It's kind of taking those two structural paradigms and spelling out what happens at the at those junctures there. But it really is those two things, that's a source material for all of it's kind of cool. But those two, those two structures that I just discussed, overlaid on top of each other one is telling you the plot storyline, and one is telling you the character journey inside.

Alex Ferrari 1:32:25
Very, very cool. Um, you know, we've been going on and on, this has been a fantastic conversation, and we can continue to talk about stuff forever. I have a feeling. But I also wanted to bring attention to your book, The screenwriters workout. Now, when I first saw the title for this, I was like, This is interesting. And and then when I started digging into a little bit of like, Oh, no, like he's talking about reps. He's talking about sets. Like this is like for a writer. So can you talk a little bit about the screenwriters works workout?

Will Hicks 1:32:55
Oh, sure. So that was that was the thought process. You know, it's thinking about magic mentioning earlier that Oh, yeah, I tried just about everything else I could other than film. And so I was a science major exercise physiology.

Alex Ferrari 1:33:10
Make sense?

Will Hicks 1:33:12
Okay, so it's like, yeah, there's the connection. But when you think about any sort of performance, sport, if you will, or even a performance art, you know, you go to the gym and you strengthen certain muscles, a strengthen certain aspects, so that you can use those in the pursuit. So as a football player, I need to, you know, be able to be very strong, so I can push the line of scrimmage and tackle someone or run through a tackle or something like that. And for me, I was like, why screenwriters can do the same thing? It's not that no, obviously we get we get better by reading screenplays, writing screenplays, and doing all those things. But we can also strengthen the skill sets that we go to gym and hit the equipment. And so what I tried to do is create a gym for screenwriters, where you can go there and strengthen certain aspects of your craft to improve your storytelling essentially. And so that was kind of the core approach to it. And then what I realized is, as I was going through the book is crap, I gotta do all I have to teach all this stuff, in order for the later lessons to make sense. So the first part, you know, has quite a bit of theory that's going behind it, so that you can get to some of the activities and exercises later on. That should strengthen your storytelling craft. A lot of these were honed in my classes. And so what I would do is try different exercises on my students that that as an evil scientist or anything, but like, hey, try this and see if it helps. And so I was able to kind of glean which ones seem to improve their storytelling to a high degree. And so then I tried to incorporate those into the book as well. And so it's kind of a combination of those two, two things. Some exercises are really, you know, kind of, you know, if you were a soup, what would you be like, what does this have to do with screenwriting? But what I'm trying to do is strength is stretch your mind in terms of understanding the metaphoric connections. In between the actions that characters take, versus the things we can see on the screen, you know, if they're eating a bola terrible example, eating a bowl of alphabet soup, I mean, everything on that screen has meaning to us. So we're trying to look for meaning in those in those elements. And so I tried to put together a book that would explore and strengthen those skills, in addition to your storytelling chops as a whole. Looking at it from a structural perspective, from a character design perspective, like I said, I'm big into design, I think most of the issues that we find in a screenplay are based on a faulty design right from the get go. And to not be overly eloquent about it, it's kind of like what I would call a chocolate covered turd. You know, it looks great. It's got you know, raspberry sprinkles on it, and it's all singles awesome. And then you take a bite and it's like, I got a mouthful of crap. And it's no fault of the writer per se. It's just the design the story wasn't designed from the get go to really work together and fit together, the elements don't quite go together right? And so no amount of artistry, no amount of of craft can can resurrect it. It's just doomed right from the get go. And so there are elements, you know, talking about that in the book as well. Just trying to really get it story design, in designing your story right from the get go and then providing you know, a lot of the other soft skills that go into screenwriting.

Alex Ferrari 1:36:28
Now I'm going to ask you a few questions asked all my guests. What are three screenplays that every screenwriter should read?

Will Hicks 1:36:35
Me and your other guests gave us a really good ones. Let's see. I'll try to pick some that perhaps might not be quite so obvious. The Devil Wears Prada.

Alex Ferrari 1:36:49
Crispy quit. Yeah, it is. script. So yeah, that'll that'll be one. My best friend's wedding. Another great script.

Will Hicks 1:37:02
I'll pick that one. In particular, that one for how the screenwriter named Ron bass. How he puts his acting description just kind of really cool. And then Okay, lethal weapon.

Alex Ferrari 1:37:17
Oh, well Shane Black Of course. He's just I mean just just for just for the descriptions alone It's the scripts are amazing.

Will Hicks 1:37:26
Yeah, and if you and if you want to stay in Shane Black world, I might suggest last boy scout the original set up that one via

Alex Ferrari 1:37:32
the original one. He was a surfer and not daymond Wayne's

Will Hicks 1:37:37
Oh, no. The the the script itself I think if you read the actual description in there it's it's it's a further distillation of lethal weapon. And and I pick those for different reasons. But most of them have to do with words on the page. Yep. And just how you how you create a movie on the page because it's not the easiest task to do.

Alex Ferrari 1:37:58
And if you What advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into the business today? Know your craft ultimately, it's all gonna boil down to that you know, right good or, but oh my god, that's a T shirt. That's a T shirt. Right good or?

Will Hicks 1:38:16
Yeah, most most of my lessons are like bumper stickers or like come on. Are means no No, no seriously it's know your craft hone your craft when you think you know it. You don't keep working at it. It's it takes so long to master the skill sets. It really does. And I think film school it's really cool. It serves a purpose of getting you further along that journey than perhaps you would do on your on your own. But it really is boiling down to a good story well told vibrant characters they will they will find out they will find out so find a home let it second guess the marketplace cuz you're gonna be behind

Alex Ferrari 1:38:54
every time every time. Yeah. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life? I don't know. I'm still learning. No. structure is not formula. Yeah, exactly.

Will Hicks 1:39:12
There was you know, young younger me if I look back, it's like to Yeah, okay. You're trying to be this artistic Putz? Like, no, I'm a bus wreck. No, nobody's above the craft. Nobody. As soon as a filmmaker thinks they're above the craft. They just ended their career. Yeah, happen. Hitchcock. Sorry. But happens to a lot of filmmakers. But no one is above the craft. It is. It's, I think a beauty once you see it. But that would be the one lesson. It's just like, yeah, it's not just because it's a structural paradigm. It's not a formula. There's reason for structure. And it's kind of cool that way. And once you understand the reasons I'm kind of a why guy. It's like, Well, you know, versus we need conflict and film. You know, and I'm like Terminator. You know why? You just do why, you know, I keep asking In the same thing, it's like, oh, here's why. And you start to understand their reasons why certain things happen in movies. And it's, you know, you can try to reinvent the wheel, and it's totally cool. I can appreciate the impulse. But ultimately that wheels got to roll. If you reinvent the wheel and it doesn't roll, it's not a wheel. And and so, you know, sometimes in our in our well intention of, hey, I want to do things different in original and certainly that would that would describe, you know, how I wanted to approach the page. It's understanding, there are certain reasons why certain things happen in a film. And it's now you provide your originality to that provide the originality to the content on the certainly the form. And it's a long answer. Fair enough. But yeah, hopefully you can glean something out of it.

Alex Ferrari 1:40:50
And three of your favorite films of all time.

Will Hicks 1:40:54
Oh, I think we already discussed them. Star Wars. You got that one. That one? I'll just have to list. It's funny before the class I hadn't watched it in years. It was kind of back to what you were talking about. So Star Wars. Life is beautiful.

Alex Ferrari 1:41:12
Yeah, it's beautiful. I like the fact that it holds emotion. And then seven summer another and you can't go wrong with any of those at all. Well, man, thank you so much for taking all the time out. I know you have your busy schedule. You were in between classes right now. So I do appreciate you taking the time. It has been an absolutely enjoyable conversation about the craft and and hope we could do it again sometime. But thank you so much for dropping these knowledge bombs on our tribe today. So I appreciate it, my friend.

Will Hicks 1:41:47
Well, thank you and do it again.


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BPS 125: The Art of Story, Dialog, and Character with Robert McKee

Our guest today is the well-regarded screenwriting lecturer, story consultant, and eminent author, Robert McKee. Reputable for his globally-renowned ‘Story Seminars’ that cover the principles and styles of storytelling. I read his book years ago and refer to it often. I discovered McKee after watching the brilliant film Adaptation by the remarkable Charlie Kaufman. Kaufman literally wrote him into the script as a character. McKee’s character was portrayed by the Emmy Award-winning actor Brian Cox.

If you haven’t heard of Robert McKee then you’re in for treat. Robert McKee is what is considered a “guru of gurus” in the screenwriting and storytelling world.

He has lectured on storytelling for three decades, and his book Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting (FREE AUDIO BOOK VERSIONS HERE) is a “screenwriters’ bible“. It’s also become the bible for TV writers, and entertainment executives, and their assistants.

McKee’s former students include 67 Academy Award winners, 200+ Emmy Award winners, 100+ Writers Guild of America Award winners, and 52 Directors Guild of America Award winners.

Some of his “Story Seminar” alumnae including Oscar® Winners Peter Jackson, Julia Roberts, John Cleese,  Geoffrey Rush, Paul Haggis, Akiva Goldsman, William Goldman, and Jane Capon, among many others.

McKee’s work has shaped the way Hollywood movies have been written for years. Particularly, Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting, written in 1997. A very resourceful guide for screenwriters. In Story, he expands on the concepts he teaches in his $450 seminars (considered a must by industry insiders), providing readers with the most comprehensive, integrated explanation of the craft of writing for the screen. More than 100 big-name screenwriters have benefitted from his seminars at one point or another. 

Many of you might have been introduced to McKee’s work in the film Adaptation, where the great Brian Cox portrayed him. This is how I began my journey into McKee’s game-changing book Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting.

Nicolas Cage is Charlie Kaufman, a confused L.A. screenwriter overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy, sexual frustration, self-loathing, and by the screenwriting ambitions of his freeloading twin brother Donald (Nicolas Cage). While struggling to adapt “The Orchid Thief,” by Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep), Kaufman’s life spins from pathetic to bizarre. The lives of Kaufman, Orlean’s book, become strangely intertwined as each one’s search for passion collides with the others’.

My interview covered discussion on McKee’s latest book which is linked below, Character: The Art of Role and Cast Design for Page, Stage, and Screen. And a combination of his other books Dialogue: the Art of Verbal Action for Stage, Page, and Screen, and Storynomics: Story-Driven Marketing in the Post-Advertising World, which are both linked in the show notes. 

This interview felt like a free pass to one of McKee’s sold out seminars — packed with knowledge bombs.

Absorb as much knowledge as you can because it come fast and hard. Enjoy this conversation with Robert McKee.

Right-click here to download the MP3

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Alex Ferrari 0:04
I'd like to welcome to the show, Robert McKee. How are you doing, Robert?

Robert McKee 0:08
Very well, very well. Thank you.

Alex Ferrari 0:10
Thank you so much for coming on the show. I am have been a fan of your work for quite some time. I've read your first two books, and I'm looking forward to reading your new one, which we'll talk about later character. But I was first introduced to your work in the film adaptation like so many. So many screenwriters and filmmakers were how, by the way, how, how was that whole process? I mean, it was a very odd request, I'm sure that you got when you got that call?

Robert McKee 0:40
Well, it certainly was, my phone rang one day and producer named Ed Saxon calling from New York and, and he said I am mightily embarrassed. This is a phone call I've dreaded. We've got this crazy screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and, and he has made you a character in his screenplay, and he has freely cribbed from your book and from your lectures, and he has no permission to do either. And, but we don't know what to do. So I said, well, send me a script, you know, I'll you know, see what's going on. So they sent me a script, and I read it. And I saw immediately that he really needed my character as a central to the film, because he wants me to, he wanted my character to represent the the imperatives of Hollywood. And that you have to do certain things certain ways, blah, blah, blah. And, you know, which is on one level nonsense. Such rules, they their principles, and there's genre convention, but anyway, but so I was a typical kind of need to slander Hollywood in favor of the artist. And, and they wanted me to do the slandering. So, but I realized that without my character there to provide some source of conflict. The story didn't work at all. So I said, and so I tell you what, I made two phone calls. I called William Goldman. And I said, Good, he was, you know, a student of mine. And I said, Bill, they there's a film and they want to use me as a character in it. What do you think? And he said, Don't do it. Don't do it. He said, it's Hollywood. And he said, they're out to get you don't do it. I said, Yeah, but I'm okay. But suppose I had casting rights. And he says, Okay, okay, who do you want? I said, Well, let's say Gene Hackman, is it? Okay. Okay. It'll be Gene Hackman, with a big pink bow around his neck. If they want to get you, Bob, they're gonna get you don't do it. So then I called my son. And I said, Paul, you know, and he said, do it. I said, Why isn't because Dad, it's a Hollywood film, you're gonna be a character in the Hollywood film. And he said, it'll be great. Do it. So I talked to Ed Sachs, and I said, Kenny, three things. One, I need a redeeming scene. I said, you know, you want to slander me fine. But then you can't leave it at that. You got he got to give me a redeeming scene. Right? To I have to have the controller the casting, I won't tell you exactly who to cast. But you got to give me a list because I ended need to know their philosophy. I mean, for all I knew this was the Danny DeVito Dan Ackroyd School of casting,

Alex Ferrari 4:28
you know, fair enough.

Robert McKee 4:31
I said, and very importantly, the third act sucks. And I cannot be a character in a bad movie. So we need meetings, they're going to have to be willing to rewrite. And, and those are my three conditions. And, and they agreed to them. And, and so they sent me a casting they gave me my redeeming scene and then they they they sent a list. Have the 10 best middle aged British actors alive? You know, everybody from Christopher Plummer to Alan Bates and I, and and I looked at the list. And I said, I want Brian Cox. And they said, Who's Brian Cox? And I said, He's the best British actor you don't know. Because Brian had been a student of mine up in Glasgow, and I'd seen him on stage in the West End of London and, and what I didn't want, see all those actors. They're all wonderful. But there's always actors have this Love me Love me thing, no matter what they want to be loved. And there's always this subtext like my heart's in the right place. And I really, you know, and I don't want to be loved. I really don't want to be respected, I want to be understood. And I want to inspire people and educate, but I do not want a bunch of people following me around like a guru. Right, loving me, right? And I knew that Brian would not do that. And, and then we had meetings and about the Act Three, and eventually got to a never got to a perfect accuracy. But it got to a point where I could sign off on so and it was, so they took my son to a screening at so at Sony and I said, you know, we think ball, and he said, Dad, he said, Brian Cox nailed you. Which I thought was great. So you know, and it was, it was, but that's not the, you know, I was I put myself in a funny date. So it's not just, but yeah, it was, um, it was a difficult choice. But I think William Goldman was wrong, that, you know, there was a way to you have your cake and eat it too. And I think an adaptation is loved. Oh, and millions and millions of people. So, so it certainly didn't hurt my brand.

Alex Ferrari 7:20
It didn't hurt your brand or business, I'd imagine. It's the term irony comes to play where you would be working with Charlie Kaufman, on a script, where your character is the establishment that he's trying to get away from and to give art but yet you are working with him to put the script together and finish the third act, which is amazing. Charlie,

Robert McKee 7:42
Charlie's one of those guys. He's got, you know, a great talent. But he's a bit delusional. What he wants to achieve is the commercial art movie. He wants it both ways. He wants to be known for making art movies, but they have to make money too. And a lot of it because he knows that, you know, his career. If he loses money, it's over. And so and, and so he wants to he wants to create the commercial art movie and a salsa dance understood, you know, things, the notion of the commercial art movie, you know, the, the, the English Patient and films like that. And I you know, in the meetings with a spike and and, and, Charlie, I, you know, I pointed out to Charlie, so you can't have it both ways. It's a you, you know, you if it's a true art movies have a very limited audience period. And art filmmakers understand this. And they budget accordingly. You want 30 million

Alex Ferrari 8:59
for an art film?

Robert McKee 9:03
Was 5 million we could, but Okay, so anyway, but it was. Yeah, the irony of it is wonderful.

Alex Ferrari 9:10
So, so you've worked with so many screenwriters and filmmakers over the course of your career, what is the biggest mistakes you see screenwriters, new screenwriters to the craft make?

Robert McKee 9:24
Well, it's not mistake so much. Yeah, I guess it is a mistake. But, uh, there's two problems. One is cliches. And they think that it that they want to be, you know, like an artist, they want to be original, but at the same time, they want. They want to be sure that it works. And so they recycle the things that everybody's always done. And they've tried to recycle them with it. difference and which is absolutely necessary, I mean, that's I get it, you're not going to reinvent the wheel, you have to just spin it yet another way. And, but then they get very easy once they sell their soul. It's hard to get it back. And, you know, you can pour on your soul for a while, but you've got to get the cash to get back. And, and so that's the war on cliches is not some, you know, it's not a fault, it's just a problem everybody faces. And, but there's a greater problem. And it's the willingness to lie. In an effort to tell their story to get it out, somehow they get it together. And they will write characters and scenes, and whatever that that lack credibility that they know perfectly well, in their heart of hearts is pure corn of some kind. And it's a it's, they're bending the truth. It's not it's, there's something false to some. And, and, and to, to, to get to something that is really profoundly honest. And it doesn't matter what the genre is, from action, to comedy. to, to a you know, as an education plan, something very interior doesn't matter what the genre is, there's truth, and then there's lie. And somehow they think that because it's fiction, that gives them a license to lie. But but they don't have that license, they have a an obligation to express the truth of what it is to be a human being and in whatever genre, they're they're writing, they have a, they have a an obligation, if they're writing comedy, to really stick a knife in some sacred cow and expose the bullshit of society. I mean, they, you know, it's not enough to be amusing. comedy is a is an angry art, that savages, all those things that, that that that are false in life, and starting with politics. Right. And, and so there's they, there's a willingness to, to fit and lie and in order to please that, okay, let me take a step back. I bulldozing cliches and truthfulness are all the byproduct of the young writer, especially the young writers desire to please they want to be loved, they want people to love what they do they want to please people. And so they write what they think, is pleasing for people, whether it's all the cards in fast and furious. Right, or the sentimentality or whatever they want to please people and and which is fine, but you can't please everybody and so you're going to write for a certain mind a certain audience a certain mentality and an educational level and taste and whatnot in a certain group of people that you know, are out there, they're like you pay and and you can't please everybody. And and so, a film like for example, Nomad land is certainly not trying to please there's an audience for it, that will get it and enjoy it and and recognize this as a deep truth about our society and about human nature.

But it's, it's not going to have a mass audience. And because it will turn off more people than it will turn out. And, but it's, it's a excellent film is an honest film. So that's the I think it's fishing around here. Because when you open the door and say, you know whether

Alex Ferrari 14:53
you're wrong, there's 1000s of things

Robert McKee 14:57
to bring up, but if I can do it down, it's that it's that the willingness to please results in recycling cliches, and basically not telling the the, the, the dark truth of things. And so you have to be it's tough, you have to be disciplined not to copy other people's success, but to, to write what you honestly believe to be the

errors in the central new genre.

And, and be rigorous about that.

Alex Ferrari 15:36
Now, one of the the hallmarks of a good story is conflict. How do you create conflict in a story?

Robert McKee 15:46
Well, depends on where you start. If you start with a choice of genre, let's say you're going to write a thriller. Right? You know, the source of conflict immediately by that choice. I need some kind of psychopathic villain. Right? I need Russell Crowe, in unhinged. Why? And so that's done for you. So that the genre sort of automatically tells you, right, on the other hand, if you're telling a family story, and that will be called domestic. Until the characters are a family and it's a family with problems, wow. The conflict could come from any direction. Who's with? Is it the mother? Is it the father? Is that rebellious children? Is it Whose is it? Some some, you know, older grandfather grandmother figure that's pulling people strings, and you know, whatever, given a family what's wrong with this family? And so you have to figure out what is it and is it social, or psychological? Is it instinctive is a deliberate you have to think your way through all that. And so you, you you start with a family and you create a little you know, a cast? And then and then you ask the question or what's wrong with this family. And a million different things can be wrong in human nature inside of a family. And that requires knowledge, you have to understand people, you have to understand that you know, the mother, daughter, mother, son, Father, daughter, Father, Son relationships, and, and you need to dig into your own experience. And ask yourself, you know, what was wrong in my family? What What do I believe, to be the truth about families? And, and, and that the genre doesn't give you that answer. And so, you have the answer will come from your depth of understanding of human nature, human relationships of a certain personal kind in this case. And, or if you're writing comedy, so as mentioned, the starting place of writing a comedy is to ask yourself what is pissing me off? What in this world is pissing me off? Is that relationships? Is it men women? Always it? Is that the is that the the the the social networks? Is it is it politics? Is it the military? Is it the church? Why what what is what what do I hate? What's pissing me off? Because the root of comedy is is anger. The comic mind is an angry idealist comic comics are idealists who want the world to be perfect or at least and when they look around the world they see where sorry, sick one place it is. And, and they realize that they're complicit, they're part of it too. And so what spacing me off then it points them in a direction to an institution or behavior in society. me like I think that great comedy series. Curb Your Enthusiasm. You know, and, and, and yes, you know, what is pissing me off and he will finds really egregious fault in, in, in people's lack of propriety. Or, or logic or clarity of thought, you know, why should there be a handicapped stall in toilets? Right that no one can use except the two times a year that a handicapped person comes into this particular toilet. Okay. Right. That is

Larry David, that is an egregious absurdity and it infuriates him. And so he goes into the handicap stall, and sure shit, this is the day

a guy in a wheelchair. So, um, so that, you know, that that's, those are the various things, you know, you, you look at yourself, as a writer, and you you have to understand your vision of life, you have to understand the genres. When you make a choice, there's certain conventions. And, and a, you can bend those conventions, what breaker if you want, but not without an awareness of what the audience expects. And so somehow, it'll between picking the setting and the cast, the genre, and then looking inside of yourself, like your comic wouldn't ask you what's pissing me off? You find your way. If I if you're in conflict, and the the most importantly, you know, it has it that you know that that conflict has to be something you deeply believe in. Now, or, or you will do what we were talking about earlier, you will fall prey to cliches because you'll you'll create false conflict, false antagonist empty, a cliched antagonisms. And like that. So it's a very important question. Now.

Alex Ferrari 22:28
So as far as one thing a lot of a lot of screenwriters try to get away from is structure, saying that structure and trying to fall into side of a structure is, it's like holding me back as an artist and I need to be free and I need to run free like a wild stallion, I personally find structure to be very freeing, because it gives me a place to go. How do you approach structure?

Robert McKee 22:55
Well, in this day, people have a course accused me of imposing structural rules in my teaching, and it's nonsense. When

I am opposed to structure, it's inhibiting my creativity do not know what the hell they're talking. They just don't they use the word structure. But they wouldn't understand or know story structure, if it fell from a height under their foot, okay, they just don't know what they're talking about. structure in every scene, ideally, is a turning point of some magnitude, the character's life, they go into a situation wanting something. And something in that moment, kind of prevents them from getting it. They struggle with that. And they either get what they want, or they don't get what they want. Or they get it at a price or they don't get it but learn something. Change takes place. And it's in a simple scene is minor. And then these changes per scene build sequences in which moderate deeper change wider change happens, these sequences build x in it. And then that climax is a major turning point that has greater depth or greater breadth or both have impact on a character's life. And so minor moderate major changes are building a story progressively to an absolute irreversible change at climax. Now, why would anyone object to what I just said? Why would anyone think that you can change Do concrete scenes in which nothing changes. And do that three scenes in a row and people will not be walking up. They come there, they come to the writer, they read a novel, kind of trying to have insight into life as to what forces in life positive and negative, bring about change outwardly or inwardly in characters lives. I mean, that's why we go to the storyteller. And so and so why would you not want change? Or why would you want repetitious change? Because the same change degree of change, that happens three times in a row, you know, we're bored. So because it's not giving us what we want, it's not giving us the insight that into character that we want. And so people who say they're opposed to structure don't understand what structure is it they don't understand, it's a dynamic and a progression of minor moderate major changes. And so I have no patience with that kind of ignorance. Hear the people who say that are the very naive, ignorant, really, people who think that if they just open up their imagination, emotion, picture will flow out of it.

Alex Ferrari 26:30
Very true.

Robert McKee 26:32
And, and they are childish in that way. I mean, you open up your imagination and see what flows out, then you have to go to work on it. And you have to step back from every, every time you you know, or let me put you this way. What in truth is it to write? What is writing actually, like, as an experience, you open up your imagination, and you have an idea for a character or two or three, and you write a page, things happen? Action reaction dialog, that when you write a page, that takes 20 minutes, then what do you do? You read that page? And you could take it does this work? would he say that? Would she act like that? would this happen with it? Is there a better way to do this? And is this repetitious? Is there a hole does it make sense, you constantly critique what you've written, and you go back, and you rewrite it. And then you read it, again, you critique it again. And this goes on all day long. And so you go inside to create, you go outside to critique, you create, your critique you curate, and the quality of your critique that guides your rewriting is absolutely dependent on your understanding to make judgments, when you ask the question, does this work? You have to know what works and what doesn't work. And, and so that on one level, everything you do is structure. Its structured to have a character say x and another character respond with y that structure action reaction, that the person who said x did not expect to hear why

Alex Ferrari 28:36
right exit Exactly.

Robert McKee 28:39
And that structure that beat of act reaction and human behavior, that structure. So is I said, People say this, say it out of out of emit amateur understanding of what the creativity, what the act of writing really is.

Alex Ferrari 29:07
And I, whenever I've come up against that, when I say no, every you know, every movie has some sort of structure. Most movies, especially popular movies have structure. And your definition of structure is wonderful. They always throw out Pulp Fiction, and I'm like, no Pulp Fiction is an extremely structured film. Do you agree?

Robert McKee 29:28
Yeah. I've when I was we were talking about when I was when they were doing adaptation, and I was working with Charlie Kaufman. Charlie had exactly that attitude. I said, the third act doesn't work. We have to restructure it. And in the end is his face went into a panic mode. He didn't want you know, scared the hell out. He said, I know. I know that. It needs some, you know, just it'll come to me it was a clo and whatnot. And it's as easy as I don't write with structure. He said that I don't write with structure. I said, Charlie, would you like me to lay out the three act design of being john malkovich as because it's a three act, play, want to hear them, act 123. And, and he almost ran out of the room. He didn't want to hear it. He wants to live in the delusion that it somehow flows, and there is no structure. And when in fact, subconsciously, at least being john malkovich is a three activist

Alex Ferrari 30:48
is a great, it's

Robert McKee 30:50
a model, it's a model, BJ Mack is a model three act design. But it's but to the romantic like, Charlie, he doesn't want to hear it. Because he thinks that that's going to constipate his creativity. And I have to agree with it. If he wants to write out of this notion that it's all a flow. And if he is aware that there's a, that there's a design happening, it would, it would inhibit him. So it's because he's a good writer, he's very talented. So it would be better for him to live in that delusion, and let it all pour out. And then he goes back, and his taste guides the rewriting and so forth. And, and, and so if you're talented, like Charlie and, and the idea of structure is frightening, then you should listen to those feelings. And not think about structure and just, you know, do what you do, and hope it works.

But

that's rare.

Alex Ferrari 32:10
Very, very, very rare. But yeah, but and so for everyone listening, you have to understand that someone like Jeff Hoffman is writing. And as he's writing, he's subconsciously working within the three act structure, honestly, on a subconscious level. And even the great writers is like, Oh, I never even think about outlining or plotting, is because they have such a grasp of the craft, that it's already pre wired in them. It's like me building a house, I wouldn't even think twice about how to pour a foundation, or how to how to how to lay out the walls, because I've done it a million times. I don't have to sit there and think about it, it's just done. But that is rare, and it takes sometimes years to get to that place or you're a prodigy, which happens once in a generation or twice in a generation.

Robert McKee 32:57
And and you're absolutely right. That's very, very well put and, and in fact, it goes beyond that you have been watching the stories on screen you have been reading them in novels, you've been to the theater, that form form is a better word than structure that form of action, contradictory reaction and reaction to that and a giant dynamic of action reaction building to change that is so built into you as a as a reader as an audience member from I don't know two three years old. Mother read your little you know, bunny rabbit stories, right? Your bunny rabbit goes out and something happens that not happy for the bunny rabbit and then you know of bunny rabbits mother comes along and pictures things whatever it takes, I mean that that form is ingrained in you from from the earliest. And so you do know it?

Alex Ferrari 34:08
Without question. Now you do more dialogue is something that is you've wrote an entire book dedicated to dialogue. Obviously, your first book is story. But your second book is dialogue. What are the three functions of dialogue in your opinion?

Robert McKee 34:25
Well, there's many of them and certainly one of them is is the obvious one of exposition by various means. So for examples simple in writing dialogue, a character has a certain vocabulary so for example, you you've done construction on houses, right? Some sure I And so how many different kinds of nails Do you know? From spiked to tact of,

let's say 10? Yeah. Okay. Now most people may know, to me one nail on a screw, basically, that's all they know.

Okay. So if if in there, if a character in their dialogue uses the, the carpenters terminology. And even metaphorically, you know, call something a five, many nail, right? The fact that he knows the difference between a temporary nail and pipe and whatever it is, his exposition is it tells us something about the life of this character, by the very word, the names of things that that this character uses in their vocabulary helps us understand the whole life of this character. So if somebody grew up, you know, around boats, and they use nautical terminology, right? And so that they the language inside of the dialogue, all that just the vocabulary alone gives us exposition, it tells us who is this character? What's their life been like? Etc. Okay, then, at the same time, the characters talking about things that are happening, or have happened. And when somebody says, you know, you're not going to leave me again, we are to instantly know, that's it, she's already left them once, at least before

Alex Ferrari 36:46
it says it says volumes with one word.

Robert McKee 36:49
Yeah, there's no word again. But so we have an insight into what their life has been like, in this relationship. And so that's number one is is, is exposition. And number two is action. When people speak, what they say, is an action they take in order to get what they need and want in the moment, but underneath that is what they're really doing. And it's what in the subtext, the action they take in the subtext is what's driving the scene? So when somebody says, Well, I didn't expect that. Right? What they're really doing, perhaps, depending, right, is attacking, criticizing the other person for doing something that's completely inappropriate. What they say is, well, I didn't expect you to say that I didn't expect you to do that. I didn't expect that. But what that is, is a way of attacking another person for inappropriate behavior. And so it's right. And so and so the dialogue is the text by which people carry out actions. But underneath the dialog, is the true action. And it that's based on a common sense, understanding that people do not say out loud and do out what they're really thinking and feeling. They cannot, no matter how they try, if they're when they're, when they're pouring their heart out and confessing to the worst things they've ever done. There's still another layer, where they're actually begging for forgiveness, let's say, right? So by confessing, actually, you're begging for forgiveness or whatever it is. And so dialogue is the outer vehicle for interaction. And, and the great mistaken dialogue is writing the the interaction into the dialogue. stead of having somebody confess, did they beg Please forgive me, please forgive me, forgive me, forgive me. Right. And, and if somebody is actually begging, there's got to be another level of what they're really doing underneath the baking. And, and so you have to, you know, the writer has to think to that by begging. What that dialogue is actually a mask for manipulating that person. Do what you have to do, right. And so, exposition, action. Okay. And then, you know, just beauty. Just Just wonderful dialogue, in character, and all that, but but a way of creating a surface that is that it draws us. Because, you know, we just love to see scenes where characters speak really well. in there. And even though even if we're using just gangster talk, good gangs, your dog, it's right to talk to each other and that kind of rap and that kind of unite. Right? That's, that's a form of beauty. It's wonderful, you know, it's pleasurable, right. The dialogue ultimately ought to be pleasing, and in his sense of kind of verbal spectacle. And so that's just, you know, that just three off the top of my head functions, but there's is there's much more right and I, I like I'm sure like you, we all love. Wonderful, memorable quotable dialogue.

Alex Ferrari 41:24
Yeah, very much like it's so obviously Tarantino and Sorkin and Shane Black and these kind of screenwriters, their dialogue is just, it's poetic in the way that they write something, certainly is, certainly, and the genius of them is they're able to do the first two things you said, within that poetry, as opposed to just poetry for poetry sake,

Robert McKee 41:46
which is, you know, that is that just decorative. They all happens all at once. You know, you're getting exposition, see who these characters are, whatever actions or reactions are driving the scene, and it's a pleasure to listen to.

Alex Ferrari 42:03
Now, one thing I've noticed in years and even in my own writing descriptions, in a screenplay, a lot of screenwriters, when they starting out, they feel like it's a novel. So, they will write a very detailed description about a scene or about something, where from my understanding, over the years, less is more and it becomes more of a of an exercise in Haiku is than it is in the novel writing. Can you kind of talk a little bit about the importance of of compacting your description?

Robert McKee 42:37
Well, it does need to be economical. Of course. On the other hand, it has to be vivid,

Alex Ferrari 42:44
right?

Robert McKee 42:46
And that's, you know, where does that balance strike you that the ambition is to project a film into the readers head. So that when they read their screenplay, they see a motion picture without camera directions without you know smash CUT TO for transitions and, you know, Dolly on and you know, and you know, pull focus, whatever nonsense, you got to use the language and description to create the effect of a motion picture, then you only use ideally, you only use the master shots, it you you only the the the shots, the angles, the setups, camera setups that are absolutely necessary. And no more you do not try to direct the film. And, and instead, you project a motion picture into the readers head. And, and, and so you need to it over, often in overriding and when, in fact, was not only overwritten, but it's not vivid. It's because writers rely on adjectives and adverbs. And what they need is to know the names of things. You know, he, he, he picks up what we're talking about before a big nail. Well, you know, big is an adjective. And so, put an image in the readers head, he picks up a spike. Spike is a vivid image. A he, he walks slowly across the room, will slowly is an adverb. Right? Right. And so you name the action of verb is the name of an action. He pads across the room he ambles, he strolls he saunters. He you know, Waltz's is an active verb without an adjective, adverb, concrete nouns without adjectives. And we see things and we see actions. And it becomes vivid. It reduces the word count. And, and here's here's something a good it's a good note for writers take your screenplay. And, and search the verb is or our urge is an are throughout your descriptions and eliminate every single one of them. know things are nothing is in a screenplay. Everything in a film is alive. And action. So you know, a name the thing. So a line like a big house, there, there is a big house on a hill.

Okay.

And what's a big house a mansion or a state? a villa? What's a, you know, a hill, a mountain. At add and add and turn it into a villa sits just that verb sits is more active than is a big house sits with a spectacular with this spectacular view. And so easy, a big house up high with a great view. And it's an image and it's active, it sits sprawls across, whatever. And so active verbs concrete nouns, and and make us see a movie. And every writer finds every good writer finds their own personal way to do that. And Paddy Chayefsky wrote elaborate descriptions. Harold Pentre described, nothing, nothing. He would just go interior kitchen dialogue, dialogue, dialogue, dialogue, describe nothing. And because his attitude was, we all know what a kitchen looks like. And they'll probably play it in the garage anyway. But if they mess if they mess with my beats of action reaction and you know, in dialogue, then they're in trouble. Okay, so every writer has to find their own way to accomplish the task of a vividly projecting emotion picture in the imagination, as you turn pages who make them see a movie.

Alex Ferrari 48:23
Now, your new book is called character. And I wanted to ask you a couple questions in regards to character because, arguably, I always like to ask the question, do you start with plot or you start with character I always say to people, you don't like Indiana Jones, his plots aren't nearly as memorable as Indiana Jones James Bond's plots aren't as memorable as James Bond. Like I don't you throw me the plot of thunder ball. I don't remember. I remember scenes, but I do remember James Bond. And that's what draws me back to his stories. So, can you talk a little bit about the difference between roles and character?

Robert McKee 48:58
Well, a role is a generic term. And so hero is a role villain is a role victim is a role. You know, sidekick is a roll. goon is a roll. shopkeeper his role in the role is as a position in a in a cast. as defined by its relationship to other characters, and or a profession. Like waiter, asked driver. And, and they're generic, they wrote something waiting to be filled by a character. And as a character comes into a story to fulfill a certain role but it's a it's a You know, it's it's a, it's a generic to that to that genre. And so if you have a family, the roles are mother, father, children guide, they're okay, those are roles, characters are our unique human beings, we inhabit those roles. And and there's a design of a cast, such that the protagonist, and the central character at role is the most complex character role. And they are they, they're, depending on the genre, they are the most dimensional character of all. And they are ideally, they, they are the center of good, there's a, there's a positive human quality, not every way certainly, but there's, there's some quality, within the complexity of that character, with which we recognize we empathize, we recognize a shared humanity, the character is then in orbit around that character that protagonists are less dimensional, but they can be dimensional as as well, then you go all the way out to the second third circles, where you have people only playing a role. cashier, restaurant cashier, okay. Now, even when you're writing a scene where your character goes up to the cashier in a restaurant, to pay a bill, and discovers that his credit card is cancelled, right, you have a clerk standing there, at the at the take, who takes the credit card and finds that it's, it's been rejected that clerk character, he be very useful to imagine that role, very specifically, what kind of human being, you know, is she or he, it because it does the, the way in which that clerk that roll says responds to your card is canceled. Your card didn't go through the, the, the way you write the words and gesture for that character gives her a trait. And so roles have traits and, and to make, even that moment, when there's a human being behind that, that trait. And so if she's sarcastic, if she's fed up with with the job itself or with with people whose cards never work, or she's sympathetic because her cards don't work.

Alex Ferrari 53:19
So,

Robert McKee 53:21
so, even in a in a simple role like that, you try to write it with a as a specific trait in the way in which he deals with that moment. And it creates a character for an actor. And so the actor come in there and realize, Oh, this is an antagonistic clerk or this is a sympathetic cleric, or an indifferent or bored or falling asleep, or glancing at her watch constantly, she just wants to get out of here, whatever it is, you give her a trait. And that makes her a character, she sends the GM to life and it gives the actor something to hang their performance on. And so dimensions the protagonists, the most dimensional of all dimensions are contradictions within the nature of the girl. And so you populate that with in my book on character, I look at characters everybody from from Odysseus in Homer's Odyssey has an eight dimensional character, all the way up to Tony Soprano, as a 12 dimensional character Walter White, as a 16 dimensional character. And so and so the complexity of character today given long form television, especially, is at is becoming your astronomical And then you have to give all the, that every one of these dimensions if a character is, is kind and cruel, okay? Sometimes they're crying, sometimes they're cruel. Therefore, you're going to need a cast of characters where the protagonist, when they meet character a, they treat them kindly character B, they treat with, with a slap with cruelty and, and so you need to design a cast around each other characters. So that when, whenever any two characters meet, they bring out sides of their dimensionality or traits of behavior that no one else brings out of them. And so, every single character is designed that whenever they encounter any other character, they bring out each other's qualities in ways that no other character does. And, and when you have a, you know, when you have that kind of cast, where every single character services, every other character, and no redundancies every relationship is unique. every relationship develops a different aspect or a different dimension. Then you have a fascinating group of people that creates a world that the audience can really

Alex Ferrari 56:38
dive into,

Robert McKee 56:39
dive into now, you know, when characters when and carrot one characters behave toward each other in the same way, no matter who it is. That, you know, that's it's a boring and do it's false. People do not treat other people, different people the same. Everybody behaves in a uniquely subtly but uniquely different way, depending upon the relationship. And it takes a lot of concentration and imagination in the writer to realize that every relationship brings out different sides of the character's nature.

Alex Ferrari 57:21
Now, I'm gonna ask you a few questions. Ask all my guests. Robert, what are three screenplays every screenwriter should read? You see? I don't answer that question. Okay. For this reason, I don't want people to copy anybody. Okay, fair enough.

Robert McKee 57:46
And so if I say, you know, if I named my, you know, my favorites, like, say, trying to tell people you know, then run to study Chinatown and emulate it. And that's a mistake. The really important question to ask people is, what's your favorite genre? Because they should be writing the kind of films they love.

Alex Ferrari 58:15
It's a good point, what

Robert McKee 58:16
I love, what are my favorites may have nothing to do with their favorites. And so the first question is, you know, what do you love? What kind of movies do you go to see what kind of things do you read? What do you love? And then seek out those? And the second thing is that if I name favorites, and, and that they, you know, they're in their pieces of perfection. Okay. What does that teach the writer? They got a model of perfection. Great. Okay, that's important, you should understand you should have an ideal, what you're trying to achieve. But one of the ways to achieve it, is to study bad movies. break them down and ask yourself, why is this film so boring? Why can't I believe a word of it? Why does this fail? and break it down and study it? To answer what this What does it lack what went wrong, etc. Okay, and then rewrite it.

Alex Ferrari 59:37
Just thing,

Robert McKee 59:39
rewrite it. fix that broken film. Because that's what you're going to do as a writer. Your first draft is going to suck. And you're going to go in and try to fix your broken script. Try to bring it to life. Try to cut edited shape and rewrite it reinvented, you're going to read it over and over again, right? Having fixed broken films, not just one, but many, many, many take bad movies, studying them and make them make them work is practice for what you're going to have to do with your own screenplay. Because it's not going to work in the beginning, it's going to need a lot of work to work. And so having rewritten bad films to make them work is, is a real learning experience. And so I say, study good films are of your genre, so that you have a an ideal that you achieve, rewrite the bad ones to teach yourself how to fix broken work. And so, and that's a personal choice. I can't say what that should be for those people. For every one of them, loves whatever they love, which may or may not be what I love.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:00
Now, where can people find out more about you? And where can they purchase your new book character? Amazon? It's pretty much it is pretty much it nowadays, isn't it? It's pretty much it nowadays, isn't it? Amazon.

Robert McKee 1:01:17
bookstores, I'm sure are opening up. And if you know if you love bookstores, as I do, you know, you can go to a bookstore and get it. But the most direct way that will be there in your budget for the next morning. It's incredible what they do, what Amazon does, and bash, you know that the other other Barnes and Noble stew or whatever it is, but yeah, it's very simple. You just go to amazon.com. Right? Just write the word McKee. And comes story, dialogue, character, in hardcover, in an audio and in Kindle,

Alex Ferrari 1:02:05
and everything else? And then how can people read it? And how can people learn more about you what you offer?

Robert McKee 1:02:13
Ah, the go to make peace story.com. The key story.com will take you to our website. And we have a upcoming. We've been doing webinars now for a year and a half since the plague hit us. And they've been very successful, very, very pleased with it. And in July, we're doing a series on action. Nice on the action genre. And so these, these are every Tuesday, three Tuesday's in a row. And they're two hour events, hour and a half worth of lecture and a half hour of q&a. Then on Thursday, I I give an additional two hours of q&a.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:01
Fantastic.

Robert McKee 1:03:03
And because I realized how important it is for people to get answers to things they're working on. So So Tuesdays and Thursdays for three weeks in a row. And there's you know, four hours of material each week. So and we will we will look at the action genre in depth with lots of illustrations and examples of an adage and I love giving these acts. webinars. And it's a favorite of mine. Actually,

Alex Ferrari 1:03:38
I love a good action movie is it's hard to come by nowadays. So I appreciate it. Robert, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to to my audience and I appreciate all the work that you have done over the years and help so many screenwriters as well. So thank you so much for everything you do.

Robert McKee 1:03:54
It was a lovely chat. Great chat. Nice talking to you.


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